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Politics

UK Government’s ‘considerable offer’ not enough

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Breaking up's so hard to do: A UK single market on Westminster's terms

IN A speech delivered at Airbus’ Broughton HQ, Theresa May’s effective deputy, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, has attempted to allay fears of a Westminster power grab of devolved powers following the UK’s departure from the EU.

Mr Lidington, claimed the UK Government had made a ‘considerable offer’ to the devolved administrations with a commitment that the ‘vast majority’ of powers returning from Brussels will start off in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast rather than Whitehall.

Mr Lidington, said his plans marked “a very big change to the EU Withdrawal Bill that is before Parliament and a significant step forward in these negotiations.”

He continued: “If accepted, this offer puts beyond doubt our commitment to a smooth and orderly departure from the European Union, in a way that doesn’t just respect the devolution settlements, but strengthens and enhances them.”

Mr Lidington warned that a “divided country at home” would be “weaker, less secure and less prosperous overseas​.”​

The problem with Mr Lidington’s words is that ‘the vast majority’ is not all powers currently vested in the UKs’ devolved administrations within the EU. Moreover, the clear message that the Westminster government wanted to maintain the unity of an internal market within the UK suggests that powers will have to be taken from the devolved governments and retained permanently by the UK parliament in order to make that arrangement work. However, the UK government’s stance on agriculture, a key issue for the Welsh Government, has been extensively trailed by Michael Gove and Defra ministers for months and cannot have taken it by surprise.

Mike Russell, the Scottish Brexit minister, said: “However they try to dress this up, the UK government is using Brexit to try to take control of devolved powers without the agreement of the Scottish parliament. It is totally unacceptable for the Tories to unilaterally rewrite the devolution settlement.”

First Minister, Carwyn Jones, said: “As currently drafted, the Bill allows the UK government to take control of devolved policy areas, such as farming and fishing, once the UK has left the EU. This is an unacceptable attack on devolution in both Wales and Scotland.

“We now need further progress that goes beyond warm words and I hope the ‘very big changes’ promised in the speech equate to sensible amendments to the bill which respect devolution. We will continue to work with the UK and Scottish governments to that end.”

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds commented: “Common frameworks in certain areas will certainly be important after Brexit and we would never want to put the UK’s common market at risk. However, it must be up to devolved Governments to decide if they want to enter common frameworks in devolved areas and to negotiate suitable frameworks. The UK Government cannot and must not impose frameworks on devolved Governments.

“Brexit will have huge implications for sectors such as agriculture. Brexit will cut our farmers off from their key markets and dismantle the financial support they rely on. Decisions on these vital areas must be made in Wales and address the unique needs of Welsh farmers.”

The Welsh Conservative spokesman on Europe, Mark Isherwood AM, said: “Welsh Conservatives have been steadfast in our belief that the devolution settlement must be respected with the necessary changes made to the EU Withdrawal Bill.

“As we’ve stated from the outset, we would also expect that leaving the European Union would not undermine the devolved settlement and would result in more powers making their way to the Welsh Assembly.

“It is vital that we now protect the UK’s single market and that’s why it is imperative the Welsh Government engages positively with the UK Government in this process to ensure the frameworks relating to devolved matters are agreed by all parties.”

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Politics

AM calls for sweeping changes

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Neil McEvoy: The Welsh establishment don't want change

“IT’S BEEN a disastrous year for Welsh Democracy.”

Those were the eye-catching words with which controversial Cardiff AM Neil McEvoy spoke about the need for a new campaign group within Plaid Cymru.

Suspended from membership of his party and expelled from the Party of Wales’ Assembly group after demanding access to information held about him under the Data Protection Act after Plaid made a complete hash of an investigation into allegations made against him by a firm of lobbyists, Mr McEvoy was not talking about his own experiences.

Fed up of what he regards as nepotism and systemic corruption within the Welsh body-politic, Mr McEvoy offered a series of trenchant analyses of Wales’ political and social problems.

And he started by referring to the dismissal of the late Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Carl Sargeant.

Neil McEvoy writes: It took just three anonymous complaints about a Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary – which were not investigated, not proven, not deemed serious enough to go to the police or even written down. They led to him being sacked and judged guilty by the mob, without the opportunity to defend himself. We know the rest.

The Permanent Secretary of the Civil Service is refusing to release documents that the democratically elected National Assembly has demanded. I’ve had to invoke a clause in the Government of Wales Act used for the first time, to force the publication of the report into the Carl Sargeant leak, because I am not going to sit in our Senedd and let Wales be disrespected.

My motion is supported by the Conservatives and even UKIP, but we have to wait until after recess for Plaid Cymru to confirm if they will or will not back my motion. For the sake of the Welsh National Interest, I hope they do.

Investigations into the First Minister’s involvement into the shoddy sacking affair are being whitewashed. We’ve been hearing about a toxic culture at the heart of Welsh Government. When we campaigned for the Welsh Assembly is this where anyone thought it would end up?

Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales – has to rise above this kind of politics and lead the way.

FREE SPEECH UNDER THREAT

Neil McEvoy had strong words about the threat posed to free speech in Wales.

Nowadays, being offended is almost a hobby for some people. They’re dismissed as virtue signallers in many parts of the world. But they don’t get dismissed in Wales. They actually make it onto the news. Too many of them have made it into our Assembly. Mock outrage everywhere on Twitter from politicians who joke about the same things in private.

The reality is that we have imported America’s culture war into Welsh politics. Instead of uniting people we’re dividing people up. Some people are said to be oppressors, simply because of their gender or race. People talk about male white privilege. Are white men in the valleys privileged? Really?

In Wales, we should know where the oppressor is, because it’s been the same for a thousand years. It’s the elite in London who have taken the wealth from our country to make themselves rich while keeping us poor.

It’s the new elite in the Bay Bubble, copying their London masters.

I’m not interested in turning people against each other because of their gender, or their race, or their sexual orientation. I know what my political purpose is. It’s addressing the injustice of our country being exploited for centuries.

WE MUST DEFEAT THE ELITE

We have to defeat the elites, they are very powerful people. They’re the political elites that don’t represent us. The London media elite that doesn’t talk about us, unless they have something condescending or negative to say. The financial elite that keeps their money off shore, so we can’t benefit from it.

But where are we now? I was thrown out of the Plaid group for questioning why we can’t sell council houses so long as the money is used to buy new ones. That’s a really popular policy that has helped tens of thousands of working class people own their own home and become independent. That’s real sovereignty as far as I’m concerned, because how can you ever be sovereign when someone else owns the house you live in?

The establishment here has had warnings. The huge rise in the UKIP vote. It didn’t matter how incompetent they were. The less competent the better in order to send a message to the establishment. And they beat us in so many elections as a result.

The Brexit referendum. The establishment didn’t see it coming. They couldn’t understand that faced with voting for the status quo or voting for the unknown, then people would pick the unknown, because that risk was better than keeping things the way they are. I voted remain but I can tell you, I understand why so many people didn’t and I’m not judging anybody for that.

A lot of people voted leave because of immigration, and there is a migration problem in Wales. Our political Leaders choose not to talk about it. Because our economy is bad, our young, talented and economically active people have to leave. And they’re replaced by older, economically inactive people because Wales is a cheaper, more beautiful place to retire.

The best thing we can do about this is become wealthy. That way the young people stay and it will be the talented, economically active people coming to our country because of the opportunities we’ll have here.

DANGER FOR THE ASSEMBLY

People are crying out for change, but nobody is providing it. The establishment in Wales don’t want change. The status quo is working great for them so they’ll fight to keep it.

What we need is equality of opportunity, which means ending nepotism and ending corruption, because nothing hurts equal opportunity more than nepotism and corruption. You can see that in Cardiff Bay. Millions dished out to the third sector, who often seem to spend a lot but deliver little. Those organisations are packed with Labour members.

We’ve got lobbyists running rampant in Cardiff Bay, selling access and information to the highest bidder. Anyone who gets in their way is smeared in the most personal and damaging way. These people are poisoning our democracy and must be dealt with.

But how can we when we’ve had the same Labour party in charge in Wales for 20 years? That’s not healthy for any democracy.

I can tell you where this is heading. People will not be voting for a sovereign Wales in future. They’ll be voting to abolish the Assembly. Because they’re looking at what’s going on and they’re thinking the Assembly is too broke to fix. But too many of us worked too hard to get a national parliament to see it fail like this.

So what are we going to do about it? We are going to get organised and we are going to change the direction of this party, change the direction of its politics and change people’s minds about voting for us. We’re going to propel Wales forward.

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Politics

State of Welsh roads examined

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24 years: Time it will take to clear backlog of road repairs

A ​NEW​ inquiry will look at the state of roads in Wales and what is being done to ensure they are fit for the future.

The National Assembly’s Econonmy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee will look at the current condition of Welsh roads and whether the funding and maintenance models in place are providing value for money.

Recent media reports claimed it would take 24 years to clear the backlog of road repairs across the country.

The Committee will also look at the viability and value for money of major construction projects like the M4 relief road around Newport, the A465 dualling programme between Gilwern and Brynmawr, the Caernarfon to Bontnewydd bypass, and the Newtown bypass. Costs for the relief road have already risen beyond £1 billion, while a recent Welsh Government announcement revealed the A465 is also projected to be over budget.

“Potholes and poorly maintained roads are a frustration for all of us. As well as making your journey uncomfortable they can seriously damage the Welsh economy and society as a whole,” said Russell George AM, Chair of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee.

“Think of the millions of journeys made every year for business, for leisure, for health needs, school runs and so on. It is essential Wales has a well-maintained road network to keep the country moving.

“We understand that, at a time of budget cuts and financial pressures, local authorities are having to make tough decisions. But we intend to examine the current condition of Welsh roads and what is being done to make the network fit for the future.”

The terms of reference for the inquiry are:

The current condition of roads in Wales and whether the approach to funding and delivery of maintenance programmes for the local road, trunk road and motorway network in Wales is effective, managed so as to minimise disruption to road users, and provides value for money;

Whether major enhancement projects on the local road, trunk road and motorway network are prioritised, funded, planned and delivered effectively, and provide value for money. Relevant issues include the implementation of the Early Contractor Involvement approach and the opportunities offered by the Welsh Government’s Mutual Investment Model; and

Whether Wales is adopting a sustainable approach to the maintenance and enhancement of its road network in the context of key legislation such as the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013.

A public consultation will be open until 27 April 2018. Anyone wishing to contribute should first view the Committee’s web pages for more information.

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Politics

Tell people about new tax powers

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Simon Thomas: Call for public awareness campaign on tax

PEOPLE need to know how their taxes are changing and how it will affect them when income tax is devolved to Wales next year.

The recommendation comes from the National Assembly’s Finance Committee which has been looking at how new taxes will be collected in Wales.

Under the Wales Act 2014 taxes including land transaction (formerly stamp duty) and landfill disposal come under the Welsh Government’s remit on 1 April.

In 2019, a proportion of income tax raised in Wales will stay here to make up the Welsh Government’s budget.

As a consequence, the block grant, the amount of money received from the UK Government every year, will be adjusted to recognise these new fiscal powers.

“These devolved taxes will mean Wales is responsible for raising a proportion of its own budget every year, rather than receiving a lump sum from London,” said Simon Thomas AM, Chair of the Finance Committee.

“So it is critical that these taxes are collected efficiently, effectively and that people are aware of what their taxes are being used for and how it affects them.

“We believe the Welsh Government and the new tax collection body, the Welsh Revenue Authority, should undertake an extensive public awareness campaign to help people understand these changes so they are better informed about the powers and responsibilities which lie in Wales.”

The Committee also raised concerns about an increase in the cost of transferring taxes from HMRC to the Welsh Revenue Authority (WRA) – projected to be £1.8 million, and calls of the Welsh Government to monitor the situation carefully.

It also calls for careful consideration of the number of staff currently on secondment at the WRA, warning of the need for knowledge transfer and retaining of skills when they return to their regular positions.

The Committee’s findings will be considered by the Welsh Government.

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