Healthy communities are the basis of our lives. That’s the belief of a group of people from Gwynedd and Anglesey who are developing an alternative strategy for community development. They call themselves “SAIL” – meaning “Basis” – because community is the basis of everything. “SAIL” has nothing to do with yachting!
The basis of the economy. The basis of culture. The basis of language. The basis of resilience. The basis of equality. The basis of interwoven generations. The basis of art. The basis of the future. The basis of Wales.
As a preview of the group’s full strategy document, here’s an analysis by Robat Idris that dissects the shortcomings of current, official plans.
Shortcomings of the existing official strategy in Gwynedd and Anglesey
We know that Gwynedd and Anglesey are among the poorest areas within the United Kingdom. For example, in 2017, GVA per head in Anglesey was £14,314 and in Gwynedd £19,969 (Wales £19,899, UK £27,298). 1 Wales is the only country in the United Kingdom to experience an increase in child poverty in 2017 – 2018 according to a recent report commissioned by Children in Wales and others, with nearly three in ten children living in poverty. 3
The grandiose plans of the past, such as Trawsfynydd, Wylfa A, and Anglesey Aluminum, have not solved the problem – some would argue that they have made things worse. The lesson is that capitalist companies are essentially making as much profit as possible by exploiting local natural and human resources, and money from the public purse, before disappearing and leaving problems behind.
Inequality is at the heart of our problems, and it is wrong to think that we can rely on the official solutions on offer. They are basically dressing the ideas of the past in new clothes. French economist Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-first Century which sold over 2.5 million copies, has identified the disease in his latest volume Capital et Ideologie. His conclusion in his 1,232-page work is as follows:
Inequality is not an economic or technological issue: it is an ideological and political issue ….. In other words, the market and the principle of competition, profit and wages, capital and debt, qualified and unqualified workers, natives and foreigners, financial paradigms and the principle of competitiveness, do not exist in themselves.
Unsurprisingly, society’s elite… seek to give inequality a natural look. That is, it seeks to provide it with natural and objective foundations, to claim that the social differences that exist are on the whole for the benefit of the poorest and for society as a whole, and that the current structure is the only practical one, which cannot be changed significantly without causing great distress.
We argue that our representatives on the county councils, in the Senedd and the Westminster Parliament, act according to the wishes of the social elite. They may not see it, and may well believe that they are acting in the interests of their constituents. But they are building a house on foundations of sand.
Poverty in our areas is not an accident
Dr Dan Evans explains that capitalism needs poor areas in his article for the Institute of Welsh Affairs from 2015, so poverty in our areas is not an accident. 3
…capitalism in fact needs these depressed, undeveloped regions- they are not just an accident …. FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) is a false idol. The decision to invest in Wales is not benevolent, as portrayed in the press, but driven by profit. It is a parasitic: firms come in, make a profit, then leave.
One of the unfortunate consequences of this is that politicians tend to swallow promises of a mirage of Eldorado as a way of solving long-term problems.
An example was seen in Bridgend with Ford’s announcement that they were to close their factory there with 1,700 jobs going. 4 Yet we are offered the same kinds of answers right now. It has been announced that Ineos, which has outraged many because of its support for fracking and the oil industry, wants to set up a factory close to the old Ford factory, with 200 jobs to start and a promise of 500 eventually. It is no surprise that Ineos is backed by Welsh Government and Westminster funding – though its owner, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, is recognized as the richest man in the UK with £21billion to his name. 5 In addition, he lives in Monaco to avoid paying tax. 6 This applies to Gwynedd and Anglesey because this exact political mindset also exists here.
The most prominent example is Wylfa B, which has now been suspended. Wylfa was supported by the Welsh Government 9, the UK Government 10, and Bangor University. 11 This was to be the economic cornerstone of Anglesey and to a large extent Gwynedd, and was the basis of the Local Development Plan shared by both Councils. 12 The plain truth is that the economic future of Anglesey and Gwynedd was placed unquestioningly in the hands of a few people in a room in Tokyo – the board of the Hitachi Company. 13
Over ten years were wasted and money 14 and officer time spent supporting the power station at the expense of other economic ideas. Has anyone been called to account for this? Is there an apology for the disillusionment of the young people who had expected to find work there? Is there any consideration of how many jobs would now have been created by now if the money spent to support Wylfa had been spent to support local community enterprises and businesses? Is there any rethinking about the folly of continuing with the nuclear dream of Wylfa and Trawsfynydd? A dream that is alive and well in the minds of local politicians in Anglesey and Gwynedd, and the Welsh and UK Governments. 15 16 And a dream that completely ignores the growing evidence that nuclear power is not needed to supply our needs, and that nuclear power stations cannot be built in time to reverse the effects of climate change, as the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019 says:
Stabilizing the climate is urgent, nuclear power is slow. It meets no technical or operational need that these low-carbon competitors cannot meet better, cheaper, and faster.
Moreover, the nuclear bubble continues to promote nuclear SMR’s (Small Modular Reactors) despite the evidence of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 17:
United Kingdom. Rolls-Royce is the only company interested in participating in the government’s SMR competition but has requested significant subsidies that the government is apparently resisting. The Rolls-Royce design is at a very early stage but, at 450 MW, it is not really small.
We note that the Ambition Board says:
Over 5,000 jobs could be created, as well as new businesses and housing (including affordable housing).
This type of statement is reminiscent of the language used when there was a “once in a generation” opportunity when these areas received a massive injection of funds from Europe under the Objective One program – yet the economy was not transformed, and the area’s poverty means we are still eligible for European funding. 18 Professor Calvin Jones, Cardiff University, in The Conversation 19, discusses in detail aspects of this method of funding, and how the problems of our poorest areas need to be re-examined.
Another example of recycling ideas from the previous century is the Snowdonia Enterprise Zone, namely the Llanbedr Airport and Trawsfynydd nuclear power stations. 20 Advisory Board members appear to have links with the nuclear and / or military aviation industries, 21 and there is no representation of community organizations. We believe that there is an immoral element in the developments supported. Gwynedd Council has given £500,000 to support the development of Llanbedr Airport, which houses Snowdonia Aerospace Ltd 22 (customers including the arms companies Qinetiq, BAE and Thales) and where drones are being developed. 23 At Trawsfynydd Small Modular Reactors (SMR’s) are supported by Gwynedd Council, 24 Welsh Government, 25 the local Assembly Member 26 the local MP 27 and Lord Wigley. 28 There is a military link between civil nuclear and military nuclear, 29 30 so it is difficult to reconcile supporting Trawsfynydd while opposing Trident. 31 It is also difficult to see how it can be supported on the basis of the climate crisis, as it would be too late to be of any use, 32 and there is no certainty how many jobs there would be for local people.
The idea of a third Bridge over the Menai is again one that came about following the assumption that Wylfa B was coming; this was admitted by Ken Skates (Welsh Government Cabinet Member for Economy and Transport). 33 Despite this the Welsh Government wants to spend more money on the project. 34 The plain fact is that building more roads does not solve transport problems, or carbon emissions. The problem should be looked at more widely – how to move people and goods in the most effective way from one place to another, and look again at travel to work and leisure patterns. We can say that the same arguments apply as those made by Mark Drakeford, the First Minister, when the development of the M4 around Newport was cancelled. 35
We also fear that the desire to be part of the Northern Powerhouse 36 in England is likely to lead to our areas becoming even more marginalized as our influence on that body’s strategy will be small, and likely to weaken our economic connection with other parts of Wales. The perception of Gwynedd and Anglesey as peripheral by the Welsh Government was added to in the document “National Development Framework 2020 – 2040 (draft)”. 37 Here the Welsh Government prioritises urban and urban areas for investment – in the North, Wrexham – and the importance of developing links between Wrexham and the North of England is repeatedly emphasized. The effect of this would be to accelerate out-migration from Gwynedd and Anglesey to the East and England. We understand that Gwynedd and Anglesey County Councils are also dissatisfied with this vision.
What do we mean by “local benefit”?
There are, of course, some developments that we can support, such as the Morlais marine energy scheme 38 off the coast of Anglesey. The support from the Welsh Government through the use of European funding for the commercial development of tidal energy is to be welcomed. 39 The emphasis should be, as in all schemes, on maximizing the benefit to the local area, and it is encouraging to understand that this is the intention of Menter Môn, which is behind Morlais. There is a core question to ask – what do we mean by “local benefit”? Does it mean putting money from the commercial companies in a similar fund to the Isle of Anglesey Charitable Society? 40 That fund, originally set up as an endowment by the Shell oil company, did an outstanding job for 30 years, and is now worth £22 million, to be distributed for the benefit of “voluntary and community groups and regeneration projects”. Or should it be more ambitious? Can the locals have a share in the ownership of companies that take advantage of our natural and human resources? Ultimately, it is desirable to have local ownership where possible – that is, aim to own the cake and not the leftover crumbs. What right do outsiders have to decide what is acceptable to communities in using their natural and human resources? And is it acceptable for the resources to be used at all without the consent of the affected community? And they often leave a mess behind them.
More and more evidence is emerging showing how outdated and destined to fail the current strategy is. Now, it’s not just fringe people and organizations saying this. There are highly regarded academic works from Stanford and Berkeley Universities in the USA and Aalborg in Denmark modeling 100% clean, renewable energy in 139 countries. 41 The McKinsey global organisation report Global Energy Perspective 2019 42 states:
As the cost of renewables has come down further, many countries will reach a tipping point in the next five years where new-build solar or wind capacity is cost-competitive with the fuel cost of existing conventional plants. As a result we see a further acceleration of the ramp-up of renewables.
The report of the meeting (January 2020) of the Royal Institution of International Affairs, Chatham House 43, is worth quoting extensively:
Far from tackling climate change, nuclear power is an expensive distraction.
Nuclear power is in terminal decline worldwide and will never make a serious contribution to tackling climate change.
Money spent on nuclear power; wind saved three times as much, and solar double.
The fact that nuclear power is in slow motion commercial collapse around the world. The idea that a new generation of small modular reactors would be built to replace them is not going to happen; It is just a distraction away from a climate solution
One of the myths peddled that nuclear was needed for “baseload” power because renewables were only available intermittently.
Having large inflexible nuclear stations that could not be switched off was a serious handicap in a modern grid system where renewables could at times produce all the energy needed at much lower cost.
The potential that we have seen is more than the whole nuclear capacity on Earth.
The inescapable conclusion by any observer who doesn’t have a vested interest in the current proposals is that Gwynedd and Môn – like the rest of Wales – are trapped in a fossilised sixties-style version of economic development. Outdated, destructive, polluting – and of absolutely no use to the wellbeing of future generations.
 research- nuclear-first-wales-34651https: // www. gwynedd.llyw.cymru/Council/Documents-Council/Strategies-and- Policies/Planning-and-Environment/Policy-Planning/Planning-Local-Development-Plan-Genedd-aM%C3%B4n- Statement-Written.pdf
 https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Industries/Oil%20and%20Gas/Our%20Insights/Global%20Energy%20Perspective%202019/McKinsey-Energy-Insights-Global-Energy-Perspective- 2019_Reference-Case-Summary.ashx