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A loss of millions

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Welsh Conservative Suzy Davies AM calls for overhaul of ministerial code, which “lacks independence and transparency”

Welsh Conservative Suzy Davies AM calls for overhaul of ministerial code, which “lacks independence and transparency”

A FORMER Welsh Government Cabinet minister has been accused by Welsh Conservatives of breaking the ministerial code when she approved a £3.4M package of support for a company, which she knew to have a “weak business plan” – and which later went into liquidation.

Following a freedom of information request, the Welsh Government confirmed that there was no record of a meeting between the First Minister and the former Minister for Economy, Edwina Hart, to discuss her decision to offer financial aid to a Swansea-based metal factory, based less than half a mile from her constituency. Mrs Hart stood down at the last election and was previously AM for Gower.

In August, it was reported that Sir Alistair Graham – who chaired the UK Committee on Standards in Public Life from 2004-7 – said that possible jobs for Mrs Hart’s constituents, as result her financial backing of Kancoat, meant she was “facing a potential conflict of interest” between her role as an assembly member and her role as minister.

Paragraph 4.4 of the ministerial code, which sets out standards for ministers’ conduct, states: “Where ministers have to take decisions on their own portfolios which might have a particular impact on their own constituencies or electoral regions, they must take particular care to avoid any possible conflict of interest.

“Where ministers are uncertain about whether a conflict arises between their ministerial and constituency/regional responsibilities they should consult the first minister, for a decision as to how the business is to be handled.”

Suzy Davies AM, a Welsh Conservative Assembly Member for South Wales West, said:

“It is clear that in this case, whether through self-interest or poor judgment, the ministerial code was broken.

“Given the close proximity of constituents to the Kancoat site, there was an obvious potential conflict of interest here, and she really ought to have sought the advice of the First Minister on this issue.

“But against the advice of her own government’s review, she rather foolhardily pressed ahead with this package of support which resulted in the loss of millions of pounds to the taxpayer.

“The decision comes off the back of a series of poor financial decisions made by the Welsh Government.

“I feel strongly that there needs to be an overhaul of the Ministerial Code, which in its current state lacks independence and transparency.

“It cannot be right that the First Minister is the sole arbitrator of these rules.”

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Care homes in west Wales to have contracts terminated

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FOLLOWING significant concerns with their financial position, two care homes in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire will have their contracts terminated next month.

Residents at Plas Y Bryn Care home in Cwmgwili and Ridgeway Care home in Llawhaden are being supported to find new homes.

Work is continuing between Carmarthenshire County Council (CCC), Hywel Dda University Health Board (HDUHB), Pembrokeshire County Council (PCC), and Care Inspectorate Wales with the companies following concerns about the management of their finances.

Collaboratively, CCC, HDUHB and PCC have been providing financial support to ensure that the care companies can meet their financial obligations and that care is not impacted.

This has included bringing regular payments forward to enable the companies to pay staff salaries.

There have been continued attempts to work with the operators to understand their financial positions, without sufficient information being presented.

As a result, the councils and the health board have had to take the difficult decision to end their contracts with the care companies. The decision has not been taken lightly and we are aware of the significant implications that this will have on people both living and working at the care homes.

A variety of options have been considered, but unfortunately due to the legal and financial circumstances that surround the care companies, including the fact that they have been issued with a court order, there are no viable solutions that the councils or health board can offer at this time.

We would like to recognise and thank the staff within the care homes for their commitment to delivering high quality care and highlight that the quality of care has at no point been a contributing factor to this difficult decision.

Jonathan Griffiths, Director of Social Services at Pembrokeshire County Council said: “We are continuing to work with the care provider to ensure residents at Ridgeway continue to receive the care and support they need.
“We have taken immediate action to support staff and residents at the home and are supporting families to find alternative, suitable accommodation.

“We are very proud of the excellent care the staff have provided and continue to provide to our residents, and greatly appreciate the very positive comments we receive from residents and their families.”

PCC, CCC and HDUHB do not believe that the care companies are able to resolve the issues and that this is likely to have a significant impact on people’s care and support.

In addition, CIW has issued an improvement notice to the care companies with a view to cancel their registration – and closure – should they fail to make the required improvements within a specified timeframe.

Ahead of contracts coming to an end, CCC, HDUHB and PCC will be working with people and their families over coming weeks to find new homes where they can receive the care and support that they require.

Wherever possible, we will do our best to ensure that people are supported to move to locations of their choosing, but are aware that this may not always be possible.

Residents are also being provided with access to advocacy services to support them through this difficult time.

Jill Paterson, Director of Primary Care, Community and Long-Term Care for Hywel Dda University Health Board: “We know that receiving this news will be distressing for people and we are sorry that no other option is available, but we would like to offer reassurance that we will do everything we can to make sure that people are well looked after and are supported to find a new home as soon as possible

“We will also be working with staff to support them to find alternative employment, should they wish to do so.”

Anyone with concerns is asked to contact:
Pembrokeshire County Council – Provider Hub, on 01437 775775 or by e-mail on providersupplyhub@pembrokeshire.gov.uk

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‘We get it, and we have listened’ – UK government u-turns on tax cut plan

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PRIME MINISTER Liz Truss and Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng have performed an extraordinary U-turn on plans to scrap the top rate of tax.

The Chancellor has made a statement this morning, reversing the proposed scrapping of the 45p rate of income tax.

Scrapping the top rate was a key part of last Friday’s mini-budget aimed at boosting growth.

The U-Turn comes after a huge backlash to the proposed tax cut for those in the UK who earn more than £150,000 a year.

Kwasi Kwarteng said: “From supporting British business to lowering the tax burden for the lowest paid, our Growth Plan sets out a new approach to build a more prosperous economy.”

“However, it is clear that the abolition of the 45p tax rate has become a distraction from our overriding mission to tackle the challenges facing our country.”

“As a result, I’m announcing we are not proceeding with the abolition of the 45p tax rate. We get it, and we have listened.”

“This will allow us to focus on delivering the major parts of our growth package.”

“First, our Energy Price Guarantee, which will support households and businesses with their energy bills.”

“Second, cutting taxes to put money back in the pockets of 30 million hard-working people and grow our economy.”

“Third, driving supply side reforms – including accelerating major infrastructure projects – to get Britain moving.”

The decision to cut tax without a plan to pay for it caused a sharp fall in the value of the pound on currency markets, which reached an all-time low against the dollar in Asian markets, and a rapid rise in costs of government borrowing.

Both are indicators of the strongly negative reaction of financial markets to the mini-budget.

Over the weekend Welsh Government requested an “urgent” meeting with UK Chancellor after his tax-cutting mini-budget threw the financial markets into turmoil.

Finance Minister Rebecca Evans is joined by Finance Ministers from Scotland and Northern Ireland in highlighting the profound impact of “the largest set of unfunded tax cuts for the rich in over 50 years” stating it is “a huge gamble on public finances and the health of our economy”

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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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