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Politics

Four to tender for rail franchise

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Wales and Borders franchise: New ideas being explored

WALES’ Economy Secretary Ken Skates has confirmed final tenders have been invited for the next Wales and Borders Rail Service, the Welsh Government’s first.

The new rail service will deliver a step-change in the quality of rail travel in Wales. Since January 2017, officials and bidders have been discussing a range of innovative solutions to find those which best meet the needs of people in Wales and the border regions.

Rather than follow the traditional model for procuring a rail service, with the issue of a set specification that companies bid for, this approach has allowed new ideas to be explored and collaborative working relationships to be developed – setting the tone for the new service.

Proposals for the South Wales Metro are being developed alongside the Wales and Borders service to aid development of an integrated transport system in the region. The deadline to submit final tender is December 21.

Economy Secretary, Ken Skates said: “I’m delighted to confirm that Abellio Rail Cymru, Arriva Rail Wales, KeolisAmey and MTR Corporation (Cymru) Ltd have all been invited to submit final tenders for the next Wales and Borders Rail Service. From rolling stock to frequency of services, Metros to profit thresholds, this final tender will provide the blueprint for what these four giants of the rail industry are bidding to provide Wales.

“Detailed discussions with all four of the shortlisted potential operators have only served to reinforce our optimism that the next service will see big improvements. I look forward to seeing how the detailed tenders tackle our ambitious requirements for the next 15 years before making a decision on the successful operator in early 2018.

“We intend to create a rail service that benefits the whole of Wales, communities along the border and in England. One with passengers at its heart and today’s announcement is another important step towards that.”

In inviting final tender for the franchise, the Economy Secretary provided an update on progress with UK Government on fair funding. He said: “There is will on both sides to ensure that the settlement works for Wales and the Border and, following positive talks, a resolution is near. It’s great news for rail users across Wales that this ensures the services modern Wales expects and have been promised, will be fully delivered.”

Conservative Transport spokesperson, Russell George AM, said: “The Welsh public rightly expects a truly 21st century rail service that puts the passenger first. Commuters should be seeing the new rail service provide access to free Wi-Fi, built to serve the needs of local communities, and achieve high standards in relation to environmental sustainability.

“The experience of the previous franchise was an acute demonstration that it is absolutely vital to ‘get things right’ during the procurement of a major rail operating agreement, particularly to ensure that it delivers for passengers and taxpayers alike over the course of the entire franchise period.

“Welsh Conservatives are adamant the priorities of Welsh passengers should be at the very heart of the new Wales and Borders Rail franchise namely; an agreement that takes into account the commercial realities of expanding passenger numbers over time, and trains that are reliable, cost effective and contain enough seats to accommodate the travelling public.”

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Politics

Labour AM urges mass participation in Labour leadership contest

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MID AND WEST WALES AM Eluned Morgan has urged those who share Labour’s vision of a fairer, equal and greener society to come together and join the Labour movement either as a registered supporter or a full member of the Party.

The experienced Labour politician made her call as the deadline to sign up to the Party neared for the contest to elect a new Leader and Deputy Leader to replace Jeremy Corbyn and former MP Tom Watson, who stood down at the last General Election.

At a time of continuing uncertainty over the performance of the UK economy, Britain’s departure from the European Union and rising international tensions, Eluned Morgan who is also Labour’s Minister for International Affairs and the Welsh Language in the Welsh Government said it was more important than ever that the Labour Party continues to be a welcoming and open political movement, ready to champion the causes and concerns of ordinary people across Wales and the whole of the United Kingdom.

Eluned Morgan said: “The message since the General Election has been clear. The country needs a strong and effective opposition to the new Tory government led by Boris Johnson. The leadership election will give the Party an opportunity to reflect on that dreadful result in December and to look ahead to how we can rebuild, regain trust and win for those communities that have been and will continue to be tossed aside by the Government in Westminster.”

Citing the divergence between political priorities in Westminster and Cardiff Bay, Eluned Morgan highlighted how Welsh Labour has put investment and sustainability at the heart of its delivery plan for the people of Wales: “Despite savage cuts to our budget, as a Government, we have continued to invest and take innovative steps to sustain public services. It hasn’t been easy, but importantly we have shown that we can do things differently in Wales, we can do things better – especially when we work together to make real change happen.”

“As we start a new decade, Wales needs a renewed sense of optimism because we have already proven that we are different. Wales has been resilient in dealing with yet another Tory government that has ignored the needs of the Celtic nations – and it continues to do so at its peril” continued the AM who through her links with Parliamentarians across the British Isles senses a growing unease at the One Nation Conservatism that puts only England first.

“Whatever the reason for voting Conservative last December, devolution means that Wales is always one step removed from the most extreme Tory policies outside of the cruel changes to welfare system, that has exacerbated poverty across Wales.”

Different policies have set Wales apart from the rest of the UK, with some of Welsh Labour’s leading achievements recognised in the UK Labour manifesto too.

As a recognisable face in front line politics in Wales, the UK and the EU, Eluned Morgan knows that it is at a grass roots level where real change is made and the policies of tomorrow are tested and developed.

“Since the election on December 12th, Labour membership has grown across all constituencies in Wales. For all the doomsday commentary and predictions about the end of the Labour Party, not winning the election has reinforced our membership support, the message that the Tories in government must and can only be opposed by a strong Labour Party is clear. For longstanding and new members alike, those who are increasingly frustrated with British politics, it is the start of a new beginning. So if you vote Labour and want us to rebuild our communities for the future now is the time to take your vote one step further. We are about to have a whole new conversation in our movement and I am looking forward to being part of that.”

Members of the public are being given two opportunities to take part in the leadership election contest. A 48 hour window to vote for a one off fee of £25 closes on Thursday 16th January at 5pm. New members to the political party, who join before Monday 20th January will also be able to participate in the election which will take place in early spring. The new leader and deputy leader will be announced on April 4th.

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Politics

Opposition slate WG Budget

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FINANCE MINISTER Rebecca Evans unveiled the Welsh Government’s draft Budget with plans to invest more than £8bn for the Welsh NHS alongside ambitious projects to help combat climate change.

In the first Budget following the declaration of a climate emergency in Wales, there is significant new funding for low carbon transport and housing and support to restore Wales’ natural environment. This budget also protects major ongoing funding for renewable energy, the development of zero-carbon technologies and access to nature.


The 2020-21 draft Budget will see the Welsh NHS receive an inflation-busting increase of £342m next year, alongside an almost £200m boost for local government. Core funding for local authorities will grow to almost £4.5bn, boosting resources for schools, social care and other local services.


There will also be additional funding to tackle poverty, including extra support for disadvantaged pupils, and investment for town centre regeneration in a budget that delivers real-term increases for all Welsh Government departments.


This Budget also confirms that Welsh rates of income tax will be unchanged for next year, maintaining the pledge not to raise tax rates this Assembly term. It also focuses on longer-term, preventative measures to promote the wellbeing of future generations.


The UK government’s September 2019 spending round provided funding allocations for one year only. Following this announcement, like-for-like funding for Wales next year will be £300m lower compared with 2010-11.


Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said: “This draft Budget delivers on our promises to the people of Wales and invests for the future of our planet.“Despite a decade of austerity, we have consistently prioritised our NHS. Our plans will confirm a £37bn investment in the Welsh NHS since 2016.

“As we take on the climate emergency, I am protecting our existing investment and delivering a new £140m package with support for low carbon transport and a National Forest for Wales.
“Funding increases for other vital public services, such as schools and local government have also been secured in this year’s Budget. Ministers have also worked across government to focus on long-term, preventative measures such as mental health investment in line with the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

“Even though our like for like funding remains below 2010 levels, this Budget strives for a greener, equal and prosperous Wales.”

Responding for the Conservatives, Darren Millar AM tore into the Draft Budget 2020-21.

Speaking in the Senedd on Tuesday (Jan 7), he said it was “…an opportunity the Finance Minister has missed…”, and full of policies that are “…tried, tested, and failed”.

From the M4 Relief Road, to Cardiff Airport, and from health and education to the economy, Mr Millar said that the Finance Minister had a golden opportunity to invest in the people’s priorities, drive a more dynamic economy, and build on the opportunities for Wales outside the European Union.

“But,” he began, “where there was the opportunity to be imaginative you’ve opted for the mundane. Where there was the opportunity to rise to the challenge and be ambitious for our economy, you sat back. Where there was the opportunity to be radical you’ve stuck to the tried, tested and failed.”

Mr Millar continued his passionate critique of the Draft Budget, calling the lack of investment in Welsh roads – including the M4 Relief Road rejected by the Welsh Labour Government following a £144-million investigation – “… one of the biggest barriers to growth and investment in South Wales” and calling for investment in the A55 and A40.

“But ironically, when we look at where the Welsh Government is investing in transport – it’s actually in the most polluting form – air travel.

“This year, we’ve seen a further £4.8 million for the state-owned Cardiff Airport, on top of a loan above £21m announced in October.”

Just last week, pre-tax losses at the airport trebled from the previous year to some £18.5m, far more than the modest £1m loss during the airport’s last full year in private ownership in 2012.

Specifically on the environment, Mr Millar – who represents Clywd West – said: “This was proclaimed as a ‘green’ budget, but the reality is that the Welsh Government’s response to its climate change emergency declaration has been slow, vague and uncosted. We need to see more investment in cleaner technology in line with the drive to phase out diesel and petrol vehicles.

“Many Welsh counties have the poorest network of electric vehicle charging stations in Britain. Why isn’t this budget doing more to invest in these? It’s a missed opportunity to invest in clean technology and encourage consumers to make greener choices.”

Speaking later, Mr Millar said: “There are elements of this Draft Budget I have welcomed, as have my Welsh Conservative colleagues, but overall its one failed opportunity after another from a failing Welsh Labour Government.”

Plaid Cymru shadow minister for the economy and finance Rhun ap Iorwerth AM said: “This is a budget that delivers only in its lack of ambition.

“Twenty years of Labour rule in Wales has shown us that more money for our NHS doesn’t in itself mean better services. What we need to see from this Labour government is a strategic plan on how this extra funding will be spent on preventative measures instead of the continued mismanagement of our NHS and health boards that are still in special measures. Meanwhile, local government is still not being given the level of funding it so desperately needs to deliver crucial front line public services.

“The £140m package for low carbon transport is not nearly ambitious enough and such a small package in the face of such a colossal global climate crisis shows that this Labour government isn’t taking the issue seriously enough.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth added: “To compound the problem of Labour mismanagement, the truth is, that the Welsh Government’s budget will be tied to the priorities of whatever government is sitting in Westminster, and we know that UK Governments – of whichever colour – care little about addressing Wales’ needs.”

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Plaid: ‘Poverty is a political choice’

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INTRODUCING a £ 35 a week payment for every child in low-income families in Wales could lift 50,000 children out of poverty, says Plaid Cymru.
Speaking ahead of a Plaid Cymru debate in the Senedd on Wednesday, January 8, Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price said children born today are at the “highest risk of poverty” in sixty years and parents have to choose between “feeding themselves and feeding their children.”

One of Plaid Cymru’s main policies during the general election in December last year was to “eradicate child poverty in Wales” and Mr Price said that had not changed.

The Leader of Plaid Cymru said a newly-elected Plaid Cymru government in 2021 would make eradicating child poverty in Wales one of its “priorities” and said a direct payment to all children in low-income families would be one possible option in doing this.

He added that a payment of £ 35 a week could “radically transform the lives of young people across Wales” giving them “the best start in life they deserve”.
Mr Price said that while the current Welsh government lacks a “specific strategy” to tackle poverty, Plaid Cymru would deliver a program of government with the eradication of child poverty a priority.

Mr Price said Plaid Cymru would not only “manage problems” but “solve” them.

Adam Price said: “Children born today are now at the highest risk of poverty in sixty years. Parents have to choose between feeding themselves and feeding their children. Growing up and living in poverty is no longer the exception in Wales. It’s the norm.

“One of Plaid Cymru’s main policies during last year’s general election was to eradicate child poverty in Wales. That has not changed.

“Plaid Cymru would make eradicating child poverty one of its top priorities. One of the ways we could do this is by introducing a new direct payment for low-income families. A payment of £ 35 per week for each child could radically transform the lives of young people across Wales and give them the best start in the life they deserve.

“Although Labour in Wales does not have a specific strategy to tackle poverty or even a basic definition of poverty, the Plaid Cymru government will introduce a competent government program that prioritises the eradication of child poverty.

“We won’t just manage problems. We will solve them. Poverty is a political choice. Plaid Cymru will ensure that Wales chooses differently.”

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