Saturday, 31 January 2009

Wasting scarce energy resources

It looks increasingly likely that the gas turbine power station proposed for Pembroke will get the official go-ahead. I have argued against this proposal before and will continue to do so. It's not an easy stance to take when others are queuing up to welcome the jobs (although this week's events elsewhere underline the fact that there's never any guarantee that the construction jobs will go to local people anyway).

But I genuinely believe that it's the wrong thing to do, and however easy it might be to join in with the prevailing consensus, I think it is dishonest and unprincipled for a politician to support the wrong developments for purely local advantage.

Natural gas is a finite resource, at some point we will run out. I don't know when that will be - and nor does anyone else - but we all know that, at some point, run out it will. So if we are going to use it to provide us with energy at all, it is surely important that we do so in the way that makes the best possible use of the resource.

The CCGT station proposed for Pembroke will deliver, overall, less than 50% energy efficiency – that is to say, over half the available energy content of the gas will be simply wasted, thrown away. Yet a number of smaller CHP schemes, situated closer to towns and industries, could burn the same amount of gas and achieve an overall energy efficiency level of around 85%. That means we would not only get almost twice as much energy for a given volume of gas, but we would also halve the level of emissions per unit of useful energy. In terms of which is best for the environment, this is a no-brainer.

Even on the jobs front, a series of smaller CHP stations would not only be better for the environment – it would also probably provide more jobs. And since the same amount of gas would last twice as long for the same energy output, they might even be more secure and long term jobs.

A few days ago, in relation to the proposal for a nuclear station at Wylfa, I argued that we should not be willing to accept jobs at any price, and I'm taking the same line with this development closer to home. We need jobs, but we need jobs which are consistent with our environmental policies, not jobs which undermine them. And those jobs are available if we take the right decisions on energy policy – it's not pie in the sky.

So why is that not happening? That's where we come right back to the way energy policy is (or rather is not) being determined in the UK. Decisions on what type of plant to build where are being left to the free market; so the plant we get is that which makes the most profit for its operators, not that which best fits the environmental needs. That will continue to be the case until we have a government which is prepared to take direct responsibility for ensuring that energy policy matches the commitments made to reducing greenhouse emissions.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

When is a job not a job?

According to the front-page story in this week's "Carmarthen Journal", (the story appears not to be in their online version, so no link) a company in Cynwyl Elfed has been advertising through Jobcentre for 'webcam performers'. The job description goes on to say that the successful applicants would have to be nude or semi-nude whilst performing in front of the webcam in response to customers' fantasies.

The image of people queuing up in Cynwyl Elfed to display their all is an interesting one, but as the story goes on to say, it isn't quite that simple. The company concerned is an introduction service, "which may introduce people to webcam work amongst other things".

It's up to individuals, of course, to decide whether this is the sort of activity in which they wish to engage in order to earn their daily crust, and since it can apparently be done entirely in the comfort of their own homes, I suppose there may even be some people in Cynwyl Elfed who decide to offer their services.

There are three things that concern me about this, however.

Firstly, it appears that there aren't really any 'jobs' at all on offer, merely an opportunity to go onto a register on the off-chance that there may be a 'job' at some point in the future. A Jobcentre spokesperson defended the advert by saying that they have a duty to advertise any legal jobs. Maybe, but I'm not actually convinced that these are 'jobs' at all.

Secondly, is this really what Jobcentres should be offering what are likely to be increasing numbers of increasingly desperate unemployed people? There may well be no obligation on the jobless to apply, but there is a real danger here that vulnerable people are going to be exploited, and that it will appear that the government is in some way approving that.

And finally, in this age of lies, damned lies and government statistics, are these 'jobs' being counted when government spokespersons tell us that there's plenty of work available at local Jobcentres?

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Ebbing and flowing

Yesterday's announcement, effectively confirming that the largest scheme for harnessing the tidal power of the Severn estuary is still the front runner, was disappointing, to say the least. Sometimes, there seems to be something of an obsession in government with having dramatic single big 'solutions' to problems, rather than an acceptance that a range of smaller schemes might actually be a better approach.

Clearly, the tidal range of the Severn estuary makes it a prime candidate for harnessing the power which is available there, but I remain unconvinced that a dam across the whole estuary is the best way of doing that, not least because of the environmental damage that such a barrage would itself cause.

One of the problems for those of us who advocate more use of renewable energy is the potential variability in the supply. The advantage of tidal power, of course, is that it is almost entirely predictable – tides ebb and flow in a regular cycle. But that predictable cycle includes two high tides and two low tides every day, and that means that, for any scheme harnessing tidal power, there will be, to a greater or lesser extent, peaks and troughs in the flow of water (and therefore the power generated) each day.

However, around the coast of Wales, there is a 5-hour range in the time of high tide. A series of smaller tidal schemes around the coast would produce less electricity in total, but there would be a more constant supply. Of course, the flow of the tide is not as powerful in every location, which makes the Severn estuary a good place to start implementing tidal technology. But if we want to use renewable sources of energy as a replacement for base load, isn't maximising the use of that tidal range a better option than a single large scheme, which means that we would still need other sources to meet base load when the tidal flow is at its lowest?

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Tins and Labels

Glyn Davies seems to have got a bit over-excited in his reaction to the statement that Ieuan Wyn Jones made after the news that Wylfa is on a list of four potential sites for a new nuclear power station. As far as I can see, all Ieuan actually said was "There are job implications here, but what we need to do is see whether a company is interested and then we need to consider that very carefully". Turning that into "giving a new plant at Wylfa his full backing", is stretching a point, even for a poitician. No real surprise to see Peter Black echoing Glyn's view on this.

It's an even bigger jump to suggest that if Ieuan were to support a new plant at Wylfa, that somehow makes Plaid a 'pro-nuclear' party. I can see how Tory and Lib Dem politicians (and Labour ones too, come to that) might make that wild jump though. After all, for those parties, 'policy' is whatever the leader says it is, and if the leader changes his or her mind, the whole party follows suit.

Things don't work that way in Plaid. Plaid's policy is decided democratically by the membership, not by the leader. And unless and until the membership decide to change policy, Plaid remains opposed to building any new nuclear power stations. I don't expect that to happen anytime soon; I expect Plaid to continue its opposition to nuclear power – whatever position Ieuan may adopt in relation to a new plant at Wylfa when full details eventually become known.

I suppose that I can't blame political opponents for seeing an opportunity for a bit of point-scoring, but there is a danger that point-scoring obscures what we should really be debating, which is whether we should be building new nuclear power stations or not.

The arguments have definitely changed in recent years, as the potential consequences of climate change become clearer, and it is right that we should always be willing to re-evaluate the arguments for and against in the light of changed circumstances – but for my part, I think that the arguments against are still very much stronger than the arguments in favour.

I do not dismiss lightly the arguments which some environmentalists are putting forward in favour of the nuclear option. I heard Sir John Houghton speak on climate change in Narberth a year or two ago, and he made a number of telling points – not the least of which is that nuclear power stations might actually be quite a good way of using all the plutonium which has been manufactured and stockpiled for nuclear weapons. That's an attractive thought, of course.

And there is no doubt that, during the operational lifetime, the carbon cost of electricity from a nuclear power station is extremely low, one of the key reasons why nuclear is being pushed as a 'clean' option. The problem is, of course, that it's not the whole story. To assess how clean any source of power is, one needs to know the carbon cost of building and decommissioning the stations, the carbon cost of producing the raw fuel, and the carbon cost of handling the waste. We don't yet know the carbon costs of decommissioning nuclear power stations – and since we don't yet know what to do with the waste, we don't know the carbon costs of handling that, either. In summary, that means that no-one really knows the full carbon costs of nuclear power – which gives an interesting context to the claims about its 'cleanness'. I'd be confident that the total carbon cost is less than burning fossil fuels, but the certainty with which it is promoted as a green fuel is not as unchallengable as some might suggest.

There are a number of arguments against building new nuclear power stations, but for me, the issues surrounding nuclear waste remain the killer argument against use of the technology. Because, to date, no-one has found a satisfactory way of disposing of the highly radio-active waste produced by these plants. The 'default' option is to keep it somewhere 'safe' and guard it - for potentially thousands of years. It's hardly a very sound environmental basis for an energy policy.

The lack of clarity over how waste is to be handled also challenges the economics of nuclear energy. If no-one knows what we're going to do with the waste, how can anyone know what the electricity is going to cost? The answer is that all costings effectively make one of two unstated assumptions. They either include an element of cost for waste treatment and disposal, and assume that whatever number has been used will be enough for whatever disposal method is eventually selected - or else they assume that someone else - the taxpayer - will pick up the cost. Or maybe even a bit of both.

So, as far as I am concerned, nuclear is not the answer. We need to start by reducing the total demand for electricity. That is a completely achievable objective, and energy conservation measures will do more to help fight emissions than any nuclear power station. They'll probably create more jobs too. And above all, we need to be turning to renewable energy, as Plaid have been saying for years.

There is one point on which I do agree with Glyn, however – and that is that the jobs argument is not the strongest argument for a new nuclear station. In fact, I'd go further, and say it's completely the wrong argument. I understand that it may not look that way from Anglesey, of course. The island was recently listed as having the lowest GDP per head in Britain, and that without the redundancies they are now facing. I can understand why some might feel that they have no choice. But should we really accept jobs at any price?

The Assembly Government has recently produced two excellent strategies – one on energy policy and the other on greening the economy. I have previously expressed my own doubts as to whether the Assembly actually has the powers to implement the strategies, but I have no doubt that they are good. Neither of them suggests that we should be building any new nuclear power stations. In that context, welcoming – or even simply accepting – developments which run counter to the agreed strategies would be to render those strategies utterly meaningless, and I am confident that the Assembly Government will recognise that in its own response to any proposals.

So, if Plaid policy and the policy of the Government of which Plaid is a part both remain opposed to any new nuclear power stations, how on earth can anyone claim that one member – even if that member is the leader - holding an alternative viewpoint makes Plaid a pro-nuclear party? It's nonsense, and both Glyn and Peter know it.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

A missed opportunity

I was disappointed, but not really surprised, at the decision last week to allow the short-sellers to start trading bank shares again. Nor was it any great surprise that the announcement was rapidly followed by further large falls in the price of banking shares. It's not yet been entirely clearly demonstrated that the two are directly connected, but there can be no doubt that the recommencement of short-selling in bank shares will inevitably make them more volatile.

No doubt the Tories – largely funded by profits on this sort of activity – will be pleased that their donors can start their gambling again, but it's bad news for the rest of us. Most of all, it looks like a major missed opportunity to reconsider what the markets are for, and how they should be organised and controlled.

To listen to some free market supporters, one might think that 'the markets' have some sort of existence independent of human society, and that we should all accept that we have to do whatever 'the markets' tell us. It's not true of course, and never has been.

Markets are a human invention, and they can often be an efficient way of trading goods and services. But we should never forget that markets are there to serve us, not the other way around; and we should be ready as a society to regulate and control the activities in our markets in order to make sure that they serve our needs as humans and societies.

The problem is – and although this isn't the only cause of the current financial disaster, it's certainly a contributory factor – that some markets, particularly financial markets, have become more akin to casinos than places for the exchange of goods and services. Gamblers and speculators have been betting on future movements of prices – and not just betting on them, but speculating in such large sums that they actually influence prices in a way which enables them to make money. They may become wealthy as a result – but they haven't actually created the wealth which they accrue, they have merely redistributed it – to them, and from the rest of us.

Best of all, from their point of view, is that they seem to have found a way of betting with our money. When they win, we lose, and when they lose – er, we still lose. Now, I don't have any great moral aversion to people betting, as long as they do so in places where they are staking their own money, where all those involved understand that they are betting, not investing, and that they can lose as well as win, and where their betting does not cause problems for the rest of us.

Using the markets as a casino adds no value to human society and works against the interests of most of us. There should be no place in an orderly market for people to use them in this way. Rather than re-opening the flood gates, the government and regulatory authorities should be using the opportunity to look again at how we can ensure that markets are made to operate in the interests of society as a whole.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Conflicting promises

The Green Man has written to me with a cut and pasted list of Peter Black's accusations of alleged failures by Plaid Cymru, seeking an explanation. It's an interesting, if somewhat muddled, list that Peter has put together, and to which Green Man has added some extra 'failures' in a comment before sending them on to me.

Inevitably, the original list has the sort of spin which one might expect of an opposition politiican. Lib Dem AMs are, of course, entitled to try and portray Plaid in the worst light possible, but he was really struggling with some of the items on his list. It felt a bit like he'd decided that he was going to get to a list of 10 by hook or by crook - but even after stretching the points as far as he could, he could still only manage a pretty tenuous 9.

In an even more interesting piece of spin, Green Man manages to invent promises that we never made in order to accuse us of not keeping them. It's an interesting approach, but pretty pointless really. According to him, we promised both a "moratorium on all further Wind Turbine developments" and "to cover all the best bits of Wales with ugly useless subsidised wind turbines". I suppose it's inevitable that he concludes we've only kept one of them – it would have been pretty difficult to keep both. In reality, of course, we promised neither and have done neither, but why let mere facts get in the way of a good rant?

Thursday, 15 January 2009

To fly or not to fly

It seems certain that the UK Government will today give its stamp of approval to the scheme for a third runway at Heathrow, and that the scheme will include a new rail hub at the airport as well.

I think that the reference to a rail hub first surfaced in The Sunday Times, the week before last. The idea was being floated by the Transport Minister, Lord Adonis. His argument included the idea that such a hub would link the north of England and Scotland to the European High Speed rail network, so that some travellers could use the opportunity to avoid air travel completely for short haul flights to the continent. In short, it was an attempt to put something of a green spin on the Heathrow announcement.

I've argued before that we should be planning to connect Wales to the European network of high speed trains, so my initial reaction to the article was quite favourable. On further reading however, there did seem to be two significant pieces of the jigsaw missing.

Firstly, it was not at all clear to me how exactly the hub would be linked into the high speed network at St Pancras, on the east side of London, which seemed to be the plan. The implication was that it would be by tunnel under London - and a different tunnel from the CrossRail project which has already been approved. But CrossRail has taken many years to get to this stage, and it's not just cynicism which left me wondering whether a second East-West tunnel under London is really going to happen.

Secondly, there is absolutely no intention as part of this plan to build a high speed link from Heathrow to South Wales. That would have to be a separate future project. Despite the Western Mail headline, the government is not about to announce a high speed link from South Wales to anywhere.

Without answers to those, pretty fundamental, questions, I have to say that it looked to me that what we were left with was a diversion of the existing 125 trains from South Wales to Paddington onto a new track which allowed them to make an additional stop at Heathrow. And the main function of that has nothing to do with connecting South Wales to the European high-speed network, and a great deal to do with enabling passengers to use the extra capacity planned for Heathrow without having to travel there by road. In short, it's more to do with 'selling' the third runway and the Heathrow expansion plans.

Yesterday, the Assembly government announced its support for the plan. From the terms in which they were talking, it seems quite clear that they understand the weaknesses outlined above, because they seem to have been talking solely in terms of the advantages of Wales having a direct link to Heathrow airport.

I'm not as convinced as the Assembly government seems to be that connecting South Wales to Heathrow will have a significant effect on economic development. If the scheme is genuinely part of a wider scheme, albeit long term, to provide high speed rail links to Europe, then I'd certainly support the rail hub idea – but as an alternative to air travel, rather than as a means of facilitating it. I'm not convinced about the idea that the planned expansion of capacity at Heathrow is the right thing to do, and I have real concerns that linking the two issues means that we still aren't taking a sufficiently strategic view about the relative importance of rail.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Unholy compromises

I'd intended to comment on the latest twist in the Housing LCO saga earlier, but time didn't permit. It honestly wasn't simply a matter of taking some time to cool down! I understand that the Assembly is due to debate the issue next Tuesday, so it's not yet quite such old news as it could have been.

I thought that the Deputy Minister for Housing, Jocelyn Davies, summed up the situation pretty well on Saturday, expressing the personal frustration which she feels, and which is widely shared in the party. Under what is laughingly described as a Welsh legislative process, we are eighteen months on, and the Assembly still doesn't have the power it needs to carry out a key policy in an agreed government programme. We don't know when they will have the power, and even when they eventually get it, there is the whole process of drafting and approving an Assembly measure to actually use the powers.

This process is a complete nonsense, and is simply unsustainable. And if we have these problems now, when the governments in both Cardiff and Westminster are led by the same party working in smooth partnership (allegedly), where on earth will that leave us if we ever have governments of two different parties?

I know that I'm not alone in feeling deeply unhappy that the only way out of the situation has been to pass a veto to the Secretary of State for Wales – a wholly new constitutional principle never envisaged by any of those involved in drafting the Government of Wales Act. And under a Conservative government, based on past experience, there is every prospect that the person holding that job wouldn't even be representing a Welsh constituency.

But what else should we have done? Our people and communities need action on housing now. It's already taken the best part of two years to get to this point; are we supposed to continue delaying taking any action because LabourTory MPs want to play silly games? Should we be walking out of a coalition on the basis that MPs won't allow us to do something we never wanted to do in the first place? I don't like the compromise which has been reached one iota; but in the interests of implementing the One Wales programme, there seems to have been very little choice. The real question is what it means for the future.

Peter Black seems to suggest that we have not done enough to "push at the boundaries of what can be done". Actually, I don't entirely disagree with him; but in terms of delivering for the people of Wales, I happen to think that getting the powers to do what we want now is more in the interests of Wales than holding out for the power to do something we don't want to do at present. It's a classic case of having to decide between a compromise which enables us to start delivering sometime soon, and a more purist approach which maximises the long term potential. I would very much prefer that Labour MPs had not put us in the position where we have to make such choices; but I really don't think that the people of Wales would thank us for spending the whole of the four year term of government arguing with London rather than trying to get on with the job of delivering now, in spite of the MPs' opposition.

In itself, this compromise over the LCO is not a coalition-threatening issue, largely because the veto applies only to an area of hypothetical future policy which is not in the One Wales programme in the first place. But if it were allowed to become a precedent for other LCOs in the future, in a way which prevents the government from implementing agreed policies, that assessment could change. The overwhelming principle, surely, is that an elected government in the Assembly should be allowed the powers it needs to implement the policies for which the Welsh electorate voted. For one of the parties in any coalition arrangement to use, or even simply allow, their London wing to obstruct that principle must inevitably at some point raise serious questions about the viability of such a coalition.

In the aftermath of the 2007 Assembly election, it seemed as though the Conservatives in the Assembly had travelled a long way. Their willingness to sign up to the All-Wales Accord marked a number of radical policy changes. I was sceptical about that at the time, and it really does look as though, with a few honourable exceptions, (although I disagree with what both of them have said on this particular issue) they have reverted to type. Their London branch seems determined to take every opportunity to wreck the devolution settlement by obstructing the will of the Assembly.

(I note that Nick Bourne has claimed today that he will be talking to Plaid and the Lib Dems about possible arrangements after the next Assembly elections in 2011 - the chance of any such arrangement looks diminishingly small to me given that his influence on his party's MPs seems to be even less than Rhodri Morgan's over Labour MPs. I feel pretty confident that, in any future coalition negotiations, delivering the support of each party's MPs for the granting of the powers necessary to implement the government programme is likely to be a key issue – maybe even a sticking point. Once bitten, twice shy.)

As for the Labour Party, all I can say is that I hope that the 'partners' at both ends of the M4 will use the breathing space granted by the compromise over the Housing LCO to have some very serious and private discussions about the nature of their 'partnership', in order to avoid similar shenanigans over future LCOs. Plaid always knew that 'One Wales' applied only to the programme of the Assembly government; but we genuinely thought that we had signed an agreement with the Labour Party as a whole over the power to deliver that programme. Did they have the same understanding?

Friday, 9 January 2009

Cut business rates

I can't say that I was enormously surprised by the news yesterday about the scale of unpaid overtime being worked in Wales.

I've referred previously to the fact that an increasing number of companies expect employees to work 'whatever it takes' to 'do the job' – an attitude expressed clearly by the CBI Chairman, when he said that "people who are being paid for doing a job should make sure that job gets done". It sounds like a reasonable expectation, until we remember that many of the same employers have relentlessly cut numbers of employees, and piled the extra work on those who are left. The 'job' that people are being paid to do has, in many cases, simply grown – and the hours expected of the people has consequently grown as well.

Leaving aside that more general trend, in a time of recession it is easy to understand how businesses, especially those which find themselves operating on the margins of viability, are looking to reduce their costs, of which staff costs are a major element. It is also easy to see how employees, faced with an apparent choice between working longer hours or losing their jobs, are opting to try and save their jobs. But however easy it is to see how it is happening, it still leaves me feeling very uneasy that it is the employees - often the lowest paid employees - who are left to bear the brunt of the effects of the recession.

The free marketeers would no doubt argue that this is the inevitable result of market forces; either employees accept a worsening of their terms and conditions or else they lose their jobs. It seems that the Tories are very much returning to this sort of position - which did so much damage in the 1980's - with their obsession about balancing the public finances rather than intervening. I find myself much closer to the interventionist position of the current government, but I remain far from convinced that they are intervening in the right ways.

I am completely unconvinced about the marginal reduction in VAT as a solution to anything – I don't think it will make any significant difference to the viability of businesses, despite its huge cost. I think it's time to look at business taxes again. Not particularly Corporation Tax at this stage – after all, only companies making a profit pay that tax. But business rates is another kettle of fish entirely.

Like the Council Tax, this is a tax based on property values, and bears no relation to ability to pay. Businesses have to pay it whether they make a profit or not, and for many businesses, the sums involved could well be enough to make the difference between viability and insolvency. Long term, it needs radical reform, but a short term suspension of business rates, on either a general or a selective basis would probably do much more to allow businesses to continue trading through the recession than the cut in VAT. And surely it's far better to help businesses cut their costs in this way than to see them transferring the problems to their staff.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Euro is no panacea

Back in September, I suggested that the economic downturn meant that it was time to look again at joining the Euro. It was interesting to see others turning to the same theme last Friday, although I was concerned that some of them were seeing it as a simple panacea. It is not.

There are three real advantages, as I see it, to the Welsh economy in becoming part of the Euro-zone, but none of these are instant fixes to the problems that we face.

The first is that, for many businesses, fluctuating exchange rates are an unmanageable risk which they could well do without. Of course it's important to fix the exchange rate on entry at the 'right' level, but there is a sense in which the mere removal of the uncertainty is more important to many businesses than getting the rate precisely right.

The second is that, for most of recent history, the European interest rate regime would have been better for Welsh industry than the UK interest rate regime, set as it has been largely in response to the overheated housing market in the South East of England rather than according to the needs of industry and commerce.

And the third is that it would give our currency greater protection from the speculators and gamblers who have done so much damage to the economy. Smaller currencies are inevitably easier to target than larger currencies, and the coming of the Euro has unquestionably relegated the pound to the minor league, a fact which the post-imperialist mindset in London still seems unable to comprehend.

Of course it matters that the timing and the rate are as 'right' as we can make them, but the current crisis has destroyed the argument that the Sterling economy was 'too strong' to join the Euro, and that was always the main (stated) objection. (Is it really the same people now arguing that the problem is that the UK economy is 'too weak'?) In reality, the real objection has always been a result of the Little Englander separatist attitudes which prevail amongst LabourTory politicians. Those attitudes remain as strong as ever, and I suspect that, yet again, the long-term interests of Wales will be over-ridden as a result.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Aspiration and delivery

The renewed speculation about the possibility of a new nuclear power station on Ynys Môn neatly highlights what I see as being two of the main problems with the green jobs strategy published for consultation by the Assembly Government back in November.

At first sight, it's a very good set of proposals, which if they could all be implemented would move Wales forward significantly. It's not bad at second sight, either, but there were two points which left me feeling a degree of concern.

The first is the language used. Or rather it stems from my interpretation of the language used. Like so many good documents which come from the Assembly Government when it comes to issues such as energy and the environment, there are some words which get used a lot. Words like 'promote', 'move towards', 'encourage', and 'inform', as well as my personal favourite, "We will use a sustainable masterplanning approach to set the path towards…" (a masterpiece of saying very little of which Sir Humphrey himself might well be proud).

The problem with these words is that they underline the extent to which the Assembly Government is able to produce good strategies and set worthwhile targets, but has only limited ability to ensure full implementation. Not for the first time, I find myself looking at a very worthwhile policy whose implementation is likely to be limited by the straitjacket under which the National Assembly and the Assembly Government operate.

And not for the first time do I highlight that this is the sort of thing on which the debate about extending the powers of the Assembly should be concentrating. Not on a dry debate about constitutional tinkering, but on giving our elected government the powers they need to implement the excellent strategies which they are currently able to prepare, but not to fully implement.

My second concern is that the document sets out what the Assembly Government wants to promote and encourage, but has little to say on what it will discourage or obstruct. The Government is absolutely right to argue that it should use its economic development powers and grants to promote businesses which are low-carbon and low-waste, but does that mean that they will actually not provide aid and support to businesses which do not meet those criteria?

Not giving financial assistance to initiatives which do not fit the strategy is every bit as important as providing assistance to those that do, if we want to see a real shift in the economic base of Wales - but it's a much harder decision to take. I hope that the Assembly Government will be ready to step up to the mark on that.

To apply these two issues to the specific - building a new nuclear power plant on Ynys Môn is clearly the wrong thing to do if we're serious about the strategy, but the decision lies completely outwith the powers of the Assembly. If they did have the power to prevent it, would that be backed by the political will? That remains a hypothetical question in the case of this specific; but there will be plenty of other specific issues which will test that political will in coming months.