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​​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

Elin Jones raises Fibre Ceredigion’s connectivity with Openreach

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ELIN JONES AM has attended an Openreach drop in session in the National Assembly of Wales to raise concerns about the lack of Fibre in areas of Ceredigion.

Elin Jones met with Openreach’s Partnership director in Wales, Connie Dixon, and Catherine Colloms, Director of Corporate Affairs. Elin also met with Openreach engineers and was shown the process undertaken in order to install fibres in people’s homes and businesses.

Elin Jones said:

“There are still many homes and businesses in Ceredigion that need to be connected to superfast Broadband. Many are in rural locations, but there are also whole villages and, in most cases, homes that are just at the end of the line and have fallen out of scope.

“More needs to be done to ensure that access to Superfast Broadband for premises across Ceredigion is equally available. I hope to meet with Openreach in the near future in Ceredigion in order to assess the challenges that they face in installing Fibre, but also for them to see the need in our communities for superfast.”

Connie Dixon, Openreach Partnership Director for Wales, said:

“We’re already working closely with the Welsh Government to bring fibre broadband to Wales and as a result of this partnership nearly 95 per cent of the country can access superfast broadband today. But we also know there’s more to do and we’re working hard to reach those properties that currently can’t access fibre broadband.

“We’re also committed to future-proofing the network with full fibre technology but in order to build a new full fibre network for Wales we’ll need the support from our public sector partners.

“It won’t be quick or easy, but action to reduce red tape and remove barriers will speed things up. Full fibre will open up huge possibilities for the Welsh economy and help answer long terms challenges like energy use, climate change and sustainable rural communities.”

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Plaid candiate votes to fight for police devolution

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AHEAD of the general election on 12 December 2019, Ben Lake, Plaid Cymru candidate for Ceredigion has outlined a commitment to continue to fight for the devolution of policing to Wales.

Between 2010 and 2018, the number of police officers in Wales fell by 9% – with rural Wales particularly hit due to the unfair funding formula used by the UK Government.

Plaid Cymru have announced that they will create a new £50m crime prevention fund to recruit 1,600 extra police officers through the devolution of policing. The proposals would see a greater police presence locally, and helping to root officers in their communities, rather than being stretched over large geographical areas with little resources.

Earlier this year a Welsh Government-appointed commission said Wales should have full control of its justice system, including powers to run policing – with further studies suggesting Wales’ four forces would be in line for £25m extra from the UK government if policing was devolved.

Ben Lake said: “Time after time, police budgets have been cut by the UK Government, meaning far fewer officers are available to police forces in Wales. Welsh forces and rural areas have been hit harder than those in the rest of the UK, due to an unfair Home Office funding formula.”

“Since my election in 2017, I have seen firsthand the detrimental impact this funding arrangement is having on Welsh police forces and communities, something I was glad to raise in Parliament.”

“We cannot expect a one size fits all approach police funding to work effectively across the whole of the UK, and as such, it is imperative that the criteria for the central Government grant are revised to reflect the demands and unique challenges faced by rural forces in areas such as Ceredigion.”

“It remains unacceptable that Wales is the only nation in the UK without powers over policing and justice, especially given the clear financial dividend that devolution would bring about.”

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Politics

Conservative Candidate for Ceredigion, welcomed Lord Nick Bourne back to Aberystwyth

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THIS week, Lord Nick Bourne of Aberystwyth, visited the University town to meet with Amanda Jenner, the Conservative Candidate for Ceredigion in the forthcoming General Election. Lord Bourne joined with members of the Aberystwyth University Conservative Society to support Amanda with her General Election campaign to be the next MP for Ceredigion.

Coincidently, Amanda Jenner and Lord Bourne have taken similar paths – both Aberystwyth University Law Graduates who have gone on to work in the Education sector before turning to politics.

Lord Bourne, until recently, was the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Wales Office and was heavily involved with the Mid Wales Growth Deal.

Commenting on the Growth Deal, Lord Bourne said,

“One very important thing that we have been spending a lot of time on as a Government, is to ensure we get money into Mid and West Wales, including Ceredigion, particularly to motivate businesses here.”

“I personally hope that this extends to projects involving Aberystwyth University – who are already doing tremendous work, led by Elizabeth Treasure the Vice-chancellor, to ensure we have prosperity and sustainability.”

Amanda Jenner added,

“From speaking with businesses in Ceredigion, I can see that there are some fantastic opportunities here, including in the tourism and education sectors. If elected as your MP, I would be a strong voice in Westminster, fighting to ensure that the Growth Deal stays on track and that we get the levels of funding needed for the proposals put forward by the partners of the Growth Deal.”

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