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Labour and Plaid agree on Senedd carve-up

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LABOUR and Plaid Cymru this week pre-empted the results of a Senedd Committee’s enquiry and announced a huge increase in the number of Wales’s Senedd Members.
While the Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform continues to hear evidence ahead of its final report, Labour and Plaid announced they had agreed that Wales would elect 96 Senedd members instead of the current sixty at the next election.
Securing electoral reform and expanding the Senedd were Plaid Cymru manifesto commitments while expanding the Senedd was a Labour policy pledge.
However, the arrangements announced on Tuesday (May 10) are likely to increase questions about how accountable Senedd members are to their electorate.

FIXING THE SYSTEM

One of the key gripes of those in favour of Senedd reform is the abolition of regional members selected using Wales’s complex PR system.

The new arrangements will see 32 constituencies based on the new Westminster constituency boundaries electing three members each but grouped with six other constituencies to ensure seats are allocated (theoretically) more proportionately.

If that sounds complicated, the system will have one simple result.

It will sever the link between elected and electors.

Voters will vote for parties and not individuals. The party-list will decide who gets elected to represent you.

You will no longer have a say in the identity of your representatives.

Instead, the parties have all the power to decide who gets elected.

You’re made for life if you get in via the system proposed.

And if that sounds like modern Welsh democracy, it’s a very peculiar form of it.

The arrangement suits Labour as its voters won’t have any chance to vote for anyone else. In a properly proportional single transferrable vote system (STV), votes get the chance to rank their preferences.

Under the proposals, voters will vote for one party and whoever else gets elected depends on the system churning out results and favoured and otherwise unelectable party hacks.

Like most current regional members, Senedd Members elected under the proposed system will become

invisible in their communities.

MPs will have far greater local profiles.

Suppose the proposals want to encourage nation-building and create a stronger and more democratic Welsh Parliament. In that case, the results are likely to entrench Labour and Plaid in a permanently symbiotic relationship with very little chance for other parties to breakthrough.

It’s a system ripe for abuse by party managers and rooked to exclude small parties from any national say.

From Labour and Plaid’s perspectives, it will ensure the Conservatives are permanently excluded from power in Wales.

THE WIND OF CHANGE

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The case for Senedd reform has been made.

“We now need to get on with the hard work to create a modern Senedd, which reflects the Wales we live in today. A Parliament that truly works for Wales.

“The joint position statement we are publishing today will help support the important work of the cross-party Special Purpose Committee to move Senedd reform forwards.”
Adam Price, leader of Plaid Cymru, said: “These reforms will lay the foundations for a stronger Welsh democracy and a fairer, more representative Senedd that will look entirely different to the outdated political system at Westminster.

“A stronger, more diverse, more representative Senedd will have a greater capacity to perform its primary purpose of making a positive difference to the lives of the people of Wales.”
Ensuring that the Senedd is more diverse is an interesting step forward.
The statement detailing the proposals says that electoral law in Wales will include “integrated statutory gender quotas and mandatory zipping.”
The first part of that phrase indicates an aim to ensure equal representation between the genders in the Senedd.

The second part, “mandatory zipping”, requires parties to put forward equal numbers of male and female candidates and alternate between men and women when preparing their candidate lists.
If number one on the internal party list is male, the second is female, the third male, the fourth female &c.
It is unclear whether the Welsh Government has the legal power to force those measures.
Mark Drakeford and Ada Price wrote to the Reform Committee’s Chair, Huw Irranca-Davies, saying their proposals are “most likely to achieve the two-thirds Senedd majority required by law to deliver reform.
“We are confident that the statement below will enable you to make recommendations on these fundamental issues.”

DRAKEFORD AND PRICE “TRYING
TO STRONGARM COMMITTEE”

The Welsh Conservative response was swift.

Andrew RT Davies said: “Wales does not need more politicians in Cardiff Bay – we need more teachers, doctors, dentists, and nurses.

“While we have consistently objected to more politicians, we recognise Labour and Plaid have enough votes to push ahead.

“That’s why we have engaged constructively with the Senedd Reform Committee.

“Sadly, both parties have completely undermined the committee’s work with this announcement.”

Darren Millar, the Conservative Member of the Senedd Reform Committee, was even more scathing.

Announcing his decision to quit the Committee, he said: “It was extremely disappointing to see the Committee undermined by the publication of a joint position statement on Senedd reform by the First Minister and the Leader of Plaid Cymru.

“Issuing the position statement to the media in the absence of any written or oral statement to the Senedd was extremely discourteous to the Welsh Parliament.

“The publication of such a prescriptive statement before the Committee completes its work. However, this announcement effectively terminates its ability to draw independent conclusions.

“It is with regret that I have resigned from the Committee, but after the stunt pulled by the First Minister and Plaid’s leader, it has become futile.

“It is unacceptable that they have tried to strongarm the Committee by imposing their position in this way. Senedd committees should not be fettered in this way.

“We joined this committee and process in good faith as there was a mandate for change, but it looks like that was misplaced.”

The Reform Committee will report on May 31, but it looks like its decisions have been made for it.

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Independence Day sees Fishguard welcome 80 American visitors

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80 AMERICANS have arrived in Fishguard on their national holiday, Independence Day, as part of a month-long cruise from New York City to London.

The eight-deck Seven Seas Navigator docked in Fishguard today (Monday, July 4), allowing tourists to spend the day exploring Cardigan town and its castle.

They are currently embarking on a 30-day trip that began on June 7 in New York. They have  stopped in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, as well as Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Scotland, and Ireland.

A spokesperson from Rivers Seven Seas Cruises said: “The tour will explore the wonderfully historical Cardigan, starting at the remains of its namesake castle overlooking the River Teifi, parts of which date to the 12th century.

“An audio-visual display in the castle’s medieval north tower recounts the history of the fortification, the centuries of invasions and how the castle became the birthplace of Wales’ biggest cultural festival, the Eisteddfod.

“Be sure to browse the lovely Georgian house and gardens on the grounds before heading into downtown Cardigan to explore further on your own.

“The architectural highlights include the 19th-century Cardigan Guildhall Market, a two-story shopping venue constructed with locally quarried stone.

“The field gun at the front recognizes the 7th Earl of Cardigan, who was a commander in the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade.

“Inside the market, you will find dozens of shops with merchandise ranging from locally made clothing to traditional Welsh delicacies. There are also plenty of art galleries throughout town.”

Cardigan Councillor, Clive Davies, has said: “Cardigan Castle and the town will receive a visit of around 80 cruise passengers who have booked the Discover Cardigan tour as part of their New York to London cruise.

“I’ve provided Richard Bros Buses with Cardigan town maps, so they will have an idea of the towns layout on route to visit us as well as access to the Cardigan Town App.

“So to all our unique Cardigan shops, be sure to look out for our US visitors.”

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Charity

More than £100,000 available to local projects via Sustainable Development Fund

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Community groups are encouraged to apply for funding before the September 7 deadline.

A NEW round of grant support has opened for projects based in and around the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park that reduce local carbon emissions and respond to the climate emergency.

With a funding pot of more than £100,000, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority is calling on local non-profit groups to submit their applications for the Sustainable Development Fund before the September deadline.

Do you run a community building that would benefit from having solar panels or an air source heat pump? Do you want to encourage your members or visitors to use bikes and need to install a bike rack or electric bike charging point? Are you a sports club that would like to install a water fountain to reduce the need for single use plastic? Or perhaps you have an idea to minimise waste such as a community fridge or recycling initiative.

Jessica Morgan, Funding and Grants Officer for the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority said: “If you are seeking funding for a project in Pembrokeshire that contributes towards a reduction in carbon and helps respond to the climate emergency, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund may be for you.

“Organisations are welcome to reapply if they have completed a previous Sustainable Development Fund project and can demonstrate that the work has been completed and post project evaluation submitted.

“Unfortunately, we cannot accept applications from individuals, sole traders or businesses. Any organisation that applies must be based within Pembrokeshire.”

Information about the Fund and an application form can be found at https://www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales/about-the-national-park-authority/sustainable-development-fund/ – or call 01646 624800.

The deadline for applications is 12:00pm on Wednesday, September 7, 2022.

The Sustainable Development Fund consists of money allocated from the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Landscapes Sustainable Places Fund.

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Warning of serious disruption on M4 and M5 today due to fuel prices protest

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POLICE have warned of “serious disruption” to drivers using the M4 and M5 on Monday 4 July due to a planned protest.

Protesters intend to block the Prince of Wales Bridge from 7am until 7pm as part of a nationwide campaign against rising fuel prices.

The protest is due to start at the M4 Magor services at junction 23A eastbound and the Clevedon Interchange at junction 20 of the M5 westbound.

It is also expected to cause disruption to the M48 Severn Bridge and the M32.

Drivers are being urged to avoid the area or plan alternative routes.

Bristol Airport has issued a warning urging travellers to allow extra time if heading to or from the airport.

Police said additional officers will be brought in to ensure the protest is carried out legally.

Drivers have been advised by Gwent Police to work from home where possible and avoid the area between 7am and 7pm, with protestors planning to block parts of the road between M4 Magor services, junction 23A eastbound, and Junction 20 of the M4 between those hours.

Chief Superintendent Tom Harding said: “Gwent Police, and Avon and Somerset Police, are working jointly with neighbouring police forces and partner agencies to ensure emergency and critical services continue and to reduce disruption to both road users and local communities, however we are preparing for serious disruption throughout the day.

“I would encourage drivers to reconsider their journey, consider working from home and avoid the area where possible.

“The right to protest under UK law must be balanced with the rights of the wider community who may be affected. We have additional officers and support in place on Monday to ensure the protest is carried out in accordance with the law.”

The planned protest is thought to have been organised by the Facebook group Fuel Price Stand Against Tax, and has attracted both criticism and support online.

The latest travel disruption comes following the closure of the Severn Bridge for a second consecutive weekend, as well as the Severn Tunnel rain line which will be out of use until July 10 due to essential work. Motorists will be unable to cross the M48 Severn Bridge until 6am on Monday as it is undergoing essential work for eight months.

The bridge was first shut last weekend as painstaking work to repair and replace corroded suspension cables began. Traffic on the bridge is likely to be very heavy on Monday due to the fuel protest.

Police have told protesters banners must be tightly secured to vehicles and nobody should be walking around on the bridge during the demonstration. Protesters will stay inside their vehicles or stand beside them.

An organiser said: “We will now only be doing it on the Prince of Wales Bridge. We have to keep in mind everyone’s safety and if we block the bridge totally and there is an emergency there would be hell. Yes it means only one bridge but [due to the amount of traffic caused] there will still be a massive impact.”

Two weeks ago one of the initial M4 bridge protest organisers Ashley Fowler said : “We’re all car enthusiasts and we have all been worried about fuel prices and when I saw the post about blocking the bridges we began talking about it. Then people started asking me to make an event so we could update each other.

“I made the event because I run a car club in Cardiff which I started on social media during the pandemic lockdowns to help people’s mental health. When we can we go out to car parks and just meet up and have a chat but during the pandemic we weren’t able to do it so I made the group.

“Now we can’t meet up so much again because of the cost of fuel. I know some of them can’t drive so much because they need to feed their kids. It’s serious. People are getting really depressed about it. One of the boys in the group has actually sold his car due to fuel price rises.”

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