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Politics

AM calls for sweeping changes

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Neil McEvoy: The Welsh establishment don't want change

“IT’S BEEN a disastrous year for Welsh Democracy.”

Those were the eye-catching words with which controversial Cardiff AM Neil McEvoy spoke about the need for a new campaign group within Plaid Cymru.

Suspended from membership of his party and expelled from the Party of Wales’ Assembly group after demanding access to information held about him under the Data Protection Act after Plaid made a complete hash of an investigation into allegations made against him by a firm of lobbyists, Mr McEvoy was not talking about his own experiences.

Fed up of what he regards as nepotism and systemic corruption within the Welsh body-politic, Mr McEvoy offered a series of trenchant analyses of Wales’ political and social problems.

And he started by referring to the dismissal of the late Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Carl Sargeant.

Neil McEvoy writes: It took just three anonymous complaints about a Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary – which were not investigated, not proven, not deemed serious enough to go to the police or even written down. They led to him being sacked and judged guilty by the mob, without the opportunity to defend himself. We know the rest.

The Permanent Secretary of the Civil Service is refusing to release documents that the democratically elected National Assembly has demanded. I’ve had to invoke a clause in the Government of Wales Act used for the first time, to force the publication of the report into the Carl Sargeant leak, because I am not going to sit in our Senedd and let Wales be disrespected.

My motion is supported by the Conservatives and even UKIP, but we have to wait until after recess for Plaid Cymru to confirm if they will or will not back my motion. For the sake of the Welsh National Interest, I hope they do.

Investigations into the First Minister’s involvement into the shoddy sacking affair are being whitewashed. We’ve been hearing about a toxic culture at the heart of Welsh Government. When we campaigned for the Welsh Assembly is this where anyone thought it would end up?

Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales – has to rise above this kind of politics and lead the way.

FREE SPEECH UNDER THREAT

Neil McEvoy had strong words about the threat posed to free speech in Wales.

Nowadays, being offended is almost a hobby for some people. They’re dismissed as virtue signallers in many parts of the world. But they don’t get dismissed in Wales. They actually make it onto the news. Too many of them have made it into our Assembly. Mock outrage everywhere on Twitter from politicians who joke about the same things in private.

The reality is that we have imported America’s culture war into Welsh politics. Instead of uniting people we’re dividing people up. Some people are said to be oppressors, simply because of their gender or race. People talk about male white privilege. Are white men in the valleys privileged? Really?

In Wales, we should know where the oppressor is, because it’s been the same for a thousand years. It’s the elite in London who have taken the wealth from our country to make themselves rich while keeping us poor.

It’s the new elite in the Bay Bubble, copying their London masters.

I’m not interested in turning people against each other because of their gender, or their race, or their sexual orientation. I know what my political purpose is. It’s addressing the injustice of our country being exploited for centuries.

WE MUST DEFEAT THE ELITE

We have to defeat the elites, they are very powerful people. They’re the political elites that don’t represent us. The London media elite that doesn’t talk about us, unless they have something condescending or negative to say. The financial elite that keeps their money off shore, so we can’t benefit from it.

But where are we now? I was thrown out of the Plaid group for questioning why we can’t sell council houses so long as the money is used to buy new ones. That’s a really popular policy that has helped tens of thousands of working class people own their own home and become independent. That’s real sovereignty as far as I’m concerned, because how can you ever be sovereign when someone else owns the house you live in?

The establishment here has had warnings. The huge rise in the UKIP vote. It didn’t matter how incompetent they were. The less competent the better in order to send a message to the establishment. And they beat us in so many elections as a result.

The Brexit referendum. The establishment didn’t see it coming. They couldn’t understand that faced with voting for the status quo or voting for the unknown, then people would pick the unknown, because that risk was better than keeping things the way they are. I voted remain but I can tell you, I understand why so many people didn’t and I’m not judging anybody for that.

A lot of people voted leave because of immigration, and there is a migration problem in Wales. Our political Leaders choose not to talk about it. Because our economy is bad, our young, talented and economically active people have to leave. And they’re replaced by older, economically inactive people because Wales is a cheaper, more beautiful place to retire.

The best thing we can do about this is become wealthy. That way the young people stay and it will be the talented, economically active people coming to our country because of the opportunities we’ll have here.

DANGER FOR THE ASSEMBLY

People are crying out for change, but nobody is providing it. The establishment in Wales don’t want change. The status quo is working great for them so they’ll fight to keep it.

What we need is equality of opportunity, which means ending nepotism and ending corruption, because nothing hurts equal opportunity more than nepotism and corruption. You can see that in Cardiff Bay. Millions dished out to the third sector, who often seem to spend a lot but deliver little. Those organisations are packed with Labour members.

We’ve got lobbyists running rampant in Cardiff Bay, selling access and information to the highest bidder. Anyone who gets in their way is smeared in the most personal and damaging way. These people are poisoning our democracy and must be dealt with.

But how can we when we’ve had the same Labour party in charge in Wales for 20 years? That’s not healthy for any democracy.

I can tell you where this is heading. People will not be voting for a sovereign Wales in future. They’ll be voting to abolish the Assembly. Because they’re looking at what’s going on and they’re thinking the Assembly is too broke to fix. But too many of us worked too hard to get a national parliament to see it fail like this.

So what are we going to do about it? We are going to get organised and we are going to change the direction of this party, change the direction of its politics and change people’s minds about voting for us. We’re going to propel Wales forward.

Politics

Lib Dems slam ‘botched’ scheme

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THE WELSH Liberal Democrats have slammed the Conservative Government for their “hapless treatment” of EU citizens after the Home Office released guidance on the new EU Settlement Scheme.

The Home Office has confirmed that for the duration of the trial period, until 30 March, EU citizens applying to stay in the UK must either use an Android phone or travel to one of 13 ‘document scanning’ centres instead.

For Holyhead, the closest ‘document scanning’ centre is Trafford.

According to an analysis by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, EU citizens travelling from Holyhead would face costs of £55 on the train for at least a six and a half hour round trip. The drive would be a 224-mile round trip costing around £56 in fuel.

The only document scanning centre in Wales is in Caerphilly. Travelling from Pembroke to Caerphilly and returning the same day by rail would cost £32.10 (the cheapest available fare at the time of enquiry), the cheapest off-peak fare from Aberystwyth would be £77.10 return. By car at an average of 40mpg, the cost of travel would be at least £27 to and from Pembroke, while from Aberystwyth the cost would be at least £25. Both car journeys represent round trips of over 180 miles.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said: “Too many people in Wales are deeply anxious about their right to stay. Many of them fill vital roles in the health service, our schools and the tourism sector. They want to register as soon as possible, but Theresa May’s hapless treatment of EU citizens could result in a new Windrush scandal.

“For anyone who doesn’t have an android phone, this botched scheme means they will have to travel. For people in Holyhead, that means facing a 224-mile round trip and paying over £50 for the privilege. This postcode lottery is simply unacceptable.”

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey MP said: “Following significant pressure, the Prime Minister said there will be no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay. How long did that commitment last?

“It is Conservative Ministers who have made a mess of Brexit. They should either pay the cost for EU citizens or change the application system and ensure EU citizens are made to feel welcome in the UK.

“Ultimately, the best way to avoid all of this mess is by giving the people the option to remain in the EU with a final say on Brexit.”

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Politics

Retailers’ no deal reality check

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THE HEADS of the UK’s major food retailers, including McDonald’s, M & S and Asda, have written to MPs and dramatically spelt out their view of the risks of leaving the EU without an agreement.

The warning comes shortly after the revelation that Britain has begun stockpiling food, fuel, spare parts and ammunition at military bases in Gibraltar, Cyprus and the Falklands in case of a no-deal Brexit.

With all contingency plans routinely labelled ‘Project Fear’ by those Brexiters stuck on transmit instead of receive, the retailers have taken a significant risk in sticking their collective head above the parapet by trying to address a substantial issue which is rather glossed by those proclaiming the benefits and underplaying the downside of a crash out Brexit.

The letter is backed by the British Retail Consortium, which represents over 70% of Britain’s retailers by turnover.

The Government said that it was taking special measures to minimise the impact of a no-deal Brexit on supermarkets’ suppliers and insisted that food was not going to run out as a result.

“The government has well-established ways of working with the food industry to prevent disruption and we are using these to support preparations for leaving the European Union.”

The Food and Drink Federation, which represents thousands of food processors and manufacturers, has said a no-deal Brexit would be a “catastrophe”, with uncertainty undermining investment and constraining businesses’ ability to plan and export.

DEAL OR NO DEAL: THE LETTER

On behalf of our businesses and the wider food industry, we want to highlight to you the challenges for retailers and the consequences for millions of UK consumers of leaving the European Union without a deal at the end of March. While we have been working closely with our suppliers on contingency plans it is not possible to mitigate all the risks to our supply chains and we fear significant disruption in the short term as a result if there is no Brexit deal. We wanted to share with you some practical examples of the challenges we are facing.

Our supply chains are closely linked to Europe – nearly one-third of the food we eat in the UK comes from the EU. In March the situation is more acute as UK produce is out of season: 90% of our lettuces, 80% of our tomatoes and 70% of our soft fruit are sourced from the EU at that time of year. As this produce is fresh and perishable, it needs to be moved quickly from farms to our stores.
This complex, ‘just in time’ supply chain will be significantly disrupted in the event of no deal. Even if the UK government does not undertake checks on products at the border, there will still be major disruption at Calais as the French government has said it will enforce sanitary and customs checks on exports from the EU, which will lead to long delays; Government data suggest freight trade between Calais and Dover may reduce by 87% against current levels as a result. For consumers, this will reduce the availability and shelf life of many products in our stores.

We are also extremely concerned about the impact of tariffs. Only around 10% of our food imports, a fraction of the products we sell, is currently subject to tariffs so if the UK were to revert to WTO Most Favoured Nation status, as currently envisaged in the no-deal scenario, it would greatly increase import costs, which could in turn put upward pressure on food prices. The UK could set import tariffs at zero but that would have a devastating impact on our own farmers, a key part of our supply chains.

Our ability to mitigate these risks is limited. As prudent businesses we are stockpiling where possible, but all frozen and chilled storage is already being used and there is very little general warehousing space available in the UK. Even if there were more space it is impossible to stockpile fresh produce, such as salad leaves and fresh fruit. Retailers typically store no more than two weeks’ inventory and it becomes difficult to restock stores if the supply chain is disrupted. We are also attempting to find alternative supply routes but there are limited options and not enough ferries, so this could only replace a fraction of the current capacity.

We are extremely concerned that our customers will be among the first to experience the realities of a no deal Brexit. We anticipate significant risks to maintaining the choice, quality and durability of food that our customers have come to expect in our stores, and there will be inevitable pressure on food prices from higher transport costs, currency devaluation and tariffs.

We are therefore asking you to work with your colleagues in Parliament urgently to find a solution that avoids the shock of a no deal Brexit on 29 March and removes these risks for UK consumers.

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Politics

WG votes down another rights Bill

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THE WELSH Government has voted down a second Private Members Bill in a week, leading to an angry reaction from the Welsh Conservative Party.

Welsh Conservative AM – Darren Millar – slammed the Welsh Governments ‘tribalism’ as a key contributor to its failings in Wales, and described its rigid approach to politics as ‘comparative of an authoritarian regime’.

Last week, The Herald reported on opposition AMs’ fury that the Welsh Government voted against Assembly Member Paul Davies’ private bill which aimed to ensure increased support for autistic people of all ages, by addressing issues such as health and social services, educational outcomes, access to housing, and employment and providing rights of statutory redress when services fail.

The Older People’s Rights Bill was proposed by Mr Millar, and designed to ensure that older people in Wales were protected, promoted and respected by public sector decision makers.

The Bill was backed by the Older People’s Commissioner, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Age Cymru, Age Connects, and the Cymru Older People’s Alliance, amongst others.

Proposals for Mr Millar’s Bill had previously received cross-party support, and the Welsh Government supported a motion which was agreed by the National Assembly for Wales on 12th January 2016 to bring forward legislation to protect and promote the rights of older people.

GOVERNMENT REJECTS STATUTORY RIGHTS

Notwithstanding the Welsh Government’s previous position, it once again waved the shroud of wanting to deal with issues in a holistic way without resorting to legislation ‘at this stage’.

Fear is growing that the Welsh Government is fearful of enacting legislation that confers rights to individuals, preferring instead to listen to service providers whose services might not withstand close scrutiny and a rights-based approach to ensuring compliance with standards.

Speaking in the Assembly, Darren Millar said: “The purpose of the Bill is to build on Wales’s excellent track record to date by embedding a rights-based approach in the development, planning and delivery of public services that affect older people in Wales.

“If given permission, I will seek to consult with stakeholders to develop a Bill that will further enshrine the rights of older people within Welsh law, by placing a duty on Welsh Ministers to have regard to the United Nations Principles for Older Persons when making decisions that may impact upon older people in Wales; that will provide for the ability to extend that due-regard duty to local authorities, health boards and other Welsh public authorities; that will place a duty on Welsh Ministers to promote knowledge of and understanding of the UN Principles for Older Persons; and that will require Welsh Ministers to publish annual reports on their compliance with their older people’s rights schemes—something that doesn’t happen at the moment.”

The proposed legislation was very similar to the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011. A Bill which passed the Assembly with little controversy.

Mr Millar continued: “We embarked upon this journey a number of years ago and we can deliver and pioneer a new rights-based approach for older people’s rights here in Wales. We’ve got an opportunity to develop legislation that will result in practical improvements in the decision making and delivery of public services, that will raise awareness of older people’s rights and give them recognition and status, and that will empower those hundreds of thousands of older people across Wales to access those rights.”

THE TIME IS NOT RIGHT

Responding on behalf of the Welsh Government, Minister for Local Government Julie James suggested that older persons’ rights are already sufficiently protected by a range of Welsh Government measures, including its totemic Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

In any event, the Welsh Government did not regard the time had yet come for legislation – rather ignoring the point that the current First Minister supported such legislation when he was Health Minister.

Ms James concluded: “While I strongly support the sentiments behind this Bill, the time is not right for this particular bit of legislation. When we do legislate, we should do that holistically for the whole of society and in a way that identifies the needs of all disadvantaged groups.”

Supporting Darren Millar’s bill and suggesting that it should progress to the next stage so elements of it could be incorporated into future Welsh Government legislation, Plaid Cymru’s Helen Mary Jones pointed out: “Unless individuals have mechanisms they can use which don’t depend on the Government and that do not depend on an independent commissioner, but that they can use themselves to enforce those rights, those rights at their very end may not be enforced.”

David Rowlands (UKIP) said: “It is incumbent on statutory authorities to ensure that the core mainstream services are available to older residents in the same way that they are for other people… If children are protected in law, why not the other most vulnerable group, the old?”

THE PAYROLL VOTE VOTES

Concluding the debate, Darren Millar noted that an invitation extended to both himself and the older people’s commissioner to meet with the Government on February 6 to discuss its ‘holistic’ plans for the future was made only the day before the scheduled debate.

As usual, Labour AMs, including ‘independent’ government minister Dafydd Elis Thomas and Lib Dem Kirsty Williams, followed the government line. Two members abstained, Bethan Sayed and Jenny Rathbone. Apart from Ms Sayed, all other opposition parties supported the Bill.

It fell by 27 votes to 21.

Speaking after the vote, Darren Millar said: “This is not the way politics should be handled in this country, and it’s not the footing that the First Minister should start on with his new Government. It’s a tribal attitude and it is holding Wales back.

“The Welsh Government does not have a monopoly on good ideas. Both this Bill – and last week’s Autism Bill – are non-contentious proposals which had widespread cross-party and stakeholder support.

“We are supposed to be a democracy where the ideas of all elected representatives, regardless of their party politics, can be treated with respect, but in Wales, under this regime, that clearly isn’t the case.”

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