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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.”

News

Conservatives hold on to Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire seat

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THE CONSERVATIVES have held on to their Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire seat despite Labour closing the gap.

Sam Kurtz will take over the seat from the outgoing Angela Burns who held a majority of 3,400 at the last election.

This time, the gap was just 936 to Labour’s Hassan Riaz who picked up 10,304 votes.

Plaid Cymru’s Cefin Campbell picked up 6,615 votes.

The turnout in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire was slightly up to 52.12% from 51.2% in 2016.

However, with a larger electorate thanks to votes for 16/17-year-olds, the number of votes cast went up by almost 3,000.

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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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