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Politics

Conservatives accused of contempt for devolution

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THE WESTMINSTER Government is undermining the devolution settlements of each of the UK’s nations according to opposition parties.

Just before the parliamentary recess, the Conservative Government published a White Paper on the future of the UK’s internal market. The same day, July 16, it opened a brief consultation. The Consultation lasted 28 days and ended yesterday, Thursday, August 13.

White papers are policy documents produced by the Government that set out their proposals for future legislation. White Papers are often published as Command Papers and may include a draft version of a Bill that is being planned. This provides a basis for further consultation and discussion with interested or affected groups and allows final changes to be made before a Bill is formally presented to Parliament.

The UK’s devolved administrations have reserved powers for a range of issues, including agricultural and animal welfare standards and building regulations.

The proposals advanced by Westminster would see powers of those two areas of policy removed from the devolved administrations’ control. Building regulations in England are both differently focused and of a lower standard than those in Wales. For example, harmonising building regulations around England’s lowest common denominator could scrap the Welsh Government’s regulation requiring sprinklers to be fitted in new homes.

The UK Government did not consult with any of the UK’s devolved administrations about its proposed legislation before publishing the White Paper and announcing an unusually brief consultation on such an important policy.

POWER GRAB? WHAT POWER GRAB? THAT POWER GRAB
When The Herald put the White Paper’s content to Conservative Shadow External Affairs Minister, Darren Millar, and asked about the change in powers over building regulations and animal welfare standards.

We received a furious response.

“To suggest that this is a power grab is utter nonsense,” fulminated Mr Millar.

We suggested no such thing. We asked only about two regulatory areas covered in a 104-page policy document.

Darren Millar continued: “As a result of the UK’s exit from the European Union scores of new powers are set to be transferred to the Welsh Parliament – so far from being a power grab, this is actually a significant power gain for Wales.

“These powers have never been held before by the Welsh Government and this legislation will give the Welsh Parliament additional levers which can be used to help ensure that economy of Wales recovers from the impact of Covid-19 while ensuring seamless trade across the UK.”
As Mr Millar said that ‘scores of new powers’ are heading the Welsh Parliament’s way, we invited him to identify some of them.

He did not answer in time for our deadline.

The problem for Mr Millar is Government line in the debate on the EU Withdrawal Agreement set out that Westminster will take some powers from Wales, even as it provides additional powers over other areas of policy.

The position was set out by the current Minister of State at the Wales Office, David TC Davies.
In the Withdrawal Agreement debate, David TC Davies said the following: “The reality is that the change will be called a power grab. I did not hear the phrase used today, but it will be described as a power grab. Of course, it is a power grab, and what a wonderful power grab it is, too. We are grabbing powers from Brussels and bringing them back to London.”

He continued: “The Government’s whole purpose is to ensure there is a single market within the United Kingdom. We cannot have a situation where different nation-states within the United Kingdom go off and do their own thing.”

The powers being lost to Westminster over agriculture and building regulations are not examples of devolved administrations ‘going off to do their own thing’ in the future. They are examples of devolved administrations which had exercised their powers and face their policies roll-back.

WESTMINSTER CLAWINGBACK POWER FROM WALESOther Welsh parties are less impressed by the White Paper. Cllr William Powell, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said: “In my view, the manner and content of this consultation demonstrate a lack of respect by the UK Government for the Welsh devolution settlement.

“Under the cloak of enabling Westminster to create a new UK internal market at the end of the Brexit transition period, this most ideological of governments is effectively putting to the sword decades of devolution, validated by the Welsh people in two referenda.”

William Powell continued: “The Bill would allow the UK Government to set out how the devolved administrations would interact with Westminster post-Brexit, compelling Scotland and Wales to accept whatever new standards – in the field of animal welfare, environment and food are built into trade agreements of the future.

“Whereas vital areas of policy, such as agriculture, food safety and the environment are currently overseen by the governments at Holyrood and Cardiff Bay, this UK government clearly wants to have ultimate control over issues previously determined by the EU. In other words, it represents a radical clawback of power, undermining Welsh democracy and giving Boris Johnson and his associates a free hand in post-Brexit negotiations with other countries.

“Welsh Liberal Democrats are committed to respecting the devolution settlement & the principle of Welsh Home Rule. Therefore we roundly condemn the UK Government’s cavalier tactics in this consultation.”

‘THIS IS A POWER GRAB’

For Plaid Cymru, Liz Saville Roberts MP said: “Four weeks and a series of loaded questions over the summer whilst Parliament isn’t sitting is all this Westminster Government has given people in terms of a consultation on a fundamental shift in the constitution of the UK.

“It is as if the Westminster Government cannot even hide its contempt for devolution.
“This is a power grab, plain and simple. From nakedly taking back competencies already held in Wales, to the fact that this legislation was not proposed jointly with the devolved administrations, the Westminster Government is chipping away at two decades of devolution.

“People will not fall for the Westminster double-speak of adding to devolution, these changes will only diminish Wales’s ability to carve its own path.”

NO DISCUSSIONS WITH WESTMINSTER
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We support having rules across the UK to regulate the internal market, but these rules must be agreed between the four Governments in the UK, each of which has their own responsibility for economic development. Any new system must have independent oversight and dispute resolution.

“Unfortunately, the UK Government did not manage to share the Paper with us, and Welsh Ministers have had no recent discussions with the UK Government on these issues. Any attempt to unilaterally impose a system will be deeply damaging.”

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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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