Connect with us
Advertisement
Advertisement

Politics

Clarity needed after contractor drops wristband demands

Published

on

Leanne Wood: Questions raised over Home Office’s judgement

Leanne Wood: Questions raised over Home Office’s judgement

A GOVERNMENT subcontractor which insisted that asylum seekers wore wristbands as a condition for receiving food announced on Monday that it would drop the practice, following public outrage over the weekend.

The controversial scheme was used at Lynx House in Cardiff to identify 200 asylum seekers staying there, so that they could claim three meals a day. Asylum seekers cannot claim UK benefits, and receive around £36 per week.

However, some claimed that the bands led to them being victimised by racists.

Clearsprings Ready Homes – the private firm contracted by the Home Office to provide accommodation in the Welsh capital – confirmed on Monday that they had abandoned the scheme. On Monday (Jan 25), a spokesman for the firm said: “Asylum seekers who spend their initial few weeks at our full board accommodation in Cardiff have been provided with wristbands since May 2015 to ensure they receive the services they are entitled to and to make sure those more vulnerable asylum seekers have access to their specific requirements.

“As in numerous such establishments where large numbers of people are being provided with services, wristbands are considered to be one of the most reliable and effective ways of guaranteeing delivery.

“We are always reviewing the way we supply our services and have decided to cease the use of wristbands as of the Monday, January 25, and will look for an alternative way of managing the fair provision of support.

“Clearsprings Ready Homes have been providing accommodation services to asylum seekers on behalf of the Home office for over 15 years and are always grateful for feedback to help improve the safety and effectiveness of their services.”

Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood welcomed the move, but said that questions needed to be asked about why the scheme was implemented in the first place:

“Plaid Cymru welcomes the fact that this alarming practice of forcing asylum seekers to wear coloured wristbands will be stopped immediately,” she said.

“It is understandable that the Home Office requires asylum seekers to carry some form of identification for practical reasons such as when they collect meals.

“However, such a visible indicator is unnecessary and has left a community already under suspicion open to further harassment and distress.

“This episode raises serious questions over the Home Office’s judgement when it comes to such sensitive issues.

“I will be writing to the Home Secretary to seek assurance that this practice will not be repeated anywhere else in the UK.”

Liberal Democrat AM Eluned Parrott also called for clarity on why the practice was happening in the first place: “I was appalled to learn that people were forced to wear wristbands in order to be able to access food. If the reports are true that this practice is to stop, then this is welcome news,” she said.

“However, we need to be told whose decision it was to dish these wristbands out.

“Lynx House have apparently claimed it was a Home Office directive. If that is the case then the Home Office must reverse this decision. It would also indicate this is happening across the UK, so it is more than just an isolated incident.

“Of course it is sensible for asylum seekers to carry some form of identification. However, many of these desperate people have risked their lives to flee the most appalling conditions and it is completely inappropriate to make their lives even more difficult by singling them out in this way.”

Amelia Womack, Wales Green Party prospective lead candidate South Wales Central list and Cardiff Central, and Deputy Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales said:

“I’m shocked to hear this is happening in Cardiff, so close to where I live. It’s hard to find words to describe how deeply thoughtless this policy is, and how little respect and compassion it shows for people fleeing persecution overseas.

“Wales has a proud tradition of offering food and shelter to those in need. Refugees are people, no less than you or I. I am disgusted that public money is being handed to private companies who don’t recognise that making refugees wear a red wristband they can’t remove will make them an obvious target for cowardly racist bullying and abuse.”

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Politics

WG settles ‘scandalous’ land sale case

Published

on

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has settled a claim against its former advisors about land sales which took place under a purported regeneration scheme.

The Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales (RIFW) had issued proceedings against Amber Fund Management and Lambert Smith Hampton concerning the portfolio sale of 15 properties in 2012.

The settlement has been reached on a commercial basis and without any admission of liability by any party.

The detailed terms have been incorporated into a confidential settlement agreement between the parties.

The Welsh Government Minister for Local Government, Julie James, said the £40.7 million tied up in the Fund can now be made available to support future investments across Wales.

RIFW was set up as an arms-length body by the Welsh Government to allow the Welsh Government to raise money which could then be used to fund regeneration and investments in Welsh businesses.

It was a complete shambles.

One of the advisors appointed had previous connections with one of the parties which bought some of the land at an undervalue.

Vital information was not relayed to the RIFW’s board by the Welsh Government and Board members were kept in the dark about transactions carried out in their name.

Under the oversight of their appointed agents and Welsh Government civil servants, RIFW sold publicly owned assets by private treaty and without prior valuation at a price that reflected the assets’ existing use, under sale terms that provided only limited protection to the public interest in their significant future development values, and via a negotiation process that left RIFW lumbered with undesirable assets.

The Chair of the Senedd Public Accounts Committee, Nick Ramsay MS, said: “The out of court settlement between the Welsh Government and the former advisors of RIFW effectively brings a curtain down on a very sorry and lamentable episode.

“The hasty sell-off of publicly-owned land at bargain-basement prices effectively deprived Welsh taxpayers of tens of millions of pounds which could’ve been used for essential services.

“We look forward to examining matters further with the Permanent Secretary and Head of the Welsh Government Civil Service, Shan Morgan, at our next meeting on Monday, November 23.

“We will be asking what robust steps have been taken to avoid history repeating.”

RIFW was set up as an arms-length body by the Welsh Government to sell off land around Wales including in north Wales, Monmouthshire and Cardiff, and use the money, in conjunction with European funding, to reinvest in areas in need of regeneration.

But the Public Accounts Committee found that the body was poorly managed, poorly overseen by the government, and that, because of a change in the direction of RIFW, from one of regeneration to property asset disposals, some of the Board members felt they lacked the necessary knowledge and expertise to fulfil their roles.

It also learned that the Board was not presented with key information regarding the value of the land in its portfolio, or of expressions of interest from potential buyers.

Fifteen plots of land, originally supposed to be sold separately, were instead sold as a single portfolio at a price which did not take into account potential use of the land in the future. This decision resulted in Welsh taxpayers missing out on tens of millions of pounds of funding.

The Committee learned that one of the organisations charged with offering expert advice to the Board, Lambert Smith Hampton Ltd, had previously acted on behalf of a director of the buyer of the land, South Wales Land Developments Ltd (SWLD), and signed an agreement to do so again one day after the sales went through.

The Committee concluded that the RIFW Board had been poorly served by its own expert advisors.

Angela Burns MS – Shadow Minister for Government Resilience and Efficiency – said: “The Fund was established to sell valuable packages of Welsh Government land, with the money used to support regeneration schemes. However, evidence has since emerged that shows that the sale of RIFW’s assets was undertaken at a loss of tens of millions of pounds. A loss which was borne ultimately by the Welsh Taxpayer and yet another example of the complete inability of this Labour Government to be fiscally prudent.

“Millions of pounds have been squandered, millions that could have been invested in our education and health systems or spent building Wales’ economy or supporting some of our more vulnerable citizens. It’s an absolute scandal and the real scandal is the Welsh Government can slide out of their responsibility for this debacle”

Included in the scandal are:

  • Fifteen sites sold for £21 million; with the taxpayer missing out on staggering sums of money
  • A site in Rhoose purchased from RIFW for less than £3m – sold on for almost £10.5m South Wales Land Developments Ltd. Taxpayers losing out
  • An Abergele site purchased from RIFW for £100,000, without overage, and sold for £1.9million. Taxpayers losing out
  • Land in Lisvane sold for £1.8million – worth £39million.

 

Welsh Conservatives also claim the Welsh Government has squandered £1 billion on other projects, including:

  • £221m on uncompetitive Enterprise Zones
  • £9.3m on flawed initial funding of the Circuit of Wales
  • £97.9m on delays and overspend on the A465 Heads of the Valleys Road
  • £157m on the M4 relief road inquiry
  • Over £100m propping up Cardiff Airport
Continue Reading

Politics

UK not ready for Brexit

Published

on

A REPORT published last week by the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) says that although government departments have made progress in recent months implementing the changes required to systems, infrastructure and resources to manage the border at the end of the post-EU Exit transition period, it is still likely that widespread disruption will occur from January 1, 2021.
In its fourth report assessing government’s preparations at the border, the NAO highlights that planning for 1 January 2021 has built on work done for previous EU Exit deadline.
The report says COVID-19 has exacerbated delays in government’s preparations and significant risks remain, particularly in relation to implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol and trader readiness more generally.
Departments have made progress towards implementing the systems, infrastructure and resources required to operate the border in relation to Great Britain at “minimum operating capability” by January 1 and are reasonably confident most will be ready, but timetables are tight.
The ability for traders to move goods under transit arrangements is a key element of the government’s plans but some elements will be challenging to deliver in their entirety.
HMRC currently estimates that there will be around 6.3 million movements of goods under transit arrangements in the year following the end of the transition period. If all the planned arrangements are not ready, this could have an impact on the ease with which traders can import and export goods.
There is little time for ports and other third parties to integrate their systems and processes with new or changed government systems, and contingency plans may need to be invoked for some elements.
In part as a result of the delays caused by COVID-19, there is limited time to test individual elements and resolve any emerging issues; ensure elements operate together; familiarise users with them in advance and little or no contingency time in the event of any delays.
Even if the Westminster government makes further progress with its preparations, there is still likely to be significant disruption at the border from January 1, as traders will be unprepared for new EU border controls which will require additional administration and checks.
The government’s latest reasonable worst-case planning assumptions, from September 2020, are that 40% to 70% per cent of hauliers will not be ready for these new controls and up to 7,000 lorries may need to queue at the approach to the short Channel crossings,6 such as Dover to Calais.
The government’s plan for reducing the risk of disruption at the approach to the short Channel crossings is still developing, with various issues yet to be resolved. It intends to launch a new GOV.UK web service called ‘Check an HGV is ready to cross the border’ for hauliers to check and self-declare that they have the correct documentation for EU import controls before travelling and obtain permits to drive on prescribed roads in Kent.
However, there is more to do on how ‘Check an HGV’ will be enforced and how it will work together with traffic management plans for Kent.
Government is preparing civil contingency plans, such as to ensure continuity of the supply of critical goods and medicines in the event of any disruption to supply chains.
On October 13, the Department for Transport announced it had awarded contracts to provide additional freight capacity for over 3,000 lorries a week on routes avoiding the short Channel crossings.
However, COVID-19 is making civil contingency plans more difficult to enact, with local authorities, industry and supply chains already under additional strain.
The UK Government will also need to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol from January 1. However, due to the scale and complexity of the changes, the lack of time and the impact of ongoing negotiations, there is a very high risk it may not be implemented in time.
The government has left itself little time to mobilise its new Trader Support Service (TSS), in which it has announced it is investing £200 million, to reduce the burden on traders moving goods to Northern Ireland and to help them prepare.
It will be challenging to establish the TSS by 1 January 2021. Work needs to be done to identify NI traders and sign them up to use the service; recruit and train the staff required; develop software to enable traders to connect to HMRC’s systems; and deliver educational activities to traders.
There is also ongoing uncertainty about the requirements for the movement of goods under the Protocol. Therefore, there is still a high risk that traders will not be ready.
The government is spending significant sums of money preparing the border for the end of the transition period and, in 2020 alone, announced funding of £1.41 billion to fund new infrastructure and systems, and wider support and investment.
Despite this, there remains significant uncertainty about whether preparations will be complete in time, and the impact if they are not. Some of this uncertainty could have been avoided, and better preparations made, had the government addressed sooner issues such as the need for an increase in the number of customs agents to support traders.
The NAO says that government must continue to focus its efforts on resolving the many outstanding issues relating to the border and develop robust contingency plans if these cannot be addressed in time for the end of the transition period.
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “The January 1 deadline is unlike any previous EU Exit deadline: significant changes at the border will take place and government must be ready.
“Disruption is likely and the government will need to respond quickly to minimise the impact, a situation made all the more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Continue Reading

Politics

Pembrokeshire County Council considering ‘Fire-break’ implications

Published

on

FOLLOWING the First Minister’s announcement at lunchtime today (Oct 19) of an all-Wales ‘firebreak’ commencing on Friday, Pembrokeshire County Council is currently assessing the impact this will have on its services.

Council Leader, David Simpson, said: “I can provide assurance that detailed planning arrangements both internally, and externally with our partner agencies, are underway to ensure that we are well placed to meet any challenges which may arise.

“We will be issuing further updates over the coming days.”

Councillor Simpson added: “The First Minister has clearly said the ‘firebreak’ has been put in place due to the increasing level of cases across Wales.

“Although the restrictions do not come into force until Friday we all have to act now – early prevention can make a huge difference.”

Continue Reading
News8 hours ago

Milford Haven: Footage of police pursuit released as dangerous driver is jailed

POLICE have released footage of a drug driver who drove through a stretch of roadworks on the wrong side of...

News12 hours ago

North Pembrokeshire school closures explained

PEMBROKESHIRE’S education chief has explained the decision to keep six North Pembrokeshire schools closed today (Tuesday, 24th November). The schools...

News1 day ago

Two day centres to close temporarily as a precaution

TWO north Pembrokeshire Day facilities for older people and people with learning disabilities are to close temporarily as a precaution...

News1 day ago

North Pembrokeshire schools remain closed

THE SIX North Pembrokeshire schools which were closed today (Monday, November 23) as a precaution following the increased spread of...

News2 days ago

Pembrokeshire closes six schools after Cardigan Covid outbreak

FIVE schools in north Pembrokeshire will close tomorrow after an increase in the number of cases of COVID-19 in the...

News2 days ago

Tenby: Investigations continue following death of woman at caravan park

POLICE are still investigating the cause of death of a woman found dead at a caravan park in Tenby on...

News3 days ago

Tenby: Man arrested after woman found dead in caravan

A MAN was arrested following the death of a woman in the south of the county. A woman has been...

News4 days ago

Pembrokeshire County Council appoints interim Chief Executive

PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL’S Head of Environmental Services and Public Protection, Richard Brown, is the Authority’s Interim Chief Executive. He was...

News6 days ago

Pembrokeshire castle’s ‘I’m A Celebrity’ rumour denied

CAREW CASTLE have denied being in the running to host ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’. Pre-coronavirus, the...

News6 days ago

Milford Haven: Police investigating burglaries targeting the vulnerable

POLICE are investigating a burglary and attempted burglary in Milford Haven. A concerned resident contacted The Herald after what he...

Popular This Week