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Ministers ‘dodging accountability’ in new child poverty strategy, Senedd hears

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WELSH ministers are dodging accountability by refusing to include concrete targets and milestones in the new child poverty strategy, the Senedd heard.

MSs quizzed Jane Hutt as the social justice minister gave a statement about this week’s publication of the Welsh Government’s child poverty strategy.

Ms Hutt described the strategy as a cross-cutting, whole-of-government policy document that sets out priorities for meaningful action to tackle child poverty.

“Ending child poverty must be an absolute priority for governments at all levels,” she said.

The minister announced that the Welsh Government will be producing a monitoring and impact framework, which will be reviewed by Rod Hick, from Cardiff University.

Mark Isherwood pointed out that 28% of children were living in relative income poverty in 2022, arguing little progress has been made in reducing child poverty in the past decade.

The Conservative shadow minister said the strategy does not include measurable targets, instead using generic national milestones from the Future Generations Act.

Mr Isherwood highlighted calls from Barnardo’s Cymru and the children’s commissioner to ensure progress against the strategy can be transparently and regularly monitored.

He said: “It is the case, is it not, that the Welsh Government has a number of levers to tackle child poverty under its control, so why hasn’t it established real targets and milestones within the strategy, or is this just another case of Welsh Government dodging accountability?”

Highlighting Monday’s launch of a Welsh benefits charter, Ms Hutt raised the importance of maximising people’s incomes to addressing child poverty.

She said a compassionate, person-centred and streamlined benefits system is at the heart of the charter, which all 22 councils have signed up to.

She said: “We saw, in 10 years of Labour government, child poverty going down because of the ways in which we used tax and benefits.

“In thirteen years of austerity, it’s gone up.”

Sioned Williams, for Plaid Cymru, welcomed publication of a new child poverty strategy “at last” after years of pleading with the Welsh Government.

But she also raised concerns about Welsh ministers’ aversion to setting targets, describing a previous progress report as a “cut-and-paste job” which listed actions, not outcomes.

She said: “The Welsh Government is committed to tackling child poverty as an absolute priority, but the strategy doesn’t actually evidence that….

“I have no doubt, minister, that you want to see child poverty eradicated, as do we all here, but we need a clearer road map and signposts to know that we are nearing that goal.”

Jane Dodds, the Welsh Lib Dem leader, told the meeting on Tuesday January 23: “My plea to you is: if the things that you say are going to work, we have to do it urgently.

“And if you say they are going to work, then my question is: why not have targets?”

Ms Hutt said targets risk being overly simplistic, detracting from good government and the evidence of lived-experience poverty.

She said Prof Hick is a globally recognised expert on measuring poverty.

She added that a targets-based approach would not take into account all those who have responsibility for addressing child poverty, principally the UK Government.

Jayne Bryant, who chair’s the children’s committee, focused on care-experienced children as well as disabled children and young people who are more likely to be affected by poverty.

Jenny Rathbone welcomed the new strategy’s focus on children’s rights.

The Labour backbencher, who represents Cardiff Central, called for monitoring of the new benefits charter to show councils’ progress on increasing the uptake of eligible benefits.

Plaid Cymru’s Mabon ap Gwynfor called for an increase in the housing support grant in the Welsh Government’s 2024-25 draft budget.

The Dwyfor Meirionnydd MS said: “A third of the people in temporary accommodation currently are children, and they don’t get the same chances in life because of that.

“So, if we’re serious about tackling child poverty, we absolutely need to tackle housing.

Ms Hutt reiterated that the Welsh Government’s budget is worth £1.3bn less in real-terms than when it was set in the 2021 UK spending review.

Labour backbencher John Griffiths highlighted that the equality committee he chaired during the previous Senedd term recommended devolving the administration of benefits to Wales.

Ms Hutt said developing a coherent, streamlined Welsh benefits system is central to delivering the child poverty strategy.

She pointed out that the UK Government has rejected calls to assess the merits of devolving the administration of the same benefits to Wales as have been devolved to Scotland.

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Community

Pembrokeshire’s ‘Pure West Radio’ celebrates sixth birthday

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THERE ain’t no birthday like a Pure West birthday! 

Pure West Radio – Pembrokeshire’s multi-award-winning radio station is celebrating its sixth birthday this month – and is ready to move up a gear when it starts broadcasting on DAB later this summer. 

Pure West, which now has a staff of 12, and a team of over 90 volunteers bringing news, sport, entertainment and information to the airwaves of Pembrokeshire, celebrated its sixth anniversary on April 4 – and decided to share its celebrations with its loyal listeners – giving no fewer than 1,100 of them free tickets to some top local events. 

For the Pure West Team the birthday was marked with a staff party at Seven Spice in Haverfordwest – but for listeners the treats were more varied. 

Pure West Radio joined forces with Ocky White Travel – itself celebrating a 60th anniversary – to give away a cruise holiday to one lucky winner. On April 3 nurse Ffion Thomas, from Johnston, was announced as the winner of the seven-day P&O cruise to the Norwegian Fjords. She is taking her mum along with her as a 60th birthday treat when the Iona sets sail from Southampton on May 18. 

And the giveaways didn’t stop there… Mark Edwards kindly shared 100 free tickets for a celebratory Silent Disco at Eddie Rocks, in Haverfordwest, that were snapped up within an hour – so a hundred more were released; Pure West Radio also teamed up with Hangar 5, also in Haverfordwest, and offered two one-hour free bounces for listeners, but again demand far outweighed expectations, so another hour’s bounce was provided. 

In addition, Pure West Radio joined forces with The Palace Cinema, in Haverfordwest, for a free showing of Shrek – the Movie – but, yet again, a second showing had to be booked to accommodate all those who wanted tickets. 

And sports fans haven’t been left out of the party – Haverfordwest County AFC, media partners of Pure West, have supplied 100 free tickets for the Bluebrids final home game of the season against Colwyn Bay to the broadcaster’s listeners. 

“Our birthday celebrations were immense,” said Toby Ellis, Station Manager, “We gave away 1,100 free tickets to local events to make sure our dedicated listeners and followers were able to join in the party… putting a smile on the faces of more than a thousand Pembrokeshire people. 

“And while the birthday celebrations are winding down – Pure West Radio – the only radio station based in Pembrokeshire – is gearing up for the next phase in our story. 

“The licence for DAB broadcasting is in place – and we hope to go live within the next few months. 

“We’ve expanded our staff and are currently looking for a full-time show producer – so anyone interested should email [email protected] to find out more, and we have some new sponsors – Ocky White Travel is now the official sponsor of Pure West’s daytime show and Folly Farm sponsors the breakfast show. 

“And we’ve teamed up with yet more Pembrokeshire businesses who are taking advantage of our huge reach to spread their message across the county. 

“There really is something for everyone on Pure West Radio – tune in via app, smart speaker and check out our website for the latest going on in Pembrokeshire, he added.” 

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Crime

Suspended sentence for distribution and possession of child abuse images

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IN a controversial decision at Swansea Crown Court, 20-year-old Euwyn Draper of Goat Street, Haverfordwest, has been spared prison time despite admitting to possessing and distributing indecent images of children.

The court heard that Draper pleaded guilty to charges involving 74 Category A images — the most severe — along with 102 Category B and 385 Category C images. These were amassed and shared over a period last year, with specific distributions occurring on November 4, 2022.

Prosecutor Sian Cutter detailed that the investigation began with a raid at Draper’s residence on December 21, 2022. Although Draper was not present, and initial searches of his devices at his home returned no results, subsequent actions led to his arrest at his workplace. Upon confronting law enforcement, Draper immediately acknowledged his awareness of the reasons for their presence, lamenting, “I know why you’re here. I don’t do it anymore. I’m sorry.”

Further examination of his phone revealed not only the indecent images but also concerning internet searches and conversations indicating a focus on children. Notably, Draper had sent one image of each category to a contact named “Ralph” via WhatsApp.

Despite these admissions, Draper, who has no prior convictions, denied a sexual interest in children during his interview.

Representing Draper, defence lawyer Dan Griffiths stressed the defendant’s recognition of the gravity of his offences and highlighted his client’s age and immaturity at the time of the offences. The court also considered the prolonged period since the arrest to the trial, a span of 16 months.

Judge Geraint Walters addressed the court, underscoring the public’s disdain for such crimes and the harsh reality behind the images. “These are real children, they are not actors,” Judge Walters emphasized, condemning the market that drives such exploitative material.

Ultimately, Draper received a suspended sentence of 12 months for distribution and six months, concurrent, for making the images. Over the next two years, he must complete the Horizon programme and 30 days of rehabilitation activities. Additionally, Draper will be registered as a sex offender and is subject to a sexual harm prevention order for ten years.

Judge Walters concluded with a stern admonition for Draper to commit to rehabilitation and to move past this “dark phase” in his life, marking a pivotal moment for the young defendant and the community’s ongoing battle against such digital crimes.

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Community

The Harbourmaster: Special rail excursion draws crowds to Milford Haven

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MILFORD HAVEN witnessed an extraordinary event yesterday as a special charter train, operated by UK Railtours, made a unique visit to the town, drawing in 500 railway enthusiasts. Departing from London Paddington, the 13-carriage train, which included both first class and standard accommodations, travelled off the usual passenger routes to provide a scenic journey along the south Wales coast.

Starting the day with pick-ups from various locations including Slough, Reading, Swindon, and Bristol Parkway, the train ventured through the Severn Tunnel into Wales, showcasing a series of rarely used freight tracks. Notably, the locomotive switched at Newport to a pair of GBRf Class 66 freight engines, enhancing the experience for those on board by traversing tracks seldom seen by passenger services.

The journey took passengers through Cardiff, Bridgend, and Port Talbot Parkway, deviating at Court Sart Junction to follow the diversionary Swansea District line. The train paused at various locations including Llanelli and Haverfordwest, where passengers enjoyed a 90-minute break while the train was serviced.

A major highlight of the trip was the exploration of the seldom-visited Robeston branch, a treat for the rail enthusiasts who filled the train to capacity, necessitating a waiting list for hopeful travellers. The venture concluded at Milford Haven, where passengers disembarked for a photo session before the train commenced its return journey to London, including a final scenic pass via the Swansea Avoiding line and the Bishton flyover.

Local Councillor Nicola Harteveld of Milford Haven Town Council expressed delight at the influx of visitors, noting, “What an incredible sight at Milford Waterfront today with passengers enjoying our local scenery. It’s a testament to the unique charm and appeal of special rail tours.”

First class passengers were treated to The Great British Breakfast and a four-course dinner, while a buffet car served those in standard class, ensuring all passengers enjoyed their journey with comfort and style.

This tour, fully booked in all classes, underscores the continuing enthusiasm for unique rail experiences in the UK, combining a love for heritage rail with the exploration of less-travelled tracks. As the train made its way back to London Paddington, the participants reflected on a day filled with adventure and picturesque landscapes, leaving them with memories of a rare rail journey along the historic and scenic routes of Wales.

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