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Politics

Draft Welsh Budget probed

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Finance Chair Simon Thomas: Committees hold WG to account

COMMITTEES of the National Assembly for Wales have reported on the Welsh Government’s draft budget 2018-19. The Finance Committee has published its findings, alongside reports from six other Assembly Committees.

Concerns have been raised about the progress of transformation of NHS Services by two Assembly Committees.

The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee noted that significant change is needed to transform NHS services and improve outcomes, but it is not clear that the Welsh Government budget is targeted to achieve this. The Committee also highlighted that extra funding is sustaining the current position rather than driving improvements, whilst the Finance Committee agreed there is limited evidence of improvement in financial planning in local health boards.

The Health Committee warned that escalating social care costs coupled with rising demand require urgent attention and a whole-system approach to health and social care. The Finance Committee also recognised that an increase in funding for the Health Service results in a cut in other areas, most notably local government, bodies often responsible for the majority of social care provision.

The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee recommend that the Welsh Government explains how outcomes will be monitored to ensure that the removal of ring-fenced budgets does not lead to vulnerable people falling between gaps in services.

The Finance Committee identified:

  • That despite a recommendation from last year’s budget scrutiny, there has been only limited progress in linking the budget to the goals and ways of working laid out in the Well-being of Future Generations Act
  • Future draft budgets should also demonstrate how the Government’s allocation of funds will meet the priorities outlined in its Programme for Government and national strategy, Prosperity for All

The Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee also raised concerns about the Well-Being of Future Generations Act, warning that the Welsh Government is yet to demonstrate the transformative change promised in the legislation and expressing disappointment at the lack of progress in embedding it in policy. The Committee also warned about the impact of funding reductions on Natural Resources Wales, including a £10m reduction in staff costs.

Concerns have been raised by the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee in their report that the £1b dispute with the UK Government over the rail franchise remains unresolved in this budget. The Committee noted that this money could be used to make a real difference to services that could be provided to rail passengers in Wales.

The Children, Young People and Education Committee has concerns about a lack of transparency in relation to the funding available for schools in Wales, particularly the confusion surrounding the amount of additional funding being provided compared to last year. The Committee calls on the Welsh Government to work closely with local government to ensure that protection for school budgets translates from budget calculations to the chalkface.

The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee raised concerns that scale of the resources needed to deliver the Cymraeg 2050 strategy, which aims for a million Welsh speakers by 2050, has yet to be fully considered. The Committee would like to see greater clarity over the resources that will be needed over the medium and longer term.

Simon Thomas AM, Chair of the Finance Committee, said: “Scrutinising this budget has been a change for all the Committees in the Assembly – the Finance Committee has developed its role into holding the Government to account on its high level and strategic priorities, whilst examining the Government’s intentions with regards to raising revenue and borrowing.

“However, it is good to see that some of the issues coming from the policy committees are resonating with our findings; concerns have been raised around the continued prioritisation of health, often at the expense of local government.

“Additionally, we are still struggling to see the impact of the Future Generations Act, which was raised by the Members of Finance Committee and the Environment Committee.”

News

Conservatives hold on to Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire seat

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THE CONSERVATIVES have held on to their Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire seat despite Labour closing the gap.

Sam Kurtz will take over the seat from the outgoing Angela Burns who held a majority of 3,400 at the last election.

This time, the gap was just 936 to Labour’s Hassan Riaz who picked up 10,304 votes.

Plaid Cymru’s Cefin Campbell picked up 6,615 votes.

The turnout in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire was slightly up to 52.12% from 51.2% in 2016.

However, with a larger electorate thanks to votes for 16/17-year-olds, the number of votes cast went up by almost 3,000.

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News

Polling station changes in Pembrokeshire

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POLLING STATIONS in Pembrokeshire are open today (May 6) but a small number may have changed from the last time you voted.

In Neyland, the polling station will be at the new Community Hub building on John Street.

St Katherine’s Church Hall will be the new host for the station in Milford Haven, having previously been held at the Murray Suite in the town hall.

A polling station will be placed at the leisure centre in Haverfordwest while one at Trecwn has been moved to the Gate, Scleddau.

Voters in the county will be electing for the Preseli Pembrokeshire and the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire constituencies.

People will also be able to select five MSs to represent the Mid and West Wales Region.

The candidate with the most votes will win the constituency but the ballot for the region will be decided by a different process.

People will be elected according to their share of the vote, using a mathematical process, and gives parties who may have won fewer or no constituencies a better chance of winning regional ones.

It will also be a big day for 16 and 17 year olds as they will be able to vote in Welsh elections for the first time.

The ballots will be counted on Friday (May 7) with results expected to come in from the afternoon.

Polling stations opened at 7am and will close at 10pm.

All those who vote will be required to stick to Covid-19 safety measures including wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing.

Clean pencils will be available but voters can bring their own pen or pencil.

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Politics

Pembrokeshire heads to the polls

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THE ELECTIONS to the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru take place today, Thursday (May 6).

Over the last few weeks, we’ve published a guide to the manifestos of each of Wales’ principal parties.

Next today is the crunch and after that comes the business of forming a government.

But first, voting.

HOW TO VOTE

Wales has a combination of voting systems.On Thursday, May 6, you will have two ballot papers for the Senedd. One for your constituency, the other for your region.X in the box against your candidate for the constituency.X in the box for the party you want on the regional list.Forty constituency seats, with the same boundaries as the Westminster election constituencies, elect one member each through first past the post.
The winners of constituency seats don’t need most of the votes, only one more than the candidate in second place.
Twenty further Members of the Senedd are elected on a regional list system.
Wales is divided into five regions, each of which returns four Senedd members.The regions are: Mid & West Wales; North Wales; South Wales Central; South Wales East; South Wales West.
The parties prepare a list of candidates in their own order of preference.
The system supposedly balances the risk of a one-party state by balancing constituency success against votes cast for parties.

THE REGIONAL LIST

If a party is electorally successful in the constituency vote, it starts with a handicap in the regional count.

The formula is complex, but it basically divides the total number of regional votes by one plus the number of constituencies won. Successive rounds of counting then divide the regional vote by one plus the number of constituencies plus any regional seat won in the preceding round.

After four rounds of counting, you have four Senedd Members for the region.

Labour had two regional seats in Mid and West Wales after the 2016 election only because it performed dismally in Mid and West Wales’ constituencies. 

If the Labour vote collapses in Mid and West Wales, after this election it might return only one MS to Cardiff. In that case, the lucky winner would be Eluned Morgan.

Ironically, if Plaid Cymru wins Llanelli it will almost certainly lose its regional seat – unless other parties’ regional vote falls and Plaid’s significantly increases.

The Liberal Democrats held one seat in Mid and West Wales last time out, Brecon and Radnor. That success cost William Powell (number one on the candidate list for the LibDems in 2016) a seat. The Liberal Democrats were in poll position for a second seat after the regional votes were counted.

However, in the final round of counting, UKIP’s abject failure in Mid and West Wales’ constituencies combined with regional votes from Pembrokeshire gifted Cardiff Bay with Neil Hamilton’s contrarian presence.

That fact underlines the regional votes’ importance.

FIRST TIME VOTERS

The unknown in this election is the number of first-time voters since the franchise’s expansion to sixteen and seventeen-year-olds. Younger voters tend to be less tribal and more single-issue driven.

If young voters turn out in numbers, there could be a significant swing towards parties that address issues of importance to them in a way that appeals to younger voters. 

The likely beneficiaries would be parties closely connected to environmental issues – or at least those who claim to be.

At this point, young voter turnout could be disappointingly low. The last school year was meant to educate prospective young voters about the coming election. Thanks to the pandemic, that fell by the wayside.

In the future, Civics’ presence in the school curriculum is vital. Schools must give students an understanding of how government works, the importance of democracy and citizens’ duty to engage with it.

WHERE WILL UKIP VOTES GO?

The second question is where UKIP’s votes will end up. The Party’s membership, support, and electoral profile have withered along with its momentary political relevance. 

Although Pembrokeshire might again buck the regional trend, it’s unlikely UKIP will cross the threshold to get a seat in Mid and West Wales.

Abolish the Assembly (sic.) superficially appears the most attractive party for those who backed UKIP on the regional list last time out. However, the longer the campaign has gone on, the more Abolish has faded. An ITV interview with its leader, Richard Suchorzewski, was truly cringe-inducing.

After saying he respected Wales as a country, Mr Suchorzewski didn’t have an answer when asked to name another country without a parliament.

It was embarrassing to watch and, whether you feel Wales needs/deserves a separate Parliament or not, dire.

With Andrew RT Davies in charge, the Conservatives have burnished their ‘BluKip’ credentials. However, their campaign is endangered by the impression that a Welsh Conservative government would be operated from Westminster and not Wales, with Simon Hart as de facto Governor-General. 

It’s a tricky line for the Conservatives to tread. However, if the Conservatives pick up UKIP votes, as well as get their existing regional voter base to turn out -as they did in December 2019 – Tomos Dafydd could pick up a Mid and West regional seat for the Party.

VOTING IS WHAT COUNTS

There are plenty of opportunities to vote on the regional and constituency lists to register what’s called ‘a protest vote’.

Protesting in silence on election day by not voting and complaining for the next five years is an empty and futile gesture.

It’s objectively more important TO vote than HOW you vote.

Voting is what counts.

Nothing else matters in an election.

It’s a few minutes out of your lives and can change Wales.

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