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Halfway to Paradise

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Jonathan Edwards: Question ignored

PARLIAMENT had its first opportunity to discuss the unsurprising revelation that the seriously wealth retain their serious wealth by means of aggressive tax avoidance schemes on Monday (Nov 6).

With the Chancellor of the Exchequer engaged elsewhere, questions were fielded by Financial Secretary to the Treasury and MP for Mid Devon, Mel Stride.

It appeared that Mr Stride was unprepared to admit that anything was at all untoward with tax avoidance schemes that only the rich and shameless can afford.

Adopting a startling line – prefigured by briefings to the right wing national media – Mr Stride averred that there was no ethical difference between a retail investment available to all UK residents, namely the ISA, and Apple sending out a questionnaire to British Crown Dependences asking them whether or not they would be so kind as to allow Apple to use a brass plate in one of them to ensure it did not have to pay that pesky tax on hundreds of billions in profits.

Never mind brass plate: Mr Stride’s stance had the appearance of brass neck.

In fact, he made great play of the fact that Labour – last in government seven years ago – had done nothing to close the tax loopholes the party now complained of during thirteen years in power. And he was helped in repeatedly avoiding – or perhaps evading – the main issue by being given the opportunity to underline that point by a number of tame questions posed by Conservative backbench stooges.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, presented with the opportunity to make a decent and succinct point on the subject attempted to ask questions of Mel Stride, specifically with regard to investments made by the Duchy of Lancaster – whose current chancellor is Conservative MP Patrick Loughlin – on the Queen’s behalf in offshore tax vehicles.

He may as well have tried nailing jelly to the wall.

David Lammy invited the minister to explain the legitimate reasons for funnelling money offshore to avoid tax, when two-thirds of UK taxpayers are subject to PAYE and have no choice in the matter.

Mr Stride’s response was as remarkable for ducking the question as it was for its content.

“It may be that I want a trust for my children and I do not want it to be known publicly exactly how that trust will operate, for reasons of confidentiality,” Mr Stride suggested, indicating that all was preventing the average worker from availing themselves of the opportunity was a lack of ingenuity and the odd £10m knocking around to make such a vehicle worthwhile.

Jonathan Edwards’ question and its answer deserve full repetition to underline the extent to which the Financial Secretary to the Treasury was prepared to be candid.

Jonathan Edwards asked: “After nearly a decade of austerity, and with living standards facing their biggest squeeze in nearly a century, the public will, quite rightly, be outraged by the most recent revelations. The Treasury cannot run with both the foxes and the hounds on this, so will it back either the ordinary working people or the super-rich? Which will it be?”

So, the question is whether the government back the wealthy over the poor and acknowledge the outrage of those with no choice but to hand over their money to the Treasury.

Mr Stride’s response suggests he heard an entirely different question.

“The hon. Member talks about our having to live within our means, and it is, of course, right that we do that. He talks about the amount of money we need to bring in. What has been most unhelpful is that the previous Labour Government were so ineffective at bringing in tax, the tax gap became so high they cost our country over £40b. If they had had the same average level of tax gap in their last seven years in office as we have had in our seven years, we would be about £45 billion better off.”

An answer to the question actually posed was absent.

It was that sort of performance. Brazen, shameless, partisan, and deliberately obstructive.

Mr Stride will go far on that sort of form.

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More trouble for Vaughan Gething in Labour leadership race

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PRESSURE continues to build on Labour leadership contender Vaughan Gething as more revelations emerge about his campaign’s funding.

As The Herald reported on Friday, Mr Gething’s campaign got £200,000 of funding from a company linked to the Withyhedge landfill site.

In addition, Mr Gething received £3,000 in a non-cash donation from Cardiff-based Tramshed Tech.

While the £200,000 donation has raised eyebrows, the timing of the £3,000 donation from Tramshed Tech has done the same.

Mr Gething, Mark Drakeford’s Economy Minister, announced Welsh Government funding for Tramshed Tech to host their Soft Landing Programme.

No wrongdoing by either Tramshed Tech or Mr Gething is suggested. However, a cynic might regard the donation as an example of how the Welsh Government’s plans to create a circular economy will work in practice.

Spending limit is £44k

The unusual feature of Mr Gething’s funding is just how much there is.

Each candidate’s leadership campaign has a spending limit of £44,000. That sum is based on the number of Labour members in Wales multiplied by £2.50.

Mr Gething’s leadership campaign has received over £290,000 in donations.

The £44,000 cap covers leafleting and campaign costs, including social media advertisements.

Unprecedented donations

Mr Gething’s well-funded campaign will not break the rules provided his campaign’s expenditure remains at £44,000 or less. The question arises about the purposes for which all the other money will be put.

The £200,000 from the Dauson group of companies has caused anger among Mr Gething’s Senedd colleagues.

The Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters MS, commented on Twitter: “I’m sorry, but £200k on an internal election in a cost of living crisis is completely unjustifiable.

“I don’t want this to become a negative campaign, but I am genuinely shocked and angry by this. It’s wrong.”

Mr Waters supports Mr Gething’s rival, Jeremy Miles – along with well over half of Labour MSs.

Mr Gething’s lack of support among those who work with him closest is striking.

Equally striking is the number of unions who have hustled in behind the Penarth MSs campaign.

While Labour has around 20,000 actual party members, the Trade Union bloc vote controls 100,000 possible votes. The largest unions have not bothered balloting their members before coming out to support Mr Gething.

Where hustings took place, the Unite union seemed likely to back Jeremy Miles. However, an intervention from that union’s “regional secretary” fortuitously unearthed a rule that meant Mr Miles could not get the union’s backing after Mr Gething – equally fortuitously – joined Unite shortly before Mark Drakeford announced his retirement.

Speaking to Wales Online’s Will Hayward, the Director of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre, Professor Richard Wyn Jones, said: “The sum involved is eye-wateringly large.
“There’s simply no precedent for it in the context of Welsh devolved politics.
“Indeed, I can’t think of a Welsh politicians who’s been able to access such large sums since the days of David Lloyd George – which isn’t a comparison that I can imagine anyone being comfortable with.”

Writing for Nation Cymru, the doyen of Welsh political journalists -Martin Shipton – reported a Labour councillor as saying: “This is so bad that in my view Vaughan Gething is not fit to be a Member of the Senedd, let alone First Minister. The only honourable thing for him to do is to withdraw from the contest, but he won’t do that.

“If he wins the election, I will not be able to accept him as the leader of Welsh Labour, and I think many others in the party may take the same view.”

For comparison, when Mark Drakeford defeated Vaughan Gething in the race to replace former First Minister Carwyn Jones, he got £25,000 in campaign donations. Jeremy Miles’s declared level of donations is £32,000.

As bad as the current situation looks, the final level of each candidate’s donations is yet to be declared – and things could get far more embarrassing for Mr Gething and the Labour Party before they get better.

The worst-case scenario is that the result of a tainted campaign overshadows the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay and places a politically damaged First Minister in place during a General Election year.

The consequences of a negatively perceived Labour leader in Wales cannot be underestimated during a UK election.

The Conservatives are knocking lumps off the Labour Government on the NHS, transport, and rural policy.

Mr Gething’s fundraising efforts could give the Conservatives another target and Plaid Cymru a pretext for dumping the Cooperation Agreement.

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Alternative Newgale coastal defence scheme submitted

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ALTERNATIVE plans to protect Newgale’s coast have been submitted to national park planners, which the applicants say will cost far less than a proposed realignment of the road.

Newgale was hit hard by flooding following storms in early 2014 storms, and later by Storm Dennis in 2020.

In 2014 it even saw a visit by the-then Prime Minister David Cameron, as part of a tour of the UK to “learn lessons” following storms and flooding that year.

The main A487 road was closed for about 14 days after waves breached pebble defences that year, and a Richards Bros bus was stranded in floodwater after it was hit by a high wave, leading to the rescue of around 10 passengers.

In 2018, Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet backed a recommendation, long-term, for an inland highway link for the A487.

An alternative approach, the Newgale Beach Shingle Bank Realignment Scheme (NSBRS) scheme, by Stand Up for Newgale (STUN), proposes a section of the shingle bank at Newgale be realigned 10-12 metres to the seaward leaving an over wash barrier between it and the A487 to capture any pebbles and sea water.

“The proposal would not only protect the road from the over wash of pebbles, but also, and critically, it would protect the road and commercial outlets alongside the road from any landward movement of the shingle bank for 80-100 years,” a supporting statement says.

It adds: “It is presented as a vastly cheaper alternative option than a replacement road.”

The statement says the “costly and destructive” replacement road, supported by the county council, would “effectively split the village of Newgale in half, force the closure of several thriving Newgale businesses and cause considerable environmental damage”.

The applicants dispute the “doomsday” modelling which led to the proposals for a new road inland across nearby Brandy Brook valley, and say their scheme would be considerably cheaper, at an estimated cost of some £150,000 as opposed to the £20m they say the new road would cost, adding that consultation costs alone have cost some £2m.

Based on the last figure STUN says, a £13,000 cost in remedying the 2014 shingle bank failure means that PCC could have used that £2m – based on it being a one-in-25-year event, could protect Newgale for the next 3,846 years.

The supporting statement adds: “It is the considered opinion of our independent expert [David Keeling] that moving the shingle bank by 10-12 metres seaward will delay any landward movement by 80-100 years with no more maintenance being required than currently carried out by PCC following the occasional storm event.”

It concludes: “The proposal to move the shingle bank seaward ‘buys’ time in which real time monitoring of sea levels over the ensuing decades can inform whether there will indeed be a need for a new road at Newgale in the future or not.”

The application is currently in the process of being validated by national park planners at a later date.

At the standards committee meeting, of February 19, Solva County Councillor – and local businessman – Cllr Mark Carter failed to secure dispensation to be able to speak, but not vote on matters connected with long-term plans for a Newgale road diversion scheme.

Cllr Carter has previously spoken as a local businessman and resident rather than as a county councillor.

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Pembrokeshire couple win fight to stay in their home of 38 years

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A CALL to allow a couple to keep living at a south Pembrokeshire dwelling, put in potential jeopardy as they no longer meet an agricultural employment criteria, has been backed by county planners.

John Williams of Woodside, Martletwy, and his wife Catherine have lived at the property since December 1986, the dwelling granted outline planning permission in April 1985.

This was subject to an agricultural occupancy condition, in association with nearby Baglan Farm, which was previously owned and managed by Mr Williams’ parents, now both deceased.

The farmland has been owned by John Williams since 1985.

Agent Acorus Rural Property Services Ltd, in a supporting statement accompanying the application, says a complication to the agricultural occupancy condition “the occupation of the dwelling shall be limited to a person solely or mainly employed, or last employed in the locality in agriculture or in forestry” is Mr Williams having changed employment many years ago.

The application, for a certificate of lawfulness, entailing proof of occupancy over a prolonged period, sought to overcome this condition breach, with Mrs Williams not employed in agriculture either.

“The application is submitted on the basis that the dwelling at the above property has been occupied by Mr J Williams and his wife in breach of the occupancy condition for over 10 years.”

It says Mr Williams was a farm worker locally from 1978-1990, later becoming involved in construction work and farm machinery repairs before working for a local coachworks.

There is a small campsite on the farmland which is registered with the Caravan & Motorhome Club which occupies a field, managed by John and Catherine Williams, having been established around 40 years ago by Mr Williams’ parents.

The application finishes: “As a consequence of John and Catherine Williams’ employment, Woodside has been occupied in breach of the agricultural occupancy condition for over 10 years.”

Planners approved the certificate of lawfulness being granted, stated: “Based on the evidence available it is considered, on the balance of probability, and the absence of any evidence available to the contrary, that the dwelling has been occupied in breach of the agricultural occupancy condition for a continuous period in excess of 10 years and the accrued lawful use right has not been lost.

“It is therefore concluded that the certificate should be granted.”

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