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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

Chancellor visits local pioneering software company

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PRESELI’S Conservative candidate Stephen Crabb has welcomed the Chancellor, Sajid Javid, to Pembrokeshire to visit a pioneering education software company.

Fishguard based Edukey provides innovative software for the classroom, helping pupils, teachers and parents and was founded by former teacher Duncan Wilson.

Sajid Javid, who was promoted to Chancellor of the Exchequer following Boris Johnson’s rise to Prime Minister this summer, was given an overview of the company by its founder before a short Q&A with staff.

Stephen Crabb said: “It was a pleasure to welcome the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Fishguard town centre to visit the outstanding educational software company Edukey.”

“Edukey is a brilliant Pembrokeshire success story. What Duncan and the team have achieved there is remarkable and, with more than fifty people now employed in the company in high quality jobs, Edukey is helping to regenerate the town itself.”

“Edukey points to the way forward for the Pembrokeshire economy. I am passionate about seeing more of these types of high quality jobs created so more young people can choose to stay in Pembrokeshire rather than all move away.”

Following the visit, the Chancellor Sajid Javid said:

“I was delighted to join Stephen in Fishguard to visit Edukey and learn more about how their innovative software is helping in schools across the world.

“Our plan to invest £5 billion to ensure everyone can access gigabit-capable broadband will create the right conditions for more of these companies to grow, bringing high quality jobs to Pembrokeshire.

“Only by backing Stephen in Preseli Pembrokeshire and backing a majority Conservative Government can we get Brexit done. That will mean we can concentrate on the people’s priorities, such as broadband, education and the NHS.”

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Politics

Significant concerns for EU citizens in Wales

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THE UK Government’s EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) is causing significant problems for EU citizens currently living and working in Wales.

LOW REGISTRATION IN WALES
Wales has the lowest rates of registration in the UK.
Only 41% of those eligible to apply for EUSS to stay in Wales after Brexit have done so.
The rhetoric surrounding EU migration since the referendum has taken its toll on people’s emotional wellbeing, meaning they no longer feel welcome to live here.
The UK Government has proposed a £30,000 salary threshold for EU residents to qualify for a work visa after Brexit. This could damage the Welsh economy and leave Wales short of key health professionals, say Welsh employers.
The National Assembly for Wales’ External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, which focuses on the implications of Brexit for Wales, is today publishing a report looking at the impact of changes to ‘freedom of movement’ after Brexit. As well as the impact on services and employers, the Committee has looked at the effect on individual EU citizens currently living and working in Wales – there are currently an estimated 80,000.
The Committee heard evidence from a range of health professionals, employers and individuals who would be affected by the proposals to change the immigration system after Brexit.
Organisations representing employers and key workers including the Welsh NHS Confederation, the Royal College of Nursing Wales, Airbus, Universities Wales, Wales TUC and the Arts Council for Wales have voiced serious concerns to the Committee. The UK Government’s proposals for EU citizens after Brexit cause concern to health services and businesses. Under the UK Government’s proposals almost two-thirds of EU workers currently in Wales would not be eligible under the proposed system with the £30,000 salary threshold, and the threshold would lead to a 57% reduction in EU immigration to Wales over 10 years.

EU SETTLEMENT SCHEME – DIGITAL BY DEFAULT
As part of the Committee’s inquiry, it heard evidence from people directly affected by the changes to freedom of movement after Brexit.
The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) was established by the UK Government because, in most cases, EU citizens living in the UK will no longer have a legal right to reside in the UK once it leaves the EU and free movement ends.
EU citizens living in the UK must register for the EUSS.
The Committee heard many concerns about the system to register. The UK Government has adopted a ‘digital by default’ approach and there have been issues with the technology. The current system only allows the use of Android phones or tablets, not iPhones.

£30,000 THRESHOLD – TOO HIGH FOR WALES
The Welsh NHS Confederation, the membership body representing all NHS organisations in Wales, told the Committee that the proposals to include EU citizens in its £30,000 salary threshold for a visa would “exacerbate current staffing shortages”. It highlighted that 53% of EU NHS staff currently earn below that.
The Bevan Foundation highlighted that the average salary in Wales for full-time workers is £26,000, significantly below the proposed threshold. Airbus, a large employer in Wales, added that the threshold is “too high for key sectors” which could have implications for many services and industries. They argued that the proposals from the UK Government could “leave gaps in the requirements of Wales which can’t be filled in the short term.”
The Committee believes that a salary threshold set at this level will not meet the needs and requirements of the Welsh economy. It is calling on the UK Government to lower the salary threshold requirements and is recommending that the Welsh Government uses all the means at its disposal to ensure that the currently proposed salary threshold is reduced.

FEELING UNWELCOME
The Committee heard evidence from people affected directly and how many people felt that they were no longer welcome in the UK following the EU referendum.
Some argued that the policy pursued by the UK Government since the referendum has exacerbated this.
Several people said that some of the rhetoric relating to the issue of EU migration had hardened and described the toll that this had had on their emotional wellbeing, and that of friends and family members.
One participant emphasised that it is not simply an administrative process, but that real people are involved and that it was important to remember how the process affects them.
Michal Poreba from Swansea, an EU citizen originally from Poland, who gave evidence to the Committee’s inquiry, said: “The EU settlement scheme and the UK Government’s immigration proposals after Brexit are not simply about administrative processes, they are about people’s lives. Real people are involved and it is important to consider how the process affects them and their families. Yet the debate appears to be all about the practicalities of the implementation.
“Questions are asked why so few people have registered so far and how to increase the uptake. But what does it offer? Why would anybody apply? The facts are that the scheme significantly reduces the rights of the applicants. Going through the process, while technically quite easy and straightforward, feels debilitating and comes with no legal guarantees. It feels like an act of political self-harm. No wonder there are no queues to do it.
“The message repeated by politicians appears to be the same – You will be allowed to stay. We want you to stay. Of course, economically speaking they need us to stay, at least for the short term. But there is a big difference between being allowed to stay, and being welcomed. There is a big difference between a legal right and permission.”

SHORTAGE OCCUPATION LIST
Wales has specific needs. The Shortage Occupation List is an official list of occupations for which there are not enough resident workers (including EU nationals) to fill vacancies. The UK list is supplemented by a separate list for Scotland.
The majority of those who gave evidence to the Committee supported the creation of a Wales-specific Shortage Occupation List to meet the specific needs of Wales. The Committee is calling on the UK Government to establish this, which the Welsh Government would be able to amend according to Welsh needs.
David Rees AM, Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee said: “We have significant concerns about the implications of Brexit on our workforce in Wales. The ending of freedom of movement will have consequences for business and our economy if we lose vital workers. What’s more worrying is the impact that the loss of EU citizens could have on our NHS. We rely on EU citizens who work as nurses and carers.
“We heard some very concerning and emotional evidence from EU citizens and their families living and working in Wales. We must not forget the human impact that the ending of freedom of movement will have.
“We are calling on the Welsh Government to do all it can to get the UK Government to reduce its proposed salary threshold of £30,000 in order to better reflect average earnings here in Wales. Under these proposals, almost two-thirds of EU workers currently in Wales would not be eligible to live here. This could mean that we would not be able to recruit key workers such as nurses and carers from abroad.
“The EU Settlement Scheme for those who already live and work in Wales is full of problems, with an online-only application process and limited access on smartphones, these problems must be addressed urgently.
“Wales’ economy has specific needs and changing demographics within Wales, including an ageing population, are likely to pose new challenges in the future. These challenges within the economy of Wales are likely to be exacerbated by an overly restrictive immigration regime after Brexit.
“Today we’re calling on the Welsh Government to show real leadership and send out a strong message that EU citizens are welcome, valued, and needed in Wales and we’re calling on the UK Government to rethink its proposals and take into account the needs of the Welsh economy and public services.”

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Politics

Plans to improve patient access to health professionals

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HEALTH MINISTER, Vaughan Gething, has announced plans to improve access to health professionals through new ways of working.

The new plans aim to allow people to directly access health professionals such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, podiatrists dietitians and others at primary care health centres. There will also be a greater emphasis on prevention to reduce reliance on medicines and improve quality of life.

Mr Gething said: “Our long term plan for health and social care, A Healthier Wales, sets out how we need to radically change the way services are delivered to meet future demand. We also need to move away from health and social care which focuses on treating people when they become unwell, to one that supports people to stay well, lead healthier lifestyles and live independently for as long as possible.

By accessing allied health professionals such as physiotherapy and dietitians directly at their local health centre, people can get the treatment they need more quickly. There are already good examples of this happening around Wales. I want to see that best practice become standard, which these plans will help us achieve.”

Examples of current best practice include a first contact physiotherapy service in Caerphilly, walk-in podiatry service in Port Talbot, Prestatyn Iach Health Centre and direct access occupational therapists in south Pembrokeshire helping people get back to work.

Mr Gething added: “As we move towards a system of integrated primary care centres across Wales, the framework I’m launching today aims to make it easier and quicker for people to access services.”

The Minister officially launched the Allied Health Professions Framework at the National Primary Care Conference at the International Conference Centre, Celtic Manor, Newport today (Thursday, 7 November).

A new Allied Health Professions lead for Primary Care will be appointed to lead the transformation of services in primary care.

The framework will also improve access to allied health professions in secondary care and improve access to rehabilitation to help people recover more quickly after a hospital admission and return home as independently as possible. The Welsh Government recently provided £1.4m to health boards to increase access to rehabilitation services.

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