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Communities First had impossible task

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THE WELSH Government should ensure councils identify all programmes currently being delivered by Communities First that should be delivered by other public services and that they are transferred across to the relevant public service as soon as possible, according to a National Assembly Committee.

The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee also found it has been difficult to make an overall assessment of the success of the 15-year, £432m Communities First tackling poverty programme because of insufficient performance management.

Communities First was the Welsh Government’s flagship tackling poverty programme. The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children Carl Sargeant AM announced that the programme would be wound down in February this year.

The report also highlights that uncertainty for staff caused by the way in which the announcement was made has had a detrimental impact on their work, and affected the people using the services.

The Committee also recommend that the Welsh Government outline how long legacy funding will be available for as soon as possible.

Committee Chair John Griffiths AM said: “For many people, Communities First has had a life-changing impact, and we know it has done great work in communities across Wales.

“We are concerned that the Welsh Government must learn lessons for future tackling poverty activities, ensuring progress is measurable, based on evidence of what works, and that the successful elements of Communities First, which could be delivered by other public bodies and are valued locally, are transferred to other public services to deliver.

“The need for these services hasn’t disappeared, but faced with uncertainty, we have heard that Communities First staff are already leaving for other jobs. Their expertise and relationships cannot easily be replaced.”

A key criticism in the report is that the Welsh Government had no baseline from which to assess success and without such a measure, it was impossible for Communities First’s successes – if any – to be adequately measured as delivering anything like value for the money invested in the scheme.

Evidence from Carmarthenshire County Council not only makes that criticism express, but continues: ‘Measuring the long term impact that the programme had on the individuals was not carried out in the initial years of the programme. As a result, there was limited recording of statistics and outcomes achieved during this period’.

Indeed, the committee states that its own work was hampered by lack of transparency by the Welsh Government. ‘On the day that it was announced the programme would definitely be ending (14 February 2017), all performance measurement data was removed from the Welsh Government’s website’.

The report mordantly notes that: ‘However, we were told in very stark times by a witness that having 102 performance indicators means in practice you have no performance indicators’. It goes on to warn that new indicators put in place by the Welsh Government are so broad as to be almost meaningless and recommends that the Welsh Government adopt the approach recommended by the Bevan Foundation, a social welfare think-tank.

The report notes that the Communities First programme was set the ‘near impossible task’ of reducing poverty, which could never be achieved through one single programme.

In written evidence to the Committee, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, Carl Sargeant said that “….the underlying premise of the programme that it was possible to improve area characteristics by influencing individual-level outcomes – was (and remains) untested.”

In addition to the broad aims of the programme, it remains unclear and un-evidenced as to whether interventions to improve individual circumstances lead to changes in a geographical area’s characteristics. This was accepted by the Cabinet Secretary in his written evidence.

Although it is unclear how well a place based approach works and it remains the approach for some other programmes such as Communities for Work, Flying Start, Lift, and others. The committee recommends review of these programmes ‘to ensure they are working to optimum benefit’.

The Committee expresses concern that Communities First programmes were used to deliver services that statutory bodies should have delivered, noting that Communities First schemes ‘were delivering projects and support in important areas, including health and education’.

As Herald readers in Carmarthenshire will recall, it is almost impossible to conceive that a local authority would misuse funds for a targeted project to subsidise delivery of its own services.

Other recommendations include:

• That the Welsh Government considers removing postcode barriers to families accessing Flying Start where there is an identified need and capacity to support them

• That the Welsh Government ensures that all advice and guidance to local authorities is available in written form to supplement information that is provided in person or orally

• That the Welsh Government That the Welsh Government makes it clear in guidance to local authorities that employability support should encompass all stages of the employment journey, including support to a person once they are in employment

Mark Isherwood, the Conservative spokesperson for Communities, joined in the Committee’s criticism.

“Despite repeated warnings, the Welsh Government has failed to deliver what the Communities First programme originally intended, which was to deliver community ownership and empowerment to drive positive change.

“An article by the Bevan Foundation achieved a far more perspicacious insight into why Communities First achieved such little success, by stating that community buy-in is essential and that if people feel that policies are imposed on them, then policies simply don’t work. The Cabinet Secretary should take note.

“However, it is not too late to do things differently. We can still unlock human capital in our communities and places to develop solutions to local issues, improve wellbeing, raise aspirations and create stronger communities.”

The Bevan Foundation has welcomed the recommendations of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee’s report.

In particular, it welcomes the Committee’s inclusion of the Bevan Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s proposals to reduce poverty through a whole government strategy for reducing costs and raising incomes, rather than its current focus on employability, early years and empowerment.

The Bevan Foundation also welcome’s the Committee’s adoption of other Bevan Foundation proposals including:

• The recommendation that the Welsh Government work with the Bevan Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation on a dashboard of indicators,

• The recommendation that the Welsh Government explore further the role of assets in generating income and wealth

• The comment that the Welsh Government needs to provide a robust framework for local action

Director of the Bevan Foundation, Victoria Winckler, said: “We were delighted that the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has listened carefully to our written and oral evidence and included so many of ideas in its recommendations. The Committee’s inquiries into poverty are vitally important, and we hope that the Welsh Government heed the Committee’s recommendations. We look forward to working with the Welsh Government and the Committee in taking them forward.”

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Chancellor’s economic update includes VAT cut for hospitality sector, and customer discounts

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THE CHANCELLOR, Rishi Sunak, set out the measures in his summer economic update in the House of Commons on Wednesday (Jun 8), as he faces pressure to assist those who are most vulnerable to the financial crisis.

The Chancellor said he will cut VAT from 20% to 5% for food if people eat out to help those businesses which he said had been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The chancellor announced discount to encourage people to eat out in August.

He says restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels as well as other attractions will be able to claim the money back within five days. It had been reported he was considering giving all UK adults a £500 voucher to spent with companies hit by coronavirus, but the Chancellor has decided not to go ahead with that proposal.

Another announcement is that employers who take back staff on furlough and continuously employ them until January will get £1,000 cash bonus per employee.

Instead Sunak announced a discount worth up to £10 per head for eating out in August. He said his final measure has never been tried in this country. It is an “eat out to help out scheme”, offering customers as discount worth up to £10 per head when they eat out from Monday to Wednesday in August.

Speaking in the Commons today, he said: “Our plan has clear goals, to protect, support and retain jobs.”

Regards furlough scheme, he said it must wind down, adding: “flexibly and gradually supporting people through to October” but that he is introducing a bonus for employers who bring staff back from furlough.

Employers who bring someone back from furlough and employ them through to January, paying them a minimum of £520 a month, will receive a £1,000 bonus.

He says that “in total we have provided £49bn to support public services since the pandemic began”.

He added: “No nationalist can ignore that this help has only been possible because we are a United Kingdom.”

Mr Sunak says the UK economy has already shrunk by 25% – the same amount it grew in the previous 18 years.

He also announced:

  • A £2bn kickstart scheme paying employers to take on unemployed 16 to 24 year olds for a minimum of 25 hours a week – he says the Treasury will pay those wages for six months plus a sum for overheads. He says there is no cap. This will apply in England and Wales.
  • VAT on food from restaurants, cafes, pubs and hotels will be cut until January 12 from 20% to 5%
  • Funding for apprenticeships and trainee-ships in England, there will be a separate announcement for Wales.
  • £1bn for the DWP to support millions of people back to work through Job Centres
  • A £2bn green homes grant in England to cover two thirds of the cost, up to £5,000, for energy efficient home improvements. Again the Welsh Government will have their own proposals on this given time.
  • A temporary cut to stamp duty in England and Northern Ireland.

Stephen Crabb has given his strong backing to the Chancellor’s coronavirus recovery plan, calling it “a huge step towards getting Pembrokeshire back on its feet”.

The Preseli MP said that the Chancellor’s ‘Plan for Jobs’ includes a £1000 bonus for businesses to bring back furloughed staff and the Kickstart scheme which will provide high quality work placements for unemployed youngsters. In England businesses will also be offered £1000 bonus to take on a trainee and £2000 for each new apprentice. Welsh Government has been given equivalent money to support their training schemes.

Speaking in the House of Commons following the Chancellor’s statement, Crabb said: “Make no mistake, this action to save a generation of young people from bearing the brunt of the economic crisis is incredibly positive and to be welcomed.”

The MP has previously warned about the prospect of a surge in unemployment as a result of the lockdown.

The Chancellor also announced a cut in VAT for the tourism and hospitality sector, giving a much needed boost to some of the sectors hardest hit by coronavirus. Early on in the lockdown, Crabb wrote to the Chancellor to call for a package of support for Tourism that included a VAT cut.

Responding to the announcement today, he said: “I am delighted that the Chancellor has listened to the proposals that many MPs from coastal areas have put forward. Tourism and hospitality need a real shot in the arm and the VAT cut will be very welcome.”

Today’s statement also saw the launch of a new ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, giving people 50% off meals out to encourage more families to eat out or get a takeaway during the month of August.   These measures will be important for Pembrokeshire’s many hospitality businesses who are still awaiting an announcement from Welsh Government on when they can open again.

On Friday Stephen Crabb will be bringing together more than thirty local pubs and restaurants for an online discussion with the County Council and others about how the sector can re-open safely and successfully.

 

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Politics

Cllr Beynon suspended as school governor at Pembroke’s Ysgol Harri Tudur

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL said that they are unable to comment on the suspension of a Pembroke Dock councillor as a school governor.

Cllr Beynon confirmed that he has been suspended as a school governor at Pembroke’s Ysgol Harri Tudur.

“I’m looking forward until when the ombudsman throws out the complaints,” Cllr Beynon said.

Paul Dowson, a fellow Pembroke Dock councillor, recently resigned from the board of school governors of Ysgol Harri Tudur.

Cllr Dowson said after he resigned: “I feel a recent smear campaign reflects badly on the school even though its untrue.”

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Union wants council investigation into Councillor Paul Dowson’s conduct

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PEMBROKESHIRE County Councillor Paul Dowson’s public statements criticising the Black Lives Matter movement should be formally investigated by the council, according to UNISON.

The trade union said Mr Dowson’s use of a phrase adopted by the racist Klu Klux Klan was deeply offensive when people around the world were united in protest at police brutality and the murder of George Floyd.

UNISON questioned whether the councillor is fit to hold public office.

Mr Dowson used his Facebook page to attack Labour councillor Josh Beynon’s suggestion Pembrokeshire County Hall could be lit up in support of Black Lives Matter’s commemoration of Mr Floyd’s death.

Cllr Dowson posted that “White lives matter” a White supremacist phrase which originated in 2015 as a racist response to protests against police brutality against Black-Americans in the USA. Councillor Beynon received an online torrent of racist and homophobic abuse.

Manuela Hughes, UNISON Pembrokeshire branch chair said: “The Black Lives Matter movement has shown everyone that racism is rife in society. Black people are more likely to have been subjected to police brutality, more likely to live in poverty and more likely to be unemployed as a result of systemic racism. Their contribution is often written out of the history of this country.

Black workers have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and in the NHS, care and transport sectors, Black people have paid with their lives for caring for the whole community.

“This is the climate in which Councillor Dowson made his comments. He has brought Pembrokeshire County Council into disrepute. It is important that everyone stands together against racism and the council must formally investigate his behaviour.”

Mr Dowson was criticised for his Facebook comments in April last year that former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, should commit suicide.

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