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Drakeford lands in the brown and smellies

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THAT was much better. At least from Conservative leader, Andrew RT Davies.
Last week, we reported on the difficulties Mr Davies got into when bandying around statistics with the First Minister. His performance fell flat and the subject didn’t play to his or his Party’s strengths. 

REGULATIONS BREACH PROMISES 

This week, Mr Davies was back on ground about which the First Minister knows little and couldn’t care less: agriculture, and a Minister’s breach of repeated promises not to enact costly and onerous legislation during the pandemic.


Mr Davies said Labour’s Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, betrayed farmers in Wales announcing the introduction of a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) across the whole country despite saying in the Senedd Chamber on seven separate occasions that she would not while the pandemic continues.


Mr Davies said: “We’re 10 months into this crisis, a crisis that has had a dramatic effect on all sectors of business including farming, and the Welsh Labour Government – propped up by the Lib Dem – decides to introduce a blanket NVZ across all of Wales when [Lesley Griffiths] had said she wouldn’t.


“Labour’s farming minister was quite clear throughout the course of 2020 and the pandemic. Labour promised farmersup and down Wales they wouldn’t look at introducing these regulations while we were still dealing with the coronavirus crisis. Labour has broken that promise.


“I asked Labour’s First Minister to personally intervene on behalf of farmers and rural communities across Wales and hold off introducing these regulations when we’re still in the grip of a pandemic. He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t even acknowledge that his Minister broke a promise made seven times.


“It’s yet another broken promise by the Labour Party, and shows that farmers and the Welsh public at large can’t trust Labour when it comes to protecting livelihoods and the food security of Wales and our United Kingdom.” 

FIRST MINISTER DIGS A SLURRY PIT

While Mr Drakeford tried to bluster his way out of the corner by referring to the number of agricultural pollution incidents each week, he inadvertently dug himself deeper into the hole Lesley Griffiths prepared. Neither the number nor frequency of pollution incidents have increased and the majority of pollution incidents are both localised and minor. That can be shown by direct reference to the minuscule number of enforcement actions and the even smaller number of prosecutions arising from pollution incidents.


The Welsh Government’s claims that its environmental watchdog, Natural Resources Wales, has both the necessary powers and the necessary funding to tackle incidents. If the Welsh Government’s claims on either count stand up to scrutiny, the overwhelming majority of cases relating to agricultural pollution are of extremely limited impact. If the Welsh Government’s claims about NRW are an example of ‘gilding the lily’, the problem of agricultural pollution is one to which it has contributed by neutering its watchdog. It cannot have it both ways. But Mr Drakeford tried to, even after acknowledging there had been NO increase in alleged agricultural pollution incidents.


Mr Drakeford said: “The level of pollution incidents in the agriculture sphere is damaging the reputation of farmers, damaging our environment and damaging the ability of that industry, in the long run, to trade with other parts of the world. Given that the strength of our industry is the quality of the produce that it delivers, any delay would not be in the interests of the industry.”That last point begs the question that if a delay to the regulations is not in the industry’s interests now, why delay promised at all.
Mr Drakeford continued: “The implementation of the regulations will be done sensitively, they’ll be done alongside the industry.” 

GOVERNMENT IGNORED OWN REGULATOR

That last point would make a welcome change.The largest source of river pollution in Wales has been pollution by water companies. Agricultural leaks are implicated in 15% of incidents.As long ago as 2018, The Herald probed the incidence of river pollution. A Freedom of Information Act request that year revealed there were 2,700 incidents of river pollution in the preceding three years. Fifteen percent of 2700 is 405: that equates to 2.6 incidents each week attributable to agricultural pollution. Those numbers, as Mr Drakeford said, have not changed. Of those 2,700 incidents, only ten resulted in civil sanctions.

At the time, Andrea Winterton of NRW told us: “We always seek to be proportionate in our enforcement, and the action we take will depend on the severity of the incident. Of the pollution incidents between 2013 and 2016, many of these were minor, small scale and short-lived, often making it difficult to find those responsible.”While one pollution incident is one too many, as Andrew RT Davies recognised in the Senedd, the Welsh Government is taking a large hammer to crack a relatively small nut while ignoring major pollution causes.


The Welsh Government has ignored both its own environmental watchdog over the scope of the regulations and the industry group it convened to review the new rules. The decision of the Welsh Government is also contrary to the recommendations of its own advisory panel.

Natural Resources Wales warned the Welsh Government its pollution regulations could have the ‘perverse outcome’ of making water quality worse.


The official advice from the regulator was obtained as part of a freedom of information (FOI) request submitted by NFU Cymru. The advice also said NRW did not have enough resources to implement the new rules if they applied to all farm businesses across Wales.


NRW’s advice was given specifically on the Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) being carried out by the Welsh Government. That assessment should have assessed the impact on all farm businesses in Wales. The NRW advice suggests the Welsh Government did no such thing.


NRW also claimed the Welsh Government had ‘lost an opportunity’ in only considering two options – do nothing, or an all-Wales approach – and suggested the assessment did not follow the Welsh Government’s own RIA guidance on presenting a comprehensive range of implementation choices.
It also questioned the lack of analysis on water quality in the RIA and how proportionate the measures would be in areas where low nitrate concentrations are found, concluding the assessment would be ‘open to challenge’ from a number of stakeholders.


Legal action has already been threatened by NFU-Cymru.The Pollution Subgroup of the Welsh Land Management Forum facilitated by Natural Resources Wales has consistently argued for better enforcement and the promotion of good practice.Those facts alone show the emptiness of Mr Drakeford’s words on the topic. They are of the same value as Lesley Griffiths’ seven empty promises. 

MORE TARGETEDAPPROACH NEEDED

TFA Cymru Chairman, Dennis Matheson, said “The vast majority of farms across Wales operate to very high standards of pollution control. Sadly, a tiny number of operators continue to flout the existing regulations and deserve to be penalised. However, the Welsh Government is using this as an excuse to hit the whole of the industry with costly new regulations.


“Tarring the whole of the industry with the same brush is not appropriate. Increasing the regulatory bar will do nothing to improve compliance amongst the small number of individuals who wilfully ignore the existing rules. Instead, the Welsh Government should be stepping up its enforcement of the existing rules.”


Mr Matheson continued: “As a member of the Pollution Subgroup it feels like we have been wasting our time meeting, discussing, debating and providing advice to Government. The Government didn’t even have the decency to consult with the Subgroup before announcing its decision. This is not evidenced-based policy-making, it’s a knee-jerk reaction and completely wrongheaded.”


Tenant farmers may struggle to meet the new requirements due to the constraints of their tenancy agreements.


“For many years, TFA Cymru has been highlighting the statutory and contractual restrictions that impact tenant farmersto the Welsh Government and provided advice as to how this could be overcome. However, the announcement contains no details about how the Welsh Government expects tenant farmers to comply.


“Tenants that meet opposition from their landlords could end up having to cease farming altogether, despite already operating to extremely high environmental standards. That surely cannot be right,” said Mr Matheson. 

RURAL COMMUNITIESFACE BIG CHALLENGES

Cefin Campbell, Plaid Cymru’s lead candidate for the Mid and West Wales region, said: At a time when the UK Tory government has slashed £137 million from the support for Welsh agriculture, the Labour Welsh Government plans to make the whole of Wales a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ), despite fierce opposition from farming unions.


“When conditions are favourable, farmers usually spread slurry on their fields between October and March, but the NVZ will ban slurry spreading for five months over the winter period. Slurry will have to be stored at a time when most cattle are kept indoors, which could result in farmers having to invest heavily in huge slurry tanks to accommodate the increased waste.


“‘As agriculture and our rural communities in general face huge challenges following the Brexit agreement and the effects of the Covid pandemic, the Conservatives take millions of pounds of badly needed money away from farmers, and Labour bring in draconian measures that will have a devastating effect on small or medium-sized dairy farms,’ said Cllr Cefin Campbell who is also Executive Board member with responsibility for Rural Affairs on Carmarthenshire County Council.


“Although I fully understand the crucial importance of protecting our waterways from slurry pollution, the Welsh Government should have taken a more targeted approach by implementing restrictions in specific areas or on farms that have a history of poor practice – as proposed by the government body Natural Resources Wales,’ he said.


“This blanket ban will punish the 95% of farmers who’ve worked tirelessly for generations to maintain that delicate balance between making a living and protecting the environment. It’s a grossly disproportionate over-reaction by Welsh Government.


“The investment needed by family-run farms to comply with these new restrictions could put their businesses at risk and even result in many leaving the land. The financial support offered by the Welsh Government to help farmersadapt to these new conditions is pitiful. The increased costs, coupled with the Tories cutting millions from agriculture aid, clearly shows that neither of the main parties can be trusted to support the farming industry, which is the backbone of our rural communities across mid and west Wales,” he added.

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The Welsh Government launches Basic Income pilot scheme

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FROM 1 July 2022, more than 500 people leaving care in Wales will be offered £1600 each month (before tax) for two years to support them as they make the transition to adult life.

Launched by First Minister Mark Drakeford, it is hoped the pilot will set care leavers on a path to live healthy, happy and fulfilling lives.

The radical approach has trust, autonomy and respect at its centre. It will provide independence and security to people who have faced immense challenges during their childhood, giving them greater control and empowering them to make decisions about their future.

The £20 million pilot, which will run for three years, will be evaluated to carefully examine its effect on the lives of those involved

Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt said the scheme is a direct investment in the lives and futures of some of Wales’ most vulnerable young people.

Those taking part in the pilot will also receive individual advice and support to help them manage their finances and develop their financial and budgeting skills.

Local authorities will play a key role in supporting them throughout the pilot. Voices from Care Cymru will also work with the young people to give them advice on wellbeing, education, employment and help them plan their future after the pilot.

To launch the scheme, First Minister Mark Drakeford, Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt and Deputy Minister for Social Services Julie Morgan met with people taking part in the pilot, and young people who themselves have been in care, to talk about the impact this support will have on peoples’ lives.

They discussed how they hope the financial stability will give people the opportunity to make positive life choices as they leave care and provide a more solid foundation from which to build their adult lives.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We want all our young people to have the best possible chance in life and fulfil their full potential. The state is the guardian of people leaving care and so has a real obligation to support them as they start their adult life.

“Our focus will be on opening up their world to all its possibilities and create an independence from services as their lives develop.

“Many of those involved in this pilot don’t have the support lots of people – myself included – have been lucky enough to enjoy as we started out on our path to adulthood.

“Our radical initiative will not only improve the lives of those taking part in the pilot, but will reap rewards for the rest of Welsh society. If we succeed in what we are attempting today this will be just the first step in what could be a journey that benefits generations to come.”

Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt said: “We’re in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis like no other and we therefore need new ways of supporting people who are most in need.

“Our Basic Income pilot is an incredibly exciting project giving financial stability to a generation of young people. Too many people leaving care face huge barriers to achieving their hopes and ambitions; such as problems with getting a safe and stable home, to securing a job and building a fulfilling career. This scheme will help people live a life free of such barriers and limitations.

“We will carefully evaluate the lessons learnt from the pilot. Listening to everyone who takes part will be crucial in determining the success of this globally ambitious project. We will examine whether Basic Income is an efficient way to support society’s most vulnerable and not only benefit the individual, but wider society too.”

Tiff Evans of Voices from Care Cymru, speaking on behalf of young people who have experienced care, said: “This is a brilliant opportunity for care leavers in Wales. It is good to see that care leavers in Wales are being thought of and Welsh Government are providing this opportunity for them as young people to become responsible, control some parts of their lives and have a chance to thrive and be financially independent.

“We thank Welsh Government for investing in them and their future and we look forward to other changes and developments for care experienced young people in Wales in order for them to reach life aspirations.”

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Ben Lake MP urges UK Government to review calorie legislation

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JUST one week after the legislation to label restaurants with calorie labels came to force the Hearts Minds Genes Coalition for eating disorders, chaired by multi award winning campaigner Hope Virgo, have coordinated an open letter to the Government calling on the Government to: 

  • Make a commitment that the evaluation of the new legislation to label restaurants with calories on will happen in the first year with a commitment that members from the eating disorder community and experts will be involved in this review. 
  • To make it mandatory for every single restaurant that has to have mandatory calorie labelling will also have a no-calorie menu choice for those who wish to request this 
  • To remove the labelling of calories on children’s menus in all restaurants

The letter spotlights the problematic nature of adding calories to menus, highlighting not only the dangers for those affected by eating disorders but for the wider society. It goes on to emphasise that with 16% of the adult population screening positive for an eating disorder and millions more suffering from eating disorders, what is proposed as a “common-sense approach” – focusing on weight and calorie counting – is incredibly destructive. 

Ben Lake MP

Ben Lake MP says: “Mandating calorie labelling may have a detrimental impact on those living with, or who are at risk of developing eating disorders. The rates of both eating disorders and obesity are increasing across the UK and whilst we all want to have a population approach to making society healthier, none of us want unintended consequences for people on whose lives this issue has a profound impact.  

“I believe that the UK Government should take a holistic approach to tackling obesity. Action is needed to protect children from junk food marketing with restrictions on advertising, alongside the promotion of healthy  food choices in shops and supermarkets. More widely, I believe that the UK Government must reverse cuts to public health funding to ensure that community services can support people to live healthier lives.” 

Hope Virgo says: “I honestly still can’t quite believe that this has happened. For so many people affected by eating disorders restaurants will become an even more toxic and fearful place. It will normalise conversations around food and exercise. Over the pandemic we have seen a huge increase in eating disorders, with services completely overrun. Do we really want future generations to grow up basing their food decisions on numbers? Since the legislation came into force I have been inundated with messages from people who have so much fear not just for themselves but those around them.” 

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Boris Johnson, his wife and chancellor Rishi Sunak to be fined for breaking lockdown rules

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THE PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie, and chancellor Rishi Sunak, have been notified that they will be issued with fines for breaking lockdown rules.

The fixed penalty notices are the result of a Metropolitan Police investigation into parties in Downing Street and Whitehall in 2020 and 2021.

Mr Johnson will become the first sitting prime minister to receive a punishment for breaking the law.

Labour immediately called for both the PM and chancellor to resign while Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called for parliament to be recalled for a vote of confidence in Mr Johnson.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon also demanded that they should quit.

Those calls have been echoed this week by Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds has called on the Welsh Conservative Leader Andrew RT Davies and Welsh Secretary Simon Hart to “show a backbone” and call for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to resign following the news that both men are to be fined over lockdown parties.

Commenting Jane Dodds MS told The Herald: “Boris Johnson & Rishi Sunak have broken the law & repeatedly lied, they must resign from their positions at once.

“While people in Wales were playing by the rules at great personal expense, those in charge thought they were above the law.

“This also will come as a painful blow to all those covid bereaved families in Wales.  The behavior of Johnson and Sunak

“The Welsh public deserves much better. For the sake of the country, both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak must resign immediately.

“If the Conservative Party is to have any legitimacy in Wales Andrew RT Davies and Simon Hart need to show some backbone and be calling for resignations immediately. No Welsh Conservative MP should be backing the Chancellor or Prime Minister staying in post.”

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