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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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River benefits after polluter pays

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A MAJOR river pollution incident in Mid Wales has cost a company £40,000.

Pencefn Feeds Ltd, near Tregaron has paid the sum after a detailed investigation by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) into the incident in December 2016.

Around 18,000 fish are thought to have been killed on a five-mile stretch of the Teifi when approximately 44,000 gallons of pollutant leaked from an anaerobic digestion plant.

The West Wales Rivers Trust will receive £15,000 to restore fish habitat in the area.

And a further £5,000 will go to the Countryside Alliance Foundation to fund education activities about fish and the local environment for children in the Tregaron area.

The payments are consistent with a potential fine and have been made as an “enforcement undertaking”. This means that the money directly benefits the local environment.

The final £20,000 is being paid to recover all investigation and legal costs relating to the case.
Ann Weedy, Mid Wales operations manager for Natural Resources Wales, said: “This has been a very complex and time-consuming investigation and we are pleased to see the financial penalty being
used directly to repair some of the damage caused by this incident.

“This will make the Teifi a better place for fish and other wildlife by fencing river banks and developing riverside vegetation.

“We hope these payments serve as a reminder to businesses that we will take enforcement action if they pollute Wales’ environment and don’t operate responsibly.”

As well as investigating the incident and overseeing the clean-up operation, NRW also investigated the roles of all companies involved in the incident.

However, the sub-contractor mainly responsible for the incident, Hallmark Power Ltd, went into liquidation so no prosecution could be taken against them. And the main contractor, ComBigaS UK, also no longer exists, so no action could be taken against them either.

ComBigaS Denmark had links to the project but has no legal basis in the UK and is therefore not covered by UK law.

Site owner, Pencefn Feeds Ltd, had raised concerns with the companies about the quality of work, but this had not been acted upon. This would have provided significant mitigation if the matter had gone to court, so NRW concluded that accepting an enforcement undertaking was the best option in this case.

Dr Stephen Marsh-Smith OBE, Director of Afonydd Cymru, the umbrella body that represents Wales’ six Rivers Trusts commented: “This was a tragic case that was bad for the river Teifi and its
fisheries.

“Nonetheless, we commend the use of an Enforcement Undertaking to resolve the regulatory aspect of the case as some funding will now be put towards restoration within the catchment itself.

“The resolution of longer term damage remains a separate issue.”

Rachel Evans, Countryside Alliance Director for Wales, said: “Fishing for Schools is always grateful to receive funding to help us reach out to more young people who benefit from our unique approach to education through angling.

“Funding coming from a pollution incident and resultant settlement whilst sad, will highlight the ever-present need to align conservation and the environment with our school work.

“Tregaron has always been a bedrock of angling within the Welsh community and heritage. We fully intend to enhance and extend that rich legacy by putting this award to good use.”
NRW has been monitoring the Teifi since the incident and confirms there has been minimal effect on invertebrates.

Salmon fry have been found in the affected area, so it is likely that at least some eggs did survive.

However, juvenile and adult salmon were killed. Large numbers of brown trout were also killed, and this species will take some time to recover.

Ann Weedy continued: “The Teifi is one of the most iconic and important recreational and net fisheries in Wales and an internationally important Special Area of Conservation for endangered fish such as lampreys, salmon and bullhead.

“We all need to work together to do all we can to restore the river and reduce the number of pollution incidents damaging our precious environment in Wales.”
NRW has carried out more than 100 pollution prevention visits to farms in Ceredigion and the Teifi catchment in the past year and these have helped reduce the risk of pollution from farm slurry.

It has also inspected the other three anaerobic digestion plants in Ceredigion to ensure that their pollution prevention measures are suitable.
Pencefn Feeds Ltd has now applied for an environmental permit so they can continue to operate (see additional information for more details).

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River benefits after polluter pays

Published

on

A MAJOR river pollution incident in Mid Wales has cost a company £40,000.

Pencefn Feeds Ltd, near Tregaron has paid the sum after a detailed investigation by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) into the incident in December 2016.

Around 18,000 fish are thought to have been killed on a five-mile stretch of the Teifi when approximately 44,000 gallons of pollutant leaked from an anaerobic digestion plant.

The West Wales Rivers Trust will receive £15,000 to restore fish habitat in the area.

And a further £5,000 will go to the Countryside Alliance Foundation to fund education activities about fish and the local environment for children in the Tregaron area.

The payments are consistent with a potential fine and have been made as an “enforcement undertaking”. This means that the money directly benefits the local environment.
The final £20,000 is being paid to recover all investigation and legal costs relating to the case.

Ann Weedy, Mid Wales operations manager for Natural Resources Wales, said: “This has been a very complex and time-consuming investigation and we are pleased to see the financial penalty being used directly to repair some of the damage caused by this incident.

“This will make the Teifi a better place for fish and other wildlife by fencing river banks and developing riverside vegetation.

“We hope these payments serve as a reminder to businesses that we will take enforcement action if they pollute Wales’ environment and don’t operate responsibly.”

As well as investigating the incident and overseeing the clean-up operation, NRW also investigated the roles of all companies involved in the incident.

However, the sub-contractor mainly responsible for the incident, Hallmark Power Ltd, went into liquidation so no prosecution could be taken against them. And the main contractor, ComBigaS UK, also no longer exists, so no action could be taken against them either.

ComBigaS Denmark had links to the project but has no legal basis in the UK and is therefore not covered by UK law.

Site owner, Pencefn Feeds Ltd, had raised concerns with the companies about the quality of work, but this had not been acted upon. This would have provided significant mitigation if the matter had gone to court, so NRW concluded that accepting an enforcement undertaking was the best option in this case.

Dr Stephen Marsh-Smith OBE, Director of Afonydd Cymru, the umbrella body that represents Wales’ six Rivers Trusts commented: “This was a tragic case that was bad for the river Teifi and its fisheries.

“Nonetheless, we commend the use of an Enforcement Undertaking to resolve the regulatory aspect of the case as some funding will now be put towards restoration within the catchment itself.
“The resolution of longer term damage remains a separate issue.”

Rachel Evans, Countryside Alliance Director for Wales, said: “Fishing for Schools is always grateful to receive funding to help us reach out to more young people who benefit from our unique approach to education through angling.

“Funding coming from a pollution incident and resultant settlement whilst sad, will highlight the ever-present need to align conservation and the environment with our school work.

“Tregaron has always been a bedrock of angling within the Welsh community and heritage. We fully intend to enhance and extend that rich legacy by putting this award to good use.”

NRW has been monitoring the Teifi since the incident and confirms there has been minimal effect on invertebrates.

Salmon fry have been found in the affected area, so it is likely that at least some eggs did survive.

However, juvenile and adult salmon were killed. Large numbers of brown trout were also killed, and this species will take some time to recover.

Ann Weedy continued: “The Teifi is one of the most iconic and important recreational and net fisheries in Wales and an internationally important Special Area of Conservation for endangered fish such as lampreys, salmon and bullhead.

“We all need to work together to do all we can to restore the river and reduce the number of pollution incidents damaging our precious environment in Wales.”
NRW has carried out more than 100 pollution prevention visits to farms in Ceredigion and the Teifi catchment in the past year and these have helped reduce the risk of pollution from farm slurry.

It has also inspected the other three anaerobic digestion plants in Ceredigion to ensure that their pollution prevention measures are suitable.

Pencefn Feeds Ltd has now applied for an environmental permit so they can continue to operate (see additional information for more details).

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Ceredigion County Council’s Apprenticeship recruitment campaign is now live

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THE council’s 2019 Apprenticeship programme is now open for applications until Sunday 22 September.

A council apprenticeship gives learners the opportunity to build skills and confidence while earning a salary and gaining a nationally recognised qualification. With roles available in Business Administration, ICT Technical Support and Social Care teams, there is an opportunity for everyone.

The first year of the programme is nearing an end and has been a great success. Alanah Lloyd recently completed a Business Administration Apprenticeship. She said: “I would recommend doing an apprenticeship at Ceredigion County Council to all my friends. I enjoyed the balance of real responsibilities and having the space to keep on learning.”

Maria Lloyd, Alanah’s mother said: “When Alanah was successful with her application I was delighted. It gave her the opportunity to show her work ethic and continue with her education in an organisation where there is career progression. Alanah has now gained a permanent position at the council. I would highly recommend apprenticeships to other parents.”

Lynne Connolly, Apprenticeship and Work Experience Coordinator, Ceredigion County Council said: “This year we are continuing to demonstrate our commitment to ‘grow our own’, offering opportunities for school and college leavers to continue education in a working environment and for members of the community looking to return to work or change career. All our apprentices are paid well above the minimum apprentice wage which reflects how much we value their contribution.”

To apply and find out more visit career.ceredigion.gov.uk or contact us at apprentice@ceredigion.gov.uk.

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