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.”
Ceredigion’s Energy Efficiency work recognised at the Wales Energy Efficiency Awards
ON June, 17, 2022, Wales Regional Energy Efficiency Awards were held in Cardiff. Ceredigion County Council’s Energy Efficiency Schemes scooped 2 awards.
The Energy Efficiency Awards were introduced to help recognise the fantastic work being undertaken by the energy efficiency sector in Wales. The measures were introduced to help homeowners reduce their energy bills, tackle fuel poverty and reduce Carbon emissions.
Ceredigion County Council have been delivering the ECO Local Authority Flexibility scheme along with the Warm Homes Cozy Ceredigion Scheme for a number of years. These schemes have seen a number of insulation measures and heating systems being installed in properties improving their energy efficiency. With the drive towards renewable heating systems the concentration lately has been on the installation of air source heat pumps.
The Council scooped the top prize for the Regional Council or Local Authority of the Year where one exceptional council in each of the 11 Regional areas of the UK has shown a true commitment to promoting energy efficiency within their region. This award was sponsored by Improveasy.
For this award, the judges look at the impact their work has had within the local community, what their customer and local community have to say about the council, what level of expertise the council has within its own teams and what priority the council gives to tackling fuel poverty within its current plans.
The Council also won the Regional Vulnerable Customer Support Organisation of the Year having shown a true commitment to improving the lives of vulnerable people within their region. This award was sponsored by Consumer Energy Solutions.
Councillor Matthew Vaux, is the Cabinet Member responsible for the Housing Service. He said: “I would like to congratulate the Housing team for their hard work and success at the Regional Energy Efficiency Awards this year. With the current rise in fuel costs and the increase in cost of living, this is a fantastic achievement for the Council’s housing team in showcasing that they are helping our residents save energy and combat fuel poverty.”
Find more information about Energy Efficiency Schemes on the Council’s website: www.ceredigion.gov.uk/resident/housing/financial-assistance/energy-efficiency-schemes/
The Welsh Government launches Basic Income pilot scheme
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.”
Ceredigion man living in Ireland sentenced after involvement in illegal meat operation
A CEREDIGION man living in Ireland has been extradited and sentenced after his involvement in illicit farming and trading of meat that was unfit for human consumption.
Robert Thomas, 45, was found to be part of an organised crime group (OCG), who were involved in running an illegal meat operation, where “smokies” were being prepared for human consumption. The production of “smokies” involves the illegal slaughter of sheep which, as part of the production process, have their fleece retained on the carcasses and burnt with blow torches to impart a smoked flavour to the meat. This process is illegal in the UK and many European countries.
The initial prosecution was undertaken by Ceredigion County Council in 2015, but due to Mr Thomas persistence in evading justice it has taken 7 years for the proceedings to reach a conclusion. The prosecution involved Mr Thomas and another male person from Ceredigion, who is still wanted on warrant in respect of the charges.
At Swansea Crown Court in December 2015, Thomas was sentenced to a 28-week term of imprisonment, suspended for two years and was ordered to undertake 200 hours of unpaid work and ordered confiscation proceedings to try and identify and recover any assets obtained by Thomas, through his illegal activities. That confiscation investigation was undertaken by officers in the Tarian Regional Economic Crime Unit (RECU) assisted by Ceredigion County Council. Various Proceeds of Crime Act hearings took place during which Thomas gave evidence on oath that his assets and income were minimal.
He declared that he had two old cars and was earning just £40 per week working for his parents. He also claimed that he had two UK bank accounts with no money in them and produced bank statements to prove so. Over the course of three years, Thomas persistently denied having any more than this, and in April 2017 he failed to appear at court.
Further investigations revealed that Thomas held a number of bank accounts and held property and land in Ireland.
A European Arrest Warrant was subsequently obtained, and he was finally located in Ireland and arrested in December 2021 by the Irish authorities and extradited to the UK in February 2022.
On Monday 13 June 2022, Thomas appeared in Bristol Crown Court having previously entered a guilty plea to a charge of perjury. At sentencing, His Honour Judge Cullen described Thomas’ actions as ‘a considered lie and a practiced lie’. He also said that giving sworn evidence to a Judge was a serious matter which could only be dealt with by an immediate imprisonment and requires a significant custodial sentence.
Thomas was sentenced to 22 months imprisonment for perjury and for breach of a Community Order, he was sentenced to 2 months imprisonment to run consecutively, making a total of 24 months imprisonment.
Councillor Mathew Vaux, Ceredigion County Council Cabinet Member for Public Protection Services, said: “This case has shown that regulatory services will work together effectively in partnership in order to bring justice for these serious crimes. The illegal trade in “smokies” is a serious public health risk, as the meat is often infected with diseases and parasites that could pass to those people who eat the meat. The animals are also killed inhumanely with no regard to their welfare, which is against the principles of high animal welfare held by the farming community of Ceredigion County Council.”
The proceeds of Crime Act proceedings have not been concluded as Thomas has not fully discharged his liabilities under the Order which the Court concluded amounted to a criminal benefit sum of over £200,000. Thomas will therefore be subject to further legal proceedings.
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