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Politics

‘Unacceptable complacency’ over Brexit

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brexitTHE FIRST MINISTER today appeared to admit that his government failed to make preparations for a public Brexit vote said the Tories; despite having issued dire warnings before the poll about the impact of a vote to leave the EU.

Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies, quizzed the First Minister in plenary on his government’s preparations for a vote to leave the EU.

He also pressed Mr Jones on the need for the Welsh Government’s response to the referendum to be reflective of the will of the Welsh people.

Speaking outside the chamber, Mr Davies repeated calls for ‘Leave’ campaigners to be given a role in formulating that response.

He said:“The First Minister repeatedly warned of the dire consequences of a vote to leave the EU, and yet it appears that he didn’t think it necessary to get his government to prepare for such an eventuality.

“Such complacency is unacceptable and explains, in part, his failure to see this result coming.

“In contrast, we learnt yesterday that the UK Government undertook detailed contingency planning – in particular, planning for the impact on financial stability.”

Mr Davies also stressed the need for ‘Leave’ campaigners to be given a role in preparing Wales’ response to the referendum result.

He said:“It is vital that the First Minister moves to endorse the will of the Welsh people and accepts the result of Thursday’s vote fully and without qualification.

“Despite the expectations of many, including Carwyn Jones, Wales has proven itself to be a Eurosceptic nation, but we cannot ignore the fact that significant numbers of people supported a remain vote and we will respect their views and ensure that their concerns are addressed.

“Clearly, both the Labour Party and Plaid Cymru misunderstood this. Those parties, unlike the Welsh Conservative Party, do not reflect the balance of opinion which exists amongst the Welsh public.

“As negotiations in relation to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU continue, the Welsh Government must ensure public opinion is better reflected as part of this process.

“ Wales needs strong leadership that reflects the wishes of its people, and ensures the best deal for our country in this new era. That must include a role for those politicians of all parties who campaigned for a vote to leave.”

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News

Wales stands firm in support for Ukraine

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IN THE latest update on the Ukraine crisis, Wales’s Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt thanked all those households across Wales who have come forward to offer their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the War and encouraged more households to provide this vital support.

APPEAL FOR MORE HOST FAMILIES

The Minister for Social Justice said: “I’m delighted to say that over 5,650 people from Ukraine, sponsored by the Welsh Government and Welsh households, have already arrived in the UK.
“More than 8,200 visas have now been issued to people from Ukraine who have sponsors in Wales, so we expect the number of arrivals to continue to grow in the coming weeks.
“Thousands of Welsh households sponsored Ukrainians to arrive in Wales and committed to hosting them for at least six months.
“As we move into the autumn, we approach the end of that initial period.
“We hope hosts and Ukrainians will agree to extend many of those placements, but we need additional hosts to support those who cannot continue living where they are.
“To ensure a warm welcome to Wales, I’m inviting households across Wales to come forward and open their homes to welcome those seeking sanctuary.
“We’re immensely thankful to all those across Wales acting as hosts to Ukrainians, but more households must come forward.
“I completely understand that there are those who want to help but may not have the resources to do so, given the circumstances we’re all facing with the cost-of-living crisis.”

WALES WILL STEP UP TO THE PLATE

Jane Hutt continued: “What we all know, and has been proven countless times, is that the people of Wales are one of the most generous across the globe, and I’m sure we will step up to the plate once again.
“The idea of hosting can be daunting. That’s why we have funded Housing Justice Cymru to provide a Host Support service which includes expert and reliable information, training, advice, and guidance for people hosting, or those considering hosting, Ukrainians in Wales.
“More information on sessions and training can be found on the Housing Justice Cymru website. We also publish regularly updated guidance for hosts and sponsors at gov. wales/ukraine.
“We still need many more households to consider whether they could provide a home for those in need. This would normally be a commitment to hosting for 6 to 12 months.
“If anyone is considering this, we encourage them to register their interest at gov.wales/offerhome, and to attend one of the ‘Introduction to Hosting’ sessions, facilitated by Housing Justice Cymru. You won’t need to continue the process if you decide it is not for you.
“We have also partnered with Airbnb.org to ensure very short-term emergency placements can be provided to prevent homelessness.
“If you cannot host for more than 6 months but you could offer your property for up to 30 days at a time, you may also be able to contribute. Visit gov.wales/offerhome and follow the link to the Airbnb.org platform.”
Finally, the Minister stated: “We will continue to communicate with those who host Ukrainians, with updated guidance and information to support the valuable role you are undertaking.
“To all those that are already hosting and to those that are considering hosting, thank you, we owe you all a huge debt of gratitude.”

WESTMINSTER MUST BACK HOSTS
DURING COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS

Conservative MS Mark Isherwood raised how the cost-of-living crisis affects Ukrainian refugees.
Where families had taken in those fleeing Russian aggression, he noted a risk of sponsorships not continuing beyond six months because the hosts cannot afford the rise in fuel costs.
He asked the Minister what discussions she’d had with the UK Government about increasing the £350 contribution to households who’d taken in Ukrainian refugees.
The Minister agreed with Mark Isherwood that ending a specific ministerial post dealing with refugees was regrettable.
She noted a lack of information from the UK Government over the summer months and since Liz Truss replaced Boris Johnson as head of the Conservative Government.
Ms Hutt said: “We asked for an increase at least to £500, or up again, doubling to £700 per month. An urgent decision is needed regarding this as they reach the end of their six-month period.
“That period is underway, so we’re writing to all hosts to see if they will continue.”

UK GOVERNMENT URGED
TO PICK UP THE PHONE

The Minister thanked Mark Isherwood for introducing her to a charity offering support in North Wales, Link, and hoped that he and his colleagues would bring pressure to bear on their Westminster colleagues to ensure those in need from Ukraine and those in Wales helping them received support.
She added: “I look forward perhaps that we might have some telephone calls from the Prime Minister and other Ministers to us in Government. We must engage with them and follow this through.
“There is a huge job of work to be done here. We’re taking responsibility in the way I’ve outlined, funding our welcome centres and paying thank-you payments to hosts if they support a family who initially arrived in Wales under the Ukraine family scheme.
“That’s not happening in England. The commitment that we’re making is considerable.
“I hope everyone will join us today, saying that we need to press for those answers in terms of financial support.”

THE THREAT OF HOMELESSNESS

Sioned Williams of Plaid Cymru raised the spectre of Ukrainian refugees becoming homeless in Wales due to a lack of financial support and the end of existing hosting and housing placements.
The Minister praised the work of local authorities across Wales supporting refugees.
She said: “There are very imaginative programmes. That includes a whole range of issues like repurposing empty buildings.
“Local authorities are really coming up with a whole range of ways in which we can support people, perhaps, from a welcome centre, or a host family, into that intermediate accommodation, and then on to other longer-term accommodation.”
Pembrokeshire currently houses around 200 Ukrainian refugees, with the demand for assistance outstripping the availability of suitable accommodation.

NOT ONE PENNY FROM WESTMINSTER
TO SUPPORT FAMILIES FLEEING WAR

Responding to a question from Mabon ap Gwynfor about problems housing family groups, Jane Hutt hit out at the lack of support from the UK Government and how it’s u-turned on a commitment to help families.
“The UK Government has never given a penny towards the family scheme.
“The former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in one of his last PMQs, actually said that he thought the Ukraine family scheme should get the same funding and support as the Homes for Ukraine scheme. It’s never happened.
“We have provided thank-you payments to people who are hosting Ukrainian families. It’s all Welsh Government money; it’s not UK Government, because they don’t provide a penny. And also, the British Red Cross—£246,000—who are actually supporting Ukrainian families who are hosting family members under the Ukrainian family scheme.”
On Wednesday, September 28, Eluned Morgan, Wales’s Health Minister, announced the continuation of free healthcare in Wales to Ukrainian residents displaced by the ongoing conflict.
The exemption will continue to apply unless there’s a significant change in circumstances in Ukraine.

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Business

Jacob Rees Mogg: Galvanises businesses with action on energy

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Westminster unveils energy support for businesses

NON WEDNESDAY, September 21, the UK Government announced new support for households, businesses and public sector organisations facing rising energy bills in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Through a new government Energy Bill Relief Scheme, the government will provide a discount on wholesale gas and electricity prices for all non-domestic customers (including all UK businesses, the voluntary sector like charities and the public sector such as schools and hospitals) whose current gas and electricity prices have been significantly inflated in light of global energy prices.


The support will be equivalent to the Energy Price Guarantee put in place for households.


It will apply to fixed contracts agreed on or after April 1, 2022, and to deemed variable and flexible tariffs and contracts.


The Price Guarantee will apply to energy usage from 1 October 2022 to 31 March 2023, running for an initial six-month period for all non-domestic energy users.


The savings will be first seen in October bills, which are typically received in November.


As with the Energy Price Guarantee for households, customers do not need to take action or apply to the scheme to access the support.


Support (in the form of a p/kWh discount) will automatically be applied to bills.

RISK OF BUSINESSES MISSING OUT

The price reduction level for each business will vary depending on their contract type and circumstances.


Non-domestic customers on existing fixed-price contracts will be eligible for support as long as the contract was agreed on or after April 1, 2022.


Provided that the wholesale element of the price the customer is paying is above the Government Supported Price, per unit energy costs will automatically be reduced by the relevant p/kWh for the duration of the Scheme.


Customers entering new fixed price contracts after October 1 will receive support on the same basis
those on default, deemed, or variable tariffs will receive a per-unit discount on energy costs, up to a maximum of the difference between the Supported Price and the average expected wholesale price over the period of the Scheme.


Non-domestic customers on default or variable tariffs will therefore pay reduced bills, but these will still change over time and may still be subject to price increases.


The government is working with suppliers to ensure all their customers in England, Scotland and Wales are allowed to switch to a fixed contract/tariff for the duration of the scheme if they wish, underpinned by the government’s Energy Bill Relief Scheme support for businesses on flexible purchase contracts, typically some of the largest energy-using businesses.


The government will provide equivalent support for businesses not connected to the gas or electricity grid. Further detail on this will be announced shortly.

SUPPORT MUST AVOID
THE CLIFF EDGE

The government will publish a review of the scheme’s operation in three months to inform decisions on future support after March 2023.


The review will particularly focus on identifying the most vulnerable non-domestic customers and how the government will continue assisting them with energy costs.


Prime Minister Liz Truss said: “I understand the huge pressure businesses, charities, and public sector organisations are facing with their energy bills, which is why we are taking immediate action to support them over the winter and protect jobs and livelihoods.


“As we are doing for consumers, our new scheme will keep their energy bills down from October, providing certainty and peace of mind.


“At the same time, we are boosting Britain’s homegrown energy supply, so we fix the root cause of the issues we are facing and ensure greater energy security for us all.”


Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality said: “This intervention is unprecedented, and it is extremely welcome that the government has listened to hospitality businesses facing an uncertain winter. ef
“The government has recognised the vulnerability of hospitality as a sector, and we will continue to work with the government, to ensure that there is no cliff edge when these measures fall away.”

SOME BUSINESSES WILL FALL
BETWEEN THE CRACKS, SAYS FSB

Tina McKenzie, Policy and Advocacy Chair, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said: “This announcement will give certainty for the next six months, but a tough year remains ahead of many small firms.


“Many have been waiting for details on the energy bills support package to plan confidently for the winter and beyond, so it’s encouraging to have clarity from the Government on the form that its support will take.


“The next stage will be for small businesses to learn what the changes mean for their current contracts and for any offers they have been looking at.


“Subsidising the unit costs of electricity and gas for six months is welcome, but there are those who miss out from before the six-month period, and help must not result in a cliff-edge afterwards.
“We are calling for a hardship fund to be created for those who fall outside of the current support or for whom the current support will be insufficient.


“There will be hardship for some businesses which signed fixed contracts after prices rose but before April, who find themselves excluded from the scheme.


“FSB calls on energy suppliers to allow those customers to switch without charge to new fixed contracts, covered by the Energy Supported Price if that makes the difference for the small business to survive.


“Small businesses are the definition of vulnerable when it comes to these energy price hikes. Small firms do not have the ability to hedge, or negotiate energy prices, so we will be encouraging Government to continue to help small businesses across all different sectors after the six months have elapsed.”


Ms McKenzie called for common sense and understanding from the energy industry, which will continue to reap massive profits: “Energy companies must play their role to support their small business customers.


“Energy providers must pass on the benefit of the freeze in full and must immediately provide updated bills and quotes to each small business customer who will be wondering today what the changes mean for them.


“We’re concerned that there is no mention of a cap on rises to standing charges, which are the other main element of energy bills. While households’ standing charges will be capped, the same can’t be said for businesses. 

“We call on energy suppliers to support their small business customers by committing to lowering standing charges as far as possible.


“We’d like to see energy companies promise not to disconnect businesses from energy supply that are currently unable to pay for their energy bills this winter and not ask for disproportionate upfront payments.


“Currently, small firms could be disconnected from energy supply if they cannot pay bills after 30 days.
“We will be writing to energy companies in this regard and encourage them to support their small business customers in this difficult period.”

SHORT-TERM FIX FOR
LONG-TERM PROBLEM

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief Policy Director, said: “We welcome the government’s quick and decisive action to provide hard-pressed businesses with a substantial short-term fix to a long-term problem.
“The package will ease worries about otherwise viable businesses shutting up shop, and smaller companies especially will benefit from the discounted rate.


“Businesses will also want to know more about the exit strategy and what happens when the six-month cap runs out. Working closely with businesses will be key to successful implementation.


“The long-run solution is to double-down on energy security and to incentivise firms to push ahead with ambitious energy efficiency programmes to lower demand.”

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News

Kwarteng gambles on rush for growth

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CHANCELLOR of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng unveiled his and Liz Truss’s economic vision for the UK on Friday morning.

The headlines are straightforward.

There will be £45bn in tax cuts by 2027; however, the largest cuts – national insurance cuts, the abolition of the cap on bonuses and the highest income tax rate- benefit only high earners.

MAIN POLICIES

Cut in the basic rate of income tax to 19% from April 2023;

National Insurance will not rise as scheduled, and the Government will reverse the current year rise as of November 6;

New Health and Social Care Levy to pay for the NHS will not be introduced;

The top rate of income tax was cut from 45% to 40%;

Cancel the rise in corporation tax which was due to increase from 19% to 25% in April 2023;

Rules around universal credit tightened by reducing benefits if people don’t fulfil job search commitments;

VAT-free shopping for overseas visitors;

End of the cap on bankers’ bonuses;

Planned increases in the duties on beer, cider, wine, and spirits cancelled;

Government to discuss setting up investment zones with 38 local areas in England.

Alongside the above, the Chancellor announced plans to remove environmental safeguards for building developments and reduce the regulatory burden on financial institutions.

KWARTENG LEAVES LABOUR AN OPEN GOAL

In an interview with Rishi Sunak during the Conservative leadership contest, Nick Robinson observed that it would be a nasty surprise for the former Chancellor when he found out who’d been in power for the last twelve years.

Kwasi Kwarteng followed Liz Truss’s preferred method of operation: he pretended they hadn’t happened.

The Chancellor comprehensively dumped on the policies pursued over the last dozen years by successive Conservative governments, for a decade of which Liz Truss has been a member.

His statement was, as one ministerial colleague said, “a game changer”, although perhaps not in the way he envisaged.

So complete was the change of economic policy that it leaves an open question about how Mr Kwarteng and his Cabinet colleagues ended up in the same political party as most of their backbench colleagues and served under the last three Conservative leaders.

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves did not miss the open goal. Even as Mr Kwarteng and Ms Truss shook their heads on the government benches, she hammered home that the Chancellor’s statement was an admission the record of Conservative governments since 2010 was one of a failure to deliver growth or a viable economic plan.

THE SUPPLY SIDE FIX

The Chancellor and Prime Minister’s rationale is that cutting taxes for the already well-off will benefit all citizens as they are incentivised to invest and act in entrepreneurial ways. In addition, reducing regulation for businesses will encourage increased commercial enterprise.

They believe the growth stimulated will make up for any loss in tax revenues as increased economic activity, encouraged by lower taxes, leads to increased government revenues.

That approach is called supply-side economics, which focuses on increasing the supply of goods and services through growth.

In every developed nation where the Government’s brand of economics has been tried, two things have happened: a cataclysmic bust has followed a short-term burst of economic activity.

In addition, wealth inequalities – and the UK is already grossly unequal – are embedded and made worse.

Low taxes on the wealthiest do not distinguish between those who generate wealth through their industry or create economic activity through business investment and those who inherit wealth or sit on capital without producing anything.

“THE RICH WILL REJOICE”

Wales’s Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans MS, responded: “Rebecca Evans, Minister for Finance and Local Government, said: “Instead of delivering meaningful, targeted support to those who need help the most, the Chancellor prioritises funding for tax cuts for the rich, unlimited bonuses for bankers, and protecting the profits of big energy companies.

“Instead of increasing funding for public services in line with inflation, we get a Chancellor blithely ignoring stretched budgets as public services find their money is not going as far as it did before.”

Plaid Regional MS Cefin Campbell said: “This Budget will see the rich rejoice as their bonuses rocket and their tax bill sliced, once again it will be the poorest and most vulnerable bearing the brunt of the disastrous cost of living crisis.”

 Plaid Cymru’s Treasury spokesperson, Ben Lake MP, added: “Tax cuts for the super-rich will do absolutely nothing to drive growth in the Welsh economy.

“I urge the UK Government to recognise that our Government in Wales must be given the fiscal tools to unlock our economic potential ourselves. That is the only way to improve the lives of people across Wales.”

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Finance, Peter Fox MS, said: “Today shows that the UK Conservative Government has a comprehensive plan to provide a sharp boost to the economy by putting cash back into people’s pockets. Labour in Wales has the power to cut taxes in Wales but chooses not to.

“Mark Drakeford needs to take a leaf out of Liz Truss’ book and take immediate action to support hard-working people and struggling businesses, stimulating the Welsh economy rather than stifling it.”

Scott Corfe, Research Director at Social Market Foundation, said: “The Chancellor is taking a very high-risk gamble with the economy.

“If his package of enormous tax cuts and ‘supply side reforms’ fails to translate into significantly higher economic growth, we risk further falls in the pound and surging gilt yields as investors lose confidence in our ability to pay our way in the world.

“That, in turn, means higher inflation, an unsustainable trajectory for the public finances and steeper interest rate rises – potentially deepening rather than alleviating the cost of living crisis.”

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