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Welsh budget ‘very much a draft’

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THE SENEDD’s Finance Committee’s report on the Welsh Government’s Draft Budget for 2021-22, voices serious concerns for public services, inequality and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Committee is clear that the need to address and alleviate poverty is more critical than ever, with the pandemic deepening the problems already faced by low-income and disadvantaged households.

HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE

The Finance Committee is worried about the impact of the pandemic on non-COVID care, due to sustained pressure on the NHS and its healthcare workers. The Finance Committee also believes the impact of the pandemic on mental health will be considerable over the next year and beyond.

The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee agrees that the public health emergency Wales is facing should not be underestimated, either in terms of responding to the immediate challenges of the pandemic, or the need to do what can be done to maintain the vital non-COVID services on which people rely.

The Committee believes the true scale of the implications for the health and wellbeing of people in Wales, may not become clear for years. The crisis has also exacerbated underlying issues, including the fragility of the social care sector, the ongoing health inequalities across Wales, and the need for a clear strategic vision to drive health and social care integration and service transformation.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND EDUCATION

The Finance Committee is concerned that increased funding in the local government settlement will not cover all cost pressures, such as social care, childcare, and education.

The Finance Committee is deeply concerned about the risks to children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those in early years, falling behind in their education as a result of the pandemic. The Finance Committee is calling for more information about how funding will support learners to ‘catch up’ while also delivering the current ways of learning.

ECONOMY, SKILLS & REGENERATION

The Finance Committee heard evidence that the Draft Budget does not provide a coherent approach to supporting businesses through the pandemic. While recognising that it may be sensible to allow some degree of flexibility, the Committee is concerned that the implementation of the business support packages has been “patchy” with smaller businesses finding it harder to access funds. This has been further complicated by the different approaches to business support from different Governments within the UK.

The Committee believes the Draft Budget could have been clearer in outlining the Welsh Government’s long-term approach to potential shifts in consumer behaviour towards online retailers and the effect on local economies. The Welsh Government should rethink previous policies on revitalising town centres in light of the pandemic.

CHALLENGES NEED LONG-TERM APPROACH

Llyr Gruffydd MS, Chair of the Finance Committee said: “This is the final Draft Budget of the Fifth Senedd. This year the pandemic has delayed UK fiscal events, resulting in delays to publication of the Welsh Government’s Draft Budget. This has reduced our time for scrutiny which is particularly concerning given that COVID-19 will have an impact on public spending for years to come.

“This Draft Budget is very much a draft. A lack of forward-funding figures with only a one- year revenue funding settlement, and the timing of the UK Government’s Budget set later for 3 March has made budget-setting even more challenging for the Welsh Government.

“Much of our work is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst welcoming the extra money for health and social services, the Committee is concerned about the long-term impacts on non-COVID care. We also have serious concerns over workforce capacity and mental health.

“Our businesses need support more than ever, with many being forced to close. For them to have a future after this pandemic, we support calls for the simplification and consolidation of the financial assistance schemes available.

“COVID-19 has brought many serious challenges and the financial impact on health, the economy and public services will be felt by society for years to come. While there is a need to respond to the immediate situation we are hopeful that there is an opportunity for longer-term planning to ensure that Wales can recover strongly.”

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“Significant” heroin dealer to pay back £40,500 in criminal gains

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A MAN jailed for possessing heroin with intent to supply and money laundering has been ordered to pay back £40,500 gained through criminal activity.

Grzegorz Kramp, of Commins Coch in Ceredigion, was sentenced in February to three years and nine months in prison following a Dyfed-Powys Police investigation.

A court heard how the 45-year-old was a “significant street dealer” in the area after police stopped his car and found heroin worth £10,000 inside.

Following sentencing, the force’s Economic Crime Team began Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) proceedings against Kramp to strip him of the funds earned through illegal activity.

Financial investigator Rob Thomas said: “Financial enquiries were carried out as part of the investigation, and it was revealed that a significant amount of money had gone through the defendant’s bank account in the period leading up to his arrest.

“This gave us grounds to pursue a Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation as it was clear Kramp had financially benefitted from his criminal activity.”

On Friday, June 18 a POCA hearing was held at Swansea Crown Court, where HHJ Huw Rees declared that Kramp had benefitted by £77,179.66.

He imposed a confiscation order requiring the defendant to pay £40,500. This will be split between £5,000 seized from Kramp, and equity from his home address, which is to be sold within three months.

Mr Thomas said: “To explain the difference in the amount gained by Kramp against the amount he has been ordered to pay back – proceeds of crime are split into two figures – the benefit figure, which is the amount gained, and the available amount, which is the amount of cash seized or assets which can be sold.

“In this instance, the benefit amount is over £77,000 that related to unexplained income in Kramp’s bank account over a number of months, but the available amount that could be recovered in cash or assets was calculated to be £40,500, which is what he will now pay back.

“This order is another success on top of the original sentence as by taking out the profits that fund crime, we can help disrupt the cycle and prevent further offences from taking place.”

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A group of Year 9 pupils at Ysgol Gyfun Penglais asked to self-isolate as COVID-19 case confirmed

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A GROUP of Year 9 pupils at Ysgol Gyfun Penglais, Aberystwyth have been asked to self-isolate for 10 days following the confirmation of a COVID-19 case at the school.

In addition, pupils travelling on the same bus as the confirmed positive case have also been contacted and asked to self-isolate for 10 days again. These pupils come from more than one Year Group from Ysgol Gyfun Penglais.

All confirmed contacts of the positive case must remain at home for 10 days to reduce the possible spread of the virus to family, friends and the wider community. The pupils will be taught remotely for this period.

The parents of all these pupils have been contacted by the School and will also be supported by Ceredigion Contact Tracing Team.

The Council urges all parents to refer their children for a test if they develop any of the following symptoms, which are:

·       a high temperature

·       a new continuous cough

·       a loss or change to sense of smell or taste

  • mild summer cold type symptoms – including sore throat, runny nose, headache
  • flu-like symptoms, including myalgia (muscle ache or pain); excessive tiredness; persistent headache; runny nose or blocked nose; persistent sneezing; sore throat and/or hoarseness, shortness of breath or wheezing
  • any new or change in symptoms following a previous negative test.

In addition, parents should book a COVID-19 test if their children feel generally feeling unwell and have a history of being in contact with a known COVID-19 case.

You can apply for a test on https://gov.wales/apply-coronavirus-covid-19-test or by phoning 119.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Ceredigion has increased significantly over recent days and we are urging people to continue to maintain 2 metre social distancing, wear a face mask indoors, wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds and keep inside spaces well ventilated. Following these rules will stop the spread of COVID-19 in Ceredigion.

No further details will be provided regarding this matter.

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Three services in two days for New Quay RNLI

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NEW QUAY RNLI’s inshore lifeboat was called into action three times in two days last week, firstly to a surfer near New Quay while on a training exercise on Thursday evening (17 June), then to a windsurfer in Aberaeron on Friday (18 June) and, while returning to station, a passenger boat in New Quay with a fouled propeller. 

On Thursday evening Dylan Price, New Quay RNLI’s helm was taking crew on a training exercise when they were requested by HM Coastguard to assist a surfer in difficulty in Llanina, near New Quay. Dylan said, “On arrival we found them safe and well so a false alarm with good intent. We then continued with our training which included search patterns, a man overboard scenario and boat handling drills.” 

Next, on Friday afternoon, in a strong northerly wind, the inshore lifeboat was tasked on service once again. Pete Yates, New Quay RNLI’s helm said, “We were requested by HM Coastguard to launch our inshore lifeboat at 1.40pm to a windsurfer in difficulty off Aberaeron. We made best speed up the coast in difficult conditions and arrived just as the casualty made it safely ashore, to be met by the New Quay Coastguard team. 

“On returning to New Quay we assisted a passenger boat with a fouled propeller. We were able to free the rope from the propeller and then returned to station. Good outcomes all round! Remember if you see if you see anyone in difficulty or you find yourself in trouble on the coast call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.” 

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