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Communities First had impossible task

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THE WELSH Government should ensure councils identify all programmes currently being delivered by Communities First that should be delivered by other public services and that they are transferred across to the relevant public service as soon as possible, according to a National Assembly Committee.

The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee also found it has been difficult to make an overall assessment of the success of the 15-year, £432m Communities First tackling poverty programme because of insufficient performance management.

Communities First was the Welsh Government’s flagship tackling poverty programme. The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children Carl Sargeant AM announced that the programme would be wound down in February this year.

The report also highlights that uncertainty for staff caused by the way in which the announcement was made has had a detrimental impact on their work, and affected the people using the services.

The Committee also recommend that the Welsh Government outline how long legacy funding will be available for as soon as possible.

Committee Chair John Griffiths AM said: “For many people, Communities First has had a life-changing impact, and we know it has done great work in communities across Wales.

“We are concerned that the Welsh Government must learn lessons for future tackling poverty activities, ensuring progress is measurable, based on evidence of what works, and that the successful elements of Communities First, which could be delivered by other public bodies and are valued locally, are transferred to other public services to deliver.

“The need for these services hasn’t disappeared, but faced with uncertainty, we have heard that Communities First staff are already leaving for other jobs. Their expertise and relationships cannot easily be replaced.”

A key criticism in the report is that the Welsh Government had no baseline from which to assess success and without such a measure, it was impossible for Communities First’s successes – if any – to be adequately measured as delivering anything like value for the money invested in the scheme.

Evidence from Carmarthenshire County Council not only makes that criticism express, but continues: ‘Measuring the long term impact that the programme had on the individuals was not carried out in the initial years of the programme. As a result, there was limited recording of statistics and outcomes achieved during this period’.

Indeed, the committee states that its own work was hampered by lack of transparency by the Welsh Government. ‘On the day that it was announced the programme would definitely be ending (14 February 2017), all performance measurement data was removed from the Welsh Government’s website’.

The report mordantly notes that: ‘However, we were told in very stark times by a witness that having 102 performance indicators means in practice you have no performance indicators’. It goes on to warn that new indicators put in place by the Welsh Government are so broad as to be almost meaningless and recommends that the Welsh Government adopt the approach recommended by the Bevan Foundation, a social welfare think-tank.

The report notes that the Communities First programme was set the ‘near impossible task’ of reducing poverty, which could never be achieved through one single programme.

In written evidence to the Committee, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, Carl Sargeant said that “….the underlying premise of the programme that it was possible to improve area characteristics by influencing individual-level outcomes – was (and remains) untested.”

In addition to the broad aims of the programme, it remains unclear and un-evidenced as to whether interventions to improve individual circumstances lead to changes in a geographical area’s characteristics. This was accepted by the Cabinet Secretary in his written evidence.

Although it is unclear how well a place based approach works and it remains the approach for some other programmes such as Communities for Work, Flying Start, Lift, and others. The committee recommends review of these programmes ‘to ensure they are working to optimum benefit’.

The Committee expresses concern that Communities First programmes were used to deliver services that statutory bodies should have delivered, noting that Communities First schemes ‘were delivering projects and support in important areas, including health and education’.

As Herald readers in Carmarthenshire will recall, it is almost impossible to conceive that a local authority would misuse funds for a targeted project to subsidise delivery of its own services.

Other recommendations include:

• That the Welsh Government considers removing postcode barriers to families accessing Flying Start where there is an identified need and capacity to support them

• That the Welsh Government ensures that all advice and guidance to local authorities is available in written form to supplement information that is provided in person or orally

• That the Welsh Government That the Welsh Government makes it clear in guidance to local authorities that employability support should encompass all stages of the employment journey, including support to a person once they are in employment

Mark Isherwood, the Conservative spokesperson for Communities, joined in the Committee’s criticism.

“Despite repeated warnings, the Welsh Government has failed to deliver what the Communities First programme originally intended, which was to deliver community ownership and empowerment to drive positive change.

“An article by the Bevan Foundation achieved a far more perspicacious insight into why Communities First achieved such little success, by stating that community buy-in is essential and that if people feel that policies are imposed on them, then policies simply don’t work. The Cabinet Secretary should take note.

“However, it is not too late to do things differently. We can still unlock human capital in our communities and places to develop solutions to local issues, improve wellbeing, raise aspirations and create stronger communities.”

The Bevan Foundation has welcomed the recommendations of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee’s report.

In particular, it welcomes the Committee’s inclusion of the Bevan Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s proposals to reduce poverty through a whole government strategy for reducing costs and raising incomes, rather than its current focus on employability, early years and empowerment.

The Bevan Foundation also welcome’s the Committee’s adoption of other Bevan Foundation proposals including:

• The recommendation that the Welsh Government work with the Bevan Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation on a dashboard of indicators,

• The recommendation that the Welsh Government explore further the role of assets in generating income and wealth

• The comment that the Welsh Government needs to provide a robust framework for local action

Director of the Bevan Foundation, Victoria Winckler, said: “We were delighted that the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has listened carefully to our written and oral evidence and included so many of ideas in its recommendations. The Committee’s inquiries into poverty are vitally important, and we hope that the Welsh Government heed the Committee’s recommendations. We look forward to working with the Welsh Government and the Committee in taking them forward.”

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Kwarteng gambles on rush for growth

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CHANCELLOR of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng unveiled his and Liz Truss’s economic vision for the UK on Friday morning.

The headlines are straightforward.

There will be £45bn in tax cuts by 2027; however, the largest cuts – national insurance cuts, the abolition of the cap on bonuses and the highest income tax rate- benefit only high earners.

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Cut in the basic rate of income tax to 19% from April 2023;

National Insurance will not rise as scheduled, and the Government will reverse the current year rise as of November 6;

New Health and Social Care Levy to pay for the NHS will not be introduced;

The top rate of income tax was cut from 45% to 40%;

Cancel the rise in corporation tax which was due to increase from 19% to 25% in April 2023;

Rules around universal credit tightened by reducing benefits if people don’t fulfil job search commitments;

VAT-free shopping for overseas visitors;

End of the cap on bankers’ bonuses;

Planned increases in the duties on beer, cider, wine, and spirits cancelled;

Government to discuss setting up investment zones with 38 local areas in England.

Alongside the above, the Chancellor announced plans to remove environmental safeguards for building developments and reduce the regulatory burden on financial institutions.

KWARTENG LEAVES LABOUR AN OPEN GOAL

In an interview with Rishi Sunak during the Conservative leadership contest, Nick Robinson observed that it would be a nasty surprise for the former Chancellor when he found out who’d been in power for the last twelve years.

Kwasi Kwarteng followed Liz Truss’s preferred method of operation: he pretended they hadn’t happened.

The Chancellor comprehensively dumped on the policies pursued over the last dozen years by successive Conservative governments, for a decade of which Liz Truss has been a member.

His statement was, as one ministerial colleague said, “a game changer”, although perhaps not in the way he envisaged.

So complete was the change of economic policy that it leaves an open question about how Mr Kwarteng and his Cabinet colleagues ended up in the same political party as most of their backbench colleagues and served under the last three Conservative leaders.

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves did not miss the open goal. Even as Mr Kwarteng and Ms Truss shook their heads on the government benches, she hammered home that the Chancellor’s statement was an admission the record of Conservative governments since 2010 was one of a failure to deliver growth or a viable economic plan.

THE SUPPLY SIDE FIX

The Chancellor and Prime Minister’s rationale is that cutting taxes for the already well-off will benefit all citizens as they are incentivised to invest and act in entrepreneurial ways. In addition, reducing regulation for businesses will encourage increased commercial enterprise.

They believe the growth stimulated will make up for any loss in tax revenues as increased economic activity, encouraged by lower taxes, leads to increased government revenues.

That approach is called supply-side economics, which focuses on increasing the supply of goods and services through growth.

In every developed nation where the Government’s brand of economics has been tried, two things have happened: a cataclysmic bust has followed a short-term burst of economic activity.

In addition, wealth inequalities – and the UK is already grossly unequal – are embedded and made worse.

Low taxes on the wealthiest do not distinguish between those who generate wealth through their industry or create economic activity through business investment and those who inherit wealth or sit on capital without producing anything.

“THE RICH WILL REJOICE”

Wales’s Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans MS, responded: “Rebecca Evans, Minister for Finance and Local Government, said: “Instead of delivering meaningful, targeted support to those who need help the most, the Chancellor prioritises funding for tax cuts for the rich, unlimited bonuses for bankers, and protecting the profits of big energy companies.

“Instead of increasing funding for public services in line with inflation, we get a Chancellor blithely ignoring stretched budgets as public services find their money is not going as far as it did before.”

Plaid Regional MS Cefin Campbell said: “This Budget will see the rich rejoice as their bonuses rocket and their tax bill sliced, once again it will be the poorest and most vulnerable bearing the brunt of the disastrous cost of living crisis.”

 Plaid Cymru’s Treasury spokesperson, Ben Lake MP, added: “Tax cuts for the super-rich will do absolutely nothing to drive growth in the Welsh economy.

“I urge the UK Government to recognise that our Government in Wales must be given the fiscal tools to unlock our economic potential ourselves. That is the only way to improve the lives of people across Wales.”

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Finance, Peter Fox MS, said: “Today shows that the UK Conservative Government has a comprehensive plan to provide a sharp boost to the economy by putting cash back into people’s pockets. Labour in Wales has the power to cut taxes in Wales but chooses not to.

“Mark Drakeford needs to take a leaf out of Liz Truss’ book and take immediate action to support hard-working people and struggling businesses, stimulating the Welsh economy rather than stifling it.”

Scott Corfe, Research Director at Social Market Foundation, said: “The Chancellor is taking a very high-risk gamble with the economy.

“If his package of enormous tax cuts and ‘supply side reforms’ fails to translate into significantly higher economic growth, we risk further falls in the pound and surging gilt yields as investors lose confidence in our ability to pay our way in the world.

“That, in turn, means higher inflation, an unsustainable trajectory for the public finances and steeper interest rate rises – potentially deepening rather than alleviating the cost of living crisis.”

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Liz Truss confirmed as the new Prime Minister

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LIZ TRUSS was confirmed as the new leader of the Conservative Party on Monday, September 5.

The widely-tipped victory saw Ms Truss capture 80,000 out of 140,000 votes from Conservative members.

Her margin of victory, 57% to 43%, is comfortable but nowhere near the levels suggested earlier in the campaign.

In her first speech, she claimed she would fulfil the pledges made in the Party’s 2019 election manifesto and praised her predecessor, the disgraced Boris Johnson, for getting Brexit done.

“Leave cannot name one country we would get a better trade deal with if we left the EU.”

At least Liz Truss’s six-year-old prediction about the benefits of Brexit came true.

It also highlights her remarkable capacity to rewrite her past and her fellow Conservatives’ collective amnesia about her.

Liz Truss comes from a comfortable middle-class background.

Her father is an emeritus professor of pure mathematics at the University of Leeds, while her mother was a nurse, teacher, and member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Liz Truss describes her parents as “to the left of Labour.”

She attended the highly-rated Roundhay School in one of Leeds’s more pleasant suburbs. She went to Oxford University to study Politics, Philosophy, and Economics.

She graduated in 1996.

During her time at University, she became President of its Liberal Democrat Society and, in 1994, spoke in favour of the monarchy’s abolition at the Party’s national conference and supported the legalisation of cannabis.

After graduating in 1996, she joined the Conservative Party and promoted the value of mathematics teaching to all students in full-time education.

After entering Parliament in 2010, in 2012, she became a junior minister in David Cameron’s government.

After making an impact in her role in the Department of Education, she got a big promotion to the position of Environment Secretary. In that role, she accepted climate change was happening and promoted the end of pesticides that harmed bee populations.

She reversed her positions within a year, backing the lifting of a ban on such pesticides and ending subsidies supporting the extension of solar energy.

During the Referendum campaign of 2016, she was an ardent Remainer, saying: “I am backing remain as I believe it is in Britain’s economic interest and means we can focus on vital economic and social reform at home.”

She also said: “After the 2016 Referendum, she underwent a dramatic conversion to become an ardent Brexiteer – again blown by the prevailing wind in a direction that would further her career ambitions.”

As a disastrous Justice Secretary, she undermined the independence of the judiciary and oversaw a large increase in violence in prisons.

As a reward, she was shunted to the position of Chief Secretary to the Treasury. After backing Boris Johnson in 2019, she became International Trade Secretary. During that time, she signed trade agreements with the UK’s trading partners on strikingly worse terms than the UK had during its EU membership. She also became the UK’s chief negotiator with the EU and rapidly ran those negotiations into the sand.

From radical Liberal Democrat to right-wing Conservative; from ardent Remainer to enthusiastic Brexiteer; the only constants in Liz Truss’s political views have been her views on individual liberty and the pursuit of career advancement.

A strong supporter of David Cameron; a stalwart of Theresa May’s cabinet; a fervent early adopter of the Boris Johnson cult; Liz Truss will be the UK’s fourth Prime Minister in six years and the third in a row who has risen to the post without facing a General Election.

Her inbox would be extraordinarily challenging, even for someone widely regarded as almost as intellectually negligible and facile as her predecessor.

Liz Truss doesn’t have time to build a brand or establish her authority.

She must hit the ground running with fresh ideas to tackle the UK’s massive economic challenges, the fallout from a shambolic Brexit deal agreed by her predecessor, the cost-of-living crisis, the energy crisis, spiralling inflation, the possibility of a recession, Russia’s war in Ukraine, and delivering all the promises on tax cuts she made during the leadership campaign.

Most importantly, she must signal a clear break with the sleaze, patronage, and low standards of public life that forced Boris Johnson and compelled almost his entire ministerial team to quit when the stench of scandal became too much for them.

Against that background, survival to 2024 and beyond will be a massive achievement.

POLITICAL VOICES FROM WALES ON NEW PM

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies MS said: “I am delighted that Liz has been elected party leader and will be our next Prime Minister, especially having backed her during the contest.

“Throughout her political career and this contest, we have seen someone with the tenacity, ideas, and stoicism required to lead the Conservatives into the next election and the country through a difficult period.

“There is a lot of work to be getting on with, especially in tackling the cost-of-living crisis, and I look forward to seeing Liz’s ideas put into action to alleviate the struggle millions are facing.

“It is now time to unite behind our new leader, and further build on our record of delivering for Wales and the wider United Kingdom.”

Predictably, Labour in Wales are not happy.

Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Wales Jo Stevens told this newspaper: “Liz Truss has her fingerprints all over the crime scene of the past 12 years of Tory failure. She reliably parroted Boris Johnson’s lies and voted for the 15 tax rises the Tories have imposed in the last two years. At every turn, she’s shown people she can’t be trusted.

“Households right across Wales needed action from the Tory Government to tackle their cost of living catastrophe months ago. Nearly nine weeks on from the start of her leadership campaign, Truss still has no plan and no ideas to address the crisis people and businesses are dealing with.”

Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MS Samuel Kurtz has congratulated the country’s next Prime Minister

Commenting on the news, Samuel Kurtz MS told The Herald: “Congratulations to Liz Truss for securing this victory. Whilst I supported Rishi Sunak, the Conservative Party has always had a wealth of talented individuals, and Liz is certainly one.

“The Party must now come together behind our new PM.

“We have some real challenges ahead of us – both abroad and at home – which the incoming Prime Minister must get to grips with. I have faith that Liz Truss has the ability to support the public as we navigate the oncoming winter.

“As we move forward, my priority is ensuring that the communities I represent get the assistance and support they need as we enter these challenging months ahead.

“I’ll be working with my colleagues in Westminster to ensure that support reaches every household in West Wales.”

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS said: “Under Liz Truss we are set to see more of the chaos that we saw under Boris Johnson. From failing to deal with the cost-of-living emergency, to letting small and medium businesses face the winter alone, to failing to deal with the climate crisis, the Conservatives have shown they don’t care, have no plan and have failed our country.

“The Conservatives may have changed leader, but after twelve years in power at Westminster the Conservatives have shown they are out of ideas, out of energy and out of touch. 

“First the government needs to urgently scrap October’s energy price rise to avoid a social catastrophe for families and pensioners this winter. Then we need a general election, to get the Conservatives out of power and deliver the real change Wales needs.”

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National 20mph limit comes into force in Wales next year

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WALES will be the first UK nation to impose a 20mph default speed limit following a vote held in the Senedd yesterday (July 12). The Welsh Government voted to limit residential roads and busy pedestrian streets to 20mph. 

According to the Welsh Government, this will lessen the likelihood and severity of accidents involving vulnerable road users. It will also encourage more people to cycle and walk. 

39 members of the Senedd voted in favour, while 15 members voted against. 

The new national default speed limit will come into effect from September 2023. The Welsh Government say the changes affect residential roads and busy pedestrian streets. 

According to the Welsh Government, the modifications have an impact on major pedestrian routes and residential roadways. The Welsh Government is still deciding which highways will have 20mph speed restrictions and which ones should stay at 30mph.

The 22 councils in Wales will collaborate with Go Safe to determine implementation timelines, according to the Welsh Government, but enforcement will continue throughout the transition period.

Climate change minister, Julie James, stated: “The future of our towns and cities depends on our ability to move around sustainably and on solutions that have a positive impact on public health environment and communities.

“That is why we will use the principle that walking, cycling and active travel must remain the best options for short urban journeys and a 20mph default speed limit will help achieve this. The introduction of a national 20mph limit would be an important and far reaching policy. If passed Wales would be the first country in the UK to introduce the change. We’re asking you all to be part of this change and make our communities understand the wider benefits of 20mph.

“This change is a generational one and when the time to embed, it will need to be accompanied by an important communication and marketing campaign and behaviour change initiatives. Achieving behavioural change is challenging but Wales has previously shown that we can do it successfully with policies such as organ donation, the banning of smoking in public places, and limiting the use of plastic bags. It does, however, require a collaborative effort between agencies, local authorities and by communities. We need to bring speeds down.”

She continued, saying there is evidence that 20 mph speed limits encourage more people to bike or walk, and she hoped this would lead to people naturally choosing those modes of transportation.

According to Ms. James, 80 people die on Welsh roads on average each year, and current data shows that 30mph is the speed at which 53 percent of accidents occur.

The immediate cost is about £33 million, but according to the Welsh Government, increased road safety brought on by slower average speeds could generate a positive financial return of about £25 million over the course of 30 years due to the money saved on fewer emergency services and hospital visits.

Additionally, the policy might result in significant wider economic gains from increased road safety (£1.4 billion), environmental and health gains from increased active travel (£5 million), and additional unquantified benefits from more vibrant and connected local economies.

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