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Archive for June, 2017

Welsh Dairy Farmers Have Too Much Milk

09 Jun

Welsh dairy farmers have too much milk; this is the message that has come through to me from a dairy farmer. That has got me puzzled but I’ve yet to fully check this out. However as it’s come from a dairy farmer making ice-cream it seems a reliable source. Wag’s agricultural department is suggesting these farmers use their excess milk to make ice-cream. I’m not sure if the agricultural has discussed and approved by the wag food department, actually I’m not sure if communication is live and well between government departments, but I’m guessing Wales’ ice-cream makers have not been consulted. It’s great that we have plenty of Welsh milk but it is important that our farmers find a way to make money on it.

But let me give you an example of my concern. At the recent Spring Fair, in the Food Hall alone there were NINE, yes nine ice-cream stands out of a total stand count of 58. Nine ice-cream makers and this doesn’t include the many mobile ice-cream vans that were out on the show ground. It costs about £600 for the stand alone in the Food Hall, without adding up the amount of work involved preparing product, getting home and back again, plus possibly staying there for two days. Then if your ice-cream stand is sited at the rear of the Food Hall you’re on a hiding for nothing, as visitors will doubtless have already purchased ice cream by the time they get to your stand. With competition like that, you really do have to sell a huge amount of tubs and cones to break even, let alone turn a profit. Stands are not told when they book how many of their competitors are attending, or more importantly where they will be sited, making this so much more of a gamble.

I’d be pleasantly surprised if the agricultural and food departments were in close contact, actually I’d be shocked, as only a cynical journalist could be, if that were the case. To me I’d have thought it was an obvious discussion point, but then I know nothing about the internal workings of the Welsh Government operates.

What I’m getting through though is concern for some ice-cream makers about the effect it will have on their businesses. Ice-cream is still a fairly seasonal product and I for one don’t think more ice-cream makers are needed in Wales. If the Food Hall allowed in nine ice-cream makers for the Spring Fair, how many ice-cream makers will be in there for the Royal Welsh in July, when hopefully the sun will be shining?

Now I don’t pretend for an instance to be an expert on the dairy market, truth be told, I’m not an expert on anything, but instead of pushing dairy farmers into ice-cream why were these farmers not advised to try making Welsh yogurt? Wherever you do your supermarket shopping it’s often difficult to find Welsh yogurt. So to me that means the market could do with more Welsh yogurt. However if you can track down Welsh yogurt it’s really worth the effort because the quality is always superb.

I now wait for someone to explain to me why yogurt is not a better option than ice cream ….

 
 

Ceredigion Car Parking Charges Annoying Visitors

07 Jun

Ceredigion car parking continues to be a problem.  Follows is an email I received, which I’ve shown in full as I’ve permission to do so and also the Grumpy Old Geezer item the lady is referring to.

Good morning,

I am writing with reference to the ‘Grumpy Old Geezer’ article – page 52 of your January / February magazine.

We live in Shetland and had a month touring the Lake District, Wales and down to southern England during May.  I picked up a copy of your very interesting and attractive Welsh Country magazine at a cheese farm in south Wales.  As it was out of date, we did not have to pay for it – but I was attracted by the cover.

We were horrified to find when we went to Aberystwyth harbour that cars could park for 2 hours for £2.20, whereas motor caravans – according to the little pictures on the price display board – had to pay £5.80 for a whole day with no short concessions.

We did not wish to spend the whole day there, just a couple of hours for a coffee, find the local butcher, greengrocer and baker and then be on our way.  We have no problems with paying £2.00 to £2.50 for a couple of hours parking, but £5.80 for a couple of hours parking is far too expensive.  So we asked the Satnav to find us the nearest supermarket where we could park for nothing, have a coffee and do our shopping. To our great surprise, Cardigan had the same tariffs, so again we went to a supermarket. 

It would have been good to have bought Welsh food, but at such an exorbitant cost to park, we were not prepared to pay. Having found your magazine after those incidents, we totally agree with the writer.  Sadly after those experiences, we automatically headed for supermarkets.

We did have a very enjoyable time in Wales visiting friends, but would be extremely wary about returning with a motorhome.

I would appreciate knowing this email has arrived with you and would very much appreciate your comments on the points I have made.

Thanking you,

Grumpy Old Geezer Jan Feb Issue  

Why are car parks still being used as council cash cows?

In June 2015, vandals sabotaged the council car park machines in Cardigan which meant that for a couple of weeks, trade boomed with some businesses reporting turnover increases of up to 50%. Who could imagine that vandalism would literally breathe new life into Cardigan, even for the briefest time? Like many towns across Wales, Cardigan has a predominance of small shops, some lovely coffee shops and eating places, a restored castle, plus the Guildhall. But this cash-strapped council, within two weeks had ‘found’ some spare machines and Cardigan was back to normal, basically businesses struggling because of car-park charges. These car parks showed a profit of £278k and still the Council increased these charges – you really couldn’t make this up as this council continues to use car parks as cash cows. I understood car park charges were there to maintain the car parks, but the Plaid run, Ceredigion Council appear are against free parking.  

Once the ‘new’ machines were installed, My Beloved Editor, Councillors Elizabeth Evans and Mark Cole and MP Mark Williams, then attended a traders’ organised meeting, a meeting so popular there was standing room only. A couple of Council staff attended but they didn’t grasp the traders’ wish for free parking or simply didn’t care. The traders followed this meeting with direct discussions requesting free parking – but the ‘Council Said NO’. So the traders organised an evening candlelight march through Cardigan, again attended by my Beloved Editor who didn’t see a single councillor or Assembly Member there. Further meetings followed, but the ‘Council Still Said NO’. A compromise was put forward for just two hours free parking, but the Plaid Cymru run Ceredigion County Council ‘Still Said NO’.          

However in the Senedd, last October the Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Local Government said that there should be free parking in Welsh towns in order to keep our town centres bustling. They requested the Welsh Government to set up a new fund to enable local authorities and community groups to offer free car parking in towns throughout Wales to support local shops and businesses. Plaid Cymru recognise the importance of a vibrant and diverse high street in supporting local business owners and the local economy, realising that the lack of free parking is often a big turn off for shoppers. They understand that out-of-town developments with free parking make it impossible for the high street to compete.

The not so funny joke is what Plaid say in Cardiff and what Plaid does in Ceredigion are poles apart. Think the polite phrase is – not on the same page.

I’ve gone back to the lady and explained what an uphill battle Welsh Country magazine has had trying to get Ceredigion County Council to re-think car park charges, but to no avail. A Freedom of Information questions gave e the details that Ceredigion Car Park charges in 2015/16 was £815,988 and I was also told a surplus of £172,669 was achieved. Well now isn’t that great news folks a surplus of nearly £180k but no explanation of where that money was spent. It was my understanding that car parks were not meant to be used as cash cows for the council but income was ploughed back into car parks. It was ironic then to learn that Plaid Cymru Assembly Members in Cardiff say that car parks should be free, but seemingly no-one is telling the Plaid Cymru controlled Ceredigion Council. I wonder why that is? So more hot air from Cardiff and a council in Ceredigion that seem to do as they wish to raise cash – who have thought they were both the same party?

However my main reason though for posting this item is the fact that this lady wanted to purchase local food and drink but annoyed by unrealistic car-parking charges decides to go to a supermarket where she can park for free for a couple of hours and shop there. The fact she’d have found very few Welsh food and drink products in any supermarket is, to say the least very annoying.

Please don’t ask me what I’m going to do next about this; it’s easier to admit defeat and just give up. I, along with our Welsh food and drink producers want visitors to be able to purchase, eat and enjoy local food, isn’t that one of the excitements of visiting new places? However it seems this is too difficult to achieve. If only wag food and Visit Wales could work together they might even get on our food and drink producers Christmas card list!

 

 
 

Freedom Of Information Number 10621

02 Jun

Freedom of Information questions are my only way of getting answers. On the 29th July 2016 I an FOI, a Freedom of Information question. I didn’t receive a full reply to all questions but was told by wag that I could apply for a ‘review’, which I did. The Welsh Government then replied to my request for a review which they turned into a ‘complaint’. Follow that if you can. The speed of which wag turns a review into a complaint is far quicker than my getting answers to my questions raised on 29/7!

Check out my post of 24th August for an update on this troublesome FOI. But here it is:

  1. Have all Welsh food festivals that applied for funding in 2016 and received £5k?
  2. If not, what did each festival receive?
  3. Did any festivals apply for funding and were refused?
  4. If so on what grounds were they refused?
  5. From which budgets or other sources of wag funding have Abergavenny, Conwy and Cardiff applied for and received funding for their food festivals?
  6. What criteria do these festivals have to meet before they can apply for funding from other than the food festival budget?
  7. Can you clarify why wag are listed on Abergavenny’s website as a partner?
  8. Can you clarify why Conwy’s website states supported by wag with 4 wag logos? Are four logos mandatory? Or does it relate to the various wag sources they have taken funding from?
  9. Although the deadline for completed applications is the 14th July 2016 and requests were being approved within 2 weeks, there are still only nine festivals listed on Wag’s website can you inform me of the others that have been approved?
  10. As the budget for this year’s festivals is £160k, can you explain where the remainder of this budget will be allocated?

This has been not only been annoying and time-consuming for me, but a total waste of tax payers’ money and I lay the blame for that firmly at wag’s door. I ask them to consider what they have achieved in this 10 month stand off? Unlike me, Wag like ICO are not spending their own money and for a purported ‘fair and open’ government, why can’t they just answer questions when asked? As a journalist I shouldn’t have to use FOI, but as I’m banned from asking the press office questions, I’ve not many options left! Despite my ‘complaint’ wag still hasn’t given me answers that I find acceptable to questions 5, 6 and 10. So my last option was to go to the Information Commissioner’s Office, ICO, always I must say, a pleasure to deal with. However it was only on 22/5/17 that I got my reply – 10 months later – as ICO had to keep going back to wag. Here’s their response:

As confirmed in my email of 21 March 2017, the focus of my investigation concerned whether the Welsh Government had complied with its obligations under section 1(1) of the FOIA.

Section 1 – General right of access to information held

Section 1(1) of the FOIA is concerned with the general right of access to information and requires a public authority to confirm in writing whether it holds information of the description specified in the request. A public authority is only required to provide recorded information it holds and is not therefore required to create new information in order to respond to a request.

In cases where a dispute arises over whether any recorded information is held by a public authority, any investigation by the ICO must be mindful of the former Information Tribunal’s ruling in EA/2006/0072 (Bromley) that there can seldom be absolute certainty that information relevant to the request does not remain undiscovered somewhere within the public authority’s records.
Therefore, when considering whether a public authority does hold relevant information, the normal standard of proof to apply is the civil standard of the balance of probabilities. For clarity, the ICO is not expected to provide categorically whether or not the information is held, but to make a judgement based on the civil standard of the balance of probabilities as to the likelihood of whether the information is held.

Item 5

Item 5 of your request asked:

“From which budgets and other sources of WAG funding have Abergavenny, Conwy and Cardiff applied for and received funding for their food festivals?

As you are aware, the Welsh Government informed you that it did not hold relevant information in respect of this item of your request stating that Abergavenny, Cardiff and Conwy had not requested or received funding for the period from January 2016 to the date of your request.

As part of my investigation of your complaint, I asked the Welsh Government to provide me with details and evidence of the search undertaken which led it to conclude that information is not held.

In response, the Welsh Government sent me screen prints of its ‘I Share’ database showing the search terms and results. The screen shots show that the Welsh Government’s searched individually for Cardiff, Conwy and Abergavenny and support the Welsh Government’s response that no applications for funding had been received/made to Cardiff, Abergavenny or Conwy.

I have therefore concluded that the Welsh Government complied with its obligations under section 1(1) of the FOIA in terms of item 5 of your request.

Item 10

Item 10 of your request asked:

“As the budget for this year’s festivals is £160K, can you explain where the remainder of this budget will be allocated?”

The Welsh Government informed you that the budget had not yet been allocated and therefore concluded that it held no information.

However, part of my investigation pointed out that you were aware from previous responses and the Welsh Government’s website that £85,000 of the £160,000 had been allocated, that the deadline for applications for funding was 14 July 2016, and that applications for funding were being approved within two weeks of receipt.

I therefore asked the Welsh Government to confirm where the remaining £75,000 was being allocated, and it confirmed (as it has in its latest correspondence to you) that £75,000 was subsumed back into the Food, Tourism and Culture Budget.

Whilst the Welsh Government’s response in its internal review that the budget had not yet been allocated was not incorrect, in my view, if it had confirmed the situation regarding the remaining £75,000 to you at the time of your request, it would have complied with its obligations under section 1(1) of the FOIA.

However, its failure to do so represents a breach of its obligations under section 1(1) of the FOIA. Additionally, the fact that this information was not communicated to you within the required 20 working day timescale, also represents a breach of section 10(1) of the FOIA.

As this information has now been provided, I have concluded that the Welsh Government has now (belatedly) complied with its obligations under section 1(1) of the FOIA.

Apart from the time and money which has really been wasted, I am just furious hy wag cannot answer financial questions. By the time I’m asking them the money has been given out by wag and spent. I cannot change that, all I want to know is where our money went. The further irony is I’m now expected to believe that Abergavenny, Cardiff and Conwy were not supported in any way by wag. Well I still find that exceptionally difficult to believe, made harder by the fact that both Abergavenny and Conwy had wag’s logo on their websites. It was so generous of both these festivals to credit wag with a logo presence when they’ve not had any funding at all from wag money pot!!! But if that makes sense to wag and to you, it certainly doesn’t to me. Best I dream on with that one……………………………