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The new Secretary of State for Wales

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Alun Cairns: New Secretary of State for Wales

Alun Cairns: New Secretary of State for Wales

JUNIOR Wales Office Minister Alun Cairns has been announced as the Secretary of State for Wales, following Stephen Crabb’s promotion to the Department for Work and Pensions on Saturday (Mar 19).

Mr Cairns was elected as MP for the Vale of Glamorgan in the 2010 general election. However, prior to this, he was an Assembly Member for 11 years. During this time, he developed a reputation as a combative debater, with an interest in Special Educational Needs. On one occasion he forced a change of Assembly Policy after championing a local Special Needs case by exposing that WG guidance was against the law.

However, before his election as an MP he was almost deselected, following a verbal gaffe made during a live radio broadcast, when he described Italians as ‘greasy wops’. He immediately apologised, and prominent members of the Welsh Italian community supported him.

Mr Cairns’ upbringing appears to have been influential on his political choices. The son of a British Steel welder and a shop-keeper, Mr Cairns, in the words of his online biography, ‘first became aware of politics whilst growing up in a deprived community near Swansea.

“He saw that a close family member, who ran her own small grocery shop worked all hours possible for almost 50 years ended up worse off than many of our neighbours who hadn’t bothered working, in spite of being able to do so.

“He felt that it was wrong that people who were able to work could live off the state, yet others worked every hour for little reward. Naturally, he wants to see support for those who genuinely can’t work.”

A relatively recent Wales Office appointment (he was given the role of Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Wales in July 2014) he will now assume responsibility for the Wales Bill, which has currently been put back until after the Assembly Elections.

Mr Cairns has specified that largescale infrastructure projects form a large part of his vision for Wales, and believes that he will be able to work as a ‘deal-maker’ in much the same way that Mr Crabb did before he soured the relationship with Welsh Labour whilst campaigning for the 2015 elections and by his unwillingness to listen to criticism of the Draft Wales Bill.

“This has been an extraordinary week for Wales with a city deal for Cardiff Capital Region, the doors being opened for a north Wales growth deal and negotiations for a Swansea Bay city deal,” Mr Cairns recently said

“The Severn Tolls announcement demonstrates that Wales is open for business and I am determined to keep this momentum going and deliver on these projects.”

The new Secretary of State has also said that he knows Carwyn Jones ‘particularly well’ and claimed that they were friends ‘on a personal level.’

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Cairns added that ‘of course politically we won’t always see eye to eye and challenges will remain.

“But it’s only by working through these issues for the benefit of Wales will we all benefit and that will be good for the Welsh Government as well as good for the UK Government – but more importantly it will be good and better for Welsh people,” he said.

However, Mr Cairns also referred to the defeat of the ‘e-cigarette ban’ as a sign that Plaid Cymru may not be as willing to work with Labour as has previously been thought, which could pave the way for a non Labour-led Welsh Government.

Mr Cairns has previously courted controversy for his views on smoking. Shortly after his election in 2010, he signed an early day motion calling for a review of the smoking ban. In 2012, he was one of 50 MPs who wrote to the then Health Secretary Andrew Lansley expressing serious concerns over plain packaging proposals.

The letter described the proposal as ‘a smuggler’s charter. this policy threatens more than 5,500 jobs directly employed by the UK tobacco sector, and over 65,000 valued jobs in the associated supply chain. Given the continued difficult economic climate, businesses should not be subjected to further red tape and regulation’.

However, it was subsequently revealed that Mr Cairns had accepted two tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show from Japan Tobacco International in 2011 and 2012. The total value of these tickets was around £2,300.

He recently represented the Wales Office at the St David’s Day debate, when Mr Crabb had ‘parliamentary duties’ with the Bexley Conservative Club ladies’ lunch. Mr Cairns subsequently apologised for ‘inadvertently misleading’ Welsh MPs.

Outside of politics, the 45-yearold former banker is a keen runner, and recorded the quickest time by an MP in last year’s London Marathon. He is married, with one son.

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News

Polling station changes in Pembrokeshire

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POLLING STATIONS in Pembrokeshire are open today (May 6) but a small number may have changed from the last time you voted.

In Neyland, the polling station will be at the new Community Hub building on John Street.

St Katherine’s Church Hall will be the new host for the station in Milford Haven, having previously been held at the Murray Suite in the town hall.

A polling station will be placed at the leisure centre in Haverfordwest while one at Trecwn has been moved to the Gate, Scleddau.

Voters in the county will be electing for the Preseli Pembrokeshire and the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire constituencies.

People will also be able to select five MSs to represent the Mid and West Wales Region.

The candidate with the most votes will win the constituency but the ballot for the region will be decided by a different process.

People will be elected according to their share of the vote, using a mathematical process, and gives parties who may have won fewer or no constituencies a better chance of winning regional ones.

It will also be a big day for 16 and 17 year olds as they will be able to vote in Welsh elections for the first time.

The ballots will be counted on Friday (May 7) with results expected to come in from the afternoon.

Polling stations opened at 7am and will close at 10pm.

All those who vote will be required to stick to Covid-19 safety measures including wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing.

Clean pencils will be available but voters can bring their own pen or pencil.

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Politics

Pembrokeshire heads to the polls

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THE ELECTIONS to the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru take place today, Thursday (May 6).

Over the last few weeks, we’ve published a guide to the manifestos of each of Wales’ principal parties.

Next today is the crunch and after that comes the business of forming a government.

But first, voting.

HOW TO VOTE

Wales has a combination of voting systems.On Thursday, May 6, you will have two ballot papers for the Senedd. One for your constituency, the other for your region.X in the box against your candidate for the constituency.X in the box for the party you want on the regional list.Forty constituency seats, with the same boundaries as the Westminster election constituencies, elect one member each through first past the post.
The winners of constituency seats don’t need most of the votes, only one more than the candidate in second place.
Twenty further Members of the Senedd are elected on a regional list system.
Wales is divided into five regions, each of which returns four Senedd members.The regions are: Mid & West Wales; North Wales; South Wales Central; South Wales East; South Wales West.
The parties prepare a list of candidates in their own order of preference.
The system supposedly balances the risk of a one-party state by balancing constituency success against votes cast for parties.

THE REGIONAL LIST

If a party is electorally successful in the constituency vote, it starts with a handicap in the regional count.

The formula is complex, but it basically divides the total number of regional votes by one plus the number of constituencies won. Successive rounds of counting then divide the regional vote by one plus the number of constituencies plus any regional seat won in the preceding round.

After four rounds of counting, you have four Senedd Members for the region.

Labour had two regional seats in Mid and West Wales after the 2016 election only because it performed dismally in Mid and West Wales’ constituencies. 

If the Labour vote collapses in Mid and West Wales, after this election it might return only one MS to Cardiff. In that case, the lucky winner would be Eluned Morgan.

Ironically, if Plaid Cymru wins Llanelli it will almost certainly lose its regional seat – unless other parties’ regional vote falls and Plaid’s significantly increases.

The Liberal Democrats held one seat in Mid and West Wales last time out, Brecon and Radnor. That success cost William Powell (number one on the candidate list for the LibDems in 2016) a seat. The Liberal Democrats were in poll position for a second seat after the regional votes were counted.

However, in the final round of counting, UKIP’s abject failure in Mid and West Wales’ constituencies combined with regional votes from Pembrokeshire gifted Cardiff Bay with Neil Hamilton’s contrarian presence.

That fact underlines the regional votes’ importance.

FIRST TIME VOTERS

The unknown in this election is the number of first-time voters since the franchise’s expansion to sixteen and seventeen-year-olds. Younger voters tend to be less tribal and more single-issue driven.

If young voters turn out in numbers, there could be a significant swing towards parties that address issues of importance to them in a way that appeals to younger voters. 

The likely beneficiaries would be parties closely connected to environmental issues – or at least those who claim to be.

At this point, young voter turnout could be disappointingly low. The last school year was meant to educate prospective young voters about the coming election. Thanks to the pandemic, that fell by the wayside.

In the future, Civics’ presence in the school curriculum is vital. Schools must give students an understanding of how government works, the importance of democracy and citizens’ duty to engage with it.

WHERE WILL UKIP VOTES GO?

The second question is where UKIP’s votes will end up. The Party’s membership, support, and electoral profile have withered along with its momentary political relevance. 

Although Pembrokeshire might again buck the regional trend, it’s unlikely UKIP will cross the threshold to get a seat in Mid and West Wales.

Abolish the Assembly (sic.) superficially appears the most attractive party for those who backed UKIP on the regional list last time out. However, the longer the campaign has gone on, the more Abolish has faded. An ITV interview with its leader, Richard Suchorzewski, was truly cringe-inducing.

After saying he respected Wales as a country, Mr Suchorzewski didn’t have an answer when asked to name another country without a parliament.

It was embarrassing to watch and, whether you feel Wales needs/deserves a separate Parliament or not, dire.

With Andrew RT Davies in charge, the Conservatives have burnished their ‘BluKip’ credentials. However, their campaign is endangered by the impression that a Welsh Conservative government would be operated from Westminster and not Wales, with Simon Hart as de facto Governor-General. 

It’s a tricky line for the Conservatives to tread. However, if the Conservatives pick up UKIP votes, as well as get their existing regional voter base to turn out -as they did in December 2019 – Tomos Dafydd could pick up a Mid and West regional seat for the Party.

VOTING IS WHAT COUNTS

There are plenty of opportunities to vote on the regional and constituency lists to register what’s called ‘a protest vote’.

Protesting in silence on election day by not voting and complaining for the next five years is an empty and futile gesture.

It’s objectively more important TO vote than HOW you vote.

Voting is what counts.

Nothing else matters in an election.

It’s a few minutes out of your lives and can change Wales.

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Health

Mark Drakeford in Milford Haven as pub tills ring for first weekend since December

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As part of the easing of lockdown restrictions, hospitality business owners let out a sigh of relief this week after a long winter as it was announced by Mark Drakeford that the sector could open – partially.

On Monday, many of us went for a pint as pubs, cafes, and restaurants can now serve customers outdoors.

First Minister Mark Drakeford visited Milford Haven on Sunday (May 2) in last minute campaigning before the election on Thursday.

It was the first weekend of trade since pubs were forced to shut before Christmas.

Indoor hospitality is still set to return on May 17 he confirmed.

Announcing the changes officially for the first time last week, First Minister said: “The public health context in Wales remains favourable, with cases falling and our vaccination programme continues to go from strength to strength.

“Because meeting outdoors continues to be lower risk than meeting indoors, we are able to bring forward changes to allow any six people to meet outdoors.

“This will provide more opportunities for people, especially young people, to meet outdoors with their friends.

“This will undoubtedly have a significant positive impact on people’s wellbeing. I’m also pleased to confirm outdoor hospitality will be allowed to reopen from Monday 26 April.

“These changes will help the hospitality sector recover after a difficult twelve months. It is thanks to the continuing efforts of people across Wales we are able to introduce this change. Together, we will continue to keep Wales safe.”

Reaction to the changes

Welcoming the announcement Jane Dodds, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said it was “great news”.

She said: “As a nation we must all work together to ensure the vaccination programme continues and that the lockdowns and closures we’ve been through never need to return.”

Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies, said: “Labour had ample opportunity to bring forward a roadmap out of lockdown, but refused to do so.

“Thanks to the UK’s great vaccination story much more detail could have been announced prior to the election period… but Labour chose to play politics instead of adopting the Welsh Conservative roadmap.”

Mark Reckless, from the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party, said: “This is getting to the point of testing election rules to breaking point.

“The Labour leader is using his platform as first minister to make political announcements during an election campaign.”

So what do businesses have to do by law?

Welsh Government guidance states: “As an employer or business operator, you have a legal responsibility to protect employees and visitors; and anyone else on the premises, from risks to their health and safety. You also need to assess the risks from COVID-19 and take reasonable measures to minimise exposure to the virus.

“Risk assessments are used to identify and address these risks or minimise them. When undertaking your specific COVID-19 risk assessment you must comply with the Coronavirus Regulations and have regard to the statutory guidance and use this document to inform your decisions and control measures, recognising you cannot eliminate all risks.

“Risk assessments must be reviewed and updated regularly, whenever circumstances change including whenever the coronavirus alert levels change in Wales.

“A risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but rather about identifying sensible measures to control risks. Your risk assessment will help you decide whether you have done everything you reasonably need to. There are interactive tools available to support you from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at Managing risks and risk assessments at work.

“These risk assessments will be the starting point for implementing the reasonable measures that are required to be taken to minimise exposure to the coronavirus on premises open to the public and in workplaces.

“This involves considering issues such as: whether ventilation is adequate; hygiene factors including hand washing and access to hand washing facilities; ensuring physical distancing is taking place and if 2m is achievable; the extent to which the use of screens, PPE and face coverings can mitigate risks, especially where the 2m distance is not achievable.”

Made possible by the vaccine?

As of April 29th, Public Health Wales said a total of 1,816,451 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have now been given in Wales.

The agency said 732,643 second doses have also been administered.

Wales is currently in phase two of its vaccination programme, meaning the NHS is now inviting everyone aged 40 to 49 to be vaccinated, after successfully offering the vaccine to everyone in the JCVI priority groups 1-9.

It comes as an estimated six in 10 adults (61 per cent) in private households would have tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies in the week to April 11th, the ONS said on April 28th.

This is up from around one in two adults, or 48.2 per cent, two weeks earlier.

On April 7th, Wales became the first country in Britain to administer the Moderna vaccine.

It was also announced on April 14th that all over 16s who live with an adult with a weakened immune system are to be prioritised for Covid-19 jabs, following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Adults who are immunosuppressed have a weaker immune system to fight infections naturally and are more likely to have poorer outcomes after contracting coronavirus.

This includes those with blood cancer, HIV or those who are having immunosuppressive treatment.

What about hospitality that can’t operate outdoors?

The First Minister has announced that an extra £200m is available to help businesses which are not yet able to open.

This will help top up the non-domestic rates grants. Mr Drakeford said it means hospitality, tourism, leisure and non-essential retail businesses, which must remain closed will be eligible for a third payment of between £4,000 and £5,000 to help them meet ongoing operating costs while they cannot trade.

“This is in top of the announcement earlier this week extending the business rates holiday for retail, leisure and hospitality businesses for the whole of the next financial year,” Mr Drakeford added.

“We have made well in excess of £2bn available to businesses over the course of the last year to help them through the pandemic, which is over and above the support available from the UK Government’s schemes.

“This is the most generous business support scheme available in the UK. I’m very pleased we’ve been able to safeguard more than 160,000 jobs in these most difficult of times.”

Controlling the crowds

Hospitality catering to households who have effectively been locked down all spring will be a welcome sight to many after large crowds recently descended upon Cardiff Bay.

Police had been given special powers after crowds gathered in Cardiff Bay on April 2nd, despite coronavirus restrictions still being in place.

Cardiff council said a significant amount of rubbish had been left by “large groups of people intent on breaking Covid-19 restrictions”.

South Wales Police has put a dispersal order in place, giving officers the power to exclude people from the area.

Covid rules at that time stated six people from two different households could meet outdoors. It followed similar scenes outside the Senedd earlier that week, when three police officers were injured.

Supt Marc Attwell said: “As restrictions have eased, the need for personal responsibility is critical and it is extremely disappointing that a small minority are willing to put themselves, and others, in harm’s way.

“Cardiff Bay in particular has attracted large crowds over the past few days.

“The behaviour seen over the past three days has placed additional pressure on not only the police but the local authority as well, and meant that officers have been diverted from other parts of the force.”

“We are asking people in groups of six or more who are thinking of attending or organising a gathering at the Senedd over this bank holiday weekend not to do so.”

Officers arrested a 20-year-old man for a public order offence, a 22-year-old woman was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and for possession of a Class A substance and a 35-year-old-man was also arrested for possession of a Class A substance.

The council said the trail of litter left a “huge task” for clean-up staff as “bins were left unused and the ground was littered with rubbish”.

“Despite the preventative measures put in place by the council, in partnership with South Wales Police, the Welsh government’s coronavirus regulations were again broken by a significant number of people illegally gathering in Cardiff Bay,” the authority said.

“The rules are clear, six people, from two households are allowed to meet outdoors, maintaining two metre social distancing.

“Breaking these rules significantly increases the chances of Covid-19 cases rising in the city.”

Now, with places for people to socialise in an organised manner, scenes like this should hopefully be avoided as people safely enjoy themselves.

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