THE NATIONAL Assembly for Wales has been recognised as the 2018 UK leading employer for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the latest Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.
It’s the first time the Assembly has topped the list and comes ten years since it first entered the index. Since then the Assembly has steadily worked its way up and has featured in the top ten for the past four years.
Stonewall also highly commended the Assembly’s work in promoting, recognising and supporting transgender equality, citing it as one of only 11 exemplar organisations in the UK.
Elin Jones AM, Llywydd of the National Assembly for Wales, said: “We are truly honoured to be recognised by Stonewall as the leading employer in the UK for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“The National Assembly has diversity and inclusion at the very heart of its role representing the people of Wales.
“We are proud to support our LGBT staff network and continue to work to create an inclusive culture – not only for the people who work here but for the people we represent across all Wales’ diverse communities.
“As Wales’ parliament, it is right that we should lead by example to demonstrate what can be achieved with the right attitudes, leadership and determination.
“This is not only a great day for the Assembly, it’s also good news for staff in the many other Welsh organisations represented in the top 100 employers. They demonstrate people in Wales clearly understand the value of inclusive policy and service delivery and I congratulate them all.”
Joyce Watson AM, Assembly Commissioner with responsibility for diversity and inclusion, said: “This is a wonderful achievement which comes on the tenth anniversary of the Assembly first being recognised in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.
“It is a testament to the dedication of our staff, in particular our diversity and inclusion team, for embracing and ingraining LGBT equality in all aspects of our work representing the people of Wales.
“Our success shows that incremental changes in policy and a willing approach to changing attitudes can achieve so much and serve as an example to others.”
Andrew White, Director of Stonewall Cymru, told The Herald: “Of course, we should all expect our national Parliament to lead the way on this and other matters. But for many LGBT people in Britain this will have a special significance.
“In my last few years at school the Thatcher government brought in Section 28: a spiteful piece of legislation intended to mute all discussion of people like me in schools. The parliamentary debate leading up to this vile law treated me and my peers as somehow less worthy of rights, of family, of respect. It’s phenomenal that a parliament could now be leading to LGBT inclusion”.
WALES’ EMPLOYERS PRAISED
Stonewall’s Top 100 is compiled from submissions to the Workplace Equality Index, a powerful benchmarking tool used by employers to assess their achievements and progress on LGBT equality in the workplace.
More than 430 organisations took part in this year’s index.
Each organisation must demonstrate their expertise in 10 areas of employment policy and practice, including networking groups, senior leadership, procurement and how well they’ve engaged with the LGBT community.
As part of the Top 100, Stonewall also collects more than 92,000 anonymous responses from employees on their experience of Britain’s workplace culture and diversity. It’s one of the largest national employment surveys in Britain.
A massive 91% of non-LGBT employees who responded to the survey, say they understand why their employer is committed to LGBT equality.
Speaking about the way in which Welsh employers had stepped up to the mark on LGBT rights and inclusiveness, Andrew White of Stonewall said: “I am constantly impressed with how employers across Wales are transforming the lives and opportunities of LGBT people, these results show that our small but proud nation is once again leading the way.
“We know that despite the advances of LGBT rights in recent years, people in Wales still experience discrimination, abuse and isolation at work, at home and in our communities. The work of LGBT-inclusive employers is vital in securing a more prosperous, healthier and more equal nation for future generations.”
Andrew White concluded: “Creating the best environment at work for all staff results in a happier, healthier workforce, better services, and increased productivity. Workplace equality isn’t just right, it’s good for business.
“Our national parliament is rightfully championing equality, especially trans equality. The positive actions they have taken set a great example to all employers on how much can be achieved with the right leadership and desire to effect positive change.”
More than 400 employers were in contention to get a coveted spot in this year’s Top 100 LGBT inclusive employers list. The top 10 employers were a diverse mix of organisations, with representation from both the public and private sectors. The full list is in the notes to editors.
To mark the new trans-inclusive focus of the Top 100, Stonewall has also named Britain’s top trans-inclusive employers. This is a list of organisations that have gone above and beyond to ensure trans staff feel accepted. The full list is in the notes to editors.
This comes at a time when trans and non-binary people are facing a daily onslaught of abuse both in their private lives and in the public sphere.
Earlier this month Stonewall released research that showed half of trans people (51%) have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination or abuse and that one in eight trans employees (12%) have been physically attacked by colleagues or customers in the past year.
WG settles ‘scandalous’ land sale case
THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has settled a claim against its former advisors about land sales which took place under a purported regeneration scheme.
The Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales (RIFW) had issued proceedings against Amber Fund Management and Lambert Smith Hampton concerning the portfolio sale of 15 properties in 2012.
The settlement has been reached on a commercial basis and without any admission of liability by any party.
The detailed terms have been incorporated into a confidential settlement agreement between the parties.
The Welsh Government Minister for Local Government, Julie James, said the £40.7 million tied up in the Fund can now be made available to support future investments across Wales.
RIFW was set up as an arms-length body by the Welsh Government to allow the Welsh Government to raise money which could then be used to fund regeneration and investments in Welsh businesses.
It was a complete shambles.
One of the advisors appointed had previous connections with one of the parties which bought some of the land at an undervalue.
Vital information was not relayed to the RIFW’s board by the Welsh Government and Board members were kept in the dark about transactions carried out in their name.
Under the oversight of their appointed agents and Welsh Government civil servants, RIFW sold publicly owned assets by private treaty and without prior valuation at a price that reflected the assets’ existing use, under sale terms that provided only limited protection to the public interest in their significant future development values, and via a negotiation process that left RIFW lumbered with undesirable assets.
The Chair of the Senedd Public Accounts Committee, Nick Ramsay MS, said: “The out of court settlement between the Welsh Government and the former advisors of RIFW effectively brings a curtain down on a very sorry and lamentable episode.
“The hasty sell-off of publicly-owned land at bargain-basement prices effectively deprived Welsh taxpayers of tens of millions of pounds which could’ve been used for essential services.
“We look forward to examining matters further with the Permanent Secretary and Head of the Welsh Government Civil Service, Shan Morgan, at our next meeting on Monday, November 23.
“We will be asking what robust steps have been taken to avoid history repeating.”
RIFW was set up as an arms-length body by the Welsh Government to sell off land around Wales including in north Wales, Monmouthshire and Cardiff, and use the money, in conjunction with European funding, to reinvest in areas in need of regeneration.
But the Public Accounts Committee found that the body was poorly managed, poorly overseen by the government, and that, because of a change in the direction of RIFW, from one of regeneration to property asset disposals, some of the Board members felt they lacked the necessary knowledge and expertise to fulfil their roles.
It also learned that the Board was not presented with key information regarding the value of the land in its portfolio, or of expressions of interest from potential buyers.
Fifteen plots of land, originally supposed to be sold separately, were instead sold as a single portfolio at a price which did not take into account potential use of the land in the future. This decision resulted in Welsh taxpayers missing out on tens of millions of pounds of funding.
The Committee learned that one of the organisations charged with offering expert advice to the Board, Lambert Smith Hampton Ltd, had previously acted on behalf of a director of the buyer of the land, South Wales Land Developments Ltd (SWLD), and signed an agreement to do so again one day after the sales went through.
The Committee concluded that the RIFW Board had been poorly served by its own expert advisors.
Angela Burns MS – Shadow Minister for Government Resilience and Efficiency – said: “The Fund was established to sell valuable packages of Welsh Government land, with the money used to support regeneration schemes. However, evidence has since emerged that shows that the sale of RIFW’s assets was undertaken at a loss of tens of millions of pounds. A loss which was borne ultimately by the Welsh Taxpayer and yet another example of the complete inability of this Labour Government to be fiscally prudent.
“Millions of pounds have been squandered, millions that could have been invested in our education and health systems or spent building Wales’ economy or supporting some of our more vulnerable citizens. It’s an absolute scandal and the real scandal is the Welsh Government can slide out of their responsibility for this debacle”
Included in the scandal are:
- Fifteen sites sold for £21 million; with the taxpayer missing out on staggering sums of money
- A site in Rhoose purchased from RIFW for less than £3m – sold on for almost £10.5m South Wales Land Developments Ltd. Taxpayers losing out
- An Abergele site purchased from RIFW for £100,000, without overage, and sold for £1.9million. Taxpayers losing out
- Land in Lisvane sold for £1.8million – worth £39million.
Welsh Conservatives also claim the Welsh Government has squandered £1 billion on other projects, including:
- £221m on uncompetitive Enterprise Zones
- £9.3m on flawed initial funding of the Circuit of Wales
- £97.9m on delays and overspend on the A465 Heads of the Valleys Road
- £157m on the M4 relief road inquiry
- Over £100m propping up Cardiff Airport
UK not ready for Brexit
In its fourth report assessing government’s preparations at the border, the NAO highlights that planning for 1 January 2021 has built on work done for previous EU Exit deadline.
Departments have made progress towards implementing the systems, infrastructure and resources required to operate the border in relation to Great Britain at “minimum operating capability” by January 1 and are reasonably confident most will be ready, but timetables are tight.
There is little time for ports and other third parties to integrate their systems and processes with new or changed government systems, and contingency plans may need to be invoked for some elements.
Even if the Westminster government makes further progress with its preparations, there is still likely to be significant disruption at the border from January 1, as traders will be unprepared for new EU border controls which will require additional administration and checks.
The government’s plan for reducing the risk of disruption at the approach to the short Channel crossings is still developing, with various issues yet to be resolved. It intends to launch a new GOV.UK web service called ‘Check an HGV is ready to cross the border’ for hauliers to check and self-declare that they have the correct documentation for EU import controls before travelling and obtain permits to drive on prescribed roads in Kent.
Government is preparing civil contingency plans, such as to ensure continuity of the supply of critical goods and medicines in the event of any disruption to supply chains.
The UK Government will also need to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol from January 1. However, due to the scale and complexity of the changes, the lack of time and the impact of ongoing negotiations, there is a very high risk it may not be implemented in time.
The government has left itself little time to mobilise its new Trader Support Service (TSS), in which it has announced it is investing £200 million, to reduce the burden on traders moving goods to Northern Ireland and to help them prepare.
The government is spending significant sums of money preparing the border for the end of the transition period and, in 2020 alone, announced funding of £1.41 billion to fund new infrastructure and systems, and wider support and investment.
The NAO says that government must continue to focus its efforts on resolving the many outstanding issues relating to the border and develop robust contingency plans if these cannot be addressed in time for the end of the transition period.
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “The January 1 deadline is unlike any previous EU Exit deadline: significant changes at the border will take place and government must be ready.
Campaigners Thank Local MP, Ben Lake, for Championing Community Energy
Today campaign group, Power for People, thanked local MP, Ben Lake, for holding a debate last night in the House of Commons to promote community renewable energy by creating a ‘Right to Local Supply’ in law.
Central to the debate was a proposed new law, known as the Local Electricity Bill, that Mr Lake is co-sponsoring and which is supported by 212 MPs. The Bill aims to help rebuild local economies whilst increasing clean energy generation.
If made law, the Bill would empower community-owned local energy companies to sell locally generated renewable electricity directly to local households and businesses.
Currently customers can only purchase electricity from nationally licensed utilities. The Bill’s supporters say this means money people use to pay their energy bills is not helping to rebuild local economies and local clean energy infrastructure.
Responding to the debate, Energy Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, said, “It is certainly something that I as the Energy Minister will be willing to engage with and have a discussion about … I think that with a co-operative spirit, we can get very far.”
Campaigning group, Power for People, are calling for MPs and the government to make the Bill law and are leading a supportive coalition of organisations including Community Energy Wales, Community Energy England, Community Energy Scotland, WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the RSPB. 62 local authorities have also pledged their support.
Ben Lake, MP for Ceredigion, said, “A Right to Local Supply will empower and enable new community energy companies to sell energy that they generate directly to local people which will accelerate our transition to clean energy and help strengthen local economies. The Local Electricity Bill would enshrine this in law and I will do all I can to ensure it succeeds.”
Power for People’s Director, Steve Shaw, said, “We thank Ben Lake for holding a debate on the Local Electricity Bill in the House of Commons. If made law, the Bill would unleash the huge potential for new community-owned clean energy infrastructure and for this to boost local economies, jobs, services, and facilities in communities across Ceredigion, Wales and the rest of the UK.”
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