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Assurances sought on railway electrification

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Delays expected: No firm timescale given for rail electrification

Delays expected: No firm timescale given for rail electrification

FOLLOWING delays to the electrification of the Great Western Railway as far as Swansea, which was originally meant to have been completed in 2018, Jonathan Edwards has called for the Westminster Government to give a firm commitment and timescale for completing this work.

Mr Edwards’ call came after Transport Secretary Chris Grayling avoided giving a commitment at the Conservative party conference this weekend. Mr Grayling spoke about wanting new trains on the line but said it would be ‘jumping the gun’ to discuss electrification to Swansea.

The target date for electrification reaching Cardiff was originally 2017, and 2018 for Swansea.

A Network Rail report in November last year said the upgrade between Cardiff and Swansea would fall into its next five year plan, covering 2020 to 2024.

This week, the Transport Secretary said: “We are a way away from completing the link to Cardiff, which has got to be the first priority.” He added that new trains on the route will be ‘better capacity, more comfortable, modern trains before we get onto the next phase of the projects’.

Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards said new trains would not compensate for the ‘glacial pace of work and the continuous changing of deadlines’. He called on the Transport Secretary to give a firm and final commitment to when West Wales residents can expect full electrification.

Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP Jonathan Edwards said: “Another year goes by and it seems another commitment on delivering full electrification to Swansea has gone out the window. It’s time the Tories stopped moving the goalposts and put all possible resources into actually honouring its pledge.

“The timetable for electrification to Swansea has already been delayed by a potential six years. To have the Transport Secretary avoiding commitments on the later deadline is an insult.

“It’s all well and good talking about new trains, but that won’t compensate for the glacial pace of work and the continuous changing of deadlines.

“Delivering full electrification of the Great Western Mainline was one of the very few manifesto promise the Tories gave to the people of West Wales. They should now give a firm and final commitment to when we can expect full electrification.”

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Councils warned they have two years to improve local elections

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COUNCILS across Wales have been warned they have just two years to improve local democracy, after a new report has highlighted major issues with the most recent elections in May.

Time for Change: The 2022 Welsh Local Elections and the case for STV, published by campaigners ERS Cymru, has highlighted a slew of uncontested seats and disproportionate results under the current first past the post system [1]. 

It comes as local councils in Wales have the chance to change voting systems, with each council now able to vote to move to a fairer system, the single transferable vote (STV). However, councils will have to vote to move to STV by the 15th November 2024, two years from today in order for this to take effect for the next elections in 2027 [2]. 

Analysis of the 2022 Welsh local elections found that 74 seats in Wales were uncontested, meaning over 100,000 potential voters in Wales had no choice on who represents them in their local council. 

Furthermore, there are eight councils in Wales with ‘unearned majorities’ where a party holds over 50% of the seats on less than 50% of the vote, a third of all councils. 

The report also compares the Welsh local elections in 2022, with the Scottish local elections, where STV has been in place since 2007. It finds that Scottish election results are dramatically more proportional, with only two local authorities in Scotland with ‘unearned majorities’ – , just 6% of councils compared with over one third in Wales.

It also finds that uncontested seats have vastly reduced in Scotland under a fairer voting system, with just 27 uncontested seats in total in the four elections since the voting system change, compared with 61 in just the final First Past the Post election alone. 

Commenting on the report Jess Blair, Director of ERS Cymru, said:

“Our research shows a stark picture of a voting system that does not deliver for voters in Wales. Everyone should be able to go into a polling station on election day knowing their vote will count. But for over 100,000 people their elections were cancelled this May with the winners declared without a single ballot cast. For millions more there was no guarantee that their vote would matter or be reflected in the result.

“The good news is that there is an alternative. This report highlights how much of an improvement moving to STV has been in Scotland, reducing uncontested seats and making votes count so much more. 

“We have the chance to follow Scotland’s lead and for each council in Wales to vote to move to STV. Councillors must grasp the nettle and vote for this much-needed change in the next two years to really ensure a strong local democracy for Wales”. 

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Politics

CIEH joins over 60 charities calling for measures to tackle fuel poverty this winter

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THE CHARTERED INSTITUTE OF ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH (CIEH) has joined over 60 charities in their call for the UK Government to implement a suite of measures to prevent millions of households falling into fuel poverty this winter.

CIEH have signed a joint letter released last week as part of our involvement in the ‘Warm this Winter’ campaign. Warm This Winter is a new campaign demanding the government acts now to help people struggling with energy bills this winter and to ensure we all have access to affordable energy in the future.

The Government has already introduced a number of measures designed to support households with soaring energy bills, namely the Energy Price Guarantee. Originally introduced by Liz Truss, freezing the price cap on energy for two years, it was then reduced to 6 months by the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. Secondly, the Energy Bills Discount Scheme introduced by Boris Johnson, which offers £400 to households, spread over 6 months from October to March.

However, even with the Government’s support package this winter, 7 million UK households will still be in fuel poverty and forced into making impossible choices. This will rise to 11 million households – over a third of UK households – next Spring without additional targeted support.

Warm This Winter are seeking to put pressure on the Government by making the following asks:

  • Urgently expand the support available to people this winter, including confirming that benefits will be rise in line with inflation as normal, and clarify the future of financial support from April 2023
  • Rapidly embark on a national programme of insulating homes, schools, hospitals and workplaces, which could save households on average around £500 on their bills each year
  • Implement a plan for a rapid roll-out, in harmony with nature, of clean, renewable energy to move the UK beyond expensive, volatile fossil fuels and enhance UK energy security

CIEH has consistently supported calls for the Government to both increase financial support for households facing fuel poverty this winter as well as calling for the rollout of a national programme of insulation measures.

Ross Matthew, Head of Policy and Campaigns at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said: “CIEH are delighted to lend our support to the Warm This Winter campaign.

“We have been consistent in our calls for the UK Government to provide greater support to households who are being faced with the impossible choice of turning on their heating or putting food on the table.

“While current government measures may prevent a full-blown crisis this winter, we are concerned that there is no long-term plan beyond Spring. That is why we also support Warm this Winter’s calls for the rollout of a national programme of home insulation as well as greater investment in renewable sources of energy in the long term.

“We urge the UK Government to recognise the severity of the situation many households face and to take urgent action.”

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Plaid to investigate ‘very serious’ allegations against top party bosses

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HERALD EXCLUSIVE

TWO senior figures in the Party of Wales face an internal investigation following allegations of serious misconduct.

A former Plaid Cymru employee made the allegations via Twitter yesterday (Tuesday, November 1).
The Herald has screenshots of the allegations. However, we cannot detail the allegations or identify the persons they relate to for legal reasons.

We spoke with the complainant and respect their request for their identity to remain anonymous.

The former employee has now deleted their tweets and locked their Twitter account.

The tweets allege a toxic culture within Plaid Cymru, echoing the “Pestminster” scandal that engulfed the House of Commons in 2017/18.

We approached Plaid Cymru on Tuesday, November 1. We asked them to respond to the serious allegations, including one of sexual assault. We provided details of the tweets and asked for a response before publication.

A Plaid Cymru spokesperson told The Herald: “Plaid takes all allegations very seriously, and the party has processes in place to investigate them.

“At present, the allegations in question remain just that.

“We ask for everyone to respect the process the party must follow in this situation, and to guard against making any comments that may be considered to be baseless insinuations, or indeed defamatory about the situation or the individuals involved in it.”

The Herald believes the Chair and the Head of the Disciplinary Committee discussed the allegations in a meeting yesterday.

Plaid Cymru came under scrutiny earlier this year for the National Executive Committee’s attempt to rewrite its disciplinary procedure after one completed that did not lead to the result some on the NEC wanted.

As a result, Plaid Cymru said it would revisit and strengthen its disciplinary procedures to provide more protection to those making allegations of abuse.

A Plaid Cymru insider told The Herald: “These are extremely serious allegations.

“The party has covered up other incidents of this nature; however, in this case, the victim going public means that those who have covered up in the past cannot hide from this issue any longer.

“The only way for the party to restore public confidence is through a transparent investigation and, if necessary, strong disciplinary action against those concerned.
“While the investigation takes place, those concerned should not participate in the party’s activities and the party must safeguard the complainant.”

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