Category Archives: Llandrindod Wells

Vox Political’s ‘Big Democracy’ radio experience

Birds and the wires: People attending the Big Democracy event were invited to write their feelings about the way the government treats disabled people on paper and hang them on a network of overhead wires, so their shadow on the wall would build up into a large grouping similar to that of the birds flocking in the film loop projected onto the wall. The message: Together we are stronger.

Birds and the wires: People attending the Big Democracy event were invited to write their feelings about the way the government treats disabled people on paper and hang them on a network of overhead wires, so their shadow on the wall would build up into a large grouping similar to that of the birds flocking in the film loop projected onto the wall. The message: Together we are stronger.

You may have noticed that Vox Political was uncharacteristically quiet over the weekend. This is because I was co-running the Radnor Fringe Festival in Llandrindod Wells from Friday to Sunday, and helping tidy up afterwards on Monday (June 19-22).

The festival’s mixture of musical acts and community events was extremely – almost overwhelmingly – popular and the reaction has been universally positive. Not only that, but one of the events was worthy of an article in this blog.

It was a performance and debate event that asked: “Are disabled people an easy target for cuts?”

That’s right – it could have been devised specifically to cater for This Blog and This Writer.

The idea was chosen in an online vote as part of a three-year project exploring how art and creativity can help communities re-engage with the democratic process. Disabled artists and performers from National Theatre Wales collaborated with Llandrindod-based arts organisation Celf o Gwmpas performed prepared pieces, then encouraged members of the public to take part in collaborative creative/discussion workshops.

The tone was strongly anti-cuts, anti-government, and in favour of people speaking out about the effect that government policy is having on them.

The free event attracted many more people than the organisers expected, including This Writer and Mrs Mike – and was also attended by a recording team from BBC Radio 3, meaning at least some of our many contributions to the evening will have been captured for posterity and may be used in a radio programme to be broadcast today (Tuesday).

BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking programme, broadcast at 10pm (and subsequently available on iPlayer) will be about “Political and Bardic Traditions in Wales”, and will feature “a report on the brand new instalment of the National Theatre of Wales Big Democracy Project, a kind of interactive community theatre”.

So tune in this evening at 10pm – or catch up on iPlayer – and you may hear this writer’s dulcet Bristolian tones deploring the drawbacks of Iain Duncan Smith’s anti-democratic benefit nightmare.

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Zones of growth – thoughts on how to improve Mid Wales’ economy

Many of you may be aware of the proposal to create ‘Growth Zones’ in Powys – at Brecon, Llandrindod Wells and Newtown – roughly equivalent to the new Enterprise Zones created by the government elsewhere in the UK. My opinion is that these are a good idea. The Welsh Government has put out a call for evidence on the proposal and information can be found on its website here.

Unfortunately, the deadline for entries is June 1. I’m writing this on May 28 so, if you want to make a submission, you need to act fast!

What follows is my own submission. I want people to see what I’ve put forward because I think it might help them in shaping their own thoughts. I’m not saying it’s perfect because I hope others will have different or better ideas; I’m putting it up in the hope that it will stimulate your imagination, and the Welsh Government will get better submissions as a result.

I would also appreciate your comments and suggestions – just use the form at the bottom.

Here’s my submission:

All three possible locations must be able to compete with the Enterprise Zones that have already been announced, therefore the features common to all of those should be included here. These include: Government support to ensure super-fast broadband, achieved through guaranteeing the most supportive environment and, if necessary, public funding; low levels of regulation and planning controls; a 100 per cent business rate discount over a five year period for businesses that move into a Growth Zone during the course of this Parliament (although I recommend a graded scheme to reintroduce business rates thereafter, alongside a graded penalty scheme for businesses that choose to move away once the discount is removed); all business rates growth within the zone for a period of at least 25 years will be retained and shared by the local authority to support its economic priorities; and Government and local authority help to develop radically simplified planning approaches.

I believe funding should be provided for an office that would help film makers (cinema or television) find locations within Powys. Llandrindod Wells would be the best location (as it is in the centre of the county). Powys has breathtaking natural beauty that has gone unused by film makers, simply because nobody knows about it. A film locations office would bring income to landowners whose land would be used, and to residents who could be hired as ‘extras’ during filming.

Material I have read on Enterprise Zones has categorised them in certain ways, stating what tax breaks, planning controls and broadband levels might be possible, along with a line called ‘Sector Focus’, declaring what businesses should be encouraged into the zone. I would recommend:

Tax break: Save businesses money in foregone business rates.

Planning: Simplified regime permitted the change of use of existing buildings.

Broadband: Explore delivery of superfast broadband with suppliers.

This leaves the ‘Sector Focus’. I would like to propose several possibilities as follows, based on my knowledge of local industry and the possibilities that could be accommodated here in Powys:

Sector focus: Green technologies; Advanced technologies; Movable skills (small businesses that could benefit from working in a rural setting); sustainable agriculture (farming techniques that are beneficial to the environment); creative industries; energy sector (carbon-free/green).

It is impossible to persuade a person who is irrational

Those of you who follow this blog will be aware that I have been involved in a dialogue with one Caroline Parkinson of Nantmel, in the letters pages of the Mid Wales Journal, over statistics relating to poverty in my home town of Llandrindod Wells.  My initial findings are documented as Britain’s idyllic rural life: poverty and joblessness, and Ms Parkinson’s letter and my response are in the article I won’t tolerate this insult to my town.

It seems I was not sufficiently persuasive. The Journal dated March 23 contained another letter from Ms Parkinson which I shall share with you forthwith.

Under the headline If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it, she writes:

“I’m mortified. I’ve upset Mr Sivier (letters, March 9). How true to type he should choose to interpret what I wrote regarding Llandrindod’s generosity at Christmas in a way that suits his ‘loud-mouthed’ agenda.

“Since when did Nantmel become to Llandod what Harrods is to the Co-op? What a risible analogy.

“I would no more wish ‘disgracefully to insult’ the people of Llandrindod, than I would those of any other part of our glorious United Kingdom. But I reiterate if its residents – and countless others – found themselves more heavily in hock after Christmas than before, it is only because they are representative of people the world over who feel pressurised by what next door is buying, eating, drinking, or watching and whose aspirations do not match their incomes.

“It’s called ‘societal behaviour’, but for Mike’s sake, let’s call it peer pressure.

“And this pressure – be it from next door or from advertising, trying to sell you ‘stuff’ at any cost (to you) – is what leads to societies founded on debt. Mike, have you not noticed what’s been happening because of societies founded on debt?

“I do not applaud the ‘generosity’ that made LW the 15th most likely town in the UK to have overspent at Christmas. I’m sorry that LW and the 14 towns before it seem to be populated by people who do not have the strength of character to resist the forces of temptation.

“LW is hardly unique. Its residents fall prey to this modern consumerist disease – no latest iPhone? no street-cred. It’s patently clear that society would be in better economic shape today if it was not entirely founded on debt.

“Those who can’t afford the run-up to Christmas will do whatever it takes to keep up with the Joneses and regret it afterwards. Whatever happened to ‘if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it’?”

It’s quite a piece, isn’t it? I have to admit, I found it hard to take seriously while I was reading it out to my girlfriend in the aisles of Llandrindod’s local Co-op. It seems clear that there can be no rational debate with this lady. She simply won’t pay attention to an argument based on fact.

However, I have responded – not out of any animosity towards Ms Parkinson but because I wanted to reassure those who have read her letters of a few important facts. Here’s what I wrote:

“I was delighted to see that Caroline Parkinson of Nantmel found enough of interest in my last letter to respond, allowing us all the pleasure of a further insight into her remarkable mind! Sadly, there was little substance to it, being mainly a rehash of the anti-Llandrindod statements she made in her initial epistle. I’m sure most residents will have been insulted enough by her comments, without me re-opening the wounds.

“But I must take issue with two of her claims. Firstly, Ms Parkinson, I never wrote that Nantmel was Harrods to Llandod’s Co-op. Those are your words, not mine, and I think it is right that I put the record straight. It is wrong of you to try to portray me as pitting Nantmel against Llandrindod. I have no animosity towards the other residents of your village at all; I merely take issue with your opinion. I do not make false attributions of this kind. I wonder why you do.

“Also, madam, your allegation that people in Llandod spent more than they had due to greed might be credible if it was a year-round phenomenon, but it isn’t. The statistics I quoted were for Christmas only. In my last letter, you will recall, I asked to see the factual evidence behind your assertions. None has been forthcoming. I therefore invite readers to conclude that you do not have any, and to condemn your claims about debt-fuelled “societal behaviour”, “peer pressure”, “temptation”, weakness of character, greed, selfishness or whatever else you want to call it, as nonsense.

“As a candidate in this year’s Powys County Council elections, I feel proud to be standing up for the people of Llandrindod in this matter.”

Fair enough?

I won’t tolerate this insult to my town

On February 17, the Mid Wales Journal published a letter from Caroline Parkinson of Nantmel, responding to my article, ‘Britain’s idyllic rural life – poverty and joblessness’. The letter is reproduced below and you will see that it made several points that required a response. Unfortunately the paper has steadfastly failed to publish my reply. Now, I don’t want the world to think I’m going to let a few ill-chosen words by someone who doesn’t understand the situation go past without a fight! If the Journal won’t afford me the right of reply, I’ll just have to publish it here.

This is what Ms Parkinson scribbled:

“Mike Sivier makes a good show of spouting statistics about the various aspects of poverty in and around Llandrindod Wells.

“However, when forming an opinion on what he has said, bear in mind that as Llandrindod’s Labour Party secretary he is hardly going to be unbiased.

“Also, how much credence do you give to someone who calls himself ‘the biggest loudmouth in Wales’? Does he intend to get his point across by using bully tactics? That’s how it appears to me.

“He finds it ‘revealing’ that LW is ‘the 15th most likely town in the UK to have overspent’ and says that some of the most generous householders have some of the lowest incomes!

“These are not ‘generous’ households and I am deeply concerned that he seems to be applauding them in such a way.

“They are simply the product of a reckless society that is entirely built on debt, where no-one lives within their means, selfishness abounds and if next door’s got it, well, I’ve got to have it too, whatever the cost, both financially and otherwise.

“There is no sense of self-restraint, no modesty, only greed and the weakness of those who cave in so easily to the pressures of our consumerist modern world.

“You will often hear people using the word ‘need’, when actually they mean ‘want’. What we need and want, is self-serving loud-mouths and others to develop a sense of humility, stop always blaming the opposition for everything that’s wrong in society and lose the obvious chip on the shoulder that so negatively influences their musings.

“The help Mr Sivier seeks will not be forthcoming and he is too short-sighted to see why. One little word: debt. Until the British learn the lessons of the mess we’re in, the problems faced by Llandrindod and the developed world will not go away.”

Here’s my response:

I’m not going to lose sleep because Caroline Parkinson has a low opinion of me.

But she has also – disgracefully – insulted the people of Llandrindod Wells, and I’m not going to let that pass.

Ms Parkinson doesn’t know me and therefore cannot know that the subheading on my blog is based on a friend’s comment: “Oh, so now you’re going to be the biggest loudmouth in Mid Wales?” Her attitude to me proceeds from a false assumption and I think her comments about Llandrindod are also based on prejudice rather than reason.

By the way she highlights my political affiliation, one can deduce that Ms Parkinson is a supporter – or a member – of one of the other main parties, Liberal Democrat or Conservative. If they think this behaviour is acceptable then I am doubly glad to be Labour!

According to Ms Parkinson, it is the residents’ fault that much of Llandrindod is in poverty. She claims that this is a town where “no-one lives within their means, selfishness abounds and if next door’s got it, well, I’ve got to have it too, whatever the cost.

There is no sense of self-restraint, no modesty, only greed and the weakness of those who cave in so easily to the pressures of our consumerist modern world,” she writes.

These are not ‘generous’ households.”

Since she does not apply them to any individuals or groups, her words must be applied to the whole town. I’d like to see the factual evidence for these assertions, please, Ms Parkinson.

I supported my claims with facts. The average wage in Powys is only 72 per cent of the national average but we all know that income tax, council taxes, utility bills and the cost of groceries are as high as they are everywhere else. Unemployment in Llandrindod is the highest in Powys. Child poverty in Llandrindod North is the highest in Powys. The last fact follows on naturally from the others and you can check these figures; I didn’t make them up.

Taking them into account, it is no wonder that people in Llandod were among those considered most likely to have overspent in the run-up to Christmas. It’s a very expensive time of year and in a town with as much poverty as ours, they simply couldn’t stretch the budget any further.

It is easy to sit in Nantmel and slag off people in hardship in Llandrindod. But I live here too. Nobody near me has been overspending because they want what the person next door has. They’re too busy trying to keep what they have themselves.

I said I was doubly glad to be Labour – here’s why: Labour is standing up for Llandrindod. The parties represented by Ms Parkinson will only run it down.

Domestic violence helpline could save lives

Anti-violence campaigner Joyce Watson AM has voiced her support for the launch of the All Wales Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Helpline.

The Helpline provides a 24 hour, bilingual information signposting service, to help and guide people with experience of domestic abuse or sexual violence, who are in need of access to services such as advice, emergency support, safety, and knowledge of their rights and options.

Joyce has campaigned for many years against violence, and set up candlelit services, first in Llandaff Cathedral some years ago, then last November in Brecon Cathedral, to raise awareness of violence against women and children.

The Mid and West Wales Assembly Member said: “This Helpline could be a lifeline to someone facing violence in their own home.

“The promise of 24 hour support, safety, signposting, and sanctuary will make a huge difference in far too many cases.

“In the last ten years there have been 12 homicides in the Dyfed Powys Police area, and seven of these involved domestic abuse.

“Domestic abuse is an issue for all of Wales, rural as well as urban. It accounts for a quarter of recorded crime in England and Wales, and in many instances children are witnesses to this abuse.”

The Helpline was first launched in 2004 as the Wales Domestic Abuse Helpline and has since taken over 215,000 calls from people in need of help and support.

Mrs Watson, who is a member of the Assembly All Party Group on violence against women and children, added: “Both physical and mental violence can have a devastating effect. If you feel isolated or endangered in your own home and you live in a rural community, help can feel a long way away.”

45 per cent of women have experienced some form of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

Last year police recorded 48,738 incidents across Wales, including 11,759 arrests and five homicides

Dyfed Powys Police recorded 1,943 domestic incidents

1,975 people entered Welsh refuges last year.

Minister for Local Government and Communities, Carl Sargeant, said: “Domestic abuse and sexual violence are simply not acceptable.

“I am passionate about this subject, and so I’m pleased that the Welsh Government has consistently maintained the budget dedicated to maintaining services such as the All Wales Domestic Abuse & Sexual Violence Helpline. The Helpline is a key part of our Right to be Safe strategy.

“As the new Helpline launches we will experience an increase in callers. This is not a failure in our efforts to stamp out such issues, it’s a success in that we will actually be reaching more of the victims who desperately need the support of the Helpline. With the launch of the new Helpline I firmly believe we are heading in the right direction.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse contact the All Wales Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Helpline on 0808 80 10 800, or for more information go to www.allwaleshelpline.org.uk

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Britain’s idyllic rural life: poverty and joblessness

Poverty and joblessness are stalking the streets of Llandrindod Wells, according to the newspapers. Is everybody having a happy new year, then?

We’ve known for some time that average wages in Powys are less than three-quarters of the national average (according to the Western Mail in January 2011, when the average was £598.30 per week while, in Powys, it was £435.40 – 72 per cent of the average).

Now I read that, with the public sector shrinking rapidly, and wages about to be cut in the little that remains, private firms cannot match its wages.

This means the pulic-private wage gap here is the largest in the UK – a difference of 18.5 per cent for women and 18 per cent for men, compared to UK averages of 10.2 per cent for women and 4.6 per cent for men.

Unemployment in Llandrindod is the highest in Powys at 4.6 per cent. Taken by electoral division, this amounts to 67 people in Llandrindod East/West – 10.5 per cent of the available workforce, the sixth highest amount in Wales; 66 in Llandrindod South, or 5.9 per cent of the workforce; and 55 in Llandrindod North, or 4.8 per cent.

And Llandrindod North has the highest child poverty rate in Powys: 34 per cent.

That’s more than a third of the children in the ward, according to the Campaign to End Child Poverty. The organisation has said parents need access to decent jobs in both the public and private sectors.

I can tell that some of you are probably starting to laugh derisively at the optimism of that statement. It’s not funny, I assure you.

The icing on the cake is a report from EuroDebt Financial Services, which states that people in Llandod are among the most likely to have overspent in the run-up to Christmas.

The town was believed to be 15th most likely in the UK to have overspent, with the amount expected to be 104 per cent of their disposable income.

In other words, people in my town were predicted to have gone into debt to pay for Christmas.

It is a revealing indictment of the state of the nation that some of the most generous households in the UK – Llandrindod included – have some of the lowest incomes!

The issues raised by these statistics are not going to go away and dedicated help is required from our political leaders.

But in a town where the MP and Assembly Member are Liberal Democrats, and two of the three county councillors are Conservatives – all members of the parties that are causing much of the misery – this seems unlikely.

The county councillors are up for election this year. I hope the people in my town will weigh up their votes very carefully indeed before casting them.

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