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Politics

Energy policy and the environment

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LAST WEEK The Herald looked at the energy market and the ways in which different parties have approached the question of rising domestic energy bills.

That article discussed the ways in which taking advantage of existing energy efficiency schemes and the use of the most competitive tariffs would reduce bills far more than a simple price cut on the most commonly used domestic tariff.

Labour has claimed it will create over 300,000 renewable energy jobs throughout the country and put modern low-carbon industries at the heart of a £500 billion investment strategy, championing ‘a new green industrial revolution’.

One of the big ideas underpinning that commitment is to promote the growth of local energy companies and support the development of 1,000 community energy co-operatives. That’s accompanied by a commitment to 65% renewable electricity by 2030, aiming for 85% as technology improves and diffuses.

All of which will sound very familiar to Plaid Cymru, whose Shadow Environment spokesperson, Simon Thomas AM, has called for the creation of Ynni Cymru to promote Wales’ own self-sufficiency in domestic energy. It sounds like Plaid’s clothes have been lifted by Jeremy Corbyn’s promises to invest in similar schemes and raise investment across the UK.

Labour has set out a radical commitment to set up publicly-owned energy supply companies in every region focused purely on cutting prices. Under the same proposals, Government would take ‘control of the natural monopolies of the transmission and distribution grids’ currently run by the National Grid.

The Labour leader has made big promises, and the cynical might think that Labour may as well shoot for The Moon, given the remote chances it has of forming an administration under Jeremy Corbyn as PM.

“We’ve got a real opportunity to drive the green economy – to have green jobs, green growth, and make sure that we have our share of the industries of the future. Clearly there’s the climate change agenda, where we’ve got to get back on track, both nationally and internationally. And third, there is the issue of energy security, which I think is vitally important, which we need to do a huge amount of work on.”

Those were big promises, too. They were made seven years ago by David Cameron at the outset of his first term as PM, when he pledged to lead the greenest government ever. By 2013, David Cameron was keen to ‘get rid of all the green crap’, as the hopes of 2010 smashed into the economic and political realities of Treasury austerity.

The rug was pulled from under the renewables industry: following through on the pledge to virtually ban onshore wind, and slashing the feed in tariff. Overall UK carbon emissions had been falling but the growth in renewables deployment stalled, and solar companies employing thousands of people around the country went bust.

Five years later, at the outset of his second term, David Cameron pulled the Green Deal for UK homes.

On every single one of those policy decisions, commitments, and staggering reversals Theresa May went along, bobbing along like a cork on the tide of Cabinet collective responsibility. The number of times she has spoken out on energy policy in public can be counted on the fingers of one thumb. However, she merged the Department of Energy and Climate Change into a new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in July 2016.

While that suggests a rather less overtly ‘green’ approach to the PR side of politics than her predecessor, it is noteworthy that Theresa May has expressed consistent and strong positions on the issue of energy security. Her first noteworthy public policy decision was to initiate a pause on the development of Hinkley B, ostensibly due to concerns of increasing UK reliance on Chinese investment in its energy infrastructure.

In addition, in a complex and volatile international energy market, there are clear attractions for the PM in adopting measure which enhance energy security and the reduction on the reliance of overseas energy. Her concerns on energy supply were echoed in the 2015 Conservative manifesto, which said: ‘Without secure energy supplies, our country becomes less safe and less prosperous’.

And, in 2008, Mrs May said: “I am thrilled to see that after years of Conservative pressure, we have finally passed a necessary and ambitious piece of legislation on Climate Change. Britain is the first country in the world to formally bind itself to cut greenhouse emissions and I strongly believe this will improve our national and economic security.

“To stay reliant on fossil fuels would mean tying ourselves to increasingly unstable supplies which could endanger our energy security and the Climate Change and Energy Bills mark an important step for both the health of our economy and the health of our nation. It is now vital that we stick to these targets.”

The logic of Mrs May’s evident and consistently expressed concerns on security of energy supply is to make the UK more self-sufficient. There are two sides to that issues: firstly, the extension of green energy generation; secondly, the extension of fracking and nuclear power.

The second limb of that proposition is the most contentious. Fracking is a public relations disaster waiting to happen and the first time it is scheduled to take place in a Conservative-held marginal seat is when we will see just how committed the Conservative party is to its use. As for nuclear power, it requires considerable public support and subsidy to make it even marginally viable for the long term.

The only large energy project requiring anything like the level of price support as nuclear power is the Swansea Tidal Lagoon, which for all its carbon-saving claims involves quarrying stone in Cornwall, building new jetties extending into the Bristol Channel and transporting the stone over by barge to Swansea by the thousands of tonnes to build a tidal barrage affecting marine life and habitats across the whole of Swansea Bay.

For someone as sensitive to polls as Theresa May it is worth noting that the BEIS tracker surveys on consumer views shows significantly higher support for renewable energy (at around 75-80%) than for other options. Opposition to renewables was very low at 4%, with only 1% strongly opposed.

However, and this is where energy policies and political judgement come into play, support for renewables was lower amongst those in social grade DE (72%), aged 65+ (73%), and social renters (75%).

The first two of those groups are key electoral demographics whose support Theresa May is actively courting. The triangulation of Conservative policy on energy, which now appears to have abandoned the notion that competition delivers the best results for energy users, might not swing a lot of votes, but the Conservative leader will not be shy of using every gimmick in her arsenal to court wavering voters looking for a way to justify voting Conservative.

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Politics

Greater support for forces’ veterans

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Motion builds on cross party consensus: Mark Isherwood

A WELSH Conservative debate has called for greater support for military personnel, veterans and their families in Wales.

It follows a cross party inquiry led by Assembly Members, which recommended the establishment of an Armed Forces Commissioner for Wales. The call formed part of a series of recommendations made within an inquiry – published by the Cross Party Group on the Armed Forces and Cadets – into the impact of the Armed Forces Covenant on armed forces personnel.

The Covenant was enshrined in legislation in 2011, and recognises the country’s moral obligation to ensure that armed forces personnel, veterans and their families do not face disadvantage in accessing public or commercial services as a result of their military service.

The motion for the Welsh Conservative debate on Wednesday urges the National Assembly for Wales to:

  • Welcome the Cross Party Group on the Armed Forces and Cadets inquiry into the impact of the Armed Forces Covenant in Wales and notes its recommendations;
  • Call on the Welsh Government to consider the recommendations put forward by the inquiry to ensure all available support is provided for military personnel, veterans and their families in Wales.

The Group found that in spite of positive developments since the Covenant’s introduction, issues remain as to how public sector organisations in Wales fulfil their obligations.

Problems identified included insufficient accountability for delivery of the Covenant, a lack of awareness of the Covenant among public sector staff, and unsustainability in how Covenant-related activities are funded.

Shadow Public Services Minister, Mark Isherwood, said: “We owe it to everyone who has proudly served our country to honour their sacrifice by upholding the Covenant between the people of Wales and those who serve, or have served, in our Armed Forces.

“Wales has a proud record of support for our armed forces and there have been many positive developments in recent years, but there is always more that can and should be done.

“In addition to the introduction of an Armed Forces Commissioner for Wales, there are a number of other steps which could be taken to ensure that armed forces veterans and their families receive the support they need.

“For instance, alongside further action to identify the size and needs of the Armed Forces community of Armed Forces personnel, their families and veterans in Wales, more needs to be done to improve their access to health, housing and employment, and in order to address the disadvantage compared to other parts of the UK, the Welsh Government should consider the introduction of a Service Pupil Premium.

“We have an opportunity to build on the consensus established by the work of the Cross Party Group, and our debate is intended to drive that shared agenda forward to improve the lives of military personnel, veterans and their families.”

The Conservative call comes shortly after the Welsh Government announced that Armed forces veterans in Wales will receive quicker access to specialist NHS services following extra investment.

£100,000 additional funding will go to Veterans NHS Wales, the UK’s only dedicated national service to support the emotional and mental health needs of armed forces veteran by providing dedicated veteran’s therapists in each health board area.

Dr Neil Kitchiner, the Director of Veterans’ NHS Wales Director and its Consultant Clinical Lead said: “I am very grateful to the Welsh Government for their continued support to VNHSW. This increase funding of £100,000 announced today will allow us to increase our Consultant Psychiatrist sessions by 50% and offer more veterans’ quicker access to a specialist doctor for medication options, reviews and second opinions.

“We will also increase our part-time administrator’s hours which will allow them to be more accessible to telephone and email queries from veterans and referrers. It will also speed up referral to assessment times. The inclusion of a full-time psychology graduate for the first time will enhance training and support to our Peer Mentors in delivering guided self help interventions and improve our data collection, analysis and reporting to our key stakeholders.”

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Politics

Call for fair treatment for young carers

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United: Adam Price and Jonathan Edwards battle for young carers

THE NATION-WIDE campaign launched by Carmarthenshire Young Adult Carers to scrap the rule which prevents carers from receiving Carers Allowance if they study for 21 hours or more a week was taken to Westminster and Cardiff Bay this week as local representatives Jonathan Edwards MP and Adam Price AM submit motions in the respective parliaments.

Current eligibility criteria for Carers Allowance states that a carer must:

  • Provide 35 hours or more care per week
  • Not earn more than £110 per week
  • Not be studying for 21 hours or more per week

Carmarthenshire Young Adult Carers (YAC) have teamed up with the Carers Trust and Fixers organisation to launch a parliamentary petition to seek to change the 21 hour rule which it says discriminates against carers who wish to improve their employment prospects and to reach their full potential in life. They need 10,000 signatures to receive a response from the British Government and 100,000 signatures to see their petition debated in Parliament.

Jonathan Edwards MP has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) in Westminster, and Adam Price AM has tabled a Statement of Opinion in the National Assembly for Wales. Their motions enable other elected members to indicate their support for the campaign.

Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board Member for Education, Cllr Glynog Davies, told Councillors at last Wednesday’s meeting that the authority was also supporting the campaign and would encourage everyone to support the petition.

Member of Parliament Jonathan Edwards said: “Both Adam and I are fully supportive of the campaign launched by Carmarthenshire Young Adult Carers.

“My motion in Parliament will enable MPs from across the political spectrum to indicate their support for the campaign. So far we have support from Plaid Cymru, the SNP, the DUP and Conservative Party MPs.

“I hope all those who support the campaign will encourage their friends, families, neighbours and everyone they know to sign the petition so we can make sure young adult carers, who make an immense contribution to our society, are able to reach their full potential.”

Assembly Member Adam Price added: “Like an EDM in parliament, a Statement of Opinion allows Assembly Members to express their support for a particular cause or campaign.

“I sincerely hope AMs will recognise the importance of this campaign to provide better opportunities to young adult carers, and ensure they are not disadvantaged whilst they look after their loved ones.

“Carers Allowance is a non-devolved matter and the responsibility of the British Government in London. But in my motion I am calling on the Welsh Government to back what is a UK-wide campaign. Were the Welsh Government to do so, it would be a major boost to the campaign launched by local carers.”

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Politics

Plaid warns of Brexit threat to latest medicines

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Steffan Lewis: 'Crucial we explore ways of maintaining membership of European medical bodies'

WELSH patients could have to wait longer for access to the latest medicines as a result of a hard Brexit, Plaid Cymru has warned.

The party’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs Steffan Lewis warned that leaving bodies such as the European Medical Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control will also mean less medical research will happen in the UK, and that the UK will not be privy to the latest information about disease prevention and control.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs Steffan Lewis said:​ “It’s crucial that we explore ways of maintaining our membership of European medical bodies after Brexit. The UK’s current membership of the European Medical Agency means that hundreds of clinical trials are held in the UK every year, including trials into the use of radiotherapy which is currently being carried out in Velindre, and a trial into the use of local anaesthetic by Aneurin Bevan Health Board.

“If we lose access to the EMA and other bodies such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, this would mean that we no longer receive the latest information about disease control, we will have less access to medical trials and research, and that drug companies are less likely to try to register their drugs in the UK when a bigger market exists in the EU.

“We need to consider how we overcome these problems to ensure that patients in Wales will continue have the same access to new medical treatment as they do now. This may mean establishing sister organisations affiliated with the EMA and ECDPC so that we can continue to co-operate, and it means that we need to invest in our universities’ research capacity so that we can continue to play a full part in research and development.”

Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Public Health Dai Lloyd AM said:​ “We are only beginning to fully understand the implication that leaving the EU will have on our NHS. We know that we are likely to lose medical staff because of the uncertainty caused by Brexit, and now we see that we will have to wait longer for access to new medicines and be involved in less medical research.

“It’s crucial that we retain our links, so that patients in Wales will not miss out.”

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