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Labour sinks Autism Bill

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There must be clear duties on public services: Meleri Thomas, NAS Cymru

There must be clear duties on public services: Meleri Thomas, NAS Cymru

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.

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New Quay and Aberystwyth RNLI lifeboats tasked to grounded fishing vessel

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Yesterday before sunrise (Monday 25 January) New Quay and Aberystwyth RNLI lifeboats were requested by HM Coastguard to assist a fishing vessel that had run aground south of Aberystwyth at Morfa Bychan. As the day went on the RNLI volunteer crews found themselves at sea for many hours in freezing temperatures. 

The pagers first sounded early on Monday morning with the Mersey class all-weather lifeboat from New Quay and the Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat from Aberystwyth both launching on service at 6am into the darkness to a report of a fishing vessel aground.

Aberystwyth RNLI lifeboat arrived first and found the casualty vessel, a 40 tonne, 12m whelk fishing vessel which had run aground on the beach at Morfa Bychan. Aberystwyth lifeboat initially attempted to veer down but to no avail.

New Quay RNLI Coxswain, Daniel Potter said, “We made good speed up to Aberystwyth in slight to moderate sea conditions but freezing temperatures. Arriving on scene we worked with Aberystwyth lifeboat and assessed that everyone was safe on board. It was so cold that Aberystwyth lifeboat had to return to station for a crew change.

“By now the tide had dropped and there was no water around the vessel. It was therefore decided the crew would be evacuated onto land and we would return to station.”

Both lifeboats returned to station by 10am, with the Coastguard unit on the ground keeping an eye on the fishing vessel.

In the afternoon both New Quay RNLI’s all-weather and inshore lifeboats were tasked to return to the scene as the tide was beginning to turn and the vessel’s owners were onboard to attempt to refloat the vessel. New Quay RNLI lifeboats were launched shortly after 2pm with Aberystwyth RNLI’s inshore lifeboat launching at 3.30pm to assist.

Mr Potter continued, “Returning on scene we had to assess how we could ensure the safety of those onboard and prevent the vessel being pushed further up the beach by the waves. This was made more difficult by the shallow water and large boulders. However, the inshore lifeboat was able to access the shallow water to assess the situation and pass our towline to the casualty.

“After setting up the tow we held the vessel steady until she started to float at high water. With excellent team work between Aberystwyth’s and our inshore lifeboat we were able to extract the stricken vessel and tow her into deeper water. We then escorted the vessel into Aberystwyth in case of any damage to her hull or steering.”

Simon Rigby New Quay RNLI helm added, “It was the longest and coldest shout I’ve ever done on the inshore lifeboat, seven hours at sea and 32 miles covered.”

With the casualty vessel safely berthed in Aberystwyth marina, both lifeboats returned to station and the crew were stood down at 9:30pm, over 15 hours after the first launch.

Roger Couch, Lifeboat Operations Manager added, “This was a great example of excellent teamwork and seamanship, putting many hours of training to good use. We would like to thank our colleagues at Aberystwyth for their hard work in freezing conditions and their assistance in providing expert local knowledge.

“Over the last three days our all-weather lifeboat, The Frank and Lena of Stourbridge has been very busy, being launched on service three times. The volunteer crews have worked hard with strict Covid restrictions and guidelines. Remember we are on call 24/7 so if you see anyone in trouble on the coast please call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.”

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Retail premises now required to take extra measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus

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New requirements have now come into force that require retail premises to take additional steps to protect workers and customers from coronavirus.

The additional measures were already guidance, but are now legal requirements. This includes businesses selling food or drink for consumption off the premises. These legal requirements include the need to:

  • Ensure systems are in place for controlling entry to the premises and to limit the number of customers in store at any one time;
  • Provide hand sanitisation products or hand washing facilities for the use of customers when they enter and exit the premises;
  • Introduce measures to sanitise any baskets, trolleys or similar containers provided for use by customers on the premises;
  • Remind customers to maintain a distance of 2 metres between each other and to wear a face covering by:

o   Displaying signs and other visual aids throughout the premises;

o   Making announcements on a regular basis;

  • Undertake and record a specific assessment of the risk of exposure to coronavirus at the premises and in doing so consult persons working on the premises or representatives of those persons (where a business employs five or more people);

All premises are still required to take all other reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus, such as:

  • Changing the layout of premises including the location of furniture and workstations;
  • Controlling use of entrances, passageways, stairs and lifts;
  • Controlling use of shared facilities such as toilets and kitchens;
  • Otherwise controlling the use of, or access to, any other part of the premises;
  • Installing barriers or screens;
  • Providing or requiring use of personal protective equipment

The Regulations and guidance may be found at Coronavirus legislation and guidance on the law on the Welsh Government website: https://gov.wales/coronavirus-legislation-and-guidance-law and also guidance to take all reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus in workplaces and premises open to the public: https://gov.wales/taking-all-reasonable-measures-minimise-risk-exposure-coronavirus-workplaces-and-premises-open

 

Useful posters and guides are available from Business Wales website: https://businesswales.gov.wales/coronavirus-advice/tool-kit. A COVID-19 risk assessment template is available from Health and Safety Executive – What to include in your COVID-19 risk assessment: https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/assets/docs/risk-assessment.pdf

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Ceredigion County Council remembers the Holocaust on International Holocaust Day

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THIS year Ceredigion County Council, along with many other Local Authorities across the United Kingdom, will illuminate two of Aberystwyth town’s most iconic buildings in a show of solidarity, respect, and honour to all victims of genocide. From Friday 22 through to Thursday 28 January, the Bandstand on Aberystwyth’s seafront and the Alun R Edwards Centre will be lit up purple.

Holocaust Memorial Day is an international event which takes place annually on January 27, the purpose of the day is to encourage remembrance of all victims of genocide world-wide, including honouring the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, the millions of people killed under Nazi Persecution and in the genocides that have happened since in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2021 is Be the light in the darkness. It encourages everyone to reflect on the depth’s humanity can sink to, but also the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to ‘be the light’ before, during and after genocide.

Aberystwyth Bandstand

Holocaust Memorial Day is for everyone. Each year across the UK, people come together to learn more about the past and take action to create a safer future. Although this year we are unable to hold any actual events in person due to the ongoing pandemic, this does not mean that we cannot mark this extremely important day.

Ceredigion County Council Leader, Councillor Ellen Ap Gwynn, said: “On Holocaust Memorial Day let us all take the opportunity to reflect on the atrocities committed in the past and to shine a light to lead us to a more humane way of treating our fellow citizens of the world, whatever their colour or creed, in future.

“It is vital to remember and raise awareness that the Holocaust threatened the fabric of civilisation, and genocide must still be resisted every day.

“Our world often feels fragile and vulnerable and we cannot be complacent. Even in the UK, prejudice and the language of hatred exist and must be challenged by us all.

“Together we bear witness for those who endured genocide and honour the survivors & all those whose lives were changed beyond recognition.”

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