At least from Conservative leader, Andrew RT Davies.
Last week, we reported on the difficulties Mr Davies got into when bandying around statistics with the First Minister. His performance fell flat and the subject didn’t play to his or his Party’s strengths.
Mr Davies said Labour’s Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, betrayed farmers in Wales announcing the introduction of a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) across the whole country despite saying in the Senedd Chamber on seven separate occasions that she would not while the pandemic continues.
Mr Davies said: “We’re 10 months into this crisis, a crisis that has had a dramatic effect on all sectors of business including farming, and the Welsh Labour Government – propped up by the Lib Dem – decides to introduce a blanket NVZ across all of Wales when [Lesley Griffiths] had said she wouldn’t.
“Labour’s farming minister was quite clear throughout the course of 2020 and the pandemic. Labour promised farmers up and down Wales they wouldn’t look at introducing these regulations while we were still dealing with the coronavirus crisis. Labour has broken that promise.
“I asked Labour’s First Minister to personally intervene on behalf of farmers and rural communities across Wales and hold off introducing these regulations when we’re still in the grip of a pandemic. He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t even acknowledge that his Minister broke a promise made seven times.
“It’s yet another broken promise by the Labour Party, and shows that farmers and the Welsh public at large can’t trust Labour when it comes to protecting livelihoods and the food security of Wales and our United Kingdom.”
The Welsh Government’s claims that its environmental watchdog, Natural Resources Wales, has both the necessary powers and the necessary funding to tackle incidents. If the Welsh Government’s claims on either count stand up to scrutiny, the overwhelming majority of cases relating to agricultural pollution are of extremely limited impact. If the Welsh Government’s claims about NRW are an example of ‘gilding the lily’, the problem of agricultural pollution is one to which it has contributed by neutering its watchdog. It cannot have it both ways. But Mr Drakeford tried to, even after acknowledging there had been NO increase in alleged agricultural pollution incidents.
Mr Drakeford said: “The level of pollution incidents in the agriculture sphere is damaging the reputation of farmers, damaging our environment and damaging the ability of that industry, in the long run, to trade with other parts of the world. Given that the strength of our industry is the quality of the produce that it delivers, any delay would not be in the interests of the industry.”That last point begs the question that if a delay to the regulations is not in the industry’s interests now, why delay promised at all.
Mr Drakeford continued: “The implementation of the regulations will be done sensitively, they’ll be done alongside the industry.”
At the time, Andrea Winterton of NRW told us: “We always seek to be proportionate in our enforcement, and the action we take will depend on the severity of the incident. Of the pollution incidents between 2013 and 2016, many of these were minor, small scale and short-lived, often making it difficult to find those responsible.“
The official advice from the regulator was obtained as part of a freedom of information (FOI) request submitted by NFU Cymru. The advice also said NRW did not have enough resources to implement the new rules if they applied to all farm businesses across Wales.
NRW’s advice was given specifically on the Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) being carried out by the Welsh Government. That assessment should have assessed the impact on all farm businesses in Wales. The NRW advice suggests the Welsh Government did no such thing.
NRW also claimed the Welsh Government had ‘lost an opportunity’ in only considering two options – do nothing, or an all-Wales approach – and suggested the assessment did not follow the Welsh Government’s own RIA guidance on presenting a comprehensive range of implementation choices.
It also questioned the lack of analysis on water quality in the RIA and how proportionate the measures would be in areas where low nitrate concentrations are found, concluding the assessment would be ‘open to challenge’ from a number of stakeholders.
Legal action has already been threatened by NFU-Cymru.
“Tarring the whole of the industry with the same brush is not appropriate. Increasing the regulatory bar will do nothing to improve compliance amongst the small number of individuals who wilfully ignore the existing rules. Instead, the Welsh Government should be stepping up its enforcement of the existing rules.”
Mr Matheson continued: “As a member of the Pollution Subgroup it feels like we have been wasting our time meeting, discussing, debating and providing advice to Government. The Government didn’t even have the decency to consult with the Subgroup before announcing its decision. This is not evidenced-based policy-making, it’s a knee-jerk reaction and completely wrongheaded.”
Tenant farmers may struggle to meet the new requirements due to the constraints of their tenancy agreements.
“For many years, TFA Cymru has been highlighting the statutory and contractual restrictions that impact tenant farmers to the Welsh Government and provided advice as to how this could be overcome. However, the announcement contains no details about how the Welsh Government expects tenant farmers to comply.
“Tenants that meet opposition from their landlords could end up having to cease farming altogether, despite already operating to extremely high environmental standards. That surely cannot be right,” said Mr Matheson.
“When conditions are favourable, farmers usually spread slurry on their fields between October and March, but the NVZ will ban slurry spreading for five months over the winter period. Slurry will have to be stored at a time when most cattle are kept indoors, which could result in farmers having to invest heavily in huge slurry tanks to accommodate the increased waste.
“‘As agriculture and our rural communities in general face huge challenges following the Brexit agreement and the effects of the Covid pandemic, the Conservatives take millions of pounds of badly needed money away from farmers, and Labour bring in draconian measures that will have a devastating effect on small or medium-sized dairy farms,’ said Cllr Cefin Campbell who is also Executive Board member with responsibility for Rural Affairs on Carmarthenshire County Council.
“Although I fully understand the crucial importance of protecting our waterways from slurry pollution, the Welsh Government should have taken a more targeted approach by implementing restrictions in specific areas or on farms that have a history of poor practice – as proposed by the government body Natural Resources Wales,’ he said.
“This blanket ban will punish the 95% of farmers who’ve worked tirelessly for generations to maintain that delicate balance between making a living and protecting the environment. It’s a grossly disproportionate over-reaction by Welsh Government.
“The investment needed by family-run farms to comply with these new restrictions could put their businesses at risk and even result in many leaving the land. The financial support offered by the Welsh Government to help farmersadapt to these new conditions is pitiful. The increased costs, coupled with the Tories cutting millions from agriculture aid, clearly shows that neither of the main parties can be trusted to support the farming industry, which is the backbone of our rural communities across mid and west Wales,” he added.
MS summoned to Court over tweet
PLAID CYMRU’s Mid & West Wales Regional Senedd Member Helen Mary Jones has been summoned to appear at Swansea Crown Court.
HHJ Paul Thomas QC ordered Ms Jones to court after she retweeted a third-party’s post which expressed the hope a defendant in an ongoing murder trial would be convicted.
The tweet referred to the trial of 70-year-old Anthony Williams, who killed his wife shortly after the start of the first lockdown in March last year.
Mr Williams had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter.
However, while the trial was ongoing, a domestic violence campaigner tweeted:: “Another perp using the ‘I just snapped’. It is complete b******t! As so many of us will know, there would have been history of domestic abuse.
“I hope this jury finds him guilty of murder. Rest in peace, Ruth.”
On Saturday, before the jury returned its verdict, Ms Jones shared the tweet.
There was no history of domestic abuse and no suggestion of it was raised during Mr Jones’ trial.
When the Jury returned to Court on Monday, HHJ Paul Thomas said: “It’s come to my attention that, over the weekend, there have been some highly inappropriate comments made on social media about this case.
“I should make it abundantly clear that those comments have not come from anybody connected with the case and, having been shown the contents of one such piece of social media, they clearly don’t have any idea about the evidence in this case or the issues in this case.”
None of the jurors saw the offending post and continued their deliberations.
On Monday afternoon, the jury acquitted Mr Williams of murder.
By retweeting the remarks made by a third party, the risk existed that the jury could have been influenced and their decision-making compromised.
On Thursday, Helen Mary Jones will have the chance to explain her actions to Judge Thomas in person.
Candidate bows out due to Covid commitments
PLAID CYMRU candidate Dr Rhys Thomas has sacrificed his immediate political ambitions to concentrate on his ground-breaking work in treating Covid patients.
Dr Thomas, a senior consultant and former army medic with the rank of Lt. Colonel who served in many conflict zones, has been on the front line against the virus since the outbreak of the pandemic.
As that relentless fight continues, he’s stepped down as Plaid candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire in the coming Senedd elections in May.
Dr Rhys Thomas said: “As one who believes passionately in Plaid Cymru’s vision for Wales, it’s been a very difficult decision. But as a doctor in these incredibly challenging times, I’ve had to dedicate all my time and energy to develop new ways of combating Covid-19. “I hope my time to serve Wales as a politician will come again in future, but for now I have to serve my country as a clinician.”
As Dr Rhys Thomas steps down, Cefin Campbell, a highly respected and experienced Carmarthenshire county councillor, has been selected to fight the constituency in May. He’s also number one on the Plaid Cymru candidate list for Mid and West Wales. Cefin Campbell lives in the Tywi Valley and is married to Mari, a recently retired district nursing sister. They have three daughters.
Cllr Campbell is the member for Rural Affairs and Communities on Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board. He chaired the action group which drew up a 55-point plan to regenerate rural areas, centred on ten small market towns, including Whitland, St Clears and Laugharne, as well as the Anti-poverty panel which instigated a multi-million-pound strategy to tackle poverty in one of the poorest council wards in Wales.
He led on the working group which published an action plan supporting Carmarthenshire’s target to be net -ero carbon by 2030 – the first council in Wales to declare a climate emergency.
He also chaired a cross-party group looking at ways of combating racism and discrimination. Last month, he successfully persuaded the county council to accept a Notice of Motion calling on Welsh Government to legislate to restrict the damaging proliferation of second homes.
Cefin Campbell said: “I care passionately about the future of rural areas, the environment, decent housing and jobs for our young people in towns and villages, and tackling the poverty which exists in both urban and rural communities. I’ve dedicated much of my life during recent years to leading on action plans to address these issues.
“For far too long, this corner of Wales has been forgotten and neglected by the Conservative UK Government in London and the Labour Welsh Government in Cardiff. If elected, I’d fight tooth and nail to remedy that.”
Commenting on Cefin Campbell’s candidature, Dr Rhys Thomas said: “I’ve known Cefin for many years. He’s a very astute, enthusiastic, energetic, and intelligent person, with an incredible range of knowledge in so many fields. He’s a great communicator and would make an excellent and formidable Member of the Senedd.”
Welsh budget ‘very much a draft’
THE SENEDD’s Finance Committee’s report on the Welsh Government’s Draft Budget for 2021-22, voices serious concerns for public services, inequality and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Committee is clear that the need to address and alleviate poverty is more critical than ever, with the pandemic deepening the problems already faced by low-income and disadvantaged households.
HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE
The Finance Committee is worried about the impact of the pandemic on non-COVID care, due to sustained pressure on the NHS and its healthcare workers. The Finance Committee also believes the impact of the pandemic on mental health will be considerable over the next year and beyond.
The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee agrees that the public health emergency Wales is facing should not be underestimated, either in terms of responding to the immediate challenges of the pandemic, or the need to do what can be done to maintain the vital non-COVID services on which people rely.
The Committee believes the true scale of the implications for the health and wellbeing of people in Wales, may not become clear for years. The crisis has also exacerbated underlying issues, including the fragility of the social care sector, the ongoing health inequalities across Wales, and the need for a clear strategic vision to drive health and social care integration and service transformation.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND EDUCATION
The Finance Committee is concerned that increased funding in the local government settlement will not cover all cost pressures, such as social care, childcare, and education.
The Finance Committee is deeply concerned about the risks to children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those in early years, falling behind in their education as a result of the pandemic. The Finance Committee is calling for more information about how funding will support learners to ‘catch up’ while also delivering the current ways of learning.
ECONOMY, SKILLS & REGENERATION
The Finance Committee heard evidence that the Draft Budget does not provide a coherent approach to supporting businesses through the pandemic. While recognising that it may be sensible to allow some degree of flexibility, the Committee is concerned that the implementation of the business support packages has been “patchy” with smaller businesses finding it harder to access funds. This has been further complicated by the different approaches to business support from different Governments within the UK.
The Committee believes the Draft Budget could have been clearer in outlining the Welsh Government’s long-term approach to potential shifts in consumer behaviour towards online retailers and the effect on local economies. The Welsh Government should rethink previous policies on revitalising town centres in light of the pandemic.
CHALLENGES NEED LONG-TERM APPROACH
Llyr Gruffydd MS, Chair of the Finance Committee said: “This is the final Draft Budget of the Fifth Senedd. This year the pandemic has delayed UK fiscal events, resulting in delays to publication of the Welsh Government’s Draft Budget. This has reduced our time for scrutiny which is particularly concerning given that COVID-19 will have an impact on public spending for years to come.
“This Draft Budget is very much a draft. A lack of forward-funding figures with only a one- year revenue funding settlement, and the timing of the UK Government’s Budget set later for 3 March has made budget-setting even more challenging for the Welsh Government.
“Much of our work is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst welcoming the extra money for health and social services, the Committee is concerned about the long-term impacts on non-COVID care. We also have serious concerns over workforce capacity and mental health.
“Our businesses need support more than ever, with many being forced to close. For them to have a future after this pandemic, we support calls for the simplification and consolidation of the financial assistance schemes available.
“COVID-19 has brought many serious challenges and the financial impact on health, the economy and public services will be felt by society for years to come. While there is a need to respond to the immediate situation we are hopeful that there is an opportunity for longer-term planning to ensure that Wales can recover strongly.”
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