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Politics

​​Budget agreement could be the last​

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Deal secures whole of budget: Mark Drakeford

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT and Plaid Cymru have agreed a ​two-year, £210m Budget agreement.

The deal includes ensuring no cuts to the Supporting People grant​,​ £15m to improve vital north and south links on the A487 and A470​,​ and a £40m boost for mental health funding over ​two years.

There is an extra £20m-a-year for higher and further education and £6m for a young farmers’ grant scheme over ​two years.

There is additional funding for the Welsh language; for Wales to deal with the impact of Brexit, including support for businesses and for music in schools. The agreement builds on the one struck between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru last year.

It also includes:

  • ​A £7m development fund for undergraduate medical training in North Wales
  • £2m to remove the tolls on the Cleddau bridge in Pembrokeshire in 2019-20
  • £3m to support the design and development of a third Menai bridge crossing
  • ​A further £2m for the secretariat and investment support for a new ‘Arfor’ economic region in west Wales

Welsh Government Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said: “We are pleased we have been able to agree this ​two-year deal with Plaid Cymru, which secures the whole of our Budget.

“This agreement builds on the one reached between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru last year and includes a series of recurrent allocations for the Welsh language, arts, end-of-life-care, mental health, higher education and Visit Wales.

“We have also been able to agree capital funding to take forward the new integrated healthcare centre in Cardigan and the results of the feasibility studies into a national art gallery and football museum in North Wales, which were agreed as part of last year’s agreement.”

Adam Price, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for finance, business and the economy, said: “This is a Budget Agreement that will deliver for people and communities in all parts of Wales.

“It protects the vulnerable, invests in our young, and innovates for all our futures. This is a pan-Wales budget agreement, from the Cleddau to the Menai from Wrexham to the Rhondda, from culture to agriculture, from energy and transport to education and health – new ideas for a new Wales.”

In an effort to deflect from the idea that Labour had made concessions to Plaid Cymru, and after the announcement of the Budget agreement, Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said in a BBC Wales interview that there was nothing in the Budget that Labour would not have delivered and that Plaid’s support was a matter of Assembly arithmetic.

And if that appeared more than a tad graceless, the brittle nature of any accord was underlined when Adam Price pointed out that Plaid had not managed to obtain everything it had wanted, including an agreement on tuition fees and public sector pay, and commented: “This is Labour’s budget and it will have to answer to the people of Wales as to why it is failing to deliver on its manifesto commitments such as lifting the pay cap and stopping the rise in tuition fees.

“Plaid Cymru secured a deal that would deliver benefits to communities in every part of Wales. Our budget deal will mean investment in the things that matter to people, including employing 80 new district nurses, £40m for improving mental health services, an additional £40m for our universities and colleges, a Brexit Preparedness Fund for businesses, a young farmers’ entrant’s scheme and a major £3​m investment in a power station for our steel industry.

“But we are frustrated that the Labour government failed to implement important policy matters such as the pay cap and rising tuition fees, particularly as they were commitments made in Labour’s 2017 manifesto. Indeed, what is not included in this budget has made the void between Plaid Cymru and Labour more and more apparent and has made future co-operation between the parties more and more unlikely.

“We will be robustly scrutinising the details of this budget when they are announced, and we will hold the Labour government to account on the decisions it takes.”

The Conservative Party in Wales attacked the agreement.

Andrew RT Davies, said: “This budget deal is the latest charade in the Plaid-Labour love-affair and significantly sees both parties break a number of election promises to the people of Wales.

“Despite the well-publicised vows to the electorate only three months ago and being in government in Wales, the Labour Party has once again failed to take any action on public sector pay or tuition fees.”

All in all, the draft Budget seems to be a document with few close friends, even among those responsible for its content; while the Conservatives are yet to put forward any positive alternatives instead of criticising from the side-lines and carping at Plaid Cymru.

Margaret Thomas, UNISON Cymru Wales Secretary, said: “The Welsh Government is being creative in their budgeting in order to protect public services across Wales.

“UNISON welcomes the additional funding for the NHS in Wales, as well as the pledge to build more affordable homes.

“We are also pleased to hear plans around additional childcare. The majority of UNISON members are women, many work part-time, and we know women still fulfil most of the child care responsibilities in the home – so this will hopefully be of great benefit to them.

“We also recognise the Cabinet Secretary’s attempt to protect Welsh local government budgets and offer a more favourable settlement than in England.

“But the point must be made that this innovative budgeting will not protect our essential public services from further drastic UK government imposed cuts to the Welsh Government block grant, anticipated in their Autumn Statement.

“This budget comes at a time of unprecedented austerity. Public services should be properly invested in, and Wales deserves to be properly funded.​ ​The fact also remains that public sector workers across Wales, and the rest of the UK, have already suffered ​seven, long​,​ hard years of pay restraint.”

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Politics

MS summoned to Court over tweet

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PLAID CYMRU’s Mid & West Wales Regional Senedd Member Helen Mary Jones has been summoned to appear at Swansea Crown Court.

HHJ Paul Thomas QC ordered Ms Jones to court after she retweeted a third-party’s post which expressed the hope a defendant in an ongoing murder trial would be convicted.

The tweet referred to the trial of 70-year-old Anthony Williams, who killed his wife shortly after the start of the first lockdown in March last year.

Mr Williams had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter.

However, while the trial was ongoing, a domestic violence campaigner tweeted:: “Another perp using the ‘I just snapped’. It is complete b******t! As so many of us will know, there would have been history of domestic abuse.
“I hope this jury finds him guilty of murder. Rest in peace, Ruth.”
On Saturday, before the jury returned its verdict, Ms Jones shared the tweet.

There was no history of domestic abuse and no suggestion of it was raised during Mr Jones’ trial.

When the Jury returned to Court on Monday, HHJ Paul Thomas said: “It’s come to my attention that, over the weekend, there have been some highly inappropriate comments made on social media about this case.
“I should make it abundantly clear that those comments have not come from anybody connected with the case and, having been shown the contents of one such piece of social media, they clearly don’t have any idea about the evidence in this case or the issues in this case.”
None of the jurors saw the offending post and continued their deliberations.

On Monday afternoon, the jury acquitted Mr Williams of murder.

By retweeting the remarks made by a third party, the risk existed that the jury could have been influenced and their decision-making compromised.

On Thursday, Helen Mary Jones will have the chance to explain her actions to Judge Thomas in person.

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News

Welsh budget ‘very much a draft’

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THE SENEDD’s Finance Committee’s report on the Welsh Government’s Draft Budget for 2021-22, voices serious concerns for public services, inequality and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Committee is clear that the need to address and alleviate poverty is more critical than ever, with the pandemic deepening the problems already faced by low-income and disadvantaged households.

HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE

The Finance Committee is worried about the impact of the pandemic on non-COVID care, due to sustained pressure on the NHS and its healthcare workers. The Finance Committee also believes the impact of the pandemic on mental health will be considerable over the next year and beyond.

The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee agrees that the public health emergency Wales is facing should not be underestimated, either in terms of responding to the immediate challenges of the pandemic, or the need to do what can be done to maintain the vital non-COVID services on which people rely.

The Committee believes the true scale of the implications for the health and wellbeing of people in Wales, may not become clear for years. The crisis has also exacerbated underlying issues, including the fragility of the social care sector, the ongoing health inequalities across Wales, and the need for a clear strategic vision to drive health and social care integration and service transformation.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND EDUCATION

The Finance Committee is concerned that increased funding in the local government settlement will not cover all cost pressures, such as social care, childcare, and education.

The Finance Committee is deeply concerned about the risks to children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those in early years, falling behind in their education as a result of the pandemic. The Finance Committee is calling for more information about how funding will support learners to ‘catch up’ while also delivering the current ways of learning.

ECONOMY, SKILLS & REGENERATION

The Finance Committee heard evidence that the Draft Budget does not provide a coherent approach to supporting businesses through the pandemic. While recognising that it may be sensible to allow some degree of flexibility, the Committee is concerned that the implementation of the business support packages has been “patchy” with smaller businesses finding it harder to access funds. This has been further complicated by the different approaches to business support from different Governments within the UK.

The Committee believes the Draft Budget could have been clearer in outlining the Welsh Government’s long-term approach to potential shifts in consumer behaviour towards online retailers and the effect on local economies. The Welsh Government should rethink previous policies on revitalising town centres in light of the pandemic.

CHALLENGES NEED LONG-TERM APPROACH

Llyr Gruffydd MS, Chair of the Finance Committee said: “This is the final Draft Budget of the Fifth Senedd. This year the pandemic has delayed UK fiscal events, resulting in delays to publication of the Welsh Government’s Draft Budget. This has reduced our time for scrutiny which is particularly concerning given that COVID-19 will have an impact on public spending for years to come.

“This Draft Budget is very much a draft. A lack of forward-funding figures with only a one- year revenue funding settlement, and the timing of the UK Government’s Budget set later for 3 March has made budget-setting even more challenging for the Welsh Government.

“Much of our work is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst welcoming the extra money for health and social services, the Committee is concerned about the long-term impacts on non-COVID care. We also have serious concerns over workforce capacity and mental health.

“Our businesses need support more than ever, with many being forced to close. For them to have a future after this pandemic, we support calls for the simplification and consolidation of the financial assistance schemes available.

“COVID-19 has brought many serious challenges and the financial impact on health, the economy and public services will be felt by society for years to come. While there is a need to respond to the immediate situation we are hopeful that there is an opportunity for longer-term planning to ensure that Wales can recover strongly.”

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Politics

UKIP politicians vow to overturn new smacking ban in Wales

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UKIP Wales has announced that it is committed to repealing the Welsh Government’s controversial ‘Smacking Ban’ ahead of the Senedd Elections, and that this will become part of its manifesto in Wales.

The ban on reasonable chastisement was introduced in January 2020 by Labour’s Deputy Minister for Social Services, Julie Morgan. The legislation removes the defence of “reasonable punishment” in cases of common assault.

UKIP Leader and Member of the Senedd for Mid & West Wales, Neil Hamilton, said: “Parents know what is best for their children, not politicians. Members of the Senedd need to get a foot in the real world, outside the Cardiff Bay Bubble and listen to the public.

“[The ban] received huge criticism when it was railroaded through the Senedd against public opinion. When consulted, up to 75% of parents in Wales opposed the restrictions that prohibited them from reasonably disciplining their children.

“The policy is practically impossible to enforce and is estimated to cost the taxpayer £8 million. It is another example of the Cardiff Bay politicians overextending themselves and forcing their own virtue-signalling morality on to the people of Wales.

“Senedd politicians from all parties have forgotten they are not the boss – the public are. As Members of the Senedd, their job is to represent their constituents not police how parents bring up their children.

“The Government must do everything possible to protect children from physical and psychological abuse. But this legislation has done, and will continue to do, nothing to stop cases of serious abuse. Instead, it penalises parents who take reasonable steps to discipline their children.

“In this year’s Senedd Elections, UKIP is standing up for parents to raise their children free from interference from an overarching, self-righteous political class in Cardiff.”

Pembrokeshire-based UKIP councillor Paul Dowson said: “In my opinion this is plain and simple common sense. It has cost the taxpayer 8 million pounds for a bill which is simply unenforceable.

“This over-woke labour Welsh government made up of out of touch ministers have no right to tell the public how to discipline their children.

“The latest generation have recently gone through the education system where there are no serious consequences for bad behaviour, the parents have been restricted regarding punishing bad behaviour, and the curriculum promotes 99 different genders along with a whole host of other WOKE topics above common sense and basic respect.
“Our future begins with our children and we need to be allowed to discipline our kids in a way which we see fit even if it does include a smack on the ass when required.

“The sooner we regain control of society the better.

“No better place to start than with bringing our children up properly instead of following the Drakeford formula. His own son is a prime example of poor parenting.”

Cllrs Dowson’s view is at odds with the NSPCC. The children’s protection charity said in a press release: “This is a remarkable achievement which closes an outdated loophole and finally gives children in Wales the same legal protection from assault as adults.”

Conservative AM Ms Finch-Saunders said: “With this bill the state is now stepping into the private lives of families”.

She added: “Through the involvement of the police and social services… this smacking ban this will potentially have far reaching consequences for us all.”

Julie Morgan, Deputy Social Services Minister, said it was a “historic day” after members passed the law with 36 votes for, 14 against.

Ms Morgan had campaigned for years for a ban and had broken the Labour whip over the issue when the Welsh Government did not support it, in 2015.

She said at a press conference after the vote: “This is not about the government telling parents how to raise their children or about criminalising loving parents,”

She added the government had listened to the “vocal minority” who opposed the move, but that removing the defence of reasonable punishment “is the right thing to do”.

“The children of Wales now have the same protection as adults in Wales have.”

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