PATRICIA DODD RACHER, a Plaid Cymru member and blogger attended the first hustings for the marginal seat of Carmarthen East & Dinefwr. She writes:
A Llandovery College sixth-former highlighted a UKIP policy fog when he probed candidate Norma Woodward’s views during the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr constituency’s first hustings of the general election campaign, held in the college yesterday.
The student, Gwion Jones, made the point that West Wales, as a relatively poor region, benefits substantially from European Union funds – and so stands to be a big loser if, as UKIP proposes, the UK exits from the EU.
Ms Woodward, the UKIP parliamentary candidate for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, could answer only in the most general terms; that the UK paid more into Europe than came back the other way. Ms Woodward hinted at ending the Barnett Formula which modestly increases public spending per head in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
There is still plenty of time in the campaign for Norma to clarify UKIP’s policy on the Barnett Formula, but for the moment I’m not at all certain (a) if it exists or (b) if it does exist, how it would impact on West Wales in general and Carmarthen East and Dinefwr in particular. Removal of the Barnett Formula would certainly disadvantage areas like West Wales, where support is needed
Five of the apparent six parliamentary candidates for the constituency were in Llandovery College to answer questions from sixth-formers – taking their politics very seriously — and the general public, in an event genially and efficiently chaired by journalist Gaina Morgan.
Jonathan Edwards, for Plaid Cymru, was joined by barrister Matthew Paul, standing for the Conservatives; Labour’s trainee barrister and county councillor Calum Higgins; Ben Rice for the Green Party, and Norma Woodward, whose status as a UKIP candidate was recently the subject of much confusion.
The Liberal Democrats were absent. Their candidate, according to their website, is Sara Lloyd Williams, a former chair of Liberal Youth Wales who is currently studying for a master’s degree in archive administration at Aberystwyth University.
As well as probing the implications of leaving the EU, questioners asked for candidates’ views on the campaign to re-open the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway, on how to enthuse young people about politics, and about funding for the National Health Service, repaying the national debt, cutting regulations for small businesses, and reducing expenditure on defence. Views were pretty much as expected. Virtually everyone supported re-opening the railway, in principle at least.
Everyone professed to love the NHS but differed over how they would fund it.
Calum Higgins favoured lobbing in the proceeds of a mansion tax (which would not alienate many voters in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, where few if any homes are worth as much as £2 million, the proposed threshold for the tax).
Matthew Paul also criticised Labour for cutting funding to the NHS in Wales, omitting to say that there has been more of an effort in Wales to protect funding for social services. In England spending on social services fell 11.5% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-11, but in Wales the reduction was far less at 0.8%.
Matthew Paul and Calum Higgins disagreed over the time frame for eliminating the deficit
Matthew Paul, who has faith that the deficit will have been eliminated by the end of the next Parliament, favours public spending cuts over tax rises. Calum Higgins wants to eliminate the deficit but over a longer time.
Norma Woodward thought that coming out of the EU would solve the debt problem. For the Greens, Ben Rice proposed a clampdown on tax avoidance and evasion, and argued that the better-off must pay more tax.
Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards looked to investment in sustainable industries and infrastructure, which the Green Party also supports. The Plaid MP also advocated abolishing higher-rate tax relief on pension contributions and raising the upper limit for National Insurance contributions, which together could raise about £20 billion a year, a combined total of £100 billion over a five-year Parliament.
One of the most interesting questions, put by a college sixth-former, asked if the candidates had a personal policy which was not in their party’s manifesto.
Labour hopeful Calum Higgins differed sharply from the line promulgated by Carwyn Jones and the UK Labour Party. He would prefer not to renew Trident, he said.
Matthew Paul had two personal policies to offer, to allow fox hunting again and to bring ‘free schools’ into Wales.
The schools idea is not in the Westminster parliament’s gift, because education policy is devolved to the Welsh Government, but it is hard to disagree with Matthew’s point that Labour/ Independent-controlled Carmarthenshire County Council’s diktat to close the Llandovery’s state secondary school was wrong-headed and is creating major, long-term economic problems.
Norma Woodward would bring back grammar schools, something else that is not within the power of the UK government because of devolution. Ben Rice would give the Welsh Government the power to ban fracking.
Jonathan Edwards made the decisive point for me when he said he would be – continue to be — ‘Carmarthenshire’s voice in Westminster’, rather than Westminster’s voice relayed westwards.
Young women in Ceredigion make their voices heard
PERIOD poverty, access to mental health services and equal pay were among the issues raised by young women on International Women’s Day 2019.
On 8 March, in collaboration with the Young Women’s Trust, Ben Lake MP hosted a ‘Real Talk’ workshop aimed at young women aged 16 to 30 years old. Young women from all walks of life came together at the Coliseum Coffee House to voice their concerns and share their hopes for the future with the local MP.
Ben Lake said: “It was great to hear new ideas for change and to discuss ways in which we can improve the lives of young people in Ceredigion. The experiences of women and girls must be heard, both locally and nationally. After all, it is impossible for policies to be truly effective if they do not reflect the wishes, and address the challenges faced by all in society.”
The young women set out three priorities for Ben Lake to campaign for on their behalf at Westminster:
1. Education: ensure that equality issues and mental health awareness training is included on all PGCE courses
2. Increase the national minimum wage for apprentices and roll out National Living Wage for under-25s
3. Period poverty: campaign, raise awareness and look to introduce policies to mitigate the effects of period poverty
Period poverty in particular, was an issue that the young women felt needed tackling as a matter of urgency. A recent report from FreedomforGirls* found that period poverty has a direct impact on education, with pupils in the UK missing class every month due to their periods. A RightsInfo investigation** discovered thousands of women were relying on food banks to get through their monthly periods.
In an attempt to tackle period poverty, the UK Chancellor confirmed in his Spring Statement that secondary schools in England will start providing menstrual products free of charge to girls from September onwards. Ben Lake MP has encouraged the Welsh Government to follow suit.
Ben Lake said: “All women, regardless of age, social status or background, should be able to easily access the menstrual products they need.
“Too many girls miss out on vital education each month as a lack of access to menstrual products forces them to miss school. Even those pupils who do not suffer period poverty will benefit from free access to sanitary products, ensuring no child is without protection during what can be a very stressful and vulnerable time.”
New Welsh language resources for Ceredigion childminders
FROM April this year, childminders across Ceredigion will have the chance to use the special Welsh ‘Sach Stori’ resource. This aims to promote Welsh language skills to children in the county.
Cered: Menter Iaith Ceredigion has been working with Ceredigion County Council’s Childcare Unit to develop story packs which include a Welsh/bilingual story and a pack of resources that will be available to registered childminders in Ceredigion. The project has been in development for the last two years. The finished packs will be available to the county’s childminders from 18 March. The resource will be officially launched at a story session in Awen Teifi, Cardigan on 3 April at 10am.
Llinos Hallgarth, Cered’s Development Officer said, “This is an exciting project based on a period of co-operation with the county’s childminders to ensure a package that will be of particular benefit to them. The pack contains a story as well as educational materials that can reinforce the story or message of the story, all of which are in Welsh.”
“In order to encourage their use, we will be holding practical sessions for childminders across the county so that they can familiarise themselves with the finished pack and methods of presenting it.”
Emma Poole from the Childcare Unit said, “Sach Stori will be a great help to the Welsh and Non-Welsh speaking childminders to try and integrate the Welsh language into everyday life. This project will help childminders to deliver the Welsh language in an enjoyable way within the home.”
This project reinforces the work the Childcare Unit is aiming to do to raise awareness of the use of the Welsh language within childcare settings. This project will help settings to meet the requirements of the Care Inspectorate Wales and also support Welsh Government’s efforts to reach a million Welsh speakers by 2050.
The 10 ‘Sach Stori’ will be available to childminders and will be regularly renewed to keep them updated.
For further information contact Llinos Hallgarth at Cered: Menter Iaith Ceredigion on 01545 572 358 or call the Contact Centre on 01545 570 881 and ask to speak to Emma Poole at the Childcare Unit.
Council preparing for Brexit
WITH Brexit discussions ongoing and regularly in the headlines, Ceredigion County Council has been preparing for a range of potential impacts of Brexit. The preparations are designed to minimise any negative effects that Brexit could have on Ceredigion residents.
Eifion Evans is the Chief Executive of Ceredigion County Council. He said, “We don’t know how Brexit is going to pan out. We hope that there will be little or no disruption to residents or council services. However, we are making careful preparations to minimise any negative impacts that Brexit could have.”
The council has been preparing in many different ways. Some of these include:
Working with companies that provide food to schools and canteens to see how different kinds of Brexit could affect their ability to provide ingredients. Plans have been made to replace ingredients that can’t be sourced to others if Brexit affects food coming into the country.
Council Social Care Officers have been working closely with companies who carry out social care services for the council. The officers have been helping companies to plan for Brexit situations with or without a deal. Common themes that the companies have been discussing surround medical and food supplies and staffing.
Human Resources have been identifying EU nationals who work for the council and who work for services commissioned by the council. Plans are being made to help them apply for settled status when the process starts on 29 March. Plans are also being made to help residents from EU countries to apply.
Environmental Health Officers have looked into the likely impact on officers to provide additional export licensing to companies exporting certain foods to EU countries after Brexit.
The council is contributing fully as an active member of the Dyfed Powys Local Resilience Forum. The multi-agency forum covers the Dyfed Powys Police area. It is responsible for managing serious risks to the community on a joint basis.
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