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Politics

Communities First had impossible task

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Carl Sargeant: Announced that the programme would be wound down in February this year

THE WELSH Government should ensure councils identify all programmes currently being delivered by Communities First that should be delivered by other public services and that they are transferred across to the relevant public service as soon as possible, according to a National Assembly Committee.

The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee also found it has been difficult to make an overall assessment of the success of the 15-year, £432m Communities First tackling poverty programme because of insufficient performance management.

Communities First was the Welsh Government’s flagship tackling poverty programme. The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children Carl Sargeant AM announced that the programme would be wound down in February this year.

The report also highlights that uncertainty for staff caused by the way in which the announcement was made has had a detrimental impact on their work, and affected the people using the services.

The Committee also recommend that the Welsh Government outline how long legacy funding will be available for as soon as possible.

Committee Chair John Griffiths AM said: “For many people, Communities First has had a life-changing impact, and we know it has done great work in communities across Wales.

“We are concerned that the Welsh Government must learn lessons for future tackling poverty activities, ensuring progress is measurable, based on evidence of what works, and that the successful elements of Communities First, which could be delivered by other public bodies and are valued locally, are transferred to other public services to deliver.

“The need for these services hasn’t disappeared, but faced with uncertainty, we have heard that Communities First staff are already leaving for other jobs. Their expertise and relationships cannot easily be replaced.”

A key criticism in the report is that the Welsh Government had no baseline from which to assess success and without such a measure, it was impossible for Communities First’s successes – if any – to be adequately measured as delivering anything like value for the money invested in the scheme.

Evidence from Carmarthenshire County Council not only makes that criticism express, but continues: ‘Measuring the long term impact that the programme had on the individuals was not carried out in the initial years of the programme. As a result, there was limited recording of statistics and outcomes achieved during this period’.

Indeed, the committee states that its own work was hampered by lack of transparency by the Welsh Government. ‘On the day that it was announced the programme would definitely be ending (14 February 2017), all performance measurement data was removed from the Welsh Government’s website’.

The report mordantly notes that: ‘However, we were told in very stark times by a witness that having 102 performance indicators means in practice you have no performance indicators’. It goes on to warn that new indicators put in place by the Welsh Government are so broad as to be almost meaningless and recommends that the Welsh Government adopt the approach recommended by the Bevan Foundation, a social welfare think-tank.

The report notes that the Communities First programme was set the ‘near impossible task’ of reducing poverty, which could never be achieved through one single programme.

In written evidence to the Committee, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, Carl Sargeant said that “….the underlying premise of the programme that it was possible to improve area characteristics by influencing individual-level outcomes – was (and remains) untested.”

In addition to the broad aims of the programme, it remains unclear and un-evidenced as to whether interventions to improve individual circumstances lead to changes in a geographical area’s characteristics. This was accepted by the Cabinet Secretary in his written evidence.

Although it is unclear how well a place based approach works and it remains the approach for some other programmes such as Communities for Work, Flying Start, Lift, and others. The committee recommends review of these programmes ‘to ensure they are working to optimum benefit’.

The Committee expresses concern that Communities First programmes were used to deliver services that statutory bodies should have delivered, noting that Communities First schemes ‘were delivering projects and support in important areas, including health and education’.

As Herald readers in Carmarthenshire will recall, it is almost impossible to conceive that a local authority would misuse funds for a targeted project to subsidise delivery of its own services.

Other recommendations include:

• That the Welsh Government considers removing postcode barriers to families accessing Flying Start where there is an identified need and capacity to support them

• That the Welsh Government ensures that all advice and guidance to local authorities is available in written form to supplement information that is provided in person or orally

• That the Welsh Government That the Welsh Government makes it clear in guidance to local authorities that employability support should encompass all stages of the employment journey, including support to a person once they are in employment

Mark Isherwood, the Conservative spokesperson for Communities, joined in the Committee’s criticism.

“Despite repeated warnings, the Welsh Government has failed to deliver what the Communities First programme originally intended, which was to deliver community ownership and empowerment to drive positive change.

“An article by the Bevan Foundation achieved a far more perspicacious insight into why Communities First achieved such little success, by stating that community buy-in is essential and that if people feel that policies are imposed on them, then policies simply don’t work. The Cabinet Secretary should take note.

“However, it is not too late to do things differently. We can still unlock human capital in our communities and places to develop solutions to local issues, improve wellbeing, raise aspirations and create stronger communities.”

The Bevan Foundation has welcomed the recommendations of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee’s report.

In particular, it welcomes the Committee’s inclusion of the Bevan Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s proposals to reduce poverty through a whole government strategy for reducing costs and raising incomes, rather than its current focus on employability, early years and empowerment.

The Bevan Foundation also welcome’s the Committee’s adoption of other Bevan Foundation proposals including:

• The recommendation that the Welsh Government work with the Bevan Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation on a dashboard of indicators,

• The recommendation that the Welsh Government explore further the role of assets in generating income and wealth

• The comment that the Welsh Government needs to provide a robust framework for local action

Director of the Bevan Foundation, Victoria Winckler, said: “We were delighted that the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has listened carefully to our written and oral evidence and included so many of ideas in its recommendations. The Committee’s inquiries into poverty are vitally important, and we hope that the Welsh Government heed the Committee’s recommendations. We look forward to working with the Welsh Government and the Committee in taking them forward.”

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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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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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