IT’S TIME once again for politicians of all parties to reflect upon the old year and look ahead to the new, wondering what 2020 will bring to us, our families and communities and those whom we seek to represent.
VIGILANT TO BREXIT’S IMPACTS
2019 certainly brought its share of difficulties, challenges and unpredictable events, as well as a rollercoaster of highs and lows, not least for the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Our world remains both unstable and divided at home and abroad. Whatever awaits us as the Brexit process moves forward on 31st January, it is imperative that we remain vigilant in the face of its impacts, most notably on the elderly, the vulnerable and those whose health & wellbeing depend upon the continued dedication of EU Nationals in our workforce.
SUPPORTING SHARED OBJECTIVES
The Brexit ‘stand off’ of recent years has proved so divisive, and it is to be hoped that the clarity of the recent General Election result, while it has left many of us bereft, may serve the cause of greater stability in our relations with European friends and neighbours. Pembrokeshire hill farmers understand as clearly as Hywel Dda Health Board managers that the lower the hurdles erected in trade and labour flows, the more it will support our shared objectives, as well as being of real economic benefit.
The terms ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ were consigned to history when the Prime Minister addressed Parliament before the Christmas Recess but, as former Prime Minister Tony Blair has often stated, the case for Britain’s place in Europe has to be made afresh in every generation. Whilst the Referendum and the recent General Election result have settled that for this generation, it would be unwise to forget the huge support for EU Membership among younger people in Wales and across the UK. Whilst recognising the democratic endorsement for formally leaving the EU institutions this year, the Liberal Democrats remain committed to the cause of Internationalism and our ultimate European destiny.
As my term of office as Welsh Liberal Democrat President draws to an end next month, and I look forward to other challenges, I would like to congratulate those re-elected to the new House of Commons for Pembrokeshire, notably Stephen Crabb, newly appointed Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart and Carmarthen East & Dinefwr MP, Jonathan Edwards and to wish them well. But I also wish to express heartfelt thanks to our exceptional Welsh Leader, Jane Dodds, who, with excellent candidates on the ground in Alistair Cameron and Tom Hughes, were the face of our Welsh Lib Dem campaign.
As Liberal Democrats, here in Wales and across the UK, reflect on the lessons of recent times, we recommit ourselves to public service, wherever we have a contribution to make. In the meantime, on behalf of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, I wish all Herald readers a Healthy and Peaceful New Year – Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!
WG rejects UK’s EU Withdrawal Bill
ON MONDAY, January 20, the Welsh Government published its assessment of the UK government’s Political Declaration, which accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, and its priorities for our future trade, and broader relationship with the EU.
The assessment argues that, while the Welsh Government accepts that we will now leave the EU, changes to the direction of travel indicated in the Political Declaration are necessary to better protect the economic, social and environmental interests of Wales and the whole UK.
Counsel General and Brexit Minister Jeremy Miles said: “The UK government will soon begin negotiations with the EU on a permanent long-term agreement. This agreement is of vital importance to Wales. It will determine the basis of our future trade, and our broader relationship with the EU, for decades to come. The stakes could not be higher.
“The evidence is clear that the further the UK moves away from economic integration with the EU the greater the economic damage. The EU has been and will continue to be our most important trading partner and many businesses depend on integrated supply chains across the EU, which require frictionless trade.
“Given the overwhelming importance of the EU to our economy, the UK must prioritise continued barrier-free access to these markets over trade arrangements with other countries.
“We will continue to challenge an approach to the negotiations which prioritises the ‘freedom’ of the UK to diverge from EU regulatory standards above the well-being of the people of Wales. Such an approach would be deeply flawed and could result in lost jobs and lost investment in Wales. We need an agreement with the EU which reflects the interests of Wales and the United Kingdom.
“The UK government claims it wants to maintain high standards and we will hold them to their word. We will, therefore, oppose any agenda of deregulation, which will damage consumers’ interests in the long run.
“We reject a vision of Britain where the economy is based on a low-wage, low job security, low regulation model, which would lead to growing inequality. We need a strong, innovative outward-looking UK economy underpinned by mutual respect for the responsibilities of all governments of the Union.”
The Counsel General also stressed that the Welsh Government, like many other observers and the EU negotiators themselves did not believe it possible to achieve the right agreement in only a few months of negotiations.
He said: “We will continue to argue that the UK government should not close the door on an extension beyond the arbitrary deadline of December 2020. The priority must be achieving the best deal, not the quickest one”.
The Minister’s statement got short shrift from Conservative leader in the Senedd, Paul Davies, who responded: “Wales voted to LEAVE the EU. It’s as simple as that. Rather than engaging in political posturing, the Welsh Labour Government should respect the Welsh people’s wishes and get behind the withdrawal bill.”
Mr Davies’ remark received a tart response from former Welsh Government Cabinet Minister, Alun Davies, who enquired via Twitter: “So you would give any elected government a carte blanche to deliver its programme? And you’re a leader of the opposition?!”
Voting age lowered in Wales
A BILL to introduce a new name and lower voting age for Senedd elections became law last week.
The Bill which will introduce a new name for the National Assembly and extend voting rights to 16 and 17-year-olds in the Welsh General Election become an Act of the Assembly on Wednesday, January 15, when it received Royal Assent.
After Royal Assent the Bill was officially transferred to the National Assembly’s Chief Executive and Clerk, Manon Antoniazzi by the First Minister, Mark Drakeford.
The handing over of the Bill to the Assembly Clerk in the Senedd Siambr marked a historic step which saw the Bill become an Act.
Llywydd of the National Assembly for Wales, Elin Jones AM, Chief Executive and Clerk of the Assembly, Manon Antoniazzi and First Minister, Mark Drakeford.
Llywydd of the Assembly, Elin Jones AM, announced the status of the new Senedd and Election (Wales) Act at the start of the day’s Plenary meeting.
However, the contents of the Act – which introduces a new name Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament and extends the voting franchise to foreign nationals and 16 and 17-year-olds – will not come into force until early May 2020.
Elin Jones AM, Llywydd of the National Assembly for Wales says; “I am honoured to mark this significant chapter in the story of our Assembly with the passing of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill into an Act of the Assembly.
“In May we will have a new name, which will reflect our status as a mature legislature, and we will see the biggest extension to the franchise since 1969 – notably giving 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in the Welsh General Election for the first time in 2021.
“It is a moment of great pride to watch our Assembly evolve in order to continue to be at its best to serve the people of Wales.”
Tackling hidden homelessness
A MAJOR new campaign to tackle hidden homelessness by raising awareness that “homelessness doesn’t always live on the streets” has been launched by the Welsh Government.
The campaign aims to bring to light the problem of hidden homelessness and is targeted at young people who may be at risk of or already experiencing homelessness. The campaign also advises the public on what to do if they’re concerned about someone they know.
Research suggests people overwhelmingly connect homelessness with rough sleeping only – which is not the case for most young people experiencing homelessness.
Even if someone has a roof over their head, they can still be homeless. They could be sofa surfing at a friends’ place or staying somewhere temporarily like a hostel, night shelter or bed & breakfast. It might be they are living in very poor conditions or somewhere that’s not suitable for them or their family.
To help identify people who could be homeless, there are several signs that people can look out for:
• They may be having difficulties with their relationships with their parents and close family members;
• They may be reluctant to go home – spending lots of their time outside; in public places that offer shelter and connection to wifi – for example, train stations and cafes; staying late at their education setting or jobs;
• They may be keeping belongings with them and have problems with keeping clothes clean;
• They might be asking for help with money and using food banks;
• They may have lost their job;
• They may be experiencing physical or mental health problems.
Those experiencing hidden homelessness are more likely to be at risk of exploitation, particularly young people. For example, they might be targeted by people who want to pressurise them into sex or unwaged labour in exchange for a roof over their head.
The campaign is designed to ensure that young people get the help and support they need as soon as possible, preventing homelessness from happening in the first place.
Launching the initiative Housing Minister Julie James, said: “Many people think homelessness is only about rough sleeping – it is not. Many young people experiencing, or at risk of homelessness don’t recognise themselves as homeless.
“If you don’t have a place to call home it is likely that you are experiencing ‘hidden homelessness’.
“We know young people often don’t know where to seek advice and support – so that’s why we’re launching this new campaign.
“So if you think you’re experiencing hidden homelessness or you’re at risk of it then get help now. It’s never too late or too early to get help.”
The Welsh Government funds Shelter Cymru to provide independent housing advice and support. The service also links people to partner organisations who can provide support services based on the needs of individuals.
Shelter Cymru Director Jon Puzey said: “We know the earlier and more often someone experiences homelessness, the more likely they are to develop complex issues that might mean they become homeless repeatedly throughout their adult life. That’s why it’s so important that we make it a priority to prevent youth homelessness.
“It’s fantastic that the Welsh Government is taking this so seriously and helping us to reach more young people. With this joint campaign, we are making sure that young people know that Shelter Cymru is here to help them.”
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