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No boost from Budget for Wales

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FINANCE SECRETARY Mark Drakeford has responded to the UK government’s Autumn Budget saying it provides no significant boost for hard-pressed public services.

The Autumn Budget includes approximately £1b of additional capital funding for Wales between 2017-18 and 2020-21 – but more than half of this must be repaid to the UK Treasury.

The UK Budget also includes additional revenue funding of £215m for the period 2017-18 to 2019-20.

Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said: “While these small increases in the resources available to Wales are to be welcomed as they will help support our priorities, this additional funding will do little to ease the pressures on frontline public services, which have been struggling to cope as a result of the successive cuts to our budget we have experienced since 2010-11.

“Even with this additional funding, the Welsh Government’s budget will be 5% lower in real terms in 2019-20 than it was in 2010-11.

“As a result of the measures the Chancellor announced today the funding Wales receives from the block grant will increase. But more than half of this increase is in the form of funding which must be paid back to the UK Treasury. £650m of the additional capital funding is in the form of financial transactions – this is a form of capital funding which must be repaid to the Treasury and there are tight restrictions on what it can be spent on.”

The Finance Secretary said the budget was also a missed opportunity to provide additional investment in infrastructure to support the economy during this period of uncertainty.

Professor Drakeford said: “The Office for Budget Responsibility has confirmed the UK economy has slowed markedly and its growth forecasts have again been revised downwards. In my recent letter to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I urged the UK government to listen to the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to take advantage of low interest rates and invest in economic infrastructure.

“This is why we called on the UK government to commit to important infrastructure projects in Wales, including the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. Once again the UK government has failed Wales by failing to invest in key projects.”

He added that the UK Budget gave little detail regarding additional funding about UK government plans to cut the public sector pay cap and give public sector workers a much-needed pay rise.

“The Welsh Government, standing with our hard working public sector workers and trade unions, has repeatedly called on the UK government to lift the public sector pay cap and provide additional funding to give workers across the UK the pay rise they deserve. I was clear this must be fully funded.

“Today’s Budget was a missed opportunity to do this for all public sector workers. For NHS staff who are waiting the outcome of the independent pay review body, I expect the Chancellor to honour his commitment to fund any pay recommendations in full and to provide a full Barnett consequential.”

The Cabinet Secretary also said there must now be discussions between the Welsh and UK governments about the UK government’s intention to explore a tax on plastics – the Welsh Government is currently investigating a disposable plastic tax as one of four new tax ideas.

“I am pleased the UK government is taking our lead in considering how to use taxation to change behaviour in areas such as disposable plastic.

“I announced a tax on disposable plastic as part of the shortlist of proposed taxes in October, I expect to discuss this in detail with the UK government as part of its evidence gathering.”

BUDGET A MISSED OPPORTUNITY

Welsh Lib Dem Leader Jane Dodds commented: “This budget presents a missed opportunity for Wales. The Welsh Liberal Democrats have presented an ambitious vision for Wales, it is disappointing that the Chancellor lacks this ambition.

“Instead of investing in making Wales a world leader in Tidal Energy by giving the green light to the Swansea Tidal Lagoon or giving South Wales the transport investment it needs the Chancellor decided to throw £3b into a Brexit black hole. It’s clear only the Welsh Liberal Democrats have the ambition and ideas needed to ensure opportunity for Wales.

“As one of the most deprived regions of the UK and even the EU, Wales has suffered more than most from austerity. With the Chancellor failing to take meaningful action on Universal Credit and the public sector pay cap and growth set to be much slower than expected, this suffering will only continue.

“The Chancellor needed to immediately end the roll out of Universal Credit to prevent rising child poverty and homelessness and end the public sector pay cap to end the scandal of public sector workers relying on food banks to survive. It is bitterly disappointing the Chancellor has failed on both counts.

“This budget is yet another example of the crippling damage Brexit is already doing to the Welsh Economy. Instead of investing in public services or vital infrastructure projects, the Chancellor is spending £3b preparing for a disastrous no deal Brexit his party foolishly refuse to rule out. The Welsh people deserve to have the final say on the Brexit deal and a chance to choose an exit from Brexit.”

WALES ‘LEFT OUT IN THE COLD’

Plaid Cymru’s Treasury spokesperson and Carmarthenshire Member of Parliament, Jonathan Edwards, said that the British Government once again delivered a budget for the south-east of England whilst Wales is ‘left out in the cold’.

Mr Edwards said the only we can build a better Wales is to demand the tools to do it ourselves.

Speaking after the Budget statement Jonathan Edwards MP said: “In prolonging austerity well into the next decade and sticking to the most economically damaging form of Brexit, the squeeze on living standards will only get worse.

“There was nothing in the budget to drive up wages, and nothing to push down the cost of living.

“For the second budget in a row, economic growth, business investment and productivity have all been downgraded. The result of the Chancellor’s stubborn insistence on sticking to his failed plan is ultimately felt in people’s pockets through lower wages.

“Once again the British Government has delivered a City-centric budget, deliberately overheating the south east of England while Wales is left out in the cold. Our roads and railways are neglected whilst Welsh taxpayers’ money is pumped into London.

“The only way we can build a better Wales, drive up wages and spread prosperity is to demand the tools so we can get on with the job of doing it ourselves.”

News

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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News

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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News

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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