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Labour highlights £200m schools gap

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Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 11.00.08WELSH LABOUR this week (Apr 18) said the Assembly elections on May 5 represented an important £200m choice for Welsh parents.

During an election visit on Monday Welsh Labour’s Julie James contrasted her party’s pledge to invest a minimum of £100m in Welsh schools over the next term with the Welsh Conservatives ‘secret plan’ to turn every school in Wales into an academy.

She said the Tory plan would cost more than £100m and said the election was a clear £200m choice between the two main parties.

A plan in England to turn every school into an academy was announced in the March UK budget. It was also later revealed that the cost of converting each school into an academy was £66,000 per school. A similar move in Wales would cost £109m in legal fees and other costs.

Speaking on Monday (Apr 18), she said the plan would be ‘a disaster’ for Welsh Schools coming on top of a 12% cut to education and local government budgets that the Welsh Conservatives already had planned.

Julie James said: “Welsh Labour has been very clear about its ambitions for Welsh schools over the next Assembly term. We want to build a world class curriculum and teacher training system and move the Welsh teaching profession onto an all-Masters footing.

“To support this plan we will invest a minimum of £100m of additional funding in our schools over the next five years. This contrasts clearly with the secret Tory plan to turn every school into an academy, as they have done in England, needlessly wasting millions of pounds in the process.

“The UK Government have already admitted the cost of converting each school to an academy is £66,000 per school to cover the legal fees and other costs of the change.

“Indeed, we know that just days after the Chancellor’s plan was announced, solicitors and lawyers were already sending out letters to Headteachers offering to assist schools with their plan

“That is exactly what will happen here in Wales, we will see millions of pounds being leached out of Welsh schools. To convert every one of the more than 1,600 schools we have in Wales to an academy would cost more than £100m.

“So this election is a clear choice between a Labour Government led by Carwyn Jones that would invest in frontline teaching and learning and a Tory Government that would spend millions on a wasteful reorganisation.

“Of course this comes on top of the Tories existing plans to slash 12% off education and local government budgets meaning schools in Wales would be hit with crippling cuts at the same time as getting a huge legal bill through the post.

“The choice at this election is clear, it’s between a Welsh LabourGovernment that would invest an additional £100m in frontline funding or a Tory UKIP alliance that would waste £100m on academies and legal fees.

“This would have a devastating impact on Welsh school budgets; increase the workloads of our teachers and support staff and imperil the major curriculum changes schools are already planning.

“There is new momentum in Welsh education thanks to the reforms put in place by the Welsh Labour Government. Last year we saw record GCSE results, two thirds of Challenge Schools improving their results and the closing of the poverty attainment gap at every key stage of education.

“A Tory Government aided by their UKIP allies would imperil that progress and come at a huge cost to the futures of our young people.”

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National 20mph limit comes into force in Wales next year

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WALES will be the first UK nation to impose a 20mph default speed limit following a vote held in the Senedd yesterday (July 12). The Welsh Government voted to limit residential roads and busy pedestrian streets to 20mph. 

According to the Welsh Government, this will lessen the likelihood and severity of accidents involving vulnerable road users. It will also encourage more people to cycle and walk. 

39 members of the Senedd voted in favour, while 15 members voted against. 

The new national default speed limit will come into effect from September 2023. The Welsh Government say the changes affect residential roads and busy pedestrian streets. 

According to the Welsh Government, the modifications have an impact on major pedestrian routes and residential roadways. The Welsh Government is still deciding which highways will have 20mph speed restrictions and which ones should stay at 30mph.

The 22 councils in Wales will collaborate with Go Safe to determine implementation timelines, according to the Welsh Government, but enforcement will continue throughout the transition period.

Climate change minister, Julie James, stated: “The future of our towns and cities depends on our ability to move around sustainably and on solutions that have a positive impact on public health environment and communities.

“That is why we will use the principle that walking, cycling and active travel must remain the best options for short urban journeys and a 20mph default speed limit will help achieve this. The introduction of a national 20mph limit would be an important and far reaching policy. If passed Wales would be the first country in the UK to introduce the change. We’re asking you all to be part of this change and make our communities understand the wider benefits of 20mph.

“This change is a generational one and when the time to embed, it will need to be accompanied by an important communication and marketing campaign and behaviour change initiatives. Achieving behavioural change is challenging but Wales has previously shown that we can do it successfully with policies such as organ donation, the banning of smoking in public places, and limiting the use of plastic bags. It does, however, require a collaborative effort between agencies, local authorities and by communities. We need to bring speeds down.”

She continued, saying there is evidence that 20 mph speed limits encourage more people to bike or walk, and she hoped this would lead to people naturally choosing those modes of transportation.

According to Ms. James, 80 people die on Welsh roads on average each year, and current data shows that 30mph is the speed at which 53 percent of accidents occur.

The immediate cost is about £33 million, but according to the Welsh Government, increased road safety brought on by slower average speeds could generate a positive financial return of about £25 million over the course of 30 years due to the money saved on fewer emergency services and hospital visits.

Additionally, the policy might result in significant wider economic gains from increased road safety (£1.4 billion), environmental and health gains from increased active travel (£5 million), and additional unquantified benefits from more vibrant and connected local economies.

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Ben Lake MP chairs discussion in Parliament on the cost-of-living crisis

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Ben Lake MP

The ongoing energy crisis has seen the cost of heating the average home double over the last year. At least 6.5 million households across the UK are now facing fuel poverty and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has shone a spotlight on the interlinkages between energy security, demand and affordability.

While energy price rises affect everyone, the impacts are not felt the same by everybody. Low-income consumers face a double burden of the rising cost of bills as well as paying more for their energy due to the poverty premium.

Ben Lake MP chaired a panel discussion in Parliament this week to discuss the current crisis and to consider the potential merits of introducing a Social Tariff. Members of the panel included Alan Whitehead MP, Shadow Energy Minister,  Liz Twist MP, Peter Aldous MP and Alan Brown MP, SNP Spokesperson for Energy.

Commenting after the event, Ben Lake MP said: “I was pleased to chair this important discussion and to listen to the views of cross-party MPs on the potential merits of introducing a Social Tariff.

“Personally, I believe that the UK Government rushed its Energy Security Strategy in response to the energy crisis which emerged last year, and as a result it does not address two pressing issues: affordability and short-term security of supply. A longer-term solution now needs to be found to make energy bills affordable.

“The Warm Home Discount Scheme and the price cap provide important functions in the energy market. As they are currently structured, however, they do not do enough to protect those energy consumers most vulnerable to sharp price increases, which is why I believe the UK Government should consider introducing a new targeted social tariff for energy bills.”

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Large number of NHS staff in Wales currently off work as Covid cases rise

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HEALTH MINISTER Eluned Morgan has said Wales is in the “midst of a new wave” Covid infections” and that around 1 in 20 people had the virus last week.

According to ONS data, it’s estimated that 149,700 people tested positive for COVID-19 for the seven days to 30 June.

Ms Morgan said a large number of NHS staff in Wales are currently off work because they have Covid-19.

Updating Senedd Members on the current situation in Wales, the health minister said: “Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen a steady rise in the number of coronavirus infections in Wales.”

“We are in the midst of a new wave of infections, caused by the BA.4 and BA.5 subtypes of the omicron variant.”

“These are fast-moving, highly infectious forms of the virus, which are causing a surge in infections across the UK and in many other countries around the world.” She said.

Public Health Wales reports the current dominant variant in Wales is the BA.5 variant of omicron.

The latest results of the ONS’ Coronavirus Infection Survey estimate 4.93% of the population in Wales had Covid-19 in the week ending 30 June – equivalent to approximately one person in 20.

This has increased from an estimated 1.33% of the population (one in 75) from the week ending 2 June.

Across the UK, the estimated prevalence of coronavirus ranges from 3.95% in England to 5.94% in Scotland for the week ending 30 June.

Ms Morgan said: “As we have seen in previous waves, the increase in cases in the community, has led to an increase in the number of people being admitted to and treated in hospital for Covid-19.”

“The latest available information shows there are now more than 960 Covid-19-related patients in Welsh hospitals and there has also been an increase in number of people with Covid-19 being treated in critical care.”

She said: “The NHS has been working incredibly hard to provide planned care for people across Wales and to reduce waiting times, which had built up over the course of the pandemic. This task becomes more difficult when pandemic pressures increase.”

“Some hospitals have taken the difficult decision to restrict visiting to prevent coronavirus from spreading among patients and staff; others are asking all visitors to wear face coverings.”

“We are not making face coverings mandatory in health and care settings , but I would encourage everyone to wear one if they are visiting a healthcare setting and I would also ask people to consider wearing a face covering in crowded indoor public places, while cases of coronavirus are currently high.”

“We have extended the availability of free lateral flow tests for people who have symptoms of coronavirus until the end of July.” Ms Morgan said.

She added: “There are a number of other simple steps everyone can take to keep themselves and Wales safe.”

These include:

  • Get vaccinated
  • Maintain good hand hygiene
  • Stay at home and limit your contact with others if you are ill
  • Wear a face covering in indoor crowded or enclosed places
  • Meet others outdoors wherever possible
  • When indoors, increase ventilation and let fresh air in.
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