On the crest of a wave

About the only good thing with growing old is the occasional reminder that there is nothing new under the sun.

So when I toddled along to county hall last Friday for the presentation on the Swansea Bay City Deal (SBCD) I wasn’t expecting any surprises.

The Leader of Swansea City Council, who chairs the group made up of the leaders of the four participating councils (Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire), was first on parade and his opening gambit was a graph going back twenty years comparing income levels in Wales with the rest of Europe.

It was not a pretty sight with the gap between the two widening as time went by and that between the EU and this neck of the woods wider still.

Indeed, except for a bit of a dip at the time of the 2008 financial crisis, the graph had a fairly even gradient.

So, when he had finished his pitch on how the SBCD would transport us all to the sunlit uplands where flowed a constant stream of milk and honey, I felt compelled to point out that I had heard exactly the same spiel back in 2000 when it was announced that £1 billion of EU Objective 1 money was to be ploughed into south west Wales and The Valleys.

He seemed a bit nonplussed when I challenged him to point to the effect of this “once in a lifetime opportunity” on his graph.

Of course he couldn’t because, as various academic studies have shown, the money had been been largely frittered away on all sort of publicly-sponsored vanity projects.

As I recorded at the time (Backscratchers) almost without exception the state aid had found its way into the coffers of all the usual suspects – Milford Haven Port Authority, Pembrokeshire College, Planed, Pembrokeshire Business Initiative and PCC itself.

Hardly surprising, I suppose, when you consider that most of these organisations were represented on the the board – chairman Johnny Allen-Mirehouse – that doled out the lolly.

Indeed, as the Western Mail reported, because this first tranche of money had failed completely to raise living standards in this part of Wales, the area was still poor enough to qualify for another dollop of cash when the second round of bidding got under way.

It seems we are following a similar path with the SBCD because Pembrokeshire’s contribution is a £76 million “Pembroke Dock Marine” project fronted up by those master grant-chasers Milford Haven Port Authority.

This cash will go towards the provision of a test facility where inventors can test out their ideas for extracting energy from wave and tide.

As I reported a year or so ago, a firm called Wave-tricity Ltd has already attracted a £4 million grant from the Welsh Government to carry out research into extracting electricity from waves, though if the experience of the Scottish Government is anything to go by (Orkneys) this is a bit like standing under a cold shower tearing up £50 notes.

Indeed you might say that extracting money from government has proved far easier than extracting electricity from the sea.

Someone did have the temerity to mention that useless big propeller thingy that was placed in Ramsey Sound sometime in 2016 and we were told its failure was more to do with environmental regulation than defective design.

You have to admire their never-say-die spirit.

Another Orkneys failure was a company known as Aquamarine which ceased trading in 2015.

If you follow the link you will find the logos of various marine engineers at the bottom of the page, and if you click on these you will find pictures of all the weird and wonderful machines devised by clever inventors in their failed attemps to extract worthwhile quantities of electricity from the sea.

Old Grumpy is reminded of this account of Gulliver’s visit to the Grand Academy of Lagado:

“The first man I saw was of a meagre aspect, with sooty hands and face, his hair and beard long, ragged, and singed in several places. His clothes, shirt, and skin, were all of the same colour.

He has been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in phials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers.

He told me, he did not doubt, that, in eight years more, he should be able to supply the governor’s gardens with sunshine, at a reasonable rate: but he complained that his stock was low, and entreated me “to give him something as an encouragement to ingenuity, especially since this had been a very dear season for cucumbers.”

I made him a small present, for my lord had furnished me with money on purpose, because he knew their practice of begging from all who go to see them.”

I did ask the chap from MHPA if he would be happy to see his pension invested in this wave energy caper.

His silence said it all.