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Politics

Rough sleeping: millions wasted on fragmented system

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‘A WASTE OF MONEY’. That’s how a hard-hitting report from Audit Wales described how local authorities, the Welsh Government, and other public bodies deal with rough-sleeping.
Audit Wales is the body which checks how public money is spent and advises the Welsh Government and other public bodies on how to make sure they get value for money.
The Audit Wales reports says that the public sector spends up to £210m reacting to rough sleeping, rather than preventing it and dealing with its causes.
Audit Wales do not say, however, that spending to tackle rough sleeping is a waste of public money. Instead, Audit Wales says the money is spent on faulty strategies which react to the problem, don’t deal with it proactively, and fail to provide good outcomes for those sleeping rough.
It says the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity for public bodies to start addressing weaknesses in partnership working to help tackle rough sleeping.

ROUGH SLEEPING A ‘REVOLVING DOOR’

Audit Wales’ report found, although many public bodies work with people sleeping rough, services were not always joined up and helping people when they needed it.
It found many examples of people being assisted off the streets and into temporary accommodation. Once in temporary accommodation, they did not, however, get the support they needed to address the root causes of their homelessness and often ended up back where they started.
The true extent of people sleeping rough in Wales each year is unknown.
Drawing on information from specialist charities who work with people sleeping rough, there are roughly 3,000 incidences of rough sleeping every year.
The most recent data published by the Welsh Government show the number of people sleeping rough was continuing to rise before the pandemic, increasing by 17% between November 2018 and November 2019.
Audit Wales’ research shows that people sleeping rough in later life have often experienced domestic or sexual abuse, substance misuse, been abused at home, had difficulties in school or lived in poverty from a young age.
To end rough sleeping, solutions need to address both accommodation and support needs and requires many public bodies – including, councils, the Police, health bodies, housing associations, and others – to change how they work and what they do to tackle rough sleeping.
Audit Wales says the key to tackling this problem is for public bodies to deliver a single public service response targeted at people sleeping rough.
To support that step, Audit Wales included in its report a self-reflection tool for public bodies to use to improve how they can jointly address complex needs in the future.

TIME TO ADDRESS THE ROOT CAUSES

Adrian Crompton, the Auditor General for Wales, said: “There has been a real change and emphasis on rough sleeping since the pandemic hit, with public services stepping up to help people off the streets into accommodation.
“Public services now need to capitalise on this work and deliver longer-term solutions to end people sleeping on our streets.
“I believe that for the first time in a generation, eliminating rough sleeping in Wales is a possibility. Our report sets out how we can all work towards this goal.
“Public bodies must not just focus on giving people a roof over their head, it needs all partners to work together to address the root causes of homelessness.
Frances Beecher, CEO of Llamau and Chair of End Youth Homelessness Cymru, who was a member of the Homelessness Action Group, welcomed Audit Wales’ report.
“For too long we have known that the root causes of homelessness stem from traumatic and adverse experiences in childhood.
“It is crucial that we build on the work we have done to support people sleeping rough during the Covid19 pandemic, and invest in integrated services which intervene early to prevent homelessness, rather than waiting until people reach a crisis point in their lives.
“Ending homelessness is everyone’s responsibility and if we all work together, I truly believe we have a huge opportunity to create a Wales without homelessness.”
‘A FRAGMENTED SYSTEM’
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for Transforming Public Services, Delyth Jewell MS, said: “Homelessness is the predictable consequence of years of cuts to social security, a failure to build social housing, and the continued refusal of the Welsh Government to make the necessary legislative changes such as ending priority need to ensure everyone is entitled to support when they present as homeless.
“I welcome the report from the Auditor General for Wales, which highlights the long-standing weaknesses that come from a fragmented system. However, the pandemic has revealed that when there is a will, there is a way to end homelessness. The Welsh Government’s lack of ability to effectively tackle rough sleeping before the pandemic must now be seriously called into question – they can no longer blame their lack of action on austerity, but an utter lack of will to deal with the problem in hand.
“Plaid Cymru believes that no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a person must sleep on the street. Above all, tackling this problem is a question of political will.”

FINDINGS ARE ‘A SCANDAL’

Mark Isherwood MS – the Conservative’s Shadow Minister for Local Government and Housing – said: “This is nothing short of a scandal.
“In the words of the report’s authors, some £209 million is wasted annually by the public sector reacting to, rather than preventing, rough sleeping. The report also found that services were not always joined up and people were not being helped when they needed it.
“Cited, too, were ‘many examples’ of a ‘revolving door’ for service users who were assisted off the streets and into temporary accommodation, but without the necessary support to address the root causes of their homelessness, and who often ended up back where they started.
“The crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic was an opportunity for public bodies to start addressing weaknesses in partnership working to help tackle rough sleeping.
“It is now crucial that the Welsh Government publishes what it will do to help homeless people once the current lockdown is eased.”

GOVERNMENT MUST BUILD ON COVID EXPERIENCE

The Chair of the Senedd’s Equality, Local Government and Communities, John Griffiths MS, commented: “This Committee has prioritised homelessness and rough sleeping. We have taken evidence and produced detailed reports with recommendations to tackle the issues involved.
“Only last week, we heard about the live challenges facing individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness, including those sleeping rough, and the pressures on those services that provide support. We also heard about the monumental effort being made by all partners, within local authorities and the third sector to get people off the streets at the height of the pandemic. What has been achieved is significant and impressive, and we hope that this can be built upon to meet the Welsh Government’s aim of making homelessness rare, brief and unrepeated.
“I welcome the Auditor General’s report and echo his call for public services to capitalise on their response to the COVID-19 crisis through a step-change in approach, shifting resources to focus on prevention.
“Looming economic challenges that could otherwise drive more homelessness and rough sleeping make this all the more important. We will continue to hold the Welsh Government to account on this important issue in the coming months, and this report will help inform our scrutiny.”
At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Welsh Government and councils moved quickly to provide accommodation to rough sleepers and those in unsuitable accommodation.
Housing Minister Julie James MS said: “Getting over 800 people off the streets or away from unsuitable accommodation has not been easy but by working together we have made a big difference to the lives of these people.
“This does not, however, mean we have resolved homelessness in Wales. We have achieved a reprieve, but it remains our goal to end homelessness and we will not see people forced back onto the streets.”

THE PROBLEM WITH NIMBYS

Even with the best will in the world, local authorities, the Welsh Government and other bodies face a massive struggle to end the scourge of homelessness and rough sleeping.
In 2014, Carmarthenshire’s Planning Committee rejected plans to convert a residence n Carmarthen to house homeless armed forces veterans.
The Planning Inspectorate overturned the rejection in 2015. However, the charity behind the application decided not to proceed with the plan because of continuing hostility from those determined to house the homeless anywhere but near their properties.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, locals have complained about the use of the Silverdale Lodge, Johnston, as temporary accommodation for those made homeless by the pandemic or for rough sleepers placed there as part of controls for COVID-19’s spread.
Similar complaints have been made about a property in Fishguard which is also being used as temporary accommodation for the homeless during the COVID pandemic.
As always, the local rumour mill churns about properties being used as bail hostels or halfway houses.
While most people regard homelessness and rough sleeping as preventable tragedies, it appears that a large majority want them prevented as far away from them as possible.

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Business

Rishi Sunak’s key announcements in today’s Budget statement

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  • Huge tax hike announced – with corporation tax on company profits rising by 6% to 25% in 2023
  • Furlough extended until September
  • Income tax threshold freeze likely to mean working Britons pay more – with tax burden from 2025 highest since 1960s
  • Universal Credit uplift of £20 extended for six months
  • Budget to feature plan to extend furlough until September
  • Business rates, VAT and stamp duty reductions extended
  • Contactless limit more than doubles
  • Sunak to give news conference at 5pm – the first of its kind for a budget
  • Federation of Small Businesses said they were disappointed that there was not enough in the budget for “job creation”.

 

A HUGE hike in corporation tax is probably the main headline announcement of the budget.

The chancellor said: “This new higher rate won’t take effect until April 2023, well after the point when the OBR expect the economy to have recovered. And even this, because corporation tax is only charged on profits, any struggling businesses will, by definition, be unaffected.

“I’m protecting small businesses with profits of £50,000 or less, by creating a Small Profits Rate, maintained at the current rate of 19%.”

“This means around 70% of companies – 1.4 million businesses – will be completely unaffected.

“And third, we will introduce a taper above £50,000, so that only businesses with profits of £50,000 or greater will be taxed at the full rate of 25″%.”

The Chancellor also said businesses can carry back losses of up to £2m for three years and adds that the bank surcharge will be reviewed so combined rate of tax on UK banking sector doesn’t increase significantly from current level.

This announcement was on top of a raft of other measures, including the previously leaked extension of the furlough scheme, and confirmation that
the Hospitality and tourism will continue to enjoy a 5% reduced rate of VAT for a further six months.

Support for the self-employed will also be extended until the end of September.

“When the scheme was launched, the newly self-employed couldn’t qualify because they hadn’t all filed a 2019-20 tax return,” Rishi Sunak says.

“But as the tax return deadline has now passed, I can announce today that, provided they filed a tax return by midnight last night, over 600,000 more people, many of whom only became self-employed last year can now claim the fourth and fifth grants.”

Commenting on the Budget statement, Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “At the start of this pandemic, as Conservatives we said we would do whatever it takes to protect jobs and livelihoods – and today’s budget continues that commitment to families, workers and businesses across Wales.

“After the most difficult year in the history of peacetime Britain, the budget extends the support for Wales to save jobs, invests in industry and business, and provides an extra £740 million of funding to the Welsh Government.

“Labour ministers in Cardiff Bay must now use this additional funding to extend the business support for firms across Wales and deliver a council tax freeze to help keep more money in the pockets of hardworking people.

“Our recovery and future economy depends on remaining as one United Kingdom. Only the Welsh Conservatives – working with, rather than against a Conservative UK Government – can succeed in getting things done to rebuild Wales.”

ADDITIONAL  MEASURES

Rishi Sunak confirmed that 95% mortgages will be guaranteed by the government as part of government plans to turn “generation rent into generation buy”.
“I’m pleased to say that several of the country’s largest lenders including Lloyds, NatWest, Santander, Barclays and HSBC will be offering these 95% mortgages from next month, and I know more, including Virgin Money will follow shortly after,” the chancellor says.
“A policy that gives people who can’t afford a big deposit the chance to buy their own home.”

Working Tax Credit claimants will also be given more support for the next six months, with a one-off payment of £500, it has been announced.

A welcome announcement for many families in Wales will be the confirmation that the Universal Credit uplift of £20-a-week will continue for another six months, the chancellor announces

The Chancellor also added that the personal tax thresholds will be frozen.

Hospitality and tourism will continue to enjoy a 5% reduced rate of VAT for a further six months

STAMP DUTY

As part of the spring budget, the Chancellor has just announced that the stamp duty holiday is to be extended, offering a total tax saving on properties costing up to £500,000 and a reduction on homes costing more than that. In addition first-time buyers will have access to government guaranteed mortgages with a deposit of just 5%. Home Insurance Expert at Confused.com Jessica Willock says:
“The new government backed mortgage scheme should give first-time buyers the chance to save on rent payments and take steps onto the property ladder.
“Our research found that more than a quarter (27%) of people said that if they knew of ways to save money when it comes to their homes, they would use them. So, the stamp duty holiday extension can also be seen as an opportunity to give buyers the boost that they need by removing some of the financial pressure attached to a new home.

“But the extension is only temporary, lasting until June 30th. So, whether you’re already in the purchase process or you’re deliberating a move, it’s important to get the ball rolling as the deal must complete by the deadline, otherwise you could face some big bills. If you’re confused about what you may have to pay, use our Stamp Duty Calculator to help you factor in the fees.”
Commenting on the furlough extension, Aude Barral, co-founder of developer recruitment platform CodinGame, said: “There will be a collective sigh of relief from families across the country that the furlough scheme has been extended.

“Millions of people will have been facing the prospect of having little or no income from May, and for the time being that cliff-edge scenario has been avoided. But the problem hasn’t gone away, it’s simply been kicked down the road.

“Furlough is protects salaries, not jobs. Many furloughed workers will still be worried they won’t have a job to go back to when the financial support eventually ends.

“There will be thousands of businesses going to the wall over the coming months and sectors such as hospitality and retail may never fully recover.

“The Government has provided its roadmap out of lockdown, but it’s roadmap out of furlough feels disjointed and a little vague.

“Millions of people are facing unemployment without the transferable skills they need to find a new career.

“There wasn’t enough in the Chancellor’s speech to address the digital skills gap, for my liking. Digital upskilling should be at the forefront of the Government’s plans to unlock the country’s full potential, as that’s where demand is going to be post-pandemic, in a fast changing digital landscape.

“Businesses need to be continually updating their workers’ digital skills to remain competitive, and individuals need the help and support to identify the transferable skills they have and develop new skills to stand the best chance of finding a new job or career.

“We live in a world where new technologies play an increasingly important role in all aspects of business, and demand for digitally skilled employees is only going in one direction.”

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Politics

Important information arriving ahead of elections

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IMPORTANT information about the Senedd and Police and Crime Commissioner elections in May will be landing on all Pembrokeshire doormats this week.

Both the Senedd and Police and Crime Commissioner elections will be held on Thursday, May 6.

The letters will ensure electoral records are correct, detail how to add/change any entries and urge those who are not registered to do so before the deadline of midnight, Monday 19th April.

Please read the letter and check the details are up to date and only contact the Council if necessary.

You can register to vote at: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

For the first time, those who will be aged 16 or over on 6th May and are registered to vote can vote in the Senedd elections.

Foreign citizens who will be aged 16 or over on 6th May and are registered to vote can also take part in the Senedd elections.

For the Police and Crime Commissioner elections those aged 18 and over on 6th May who are registered to vote can cast their vote.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, you may wish to consider your voting options.

Polling stations will be open and will have undergone extensive preparations as well as ongoing monitoring to ensure that they are safe environments to cast your vote.

However, it is likely that more people than ever will wish to take up an option for a postal vote for the elections on 6th May.

Given the anticipated demand, please apply for a postal vote as early as possible to allow the Council’s elections team plenty of time to be able to process your application.

You can apply for a postal vote or proxy vote (someone you trust to cast your vote on your behalf) at: https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/voter

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News

MS summoned to Court over tweet

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PLAID CYMRU’s Mid & West Wales Regional Senedd Member Helen Mary Jones has been summoned to appear at Swansea Crown Court.

HHJ Paul Thomas QC ordered Ms Jones to court after she retweeted a third-party’s post which expressed the hope a defendant in an ongoing murder trial would be convicted.

The tweet referred to the trial of 70-year-old Anthony Williams, who killed his wife shortly after the start of the first lockdown in March last year.

Mr Williams had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter.

However, while the trial was ongoing, a domestic violence campaigner tweeted:: “Another perp using the ‘I just snapped’. It is complete b******t! As so many of us will know, there would have been history of domestic abuse.
“I hope this jury finds him guilty of murder. Rest in peace, Ruth.”
On Saturday, before the jury returned its verdict, Ms Jones shared the tweet.

There was no history of domestic abuse and no suggestion of it was raised during Mr Jones’ trial.

When the Jury returned to Court on Monday, HHJ Paul Thomas said: “It’s come to my attention that, over the weekend, there have been some highly inappropriate comments made on social media about this case.
“I should make it abundantly clear that those comments have not come from anybody connected with the case and, having been shown the contents of one such piece of social media, they clearly don’t have any idea about the evidence in this case or the issues in this case.”
None of the jurors saw the offending post and continued their deliberations.

On Monday afternoon, the jury acquitted Mr Williams of murder.

By retweeting the remarks made by a third party, the risk existed that the jury could have been influenced and their decision-making compromised.

On Thursday, Helen Mary Jones will have the chance to explain her actions to Judge Thomas in person.

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