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Politics

Four to tender for rail franchise

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Wales and Borders franchise: New ideas being explored

WALES’ Economy Secretary Ken Skates has confirmed final tenders have been invited for the next Wales and Borders Rail Service, the Welsh Government’s first.

The new rail service will deliver a step-change in the quality of rail travel in Wales. Since January 2017, officials and bidders have been discussing a range of innovative solutions to find those which best meet the needs of people in Wales and the border regions.

Rather than follow the traditional model for procuring a rail service, with the issue of a set specification that companies bid for, this approach has allowed new ideas to be explored and collaborative working relationships to be developed – setting the tone for the new service.

Proposals for the South Wales Metro are being developed alongside the Wales and Borders service to aid development of an integrated transport system in the region. The deadline to submit final tender is December 21.

Economy Secretary, Ken Skates said: “I’m delighted to confirm that Abellio Rail Cymru, Arriva Rail Wales, KeolisAmey and MTR Corporation (Cymru) Ltd have all been invited to submit final tenders for the next Wales and Borders Rail Service. From rolling stock to frequency of services, Metros to profit thresholds, this final tender will provide the blueprint for what these four giants of the rail industry are bidding to provide Wales.

“Detailed discussions with all four of the shortlisted potential operators have only served to reinforce our optimism that the next service will see big improvements. I look forward to seeing how the detailed tenders tackle our ambitious requirements for the next 15 years before making a decision on the successful operator in early 2018.

“We intend to create a rail service that benefits the whole of Wales, communities along the border and in England. One with passengers at its heart and today’s announcement is another important step towards that.”

In inviting final tender for the franchise, the Economy Secretary provided an update on progress with UK Government on fair funding. He said: “There is will on both sides to ensure that the settlement works for Wales and the Border and, following positive talks, a resolution is near. It’s great news for rail users across Wales that this ensures the services modern Wales expects and have been promised, will be fully delivered.”

Conservative Transport spokesperson, Russell George AM, said: “The Welsh public rightly expects a truly 21st century rail service that puts the passenger first. Commuters should be seeing the new rail service provide access to free Wi-Fi, built to serve the needs of local communities, and achieve high standards in relation to environmental sustainability.

“The experience of the previous franchise was an acute demonstration that it is absolutely vital to ‘get things right’ during the procurement of a major rail operating agreement, particularly to ensure that it delivers for passengers and taxpayers alike over the course of the entire franchise period.

“Welsh Conservatives are adamant the priorities of Welsh passengers should be at the very heart of the new Wales and Borders Rail franchise namely; an agreement that takes into account the commercial realities of expanding passenger numbers over time, and trains that are reliable, cost effective and contain enough seats to accommodate the travelling public.”

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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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