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Politics

Time for Welsh justice for Wales

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A MAJOR report into the Welsh justice system calls for radical change.
The report, ‘Justice in Wales for the People of Wales’, says the administration of justice needs to be devolved so that justice in practice aligns with the growing body of Welsh law on social, health and education policy and other services.
Prepared by a Commission chaired by the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Report says: ‘Major reform is needed to the justice system and to the current scheme of devolution’.
The Commission found ‘under the current scheme of devolution there is no properly joined up or integrated approach, as justice remains controlled by the Westminster Government’. It says to ensure consistent treatment of the UK’s devolved administrations, Wales should have the same powers over its justice system as Scotland and England, particularly as Wales increasingly diverges from England in key areas of policy, for example on housing.
The reductions in the justice budget made by the Westminster Government since 2010 have been amongst the most severe of all departmental budget cuts.
The Commission is highly critical of the Westminster-centric nature of law-making, which largely ignores Wales’ interests and Wales’ challenges. It points out the Welsh Government has used its own money, in addition to permitting rises in council tax, to try and mitigate the damaging effects of these policies.
The result is almost 40% of the total funding for Wales’ justice system originates in Wales. This is above other tax revenue that is raised from Wales and then allocated by the Westminster Government to Wales.
The report’s authors unanimously conclude: “This position is unsustainable when the Welsh Government has so little say in justice policy and overall spending.”
Crucially, the report also says restrictions on the Senedd’s powers to legislate over policing, offender management, and rehabilitation should be removed. Such an arrangement would align the Senedd’s powers with those of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.
On two areas of policy, the Report is particularly critical of Wales’ treatment within the current justice system.
ADVICE DESERTS
The significant cuts to legal aid made in 2012 have hit Wales hard. Proper access to justice is not available with the consequent threat to the Rule of Law.
The report says Westminster’s approach to legal aid has created:
• ‘advice deserts’ in rural and post-industrial areas where people struggle to receive legal advice;
• a serious risk to the sustainability of legal practice elsewhere, especially in traditional ‘high street’ legal services; and
• increasing numbers of people representing themselves in courts and tribunals with a consequential adverse impact on outcomes and the efficient use of court resources.
The report says although the Welsh Government spends its own funds on advice services it lacks the resources to bridge the gap caused by the cuts to legal aid.
Prosecution lawyers and prosecuting authorities are funded from the public purse. Individuals just over the legal aid limit are doubly penalised by the inability to access legal advice. If they do and are acquitted, individuals face the infamous ‘innocence tax’. Self-funding defendants in criminal prosecutions who are acquitted very seldom – if ever – recover the whole costs of their defence, leaving them often massively out of pocket.
On criminal law, the report finds, unlike in England, the number of police officers in Wales has not reduced. It explains this is because the Welsh Government provides further funds and allowed council tax rises to provide extra money to forces.
However, a significantly greater proportion of the spending on justice is now on prisons rather than crime reduction. Wales has one of the highest, if not the highest, prison populations per head in Western Europe, even though the evidence is that robust community sentences achieve better outcomes in many cases.
The lack of integration between health policy, over which Wales has powers, and policing, reserved to Westminster, means the current devolution scheme has created problems in terms of providing health services for prisoners, as well as other services such as housing which are necessary for rehabilitation on release.
The report calls for a single Minister to be given responsibility for justice in Wales and establishing problem-solving criminal courts and Family Drug and Alcohol Courts in Wales.
Predictably, the UK Government has dismissed the plans as creating over-complexity; brushed aside increasing legislative differences between English and Welsh law; and turned its back on equal treatment of Wales within the UK.
Questioned on Radio 4’s ‘Law in Action’ whether the plans would speed up the break-up of the United Kingdom, Lord Thomas gave a vigorous denial that would be the case.
He pointed out provisions within the document for a UK-wide Supreme Court with judges appointed to it from each jurisdiction. Saying the different treatment of Wales was ‘unsustainable’, he repeated the proposals within the report needed only changes to the existing devolution settlement to recognise Wales’ circumstances and to create a level playing field between the nations of the UK.

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Politics

Paul Davies Plays Cancer Strategy Jenga

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Preseli Pembrokeshire Assembly Member Paul Davies recently met with representatives of Cancer
Research UK and even had a go at their Cancer Strategy Jenga! Mr Davies heard how there are around
2,700 cancer cases per year in the Hywel Dda University Health Board area and that to achieve better
outcomes for patients, the Welsh Government needs to tackle preventable risk factors and address
shortages in the cancer workforce.

Mr Davies said, “It was a pleasure to speak to Cancer Research UK about how we can improve cancer
services and patient outcomes for those affected by cancer in Pembrokeshire. I enjoyed playing the
Cancer Strategy Jenga and learning about the different ‘planks’ that an ambitious cancer strategy for
Wales should have. Thanks to research and improvements in diagnosis and treatment, survival in the UK
has doubled since the 1970s so, today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer and hopefully that figure will
continue to rise. I will of course, be doing all that I can to call on the Welsh Government to bring forward
a cancer strategy – and one that makes a very real difference to patients and their families in Wales.”

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Community

Closing day approaching for deposit plan consultation

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The deadline is nearing for public comments on Pembrokeshire County Council’s replacement Local Development Plan – known as the Deposit Plan.

The public consultation on the Deposit Plan opened in January and will end at 4.30pm on Wednesday, 18th March.

The consultation has included seven drop-in sessions at locations around the county. Cllr Jon Harvey, Cabinet Member for Planning, said they had been well-attended and thanked members of the public for their feedback.

“We would encourage anyone interested in the future development of Pembrokeshire to participate in the consultation if they haven’t yet done so,” he added.

The Deposit Plan and related documents are available to view on the Council’s website at: www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/local-development-plan-review/deposit

The Deposit Plan covers the area of Pembrokeshire excluding the National Park.

It identifies a need for 6,800 new homes between 2017 and 2033 (425 a year) including 2,000 affordable homes. This growth will be distributed across the Plan area in accordance with a whole County strategy, which promotes sustainable development.

Residents can look at the Deposit Plan text and maps to view proposals in their area. The Plan proposes revised town and village boundaries (known as settlement boundaries) and a range of sites are allocated for different land uses, including 70 sites for housing. It also identifies a range of industrial sites (known as Strategic Employment Sites), local employment sites and two quarry sites.

The Deposit Plan seeks to respond to the challenges of climate change by including policies and designations to protect sites and species that are of importance for their biodiversity and nature conservation interest, open spaces and Green Wedges.

New growth is directed to sustainable locations. Proposals for vulnerable uses are directed away from flood risk areas and new development will be limited in areas at risk because of climate change. All new dwellings will be built to high quality, energy efficient designs and will incorporate charging points for ultra-low emission vehicles. Three sites are allocated for solar photovoltaic arrays.

The Deposit Plan and related documents are available to view on the Council’s website at: www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/local-development-plan-review/deposit

Hard copies are also available at County Hall, Haverfordwest, in Pembrokeshire County Council Customer Service Centres and in local Libraries, during normal opening hours.

• If you wish to have your say on the Deposit Plan you can do so using the Representations Form available online at the above website address, or in paper format from County Hall, Haverfordwest. This form should be used for making comments wherever possible.

• Please email your representation forms to ldp@pembrokeshire.gov.uk or post to The Development Plans Team, County Hall, Freeman’s Way, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, SA61 1TP by 4.30pm on Wednesday, 18th March 2020.

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News

Pembrokeshire MP calls on Government to Secure Access to Cash

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Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb has joined the Association of Convenience Stores, British Retail Consortium, Federation of Small Businesses, Positive Money and Responsible Finance in urging the Chancellor to use next week’s Budget to secure long-term access to cash across the UK.

Stephen Crabb has endorsed action on access to cash in a private letter to the Chancellor submitted today (Thursday). The letter outlines that to secure long-term access to cash, the Chancellor should use his Budget to:

• Reverse the arbitrary cuts to LINK interchange fees paid by banks to fund the network
• Exempt free-to-use ATMs from business rates bills
• Recognise that ATMs are the only infrastructure through which to guarantee national access to cash

ATM closures and big banks leaving communities behind are threatening the future of cash. Research commissioned by the Payment Systems Regulator shows that ‘the majority of consumers use cash regularly’ while the Access to Cash Review has found that eight million adults would struggle to cope in a cashless society.

Stephen Crabb, MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, said: “In many rural areas cash machines have been disappearing at an alarming rate despite the fact that lots of people still prefer to use cash. Many small businesses have yet to make the move to contactless or digital payments because mobile and internet coverage is so weak in rural areas. There is a danger of cash deserts emerging in areas where there are no ATMs or bank branches. I hope the Chancellor and his team at the Treasury consider what steps need to be taken to address these trends”.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “We acknowledge the growth in digital payments but access to cash remains crucial for the millions who still rely on it for essential purchases. We need a planned approach to changing payment methods instead of the haphazard removal of free to use ATMs from communities.

“Cash back is not a workable replacement for the whole ATM network and comes with costs and security risks for businesses. We need the Chancellor to take action at the Budget to reverse cuts to interchange fees and exempt free to use ATMs from business rates that are making them unsustainable for ATM operators and local shops to host.”

British Retail Consortium Head of Payments Policy Andrew Cregan said: “Cash accounts for almost 40% of retail transactions and is important to many vulnerable people, especially as a tool for budgeting and control. Government should safeguard consumers’ access to cash by ensuring retailers are fairly rewarded for providing cashback services to customers and protecting the viability of free-to-use ATMs.”

Federation of Small Businesses National Chairman Mike Cherry said: “Cash is the payment method of choice for millions of small business customers, and millions more see it as an important part of the payments mix. There are some straightforward steps that the Chancellor can take on Wednesday to bolster our rapidly declining cash infrastructure. Removing business rates on free-to-use cash points is a good starting point. This a prime example of the many stifling quirks that exist within the archaic rates system. Equally, if the Treasury wants more small businesses to offer cashback, it must ensure they are given sufficient financial support to take that on.”

Positive Money Executive Director Fran Boait said: “After being bailed out by the public, banks have repaid the favour by slashing support for free ATMs, making us pay to access our own money. The Chancellor must stand up to banks’ cost-cutting in the Budget and make sure it is them and not the public who pay for Britain’s cash machine network.”

Responsible Finance Chief Executive Theodora Hadjimichael said: “The perils of relying on a single payment method have been illustrated by the weaknesses of digitalised financial systems, and the rapidly decreasing availability of free-to-use cash machines leaves million of people struggling to make payments, including the elderly and vulnerable. Paying for access to cash can compound the poverty premium for low-income families who rely on cash for their day to day budgeting and spending. It is critical that the Chancellor acts now to secure long-term access to cash across the UK.”

LINK, the ATM network body, is required under Specific Direction 8 from the Payment Systems Regulator to ensure the ongoing availability of access to free-to-use ATMs for consumers across the country. However, LINK’s own data shows over 500 free-to-use ATMs are closing every month and one-in-ten areas no longer have free access to cash via an ATM despite LINK’s commitments under the Financial Inclusion Programme.

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