PLAID CYMRU MP Jonathan Edwards is backing a parliamentary Bill aimed at curbing the premium rate costs of phone calls to government agencies such as the Department for Work and Pensions.
The Government Services (Telecommunication Charges) Bill will be presented to parliament on Tuesday, February 21.
The scope of the Bill, which started out with a purpose to reduce costs for phoning the DWP has since been expanded to cover all UK Government Departments and agencies after it was revealed the Home Office Spousal Visa helpline charges callers £1.37 a minute over and above network rates.
Carmarthenshire’s Jonathan Edwards MP, who is co-sponsoring the Bill, said the high costs of calls impacts primarily those most vulnerable in society who are seeking assistance from the state.
Commenting ahead of the Bill being presented to Parliament, Jonathan Edwards said: “It doesn’t sit right with me that those who need to seek assistance from the state are the ones primarily affected premium rate phone call charges.
“In many instances a person is contacting a government agency because their circumstances have changed or they are in need of support. Premium rate phone numbers can act as a barrier to people accessing assistance.
“The Universal Credit helpline, for example, can cost up to 50pence per minute from mobile phones. A long wait on hold, being passed from assistant to assistant or, as many have experienced, having to call back several times to get things sorted can cost people a small fortune that they simply don’t have.
“I see no reasonable argument for premium rate charges. I’m sponsoring this Bill so that calls for help from the most vulnerable in our society do not cost the earth.”
Solidarity with Catalonia urged
PLAID CYMRU Assembly Members have tabled a statement in the National Assembly sending solidarity with people of Catalonia as they prepare to vote in an independence referendum.
The statement of opinion by Adam Price and Simon Thomas calls on the Welsh Government to send a message of solidarity to the Catalan Government.
The call comes following Welsh Cabinet Secretary Mark Drakeford refusal to back the work of his Governmental counterparts in Catalonia during questions in the Senedd chamber (21 September).
This is in contrast to the Scottish Government that has condemned the actions of the Spanish state that is trying to thwart the independence referendum.
Carmarthen East and Dinefwr AM Adam Price: “Catalunya and Wales have a long history of solidarity dating back to the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. The decision of the Labour Government here not to extend a message of support to the Government is ridiculous. Surely they should have the guts to include Wales’s voice in the international condemnation of the action of the Spanish Government.
“The raiding of Catalan government buildings by police and the detention of officials, which is an unacceptable violation of the autonomous institutions of Catalunya.”
Mid and West AM Simon Thomas, who organised a letter on the issue signed by Independent, Labour, UKIP and Plaid Cymru Assembly Members last week added:
“We extend our solidarity with elected representatives of Catalunya, and support the right to self-determination by the people of Catalunya through referendum.
“The Spanish government has to play a constructive role and encourage a solution through political dialogue rather than judicial or forceful means.”
Regional AM invites students to enter video competition
NEIL HAMILTON, UKIP’s Group Leader in the Assembly and AM for Mid & West Wales is encouraging all local A-level students in his Region to take part in the Political Studies Association (PSA’s) Schools’ Video Competition, now in its seventh year.
The annual film competition, sponsored by YouGov, is the highlight in the PSA’s calendar of activities to engage young people in the study of politics, and is open to post-16 students who will be studying during the academic year 2017-18.
Mr Hamilton said: “We cannot undervalue the importance of engaging young people in politics. I would encourage all local A-level students to take part in this competition and submit their ideas and videos.
“It is really vital that more young people become involved in politics and increase their awareness of how our country is run, as our future is in their hands.
“The deadline is October 30 so students haven’t got long to produce a video and I would like to wish good luck to all from Mid & West Wales who take part.”
This year’s competition asks students to explore the question: ‘Fake News: Is this the end of facts?’
Groups of students are invited to submit short videos on this subject, examining what fake news is, what effect it may be having on the political landscape and what it means for expert opinion and ‘factual’ knowledge.
Shortlisted groups will be invited to Speaker’s House in the Palace of Westminster to discuss the ideas raised in their video with a panel of politicians, journalists and academics. Previous jurors have included Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Victoria Derbyshire.
The winners of the Schools’ Short Video Competition will receive their award at the PSA’s Annual Awards Ceremony in Westminster on December 5. The winning students will also be offered a week’s work experience with the YouGov political team during their school holidays.
CEO of the Political Studies Association, Phil Sooben, said: “The competition is a great way for students to develop new skills, explore their creativity and get in touch with contemporary political issues.
“The added training that winning teams get from YouGov – at the heart of political polling and public opinion monitoring – makes this initiative ever more worthwhile.”
Full details about the competition for 2017 and how to enter can be found on the PSA’s website at www.psa.ac.uk.
Four to tender for rail franchise
WALES’ Economy Secretary Ken Skates has confirmed final tenders have been invited for the next Wales and Borders Rail Service, the Welsh Government’s first.
The new rail service will deliver a step-change in the quality of rail travel in Wales. Since January 2017, officials and bidders have been discussing a range of innovative solutions to find those which best meet the needs of people in Wales and the border regions.
Rather than follow the traditional model for procuring a rail service, with the issue of a set specification that companies bid for, this approach has allowed new ideas to be explored and collaborative working relationships to be developed – setting the tone for the new service.
Proposals for the South Wales Metro are being developed alongside the Wales and Borders service to aid development of an integrated transport system in the region. The deadline to submit final tender is December 21.
Economy Secretary, Ken Skates said: “I’m delighted to confirm that Abellio Rail Cymru, Arriva Rail Wales, KeolisAmey and MTR Corporation (Cymru) Ltd have all been invited to submit final tenders for the next Wales and Borders Rail Service. From rolling stock to frequency of services, Metros to profit thresholds, this final tender will provide the blueprint for what these four giants of the rail industry are bidding to provide Wales.
“Detailed discussions with all four of the shortlisted potential operators have only served to reinforce our optimism that the next service will see big improvements. I look forward to seeing how the detailed tenders tackle our ambitious requirements for the next 15 years before making a decision on the successful operator in early 2018.
“We intend to create a rail service that benefits the whole of Wales, communities along the border and in England. One with passengers at its heart and today’s announcement is another important step towards that.”
In inviting final tender for the franchise, the Economy Secretary provided an update on progress with UK Government on fair funding. He said: “There is will on both sides to ensure that the settlement works for Wales and the Border and, following positive talks, a resolution is near. It’s great news for rail users across Wales that this ensures the services modern Wales expects and have been promised, will be fully delivered.”
Conservative Transport spokesperson, Russell George AM, said: “The Welsh public rightly expects a truly 21st century rail service that puts the passenger first. Commuters should be seeing the new rail service provide access to free Wi-Fi, built to serve the needs of local communities, and achieve high standards in relation to environmental sustainability.
“The experience of the previous franchise was an acute demonstration that it is absolutely vital to ‘get things right’ during the procurement of a major rail operating agreement, particularly to ensure that it delivers for passengers and taxpayers alike over the course of the entire franchise period.
“Welsh Conservatives are adamant the priorities of Welsh passengers should be at the very heart of the new Wales and Borders Rail franchise namely; an agreement that takes into account the commercial realities of expanding passenger numbers over time, and trains that are reliable, cost effective and contain enough seats to accommodate the travelling public.”
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