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Politics

​Carwyn in crisis after Millar’s statement​

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​​Carwyn Jones: Left Chamber before Darren Millar's statement

A WAR of words has broken out between First Minister Carwyn Jones and former Cabinet member Leighton Andrews about allegations that a report into bullying was made by Mr Andrews to the First Minister as long ago as 2014 and that one of the AMs he reported as being a target of adverse briefing was the late Alyn & Deeside AM Carl Sargeant.

Mr Sargeant died in November this year after being dismissed from his Cabinet post.

He was sacked from his post on the basis of allegations about his behaviour that were never put to him.

The First Minister finds himself exposed on the issue, after making a series of pious announcements about how the Welsh Assembly would not cover up allegations of bullying and inappropriate behaviour following a series of allegations about the conduct of senior figures at Westminster.

That position has been progressively unpicked by Mr Andrews in a number of tweets, blog posts and very few media interviews.

And in the Welsh Assembly on Tuesday ​(​Dec 12​)​, Mr Jones’ position was left even more exposed by a dramatic personal statement by Conservative AM Darren Millar.

Mr Millar revealed that when he asked the First Minister questions about bullying in the Welsh Government in 2014, he did so at Mr Sargeant’s request and timed the questions to coincide with Mr Sargeant telling him that a formal complaint of bullying had been made against a special advisor (SPAD) to the Welsh Government.

Mr Jones was not in the Senedd to hear Mr Millar’s statement, having left after fielding First Minister’s questions.

TWO ISSUES UNRAVELLED

The issue of the First Minister’s treatment of Carl Sargeant and the latter’s death have become intertwined with a second issue, namely whether or not the First Minister misled the Assembly when he said – three years ago – no allegations of bullying had been made to him about the conduct of either special advisers or specialist advisers.

This article sets out the way in which both issues wind around themselves and why Carwyn Jones finds himself in jeopardy.

There are currently three investigations ongoing that affect the First Minister directly and indirectly. A further investigation – into allegations made against Carl Sargeant – has been discontinued.

The first investigation is into the way Mr Jones investigated allegations against Mr Sargeant; the second is into whether he misled AMs; the final one is the investigation by HM Coroner into Carl Sargeant’s death. Any one of the outcomes of those investigations have the potential to end Mr Jones’ career in ignominy.

While each of those investigations are hazardous to the First Minister’s political health, if Mr Jones is found to have breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct, there is no way for him to ride out the ensuing storm.

WHAT IS THE MINISTERIAL CODE?

‘Ministers are expected to behave according to the highest standards of constitutional and personal conduct in the performance of their duties’.

The ministerial Code, issued by the First Minister, provides guidance to ministers on how they should act and arrange their affairs in order to uphold these standards. In particular, they are expected to observe the 7 principles of public life and the principles of ministerial conduct. The code applies to Cabinet Secretaries, Ministers and the Counsel General.

WHAT DOES THE CODE SAY?

‘It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to the Assembly, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead the Assembly will be expected to offer their resignation to the First Minister.

‘In particular, the First Minister may also refer matters concerning himself to an Independent Adviser’.

WHY IS CARWYN JONES IN DIFFICULTIES?

In November 2014, Darren Millar AM submitted a Written Assembly Question to the First Minister asking: ‘Has the First Minister ever received any reports or been made aware of any allegations of bullying by special and/or specialist advisers at any time in the past three years and, if so, when and what action, if any, was taken?’

Mr Jones’ answer could not have been more unequivocal: ‘No allegations have been made’.

WHAT IS CARWYN JONES ALLEGED TO HAVE DONE?

Mr Jones’ version of events has been challenged by his former Cabinet colleague Leighton Andrews.

Leighton Andrews says: ‘I made a complaint to the First Minister about one aspect of [deliberate personal undermining of Carl Sargeant], of which I had direct evidence, in the autumn of 2014. An informal investigation was undertaken. I then asked for it to be made formal. I was told it would be. I was never shown the outcome. There was no due process’.

Mr Jones has maintained that no allegations were made, sparking a war of words between himself and Mr Andrews. At First Minister’s questions on December 5, Carwyn Jones came perilously close to calling his former colleague a liar. Mr Andrews responded by publishing a more detailed account of events and invited the First Minister to repeat what he had said in the Senedd without the benefit of Parliamentary Privilege to protect him from legal action.

Mr Jones has, so far, declined Mr Andrews’ invitation.

Now, fuel has been thrown onto the smoking embers under the First Minister.

In a devastating Personal Statement in the Senedd ​thisTuesday, the Conservative AM Darren Millar revealed that not only had he been asked by the late Carl Sargeant to ask the November 2014 question, but also that Mr Sargeant asked him to delay asking the question until AFTER an allegation of bullying was made to the First Minister against a named SPAD. By way of corroboration, Mr Millar revealed that he had discussed the matter during October and November 2014 with the Conservative Chief Whip, Paul Davies. Mr Millar also said that other AMs were aware of what was going on.

CARWYN’S DILEMMA

The First Minister’s answer can only be read compatibly with the accounts given by Mr Millar and Mr Andrews if he can claim either that he did not understand the question at the time, or that the question was phrased so as to make his answer entirely truthful without it being in anyway accurate. Mr Jones has suggested that what he calls his ‘lawyerly way’ might have led him into answering the question the way he did, but he has rather undone that suggestion by his subsequent comments attacking others’ accounts.

If the answer cannot be read compatibly with the accounts of his fellow AMs – and it is a significant verbal stretch to perceive how it might be, no matter how ‘lawyerly’ Mr Jones’ way is – then the choices left are stark.

For Mr Jones’ response in November 2014 to hold water he will have to successfully advance the proposition that several other AMs are themselves lying or are/were mistaken. The odds are not in Mr Jones’ favour on that one.

And the alternative position for Mr Jones – that he did not treat complaints as being made formally or that complaints that were made to him were not made in the correct form or format – lays him open to a charge of dealing with Mr Millar’s questions in less than good faith. Moreover, if Mr Jones did not take the allegations seriously because he regarded it as part and parcel of the normal rough and tumble of politics, it runs an absolute coach and horses through the pious approach he took before Mr Sargeant’s death.

Neither proposition, no matter how finessed, lets Carwyn Jones off the hook. The former would instantly end his career a​s​ First Minister; the latter would wound him so severely that he would -​ ​almost certainly – be persuaded to step down in favour of an alternative leader. In short, and in either of those circumstances, Mr Jones was either a knave or a fool.

WHO KNEW WHAT AND WHEN?

And there is another wrinkle of suspicion that bears consideration: if Mr Sargeant did complain about an over-mighty SPAD, it is open to question whether or not his card was marked. A self-perpetuating club of insiders would not take kindly to having their gilded cages rattled; links are undeniably strong between the national Welsh media and some ministerial special advisers.

That possibility is given some credence by what former Cabinet member Leighton Andrews wrote on his blog.

The Herald contacted Mr Andrews regarding his blog’s content and the First Minister’s remarks regarding bullying. He gave us permission to quote directly from his blog.

‘From discussions with many well-connected individuals over the last few weeks I have been able to piece together the following:

  • A Labour AM told the Labour Assembly Group meeting on November 9 that he had been texted by someone he regarded as a reliable source that Carl was to lose his job, before the reshuffle was announced
  • A leading Welsh journalist received a text in advance of the reshuffle’s announcement that Carl was to be sacked
  • A Welsh Labour MP told another Welsh Labour MP that Carl was to lose his job, before the reshuffle was announced’

Mr Andrews asks the question ‘who leaked?’ The ancillary questions to that are ‘who would benefit from such a leak?’ and ‘what would be such a leak’s purpose?’

A QUESTION OF TIMING

Mr Andrews’ sequence of events is of vital importance.

Mr Sargeant was dismissed as a Cabinet Secretary on November 3 and died on November 7. Two days after that event members of the Labour Assembly Group were told by one of their number that their deceased former colleague’s dismissal was leaked to them before Carl Sargeant was dismissed. Mr Andrews’ allegations that news of Mr Sargeant’s dismissal was currency among Labour MPs beforehand and a journalist was informed would be the toxic icing on a cake.

The reason for that is straightforward: at the time he was dismissed and at the time of his death Mr Sargeant had not been given the details of the allegations made against him by anonymous third parties whose versions of events he was given no opportunity to rebut. The leaking of his dismissal suggests that the case against Mr Sargeant had been judged by the First Minister and a decision made that would take no account of his innocence, guilt, or ability to answer the charges. If, has been alleged, the First Minister had previously dismissed one of the complaints relied upon to sack his ‘dear friend’, questions arise about the First Minister’s competence in deciding the allegations. Most tellingly, it is one of Mr Jones’ SPADs who carried out inquiries for the First Minister into the allegations against Mr Sargeant.

The number of people who would and should have known about both the investigation into Mr Sargeant and the decision to dismiss him would have been passingly small. Mr Jones himself and perhaps a handful of other people. Political circles being notorious hubs for gossip, it would take only one leak for ripples to spread.

There is no doubt that if the First Minister does not know who leaked he is being peculiarly incurious.

At the end of Mr Millar’s statement on Tuesday, a number of prominent Labour members exchanged looks that suggested that their consciences might well now be pricking them into reflecting on what they knew.

Mr Jones’ position has not looked more precarious than it does now and​,​ while some AMs have accused others of seeking to settle political scores, it seems that Mr Millar’s intervention might well prove the one that does for the First Minister.

Politics

Disabled people hit hardest by changes to benefits

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CHANGES to the welfare system over the past ten years have left disabled adults four times worse off financially than non-disabled adults, according to new research commissioned by the Disability Benefit Consortium, a coalition of over 80 UK disability organisations.

While many people who receive welfare support have experienced cuts of an average of £300 as a result of changes to the welfare system, disabled people have typically lost around £1,200 per year.

. The research, funded by the Three Guineas Trust, is the first comprehensive study looking specifically at the cumulative impact of welfare changes on disabled people, and conducted by the University of East Anglia, the University of Glasgow and Landman Economics.
The research also found:

. The more disabilities you have the more you lose out, for example someone who has six or more    disabilities loses over £2,100 each year on average, whereas someone with one disability loses around £700 each year.

Households with one disabled adult and one disabled child lose out the most, with average losses of over £4,300 per year.

Today’s report by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), ‘Has welfare become unfair – the impact of changes on disabled people’, which is based on this research, looks at the financial impact and lived experiences of welfare reform on disabled people over the past ten years.

As part of the research, 50 people living with a variety of conditions and disabilities were interviewed about their experiences. People said that they found the application and assessment processes highly stressful, and that they did not feel trusted, and constantly challenged.

The DBC also state that the current system has become so complex and dysfunctional, that many disabled people have found it has had a devastating impact on their wider health and wellbeing.

Pam McGee, 48, from Kent, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1994, which severely impacts her mobility. After a PIP assessment in 2017 she lost the higher rates for both the mobility and daily living components, which means her support was cut by £290 a month and she no longer qualifies for a Motability car. She’s now appealing the decision and says the stress caused by this process has impacted her health. She said: “If I lost my car, I don’t know how I’d carry on. I’m terrified I’ll be out of a job because without the car I won’t be able to get anywhere. If I can’t work at the age of 48, I would lose all of my pride. People always ask ‘What’s your name and what do you do?’ My job is what defines me.

“In the last 10 weeks I’ve had a massive relapse. I went dizzy and lost all feeling in my left leg. When I spoke to my neurologist he said the relapse was probably caused by stress. I’ve also been depressed and eating less.

“PIP has caused me and my family a lot of anxiety and stress. It’s caused my MS symptoms to worsen, which has reduced my mobility, confidence, and ability to take care of myself physically as well as mentally.”

The DBC say that the failure to include disability premiums as part of Universal Credit, and poorly designed assessment criteria are just two examples of the problems that are leaving disabled people worse off and is calling on the Government to make urgent improvements to the welfare system to ensure it works for everyone.

Michael Griffin, Research Lead for the DBC and Senior Policy Adviser at Parkinson’s UK, said: “For the first time, our research has shown just how much disabled people are bearing the brunt of the disastrous changes to welfare.

“Many disabled people have not yet even experienced the full extent of the cuts because they are still waiting to be moved over to Universal Credit. However, when this happens there will be a surge in poverty among those who are already at a crisis point.

“This is simply disgraceful and cannot be allowed to continue. The Government must make urgent improvements to the application processes and assessment criteria, and resolve the flaws in Universal Credit before more people are denied the support they desperately need to live independently.”

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Politics

Carers Week: Eluned Morgan AM says thanks to carers everywhere

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by Eluned Morgan AM

WE’VE just celebrated ‘Carers Week’; an opportunity to say a massive ‘Thank You’ to all carers everywhere. No matter what age you are, who you care for and support, where you live or how much time it takes, every act of caring matters and deserves to be recognised.

Every day, people start caring for the first time. Carers are often hidden from view – putting their own health and wellbeing to the back of the queue. Many can become socially isolated, and some face financial pressures as a result of juggling work life with caring responsibilities.

We know that there are at least 370,000 carers in Wales (that’s more than the population of Cardiff) and that three in five of us will undertaking a caring role at some point in our lives. The latest census revealed that there were at least 15,000 carers in Pembrokeshire, a figure that probably underestimates reality.

I had the opportunity to meet carers from across the region in an event organised by Carers UK at the National Assembly. It became apparent from my conversations that, for many, it is a challenge to know how or where to get help. Caring can creep up unnoticed: for many, it begins with parents suddenly being unable to manage alone, or a partner’s health gradually becoming worse.

But it is important to know that there is support available and people shouldn’t put off asking for help. Organisations like Carers UK are there to listen, to give expert information and advice, tailored to your situation, to champion your rights and support you in finding new ways to manage at home, at work, or wherever you are.

If you know someone who could benefit from some help, please spread the word. We can all play our part in recognising and celebrating the essential contributions carers make, sharing information about caring support services within our local communities.

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News

Pembrokeshire Liberal Democrats wants more pensioners to keep their free TV Licences

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Pembrokeshire Liberal Democrats have expressed their concern at the decision taken by the BBC to save £450m a year from 2020, to remove the free TV licence for those over 75 years of age from those pensioners not in receipt of Pension Credit.

This could see 3.7m pensioners currently benefitting from a TV licence, having to start paying from 2020. The decision was made by the BBC following the government’s decision to transfer the funding of licences from the government to the BBC.

Liberal Democrat Department of Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson Jane Bonham-Carter said “Concessions for over 75’s are a social cost which should not be paid from the licence fee, but from central Government funding.

Government, not the BBC should be responsible and accountable for their social policies. If the Conservative Government does not want to pay for free licences for over 75’s then they should be upfront about their policy. However, passing the buck onto the BBC is underhand and risks undermining the BBC’s financial viability to provide what the license fee payer expects.”

Age UK have said that 1 in 4 over the age of 65 say that TV is their main form of companionship.

Alistair Cameron, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire said “There has been much coverage of this issue on TV and social media since the BBC made the announcement that it was withdrawing free TV licences from all pensioners except those on Pension Credit.

Many pensioners over the age of 75 are not able to get out a lot. For them, the TV is a really important part of their lives.

A lot of pensioners have to survive on a low income, including those who do not claim pension credit. Having to pay for a TV licence will be very hard on them.”

Andrew Lye, the Chair of Pembrokeshire Liberal Democrats said “Many people are annoyed at the decision and rightly so.

I can appreciate that the wealthy over 75 currently receive a free TV licence as do those on a basic state pension. We must remember that there are many pensioners not in receipt of pension credit and struggle to manage on their pension. MP’s need to remember that the Conservative 2017 Manifesto committed them to free TV licenses for the over 75’s for the duration of this Parliament, and the ‘grey vote’ will remember this broken promise at the next General Election.”

Andrew Lye went on to say, “Of course with the latest released figures showing £3.1bn of unclaimed Pension Credit in the UK, I would call upon pensioners in Pembrokeshire to phone 0800-991234 as the website https://www.gov.uk/pension-credit/how-to-claim states that phoning them is the quickest way to find out if you qualify. Who knows, you may get money that you are entitled to”.

Andrew Lye added, “We call upon the Government to resolve this issue as it is unfair that it will affect millions of pensioners and we hope that Pembrokeshire MP’s, Stephen Crabb and Simon Hart will make representations to the Prime Minister. Just because you do not claim or get Pension Credit, you cannot automatically assume that they are all well off on their pension. With the growing problem of loneliness in the elderly, especially where a partner has died, the TV is a vital lifeline and we should treat our pensioners better”.

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