Saturday, 20 December 2008

Help needed to establish right-of-way in Skewen

Arthur Davies, Labour councillor for Coedffranc Central, has asked for help in registering a long-used railway crossing as a right-of-way. This is a matter which transcends party political differences, and I am happy to give this part of his newsletter wider publicity. There may well be former residents of Skewen reading this who have the requisite evidence.

He writes that: some five years ago, Network Rail fenced off the railway that runs south of Skewen, apparently for reasons of safety. By closing off the Cardonnel Halt crossing*, this effectively removed direct access to the Tennant Canal from Skewen.

At that time, Arthur contacted a number of people who, he knew, used the crossing regularly. They submitted a request via Coedffranc Community Council to make the crossing a registered right of way. This would open up the towpath going west from the former Johnson's Yard to the Red Jacket Pill and from there on to Jersey Marine. Network Rail contested the application, arguing that it is not legally possible to register a right of way over a railway line.

The legal team acting on behalf of the County Borough have now come back asking for more evidence. They would like details of the industries that were in the vicinity and when they were active. They also asked for names of those who had used the crossing, for example to gain access to the canal. The barrister representing the council also asked if there were any local history books, railway listing publications or photographs of the site. He also sought the assistance of local historians.

If you have used Cardonnel Halt crossing or have relevant information, please tell Cllr Arthur Davies on 01792 814910 or Mike Workman on 01792 636008. Alternatively, email the author of this blog, and I will pass the details on.

*The crossing is between the lane to Wern Andrew farm and Jenkins Road, which runs parallel to the Tennant Canal below the bridge carrying the A465.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Obama: significant appointment of Energy Secretary

Only the BBC's World Service and the Guardian of our news media picked up on possibly the most significant appointment so far by the US President-elect. The energy secretary will be Nobel prize-winning physicist Steve Chu, a committed advocate for action on climate change.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Department for Transport efficiency savings will produce net loss

I think I know what happened. The systems design team in Swansea (or possibly London) worked out how long it would take to implement the new system. They told the management it would be ready in, say, August. The politicians (either within or without the civil service) replied that the date was unacceptable, and the changes must be ready for the start of the financial year. Timetable compressed, testing skimped, "big bang" release, system falls over.

Eventually it will be made to work nine months later than the original estimated date.

Been there. Done that. Got the tee-shirt.

Madoff not the biggest swindler ever

Some people are claiming that Bernard Madoff's "great big lie" was the biggest con ever. Perhaps in terms of the sums involved it may have been (though adjustments have to be made for inflation). However, there was one misdirected genius who bestrode the financial world in the first third of the twentieth century, who negotiated monopoly deals with governments, and who took in the stock markets of the world: Ivar Kreuger, the "match king".

He went out in style, too; not for him throwing himself on the mercy of the finacial authorities like Madoff, but a bullet through the heart in a Paris apartment.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Deal done behind council's back

It's in Scotland, not Wales, and the party which has - quite legally - kept councillors in the dark is not Labour, but otherwise it is a familiar story.

Hello, sailor; hello, boys!

A shipment of 130,000 inflatable breasts has been lost at sea between Beijing and Australia.

Australian men's magazine Ralph intended to include the breasts as a free gift with its January edition. The publisher did float the idea that they had been seized by pirates, but as the organisation is already in debt (according to the Digital Spy report ), one doubts whether it could raise the ransom money.

It is more likely that they are drifting on oceanic currents, which would make them a distinctive successor to the famous plastic ducks as a research tool.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Solictors who exploited sick miners struck off

James Beresford, 58, and Douglas Smith, 52, both from Beresfords Solicitors in Doncaster filed personal injury claims for miners. Unfortunately for the claimants, the firm took up to 30% of the miners' damages in fees, even though the government's coal health compensation scheme already paid for legal assistance. The two were struck off on Thursday.

Sky News reports that the Law Society has already begun investigations into 67 of the firms who charged "success fees" and 25 have been referred to the Solicitors' Regulatory Authority (SRA). About 30 solicitors have been reprimanded.

The good news is that £350,000 compensation has been repayed to miners so far. The bad news is that the recovered payments will have come too late for some miners.

The Beresford Group is still advertising for industrial injury claims business.

Friday, 12 December 2008

The McPound and the cost of borrowing

At the start of official trading in the euro on 4th January 1999, it was worth 71.1 pence. This was to rise slightly in the following week as banks and others built up reserves in the new currency, only to fall back during 1999 to 66p or occasionally less. This encouraged europhobes to dismiss the euro as a failure, but confidence has grown in the currency to the extent that many primary producers have switched from denominating in the dollar to denominating in euros.

BBC "Working Lunch"'s financial page is currently showing the euro as worth 89p. It will be interesting to see where it stands on its tenth anniversary in just over three weeks time. Already some bureaux d'├ęchange are reporting to be selling euros at just above parity with the pound.

During the week, it was revealed that investing in UK government debt is now almost twice as risky as buying burger-chain McDonald's corporate bonds, according to the market in credit default swaps (CDS), which provides insurance for the buyers of such debt.

This is surely worrying for people needing to raise money for public projects in the UK. Financing public housing development has until now been regarded as a very safe investment, but one wonders whether the diminishing status of UK gilts will have an effect here. Perhaps I am naive, but I suspect that it may be increasingly difficult to fund the many large scale transfers (LSVTs) of local authority housing in Wales. It is surely sensible for the Welsh Assembly Government to take the pressure off local authorities to hold ballots on LSVT until the money market stabilises.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Personal data held by councils not encrypted

silicon.com reports that: "according to a study of 40 out of the 49 city councils in the [UK] carried out by systems integrator Telindus, [...] 90 per cent could not say for sure that all sensitive data held on staff laptops is encrypted."

One wonders first of all what these data are doing on laptops anyway. Given that there is a need, it is surprising that "43 per cent said they still have no plans to upgrade data protection policies".

An anonymous officer is quoted as saying: 'We use the 'cross your fingers and hope for the best' system."

Monday, 8 December 2008

Shock! Horror! Many Welsh sceptical of Christmas story.

The Western Mail prints the results of a survey (what would newspapers do without surveys?) which appears to show that Welsh people are more likely to regard the Christmas story as fictional than their counterparts in any other part of the UK.

The paper then takes a flying leap across the evidential chasm (as a solicitor friend is wont to say) in claiming that this shows that the Welsh are more secular than the rest. As an agnostic myself, I would like to believe that this was so, but it surely means only that the Welsh do not need the evidence of miracles, or "conjuring tricks with bones" as a former bishop of Durham put it, to confirm them in their faith.

Then there are the churches which follow the Abrahamic God, without according a special place to Christ. I believe the Unitarian Church has been particularly strong in Wales.

Liberal Democrat leadership shifts towards the centre

of Wales, that is. Congratulations to Kirsty Williams, AM for Brecon & Radnor, on winning the election by a comfortable, if not overwhelming, majority.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

John Milton's 400th

There must be something about the eighth year of a century. We seem to have been celebrating a larger than usual number of anniversaries involving liberalism this year.

This coming week it is the turn of John Milton His "Areopagitica" (I trust that is correct; I looked it up in two books and found three different spellings. I will trust George Orwell, though.) is almost literally an iconic document in the history of the Liberal and Liberal Democratic parties.

After all the criticism of BBC's lower standards, it is good to see the corporation devoting a goodly strand to the great man next week. It is all on Radio 3 , though, not on any of the popular channels, radio or TV. Personally, I welcome any insight into the poetry of Milton, which I find hard going, unmediated. It is one of my great regrets that I wasn't introduced to "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Regained" when my mind was younger and sharper.

That George Orwell reference, by the way, was in a 1946 essay, "The Prevention of Literature". It is reproduced on the web here, but the transcriber has perpetrated yet another mistake in spelling "Areopagitica"! That apart, it is well worth reading.

We may be freer to pass political judgments than in 1946, but the ability to publish information is becoming just as restricted.

Friday, 5 December 2008

HMRC cuts counter-intuitive

The customary (and, it appears, cosmetic) consultation process has been completed, and the cuts in Revenue & Customs offices in Wales are to go through as announced in the summer.

This at a time when small businesses could really benefit from direct contact with Hector (and his female equivalent). The Revenue has gone to great lengths in the last decade to engage with taxpayers and this centralising move will set the process back, in such centres as Brecon, Bridgend, Carmarthen, Haverfordwest and Pembroke Dock. It appears that so far from reducing the impact, the consultation process has seen the addition of Aberystwyth, not a negligible town, to the list.

A plug (geddit?) I am happy to give

Peter Black AM endorses Port Talbot-built Stevens electric cars and vans.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Nigel Balchin

Today is the centenary of one of the great twentieth-century novelists. He is described in Clive James's critical note as a popular novelist, which he certainly was, but he also painfully analysed flawed relationships and the flaws in good men. No doubt his day job as an industrial psychologist (possibly the first in the UK) before the second world war informed his best work. James reckoned that Balchin was still popular in the 1970s, but he is scarcely mentioned in the media I scan these days.

This is a pity, because his work has hardly dated. It also lends itself to radio adaptation, and one hoped that BBC would either dig out its classic dramatisation of "The Small Back Room" or make new ones.

James dismisses his later work as a decline. This may be true in terms of its intellectual weight (though "Kings of Infinite Space" is one of the better fictions dealing with the early US space programme, and also believably gets into the mind of a technologist near the cutting-edge of his discipline), but they are still well-crafted and very readable. "Kings ...", "In the Absence of Mrs Peterson" and "Seen Dimly Before Dawn" are probably the best way in to Balchin before working back to the big three: "The Small Back Room", "Mine Own Executioner" and "Darkness Falls from the Air".