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Politics

UK not ready for Brexit

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A REPORT published last week by the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) says that although government departments have made progress in recent months implementing the changes required to systems, infrastructure and resources to manage the border at the end of the post-EU Exit transition period, it is still likely that widespread disruption will occur from January 1, 2021.
In its fourth report assessing government’s preparations at the border, the NAO highlights that planning for 1 January 2021 has built on work done for previous EU Exit deadline.
The report says COVID-19 has exacerbated delays in government’s preparations and significant risks remain, particularly in relation to implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol and trader readiness more generally.
Departments have made progress towards implementing the systems, infrastructure and resources required to operate the border in relation to Great Britain at “minimum operating capability” by January 1 and are reasonably confident most will be ready, but timetables are tight.
The ability for traders to move goods under transit arrangements is a key element of the government’s plans but some elements will be challenging to deliver in their entirety.
HMRC currently estimates that there will be around 6.3 million movements of goods under transit arrangements in the year following the end of the transition period. If all the planned arrangements are not ready, this could have an impact on the ease with which traders can import and export goods.
There is little time for ports and other third parties to integrate their systems and processes with new or changed government systems, and contingency plans may need to be invoked for some elements.
In part as a result of the delays caused by COVID-19, there is limited time to test individual elements and resolve any emerging issues; ensure elements operate together; familiarise users with them in advance and little or no contingency time in the event of any delays.
Even if the Westminster government makes further progress with its preparations, there is still likely to be significant disruption at the border from January 1, as traders will be unprepared for new EU border controls which will require additional administration and checks.
The government’s latest reasonable worst-case planning assumptions, from September 2020, are that 40% to 70% per cent of hauliers will not be ready for these new controls and up to 7,000 lorries may need to queue at the approach to the short Channel crossings,6 such as Dover to Calais.
The government’s plan for reducing the risk of disruption at the approach to the short Channel crossings is still developing, with various issues yet to be resolved. It intends to launch a new GOV.UK web service called ‘Check an HGV is ready to cross the border’ for hauliers to check and self-declare that they have the correct documentation for EU import controls before travelling and obtain permits to drive on prescribed roads in Kent.
However, there is more to do on how ‘Check an HGV’ will be enforced and how it will work together with traffic management plans for Kent.
Government is preparing civil contingency plans, such as to ensure continuity of the supply of critical goods and medicines in the event of any disruption to supply chains.
On October 13, the Department for Transport announced it had awarded contracts to provide additional freight capacity for over 3,000 lorries a week on routes avoiding the short Channel crossings.
However, COVID-19 is making civil contingency plans more difficult to enact, with local authorities, industry and supply chains already under additional strain.
The UK Government will also need to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol from January 1. However, due to the scale and complexity of the changes, the lack of time and the impact of ongoing negotiations, there is a very high risk it may not be implemented in time.
The government has left itself little time to mobilise its new Trader Support Service (TSS), in which it has announced it is investing £200 million, to reduce the burden on traders moving goods to Northern Ireland and to help them prepare.
It will be challenging to establish the TSS by 1 January 2021. Work needs to be done to identify NI traders and sign them up to use the service; recruit and train the staff required; develop software to enable traders to connect to HMRC’s systems; and deliver educational activities to traders.
There is also ongoing uncertainty about the requirements for the movement of goods under the Protocol. Therefore, there is still a high risk that traders will not be ready.
The government is spending significant sums of money preparing the border for the end of the transition period and, in 2020 alone, announced funding of £1.41 billion to fund new infrastructure and systems, and wider support and investment.
Despite this, there remains significant uncertainty about whether preparations will be complete in time, and the impact if they are not. Some of this uncertainty could have been avoided, and better preparations made, had the government addressed sooner issues such as the need for an increase in the number of customs agents to support traders.
The NAO says that government must continue to focus its efforts on resolving the many outstanding issues relating to the border and develop robust contingency plans if these cannot be addressed in time for the end of the transition period.
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “The January 1 deadline is unlike any previous EU Exit deadline: significant changes at the border will take place and government must be ready.
“Disruption is likely and the government will need to respond quickly to minimise the impact, a situation made all the more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
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Health

NHS Covid Pass to enter large scale events and nightclubs to be introduced

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Next month, people in Wales will need to show an NHS Covid Pass to enter nightclubs and attend events.

The move has just been announced by the first minister today (Friday 17th September).

According to the government, the measure is being introduced to control the spread of Covid in Wales, where cases are now at an all-time high.

Despite the increase in cases, the alert level will remain at zero for the next three weeks, and no new restrictions beyond passes will be introduced.

The First Minister is urging everyone to work from home whenever possible and to get fully vaccinated.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Across Wales, coronavirus cases have risen to very high levels over the summer as more people have been gathering and meeting.

“Tragically, more people are dying from this terrible virus.

“The very strong advice we have from our scientific advisers is to take early action to prevent infections increasing further.

“The last thing we want is further lockdowns and for businesses to have to close their doors once again. That’s why we must take small but meaningful action now to control the spread of the virus and reduce the need for tougher measures later.”

On October 11, the NHS Covid Pass requirement takes effect.

All people over the age of 18 will need to have a pass to enter:

  • Nightclubs
  • Indoor, non-seated events for more than 500 people, such as concerts or conventions
  • Outdoor non-seated events for more than 4,000 people
  • Any setting or event with more than 10,000 people in attendance

It means concerts and large scale sports events will now require the passes.

People who are fully vaccinated in Wales can already download the NHS Covid Pass to securely show and share their vaccine status.

It also allows people to show they have had a negative lateral flow test result within the last 48 hours.

Mr Drakeford continued: “My message to you today is a simple but serious one – the pandemic is not over and we all need to take steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

“We have high levels of the virus in our communities and while our fantastic vaccination programme has helped stop thousands more people from becoming seriously ill or dying, the pressure on the NHS is increasing.

“We hope introducing the requirement to show a COVID pass will help keep venues and events – many of which have only recently started trading again – open.

“Showing a COVID Pass is already part of our collective effort to keep businesses open with some major events, such as the successful Green Man Festival, using it.

“We will continue to work closely with all businesses affected to ensure a smooth introduction and operation of this system.”

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News

Crucial council meeting debating former Chief Executive’s pay-off cancelled

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AN EXTRAORDINARY meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council supposed to take place next Monday has been cancelled.

Pembrokeshire County Council was due to meet on Monday morning to debate the controversial settlement agreement between the local authority and former CEO Ian Westley.

In a circular sent to all councillors late on Wednesday afternoon, however, officials told councillors: ‘There are a number of issues that have recently come to light which are unable to be resolved ahead of the meeting and it is essential that Members have the fullest information and be correctly advised in order to consider the matter before them.’

Those issues might be open to speculation; they could range from the relatively trivial to the vital.The meeting would have taken place before Councillors received the full report into the circumstances of Mr Westley’s departure from Audit Wales.

Former council CEO Ian Westley

That report’s content is also strictly under wraps , and the Council has not yet received the full and final report.

Individuals named in it received copies of sections of the report dealing only with them earlier in the summer. That process’ purpose was to allow those named to respond to comments made by others regarding them and dispute findings of fact with which they disagreed.

The row over Mr Westley’s departure has been followed by the Monitoring Officer’s resignation and the Head of Legal’s absence on long-term sick leave. The HR director is currently seconded to ERW, the regional education consortium.

Each of those officers will have had some involvement in the events leading to Mr Westley’s departure and the signing of the Settlement Agreement between him and their employer.As the person who led the negotiations for the Council, its Leader, Cllr David Simpson, is also likely to feature in the report.Legal issues surrounding the confidential terms of the settlement agreement (bar the pay-out’s amount) meant the scheduled meeting was to take place behind closed doors.

That’s not an unusual step in itself. Meetings regarding HR matters – for example, discussions about the appointment of the new CEO – are routinely held in private.

Allegation and counter-allegation about what happened flew around the Chamber in meetings earlier this year, with one or two councillors appearing suspiciously well-briefed.

Therefore, the question arises as to what confidence those concerned can have councillors will keep their traps shut after a behind-closed-doors meeting or not try to spin its content one way or another to suit their own or others’ agendas.

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News

Stephen Crabb’s Preseli constituency could cease to exist following boundary changes

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PRESELI Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb is looking at an uncertain future. At the next election, boundary changes could mean that his constituency will cease to exist.

The Preseli area is being split up and divided between Ceredigion and South Pembrokeshire, according to a leaked report.

The move comes as the number of MPs representing Wales is reduced by eight.

Wales’ proposed boundary changes have been leaked a day earlier than expected by the Guido Fawkes website.

The new constituencies are expected to come into force at the next General Election expected to be in May 2024.

Despite Wales losing 20% of its representatives the number of MPs across the UK will stay the same, at 650.

England’s allocation of MPs will rise from 533 to 543, while the number of MPs in Scotland will be reduced from 59 to 57, and in Northern Ireland the figure will remain at 18.

As well as publishing its final proposals tomorrow, the Boundary Commission will open an 8-week consultation period where the public can share their views on the proposed constituencies.

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