Sunday, 26 December 2010

Wales Air Ambulance

The recent extreme weather has proven the worth of an essential ‘big society’ service, I speak of no other than the lifesaver that is Wales Air Ambulance.

Wales Air Ambulance is an all Wales charity providing a vital service through emergency air cover for those who face life-threatening illness or injuries.

We in Wales are extremely proud of ‘Wales Air Ambulance’. In rural areas with poor road access it can be the difference between life and death.

Please give generously.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Hamperi Ynys Môn

When you think of Christmas you think of hampers, and if you are looking for a delicious hamper to give as a present look no further than Hamperi Ynys Môn.

They use the best quality food, locally produced, in their hampers, and were recently featured on Radio Cymru.

Their website is Hamperi Ynys Môn.

Friday, 10 December 2010

GVA per head - the bottom five UK

The following charts looks at the bottom five as of 2009 (Data from ONS - NUTS3.2 Headline GVA per head at current basic prices), looking at the years 2000 to 2008. The first chart shows the change in the GVA per head over the years, and the second chart shows GVA per head for 2008 minus GVA per head for 2000, showing which region in the bottom five the GVA has grown the most. I would add my usual disclaimer about comparing regions, but it does reveal some interesting results.

Ynys Mon is welsh for Anglesey

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Corrected GVA per head figures.

This week the Office of National Statistics published the verified and corrected GVA figures for 2008. As we know Anglesey has the lowest GVA per head in the UK for sometime.

I have argued previously that the use of GVA per head to compare regions should be done with caution (Anglesey and GVA – The Article), but I’m not about to defend or justify the current figures for Anglesey here. No the reason for this post is to answer the question: Why has Conwy and Denbighshire moved out of the bottom five.

The answer is seems, looking at the above chart is that Sefton, for some reason, has year on year seen it’s GVA per head grow slower than that of Conwy and Denbighshire, replacing them in the bottom five. Whereas Conwy and Denbighshire growth seems slower than the average for Wales, even that of Anglesey as shown in the chart below, showing growth in GVA per head between 2000 and 2008.

Jac Jones - Author and Illustrator.

A true son of Anglesey is Jac Jones, an award winning author and illustrator.

Jac was born in Gwalchmai in March 1947; he then grew up for a short while at his mother’s hometown Bristol, before the family returned to the island when he was seven years old. Jac was educated at Llangefni Grammar School.

When young his mother and father where hospitalised with TB and he lived for a while with his grandmother. He left school on finishing his ‘O’ levels. He recently said on radio, that although he enjoyed painting from a young age he learnt very little about painting at school.

His first job was as a designer for a graphics firm in Llangefni. Whilst working there he applied to attend Art College at Liverpool, but did not have English ‘O’ level, which was a strict requirement at the time. Much later in life he found that he had dyslexia.

He soon came bored with the work at the graphics firm and set up on his own as an illustrator. His career took off when he started work for the newly founded ‘Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru’ (Book Council of Wales) in 1974.

He has illustrated over 400 books in addition to numerous record covers and posters of various kinds, he has also written 6 books, including Betsan a’r Bwlis / Alison and the Bully Monsters, which he wrote and illustrated.

He has won Tir na n_Og Award (annual children's literary awards) several times, including the 2009 Award for ‘A Nod from Nelson’ by Simon Weston.

His illustration work includes welsh works of note such as Penillion y Plant, Trysorfa by T. Llew Jones and many of Mary Vaughan Jones' titles and famous characters including Jac y Jwc. He is listed in the book Best of British Illustrators.

The last 4 years have been difficult for him, not only has he divorced but he also has been ill with cancer, which thankfully at the moment is in remission.

Adolf Merckle and Phoenix

The Phoenix Group, the owners of Rowlands Pharmacy was founded by Adolf Merckle.

Merckle was born in Dresden, Germany into a wealthy family. He was educated as a lawyer, but spent most of his time investing and he developed his grandfather's chemical wholesale company into Germany's largest pharmaceutical wholesaler, Phoenix Pharmahandel. His family also owns the generic drug manufacturer Ratiopharm, and large parts of cement company HeidelbergCement as well as vehicle manufacturer Kässbohrer.

Adolf Merckle committed suicide on January 5, 2009.

Read More: New York Times

The local chemist

Seen the Doctor or nurse recently? - Then in most cases afterwards you will have visited ‘Rowlands the Chemist’ to obtain your prescription.

This year ‘Rowlands the Chemists’ have had three reasons to celebrate, it is two hundred years since they were established in 1810, and they have been voted the ‘Retailer of the Year’ in the Chemist and then Druggist categories run by the leading weekly magazine for retail pharmacists.

Over the last few years the company has invested heavily in its shops to improve the quality of service they provide, as good advice from the local chemist is seen as important part of our health service. The company is also an important local employer.

Rowlands Pharmacy to give them their official name, have 8 stores on Anglesey and you can find their opening hours on their website.

Rowlands Pharmacy have 500 stores in the UK and are part of the Phoenix Group.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The cornerstones of a good education.

I am still reading and inwardly digesting the book “Policy Development and Reform Principles of Basic and Secondary Education in Finland since 1968”, but I have learnt that the six cornerstones to a good education in Finland are:

Same nine-year basic school for all. Finnish children start compulsory nine-year basic school in August of the year when they turn seven years old.

Good teachers. The teaching profession has always enjoyed great public respect and appreciation in Finland. Parents trust teachers as professionals who know what is best for their children. Teachers therefore have considerable independence in the classroom in terms of choosing appropriate pedagogical methods

Sustainable leadership. Education sector development in Finland has been based on the continuous adjustment of schooling to the changing needs of children, families, and society.

Recognition and appreciation of existing innovations. During the last 30 years, the culture of innovation has taken root in the education system.

Flexible accountability, i.e. focus on deep learning, not testing. Finland has not followed the Anglo-Saxon accountability movement in education that believes in making schools and teachers accountable for learning results. Traditionally, evaluation of student outcomes has been the task of each teacher and school in Finland. The only standardized high-stake assessment is the Matriculation Examination at the end of upper-secondary school before students enroll in tertiary education. Prior to this Matriculation Examination, no external national tests or exams are required. This has helped both students and teachers to focus on learning in a fear-free environment. At the same time, creativity and risk-taking have also become common features in Finnish schools.

The culture of trust. The culture of trust basically means that the system, that is, the Ministry of Education and the National Board of Education, believes that teachers together with principals, parents, and their communities know how to provide the best possible education for their children and youth.

I'll finish for now, on the fact that according to the CIA World Factbook, public expenditure in Finland on education in 2007 as a percent of GDP was 5.4%, in comparison to the UK who spent the same year 5.6% of GDP.

Anglesey and winter

We are lucky in Anglesey we have relatively mild winters in comparison to rest of the UK. The chart below shows the minimum winter temperatures as recorded by the MET weather station at Valley since 1914. The coldest winter we, in Anglesey, have experienced was the winter known as ‘The Great Freeze of 1963’. It was when the Thames froze as can be seen on the Royal Windsor website. I say we, I wasn’t even born then!

The chart below is all the min temp data between 1914 and 2009 plotted by month, showing the changes in our seasons. It doesn’t show anything in particular just that it looks nice.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Learning with Finland.

With the publication of the PISA results for 2009, we see that Finland once again top the league tables, whilst Wales performs well below average on all indicators. Maybe it is time, we learned with Finland?

Students from Finland outperform peers in 43 other nations – including the United States, Germany and Japan – in mathematics, science and reading skills. Finland is also ranked top in economic competitiveness.

The performance of this small and remote European country springs directly from education policies set in motion 40 years ago, according to the World Bank in its report “Policy Development and Reform Principles of Basic and Secondary Education in Finland since 1968.”

For a summary of the report see Bert Maes blog

PISA 2009 Results

With thanks to Prometheuswrites, who commented on the following BBC News report. The PISA 2009 results are now available on their website. For the UK, key highlights of the report include:

  • Mean performance of United Kingdom 15-year-olds in the middle of the rankings

  • Only seven OECD countries spend more per student than the United Kingdom

  • Parents in the United Kingdom are better educated than in many other countries

  • The share of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the United Kingdom is well below average.

  • Among OECD countries the United Kingdom has a relatively large proportion of students with an immigrant background

You can also download the PISA 2009: Achievement of 15-year-olds in Wales
by nfer.

Psycho-social wellbeing.

A recent report entitled “The role of local government in promoting wellbeing” written by nef (the new economics foundation) is interesting reading. This report examines how local government can support a better life for its citizens to help build resilient communities, both now and in the long term.

The following extracts emphasises the importance of psycho-social wellbeing:

“Psycho-social wellbeing is people’s sense of how their lives are going, and the strength of relationships that sustain community life, are strongly influenced by psychological and social wellbeing: Having a positive outlook in life and feeling good about oneself – the elements that make up emotional wellbeing – directly promote a more positive experience of life."

“The factors driving both material and psycho-social wellbeing are not equally distributed among local populations. Some individuals or population groups live in better-quality housing than others. Some have fewer money concerns. Some have stronger support networks. Some feel valued, respected and included in a way that others do not. Some have the time and facilities they need to engage in activities to promote their wellbeing. Wellbeing is highly dependent, therefore, on the distribution of social, economic and environmental resources in any population. The prevalence of social or cultural discrimination (on grounds of social class, gender or ethnicity, for example) impedes equality in the distribution of social determinants of wellbeing."

One of their "online contributions (www.idea. Lynne Friedli distinguishes between “efforts to address the symptoms of inequality - for example, the steep social gradient in health and education – and the wider strategic challenge of reducing the gap between rich and poor”. Research suggests that high levels of inequality are damaging to communities and society as a whole. There is growing evidence that relative deprivation and social injustice erode mental wellbeing and increase stress, and some have argued that the differences between us put a strain on social relations, by reducing trust and interaction. The conclusion from all this is clear: local government cannot improve the wellbeing of its local population without directly addressing inequalities."

Source: Above extracts from page 11 and 12 of report referred to.

Monday, 6 December 2010

The 'Teetotal Society' and Llanfechell, Anglesey

During this years general election there were objections to the hotel 'The Holland Arms', Llanfachraeth from being used as a polling station. This was lead by the Christian Party candidate David Owen.

The reason given for the objections, the islands long history of temperance. It was in Llanfechell in 1835, that the first teetotal society in Wales was founded, the society advocates the virtues of total abstinence.

The temperance societies started in the USA in the early 1820, and Welsh migrants in 1832 established the first welsh temperance society in Manchester, UK. The early societies emphasised drinking in moderation, the Ebbw Vale Temperance Society allowed two pints of beer per day.

There was a growing concern about the level of drinking in Wales following the passing of the Beerhouse Act 1830, which allowed for a huge increase in the number of drinking establishments.

The Beerhouse Act 1830 liberalised regulations on the brewing and sale of beer by individuals in the UK. The Act enabled anyone to brew and sell beer, ale or cider, whether from a public house or their own homes, upon obtaining a moderately priced license of just under ₤2 for beer and ale and ₤1 for cider, without recourse to obtaining them from justices of the peace, as was previously required. The result was the opening of hundreds of new pubs throughout the UK, and the reduction of the influence of the large breweries. It was only repealed in 1993

It was believed that the passage of the Act during the reign of William IV led to many taverns and pubs being named in his honour. Backed by the Duke of Wellington's ministry, allegedly to wean the public from gin consumption, the Act proved controversial, having both removed the lucratively monopoly of local justices and by failing to apply to publicans running existing public houses. It was denounced as promoting drunkenness.

Source: 'A history of Wales' by John Davies and Wikipedia.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Global Warming and Valley, Anglesey

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference is taking place in Cancun, Mexico as I type; from 29 November to 10 December 2010, I though I would look at some historical data.

The chart below shows the min temperatures for November from 1914 to 2008, as recorded at Valley, Anglesey. The raw data is available on the Met Office website. The red line is the trend line (linear), which shows the min temp decreasing over time (less cold in other words).

I’m not claiming that this alone proves global warming, it most likely shows a change in the seasons, we do experience milder autumns. But if that is the effect, then maybe global warming is the cause.

Also remember the earth's wobble, and its constantly changing path around the sun. The chart below (data from Redshift) shows the nearest distance the earth gets to the sun (perihelion), as you can see we are in the current cycle where we are moving further away from the Sun during winter and conversely closer during summer. You would think therefore our summers should be warmer and our winters colder . The perihelion-aphelion distance will be equal sometime after 38,000 AC.

The reason why this winter is so cold could be explained by the perihelion chart below, and why next winter it could be even colder, before it starts to warm up again.

Thursday, 2 December 2010


With thanks to Weather Online a computer model showing the changes in temperatures at different latitudes, and the warming effect of the gulf stream on the UK.

Winter and snow

We in the UK, love to talk about the weather, especially when it snows and brings the whole country to a complete shut down. Or so you would believe, if you watched the rolling news, with the annual calls for inquires and better preparation for next time.

This year the snow arrived early, it’s not officially winter yet, winter solstice is 21 December 2010. On that day the sun is at one of the two points in its path around the sky where it is as far from the celestial equator it ever can be. It normally snows in this country February and March.

Another annual popular question is - Why when it snows does the Scandinavian countries seem to cope so well?

Well, they are further away from the equator than most of the UK for a start, with the exception of parts of Scotland, and therefore get shorter days in winter. They also do not benefit the same as we do from the Gulf Stream, which warms the UK in winter. This means for them more snow, more often making the additional expenditure to cope justified. Then there are the strict driving laws during winter.

In Norway “there must be a minimum of 1.6 millimetre tread on summer tyres and a minimum of 3 millimetres on winter tyres. Vehicles must not be used unless they have sufficient road grip for the road surface.

During the winter, you must drive with winter tyres with or without studs. All-year tyres can also be used. Use of studded tyres is allowed from 1 November - 15 April. In Nordland, Troms and Finnmark studded tyres are allowed during the period 15 October - 1 May. Studded tyres may also be used outside these periods if the weather and road surface conditions make it necessary.

If studded tyres are fitted to a car weighing under 3.5 tonnes, they must be fitted to all four wheels. Vehicles with a permitted total weight of 3.5 tonnes or more, must carry snow chains if ice or snow is expected on the road. These snow chains must fit the vehicle's wheels.”

But don’t forget that sometimes even they cannot cope, as happened in Oslo last winter:

Complaints have poured in over lack of snow plowing"
February 5, 2010

"City officials in Oslo have been as dissatisfied with snow clearing this winter as local residents, and have issued fines amounting to several hundred thousand kroner to the three firms responsible for plowing streets and sidewalks.

“They just haven’t done a very good job,” Arne Sørlie of the city transport department told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Slippery streets last week prompted numerous vehicle collisions, while pedestrians were falling with alarming regularity.

The firms involved blame “two demanding snowfalls,” claiming they hadn’t finished clearing up the first dump before the second one hit. That was weeks ago, though, and many sidewalks still haven’t been cleared.

Consistently sub-freezing temperatures have meant they didn’t get any help from melting. One of the firms, Oslo Vei, admitted that “we can be better, like all others,” and promised to “check our routines” and “see what can be done differently.”


RSPB South Stack

One of the best places to see wildlife, in their natural environment is South Stack, Anglesey. The award winning wildlife reserve is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

Don’t worry if it’s cold weather, you can always buy a warming cup of tea at their café. Or visit the Visitor Centre, from which; in the breeding season, there are spectacular views of the seabird colonies. The reserve is especially important for its breeding choughs, with their nine pairs representing 2% of the UK population. The RSPB maintaining the heathland and farmland to provide suitable nesting and feeding conditions for this rare bird.

For more information and opening times visit their website.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Export markets are key.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) confirmed yesterday what some of us have being saying for months, current Coalition Government economic policies are likely to result in a short period of stagnation in the economy.

It also shows that forecast such as GDP, are constructs only and can; as admitted by the Chair of the OBR Robert Chote, be wrong as well as right. They depend on assumptions made of many unknowns.

It is clear; our future prosperity depends heavily on the health of the European economy, and a sustained growth in exports. This is because domestically, if you look at the UK overall debt, you will realise we have already maxed out our national credit cards, and that any recovery bought about by consumer spending (on say white goods, mostly imported) would not in the long term, be sustainable.

The Welsh Assembly in their economic renewal programme talk about choosing winners. One key element should be developing successful export markets for Welsh companies. Why therefore did the Welsh Assembly decide this year to disband the successful ‘International Business Wales’?

Especially as discovered by the CBI in October exports from Wales are falling, whilst they are growing for the rest of the UK.

Monday, 29 November 2010

The Observer's Book of Weather

With more snow forecast for Wednesday, the following is an extract from “The Observer’s Book of Weather’ by Mr Lester F.R Met. Soc. Published in 1955.

“In the British Isles snow is more frequent at the latter part of winter and early spring, and this is because there is a greater tendency for easterly winds from the Contingent to bring in the coldest weather around February and March.

Severe snow-storms can often be very local. We have had examples in southern England, with blizzards depositing a foot or more in snow in, say, one part of Kent, and places a few miles away without any snow at all. The explanation for this is that the heaviest falls occur along the continental side of a 'warm front', which in this country, of course, is the southeastern side. The snow rapidly decreases in amount on the opposite side of the front.

We often hear it said that it is 'too cold for snow'. Actually, it can never be too cold to snow, but when the temperature falls low in the British Isles it is generally during an anticyclone, or fine weather spell, and with the oncoming depression, the temperature rises…..

….Although snow is associated with Christmas in the northern hemisphere and is a regular feature of Christmas cards and stories, weather statistics prove that snow rarely falls in Christmas week. The Greenwich records show that, over a period of 83 years, snow has fallen on Christmas Day on only six occasions, and on Boxing Day on ten occasions. Only twice has it snowed on Christmas Eve. These figures apply to southern England only, but even in the Midlands and north of England it is more usual to have a 'green' than a 'white' Christmas.”


It concerns me, that once again a new Education Secretary, this time Mr Gove MP thinks he can play fast and loose with the future of England’s children. It has happened before and sadly, no doubt it will happen again, as politicians cannot help themselves, to “sort out the mess left by the previous administration”.

I’m not saying that everything Labour did was right, after all their obsession with league tables and performance indicators was lamentable for many reasons. It was an excuse for schools to concentrate on the ‘clever’ pupils whilst how shall I put it, dissuading less fortunate pupils.

However, Mr Gove’s idea that we should return in the main to end of term exams concerns me. I hated exams, especially those that could affect the rest of your life. Some pupils I recall took exams in their stride, passing with no apparent stress, but I like many others worried myself sick about them.

I recall my farther; who worked at Rio Tinto in the early eighties, attending a weekend course, at the end of which they where handed an exam paper to be returned within a week. My farther asked did this mean they could look up the answers. The reply was that Rio Tinto did not want parrots who could just regurgitate learnt information, the questions showed whether you could apply the information they had learnt. After all, if you had forgotten a certain formula all you need do is look it up in a book.

Life is all about learning, sometimes by our mistakes, it is a constant revaluation of what we know, from what we have learnt. We should never stop challenging accepted norms or ideas, sometimes in life a practical lesson will teach you far more than a syllabus book and end of term exam ever would.

Education should be about giving pupils a chance in life, it should not be the challenge, that in a very short period defines who they are, and what the rest of their lives will be.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Finest foods from Anglesey

Menai Oysters are suppliers of quality oysters and are featured in the Hairy Bikers cook book ‘Food Tour of Britain’.

Menai Oysters began life in 1994. Set up by marine biologist Shaun Krijnen,(MSc BSc) the company initially concentrated on oyster production, farming the pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas. Menai Oysters is a registered oyster and mussel farm located in the Menai Strait, Anglesey, North Wales. The original focus of the business was to produce very high quality shellfish for the wholesale and restaurant market. To this end investment has been directed toward the production, processing ,packaging and delivering of the shellfish. Menai Oysters meets all EU and UK requirements when it comes to health and hygiene.

You can order on line at Menai Oysters.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Education in Finland

Michael Gove MP and Education Secretary said recently that we should learn from other countries. According to the Programme for International Student Assessment in the last 3 assesments made (in 2000, 2003 and 2006) Finland came top of the league table.

“The Finnish education system is an egalitarian Nordic system, with no tuition fees for full-time students. Attendance is compulsory for nine years starting at age seven, and free meals are served to pupils at primary and secondary levels (called lukio in Finnish), where the pupils go to their local school. Education after primary school is divided into vocational and academic systems." (Source Wikipedia)

You can read a full report on Vocational Education and Training in Finland at this link: PDF download

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Care for us all when old.

We are all living longer. How we are to be looked after in our old age is an important question. We need to consider the care we provide and whether it is best suited to our needs.

The first priorities should be quality of life of the elderly, their dignity and respect. Where possible we should aim to allow people to live in their own homes, whilst recognising that in some circumstances this may not be in the best interest of the person.

Care for the elderly in this country is currently shared between the local council and the NHS, but this can lead to conflict of interest, and the lack of a joined up policy. The role of the local doctor is also important in providing quality care for the elderly.

My suggestion new unified regional authorities need to be set up to look after primary care of the elderly. Their priorities would be to ensure early intervention to ensure the health of the elderly and that where possible they can live in comfort at their homes.

Each elderly person would have a guaranteed care package (including a guaranteed improvement grant up to a maximum figure), on which they could draw, should the need arise without having to worry about any savings they may have. Those who wanted could then purchase extra insurance to opt for a better care package, more choices in terms of who treats them for example.

The Elderly Care Authority, in example, would manage short stay homes, to allow for respite care or for short-term care following treatment at hospital. They would employ their own specialist nurses and carers.

The local Doctor would have an important role in setting the standards and in forecasting the future care requirements of their patients, so that informed decisions could be made.

Remember the Elderly Care Authority need not necessarily be a public body, it could be a private firm, a not for profit trust or a charity. I recognise that there are many failings in the care of the elderly in the private sector, some of which are serious, but the same can be said of the public sector. We would need a different model on how we award or give bonuses each year of a contract.

The contract success would be judged on a health and well being satisfaction index of those cared for, the better the care and satisfaction of the elderly the larger the bonus. It should be a contract based on the quality of care provided and not the cost of the contract to the state.

What’s important is that care for the elderly is easy to understand, accessible and available, and that we put care back into the heart of any policy on caring for the elderly.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

External debt and Ireland

The near collapse of the Irish economy should be an important lesson to us in the UK. The main reason for the Irish crisis was not the level of public debt alone. Irelands public debt in 2009 was $42 billion or 57.7% of GDP, ranked 36 in the world. In comparison UK public debt in 2009 was 68.10% of GDP, 22 in world ranking.

Irelands biggest problem it seems, is the total level of its external debts. External debt (or foreign debt) is that part of the total debt in a country that is owed to creditors outside the country. The debtors can be the government, corporations or private households. The debt includes money owed to private commercial banks, other governments, or international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank.

In 2009 Irelands external debts stood at a stagering $2,287,000,000,000, or 1004% of GDP, or $515,671 for every Irish citizen. This together with other factors bought about a lack of confidence in Irelands ability to service its debts; hence lowering its credit rating and increasing the cost of borrowing money.

We should not be complacent either, our external debts in 2009 according to the CIA stood at $9,088,000,000,000, or 416% of GDP or $147,060 per capita. We are ranked fifth in the world (external debt as a percentage of GDP).

Anglesey - be inspired

Anglesey has long been the inspiration for famous artist, none more famous than Sir Kyffin Williams. Kyffin was one of the most popular living artists in Wales. His works typically drew inspiration from the Welsh landscape and farmlands, you can see many of his painting in galleries all over Britain and many are on permanent exhibition at Oriel Ynys Môn.

On the island today there are many renowned artist following in the footsteps of Sir Kyffin, and below is just a small selection.

"After almost 30 years of taking photographs, for the most part simply to please clients and art directors, I am now thankfully back in a situation where I can take pictures just for my own interest, having to please no one."

Crys Pierce
Crys Pearce established herself as an artist in Oxford, running her own studio during the 1980s. Born in Anglesey, North Wales, she moved back there in 1999 and now sells and paints from her studio/gallery at Maes Yr Awel, Menai Bridge. She has exhibited throughout the United Kingdom and internationally

An Anglesey artist, his work includes landscapes in oil paint of the island and North Wales. Powerful, spiritual works, based on observations of the environment. The paintings are at the same time traditional and contemporary and people connect with them on various levels.

For many more artist inspired by Ynys Môn see Anglesey Arts Forum

Monday, 22 November 2010

Have you a new DAB Radio yet?

Recently my old radio alarm clock stopped working, and as a replacement I though about purchasing a new DAB radio, as there is a discount to be had to encourage us to buy all singing and dancing DAB radios.

But first seeing that I listen to Radio Cymru, especially Dafydd a Caryl of the morning, I thought I’d check I could get Radio Cymru on DAB in Anglesey. The answer no, or as the BBC puts it:

"BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru are only available on DAB in areas where there is a local DAB multiplex operator. Currently there are two of these multiplexes up and running in Wales - the Cardiff and Newport area multiplex and the Swansea area multiplex.

Unfortunately we are unable to expand the coverage of Radio Wales and Radio Cymru on DAB until licences are awarded by Ofcom and the successful operators start broadcasting.

Local DAB licences covering Northeast Wales & West Cheshire, Mid and West Wales and North Wales have been awarded by Ofcom but there are no confirmed dates for the start of these services at present. When they do start, coverage may be limited within the service areas initially, due to commercial considerations and the availability of frequencies."

So not much point buying a DAB radio yet then………..

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Local Heroes - Francis Williams and Rev James Williams

Francis Williams and her husband the Rev James Williams of Llanfairynghornwy, were the founders of the first lifeboat station on Anglesey.

In 1823, Francis Williams witnessed the tragic shipwreck of the sailing vessel Alert off Carmel Head. The Alert, carrying passengers and some general cargo, was returning to Holyhead from Howth, Ireland when she was caught in the treacherous water between Carmel Head and Skerries. There were only three survivors with 140 people losing their lives.

After the shipwreck they vowed to do their utmost, to ensure that such a tragedy would never happen again. By 1828, they had raised enough money for a lifeboat to be stationed at Cemlyn. An Anglesey branch of the Royal National Institute for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was formed later that year, when Rev Williams also oversaw the construction of the first lifeboat built at Holyhead. The Rev Williams was the first coxswain of the lifeboat at Cemlyn, and it was not unkown for Francis Williams to be one of the volunter rowers.

In October, 1835, it was decided by members of the Royal National Institute for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck to award the Rev James Williams, a gold medal for his exploits in saving the boat Active at Cemaes Bay.

Of the rescue at Cemaes Bay, Barry Cox wrote in his book Lifeboat Gallantry: “The sailing vessel Active, anchored in Ramsey Bay, Isle of Man, during a northwesterly gale, started to drag her anchors then drifted out to sea as soon as they had been hauled up.

Many hours later, the smack drifted into Cemaes Bay, Anglesey, and tried to anchor but grounded a long way from the shore with every successive wave breaking over her. The Reverend Williams arrived after several unsuccessful attempts had been made to launch a boat and, ignoring the mountainous seas, rode a horse into the surf and drew near enough to throw a grappling hook over the smack’s bowsprit.

They were then able to launch a boat and pull out to the wreck whose crew of five were found in the cabin, too exhausted to move. All were landed safely.”

The Rev James Williams who died in 1872, was awarded a second gold medal for his bravey for saving lifes from the ship Sarah.

The Royal National Institute for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was taken over by the RNLI in 1885. The Cemlyn lifeboat station closed in 1918, and at Cemlyn you will see a monument commemorating its achievements.

Friday, 19 November 2010

The importance of Europe

Ireland has big problems. The Irish government’s decision to guarantee all investments in Irish banks, is looking less of a good idea than it was at the time. Ireland is in recession and things could be worse without a bailout from Europe.

Some in the UK query why should we; whom are facing harsh austerity measures ourselves, provide financial aid to Ireland?

It is important we do for various reasons. The UK is Ireland’s second largest trading partner behind the USA. Our banks have lent Ireland a substancial amount; RBS and Lloyds alone have total loans of £80 billion to Irish customers, of which £28 billion is in mortgages (source The Times).

If Ireland crashes, then other countries within the euro zone may follow suit. Portugal and Spain in example, both like Ireland have seen a property market collapse. This cannot be good for the stability of the European Union.

The EU is our biggest trading partner; in September 2010, our total value in goods exported to the EU was £11.8 billion in comparison to £10.9 billion for non EU Countries (Source ONS and uktradeinfo). True there are other developing markets China and India, but it will take time and they will not overnight replace any trade lost with Europe as a whole being in recession.

Least of all but still important, an Ireland economy in free fall would be very bad news for the economy of Anglesey.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The importance of 'pawb'

The residents of the island are not in favour of Wylfa B, is I think the message that PAWB, the anti nuclear campaign group were saying when they published the results of a survey of 500 they had commissioned. No surprise there then some would say, but I’m sure the survey carried out by Bangor University was all very scientific and correct.

One of PAWB’s concerns is nuclear waste, and how would future generations dispose of it safely. The thing though for me, at this moment in time, when you think of future generations; I suspect they would say nuclear waste is the least of their worries.

We are consuming and wasting far too much, whilst rushing blindly torwards the future ignoring most warnings about the problems we are causing. Call it what you may, but lets be clear we are not talking about saving the planet; her destiny is already mapped out in the stars. What we should be talking about is saving our civilisation, whether as pointed out by some you can call it ‘civil’ is a moot point. You need only study nature to realise what happens to a species that out grows its own food supply.

And of nuclear waste and what to do with it, 'store it safe for a very long time' is maybe the only answer we have at the moment, but we are rather good at storing things safely for a long time. True there are bad examples from the early days of nuclear development of how not to store nuclear waste, some of which is still a cause of concern at Sellafield. Maybe one day we will develop a means of making the waste safe quicker, than having to wait a very long time as it degrades to a safe level.

It's really down to a judgment call as to whether you think nuclear power today will burden or ease the plight of future generations. I think it is a finely balanced argument, but I believe that nuclear power is one of the best options available to us, which although will burden future generation, it will also in other ways lessen the destruction we leave behind.

Otherwise, we need to drastically reduce our reliance on electricity. In example, goodbye to gadgets like i-phones and i-pads, flat screen TV’s etc, not just because of the electricity they consume, but mainly due to the electricity used to produce them, to keep the networks running, and lets not forget the rare metals used in their production. We would need to embrace a mass transport system and say goodbye to individual electric cars, which are not as green as they are made out to be. But lets be honest, can you really say you could sell that message today?

Nuclear power is a proven technology, but still it’s important that the likes of PAWB keep on asking difficult questions and demand reasonable answers, for it’s an industry that needs proper scrutiny for our well being as well as those of future generations.

In welsh pawb means everyone.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Democracy for Burma - Aung San Suu Kyi

I type these words in the safe knowledge that no one is likely to break through the front door and drag me away to be detained by a regime for daring to criticise the state.

But this is the daily reality for many throughout the world, who dare speak out against an oppressive state. And now and then we see beacons for democracy, that break through the darkness of an evil regime’s propaganda, and give us hope that if we all stand together in our belief in democracy that all is not lost.

It is not only their bravery we applaud, but their dignity and humanity, which had we been faced with the same daily provocation as they, we could not match.

One true beacon can be found in the forgotten land of Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi the pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate, has come to symbolise the struggle of Burma’s people to be free. She has spent more than 15 years in detention, most of it under house arrest, and was only recently released from her third period of detention on Saturday 13 November 2010.

We should all support her and the people of Burma on their path to peace, freedom and democracy.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Local Heroes - Coxswain Dick Evans

"It's not your own life, it's the crew. When I thought I could do something spectacular and very risky I had to remember that I was risking other lives as well." Dick Evans

These are the words of a brave man, whom with his crew on numerous occasions, carried out daring sea rescues. As Moelfre lifeboat coxswain, he is one of the few sailors ever to have won the Royal National Lifeboat Institution Gold medal for bravery twice.

Dick Evans received his first gold medal for bravery when he helped rescue the stricken Hindlea on October 27 1959. In a hurricane, with winds gusting up to 104mph, he and his crew rescued the crew of the Hindlea as 48 foot waves pounded the lifeboat.

He won his second gold medal at the age of 61, for his efforts to help save the crew of the Greek freighter Nafsiporos, which had lost power in a cyclone and was drifting dangerously close to the notorious Skerries islands off Holyhead. With his crew of Murley Francis, Hugh Owen, Evan Owen, Huw Jones, William Maynard Davies, Capt David Jeavons and his own son, David, Dick Evans helped rescue the crew off the ship, despite sustaining great damage to the lifeboat.

At Moelfre by the Seawatch museum, there is a bronze statute in honour of the great man. Dick Evans was born at Moelfre on 19 January 1905 and died 14 September 2001.

You can donate to the RNLI at their website

Remembrance Sunday

For The Fallen by Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Anglesey and the weather

Mention Anglesey to them over bridge and they are most likely to respond with “It always rains there, and what about the wind.”, even glum Anglesey people fall into this trap of saying how bad the weather is.

However if you look at the facts (from the Met Office) you soon realise that Anglesey is not that bad after all. So does it rain a lot in Anglesey, well not really, its about average in comparison to the rest of UK in the spring and summer. In comparison with England and the annual average though it does. Below shows the average rainfall annually, spring and summer.

And there's more good news

We do not get much frost, our mean average temperature is comparable to the majority of England, and as for sunshine we do rather well, especially in the spring and winter. For the jumpy amongst you, Anglesey does not have many days of thunder

And in terms of growing season, we fair rather well also..

So our weather's not that bad after all, if you don't mention the wind...

Above maps are subject to Met Office copyright.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Môn Mam Cymru - breadbasket of Wales.

Ynys Môn was once known as 'Môn Mam Cymru', and was named as such during the middle ages, as its fertile fields were the breadbasket of North Wales.

We know that premium foods are good for remote regions, (i.e. shellfish from the Outer Hebrides) because they can attract premium prices, making the product viable. Also some regions over the years, have built reputations for excellent food, the Ludlow food festival is a good example, or Trinity College of Ireland.

Countries have also shown us the way forward. Bacon and you think ‘Danish’, lamb that be New Zealand, a decent wine irrespective of year, Australia.

Now we know this formula can be successful on the island, Anglesey Sea Salt being one, or Derimôn another. So why cant we build on these success stories and establish an image of Anglesey as a producer of ‘Organic’ and ‘Green’ wholesome food. Why don’t we invest in premium foods, in research to find key markets for the island, and in development and marketing. Associated with this we should encourage award winning restaurants and hotels to open and attract tourist and punters to stay and enjoy. We should aim to be the destination for all aspiring chefs, a place to learn and make a name for themselves.

Tourism makes money, think of nations that consume and spend the most and really dig history, especially if it involves folklore, and the next logical steps are not that difficult are they?

Forget building prisons, or attracting a large manufacturer or some vague concept of an energy island – “yeah dad lets visit that place that produces electricity”, rather lets think within the kitchen and make the island once again the breadbasket of Wales.

Anglesey and job creation - Part II

In part one, I speculated as to reasons why new SME’s may not establish themselves on the island.

We should not, in the first place, forget that we are still recovering from a recession, one that was nearly preceded by the collapse of the world banking system. Neither should we forget that the IMF predicts that there is likely to be a period of stagnation in the economy.

Currently the banks are very reluctant to lend, even to existing customers, as for start up’s what chances have they? But there’s grants available I hear you cry, which is true, but they alone are not the answer, as Ireland found out they do not guarantee long term stability.

So, do not expected miracles anytime soon, until that is the economy recovers and shows sustained growth. Now it seems, is not the time to start a new firm, or expand an existing firm, not saying that it’s impossible, but rather difficult.

But if we are talking about job creation, you cant blame it all on the economy or the banks, or come to that on politicians. Strange isn’t that how the political right believe in 'small' government, and in a free market ideology, but are all to quick to blame politicians, when things go wrong, on matters they say politicians shouldn’t interfere with in the first place. Of course politicians are just as much to blame, how often do they think they can get away with taking credit for the good times, whilst denying they have anything to do with the bad times.

What matters to an unemployed bloke in say Holyhead or Amlwch? I doubt it is the fact the Outer Hebrides out performed Anglesey, he is still out of work. I doubt even if he cares the GVA per head of Anglesey is low, he just wants a job. And this wont be achieved if all we read about is political discourse, and political point scoring, and political negative campaigns. He will still be unemployed.

What are the solutions, what is needed to bring jobs to the island ? - I have'nt got a magic wand or a super new idea, but for what they are worth, here are some suggestions:

The Local Development Plan needs to be fast tracked and prioritised by the Council.

We need a substantial investment in broadband, we should aim to have the fastest service available, so we can have an advantage for a change.

An Anglesey Employment Board should be setup, with representatives from leading business, business organisation, charities, employment projects and specialist advisors to advice the Council, and to draw a clear employment strategy for the island, and working with them an Anglesey Employment Team with representatives of each key Council department and others to manage and implement the agreed strategy.

As for my last suggestion, I know that there are similar in place already, but sadly as a whole there is a perception that they do not seem to be working, and my suggested employment board would not have any politicians on it. Not another QUANGO, well yes, sometimes we have this mistaken belief that democracy equals accountability, when quite clearly it does not. It should be business sense, best practice and a partnership of the willing, driving forward employment strategy rather than the short-term popularity contest of local politics.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Anglesey and job creation - Part I

What are the barriers stopping new companies from setting up on the island, especially SME’s the backbone of any country? The European Union define SME's as any company with more than 10 employees or a turnover of 2 million euro’s. They have various categories starting with a micro SME.

It is education?

As can be seen from the chart below (from ONS), the island in comparison with the remainder of the country is equal if not better.

So its unlikely to be down to lack of a educated workforce.

Is it lack of grants?

Anglesey has access to an array of business grants, a large proportion of which is from the European Union. So it seems it cant be due to lack of grants.

What about access to markets?

It depends on the product, for example the Outer Hebrides; which are far more remote than Anglesey, have a successful fishing industry. Fishing in the Outer Hebrides is a high value industry with shellfish accounting for 90% of landings. They support around 400 full-time jobs plus another 250 jobs in processing and other directly related activities onshore. Also fish farming supports 150 on-farm jobs together with another 170 employed in processing. The industry has an annual production income of around £60m. (Details from Outer Hebrides Coastal Marine Patnership)

In other words quality premium food products that can attract premium prices, which makes them viable. Think of Anglesey and the successful sea salt company another premium product.

Otherwise, in terms of production, location, and access to markets, Anglesey will always loose out to the North East of Wales. Think of the number of 'ordinary' food companies who have tried and failed on the island and compare them to the likes of Tomlinson Dairies of Coedpoeth and Village Bakery of the same village.

Is it infrastructure?

In terms of roads and boats, there is good road access to and from the populated areas of the North East of Wales and North West of England and very good sea access to the Irish markets.

However, in terms of broadband Anglesey would score poorly, and is at a disadvantage if trying to attract new technology firms.

In part 2 I shall build on the above and make some suggestions as to a way forward for employment on the island.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Finest foods from Anglesey.

If you have travelled on the A5025 pass Dulas City (or is it City Dulas?) you may have seen an ‘A board’ advertising a smokery. Well you will have just passed Derimôn an award winning local producer of smoked food.

They produce an extensive range including classic smoked salmon - cold or hot roast, poultry, game, meat, many cheeses through to tomatoes, welsh butter and sea salt. Wherever possible, they source the produce locally to ensure premium quality.

You can order online by visiting their website, or why not visit their shop.

Anglesey and the unemployed – Part II

Before we can think about how you can help the unemployed, you need to know who the unemployed are. According to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics the age groups of the unemployed in Anglesey is as follows:

As can be seen a high percentage of the unemployed are in the age group 25-49. Now there are many reasons for this, lack of jobs being the largest factor, in August 2009 the number of unfilled jobs in Anglesey registered at the job centre was 128. It's not supprising therefore, that those who can cross the bridge in search of work.

We should also be honest and admit that whilst the majority of the unemployed are looking for work and want work, there will be a minority that are put bluntly unemployable. However, this will be down to more than just an idle attitude, but other factors, environment, lack of opportunity, and lack of proper guidance when young.

Its far to easy to pick on this small group, especially by those on the right – the rhetoric is all to recognisable – “idle layabouts, doing nothing all day, what they need is a hard days work picking litter, that’ll get them fit for work”. How exactly does forcing someone who does not want to work into ‘hard labour’ going to persuade them that work is a better option, especially when there is well above 10 unemployed people for every job advertised?