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First Minister announces further steps to unlock Wales

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ALL NON-ESSENTIAL shops in Wales will be able to re-open from Monday (22 June) as part the biggest unlocking of the coronavirus regulations to date, First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced today (Friday 19 June).

Retailers will be able to resume trading if they can take all reasonable measures to comply with the physical distancing duty in Welsh law to reduce the spread of coronavirus and protect shop workers and shoppers.

The changes are part of a comprehensive package of measures being introduced step by step every Monday over the next three weeks. Pupils will return to schools on 29 June and the requirement to stay local will be lifted, if conditions allow on 6 July.

The First Minister will today also alert the visitor and tourism industry to start preparations to reopen if the spread of the virus continues to decline.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The threat of coronavirus hasn’t gone away but thanks to the efforts we have all made over the last few months, the number of people contracting coronavirus each day in Wales is falling, so too is the risk of meeting somebody with virus.

“Given the progress we have made, we are able to take some additional cautious steps to further unlock our society and economy. This includes more retailers being able re-open their businesses, as long as they take measures to minimise the risk to their staff and to the customers who visit their stores.

“Our focus continues to be on the health risks of the outbreak, but we can now begin to cautiously focus much more squarely on the wider economic and societal impact the virus is having.

“We have provided a huge amount of support to businesses and jobs as they hibernated during the pandemic – now we start to take these careful steps to restart our economy.”

On Monday, a series of changes will be made to the coronavirus regulations – the main change will be to enable non-essential retail businesses to open.

They follow the fourth statutory review of the coronavirus regulations by Welsh Ministers, using the latest scientific and medical evidence from the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Cell (TAC) and the advice from the Chief Medical Officer for Wales.

Monday’s changes include: Enabling private prayer in places of worship where social distancing is maintained and gatherings do not take place;
Restarting the housing market by enabling house viewings to take place in vacant properties and house moves where a sale has been agreed but not yet completed;
Lifting the restrictions on outdoor sports courts but social distancing must be maintained. No contact or team sports will be allowed;
Enabling non-professional elite athletes, including Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, to resume training.
On June 29, pupils will be returning to schools to check in, catch up and prepare for summer and September under plans announced by Education Minister Kirsty Williams.

The requirement to stay local and not generally travelling more than five miles from home remains in place. However, new guidance will make it clear people are able to travel outside their local area on compassionate grounds. This includes seeing people at a care home or a youth offender institution – when these visits are allowed. People who are eligible to vote in overseas elections, where voting must be done in person, will also be able to travel.

Ministers have decided to lift the requirement to stay local on 6 July, provided the conditions allow. With the requirement lifted, people will be able to travel to tourist attractions across Wales.

The First Minister will today signal to some businesses and the visitor and tourism industry to use this period to begin to make preparations for reopening.

At the next review on 9 July, the Welsh Government will consider a range of specific options for opening:

Self-contained holiday accommodation;
Personal care services, such as hairdressing and beauty, by appointment.
Discussions will also be held with the hospitality sector about the potential phased reopening of pubs, cafes and restaurants while maintaining strict social distancing.

The First Minister added: “I know the wider tourism industry is keen to reopen and to salvage some of this summer’s season. I am therefore signalling owners of self-contained accommodation should use the next three weeks to prepare to re-open, working with their local communities.

“But I want people to know coronavirus has not gone away. We have some headroom to make this package of changes to the regulations, which will be introduced in a phased and cautious way in Wales.

“Many aspects of daily life in Wales will be moving into the amber zone in our traffic light system. But we all need to continue to take steps to protect ourselves from the virus – that means working from home wherever possible; avoiding unnecessary travel; only meeting with one other household outdoors; maintaining social distancing and washing your hands often. It may also mean wearing a face covering in some situations.

“It is thanks to the efforts of everyone in Wales that we have slowed the spread of coronavirus but we can’t stop now. We need to do all we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the virus and to keep Wales safe.”

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Carmarthenshire hometown heroes & lockdown legends sought for 2020 National Lottery Awards

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The National Lottery Awards 2019 winners on stage, including Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson from Wales, the first ever recipient of The National Lottery's Lifetime Achievement Award.

THE National Lottery is searching for your ‘hometown hero’ or ‘lockdown legend’ as part of the 2020 National Lottery Awards.

This year the annual search for the UK’s most popular National Lottery funded projects will, for the first time, honour individuals who have made an extraordinary impact in their community, especially those who have adapted during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

New figures reveal more than £3.2 million of National Lottery funding has been invested in good causes in Carmarthenshire in 2018/19 alone.

A total of 158 National Lottery grants were awarded in the region during the previous financial year, providing vital support to arts, sports, heritage and community projects.

From today, The National Lottery are calling for nominations of people who have done amazing things with the help of National Lottery funding and are an inspiration to us all.

Winners in each category will receive a £3,000 cash prize for their organisation and a coveted National Lottery Awards trophy.

Jonathan Tuchner from The National Lottery is encouraging the people of Carmarthenshire to make their nominations.

He said: “The National Lottery continues to have a positive impact on life across the UK. Thanks to National Lottery players thousands of projects are making an incredible difference to their local communities.

Now, more than ever, people have rallied together, and individuals are performing inspirational acts and extraordinary endeavors to help in cities, towns and villages up and down the country.

Thanks to National Lottery players, up to £600 million has been made available to support communities throughout the UK amid the coronavirus crisis. People have used National Lottery funding in amazing ways during these challenging times. We want to honour them as part of this year’s National Lottery Awards and recognise their selfless dedication and thank them for their fantastic work.”

Encompassing all aspects of National Lottery good causes funding, the 2020 National Lottery Awards are seeking to recognise outstanding individuals in the following sectors:

And there will be a special Young Hero Award for someone under the age of 18 who has gone that extra mile in their organisation. All nominees must work or act for a National Lottery funded organisation or have received National Lottery funding.

To make your nomination for this year’s National Lottery Awards, tweet @LottoGoodCauses with your suggestions or complete an entry form through our website www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/awards . Entries must be received by midnight on 19th August 2020.

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Chancellors economic update includes VAT cut for hospitality sector, and customer discounts

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The Chancellor had set out his coronavirus recovery package today.

Rishi Sunak set out the measures in his summer economic update in the House of Commons on Wednesday (Jun 8), as he faces pressure to assist those who are most vulnerable to the financial crisis.

The Chancellor said he will cut VAT from 20% to 5% for food if people eat out to help those businesses which he said had been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The chancellor announced discount to encourage people to eat out in August.

He says restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels as well as other attractions will be able to claim the money back within five days. It had been reported he was considering giving all UK adults a £500 voucher to spent with companies hit by coronavirus, but the Chancellor has decided not to go ahead with that proposal.

Instead Sunak announced a discount worth up to £10 per head for eating out in August. He said his final measure has never been tried in this country. It is an “eat out to help out scheme”, offering customers as discount worth up to £10 per head when they eat out from Monday to Wednesday in August.

Speaking in the Commons today, he said: “Our plan has clear goals, to protect, support and retain jobs.”

Regards furlough scheme, he said it must wind down, adding: “flexibly and gradually supporting people through to October” but that he is introducing a bonus for employers who bring staff back from furlough.

Employers who bring someone back from furlough and employ them through to January, paying them a minimum of £520 a month, will receive a £1,000 bonus.

He says that “in total we have provided £49bn to support public services since the pandemic began”.

He added: “No nationalist can ignore that this help has only been possible because we are a United Kingdom.”

Mr Sunak says the UK economy has already shrunk by 25% – the same amount it grew in the previous 18 years.

He also announced:

A £2bn kickstart scheme paying employers to take on unemployed 16 to 24 year olds for a minimum of 25 hours a week – he says the Treasury will pay those wages for six months plus a sum for overheads. He says there is no cap. This will apply in England and Wales.

VAT on food from restaurants, cafes, pubs and hotels will be cut until January 12 from 20% to 5%
Funding for apprenticeships and traineeships in England, there will be a separate announcement for Wales.

£1bn for the DWP to support millions of people back to work through Job Centres. A £2bn green homes grant in England to cover two thirds of the cost, up to £5,000, for energy efficient home improvements. Again the Welsh Government will have their own proposals on this given time.

A temporary cut to stamp duty in England and Northern Ireland.

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Calls for Amman Valley rail line to be mothballed

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CARMARTHENSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL today passed a motion tabled to investigate the opportunity to mothball the Amman Valley rail line until a Metro for the region can be established.

With the Amman Valley Railway line coal transportation coming to the end of its life, Carmarthenshire Council agreed there should be a feasibility study of the railway line, to see if we could do a modern environmentally-friendly green railway. The modern rail bus would connect the Amman Valley and the Gwendrarth Valley with Llanelli and Swansea.

This motion follows on from a motion tabled by Carmarthenshire Council nearly three years ago on the need for sustainable, environmentally-friendly and cheap public transport within Carmarthenshire, under the umbrella of a Swansea Bay Metro.

As part of the discussion, it was revealed that a feasibility study into the Swansea Bay Metro has now moved to Transport for Wales for competition after a delay in its competition.

Cllr Rob James, Leader of Carmarthenshire Labour, stated: “Like many communities in Carmarthenshire, residents in the Amman Valleys are unable to catch a bus a lot of time, when they do they realise the costs of ticket and it’s our town centres that are suffering as a result.

“There is a need arising with opencast mining ceasing in the near future to mothball the Amman Valley railway line until plans can be furthered on the Swansea Bay Metro proposal.

“We know from experience that attempting to bring lines back into use after years of neglect is extremely costly and as a result, makes infrastructure projects, such as this, less desirable for Governments.

“We cannot afford to sit on our hands and hope others will pick up the slack if we are to sort out public transport in Carmarthenshire.”

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