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Politics

Plaid look to set security agenda

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PLAID CYMRU has called for an independent audit of Welsh security resilience in the wake of a string of cyber security attacks on the public sector and the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.

Jonathan Edwards MP says that the decade of cut-backs on public spending has left our public sector at risk of cyber-attacks and that our security services’ ability to prevent terrorist atrocities like attacks in London and Manchester should be independently audited, rather than investigated internally.

It is suggested by terrorism experts that there are 500 potential terrorist plots against the UK thought to be current at any one time with 3000 people under investigation by the security services. There are a further 20,000 people identified as having sympathies with so-called Islamic State.

Full surveillance on one person requires 24 officers in two 12 hour shifts. If all 3000 people under investigation were subject to full surveillance, it would require 72,000 officers which is an impossible task. An independent audit would look at what resources would be needed in order to keep Wales safe.

Jonathan Edwards said: “Keeping Wales safe and secure must be our top priority as politicians and making sure our country is adequately resourced to be able to resist the modern-day threats we now face is crucial.

“How we ensure our country and its people are safe is a matter of constant evolution and modernisation. The threats we face today are of a different nature to the threats we faced three years ago, let alone a decade ago. There are clear questions to be asked about how well-equipped our security services are in dealing with the threat of terrorism and I question whether the best way to answer those questions is for the security services to investigate themselves. We must carry out an independent audit of how well-equipped, well-prepared and how resilient our country is.

“Experts suggest that the number of people across the British State who are under investigation at any one time is around 3000 and on top of that there are some 20,000 people who sympathise with organisations such as so-called Islamic State. To keep just one person under full surveillance requires 24 officers in two 12-hour shifts. It is clearly not feasible to expect that every potential person of interest to be under surveillance.

“What we cannot do is carry on as we are – hoping that we’ll cope when we are attacked again. An independent audit is a necessary step in determining what measures need to be put in place to keep Wales safe and secure.”

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Health

Mark Drakeford in Milford Haven as pub tills ring for first weekend since December

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As part of the easing of lockdown restrictions, hospitality business owners let out a sigh of relief this week after a long winter as it was announced by Mark Drakeford that the sector could open – partially.

On Monday, many of us went for a pint as pubs, cafes, and restaurants can now serve customers outdoors.

First Minister Mark Drakeford visited Milford Haven on Sunday (May 2) in last minute campaigning before the election on Thursday.

It was the first weekend of trade since pubs were forced to shut before Christmas.

Indoor hospitality is still set to return on May 17 he confirmed.

Announcing the changes officially for the first time last week, First Minister said: “The public health context in Wales remains favourable, with cases falling and our vaccination programme continues to go from strength to strength.

“Because meeting outdoors continues to be lower risk than meeting indoors, we are able to bring forward changes to allow any six people to meet outdoors.

“This will provide more opportunities for people, especially young people, to meet outdoors with their friends.

“This will undoubtedly have a significant positive impact on people’s wellbeing. I’m also pleased to confirm outdoor hospitality will be allowed to reopen from Monday 26 April.

“These changes will help the hospitality sector recover after a difficult twelve months. It is thanks to the continuing efforts of people across Wales we are able to introduce this change. Together, we will continue to keep Wales safe.”

Reaction to the changes

Welcoming the announcement Jane Dodds, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said it was “great news”.

She said: “As a nation we must all work together to ensure the vaccination programme continues and that the lockdowns and closures we’ve been through never need to return.”

Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies, said: “Labour had ample opportunity to bring forward a roadmap out of lockdown, but refused to do so.

“Thanks to the UK’s great vaccination story much more detail could have been announced prior to the election period… but Labour chose to play politics instead of adopting the Welsh Conservative roadmap.”

Mark Reckless, from the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party, said: “This is getting to the point of testing election rules to breaking point.

“The Labour leader is using his platform as first minister to make political announcements during an election campaign.”

So what do businesses have to do by law?

Welsh Government guidance states: “As an employer or business operator, you have a legal responsibility to protect employees and visitors; and anyone else on the premises, from risks to their health and safety. You also need to assess the risks from COVID-19 and take reasonable measures to minimise exposure to the virus.

“Risk assessments are used to identify and address these risks or minimise them. When undertaking your specific COVID-19 risk assessment you must comply with the Coronavirus Regulations and have regard to the statutory guidance and use this document to inform your decisions and control measures, recognising you cannot eliminate all risks.

“Risk assessments must be reviewed and updated regularly, whenever circumstances change including whenever the coronavirus alert levels change in Wales.

“A risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but rather about identifying sensible measures to control risks. Your risk assessment will help you decide whether you have done everything you reasonably need to. There are interactive tools available to support you from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at Managing risks and risk assessments at work.

“These risk assessments will be the starting point for implementing the reasonable measures that are required to be taken to minimise exposure to the coronavirus on premises open to the public and in workplaces.

“This involves considering issues such as: whether ventilation is adequate; hygiene factors including hand washing and access to hand washing facilities; ensuring physical distancing is taking place and if 2m is achievable; the extent to which the use of screens, PPE and face coverings can mitigate risks, especially where the 2m distance is not achievable.”

Made possible by the vaccine?

As of April 29th, Public Health Wales said a total of 1,816,451 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have now been given in Wales.

The agency said 732,643 second doses have also been administered.

Wales is currently in phase two of its vaccination programme, meaning the NHS is now inviting everyone aged 40 to 49 to be vaccinated, after successfully offering the vaccine to everyone in the JCVI priority groups 1-9.

It comes as an estimated six in 10 adults (61 per cent) in private households would have tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies in the week to April 11th, the ONS said on April 28th.

This is up from around one in two adults, or 48.2 per cent, two weeks earlier.

On April 7th, Wales became the first country in Britain to administer the Moderna vaccine.

It was also announced on April 14th that all over 16s who live with an adult with a weakened immune system are to be prioritised for Covid-19 jabs, following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Adults who are immunosuppressed have a weaker immune system to fight infections naturally and are more likely to have poorer outcomes after contracting coronavirus.

This includes those with blood cancer, HIV or those who are having immunosuppressive treatment.

What about hospitality that can’t operate outdoors?

The First Minister has announced that an extra £200m is available to help businesses which are not yet able to open.

This will help top up the non-domestic rates grants. Mr Drakeford said it means hospitality, tourism, leisure and non-essential retail businesses, which must remain closed will be eligible for a third payment of between £4,000 and £5,000 to help them meet ongoing operating costs while they cannot trade.

“This is in top of the announcement earlier this week extending the business rates holiday for retail, leisure and hospitality businesses for the whole of the next financial year,” Mr Drakeford added.

“We have made well in excess of £2bn available to businesses over the course of the last year to help them through the pandemic, which is over and above the support available from the UK Government’s schemes.

“This is the most generous business support scheme available in the UK. I’m very pleased we’ve been able to safeguard more than 160,000 jobs in these most difficult of times.”

Controlling the crowds

Hospitality catering to households who have effectively been locked down all spring will be a welcome sight to many after large crowds recently descended upon Cardiff Bay.

Police had been given special powers after crowds gathered in Cardiff Bay on April 2nd, despite coronavirus restrictions still being in place.

Cardiff council said a significant amount of rubbish had been left by “large groups of people intent on breaking Covid-19 restrictions”.

South Wales Police has put a dispersal order in place, giving officers the power to exclude people from the area.

Covid rules at that time stated six people from two different households could meet outdoors. It followed similar scenes outside the Senedd earlier that week, when three police officers were injured.

Supt Marc Attwell said: “As restrictions have eased, the need for personal responsibility is critical and it is extremely disappointing that a small minority are willing to put themselves, and others, in harm’s way.

“Cardiff Bay in particular has attracted large crowds over the past few days.

“The behaviour seen over the past three days has placed additional pressure on not only the police but the local authority as well, and meant that officers have been diverted from other parts of the force.”

“We are asking people in groups of six or more who are thinking of attending or organising a gathering at the Senedd over this bank holiday weekend not to do so.”

Officers arrested a 20-year-old man for a public order offence, a 22-year-old woman was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and for possession of a Class A substance and a 35-year-old-man was also arrested for possession of a Class A substance.

The council said the trail of litter left a “huge task” for clean-up staff as “bins were left unused and the ground was littered with rubbish”.

“Despite the preventative measures put in place by the council, in partnership with South Wales Police, the Welsh government’s coronavirus regulations were again broken by a significant number of people illegally gathering in Cardiff Bay,” the authority said.

“The rules are clear, six people, from two households are allowed to meet outdoors, maintaining two metre social distancing.

“Breaking these rules significantly increases the chances of Covid-19 cases rising in the city.”

Now, with places for people to socialise in an organised manner, scenes like this should hopefully be avoided as people safely enjoy themselves.

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Politics

Manifesto Destiny #2: The Conservatives

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THE WELSH Conservatives have delayed their Manifesto’s launch for May 6’s elections to the Welsh Parliament.

After the Duke of Edinburgh’s death, the Conservatives delayed their Manifesto’s launch for a week.

The UK Government announced eight days of national mourning leading up to and including the day of Prince Philip’s funeral on Saturday, April 17.

The Manifesto will launch on Wednesday, April 21, in North Wales. In this area, the Conservatives hope to make significant gains at Labour’s expense.

Although political campaigning continued between Tuesday, April 13 and Friday, April 16, the Conservatives’ decision gives the Party the best chance to trail its Manifesto in the period after Saturday the 17th.

It will also give Labour and Plaid Cymru less time to take pot-shots at it before polling day.

WHAT’S IN IT SO FAR?

Before the announcement of the Manifesto’s delay, the Conservatives gave a good idea of some of the policies it is likely to contain.

An underlying thread of the Manifesto, and the Conservative campaign, will be the length of time Labour has been in power in Wales. Either on its own, in combination with others, or propped up by rag-tag and bobtail, Labour has held power in Cardiff Bay for twenty-two years.

Both the Conservatives and Plaid have homed in on Labour’s ever-presence in government. To date, both principal opposition parties suggest Labour is tired and warming over old pledges without any sense of direction.

On policy, the Conservatives’ most significant risk is allowing Labour and Plaid to box them in on the charge of ‘for Wales, see England’. Labour needs to tread carefully on that point. One of the criticisms both Plaid and the Conservatives have made is that the Party has cut and pasted Westminster legislation into its own proposals for the much-talked-about and constantly delayed Agriculture Bill. Agriculture is an area of policy on which both Plaid and the Conservatives call for bespoke Welsh legislation.

On Tuesday (April 13), the Conservatives placed even more clear blue water between their proposals for Wales and those pursued by the Westminster government.

A PLAN FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

The Conservatives’ plan for Wales’ young people includes a promise to deliver 150,000 apprenticeships by 2026 and scrapping the Welsh Baccalaureate. Those are long-term ambitions flagged previously; however, the Conservative proposals contain radical changes to higher education and access to training, education and employment.

Those changes include:

  • Helping young people access education, training and employment with free bus travel and discounted rail travel for 16-24-year-olds
  • Refunding tuition fees for those who choose to work for at least five years as doctors or nurses in the Welsh NHS, or as teachers in Welsh Schools after their studies; and
  • Cutting tuition fees in half for Welsh students studying STEM and modern foreign language subjects at Welsh universities in recognition of their value to the Welsh economy

Looking at the lessons learned throughout the pandemic, the Conservatives also plan to ensure all of Wales’ schools, colleges and universities have mental health services for learners to access.

OLDER PEOPLE

At the other end of the age spectrum, Welsh Conservatives will introduce an Older People’s Bill in the next Senedd. That proposal includes a legal requirement for public sector bodies to consult with older people when making decisions that affect their lives.

The Party’s pledges of support for older people in Wales include:

  • Maintaining free prescriptions.
  • Keeping Free bus travel.
  • Promote Free entry to CADW sites for the over 75s.
  • Pilot free rail travel for over 75s.
  • Run annual national awareness campaigns against elder abuse, age discrimination and scams and swindles; and
  • Ensuring older people can access Welsh Government-funded work programmes.

THE WELSH NHS

On the Welsh NHS, the Conservatives announced plans to put into law fundamental guarantees through an NHS Covenant.  

The Covenant would ensure that Welsh NHS staff and volunteers are treated with fairness and respect by future Welsh Governments.

The Conservatives say the NHS Covenant would provide guaranteed support in several ways, including:

  • Increased investment in the NHS, with at least an extra 2% uplift in the NHS budget each year
  • Staff receive the pay as recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body
  • Guaranteeing the NHS remains in public hands and is free at the point of use
  • Improved staff well-being with more flexible working hours, increased holiday, greater access to childcare and mental health provision
  • Stamping out abuse of NHS staff

The NHS Covenant Bill would also put an NHS Reservists programme in place to enable public and former healthcare professionals to volunteer at their local NHS team during periods of high demand.

The NHS Reservists would operate on a part-time basis and create a structured environment for people to give back to the NHS, enabling the NHS to call up reservist skills when needed, including non-clinical roles such as drivers, electricians and people to be there to ensure no-one faces the end of their life alone.

COUNCIL TAX

The Conservatives – like Plaid Cymru – have promised to freeze Council Tax for the first two years of the next Senedd term. However, and like Plaid Cymru, the promise of tying Council funding to the headline rate of inflation ignores the fact that costs to Council increase at a compounding rate far beyond the Consumer Price Index.

Freezing Council Tax – unless the whole shortfall is made up by the Welsh Government (unlikely given the NHS spending pledge) – will mean cuts in Council services and a reduction in local authorities’ ability to bankroll the Conservatives’ other pledges.

THE CLEAREST OF BLUE WATER

The one element of any Conservative Manifesto upon which the clearest blue water will be evident relates to the Senedd, its powers, its make-up, and the question of further or total Welsh autonomy. In a speech delivered on April 7, the Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies could not have been clearer. He pledged, ‘no more powers, no more politicians, no more taxes, no more constitutional chaos’.

He continued: ‘Independence would put our recovery after coronavirus at risk.

‘A strong economic recovery is dependent on being part of one strong United Kingdom.

‘And home rule is just another excuse to mask Labour’s failings.

‘A referendum would plunge Wales into chaos at a time when we need to focus on recovery.

‘We already have the tools to change course and build a better Wales.

‘After the devastation of covid to our economy and people’s livelihoods we can’t afford to focus on the constitution’.

That’s not only turning his Party’s back on any change to the current constitutional arrangements; it hits at Labour’s windy wish to renegotiate Wales’ status within the UK and a rejection of a critical element of Plaid’s appeal to voters. As a proposition, it’s carefully calibrated to suggest that Cardiff Bay’s parties’ priorities don’t match voters’ needs. It’s an either/or line: concentrate on rebooting the Welsh economy or focus on Wales’ and the UK’s constitutional settlement.

The water couldn’t be clearer or bluer. The open question is how many voters are prepared to take the plunge and whether Labour – on the hottest political issue in Wales – will end up stranded on a shrinking and increasingly untenable middle ground between Plaid and the Conservatives.

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Politics

Dowson dissents on new CEO

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A PEMBROKESHIRE county councillor has come forward to oppose the appointment of the authority’s new Chief Executive despite not voting against it when an Extraordinary Meeting of the Council considered.

Controversial Pembroke Dock Central county councillor Paul Dowson issued a press release in which he said that the new CEO had ‘no track record’ in the role.
Last Wednesday (March 31) Pembrokeshire County Council overwhelmingly voted in favour of Major-General Will Bramble’s appointment.

Councillors voted 48 votes for with two abstentions and one against.

Milford Central councillor Stephen Joseph’s was the sole vote against the appointment.

Cllr Joseph is a noted booster of former CEO Ian Westley, whose departure with a £95,000 pay-off caused controversy.

An Audit Wales investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr Westley’s pay-off is due to report within a few weeks.

Major-General Bramble is currently the Senior British Officer in Italy and Deputy Commander of the NATO Corps in Italy.

His track record was not enough to impress Cllr Dowson, however.

Cllr Dowson said:  “He has no experience in a local authority having spent his career entirely in the military.

“I felt that the massive responsibility that comes with this role and the salary level requires more than just one candidate at final stages.

“Cllrs Josh Beynon and Di Clements both stated, ‘give him a chance”.

“I’m afraid at this level you don’t give someone a chance,especially one with no track record in the job.

“He was a very good candidate but I’m not prepared to make a decision on an option already chosen by the senior staff committee and presented to the full council for approval.

“The candidate was strong but the post should have been readvertised and he should have been put forward for the final round when others were competing for the job too.”

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