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Politics

Conservatives crank-up calls for Carwyn to go

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Since you gotta go, you'd better go now: Andrew RT Davies says Wales can't wait for Labour

THE CONSERVATIVES have called for Carwyn Jones’s replacement as Labour leader in Wales to be chosen sooner rather than later.

Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Conservatives in the Assembly, has raised fears of legislative inertia and lack of progress on key projects while uncertainty continues around the identity of Mr Jones’s successor.

Mr Davies has warned that Wales faces a period of ​’​rudderless leadership​’​ in Welsh Government, if the process to select Carwyn Jones’ replacement is allowed to drag on until December.

The Conservatives say that internal wrangling within Welsh Labour over the electoral system used to elect leaders could delay a contest by months, with some Labour members calling for the introduction of ‘one-member-one-vote’.

But Mr Davies is concerned that a ​’​vacuum at the heart of Welsh politics​’​ could have serious consequences for public services in Wales.

He said: “The First Minister’s decision to stand down has created an immediate vacuum at the heart of Welsh politics, and we now face a period of rudderless leadership whilst the Labour Party works out how to elect his replacement.

“They need to get a move on, for the sake of our public services and public confidence in devolution.

“Welsh NHS waiting lists are spiralling, we have a teacher recruitment crisis, and take-home pay is the lowest in any part of the UK.

“It is simply unacceptable for the country to be left in limbo until the end of the year.

“Frankly, the majority of the public are unconcerned by the mechanism used to determine Carwyn’s replacement, but we need to see a new First Minister with a mandate to take Wales forward in the coming weeks – not months.”

Mr Davies’ words were subsequently given more force when the outgoing First Minister refused to commit the Welsh Government to its preferred ‘Black Route’ for the M4 relief road.

Speaking in First Minister’s Questions, Carwyn Jones refused to back the route, despite his government having spent millions of pounds in preparatory work for its development – and having taken that route through to public consultation.

A number of routes have been proposed, but First Minister Carwyn Jones and the Welsh Government’s favoured option has always been the ‘black route’.

In May 2016 Carwyn Jones confirmed that the Welsh Government would not support the alternative – the ‘Blue Route’.

The First Minister said at the time: “One thing I will say is we wouldn’t support the blue route. There are a number of reasons for this.

“First of all, the blue route is dual carriageway, not a six-lane motorway, and that seems to me to defeat the whole object of a new road.”

Yet, when asked to reaffirm his government’s commitment to an M4 Relief Road, the First Minister refused – even claiming that he’d never publicly expressed a preference.

Speaking outside the Chamber, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives – Andrew RT Davies – said: “It looks like the M4 relief road is going to be the first casualty of Labour’s leadership contest.
“Despite spending millions of pounds preparing for the project – and despite having repeatedly backed the black route – the First Minister has now distanced himself from taking a decision.

“This is just the first major decision that will now be parked until a new leader is in place.

“This is why we need to see a swift resolution of the Labour leadership crisis, before the sense of inertia takes hold.

“On the current timetable, the new First Minister is unlikely to be in post before Christmas – just weeks before we leave the European Union, and several months after the public inquiry into the M4 relief road has reported.

“These decisions cannot simply be parked, and the Welsh public can’t be held to ransom because the Labour Party cannot agree on how to elect a new leader.

“That’s why we need to see a new First Minister with a mandate to take Wales forward in the coming weeks – not months.”

Meanwhile, the Conservatives’ shadow spokesperson on local government, Janet Finch-Saunders has drawn attention to the potential for the First Minister’s impending departure to leave other major reforms in limbo.

Ahead of a Conservative debate on local government in the Assembly on Wednesday (April, 25), Ms Finch-Saunders, warned that the uncertainty was having a negative impact on already creaking frontline services.

She said: “Just weeks ago the Welsh Government announced its third major set of proposals to reform local government in just a few years.

“They’ve spent considerable amounts of taxpayer money, and wasted several years discussing disruptive plans which have led to a sustained period of uncertainty for local authorities.

“With the First Minister’s impending resignation you have to wonder where the latest reincarnation of forced mergers is heading – after all, there’s no certainty that the same Local Government Secretary will even be in post under a new leader.

“What is clear is that the vast majority of Welsh councils are firmly against these disruptive and counter-productive plans.

“We all want to see the cost of politics reduced, but councils are already exploring collaboration on a regional level, and we would not back mergers without the consent of local residents and taxpayers.”

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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Health

Mark Drakeford in Milford Haven as pub tills ring for first weekend since December

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As part of the easing of lockdown restrictions, hospitality business owners let out a sigh of relief this week after a long winter as it was announced by Mark Drakeford that the sector could open – partially.

On Monday, many of us went for a pint as pubs, cafes, and restaurants can now serve customers outdoors.

First Minister Mark Drakeford visited Milford Haven on Sunday (May 2) in last minute campaigning before the election on Thursday.

It was the first weekend of trade since pubs were forced to shut before Christmas.

Indoor hospitality is still set to return on May 17 he confirmed.

Announcing the changes officially for the first time last week, First Minister said: “The public health context in Wales remains favourable, with cases falling and our vaccination programme continues to go from strength to strength.

“Because meeting outdoors continues to be lower risk than meeting indoors, we are able to bring forward changes to allow any six people to meet outdoors.

“This will provide more opportunities for people, especially young people, to meet outdoors with their friends.

“This will undoubtedly have a significant positive impact on people’s wellbeing. I’m also pleased to confirm outdoor hospitality will be allowed to reopen from Monday 26 April.

“These changes will help the hospitality sector recover after a difficult twelve months. It is thanks to the continuing efforts of people across Wales we are able to introduce this change. Together, we will continue to keep Wales safe.”

Reaction to the changes

Welcoming the announcement Jane Dodds, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said it was “great news”.

She said: “As a nation we must all work together to ensure the vaccination programme continues and that the lockdowns and closures we’ve been through never need to return.”

Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies, said: “Labour had ample opportunity to bring forward a roadmap out of lockdown, but refused to do so.

“Thanks to the UK’s great vaccination story much more detail could have been announced prior to the election period… but Labour chose to play politics instead of adopting the Welsh Conservative roadmap.”

Mark Reckless, from the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party, said: “This is getting to the point of testing election rules to breaking point.

“The Labour leader is using his platform as first minister to make political announcements during an election campaign.”

So what do businesses have to do by law?

Welsh Government guidance states: “As an employer or business operator, you have a legal responsibility to protect employees and visitors; and anyone else on the premises, from risks to their health and safety. You also need to assess the risks from COVID-19 and take reasonable measures to minimise exposure to the virus.

“Risk assessments are used to identify and address these risks or minimise them. When undertaking your specific COVID-19 risk assessment you must comply with the Coronavirus Regulations and have regard to the statutory guidance and use this document to inform your decisions and control measures, recognising you cannot eliminate all risks.

“Risk assessments must be reviewed and updated regularly, whenever circumstances change including whenever the coronavirus alert levels change in Wales.

“A risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but rather about identifying sensible measures to control risks. Your risk assessment will help you decide whether you have done everything you reasonably need to. There are interactive tools available to support you from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at Managing risks and risk assessments at work.

“These risk assessments will be the starting point for implementing the reasonable measures that are required to be taken to minimise exposure to the coronavirus on premises open to the public and in workplaces.

“This involves considering issues such as: whether ventilation is adequate; hygiene factors including hand washing and access to hand washing facilities; ensuring physical distancing is taking place and if 2m is achievable; the extent to which the use of screens, PPE and face coverings can mitigate risks, especially where the 2m distance is not achievable.”

Made possible by the vaccine?

As of April 29th, Public Health Wales said a total of 1,816,451 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have now been given in Wales.

The agency said 732,643 second doses have also been administered.

Wales is currently in phase two of its vaccination programme, meaning the NHS is now inviting everyone aged 40 to 49 to be vaccinated, after successfully offering the vaccine to everyone in the JCVI priority groups 1-9.

It comes as an estimated six in 10 adults (61 per cent) in private households would have tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies in the week to April 11th, the ONS said on April 28th.

This is up from around one in two adults, or 48.2 per cent, two weeks earlier.

On April 7th, Wales became the first country in Britain to administer the Moderna vaccine.

It was also announced on April 14th that all over 16s who live with an adult with a weakened immune system are to be prioritised for Covid-19 jabs, following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Adults who are immunosuppressed have a weaker immune system to fight infections naturally and are more likely to have poorer outcomes after contracting coronavirus.

This includes those with blood cancer, HIV or those who are having immunosuppressive treatment.

What about hospitality that can’t operate outdoors?

The First Minister has announced that an extra £200m is available to help businesses which are not yet able to open.

This will help top up the non-domestic rates grants. Mr Drakeford said it means hospitality, tourism, leisure and non-essential retail businesses, which must remain closed will be eligible for a third payment of between £4,000 and £5,000 to help them meet ongoing operating costs while they cannot trade.

“This is in top of the announcement earlier this week extending the business rates holiday for retail, leisure and hospitality businesses for the whole of the next financial year,” Mr Drakeford added.

“We have made well in excess of £2bn available to businesses over the course of the last year to help them through the pandemic, which is over and above the support available from the UK Government’s schemes.

“This is the most generous business support scheme available in the UK. I’m very pleased we’ve been able to safeguard more than 160,000 jobs in these most difficult of times.”

Controlling the crowds

Hospitality catering to households who have effectively been locked down all spring will be a welcome sight to many after large crowds recently descended upon Cardiff Bay.

Police had been given special powers after crowds gathered in Cardiff Bay on April 2nd, despite coronavirus restrictions still being in place.

Cardiff council said a significant amount of rubbish had been left by “large groups of people intent on breaking Covid-19 restrictions”.

South Wales Police has put a dispersal order in place, giving officers the power to exclude people from the area.

Covid rules at that time stated six people from two different households could meet outdoors. It followed similar scenes outside the Senedd earlier that week, when three police officers were injured.

Supt Marc Attwell said: “As restrictions have eased, the need for personal responsibility is critical and it is extremely disappointing that a small minority are willing to put themselves, and others, in harm’s way.

“Cardiff Bay in particular has attracted large crowds over the past few days.

“The behaviour seen over the past three days has placed additional pressure on not only the police but the local authority as well, and meant that officers have been diverted from other parts of the force.”

“We are asking people in groups of six or more who are thinking of attending or organising a gathering at the Senedd over this bank holiday weekend not to do so.”

Officers arrested a 20-year-old man for a public order offence, a 22-year-old woman was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and for possession of a Class A substance and a 35-year-old-man was also arrested for possession of a Class A substance.

The council said the trail of litter left a “huge task” for clean-up staff as “bins were left unused and the ground was littered with rubbish”.

“Despite the preventative measures put in place by the council, in partnership with South Wales Police, the Welsh government’s coronavirus regulations were again broken by a significant number of people illegally gathering in Cardiff Bay,” the authority said.

“The rules are clear, six people, from two households are allowed to meet outdoors, maintaining two metre social distancing.

“Breaking these rules significantly increases the chances of Covid-19 cases rising in the city.”

Now, with places for people to socialise in an organised manner, scenes like this should hopefully be avoided as people safely enjoy themselves.

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