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Bovine TB: WG wants to talk

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screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-09-46-22IT WAS TRAILED as a major announcement by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, but reaction to the Welsh Government’s change of tack from having a failed strategy to talking about a different strategy was met with a decidedly mixed response from opposition parties and farming unions.

After the failure of its vaccination trial, which came to an end when international supplies of vaccine ran out, the Welsh Government has still not advanced any concrete plan to resolve the problem.

Instead, Lesley Griffiths announced a consultation.

Over the past 12 months, nearly 9,500 cattle have been slaughtered as a result of this disease, a 38% increase from last year.

The situation is even worse in endemic areas of the country, with Pembrokeshire suffering a 40% increase in slaughtered cattle, Carmarthenshire 78% and Clwyd an increase of 137% in the 12 months to July 2016 compared to the same period in the previous year.

Since January 1996, the number of animals slaughtered in Wales as a result of bovine TB has reached 118,488 animals – equivalent to 23% of the total number of adult cattle we have on farms across Wales today.

The Cabinet Secretary told AMs: “Our current programme for TB eradication in Wales comes to an end this year.”

In fact, the ‘current eradication programme’ ended in October 2015, when supplied of vaccine ran out.

When it came to the promise to ‘take stock, reflect on our successes, learn lessons’ towards a TB free Wales, there was very little in Ms Griffiths’ statement that suggested that among the lessons the Welsh Government was prepared to learn were those relating to the successful steps taken in New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland about control of the infection reservoir in wildlife.

Instead, the range of other options available will be considered, including learning from a pilot in Northern Ireland where badgers were cage-trapped and infected animals were humanely killed. Working with vets and wildlife experts, the Cabinet Secretary will consider whether a similar approach might be appropriate in high incidence areas where there is chronic herd breakdown and an objective confirmation that badgers are infected.

The conditional ‘might’ is significant.

The consultation is also seeking views on:

  • Introducing a mandatory Informed Purchasing Scheme to help farmers make informed decisions about the health of the cattle they wish to purchase;
  • Imposing compensation penalties for cattle moved within a multi-site restricted holding;
  • Reducing the TB compensation cap from £15,000 to £5,000, which would not affect the majority of farmers but would result in around £300,000 a year savings.

Responding to the Welsh Government’s statement on Bovine TB, Preseli Pembrokeshire AM Paul Davies, who speaks for the Welsh Conservatives on Rural Affairs, welcomed the Welsh Government’s consultation on its ‘refreshed approach’ but believes it is a case of ‘too little, too late’.

He said: “Sadly, Labour’s measures to tackle the scourge of Bovine TB do not go far enough in eradicating this awful disease.

“There is a clear requirement for a more holistic approach and the Welsh Government’s strategy should include all the tools at its disposal to ensure we eliminate Bovine TB in both our cattle and wildlife population.

“The proposed regional approach to tackling this disease must ensure area risk-based strategies are not disproportionate to farmers and that farmers are not facing impossibly stringent controls.

“While some of the measures are welcome, it is imperative we see more decisive action from the Welsh Government as this disease is having a devastating impact on rural communities and Welsh farming.

“Farmers in Wales need to see an holistic TB strategy that learns from other countries and if necessary difficult decisions will have to made.”

Plaid Cymru’s Simon Thomas, Mid and West regional AM, said: “This announcement is a step forward towards a proper integrated strategy to tackle bTB. It is welcome that the link between the disease in wildlife and in cattle is being recognised and that measures are being taken to address the policy vacuum that has been in place. It needs to be ensured that the measures taken are targeted, effective and humane.

“Recognition that a regional approach is needed to tackle the problem is welcome. Instances of TB infection in cattle has stayed persistently high in west Wales and is increasing in new areas in Carmarthenshire.”

“I am calling for assurances that testing and movement restrictions will remain proportionate to the disease status of an area.”

In relation to the proposal to cap compensation, Simon Thomas said: “A cut of £10,000 from the current cap of £15,000 will be a cause of concern to many farmers.”

The Farmers’ Union of Wales has welcomed the Welsh Government’s announcement that it will consider a badger test-and-cull type approach to TB as a small step in the right direction, but says many farmers will be concerned at the implications of splitting Wales into TB zones.

The proposals, announced as part of a TB eradication programme consultation launched by Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths on Tuesday (Oct 18), include splitting Wales into five regions – one ‘low TB’ area, two ‘intermediate TB’ areas and two ‘high TB’ areas, with differing approaches to eradication in each area.

NFU Cymru President Stephen James said: “In setting out her plans for dealing with chronic herd breakdowns, there is a welcome recognition from the Cabinet Secretary of the link between cattle and wildlife in disease transmission, but we are concerned at the time it may take for this issue to be adequately addressed.

“It is important to stress that Welsh Government’s low incidence area in North Wales has always had low levels of disease incidence and this new area should not be seen as a vindication of previous Government strategy.”

Stephen James concluded: “We have always said that we must use every option available to us, this includes; cattle testing, cattle controls, improving biosecurity, encouraging farmers to make informed purchasing decisions and strengthening the role that local vets play in tackling this horrendous disease. Any comprehensive TB eradication strategy must also actively remove infection from diseased wildlife across high incidence areas.

“Clearly, the proposals put forward by Welsh Government in today’s statement will ratchet up the control

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Newtown: Online threat to ‘use of firearms at a school’ lead to swift police action

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE was made aware this morning, the force said, of “utterly irresponsible and scaremongering posts” on Facebook, suggesting that the authors of the posts were going to use firearms at a school in the Newtown area.

The posts were by individuals local to Newtown, and police acted swiftly to address this, which resulted in the arrest of three local men, aged 20, 21 and 27 on suspicion of malicious communications and public order. As part of the initial response schools were also given advice to be vigilant.

A spokesman said: “Understandably the posts caused serious concern in the area, and unfortunately the subsequent rumours led to misunderstandings. This is turn led to calls to the police alleging there was a man with a firearm seen outside Newtown High School.

“Police had to respond appropriately to these calls based on the threat allegedly posed, and a firearms unit was sent to the school. We can confirm that there was no man at the school, and when we have delved further into the detail of the calls, it has transpired that they were as a result of the rumours circulating, and not based on first-hand accounts.

“Police have also carried out thorough searches as a result of the arrests, and no weapons have been recovered. The local Neighbourhood Policing Team will also be present at the school at home time to reassure and inform parents, pupils and staff.

“We hope this clarification will reassure the community of Newtown that there is no threat to schools in the area, and the matter was dealt with seriously and swiftly. We would also appeal to everyone to stop sharing the posts and any associated rumours, in order to prevent any further unsubstantiated fear and alarm in the area.”

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The latest increase in coronavirus in Wales is ‘sobering’ says First Minister

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THE FIRST MINISTER, Mark Drakeford has criticised the lack of communication with the UK government as he gave a briefing on what he described as the “sobering” increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalisation in Wales.

The infection rate in Wales has risen to 23.6 infections for every 100k people as cases have spiked in areas including Merthyr, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly and Newport.

Hospitalisations remain low but are rising, with five people currently in intensive care with Covid-19 and and 53 Covid patients on all hospital wards, according to the latest data from Public Health Wales from Sunday, September 13.

Mr Drakeford said that the number of people in hospital with coronavirus had risen to 41 with four people in intensive care.

He also said that the R number in Wales was almost certainly now above one – meaning the virus is spreading exponentially again. The latest estimate, he said, was between 0.7 and 1.2.

Mr Drakeford said: “In this most difficult week, there has been no meeting offered to First Ministers of any sort. Since the 28 May, there has been just one brief telephone call from the Prime Minister.

“This is simply unacceptable to anyone who believes that we ought to be facing the coronavirus crisis together.

“We need a regular, reliable, rhythm of engagement: a reliable meeting even once a week would be a start. I make this argument not because we should all do the same things, but because being round the same table allows each of us to make the best decisions for the nations we represent.

“There is a vacancy at the heart of the United Kingdom, and it needs urgently to be filled, so we can talk to each other, share information, pool ideas and demonstrate a determination that the whole of the country can face these challenges together at this most difficult time.”

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WASPI unaffected by appeal’s failure

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A CAMPAIGN group for women born in the 1950s, whose state pension age has increased from 60-65, lost an appeal against a decision to deny them compensation for lost pension income.
Backto60 brought two test cases to the High Court last year when those cases were lost the group appealed. The Court of Appeal released its judgement rejecting the appeal on Monday, September 14.
The group’s campaign calls for a reinstatement of the age of 60 for women’s state pensions and compensation of the pension women have missed out on.
The Court found making the state pension age the same for men and women did not constitute unlawful discrimination.

WASPI CAMPAIGN UNCHANGED

The case’s failure will not affect the far better known and more widely-supported Women Against State Pensions Injustice (WASPI) campaign.
WASPI has long campaigned on the issues regarding the increase in the state pension age for women. They argue that setting aside any claim of discrimination, the UK Government failed in its duty to inform affected women adequately of the changes to the state pension age and the effect those changes would have on their pensions.
A statement issued by WASPI after the Backto60 legal challenge failed said: “Many women will be disappointed today at the judgement from the High Court.
“Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) will continue to campaign for what we believe is achievable and affordable. Compensation for women who have been unfairly disadvantaged with a rapid increase to their State Pension age (SPa).
“WASPI is not opposed to the equalisation of the SPa with men but it was done without adequate notice, leaving no time to make alternative arrangements. Women were informed directly some 14 years after the SPa was first changed, many only given 18 months’ notice, of up to a six-year increase, many others were not informed at all. This left their retirement plans shattered.
“The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is currently considering six sample cases of maladministration out of the thousands of complaints made to the DWP by WASPI women.”
Former Conservative Pensions Minister, Baroness Roz Altmann, said: “When Pensions Minister, I saw copies of letters written by the Government to millions of these women in 2003 and 2004 about their State Pension, which failed to highlight that their pension would not be paid at age 60. These official letters failed to highlight that these women’s pension would not start being paid at age 60. It merely informed them what State Pension they might receive when they reached State Pension Age, but they did not tell them what that age would be!
“Receiving a letter from the Pensions Department about their State Pension, which did not urge them to check what their State Pension Age would be, may have lulled them into a false sense of security that they would receive it from age 60.
“This looks like maladministration.”
During the election campaign last year, Boris Johnson pledged to place ‘fresh eyes’ on the issue and said he felt sympathetic to the WASPI campaigners. Asked on Tuesday about the progress of those promised considerations, he failed to answer.

THE APPEAL ISSUE

The main issue in the appeal was whether the changes to the state pension age brought in by Parliament from 1995 onwards, unlawfully discriminated against women. Backto60 argued, amongst other things, women born in the 1950s were less likely to have contributed to the state pension scheme or were disproportionately in lower-paid jobs than men.
The Pensions Act 1995 provided that a woman born before 6 April 1950 would still receive her state pension at age 60 but a woman born after that date would receive her pension on a specified date when she was aged between 60 and 65, depending on her date of birth. The Pensions Acts 2007, 2011 and 2014 then accelerated the move to age 65 as the state pension age for women and raised the state pension age for some men and women to 66, 67 or 68 depending on their date of birth.
Successive UK Governments made changes to address the massively-rising cost of state pensions.
When the state pension age was originally set, both pension ages were fixed at 65. When revised in 1940, women’s pension age was dropped to 60. At the time those ages were fixed, life expectancy meant the state pension was likely to be paid out for only a few years after retirement age. The lower age was fixed at 60 for women to reflect their then-dependence on a single male breadwinner in the family and the prevailing age difference between married couples.
In the post-war period, life expectancy increased, first gradually and then with increasing speed.
The boom in average life expectancy means the state pension is the largest single drain on the welfare budget – taking £111bn of it in the year 2018-19 (DWP figures). In comparison, payments for unemployment benefits totalled £2bn.
The UK Defence budget is around £28bn
In normal circumstances, the claims brought to the Court would have been barred due to the delay in bringing them. Time was extended to bring the claims. The question of the delay was, however, relevant only to the discretion whether to grant relief if unlawful discrimination was proved.
The long delay in bringing the claims made it impossible to fashion any practical remedy. The Court noted unchallenged expert evidence that the cost of reinstating pensions would exceed £200bn – more than seven times the total defence budget and around the same as the whole of the health and education budgets combined (Figures Office of Budget Responsibility).

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