Author Archives: Peter Black AM

Peter Black AM writes…A Welsh budget cast in partnership

The summer of 2014 was a particularly busy one. In addition to the usual constituency and regional based activities I was also engaged in a series of meetings with the Finance Minister and her officials in an effort to get a budget deal for the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

The history of these deals has been chequered during this fourth Assembly. Labour do not have a majority so they need the support of at least one other party to get their budget through. They will not deal with the Conservatives so that just leaves two other possible partners.

At first, the Labour Government had it made. They negotiated with both the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, and played one off against the other. In their first budget, they struck a deal with the Welsh Lib Dems and as a result, the pupil deprivation grant was born. In the second they did a deal with Plaid Cymru, who secured a two year investment in apprenticeships.

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Opinion: more freedom, more responsibility, more accountability for Wales

The launch of the Silk Commission’s first report this week is a real win for liberalism.

The report looks at the financial powers that the National Assembly for Wales should have, how accountable it is for its spending and how we ensure effective economic policy is rewarded. I welcome the report’s declaration that a number of taxes, such as air passenger duty and landfill tax, should be devolved. But more significantly, the report also recommends that by 2020, …

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Opinion: Standing up for the rights of mobile home owners

A recent survey by a consumer watchdog has found that more than 40 per cent of park homes residents have said that they feel unable to sell or buy their home freely due to a fear of site operators blocking sales. Consumer Focus Wales has discovered that almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of park home residents in Wales who were interviewed have experienced problems on their site in the past five years, while 29 per cent have experienced problems with site maintenance, security or safety standards.

Local councils have also told the consumer watchdog that penalties are not severe enough for rogue site operators, while it is almost impossible to revoke a licence. The high costs of potential court cases against rogue site operators means that local authorities are reluctant to take action which might affect vulnerable residents.

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Peter Black AM writes: Welsh Liberal Democrats say no to regional pay

The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe that regional pay would further entrench Wales as a low-pay economy, both in the public and private sectors. More to the point it would lead to men and women doing the same job at different ends of the country, but receiving different rates of pay. I believe in the principle of an individual being paid a rate for a job, not in a multi-tier system which sees wages set on a postcode-by-postcode basis which will ultimately see the rich areas of south-east England become richer at the expense of the rest of the UK and …

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Opinion: A guide to fighting list seats

In writing this article I do not claim any great wisdom in how to fight list elections. In fact the fact I survived the latest Welsh Assembly poll has more to do with the decline in the Plaid Cymru vote than anything I did, though the amount of effort and targeted work we put in must have had some significance in securing a 54 vote majority.

This is what I did. It may not be appropriate in other areas and it may be fairly obvious to any experienced campaigner. Inevitably there were things I could have done better or did not …

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Opinon: two referendums and an election – Wales and coalitions (part 3)

The third element of the coalition agreement relates to the powers of the Welsh Assembly. At present we can only pass laws piecemeal. An order passing legislative competence in a specified area of policy is requested by the Assembly, scrutinised by us and by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee and then passed in Cardiff Bay and in both houses of Parliament before receiving royal assent.

It is a long and expensive process not to mention frustrating. The Housing order for example took three years to be approved. The referendum, which is now scheduled to be held in the spring, will …

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Opinon: fighting for funding – Wales and coalitions (part 2)

Previously, I referred to the fact that the Coalition Agreement contained three specific provisions relating to Wales. One of these concerned the drawing down of legislative powers over housing.The second provision relates to the way that Wales (and Scotland for that matter) is funded. This is a matter of some controversy here and the coalition agreement offers little clarity on how it is to be resolved. It is safe to say that the rather esoteric phrase referring to it needs to be subject to negotiation with UK Treasury Ministers so as to establish the best way forward.

Funding has been …

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Opinion: four party government – Wales and coalitions (part 1)

The Welsh Assembly is in a unique situation. Each of the four parties represented there are in government at some level. Whilst the Liberal Democrats have entered government in Westminster for the first time, Labour and Plaid Cymru are in their final year of coalition government in Cardiff Bay.

This has made for interesting Plenary sessions with both the Welsh governing parties intent on blaming the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives for long-standing problems, whilst we are intent on continuing our scrutiny of their record.

The Coalition Agreement contained three specific provisions relating to Wales. One of these concerned the drawing down …

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Peter Black AM writes… Early days

As we move into week three of a new Welsh Assembly term, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are pursuing their distinctive agenda with a renewed vigour and confidence under new leadership. Whilst the Welsh Conservative group remain in disarray over media revelations about their expenses and reported attempted coups against their leadership, our new leader Kirsty Williams has taken the opportunity to make her mark.

So far our profile has been high. We have led the way in exposing increased spending by the Welsh Assembly Government on consultants – nearly double on previous years; we have highlighted poor ambulance response …

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Peter Black AM: Welsh Liberal Democrat leadership race to begin soon?

At some time on the weekend of the 11th to 12th October the current leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Mike German, will stand up to make a speech to our national conference and conclude it by announcing that he is to stand down from that position with immediate effect.

Although Mike only assumed the mantle of party leader just under a year ago, he has led the Welsh Assembly Liberal Democrat group from day one. He will therefore have served nine years in the post, ten if you count the leadership role he was elected to in the run-up to …

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Opinion: One year on

This week saw the first anniversary of the One Wales Government, the coalition deal that put Plaid Cymru into government in Wales in alliance with Labour. To mark that occasion the Welsh Liberal Democrats staged a debate on the record of that Government, highlighting the many unfulfilled promises and the problems facing the two parties in delivering an uncosted wish-list.

A few ministers over the last few weeks have sought to deflect criticism by responding to several attacks by saying that ‘you have to be in government to change things’. However, what is clear and what has been demonstrated in …

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The view from Wales: Lib Dems resurgent

Whatever you might say about the Welsh Liberal Democrats we are tenacious. From standstill in last May’s Assembly elections; to summer chaos, as we attempted to forge a coalition with the wrong parties only to see Plaid Cymru walk away to join up with Labour; to a set of local election results in which we not only held our own but actually advanced on our 2004 high.

Of the 33 net gains by the Liberal Democrats on 1 May, 21 of them were in Wales. In three of the four Councils we lead we increased our representation and consolidated our position, …

Posted in Op-eds and Wales | 8 Comments

Opinion: This is what the Welsh Liberal Democrats are for

In a major new pamphlet, published in full here on Lib Dem Voice, Peter Black, Welsh Assembly member for South Wales West, sets out the challenges and opportunities for the Liberal Democrats in Wales.

The challenge

The outcome of the 2007 Assembly elections was both frustrating and disappointing for the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Despite increasing our vote share in the constituencies, despite fighting a very professional all-Wales campaign, we failed for the second time to increase the size of our Assembly Group past six.

I have no desire to re-open the debate that the party entered into following the election. The outcome of those discussions was that we voted to go into a rainbow coalition with Plaid Cymru and the Tories only to see the Nationalists walk away and sign up to a deal with Labour. There are a few things that need to happen now, firstly the party needs to learn the lessons of the past few months and we need to regroup and then rebuild with the one clear aim of getting our message to the people of Wales.

Our problem last May was our failure to connect with voters. We failed to make it clear to them what it means to be a Welsh Liberal Democrat. We went into the election with a detailed manifesto containing hundreds of radical policies, many of which we shared with the other parties. Although we pulled out three particular policy areas to major on in the election, these issues were not presented clearly or effectively and they turned out to be the same issues that the other parties were promoting as well. We failed to make them relevant or unique to us because we did not relate our positions to the day-to-day experience of ordinary voters. In other words we did not use our manifesto as a campaigning tool.

One reason for that omission is that we have spent too long mistaking our activity in the hallowed corridors of the Assembly for campaigning. Whilst the work we do in the Assembly is important, for a political party it can never be a substitute for honest groundwork and visible local community involvement. In many cases we did not get out into communities to deliver our message to voters. That has not been universal, because in those areas where we did work and where we did have a localised message that resonated with people, our vote not only held up but in some cases dramatically increased. It was the rest of Wales, the vast majority of communities where that did not happen.

In this respect we could learn a lot from Plaid Cymru. Our elected Parliamentarians and Assembly Members should be taking a lead, getting out onto the streets with other activists to talk and listen to people about their concerns and ideas. We should be using the real experience of our constituents and framing our policies in a way that they can identify with. In other words we need to put into practice on a national level what is at the heart of Welsh Liberal Democrat philosophy, devolution, localisation, community empowerment, real, genuine interaction with communities.

At a UK level we have a distinctive agenda based on civil liberties, freedom and the environment. Although we have tried to carry that agenda over into a Welsh context as yet we have failed to make an impact.

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