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Impartiality of civil service questioned

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Carwyn Jones: Knew nothing of friend and colleague's health issues

THE CONTINUING wrangle over an inquiry into the circumstances which led to the death of former AM Carl Sargeant has intensified this week after a suggestion that evidence to the QC-led inquiry was being ‘filtered’ by Welsh Government civil servants.

In the meantime, the Coroner’s Inquest into Mr Sargeant’s death opened in a way which raised a series of questions about the tactics adopted by the legal team representing First Minister Carwyn Jones and threw doubt on Mr Jones’ public statements about his knowledge of his late Cabinet colleague’s mental health.

Conservatives in the Assembly pounced on a leaked Welsh Government email which showed the Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Government, Dame Shan Morgan, telling Welsh Government staff to share evidence for the Carl Sargeant inquiry with senior civil servants first. Paul Bowen QC is investigating Carwyn Jones’s handling of the sacking of the Alyn and Deeside AM from his cabinet and in an email to Welsh Government staff entitled “support to staff”, the Permanent Secretary, Dame Shan Morgan, asks “those who believe they have evidence relevant to the investigation should bring this to the attention of David Richards, Director of Governance; Peter Kennedy, HR Director; or my office”.

Only a subsequent ‘clarification’ after the email’s leak suggested that employees could give their evidence direct to the Independent Inquiry Team without it being looked over by their senior managers.

Questioning the Permanent Secretary’s latest involvement, Welsh Conservative leader, Andrew RT Davies said: “This once again raises serious concerns over the conduct of the Welsh Government and calls into question the independence of this whole process.

“If the inquiry is to be fully independent then all potential evidence should be handed over to the QC leading the investigation, not pre-vetted by the Permanent Secretary or her minions.

“This latest communication shines a light into the dark tactics being deployed by certain individuals in the Welsh Government to influence and control the upcoming inquiry, and that is simply unacceptable.

“Carl Sargeant lost his life in incredibly tragic circumstances, and there is a responsibility on everyone involved to ensure this process is fully independent and transparent so that the family can find the answers they need to find peace with what has happened.

“The Welsh Government must apologise and immediately withdraw this instruction so people can provide evidence to the inquiry free from bully-boy tactics and intimidation.”

A spokesperson for the permanent secretary said: “We have been clear that as a civil service we will fully co-operate with the work of the IQCI [independent QC investigation], and any evidence held by staff on Welsh Government systems will be collated and transferred to the investigation in its entirety and without redaction.”

A request by The Herald for an explanation as to WHY the Permanent Secretary issued the email remains unanswered and the prospect of Wales’ leading civil servant acting ‘on behalf of the Welsh Government’ raises a substantial question about whether the right distance is being maintained between the sectional interests of the party in government and the national role of the Welsh Government as an institution.

A Plaid Cymru spokesperson responded: “This email raises serious questions about the internal processes of the Welsh Government and risks jeopardising the independence of the inquiry.

“It is vital that this inquiry remains independent, transparent and fair.

“Plaid Cymru will be urgently raising questions about this matter with the Welsh Government.”

Dame Shan Morgan has also come under significant pressure following her decision to deny lawyers acting for the Sargeant family the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses giving evidence to the inquiry.

The family of Carl Sargeant has threatened legal action after claims they had been excluded from a probe into the late minister’s sacking by Carwyn Jones.

A solicitor acting for the family, Neil Hudgell, said: “The grieving Sargeant family are losing patience and faith in the inquiry and are hurt and upset that everything they have asked for has been ignored.

“Mr Bowen can only go as far as the permanent secretary will allow and we currently have an inquiry process where there will be no effective involvement from the family. How can that be fair?”

A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: “The protocol (agreed between the Welsh Government and the Inquiry) sets out the basis on which the investigation will be conducted and enables the family and any other participant to put forward questions they wish to be asked by the investigator.”

A spokesperson for the independent investigator said: “Mr Bowen QC confirms that the independent QC Investigation will continue to run under the published Operational Protocol while this is resolved.

“Mr Bowen QC is committed to conducting a thorough and independent investigation,” the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile at the inquest into Carl Sargeant’s death, a QC representing Carwyn Jones has claimed that other women have come forward with allegations of inappropriate behaviour against the late Alyn and Deeside AM.

Those allegations, as those supposedly made before Mr Jones sacked Mr Sargeant, all have the inestimable benefit of not being subject to challenge or proper investigation. Moreover, taking the First Minister’s lawyers claims at face value leads to a substantial question of how – if the allegations have substance – Carwyn Jones remained unaware of any issue with his close friend and former colleague’s supposed conduct.

Moreover, the attempt to publicly smear Mr Sargeant, who –as before his death – has no opportunity to defend himself is, Coroner John Griffiths observed unlikely to be relevant to the Inquest process, which raises the obvious question of why it was raised at all by the First Minister acting through his lawyers.

As it is, Mr Jones’ claims to have been a close friend of Mr Sargeant, those were thrown into even deeper question by the QC acting for the Sargeant family.

Leslie Thomas QC told the inquest that the first minister must have been fully aware of Mr Sargeant’s personal issues when he sacked him, as they had been friends for 16 years.

In a statement the first minister and Welsh Labour leader said he had not been aware of any mental health illness or vulnerabilities at the time.

Carwyn Jones is due to give evidence to the inquest, an event that should provide some insight into his ability to reconcile his public and personal pronouncements with information set to be laid before the Coroner.

A request for information as to who is paying for Mr Jones’ representation at the Inquest was unanswered.

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Ben Lake MP pledges support for local pubs in Ceredigion

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Ben Lake MP has today pledged their support for the Long Live the Local Campaign to help pubs in Ceredigion keep their doors open. Ben Lake joins the more than 240,000 people who have signed the petition so far, including 335 in Ceredigion alone.

Ben Lake MP is calling on the Government to cut beer tax at the Budget. With £1 in every £3 pounds spent in UK pubs going to the taxman, British drinkers now pay 40% of all beer tax across the EU, but drink only 12% of the beer. Seven in ten alcoholic drinks served in pubs are beer, underlining how directly a cut in beer duty will help pubs. Brewing and pubs in Ceredigion supports 1169 jobs and contributes £23.1m to the local economy.

Commenting on the campaign, Ben Lake MP said:

“Pubs are at the heart of communities across Ceredigion, but with three pubs closing their doors for good every day across the UK, we must acknowledge that these community assets are facing significant challenges as they try to stay open. For this reason I am supporting the Long Live the Local campaign and calling on the Chancellor to cut beer tax for licenced premises in this year’s Budget to support pubs in our local communities.”

Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said:

“Beer duty has increased by 60% over the last 17 years and now the UK has one of the highest rates of tax in Europe. When over two thirds of all alcoholic drinks purchased in the pub are beers, a cut in beer tax would go a long way to protecting pubs across Ceredigion. We are very grateful to Ben Lake for their support for the Long Live the Local campaign, and hope that the Government listens to MPs across Parliament and the thousands of people across the country who are calling for a cut in beer tax to protect our pubs.”

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Politics

Labour leadership election: they’re off!

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IN THE days when being leader of the Labour Party meant having the ability to command the confidence of the majority of your parliamentary colleagues, its election process would likely be almost over.
Five candidates made the next round of contest: Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Sir Keir Starmer, and Emily Thornberry. They respectively have the support of 33, 31, 23, 88, and 23 of their parliamentary colleagues.
Before 1980, Keir Starmer would be home and hosed.

A PLURAL APPROACH

Clive Lewis, who withdrew from the leadership contest, forcefully made the case for Labour to stop behaving like the Exclusive Brethren: “The litmus test of survival for Labour is pluralism – the recognition that we as one party don’t and can’t have all the answers to the complex challenges we face. We are going to have to collaborate.
“It’s not that we can’t win alone, it’s that we can’t change society alone. Since 1918, there have been 28 elections and Labour has only won eight of them, often with small majorities and a short government.
“Labour can no longer impose a future on the country, instead it must negotiate one.”

REBECCA LONG-BAILEY

Ms Long-Bailey, whose media performances during the campaign were only ‘good’ relative to the comic relief offered by current deputy leadership contender Richard Burgon, is favoured by those most closely associated with Jeremy Corbyn’s argument-winning tenure.
She has already drawn the support of party-within-a-party Momentum. Or at least its executive, as members were not allowed a vote. Momentum members have been subsequently presented with a ballot paper for the Labour leadership with only Ms Long-Bailey’s name on it. Democracy in action.
As someone who said she would give the departing Labour leader 10/10 and accepted responsibility for Labour’s last manifesto, she will also attract the votes of those who are intent on campaigning in purity instead of governing (all governments do) through compromise.
In her candidate statement, Rebecca Long-Bailey acknowledges the defeat and calls upon the Party to look inward to establish the reasons why, saying: “We had a chance to help turn back the tide, but we failed. The starting point in the leadership election is to be honest and self-critical about why and then look forward and forge our path to power.
“We have another round of elections in May [not in Wales] and the escalating crises we face mean that building a winning vision of a socialist future has never been so urgent.

LISA NANDY

Lisa Nandy received only two fewer nominations, despite – unlike Ms Long-Bailey – having had virtually no public profile in the 2019 election campaign. That low level of exposure for an effective media performer followed her walking out of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in 2016 and declining to return.
She also backed the UK Government’s Withdrawal Agreement in a key vote in October 2019 and cannot, therefore, be charged with facing two ways on the Brexit issue.
At the hustings held for candidates before the Parliamentary party, Lisa Nandy reportedly made the best impression, giving a clear indication of what Labour needed to do to recapture lost votes, look outward and not navel-gaze looking for utopia.
Making her pitch as an outsider, at her campaign launch Ms Nandy said: “The stark truth is, the path back to power for Labour will never be to build along the ‘red wall’.”
“If we do not change course we will die and we will deserve to. This is the moment when we up our game and recover our ambition.”

EMILY THORNBERRY

Emily Thornberry, who regularly humiliated Boris Johnson when she shadowed him as Foreign Secretary and took regular delight in butchering Theresa May’s stand-ins at PMQs until she was replaced by Rebecca Long-Bailey to dismal effect, is a strong and experienced parliamentarian.
She is also the MP who had to resign from Ed Milliband’s frontbench team after a hopelessly misjudged and snobbish tweet during a by-election campaign in Rochester.
Ms Thornberry has the inestimable advantage among remain-backing CLPs to have stuck to her guns on the membership’s wish to unequivocally support remaining in the EU. In the changed political landscape, however, that strength could prove an electoral millstone with the voting public.
Unless Brexit turns out to be a political and economic catastrophe, it is difficult to see how Emily Thornberry will break through to the voters Labour lost in the last election. Although, of course, that presupposes that the unions and membership want to win an election on something other than a sectarian basis.

JESS PHILLIPS

Jess Phillips is, perhaps, the most outside of outsiders. She was a constant thorn in the last Government’s side only slightly more often than she was a thorn in Jeremy Corbyn’s. She has never held a frontbench position.
Boris Johnson’s public school debating style does not impress her and clashes between the pair are always ‘direct’.
Her pitch is based upon her ability to connect with voters on a personal level and on emphasising her ‘speaking truth to power’.
In her candidate statement, Ms Phillips says: “I’ve never shied away from speaking out when I thought we were doing the wrong thing – whether that was the handling of antisemitism, waving through Tory tax cuts for the well-off or equivocating over Brexit.
“Boris Johnson fears what he can’t understand. And that includes people like me.
I can win back trust because I am actually honest. And I can beat Boris Johnson because he can’t handle people like me.”

KEIR STARMER

Sir Keir Starmer had a good term as Shadow Brexit Secretary. He tormented the hapless David Davis, made a complete laughing stock out of Davis’ Minister of State Steve Baker, dissected Dominic Raab with equal forensic skill, and – faced with Stephen Barclay – often seemed to speak more in sorrow than in anger at his out-of-depth opposite number. All of which might lead a critical observer to say Sir Keir’s best parliamentary performances have not been against the most testing opposition.
In many ways, in spite of his plummy voice and manner, Keir Starmer is a real Labour success story: his mother was a nurse, his father a toolmaker and he rose through the opportunities given to him to head to University and become a QC on merit.
Perceived as a ‘moderate’, Keir Starmer has quickly moved to push forward his ‘left’ credentials.
His leadership pitch says: “We are an anti-austerity party. We believe in common ownership. We want to build a more peaceful world through a human-rights based foreign policy. We must hardwire the Green New Deal into our every part of our politics.
“Inequalities of every type – power, education, health and wealth – are so ingrained that only a fundamental shift can address them.”

THE KEY PROBLEM

Of all five candidates, only two – Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips – talk of a need to reconnect with voters Labour has lost. The other three make their pitch on a solely internal basis, as though the answers to Labour’s electoral woes lies within not without.
That will, no doubt, work well in a leadership election for a political party in which only members can vote. Beyond the membership, though, Labour’s new leader must communicate more than a shopping list of policies and blue-sky thought.
The failure to enunciate a clear path to reach voters outside the faithful should give the membership and unions considerable cause for, as Jeremy Corbyn put it, ‘a period of reflection’.

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Politics

Tackling hidden homelessness

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Homelessness: Not only sleeping rough

A MAJOR new campaign to tackle hidden homelessness by raising awareness that “homelessness doesn’t always live on the streets” has been launched by the Welsh Government.
The campaign aims to bring to light the problem of hidden homelessness and is targeted at young people who may be at risk of or already experiencing homelessness. The campaign also advises the public on what to do if they’re concerned about someone they know.
Research suggests people overwhelmingly connect homelessness with rough sleeping only – which is not the case for most young people experiencing homelessness.
Even if someone has a roof over their head, they can still be homeless. They could be sofa surfing at a friends’ place or staying somewhere temporarily like a hostel, night shelter or bed & breakfast. It might be they are living in very poor conditions or somewhere that’s not suitable for them or their family.
To help identify people who could be homeless, there are several signs that people can look out for:
• They may be having difficulties with their relationships with their parents and close family members;
• They may be reluctant to go home – spending lots of their time outside; in public places that offer shelter and connection to wifi – for example, train stations and cafes; staying late at their education setting or jobs;
• They may be keeping belongings with them and have problems with keeping clothes clean;
• They might be asking for help with money and using food banks;
• They may have lost their job;
• They may be experiencing physical or mental health problems.
Those experiencing hidden homelessness are more likely to be at risk of exploitation, particularly young people. For example, they might be targeted by people who want to pressurise them into sex or unwaged labour in exchange for a roof over their head.
The campaign is designed to ensure that young people get the help and support they need as soon as possible, preventing homelessness from happening in the first place.
Launching the initiative Housing Minister Julie James, said: “Many people think homelessness is only about rough sleeping – it is not. Many young people experiencing, or at risk of homelessness don’t recognise themselves as homeless.
“If you don’t have a place to call home it is likely that you are experiencing ‘hidden homelessness’.
“We know young people often don’t know where to seek advice and support – so that’s why we’re launching this new campaign.
“So if you think you’re experiencing hidden homelessness or you’re at risk of it then get help now. It’s never too late or too early to get help.”
The Welsh Government funds Shelter Cymru to provide independent housing advice and support. The service also links people to partner organisations who can provide support services based on the needs of individuals.
Shelter Cymru Director Jon Puzey said: “We know the earlier and more often someone experiences homelessness, the more likely they are to develop complex issues that might mean they become homeless repeatedly throughout their adult life. That’s why it’s so important that we make it a priority to prevent youth homelessness.
“It’s fantastic that the Welsh Government is taking this so seriously and helping us to reach more young people. With this joint campaign, we are making sure that young people know that Shelter Cymru is here to help them.”

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