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Greater support for forces’ veterans

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Motion builds on cross party consensus: Mark Isherwood

A WELSH Conservative debate has called for greater support for military personnel, veterans and their families in Wales.

It follows a cross party inquiry led by Assembly Members, which recommended the establishment of an Armed Forces Commissioner for Wales. The call formed part of a series of recommendations made within an inquiry – published by the Cross Party Group on the Armed Forces and Cadets – into the impact of the Armed Forces Covenant on armed forces personnel.

The Covenant was enshrined in legislation in 2011, and recognises the country’s moral obligation to ensure that armed forces personnel, veterans and their families do not face disadvantage in accessing public or commercial services as a result of their military service.

The motion for the Welsh Conservative debate on Wednesday urges the National Assembly for Wales to:

  • Welcome the Cross Party Group on the Armed Forces and Cadets inquiry into the impact of the Armed Forces Covenant in Wales and notes its recommendations;
  • Call on the Welsh Government to consider the recommendations put forward by the inquiry to ensure all available support is provided for military personnel, veterans and their families in Wales.

The Group found that in spite of positive developments since the Covenant’s introduction, issues remain as to how public sector organisations in Wales fulfil their obligations.

Problems identified included insufficient accountability for delivery of the Covenant, a lack of awareness of the Covenant among public sector staff, and unsustainability in how Covenant-related activities are funded.

Shadow Public Services Minister, Mark Isherwood, said: “We owe it to everyone who has proudly served our country to honour their sacrifice by upholding the Covenant between the people of Wales and those who serve, or have served, in our Armed Forces.

“Wales has a proud record of support for our armed forces and there have been many positive developments in recent years, but there is always more that can and should be done.

“In addition to the introduction of an Armed Forces Commissioner for Wales, there are a number of other steps which could be taken to ensure that armed forces veterans and their families receive the support they need.

“For instance, alongside further action to identify the size and needs of the Armed Forces community of Armed Forces personnel, their families and veterans in Wales, more needs to be done to improve their access to health, housing and employment, and in order to address the disadvantage compared to other parts of the UK, the Welsh Government should consider the introduction of a Service Pupil Premium.

“We have an opportunity to build on the consensus established by the work of the Cross Party Group, and our debate is intended to drive that shared agenda forward to improve the lives of military personnel, veterans and their families.”

The Conservative call comes shortly after the Welsh Government announced that Armed forces veterans in Wales will receive quicker access to specialist NHS services following extra investment.

£100,000 additional funding will go to Veterans NHS Wales, the UK’s only dedicated national service to support the emotional and mental health needs of armed forces veteran by providing dedicated veteran’s therapists in each health board area.

Dr Neil Kitchiner, the Director of Veterans’ NHS Wales Director and its Consultant Clinical Lead said: “I am very grateful to the Welsh Government for their continued support to VNHSW. This increase funding of £100,000 announced today will allow us to increase our Consultant Psychiatrist sessions by 50% and offer more veterans’ quicker access to a specialist doctor for medication options, reviews and second opinions.

“We will also increase our part-time administrator’s hours which will allow them to be more accessible to telephone and email queries from veterans and referrers. It will also speed up referral to assessment times. The inclusion of a full-time psychology graduate for the first time will enhance training and support to our Peer Mentors in delivering guided self help interventions and improve our data collection, analysis and reporting to our key stakeholders.”

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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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£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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