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Politics

Significant concerns for EU citizens in Wales

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THE UK Government’s EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) is causing significant problems for EU citizens currently living and working in Wales.

LOW REGISTRATION IN WALES
Wales has the lowest rates of registration in the UK.
Only 41% of those eligible to apply for EUSS to stay in Wales after Brexit have done so.
The rhetoric surrounding EU migration since the referendum has taken its toll on people’s emotional wellbeing, meaning they no longer feel welcome to live here.
The UK Government has proposed a £30,000 salary threshold for EU residents to qualify for a work visa after Brexit. This could damage the Welsh economy and leave Wales short of key health professionals, say Welsh employers.
The National Assembly for Wales’ External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, which focuses on the implications of Brexit for Wales, is today publishing a report looking at the impact of changes to ‘freedom of movement’ after Brexit. As well as the impact on services and employers, the Committee has looked at the effect on individual EU citizens currently living and working in Wales – there are currently an estimated 80,000.
The Committee heard evidence from a range of health professionals, employers and individuals who would be affected by the proposals to change the immigration system after Brexit.
Organisations representing employers and key workers including the Welsh NHS Confederation, the Royal College of Nursing Wales, Airbus, Universities Wales, Wales TUC and the Arts Council for Wales have voiced serious concerns to the Committee. The UK Government’s proposals for EU citizens after Brexit cause concern to health services and businesses. Under the UK Government’s proposals almost two-thirds of EU workers currently in Wales would not be eligible under the proposed system with the £30,000 salary threshold, and the threshold would lead to a 57% reduction in EU immigration to Wales over 10 years.

EU SETTLEMENT SCHEME – DIGITAL BY DEFAULT
As part of the Committee’s inquiry, it heard evidence from people directly affected by the changes to freedom of movement after Brexit.
The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) was established by the UK Government because, in most cases, EU citizens living in the UK will no longer have a legal right to reside in the UK once it leaves the EU and free movement ends.
EU citizens living in the UK must register for the EUSS.
The Committee heard many concerns about the system to register. The UK Government has adopted a ‘digital by default’ approach and there have been issues with the technology. The current system only allows the use of Android phones or tablets, not iPhones.

£30,000 THRESHOLD – TOO HIGH FOR WALES
The Welsh NHS Confederation, the membership body representing all NHS organisations in Wales, told the Committee that the proposals to include EU citizens in its £30,000 salary threshold for a visa would “exacerbate current staffing shortages”. It highlighted that 53% of EU NHS staff currently earn below that.
The Bevan Foundation highlighted that the average salary in Wales for full-time workers is £26,000, significantly below the proposed threshold. Airbus, a large employer in Wales, added that the threshold is “too high for key sectors” which could have implications for many services and industries. They argued that the proposals from the UK Government could “leave gaps in the requirements of Wales which can’t be filled in the short term.”
The Committee believes that a salary threshold set at this level will not meet the needs and requirements of the Welsh economy. It is calling on the UK Government to lower the salary threshold requirements and is recommending that the Welsh Government uses all the means at its disposal to ensure that the currently proposed salary threshold is reduced.

FEELING UNWELCOME
The Committee heard evidence from people affected directly and how many people felt that they were no longer welcome in the UK following the EU referendum.
Some argued that the policy pursued by the UK Government since the referendum has exacerbated this.
Several people said that some of the rhetoric relating to the issue of EU migration had hardened and described the toll that this had had on their emotional wellbeing, and that of friends and family members.
One participant emphasised that it is not simply an administrative process, but that real people are involved and that it was important to remember how the process affects them.
Michal Poreba from Swansea, an EU citizen originally from Poland, who gave evidence to the Committee’s inquiry, said: “The EU settlement scheme and the UK Government’s immigration proposals after Brexit are not simply about administrative processes, they are about people’s lives. Real people are involved and it is important to consider how the process affects them and their families. Yet the debate appears to be all about the practicalities of the implementation.
“Questions are asked why so few people have registered so far and how to increase the uptake. But what does it offer? Why would anybody apply? The facts are that the scheme significantly reduces the rights of the applicants. Going through the process, while technically quite easy and straightforward, feels debilitating and comes with no legal guarantees. It feels like an act of political self-harm. No wonder there are no queues to do it.
“The message repeated by politicians appears to be the same – You will be allowed to stay. We want you to stay. Of course, economically speaking they need us to stay, at least for the short term. But there is a big difference between being allowed to stay, and being welcomed. There is a big difference between a legal right and permission.”

SHORTAGE OCCUPATION LIST
Wales has specific needs. The Shortage Occupation List is an official list of occupations for which there are not enough resident workers (including EU nationals) to fill vacancies. The UK list is supplemented by a separate list for Scotland.
The majority of those who gave evidence to the Committee supported the creation of a Wales-specific Shortage Occupation List to meet the specific needs of Wales. The Committee is calling on the UK Government to establish this, which the Welsh Government would be able to amend according to Welsh needs.
David Rees AM, Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee said: “We have significant concerns about the implications of Brexit on our workforce in Wales. The ending of freedom of movement will have consequences for business and our economy if we lose vital workers. What’s more worrying is the impact that the loss of EU citizens could have on our NHS. We rely on EU citizens who work as nurses and carers.
“We heard some very concerning and emotional evidence from EU citizens and their families living and working in Wales. We must not forget the human impact that the ending of freedom of movement will have.
“We are calling on the Welsh Government to do all it can to get the UK Government to reduce its proposed salary threshold of £30,000 in order to better reflect average earnings here in Wales. Under these proposals, almost two-thirds of EU workers currently in Wales would not be eligible to live here. This could mean that we would not be able to recruit key workers such as nurses and carers from abroad.
“The EU Settlement Scheme for those who already live and work in Wales is full of problems, with an online-only application process and limited access on smartphones, these problems must be addressed urgently.
“Wales’ economy has specific needs and changing demographics within Wales, including an ageing population, are likely to pose new challenges in the future. These challenges within the economy of Wales are likely to be exacerbated by an overly restrictive immigration regime after Brexit.
“Today we’re calling on the Welsh Government to show real leadership and send out a strong message that EU citizens are welcome, valued, and needed in Wales and we’re calling on the UK Government to rethink its proposals and take into account the needs of the Welsh economy and public services.”

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Politics

Local governments plug hole with £260m from Welsh Government

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WELSH Ministers have this week announced a funding boost of more than £260 million for local councils in Wales to provide them with the certainty they need to plan for the remainder of the year.

It will help cover increased costs, manage loss of income pressures, and will fund additional cleaning requirements for schools in response to the coronavirus crisis.

With the real possibility of further peaks during the autumn and winter months this investment will provide local authorities with the confidence to prepare their budgets for a potential second wave. The funds will be allocated on a claims basis.

UNPRECEDENTED

Minister for Housing and Local Government Julie James said: “Our local authorities have done a fantastic job of rising to the challenges of Covid-19, but we recognise the financial impact this has had on them.

We have been working closely with the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) and local authority leaders to understand the pressures and challenges they are facing, and the support needed to continue delivering good quality, integrated public services to communities across Wales.”

Finance Minister Rebecca Evans added: “Local councils have been at the heart of our response to Covid-19. This new package of financial support recognises the scale of the unprecedented challenges being faced by authorities across Wales and provides them with the certainty they need to continue to respond to the crisis and prepare for the rest of the financial year.”

Cllr Anthony Hunt, WLGA Finance and Resources told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “Councils, and the vital local services we provide, are at the forefront of tackling this pandemic and have been under extreme financial pressure. This funding guarantee will give them the confidence to plan with greater certainty for the remainder of the financial year.

I want to thank Welsh Government for working closely with local government on this funding package, and for taking the time to understand the pressures facing local services.

CONSERVATIVES CONCERNED

Reacting to the announcement this week (Aug 17) Shadow Minister for Local Government and Housing – Mark Isherwood MS – said: “According to the Welsh Government, this brings the total in the pot to stave off the worst effects of the pandemic to almost half a billion pounds.

“However, Welsh Conservatives’ analysis earlier in the year indicated that local authorities were likely to lose tens of millions of pounds revenue each month because of the outbreak, with deficits in Q1 and Q2 already totalling almost a third of a billion pounds* by the end of September.

“These losses of revenue could take generations to recover from, and we need to see just what the long-term plan is to prevent local authorities finding themselves in an even worse position.

“The Welsh Local Government Association’s (WLGA) own modelling suggests that that there is the potential for budget shortfalls depending on several complex and inter-linked factors, and so flexibility is more key now than ever.

“The Minister and her Party must be willing to consider all options to ensure that Councils can continue running their services.

“We Welsh Conservatives have already proposed capitalisation, which would allow for specified revenue expenditure to be viewed as capital expenditure, and so can be funded from capital resources such as borrowing, to provide financial flexibility to meet unexpected one-off costs.

“The WLGA has also pressed the Welsh Government to allow local authorities to borrow and invest in several significant capital programmes.

“By doing so, these actions would contribute to a wider economic stimulus package whilst simultaneously helping to improve performance and outcomes in relation to a range of other important shared policy objectives. The proposal totals £762m and would also help to ‘lock in’ and build upon positive, transformational changes already introduced to services in response to Covid-19.

“We cannot afford to let the effect of this virus damage local authorities’ ability to run as effectively and efficiently as they can.”

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Politics

Conservatives accused of contempt for devolution

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THE WESTMINSTER Government is undermining the devolution settlements of each of the UK’s nations according to opposition parties.

Just before the parliamentary recess, the Conservative Government published a White Paper on the future of the UK’s internal market. The same day, July 16, it opened a brief consultation. The Consultation lasted 28 days and ended yesterday, Thursday, August 13.

White papers are policy documents produced by the Government that set out their proposals for future legislation. White Papers are often published as Command Papers and may include a draft version of a Bill that is being planned. This provides a basis for further consultation and discussion with interested or affected groups and allows final changes to be made before a Bill is formally presented to Parliament.

The UK’s devolved administrations have reserved powers for a range of issues, including agricultural and animal welfare standards and building regulations.

The proposals advanced by Westminster would see powers of those two areas of policy removed from the devolved administrations’ control. Building regulations in England are both differently focused and of a lower standard than those in Wales. For example, harmonising building regulations around England’s lowest common denominator could scrap the Welsh Government’s regulation requiring sprinklers to be fitted in new homes.

The UK Government did not consult with any of the UK’s devolved administrations about its proposed legislation before publishing the White Paper and announcing an unusually brief consultation on such an important policy.

POWER GRAB? WHAT POWER GRAB? THAT POWER GRAB
When The Herald put the White Paper’s content to Conservative Shadow External Affairs Minister, Darren Millar, and asked about the change in powers over building regulations and animal welfare standards.

We received a furious response.

“To suggest that this is a power grab is utter nonsense,” fulminated Mr Millar.

We suggested no such thing. We asked only about two regulatory areas covered in a 104-page policy document.

Darren Millar continued: “As a result of the UK’s exit from the European Union scores of new powers are set to be transferred to the Welsh Parliament – so far from being a power grab, this is actually a significant power gain for Wales.

“These powers have never been held before by the Welsh Government and this legislation will give the Welsh Parliament additional levers which can be used to help ensure that economy of Wales recovers from the impact of Covid-19 while ensuring seamless trade across the UK.”
As Mr Millar said that ‘scores of new powers’ are heading the Welsh Parliament’s way, we invited him to identify some of them.

He did not answer in time for our deadline.

The problem for Mr Millar is Government line in the debate on the EU Withdrawal Agreement set out that Westminster will take some powers from Wales, even as it provides additional powers over other areas of policy.

The position was set out by the current Minister of State at the Wales Office, David TC Davies.
In the Withdrawal Agreement debate, David TC Davies said the following: “The reality is that the change will be called a power grab. I did not hear the phrase used today, but it will be described as a power grab. Of course, it is a power grab, and what a wonderful power grab it is, too. We are grabbing powers from Brussels and bringing them back to London.”

He continued: “The Government’s whole purpose is to ensure there is a single market within the United Kingdom. We cannot have a situation where different nation-states within the United Kingdom go off and do their own thing.”

The powers being lost to Westminster over agriculture and building regulations are not examples of devolved administrations ‘going off to do their own thing’ in the future. They are examples of devolved administrations which had exercised their powers and face their policies roll-back.

WESTMINSTER CLAWINGBACK POWER FROM WALESOther Welsh parties are less impressed by the White Paper. Cllr William Powell, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said: “In my view, the manner and content of this consultation demonstrate a lack of respect by the UK Government for the Welsh devolution settlement.

“Under the cloak of enabling Westminster to create a new UK internal market at the end of the Brexit transition period, this most ideological of governments is effectively putting to the sword decades of devolution, validated by the Welsh people in two referenda.”

William Powell continued: “The Bill would allow the UK Government to set out how the devolved administrations would interact with Westminster post-Brexit, compelling Scotland and Wales to accept whatever new standards – in the field of animal welfare, environment and food are built into trade agreements of the future.

“Whereas vital areas of policy, such as agriculture, food safety and the environment are currently overseen by the governments at Holyrood and Cardiff Bay, this UK government clearly wants to have ultimate control over issues previously determined by the EU. In other words, it represents a radical clawback of power, undermining Welsh democracy and giving Boris Johnson and his associates a free hand in post-Brexit negotiations with other countries.

“Welsh Liberal Democrats are committed to respecting the devolution settlement & the principle of Welsh Home Rule. Therefore we roundly condemn the UK Government’s cavalier tactics in this consultation.”

‘THIS IS A POWER GRAB’

For Plaid Cymru, Liz Saville Roberts MP said: “Four weeks and a series of loaded questions over the summer whilst Parliament isn’t sitting is all this Westminster Government has given people in terms of a consultation on a fundamental shift in the constitution of the UK.

“It is as if the Westminster Government cannot even hide its contempt for devolution.
“This is a power grab, plain and simple. From nakedly taking back competencies already held in Wales, to the fact that this legislation was not proposed jointly with the devolved administrations, the Westminster Government is chipping away at two decades of devolution.

“People will not fall for the Westminster double-speak of adding to devolution, these changes will only diminish Wales’s ability to carve its own path.”

NO DISCUSSIONS WITH WESTMINSTER
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We support having rules across the UK to regulate the internal market, but these rules must be agreed between the four Governments in the UK, each of which has their own responsibility for economic development. Any new system must have independent oversight and dispute resolution.

“Unfortunately, the UK Government did not manage to share the Paper with us, and Welsh Ministers have had no recent discussions with the UK Government on these issues. Any attempt to unilaterally impose a system will be deeply damaging.”

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Politics

Extra funding to tackle homelessness

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WALES’ Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James has confirmed up to £50m to support projects across Wales.

The funding aims to provide people with safe and secure homes to ensure they do not fall into homelessness.

The Welsh Government has reiterated their commitment to tackling homelessness, rehousing everyone who has been provided with emergency shelter during the coronavirus pandemic, and building on the initial £10m in funding announced in March by making additional £40m available for local authorities.

The initial phase of the homelessness response focused on ensuring everyone had accommodation where they could self-isolate if necessary and could follow public health advice on basic hygiene, hand washing and social distancing.

Phase 2 focuses on a longer term approach to transform services, innovate and build accommodation, with the ambition of ensuring everyone who was provided with emergency accommodation during the coronavirus pandemic has a clear route to permanent housing and providing high quality accommodation for those who are threatened with homelessness in the future.

The Welsh Government has also provided a package of support to make sure as many people as possible facing financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus pandemic remain in their private rented homes, sustaining tenancies and avoiding eviction due to rent arrears.

Last week a temporary increase in the notice period for eviction was announced, providing greater protection from homelessness for tenants in private rented and housing association accommodation.
In July, an extra £1.4m was announced to help tenants boost their household income and manage problem debt, through the Single Advice Fund. In addition, the new Tenant Saver Loan Scheme will provide an affordable way to cover rent arrears, or future months’ rent, reducing the risk of eviction and homelessness.

The loans will be paid directly to landlords and are available for tenants who were not in significant rent arrears prior to March 1 this year.

Julie James said: “The coronavirus has shone a light on housing in a way that few of us have seen before and reminded us all of the fundamental importance of good-quality affordable housing, a safe and secure home and strong and cohesive communities where people want to live and work. The best way we can tackle homelessness is by preventing it in the first place.

“I have been clear that I do not wish to see anyone forced to return to the streets. We have a unique opportunity to change the services and change lives for the better – and make homelessness rare, brief and unrepeated. We want to build on the success we have seen so far and change Wales’ approach to homelessness in the long term.

“To that end I have increased the overall homelessness phase 2 funding to up to £50m, which clearly demonstrates the level of commitment we have to ensuring we can make a truly significant and transformational step-change towards achieving our goal of ending homelessness in Wales.

“Local Authorities, working in partnership with third sector and other organisations have come forward with some highly ambitious, bold and innovative projects that not only draw on energy efficient, modern methods of construction but also join-up with other services, such as substance misuse, mental health, primary care and community safety. This reflects the fact that homelessness isn’t just a housing issue; it’s a public services issue and it’s about having access to those services where and when people need them.

“We’re not tinkering around the edges – this is about bold, long-lasting solutions.”

Plaid Cymru Shadow Housing minister Delyth Jewell MS said: “This announcement from the housing minister is a long overdue commitment to tackling both homelessness and the housing crisis. I look forward to working with the Welsh Government and local authorities to ensure money is targeted where it is needed.

“But there is always more to do. To truly address these long terms problems we need a housing first model, more affordable homes being built and ending no fault evictions for good.

“The Coronavirus has exposed the grim truth that homelessness is and remains a political choice that should have been tackled long ago. Access to housing should be a human right and Plaid Cymru will work to see this enshrined in Welsh law.”

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