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Politics

Rural Wales ‘written-off’ by Westminster

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Ben Lake: Growth deal could be an opportunity

RURAL WALES has been ‘written off’ by Westminster as an area with no potential, Plaid Cymru’s Rural Affairs spokesperson, Ben Lake MP has said.

The Ceredigion MP led a debate in Westminster Hall on Tuesday (Nov 28), on the future of the rural economy in Wales and urged the Westminster Government to recognise the potential of rural Wales and to commit to a ‘growth deal’ designed to meet the needs of the rural economy.

The UK Chancellor announced in his budget statement last week that the Westminster Government would ‘begin negotiations towards growth deals for north Wales and mid-Wales’.

If a growth deal is compiled, Ben Lake says it must not ‘mindlessly replicate the model used for city deals’. He says Wales must move away from the mind-set of building a national economy that is unhealthily concentrated in one corner of the country, and instead pursue “opportunities and prosperity for all parts of the country.”

Ben Lake urged the Westminster Government to use the growth deal to invest in broadband and mobile data infrastructure and offer greater support to higher education institutions such as Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).

Ben Lake said: “The development of the rural economy should form an integral part of an economic strategy for Wales if we are to avoid building a national economy that is unhealthily concentrated in a few areas – or in one corner – of the country. We need look no further than the UK economy to appreciate the consequences of focusing attention and investment on one region at the expense of the rest. We must avoid adopting such a mentality in Wales, and instead pursue opportunities and prosperity for all parts of our country.

“Buried in the Chancellor’s statement, we were told that: ‘[The Westminster Government] will begin negotiations towards growth deals for North Wales and Mid-Wales’. Given their track-record of delivering on their promises to Wales – in recent years we have seen the promise of electrified railway lines fizzle out, and a hesitancy to commit to a tidal lagoon – this, no doubt, carefully worded sentence does not fill me with confidence.

“Nevertheless, I will certainly make sure the Chancellor is held to this announcement, and is not allowed to forget about it. Although I am loath to celebrate an economic policy that gives prominence to an unnatural, and in many ways awkward, geographic region, I appreciate that a growth deal for ‘mid-Wales’ could be a real opportunity for some rural communities that have suffered chronic underinvestment and neglect by successive governments. It is important, however, that if a growth deal is compiled, it cannot mindlessly replicate the model used for city deals.

“Ceredigion is in the UK’s ten worst performing constituencies when it comes to broadband speed yet despite the clear need for investment in Wales, the UK Government recently chose only to invest in improving broadband infrastructure in the other three UK countries. According to Ministers, the decision on where to invest was based on how likely they believed the investment would stimulate economic growth.

“It would appear that Westminster has written off rural Wales as an area without potential – an area that won’t be successful even if it had an effective infrastructure, an area that is simply not worth it.

“A growth deal for the Welsh Midlands, if done properly, could begin to address the issues currently plaguing rural areas. It could concentrate on improving connectivity, and offer greater support to higher education institutions such as Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).

“We have to make rural Wales matter. It has always been important to us, but with Brexit on the horizon and seemingly no sign of imminent progress, it is now becoming a matter of urgency that we make ourselves heard.”

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds said: “Following the Cardiff and Swansea city deals, it is only right that Mid and North Wales are set to get their own growth deals. If these deals are really going to make a difference to rural economies they need to be more than just warm words and vanity projects. They must be ambitious and tailored to the unique needs of Mid and North Wales if they’re to have the transformational benefits our rural economies deserve.

“Mid and North Wales are blessed with incredible natural resources, universities at the forefront of research and innovation and a skilled and committed workforce. Growth deals must utilise these resources to make the regions powerhouses of the green economy, foster economic growth, fight poverty and give communities the digital and transport infrastructure they need to compete in the global economy.”

Politics

No boost from Budget for Wales

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FINANCE SECRETARY Mark Drakeford has responded to the UK government’s Autumn Budget saying it provides no significant boost for hard-pressed public services.

The Autumn Budget includes approximately £1b of additional capital funding for Wales between 2017-18 and 2020-21 – but more than half of this must be repaid to the UK Treasury.

The UK Budget also includes additional revenue funding of £215m for the period 2017-18 to 2019-20.

Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said: “While these small increases in the resources available to Wales are to be welcomed as they will help support our priorities, this additional funding will do little to ease the pressures on frontline public services, which have been struggling to cope as a result of the successive cuts to our budget we have experienced since 2010-11.

“Even with this additional funding, the Welsh Government’s budget will be 5% lower in real terms in 2019-20 than it was in 2010-11.

“As a result of the measures the Chancellor announced today the funding Wales receives from the block grant will increase. But more than half of this increase is in the form of funding which must be paid back to the UK Treasury. £650m of the additional capital funding is in the form of financial transactions – this is a form of capital funding which must be repaid to the Treasury and there are tight restrictions on what it can be spent on.”

The Finance Secretary said the budget was also a missed opportunity to provide additional investment in infrastructure to support the economy during this period of uncertainty.

Professor Drakeford said: “The Office for Budget Responsibility has confirmed the UK economy has slowed markedly and its growth forecasts have again been revised downwards. In my recent letter to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I urged the UK government to listen to the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to take advantage of low interest rates and invest in economic infrastructure.

“This is why we called on the UK government to commit to important infrastructure projects in Wales, including the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. Once again the UK government has failed Wales by failing to invest in key projects.”

He added that the UK Budget gave little detail regarding additional funding about UK government plans to cut the public sector pay cap and give public sector workers a much-needed pay rise.

“The Welsh Government, standing with our hard working public sector workers and trade unions, has repeatedly called on the UK government to lift the public sector pay cap and provide additional funding to give workers across the UK the pay rise they deserve. I was clear this must be fully funded.

“Today’s Budget was a missed opportunity to do this for all public sector workers. For NHS staff who are waiting the outcome of the independent pay review body, I expect the Chancellor to honour his commitment to fund any pay recommendations in full and to provide a full Barnett consequential.”

The Cabinet Secretary also said there must now be discussions between the Welsh and UK governments about the UK government’s intention to explore a tax on plastics – the Welsh Government is currently investigating a disposable plastic tax as one of four new tax ideas.

“I am pleased the UK government is taking our lead in considering how to use taxation to change behaviour in areas such as disposable plastic.

“I announced a tax on disposable plastic as part of the shortlist of proposed taxes in October, I expect to discuss this in detail with the UK government as part of its evidence gathering.”

BUDGET A MISSED OPPORTUNITY

Welsh Lib Dem Leader Jane Dodds commented: “This budget presents a missed opportunity for Wales. The Welsh Liberal Democrats have presented an ambitious vision for Wales, it is disappointing that the Chancellor lacks this ambition.

“Instead of investing in making Wales a world leader in Tidal Energy by giving the green light to the Swansea Tidal Lagoon or giving South Wales the transport investment it needs the Chancellor decided to throw £3b into a Brexit black hole. It’s clear only the Welsh Liberal Democrats have the ambition and ideas needed to ensure opportunity for Wales.

“As one of the most deprived regions of the UK and even the EU, Wales has suffered more than most from austerity. With the Chancellor failing to take meaningful action on Universal Credit and the public sector pay cap and growth set to be much slower than expected, this suffering will only continue.

“The Chancellor needed to immediately end the roll out of Universal Credit to prevent rising child poverty and homelessness and end the public sector pay cap to end the scandal of public sector workers relying on food banks to survive. It is bitterly disappointing the Chancellor has failed on both counts.

“This budget is yet another example of the crippling damage Brexit is already doing to the Welsh Economy. Instead of investing in public services or vital infrastructure projects, the Chancellor is spending £3b preparing for a disastrous no deal Brexit his party foolishly refuse to rule out. The Welsh people deserve to have the final say on the Brexit deal and a chance to choose an exit from Brexit.”

WALES ‘LEFT OUT IN THE COLD’

Plaid Cymru’s Treasury spokesperson and Carmarthenshire Member of Parliament, Jonathan Edwards, said that the British Government once again delivered a budget for the south-east of England whilst Wales is ‘left out in the cold’.

Mr Edwards said the only we can build a better Wales is to demand the tools to do it ourselves.

Speaking after the Budget statement Jonathan Edwards MP said: “In prolonging austerity well into the next decade and sticking to the most economically damaging form of Brexit, the squeeze on living standards will only get worse.

“There was nothing in the budget to drive up wages, and nothing to push down the cost of living.

“For the second budget in a row, economic growth, business investment and productivity have all been downgraded. The result of the Chancellor’s stubborn insistence on sticking to his failed plan is ultimately felt in people’s pockets through lower wages.

“Once again the British Government has delivered a City-centric budget, deliberately overheating the south east of England while Wales is left out in the cold. Our roads and railways are neglected whilst Welsh taxpayers’ money is pumped into London.

“The only way we can build a better Wales, drive up wages and spread prosperity is to demand the tools so we can get on with the job of doing it ourselves.”

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Politics

Greater support for forces’ veterans

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Motion builds on cross party consensus: Mark Isherwood

A WELSH Conservative debate has called for greater support for military personnel, veterans and their families in Wales.

It follows a cross party inquiry led by Assembly Members, which recommended the establishment of an Armed Forces Commissioner for Wales. The call formed part of a series of recommendations made within an inquiry – published by the Cross Party Group on the Armed Forces and Cadets – into the impact of the Armed Forces Covenant on armed forces personnel.

The Covenant was enshrined in legislation in 2011, and recognises the country’s moral obligation to ensure that armed forces personnel, veterans and their families do not face disadvantage in accessing public or commercial services as a result of their military service.

The motion for the Welsh Conservative debate on Wednesday urges the National Assembly for Wales to:

  • Welcome the Cross Party Group on the Armed Forces and Cadets inquiry into the impact of the Armed Forces Covenant in Wales and notes its recommendations;
  • Call on the Welsh Government to consider the recommendations put forward by the inquiry to ensure all available support is provided for military personnel, veterans and their families in Wales.

The Group found that in spite of positive developments since the Covenant’s introduction, issues remain as to how public sector organisations in Wales fulfil their obligations.

Problems identified included insufficient accountability for delivery of the Covenant, a lack of awareness of the Covenant among public sector staff, and unsustainability in how Covenant-related activities are funded.

Shadow Public Services Minister, Mark Isherwood, said: “We owe it to everyone who has proudly served our country to honour their sacrifice by upholding the Covenant between the people of Wales and those who serve, or have served, in our Armed Forces.

“Wales has a proud record of support for our armed forces and there have been many positive developments in recent years, but there is always more that can and should be done.

“In addition to the introduction of an Armed Forces Commissioner for Wales, there are a number of other steps which could be taken to ensure that armed forces veterans and their families receive the support they need.

“For instance, alongside further action to identify the size and needs of the Armed Forces community of Armed Forces personnel, their families and veterans in Wales, more needs to be done to improve their access to health, housing and employment, and in order to address the disadvantage compared to other parts of the UK, the Welsh Government should consider the introduction of a Service Pupil Premium.

“We have an opportunity to build on the consensus established by the work of the Cross Party Group, and our debate is intended to drive that shared agenda forward to improve the lives of military personnel, veterans and their families.”

The Conservative call comes shortly after the Welsh Government announced that Armed forces veterans in Wales will receive quicker access to specialist NHS services following extra investment.

£100,000 additional funding will go to Veterans NHS Wales, the UK’s only dedicated national service to support the emotional and mental health needs of armed forces veteran by providing dedicated veteran’s therapists in each health board area.
Dr Neil Kitchiner, the Director of Veterans’ NHS Wales Director and its Consultant Clinical Lead said: “I am very grateful to the Welsh Government for their continued support to VNHSW. This increase funding of £100,000 announced today will allow us to increase our Consultant Psychiatrist sessions by 50% and offer more veterans’ quicker access to a specialist doctor for medication options, reviews and second opinions.

“We will also increase our part-time administrator’s hours which will allow them to be more accessible to telephone and email queries from veterans and referrers. It will also speed up referral to assessment times. The inclusion of a fulltime psychology graduate for the first time will enhance training and support to our Peer Mentors in delivering guided self help interventions and improve our data collection, analysis and reporting to our key stakeholders.”

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Politics

Call for fair treatment for young carers

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United: Adam Price and Jonathan Edwards battle for young carers

THE NATION-WIDE campaign launched by Carmarthenshire Young Adult Carers to scrap the rule which prevents carers from receiving Carers Allowance if they study for 21 hours or more a week was taken to Westminster and Cardiff Bay this week as local representatives Jonathan Edwards MP and Adam Price AM submit motions in the respective parliaments.

Current eligibility criteria for Carers Allowance states that a carer must:

  • Provide 35 hours or more care per week
  • Not earn more than £110 per week
  • Not be studying for 21 hours or more per week

Carmarthenshire Young Adult Carers (YAC) have teamed up with the Carers Trust and Fixers organisation to launch a parliamentary petition to seek to change the 21 hour rule which it says discriminates against carers who wish to improve their employment prospects and to reach their full potential in life. They need 10,000 signatures to receive a response from the British Government and 100,000 signatures to see their petition debated in Parliament.

Jonathan Edwards MP has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) in Westminster, and Adam Price AM has tabled a Statement of Opinion in the National Assembly for Wales. Their motions enable other elected members to indicate their support for the campaign.

Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board Member for Education, Cllr Glynog Davies, told Councillors at last Wednesday’s meeting that the authority was also supporting the campaign and would encourage everyone to support the petition.

Member of Parliament Jonathan Edwards said: “Both Adam and I are fully supportive of the campaign launched by Carmarthenshire Young Adult Carers.

“My motion in Parliament will enable MPs from across the political spectrum to indicate their support for the campaign. So far we have support from Plaid Cymru, the SNP, the DUP and Conservative Party MPs.

“I hope all those who support the campaign will encourage their friends, families, neighbours and everyone they know to sign the petition so we can make sure young adult carers, who make an immense contribution to our society, are able to reach their full potential.”

Assembly Member Adam Price added: “Like an EDM in parliament, a Statement of Opinion allows Assembly Members to express their support for a particular cause or campaign.

“I sincerely hope AMs will recognise the importance of this campaign to provide better opportunities to young adult carers, and ensure they are not disadvantaged whilst they look after their loved ones.

“Carers Allowance is a non-devolved matter and the responsibility of the British Government in London. But in my motion I am calling on the Welsh Government to back what is a UK-wide campaign. Were the Welsh Government to do so, it would be a major boost to the campaign launched by local carers.”

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