THIS week, the Labour Party in the Welsh Assembly voted as one to defeat a bill that called on the Welsh Government to bring forward an Autism (Wales) Bill during the fifth Assembly term.
The bill’s defeat was a bitter blow for all of those who had ceaselessly campaigned for the introduction of such a bill.
Labour whipped its AMs to ensure the bill’s failure, while opposition AMs were united in supporting it.
A PASSIONATE DEBATE
During the debate, Members delivered impassioned arguments on why ministers should bring forward specific autism legislation that already exists in England and Northern Ireland.
They cited the fact that under current Welsh Government legislation, people with autism lack a legal identity – which has led to people not receiving adequate professional support from public services – placing them at a disadvantage to the rest of society.
Speaking after the debate, Conservative AM Mark Isherwood, who called for such a bill to be introduced in 2015, said: “Today’s vote is obviously a significant blow to the 136,000 people affected by autism in Wales – the passion of whom was evident by those who sat in the gallery to watch the debate.
“Despite Labour having voted down the bill today, we know that there are members who recognise the need for this legislation but were not allowed to demonstrate this, owing to the Labour whip on this vote.
“We will continue to fight for this bill in the Chamber, for the sake of those who continue to not receive the support and recognition they both need and deserve.”
‘A MISSED OPPORTUNITY’
Meleri Thomas, External Affairs Manager at National Autistic Society Cymru, told The Herald: “We are disappointed by the vote last week and have spoken to many autistic people and their families in Wales who see this as a missed opportunity to make meaningful improvements to the support and services they need.
“During the debate, the Welsh Government underlined its commitment to a new autism strategy and highlighted other initiatives that it believes will improve support for autistic people in Wales. We will be looking carefully at these initiatives and what the new strategy says to assess the likely impact.
“However, eight years on from the publication of the first strategy, we’ve seen how difficult it can be to realise the welcome ambitions of a national plan into practical support on the ground. This is why we will continue with our Act Now campaign, which calls for an Autism Act for Wales so that there are clear duties on public services in Wales to meet the needs of autistic children and adults across the country and bring about the changes to services and support that we all want to see.”
MR WATERS HAS ONE QUESTION
The conduct of Llanelli AM Lee Waters during the debate attracted criticism. On no fewer than three separate occasions, he asked members speaking to give way to ask what amounted to the same question.
The first occasion captures the thrust of Mr Waters’s interventions: “Autism is a neurological condition with distressing co-morbidities like anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. It affects one in 100 people. Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder with distressing co-morbidities like obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. Why is one worthy of an Act and the other not?”
Plaid Cymru’s Bethan Jenkins pointed out, before being interrupted by Mr Waters: “Research from the National Autistic Society found that only two children in five are receiving all the support outlined in their statement. There is an Additional Learning Needs Bill on the way, but Plaid Cymru believes this may fall short of what is required, because it offers little or no support for adults with autism while making no distinction between children with Asperger’s, who are often high academic achievers, and others on the autism spectrum.”
Assurances given by Minister for Social Services and Public Health Rebecca Evans that the Welsh Government’s eight-years-in-the-making Action Plan would deliver the changes sought by the proposed Bill without the necessity for further legislation were skewered by Simon Thomas, Plaid’s Regional AM for Mid and West Wales, who pointed out to her in June, after the Action Plan had been approved, that First Minister Carwyn Jones said of a possible Autism Bill: “That is being considered at present… in terms of seeing in what way we can develop legislation on autism, and particularly whether we can ensure that the action plan can be strengthened through being placed on a statutory basis ultimately.”
Ms Evans suggested that the Government’s current position in voting against the Autism Bill was no different to that espoused previously by the First Minister.
‘NOBODY WANTS LEGISLATION’ CLAIM
Indeed, the distance that the Welsh Government has rowed back from the First Minister’s words on legislation was further highlighted by a Welsh Government spokesperson, who told us: “We already have both the legislative and policy levers to support people with autism. Our Social Services and Well-being Act came into force in April of this year and puts the individual the heart of decisions about care and support, and aims to meet those needs. We are about to publish our refreshed ASD Strategic Action Plan, following consultation with people with autism and their families, where only two responses mentioned the need for more legislation.
“However, the Minister has met with NAS Cymru who are working with officials to explore whether there are parts of their proposed Bill that cannot already be delivered by these approaches and other initiatives such as our investment in a National Integrated Autism Service through our Intermediate Care Fund.”
As the consultation referred to regarding the ASD Action Plan did not include a consultation on legislation, the Welsh Government seems to have forgotten the dictum that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, not least when you set the terms of the consultation.
DAVIES WILL CONTINUE TO CAMPAIGN
Paul Davies AM, who has been consistent in calling for an Autism Bill, told The Herald: “I’m extremely disappointed and angry that the Welsh Government did not support the cross-party calls for an Autism Act in Wales to better support those living with autism across the country. This has been a particularly difficult issue for families in Pembrokeshire. An Autism Act would see duties placed on local authorities to make sure that every council is taking the right steps to give children and adults in Wales the care and support they deserve.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with the local NAS branch in Pembrokeshire, who do a fantastic job in raising awareness of some of the serious issues facing people with autism on a day-to-day basis. I will continue to work with the branch to campaign for an Autism Act which will give greater clarity on the care and support that people with autism can expect from their local authority and local health board.”
FOLLOW THE LEADER
Back in March, one leading AM told The Herald: “It’s clear that autism services in Wales haven’t been good enough so we welcome any further steps the government takes to support children and adults in Wales.”
On October 12, that same AM voted with her colleagues in the Welsh Labour Cabinet to reject the proposal advanced by the Welsh Conservatives. That vote was cast in the teeth of an express commitment in her party’s own May manifesto and in spite of these words, also told to us on March 7 this year: “Wales needs a better focus on this issue which is why we would introduce legislation focused on helping and supporting people with autism.”
Kirsty Williams’ unequivocal declaration in March 2016 was made in response to an announcement made by then Health Minister Professor Mark Drakeford about the Welsh Government’s Autism Action Plan, which will not be rolled out across Wales until 2019. She did not think that went far enough then and the plan has not changed since that date.
The only thing that has changed between May and October 12 is Kirsty Williams’ appointment as Cabinet Secretary for Education in Carwyn Jones’ Cabinet.
The Herald contacted both Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Liberal Democrats regarding the Autism Bill: neither answered.
Future of The Pembrokeshire Herald newspaper secured
THE COMPANY, which runs the Pembrokeshire Herald newspaper in west Wales, says it has secured an eleventh-hour investment to prevent the company from going into administration.
On Friday, The Herald’s management announced that a decision had been made to cease trading after a key investor pulled the plug – but now a deal has been struck with a new investor, which will secure the future of The Pembrokeshire Herald weekly print title, as well as three other news websites.
At least ten of the 24 staff working at The Herald have been told that they will keep their jobs following confirmation of the investment.
Herald News UK Limited has entered into a six-figure cash-for-shares agreement with Spanish advertising firm Rigographic Espana.
Its CEO, Ricardo Rigobon, who has 20 years experience in publishing and advertising, said that The Herald deserved to be saved.
He said: “As a campaigning newspaper, The Pembrokeshire Herald has served its customers well over the last six and a half years. Its circulation is strong, and the website is extremely popular. I believe with the new reduced costs business model we can secure the future of the newspaper.
“The Llanelli Herald and The Carmarthenshire Herald will continue online.”
Managing Director of Herald News UK Limited, John Hammond said that he was delighted that the future of the firm, and almost half the workforce was now secure.
He explained: “We have worked tirelessly over the weekend to get the necessary financing in place since our original investor pulled out. As a result of those efforts, we have now got a new partnership with a long-established firm in our industry.”
Editor of The Pembrokeshire Herald, Thomas Sinclair said: “I am excited that we have been given a new opportunity. It’s not a time for celebration as we still have colleagues who have lost their jobs. However, for the remaining team we now have a get on with the job of reporting the news and getting the papers out each Friday.”
Herald publisher ceases operations
HERALD NEWS UK LTD, the company which prints The Pembrokeshire Herald, The Carmarthenshire Herald and The Llanelli Herald has ceased operations.
Editor of Pembrokeshire Herald, Thomas Sinclair said: “After finalising today’s paper to go to print yesterday, a meeting was held last night. It was confirmed that the expected further investor funding would not be made available for the company.
“This meant that operations need be halted as the businesses was not able to pay its ongoing costs.
“At 10am today the 24 members of staff working at the newspaper have today been given notice of redundancy.
“We are absolutely devastated that after nearly 7 years and hundreds of editions of the paper we can no longer continued.”
“I would like to think that over those years, some of the stories we have written have made a difference to Pembrokeshire and beyond.”
Director of Herald News UK Limited, John Hammond said: “The company accountant could be appointing administrators as soon as next week.”
“The Owners of The Pembrokeshire Herald came to the conclusion last night during a finance meeting that the venture is no longer financially viable.
“Whilst every conceivable effort has been made to improve the financial situation of the business, we have to face the fact that there is no way that we can now continue in a solvent position.
“Whilst there has been a slow decline in readership of local newspapers, our costs for wages, printing and transport have substantially increased.”
“We would like to thank all of our loyal readers and staff.”
<img class=”wp-image-51343 size-large” src=”http://pembrokeshire-herald.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/herald2-1024×678.jpg” alt=”” width=”740″ height=”490″ /> Community: Herald titles were campaigning newspapers<img class=”wp-image-51344 size-large” src=”http://pembrokeshire-herald.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/herald3-1024×565.jpg” alt=”” width=”740″ height=”408″ /> Popular: 45,000 people read Herald titles each week in west Wales
Theatr Felinfach Performing School presents CAMAU
OVER the past few months enthusiastic members of Theatr Felinfach Performing School have been developing new skills through a series of masterclasses with Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru.
The members have been busy creating material through scripting, directing, choreography, clog dancing, folk dancing and much more. All their hard work will be shown in their ‘CAMAU’ (steps) performance on Monday 28 October, 7:00pm at Theatr Felinfach. This is your chance to see the fruits of their labour!
The Performing School was established in January 2017 and has now grown into a very popular group. It’s a great opportunity for 7-18 years olds to gain new experiences in theatre skills through the medium of Welsh and to make new friends who share the same passion for performing.
This year two trips were organized for members of the Performing School. In June, the group visited the ‘Lexicon’ show by the UK’s leading large-scale circus company ‘NoFitState’ in Bluestone, Narberth. The audience was amazed at the performers’ talents and agility and seeing the children’s faces was invaluable.
Later in July, the group visited ‘Chores’ at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, a production organised by Cluster Arts, an Australian company. The story was about two young boys playing in their mess of a room where they began using their acrobatic skills to sort out the carnage. The show was inspired by ‘slapstick’ legends Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
Theatr Felinfach hopes to continue taking members to see various shows and productions to give them the opportunity to experience professional theatre.
The Performing School meet each Thursday evening – the primary members (7-11 years) from 4:30pm to 5:30pm and the older members (12-18 years) from 5:30pm to 7:00pm.
Membership fees are every half term and range between £30 and £35 depending on the age of the members.
If you would like more information about the Performing School and how to become a member in the new year, please contact email@example.com or call 01570 470697.
Tickets for ‘CAMAU’ are £6 for adults, £5 for OAPs and theatre members and £4 for students and Children. They’re available from the Box Office on 01570 470697 or online at theatrfelinfach.cymru.
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