Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Harman International

I was disappointed to hear over the weekend of the proposed closure of the Harman International factory in Bridgend, who make and fit car audio systems.

Due to various forms of inward investment, some thanks to the border between Bridgend and the Vale also being the limit for European funding advantages (the old Objective One/Contingency funding etc.), there are a large number of factories or technical jobs in Bridgend (and in Rhondda Cynon Taff as well) that impact upon residents in the Vale, but that we couldn’t take advantage of to locate them in the Vale itself.

Although pre-dating the current European funding system, Harman International is one of those products of inward investment schemes, and, although they are being fair in providing such a lengthy notice period and giving the Assembly Government time to stimulate new job opportunities for those affected if they do continue with the closure programme, it is a disappointing turn of events – especially as the company has only recently won new contracts with top car manufacturers such as BMW.

I hope that the Assembly will be able to convince Harman International to re-think their decision and keep the plant open, and, if not, provide as much support to the workers as possible through the ProAct and ReAct schemes in the coming months.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Joy of the J-Lo-Mos

A few months ago, Plaid Cymru argued with the Welsh media that the UK Government’s bail out plans were fashioned to support London and the south-east of England by helping the financial sector but being agnostic about support for the industrial and manufacturing sector in Wales and the midlands and north of England.

In the good times, London wins. In the bad times, London wins.

Last Thursday’s rather smug Evening Standard article, detailing the rise of J Lo-Mos (Job, Low Tracker Mortgage) irritated me immensely as it reminded me that while the effects and fallout of the recession are still ongoing, there are many others for whom it is something that has happened only on the news.

Just to quickly explain.

In writing a blank cheque with few safeguards to the banks, the Labour UK Government propped up the financial sector and jobs in London.

Meanwhile, with the Bank of England interest rate going down, tracker mortgages were also lowered, leaving a little extra money in the pocket if you were on such a scheme. Or an awful lot more money if you live in the south-east of England where the several point difference can amount to hundreds or even thousands of pounds per month less spent on your mortgage, helping to maintain consumer consumption and provide a jobs boost in the local economy.

I’m not denying that there aren’t people in London and the south-east who haven’t suffered because of the recession, but it’s clear that the pain hasn’t been felt equally across the UK.

World War II Exhibition

I had the pleasure on Saturday of visiting Dr Jonathan Hicks’ Barry and World War II exhibition in the Arts Central space at the Town Hall.

It was a detailed, poignant and, 60 years after the beginning of the war, timely exhibition about the effects of war upon ordinary people – and the suffering that comes as a result of decisions made by others far away.

By telling the stories of individuals and families, of those who died in war, and those who survived, the exhibition brought the events of 1939 to 1945 to a human level for those too young to remember it, especially as the familiar streets and surnames jump out at you.

The exhibition was also interesting on a local history level, with hand-drawn maps of where the bombs fell near Merthyr Dyfan, across what is now Lundy Park towards Caradoc Avenue, and eye-witness accounts of the effects of bombing raids on Barry residents, and a Luftwaffe aerial photograph of Barry Docks.

The free booklets from the Friends of Merthyr Dyfan Cemetery, published by Cllr Nic Hodges, showing the graves and providing more background stories of those from Barry who passed away while on duty also made for interesting reading.

Hopefully, we’ll soon be able to convince the powers that be to create a permanent exhibition space for the history of Barry as part of the Waterfront development.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Getting better?

Park Crescent, the row of around 30 shops between Romilly schools and All Saints Church in Barry's west end, is an area that was clearly suffering the effects of the recession when I was last there, with a worryingly high vacancy rate for what is a well regarded area.

It seems things are getting better though - when I walked down the street yesterday I saw that two new businesses had opened in the last few weeks and that another three previously vacant shops were being fitted out, with new people taking over.

Lots of stuff about swallows and Summers, especially as we go into Autumn and fears of a 'double-dip' recession, but it's nice to see the area getting back onto its feet - so good luck to the new local businesses there.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Conferences and Something For The Weekend

September is conference season, so what with preparing, delivering and recovering from different conferences, that’s been my month so far!

A fortnight ago we had the highly successful Plaid Cymru conference in Llandudno. I spoke on the motion about St Athan, where I represented the concerns of residents from nearby areas such as Llanmaes, Millands Park and St Athan itself to Plaid’s delegates from throughout Wales.

The planning permission for the Defence Training College itself will be debated tonight at the Vale of Glamorgan’s planning committee.

Then last week I attended a Mercator-sponsored conference on minority languages at the Frisian Academy in Friesland (the north-west part of the Netherlands).

At the conference, I gave two different papers at the conference – one regarding Welsh in Argentina as a ‘regional minority language’ in South America and the other about the development of Welsh language music during the 1990s and lessons that can be learnt regarding promotion of minority languages outside the classroom.

While there, I also had the opportunity to meet with members of the Frisian National Party at Friesland’s Provinsehus, such as Sybren Posthumus (see his blog in Frisian), and speak to the province’s head of culture about plans to transfer powers for Frisian language and cultural promotion from the current centralised position in the Dutch capital, Den Haag, in a situation that loosely mirrors our own.

Good luck to them with it.

My third and final conference for the month comes in the form of the European Free Alliance’s think-tank, Centre Maurits Coppetiers, which is holding its General Assembly in Cardiff tomorrow afternoon (Friday).

The CMC will be determining its priorities for the next year in the Friday meeting, but this will be followed by a morning session on Saturday hosted by the Welsh Nationalist Study Group, the Welsh arm of the CMC, where interesting presentations will include policy discussions on international affairs and the recent success of regionalist parties across Europe.

But let no-one accuse me of letting work getting in the way of supporting cultural events in Barry!

With Barry Town officially back on the market, Friday night sees them at home at Jenner Park (7:45pm) against old rivals Afan Lido in Welsh League 1.

Later that night, rock, indie and electro night, Trash Camp, has its second outing at the Savoy at the top end of Broad Street. Last month’s opening night was at capacity before the local pubs had closed for the night, so best get there early!

Now the only unbeaten team in South Wales Senior 2, Cadoxton Barry travel to Nelson Cavaliers for a 2pm kick-off on Saturday while the reserves play the Castle at Wenvoe.

The big match in the Vale Premier though is between the top two sides, with Master Mariner facing the 100% record Cardiff Airport at the Sporty in the Colcot.

Or there’s always a PACT meeting on Barry Island at 3pm (in the Community Centre just up the hill from where Island Marine play Park Vets in Division 2 – does ex-Barry Town manager Paul Giles still play for the Vets?).

If anyone wants to join me later on that night, I’m then going for a curry at the Shahi Noor on High Street on Saturday evening, with a whole row of events taking place afterwards – Matt Blumberg is playing live at Scarlets on Broad Street, Cakehole Presley are at the Borough Arms, while all weekend long there’s going to be the All Wales Beer and Cider Festival at the West End club on St Nicholas Road, sure to include local favourites from the Vale of Glamorgan Brewery and from breweries further afield such as Miws Piws from Porthmadog.

If you see me around, say hi, if not, have a good weekend!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Vale Council finally end leisure centre sunbeds

I was glad to hear that the Vale Council has decided to end the use of sunbeds in the council’s leisure centres. They are the last council in South Wales to make that decision – not exactly a badge of honour.

I have to agree with British Medical Association Cymru Wales who make the point that leisure centres are considered places of health and wellbeing and that including sunbeds there sent mixed messages about the effects of exposure to UV rays.

Hopefully the remaining two councils in Wales - Flintshire and Wrexham will soon also change their position.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Barry Town Action Plan Response

The consultation plan on the draft Barry Town Action Plan finished recently, and I was glad to once again be able offer feedback on ideas put forward by the Barry Town Survey Steering Group.

The intention of the survey was to get the opinions from as many people in Barry as possible about their hopes for the future of the town, and with several thousand different responses received from adults and children when the survey was conducted in 2007, the steering group did a good job in getting responses down on paper.

Those responses were recorded and then recently released as a ‘draft action plan’ made up of a series of different categories and put out to consultation before the final report is laid.

In my response (edited for space in the Echo report), I welcomed the draft action plan and the hard work put in by the steering group, a mixture of volunteers from the community and town councillors, and agreed with many of the recommendations that they made.

However, I made two further suggestions to the group, whom I first met back in July 2007 when I was lecturing in quantitative and qualitative methodology at Cardiff University.

The first is to take into consideration the different economic situation in which we find ourselves now in 2009 compared to when the responses were received back in 2007.

This could perhaps be solved through a short meeting with local residents who can quickly identify the changes in needs since the survey was drafted, e.g. the effect of the loss of the cinema and impact of the recession, or, alternatively, the announcement of improved public transport for the Vale and the completion of work on the town centre.

The second was then a meeting with stakeholders in various parts of society, e.g. representatives of the voluntary sector, the business sector etc., who can help identify the areas where progress can be made or have the greatest short-term and long-term impact, and ensure that the action plan doesn’t just become a ‘wish list’.

This would make the final action plan more relevant to 2009/2010 as well as making it clear how progress can be made and how it can be defined.

Such a substantial body of work shouldn’t be allowed to go to waste, so any way in which we can ensure that the ideas of the action plan are put into place need to be followed up.