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​​Budget agreement could be the last​

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Deal secures whole of budget: Mark Drakeford

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT and Plaid Cymru have agreed a ​two-year, £210m Budget agreement.

The deal includes ensuring no cuts to the Supporting People grant​,​ £15m to improve vital north and south links on the A487 and A470​,​ and a £40m boost for mental health funding over ​two years.

There is an extra £20m-a-year for higher and further education and £6m for a young farmers’ grant scheme over ​two years.

There is additional funding for the Welsh language; for Wales to deal with the impact of Brexit, including support for businesses and for music in schools. The agreement builds on the one struck between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru last year.

It also includes:

  • ​A £7m development fund for undergraduate medical training in North Wales
  • £2m to remove the tolls on the Cleddau bridge in Pembrokeshire in 2019-20
  • £3m to support the design and development of a third Menai bridge crossing
  • ​A further £2m for the secretariat and investment support for a new ‘Arfor’ economic region in west Wales

Welsh Government Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said: “We are pleased we have been able to agree this ​two-year deal with Plaid Cymru, which secures the whole of our Budget.

“This agreement builds on the one reached between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru last year and includes a series of recurrent allocations for the Welsh language, arts, end-of-life-care, mental health, higher education and Visit Wales.

“We have also been able to agree capital funding to take forward the new integrated healthcare centre in Cardigan and the results of the feasibility studies into a national art gallery and football museum in North Wales, which were agreed as part of last year’s agreement.”

Adam Price, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for finance, business and the economy, said: “This is a Budget Agreement that will deliver for people and communities in all parts of Wales.

“It protects the vulnerable, invests in our young, and innovates for all our futures. This is a pan-Wales budget agreement, from the Cleddau to the Menai from Wrexham to the Rhondda, from culture to agriculture, from energy and transport to education and health – new ideas for a new Wales.”

In an effort to deflect from the idea that Labour had made concessions to Plaid Cymru, and after the announcement of the Budget agreement, Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said in a BBC Wales interview that there was nothing in the Budget that Labour would not have delivered and that Plaid’s support was a matter of Assembly arithmetic.

And if that appeared more than a tad graceless, the brittle nature of any accord was underlined when Adam Price pointed out that Plaid had not managed to obtain everything it had wanted, including an agreement on tuition fees and public sector pay, and commented: “This is Labour’s budget and it will have to answer to the people of Wales as to why it is failing to deliver on its manifesto commitments such as lifting the pay cap and stopping the rise in tuition fees.

“Plaid Cymru secured a deal that would deliver benefits to communities in every part of Wales. Our budget deal will mean investment in the things that matter to people, including employing 80 new district nurses, £40m for improving mental health services, an additional £40m for our universities and colleges, a Brexit Preparedness Fund for businesses, a young farmers’ entrant’s scheme and a major £3​m investment in a power station for our steel industry.

“But we are frustrated that the Labour government failed to implement important policy matters such as the pay cap and rising tuition fees, particularly as they were commitments made in Labour’s 2017 manifesto. Indeed, what is not included in this budget has made the void between Plaid Cymru and Labour more and more apparent and has made future co-operation between the parties more and more unlikely.

“We will be robustly scrutinising the details of this budget when they are announced, and we will hold the Labour government to account on the decisions it takes.”

The Conservative Party in Wales attacked the agreement.

Andrew RT Davies, said: “This budget deal is the latest charade in the Plaid-Labour love-affair and significantly sees both parties break a number of election promises to the people of Wales.

“Despite the well-publicised vows to the electorate only three months ago and being in government in Wales, the Labour Party has once again failed to take any action on public sector pay or tuition fees.”

All in all, the draft Budget seems to be a document with few close friends, even among those responsible for its content; while the Conservatives are yet to put forward any positive alternatives instead of criticising from the side-lines and carping at Plaid Cymru.

Margaret Thomas, UNISON Cymru Wales Secretary, said: “The Welsh Government is being creative in their budgeting in order to protect public services across Wales.

“UNISON welcomes the additional funding for the NHS in Wales, as well as the pledge to build more affordable homes.

“We are also pleased to hear plans around additional childcare. The majority of UNISON members are women, many work part-time, and we know women still fulfil most of the child care responsibilities in the home – so this will hopefully be of great benefit to them.

“We also recognise the Cabinet Secretary’s attempt to protect Welsh local government budgets and offer a more favourable settlement than in England.

“But the point must be made that this innovative budgeting will not protect our essential public services from further drastic UK government imposed cuts to the Welsh Government block grant, anticipated in their Autumn Statement.

“This budget comes at a time of unprecedented austerity. Public services should be properly invested in, and Wales deserves to be properly funded.​ ​The fact also remains that public sector workers across Wales, and the rest of the UK, have already suffered ​seven, long​,​ hard years of pay restraint.”

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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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