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Welsh Government rebuffs claims it backtracked on real living wage promise



THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has been accused of rowing back on a promise to pay the real living wage to homelessness and housing support workers.

Mabon ap Gwynfor said 41% of support workers are paid below the new April 2024 minimum wage of £11.44 an hour and 67% less than the 2023-24 real living wage of £12.

Plaid Cymru’s shadow housing minister warned that 56% of frontline workers are struggling to pay their bills, with 12% feeling at greater risk of homelessness themselves.

He criticised a real-terms cut to the housing support grant in the Welsh Government’s 2024-25 draft budget, warning support for workers is woefully inadequate.

Mr Gwynfor claimed Mark Drakeford’s 2018 leadership manifesto promised to pay homelessness and housing support workers a fair wage.

Julie James, who is responsible for housing, said she is exploring whether further funding can be found in the final budget which will be published on February 27.

Wales’ climate change minister said: “I cannot promise that at the moment, but we are looking very hard to see if we can find that.”

She recognised that a flat £166m settlement for the housing support grant is causing problems but she said it was a struggle to maintain funding at that level.

Ms James added: “I would very much like to see them paid the real living wage. We would very much like to have that happen….

“They’re extraordinary people. They certainly do deserve to be paid the real living wage and be remunerated properly.”

Katie Dalton, Cymorth Cymru’s director, and Stuart Ropke, Community Housing Cymru’s chief executive, wrote to the first minister warning workers are being pushed into poverty.

Calling for at least a 10% increase in funding, which would equate to £16.7m, they warned that roles could otherwise be made redundant and contracts handed back to councils.

They wrote: “It is unacceptable that workers who do such complex and skilled jobs are paid so little, and it is intolerable that the very people who are tasked with preventing homelessness are being pushed closer to homelessness and poverty themselves.”

Ms Dalton and Mr Ropke said the workforce delivered vital, life-saving services during the pandemic and continue to play a role in addressing today’s housing crisis.

The pair argued fair work and the real living wage were at the heart of Mr Drakeford’s 2018 leadership pitch, Labour’s 2021 manifesto and the programme for government.

Mark Drakeford did not recognise the commitment when quizzed by Rhun ap Irowerth during first minister’s questions on Tuesday February 20.

The first minister accused Plaid Cymru’s leader of “selectively quoting” from manifestos.

Mr Drakeford said: “I’ve looked at Labour’s manifesto; it makes no reference at all to paying the real living wage in the context that he just described.

“What it does make a commitment to is paying the real living wage to social care workers here in Wales.

“That was the single most expensive commitment in our manifesto and money has been mobilised year after year to deliver it.”


Newly elected Labour MP reveals how she was raped, age 15



NEWLY elected Labour MP Natalie Fleet has bravely revealed how she was raped at the age of 15.
In a harrowing interview to be broadcast this Sunday (July 21), Ms Fleet says she still has “weekly nightmares” about what happened two decades on from the attack.
After being raped, Ms Fleet fell pregnant but says the daughter she gave birth to is now the “love of her life”.
Sitting down with GB News’ Gloria De Piero in an exclusive interview she explains that she’s decided to speak about what happened because the actions of her attacker – who told her to have an abortion – were “not ok”.
Ms Fleet also fears many women are suffering and unable to get the support they need.
That’s why she plans to use her platform in Parliament to use her teenage experiences, which also saw her spent a period homeless, as a catalyst for change.
Reflecting on what happened to her two decades ago, Ms Fleet, now a mother-of-four, said: “Today, 23 years later, I look back and I think, it wasn’t ok. That was an older man. I didn’t know we were having unprotected sex. I was a child and (it) is statutory rape. At the time this isn’t something that we were talking about. It’s not how I saw myself. I still have weekly nightmares about it.
“I have a huge privilege and advantage to be in Parliament and I’m thrilled to be here. But what happened in my childhood still has a massive impact on me, which is why I’m so excited about what the next Labour government is going to do.
“At 15, you definitely think you’re old enough to do all these things. I wanted to give my daughter the best life. But another thing that I can do now I’m in Parliament is I want to be a voice for all of those people, all of those women that have children in far from ideal circumstances.
“That’s why I wanted to talk about where my daughter came from and about what happened. It was really difficult for me to say to her, ‘I don’t think this was entirely consensual, and I think I might have been groomed, and I don’t think this is an appropriate relationship’. She took it really well. I Googled in advance f0r some tips, just a fact sheet or ‘how to deal with this’ and I found nothing.
“I found absolutely nothing. I found there were fact sheets about rape being used as a war crime. But there was nothing else. There’s no acknowledgement that it happens in the UK. And the more research I’ve done, I’ve found that there are over 3,000 conceptions every year from rape. But there’s no charity to support those women.
“There’s no help, advice, or support helpline that you can go to. No help on ‘how do I tell my child, that I love, that is everything to me, that this is where they came from?’”
Explaining why extra support in this area is so desperately needed she continued: “It is biologically very clear what happened to me because I was 15 years old, and he was older. I can prove where she came from, so that’s statutory rape. But there are so many women that this happens too who don’t speak about it.

“They dare not speak about it because they know they won’t be believed. And then even if by some miracle, we move to a society where women are believed, once you say this is your child, then that man can come and have access to that child.
“Even if you prove it’s rape, that man can have access to that child and help bring it up. And that’s absolutely terrifying. This is a perpetrator that has hurt the mother, who can then have access to the child.
“He told me to have an abortion at the time. He’s never met her. He never wanted anything to do with it. And he was very dismissive. He told me many times that he knew lots of ways that he wouldn’t have to pay a penny towards her, because all his friends had already evaded the CSA.”
Describing the relationship she now has with her daughter, Ms Fleet said: “So she’s 23 now and is the absolute love of my life. I am so proud of everything she is. I am thrilled. She makes me proud every single day. But at the time, when I was 15, I felt full of shame and guilt and responsibility. And all I was determined to do was make sure that she had a life that was as good as she would have had to any age parent. That was what I was determined to do.”
Outlining how she plans to use her role as an MP to push for change, she said: “I am a product of the last Labour government. It wasn’t a perfect Government, but it changed my life and it was transformational. When I was younger, things were tough and I had a Labour government.
“When we were homeless, the Labour government made sure that there was enough housing stock for us to be rehoused. And then when I had my first child at a very young age, I could send her to a Sure Start nursery. I could carry on, go to university with a first in the family scholarship.
“I could work in a minimum wage job. I could send my children because I’d got two by then, to a Sure Start nursery, and it just felt like I needed the support of the state. And my God, I got it.
“And, before I became an MP, I worked for a trade union and I was absolutely desperate to give back to my teachers. My teachers had invested in me. The Labour government made sure that my teachers had time to teach me and look after me, and I then saw that I was paying taxes and they weren’t being invested in young children like me or teachers. That’s why we needed a new Government?”
“On my estate, the estate where we were rehoused, I looked around and people struggled. And I see now there are people that I was close to when I was younger who are now suffering with addiction and poverty scars.
“What poverty has done to me has meant that I work and work and work and work and work. If somebody knocks on my door, I won’t answer it because I’m still scared it’s the bailiffs. That’s what happens to you in your childhood, it stays with you. In areas of Bolsover it’s absolutely heart-breaking.
“But I could either be angry about what’s happened over the past 14 years, sad and feel powerless, or I could come into Parliament and try and do something about it. I mean, what an honour.”

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Second home numbers in Pembrokeshire drop after council tax hike



THE NUMBER of second homes and self-catering holiday properties in Pembrokeshire has declined year-on-year, while those seeking council tax exceptions have, in one class, gone up 255 per cent.

A call for an update on Pembrokeshire County Council’s position on a potential relaxation of the ‘182-day’ rule, allowing self-catering accommodation to avoid paying a council tax premium was heard at the July meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council.

Last year, the rules on holiday lets in Wales changed; Welsh Government criteria saying holiday lets must be filled for 182 days a year – up from a previous 70 – in order to qualify for business rates rather than pay second homes council tax.

In Pembrokeshire, second homes, and self-catering businesses not meeting the criteria, are now paying a 200 per cent council tax premium in the county, effectively a treble rate of council tax.

At the July 18 meeting of full council, a question was submitted by Cllr Huw Murphy was heard, a follow-up from a previously unsuccessful notice of motion where he had called for a relaxation in the ‘182-day’ rules in the county down to 140 days.

After that notice failed last year, it was agreed the position be reviewed in 12 months, with Cabinet agreeing to write to Welsh Government to highlight concern over the 182-day occupancy rule.

In his question, Cllr Murphy said: “Can council be provided with an update of what data has been obtained since Dec 2023 to examine the impact of the 182-day occupancy rule for self-catering properties in advance of a review to be completed by December 2024 prior to any decision over what level of second home council tax to be levied for 2024/25 as it may be necessary to consider a reduction to support an industry under pressure?

“Have PCC received a reply from WG with regards to the concerns raised with regards to the 182-day rule and its impact on the Pembrokeshire tourism industry?”

In response, Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance and Efficiencies Cllr Joshua Beynon said a decision on future council tax premiums would be made by full council at its October meeting, after earlier committee discussions, adding that the council is currently undertaking a consultation on the second homes and long-term empty property premiums and has included questions on using its discretion on properties which did not meet the 182-day rule.

“In the interim, the Revenues team are monitoring the movement in second homes and self-catering units and the number of properties receiving an exception to paying the council tax premium,” he told members.

Members heard, as of July 1, the main increases in the level of exceptions related to Class 1 exceptions, properties that are up for sale, which had increased by 97 in the last 12 months, a rise of 255 per cent, and in Class 6 exceptions, properties that have a planning condition prohibiting year-round occupancy, which had increased by 78, or 21.6 per cent, with an overall increase in the seven classes of exemptions of 37.45 per cent.

Councillors were told the number of second homes had dropped year-on-year on that date from 3,364 to 3,271, roughly a 2.7 per cent drop; self-catering units dropping from 2,621 to 2,425, roughly 7.47 per cent.

Members heard, in response to Cllr Murphy’s second question, the-then leader Cllr David Simpson had received a response in May.

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Timetable to replace Gething announced as Tories criticise Labour



THE WELSH GOVERNMENT is poised for a significant transition as the timetable for replacing Vaughan Gething has been announced today (Saturday, July 20).

Vaughan Gething’s resignation as First Minister of Wales came after a series of controversies and political turmoil within Welsh Labour. His leadership has been under intense scrutiny, particularly due to issues surrounding a significant campaign donation and the dismissal of a minister, which ultimately led to the collapse of his government support.

Gething faced persistent questions about a £200,000 donation from Dauson Environmental Group during his leadership campaign. This donation raised concerns due to the company’s prior convictions and a conflict of interest, given the company’s loan from the Welsh government-owned Development Bank of Wales when Gething was the economy minister. These issues eroded trust and led to Plaid Cymru withdrawing its support for his government, which had been crucial for maintaining a majority in the Senedd.

Additionally, Gething’s decision to sack Hannah Blythyn, the Minister for Social Partnership, over leaked phone messages, further fueled the controversy. Blythyn denied any wrongdoing, and her dismissal was a key factor in Plaid Cymru’s decision to end their cooperation agreement with Labour.

The situation escalated when four members of Gething’s cabinet resigned, calling for his departure. This exodus made his position untenable and led to his announcement to step down, marking him as one of the shortest-serving First Ministers in Welsh history.

Andrew RT Davies MS, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, criticised the current state of Welsh Labour, highlighting the ongoing infighting and its impact on the governance of Wales. “With Labour’s infighting set to continue and Vaughan Gething not able to fill the seats in his ‘caretaker cabinet’, it’s the people of Wales who will continue to suffer, as Labour continues to take Wales for granted,” Davies stated.

Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies

He further questioned the credibility of Labour’s promise of a ‘new’ style of government, as pledged by Keir Starmer if elected on 4th July. “By backing Vaughan Gething, Keir Starmer’s judgement as well as his actions make this promise worthless. Welsh Labour clearly still clings onto the belief of party before country, and it remains to be seen whether this shrunken Cabinet will be any worse than a full Welsh Labour Government,” Davies added. He called for clarity on the appointment of a new First Minister, emphasizing the need for stable leadership for the people of Wales.

The timetable for the Welsh Labour Leadership Election has been meticulously outlined. Key dates include:

  • Tuesday, 16 July 2024: Membership freeze date.
  • Saturday, 20 July 2024: Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) to form Procedures Committee and open nominations at 7pm.
  • Wednesday, 24 July 2024: Closing of MS nominations at 12pm, followed by the announcement of prospective candidates at 3pm.
  • Monday, 19 August 2024: Closing of nominations from CLPs and affiliated organisations by 12pm, with the announcement of candidates at 5pm.
  • Tuesday, 20 August 2024: Deadline for candidate withdrawal from the process by 5pm, followed by a hustings period until 6 September 2024.
  • Thursday, 22 August 2024: Ballot opens, running for three weeks.
  • Friday, 13 September 2024: Ballot closes.
  • Saturday, 14 September 2024: Announcement of the new Leader of Welsh Labour.
  • Tuesday, 17 September 2024: Final First Minister’s Questions (FMQs).
  • Wednesday, 18 September 2024: Election of the new First Minister.

These dates, while tentative, provide a structured pathway towards stabilising the leadership of Welsh Labour and subsequently, the governance of Wales. The upcoming announcement will undoubtedly set the stage for an intense period of political activity, as candidates vie for the leadership position and the chance to guide Wales through its current challenges.

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