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Politics

​​Budget agreement could be the last​

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Deal secures whole of budget: Mark Drakeford

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT and Plaid Cymru have agreed a ​two-year, £210m Budget agreement.

The deal includes ensuring no cuts to the Supporting People grant​,​ £15m to improve vital north and south links on the A487 and A470​,​ and a £40m boost for mental health funding over ​two years.

There is an extra £20m-a-year for higher and further education and £6m for a young farmers’ grant scheme over ​two years.

There is additional funding for the Welsh language; for Wales to deal with the impact of Brexit, including support for businesses and for music in schools. The agreement builds on the one struck between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru last year.

It also includes:

  • ​A £7m development fund for undergraduate medical training in North Wales
  • £2m to remove the tolls on the Cleddau bridge in Pembrokeshire in 2019-20
  • £3m to support the design and development of a third Menai bridge crossing
  • ​A further £2m for the secretariat and investment support for a new ‘Arfor’ economic region in west Wales

Welsh Government Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said: “We are pleased we have been able to agree this ​two-year deal with Plaid Cymru, which secures the whole of our Budget.

“This agreement builds on the one reached between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru last year and includes a series of recurrent allocations for the Welsh language, arts, end-of-life-care, mental health, higher education and Visit Wales.

“We have also been able to agree capital funding to take forward the new integrated healthcare centre in Cardigan and the results of the feasibility studies into a national art gallery and football museum in North Wales, which were agreed as part of last year’s agreement.”

Adam Price, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for finance, business and the economy, said: “This is a Budget Agreement that will deliver for people and communities in all parts of Wales.

“It protects the vulnerable, invests in our young, and innovates for all our futures. This is a pan-Wales budget agreement, from the Cleddau to the Menai from Wrexham to the Rhondda, from culture to agriculture, from energy and transport to education and health – new ideas for a new Wales.”

In an effort to deflect from the idea that Labour had made concessions to Plaid Cymru, and after the announcement of the Budget agreement, Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said in a BBC Wales interview that there was nothing in the Budget that Labour would not have delivered and that Plaid’s support was a matter of Assembly arithmetic.

And if that appeared more than a tad graceless, the brittle nature of any accord was underlined when Adam Price pointed out that Plaid had not managed to obtain everything it had wanted, including an agreement on tuition fees and public sector pay, and commented: “This is Labour’s budget and it will have to answer to the people of Wales as to why it is failing to deliver on its manifesto commitments such as lifting the pay cap and stopping the rise in tuition fees.

“Plaid Cymru secured a deal that would deliver benefits to communities in every part of Wales. Our budget deal will mean investment in the things that matter to people, including employing 80 new district nurses, £40m for improving mental health services, an additional £40m for our universities and colleges, a Brexit Preparedness Fund for businesses, a young farmers’ entrant’s scheme and a major £3​m investment in a power station for our steel industry.

“But we are frustrated that the Labour government failed to implement important policy matters such as the pay cap and rising tuition fees, particularly as they were commitments made in Labour’s 2017 manifesto. Indeed, what is not included in this budget has made the void between Plaid Cymru and Labour more and more apparent and has made future co-operation between the parties more and more unlikely.

“We will be robustly scrutinising the details of this budget when they are announced, and we will hold the Labour government to account on the decisions it takes.”

The Conservative Party in Wales attacked the agreement.

Andrew RT Davies, said: “This budget deal is the latest charade in the Plaid-Labour love-affair and significantly sees both parties break a number of election promises to the people of Wales.

“Despite the well-publicised vows to the electorate only three months ago and being in government in Wales, the Labour Party has once again failed to take any action on public sector pay or tuition fees.”

All in all, the draft Budget seems to be a document with few close friends, even among those responsible for its content; while the Conservatives are yet to put forward any positive alternatives instead of criticising from the side-lines and carping at Plaid Cymru.

Margaret Thomas, UNISON Cymru Wales Secretary, said: “The Welsh Government is being creative in their budgeting in order to protect public services across Wales.

“UNISON welcomes the additional funding for the NHS in Wales, as well as the pledge to build more affordable homes.

“We are also pleased to hear plans around additional childcare. The majority of UNISON members are women, many work part-time, and we know women still fulfil most of the child care responsibilities in the home – so this will hopefully be of great benefit to them.

“We also recognise the Cabinet Secretary’s attempt to protect Welsh local government budgets and offer a more favourable settlement than in England.

“But the point must be made that this innovative budgeting will not protect our essential public services from further drastic UK government imposed cuts to the Welsh Government block grant, anticipated in their Autumn Statement.

“This budget comes at a time of unprecedented austerity. Public services should be properly invested in, and Wales deserves to be properly funded.​ ​The fact also remains that public sector workers across Wales, and the rest of the UK, have already suffered ​seven, long​,​ hard years of pay restraint.”

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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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