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Politics

Trust between AMs and Board plummets

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Smirking: Vaughan Gething (front) as Adam Price protests at cheap shot

LOCAL AMs have expressed strong reservations about the confidentiality and security of their communications with Hywel Dda UHB.

Their concerns have been sparked after bitter recriminations following First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday, January 30 (see our News section), when information regarding communications between the Board and Adam Price AM were used by First Minister Carwyn Jones in a clumsy attempt to smear the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr representative. That information had been provided to the First Minister by the Health Board.

The Herald understands that following communications between the Board and Mr Price’s office on Tuesday afternoon, the Health Board’s Chief Executive, Steve Moore, met with Mr Price at the Senedd building in Cardiff where an explanation was sought for the disclosure of communications information to the Welsh Government.

At that meeting, Mr Moore was confronted with evidence of communications between the AMs office and the Board in which meetings had been requested.

That information either was not provided to the Welsh Government or the First Minister has been caught out playing fast and loose with the truth.

A spokesperson for Shadow Health Secretary Angela Burns told The Herald: ​”​In light of the concerns raised in Tuesday’s First Minister’s Questions Angela has written formally to both the Health Board and the Welsh Government seeking assurances over the use of her communications.

​”​She is very conscious of the confidentiality of patient data and considers there to be a principle at stake in this matter​.”​

Meanwhile, Simon Thomas AM expressed his concerns in questions to the Leader of the Assembly, Julie James AM on Tuesday.

Amid barracking from Labour AMs, who regard the use of information held on others by public bodies with an equanimity they do share when it comes to their own communications, Mr Thomas said that he had serious concerns on joining a proposed cross party group to discuss a transformation agenda with the Health Board: “I have serious concerns now to join any such group, knowing that what I say, and what I e-mail them, will be revealed to the First Minister, and will then be used as political attacks on me in this Chamber.”

The Plaid AM, continued: “Is there a protocol regarding the way health boards deal with Assembly Members looking at serious reconfigurations of hospital services in their area? If such a protocol does not exist, will the Minister—the Cabinet Secretary concerned—ensure that such a protocol is in place, because, without such a protocol in place, I do not feel I can engage with Hywel Dda?”

Mr Thomas’s disquiet echoed that of Elin Jones, the Assembly Presiding Officer and Ceredigion AM, who commented from the chair earlier in the day that she would not want information of communications between the Health Board disclosed or used in such a way.

As it stands, Adam Price and his Westminster colleague Jonathan Edwards are in talks with lawyers regarding the Health Board’s conduct.

Legal advice sought by the Plaid Cymru AM notes that the health board is may have breached Mr Price’s data protection rights, and those of his parliamentary colleague, Jonathan Edwards MP.

Speaking after the exchange, Adam Price AM said: “The First Minister’s actions during today’s questions session bring his office and his Government into disrepute. His comments in the Chamber today are factually incorrect, and the First Minister has therefore misled the Assembly.

“It wasn’t that long ago a Welsh Government Minister was sacked for trying to access information that could have been used for political purposes to discredit political opponents. On the face of today’s exchange it would appear the First Minister and/or his team have tried to do the same thing. This is clearly a breach of both the Civil Service and Ministerial Code.”

Mr Price continued: “The legal advice I have been given notes that Hywel Dda Health Board is potentially in breach of the data protection rights granted to myself, my parliamentary colleague Jonathan Edwards, and our staff members.

“At my request, the Chief Executive of the Health Board came to Assembly to meet with me this evening in which I presented evidence of correspondence between our offices and my requests to meet with him.

“In an endeavour to restore trust I am sure the Health Board will now wish to correct the record.”

Adam Price’s parliamentary colleague, Jonathan Edwards MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr added: “This is the latest reminder that there is something rotten at the core of this Labour Welsh Government.

“Either they are soliciting information from a independent health board for political purposes, or the health board has been compromised in a manner which sees it comfortable referencing correspondence between elected representatives.

“The First Minister’s claims that Adam Price and I ignored Health Board requests for are meeting are manifestly untrue and we have written evidence to prove that.”

The Herald asked the Board whether it had provided details of communications between it and other AMs to the Welsh Government.

At the time of writing, the Board has failed to answer either that enquiry or a request for a statement from its Chief Executive explaining the Board’s role in feeding – possibly selective – information to the Welsh Government.

News

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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Politics

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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