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Protesters call for public services’ protection

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Outside the Senedd: Protestors gather

PUBLIC service workers from across the country gathered at the Senedd on Tuesday, October 24, to tell politicians that local public services will disappear completely without a serious injection of cash from the Welsh government.

UNISON’s mass lobby came ahead of Welsh Government’s announcement of its draft 2018-19 budget proposals later in the afternoon.

Members of the trade union made the case for fair funding for Wales and for an end to the public sector pay cap.

Just last week, UNISON labelled Welsh government’s local authority budget as ‘wholly inadequate’ which would result in the loss of thousands of jobs and could mean some councils become unsustainable.

Margaret Thomas, UNISON regional secretary said: “Ordinary people across Wales have suffered for far too long as a result of the UK Conservative government’s cuts. The vital local services we all rely on are being sacrificed in the name of austerity and this is hurting our communities. More than 25,000 local government jobs have been lost in Wales in the last six years and pressure has increased on NHS Wales as other public services struggle to keep pace with demand. We need Welsh government to be fighting on behalf of all of us to protect public services.

“Austerity has undermined the living standards of all public service workers and their families and this has taken money away from Welsh high streets. Healthcare workers, council employees, emergency service workers and others, have endured seven years of pay freezes or below-inflation pay awards. We are asking Assembly Members to back a call for an immediate end to the public sector pay cap.”

Ms Thomas continued: “We are very pleased to have had the support of the Cabinet Secretary for health Vaughan Gething, Mike Hedges AM, Hannah Blythyn AM, John Griffiths AM, Jeremy Miles AM, and David Rees AM in signing UNISON’s pledge to end the public sector pay cap now. We know that we have a lot of support from other Assembly Members too for an end to austerity and for fair funding for Wales.

“Today’s lobby of the Senedd is part of a concerted UNISON campaign to keep up the pressure on both the UK and Welsh governments to invest in public services and the public service workforce.

“Attention moves now to our 4 November #SaveOurServices rally in Barry, backyard of Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns MP. He and his Conservative government are not listening to ordinary people. We’ve suffered too long as a result of UK government cuts, our local public services are disappearing and the workforce hasn’t had a pay rise in seven years.

“We hope there’ll be hundreds at our family- friendly Barry event. We have music, poetry and comedy in what will be a loud and colourful demonstration with a serious message.”

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Ben Lake MP “disappointed” after Agriculture Bill amendment on the standard of food and agricultural imports is rejected by House of Commons

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The UK’s new Agriculture Bill was put before MPs on Wednesday (13 May) for the final time as it reached the Report Stage and Third Reading.

Alongside farming unions and campaign groups, Ben Lake MP has lobbied for the Bill to include a number of important amendments. One of the amendments sought to introduce a legal requirement that agricultural or food products imported into the UK under future trade agreements would need to be produced or processed according to equivalent animal health, welfare and environmental standards as those required of UK prodcuers.

This amendment, in the form of New Clause 2, and which was tabled by the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Neil Parish MP, was rejected by the Commons. All Plaid Cymru MPs supported the amendment and Ben Lake MP said he was “disappointed” that the house did not vote in favour of an amendment to prevent the importation of products produced to lower animal health and environmental standards, and which in turn would have supported the high standards of Welsh produce.

Ben Lake MP said:

“Without this amendment there remains no legal requirement for future UK trade agreements to ensure that any agricultural or food imports are produced to the same standards as those required of domestic producers.

“Farmers in Wales strive to produce quality food in a sustainable manner, but the failure to include this amendment to the Agriculture Bill risks undermining these efforts by keeping the door open to imports produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards.

“I have always argued that in order to protect our own high standards it is crucial that a level playing-field is maintained in relation to imports, and that farmers in Wales are not put at a disadvantage by having to compete with imports that are produced to lower standards. I sincerely hope that this amendment will be adopted by the House of Lords, so that the House of Commons has another opportunity to support it.”

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Politics

£1 billion deal for ‘Shared Rural Network’ to improve mobile coverage goes ahead

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Ceredigion MP, Ben Lake says he is delighted that a scheme to extend mobile coverage in hard-to-reach rural areas making poor mobile phone coverage a thing of the past has been given the green light, thanks to a major new deal between the Government and UK mobile network operators.

The ‘Shared Rural Network’ will mean that high quality 4G coverage will be available for 95 percent of the UK by 2026 which means consumers will get good 4G signal wherever they live, work or travel. The new plans involves four operators (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone) joining forces to create a new organisation to deliver the ‘Shared Rural Network’. Each will be able to make the maximum use out of existing and new phone masts by being able to host their own equipment on them allowing their customers to access a mobile signal. The scheme will cost more than £1billion made up of £530m from the mobile operators and a £500m investment from the Government.

Ben Lake MP, who was one of 78 cross-party MPs who wrote to the Secretary of State for Digital Culture, Media and Sport last year to ask for government support for the scheme, said:

“This is really good news for my constituents. Better mobile connectivity will make flexible working, access to education and leisure opportunities easier. It will boost regional economic growth and begin to close the digital divide that exists across the country. The mobile has become an essential tool for most of us. It will certainly come as a relief to many people living in my constituency who are frustrated by the persistent ‘not spots’ which prevent them from carrying out many tasks which other people take for granted”.

The ’Shared Rural Network’ will eliminate the substantial majority of the country’s partial not-spots with the added benefit of increasing competition for mobile services, especially in rural areas; deliver on the Government’s 95% coverage manifesto commitment to extend coverage across the country; improve road coverage by reaching a further 16,000 kilometres of roads; involve minimum environmental impact and reduce the need for duplicate infrastructure and ensure that the UK has one of, if not the best, mobile coverage in Europe.

The initiative, which is a world first, follows government proposals for an overhaul of planning rules and is part of the Prime Minister’s plan to level up the country with world-class digital infrastructure across the UK to make sure homes and businesses are better connected.

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Elin Jones welcomes speed reduction, but says it should be even lower

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Following a meeting and correspondence with the Welsh Government, Elin Jones AM has welcomed the confirmation of an initial reduction in the speed on the A487 between Bow Street and Aberystwyth.

This stretch of the A487 is particularly dangerous, and there were two fatal accidents there last year.

Ken Skates, the Welsh Government Minister for Economy and Transport, confirmed to Elin Jones via letter that the route between Waun Fawr to 300m beyond Dorglwyd Junction will be reduced to 50mph, with work taking place in the next financial year.

The reduction to 50mph has been initially welcomed by Elin Jones, however she has called for the speed limit to be reduced further to 40mph.

Elin Jones said:

“The need for a review of the safety on the A487 is clear, particularly following the two tragic accidents that took place last year. I was pleased to be able to discuss the issue directly with the Welsh Government Minister in Bow Street recently, and for him to see for himself why a speed reduction was needed.

“I’m also pleased that this has resulted in the safety and speed limit review concluding that a reduction was necessary.

“However, I and many constituents who regularly use this route feel that the speed limit could be reduced further to 40mph, which I will raise again with the Minister.

“I will also continue to call for upgrading safety at the Dorglwyd junction. There are also many areas on the A487 where safety can be improved, either with a speed limit reduction, or by providing cycle lanes and footpaths to remove pedestrians and cyclists from danger. I have called on the Welsh Government to consider all options.”

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