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First Minister sets out legislative priorities

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Priorities set out: Carwyn Jones

FIRST MINISTER of Wales, Carwyn Jones, has today set out his Government’s legislative priorities for the year ahead.

In the first of five Bills, the Welsh Government will introduce legislation that will make it illegal for alcohol to be sold below a set price.

Evidence shows a direct link between drinking harmful levels and the availability of cheap alcohol. The Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) Bill will propose a formula for calculating the minimum price for alcohol, based on its strength and volume, and enable local authorities to enforce the powers and bring prosecutions.

The Government is also introducing a Bill to stop landlords and estate agents from charging unfair, up-front fees to tenants and prospective tenants in the private rented sector.

Increasing evidence shows the current fees – which can be as high as £700 – are a barrier to people looking to rent their own place and discourage people from moving home. The Bill will provide private renters with clarity about the costs involved and ensure the system is fair and sustainable.

Over the next 12 months, the Government will also introduce a Bill that will pave the way for one of its key pledges; 30 hours of free childcare a week for working parents of three and four year olds.

Good progress is being made on the childcare offer, with the first pilot set to begin in September. The Bill will support this and enable the childcare offer to be rolled out in full by 2020 by creating a national system for applications and eligibility checks.

The Welsh Government will also bring forward legislation to reform local government in Wales. The Bill will establish a new relationship between the Welsh Government and local government, create greater transparency in decision making and ensure greater collaboration through mandatory regional working arrangements.

The Government will also bring forward legislation in the next 12 months to reform the regulatory controls for registered social landlords in Wales. In September 2016, the Office for National Statistics reclassified RSLs into the public sector. As a consequence, any private sector borrowing by RSLs will become a charge against the Welsh Government’s capital budget.

If not addressed, the change by ONS could restrict the development of new affordable social housing and restrict our own ability to fund other capital infrastructure projects. The Welsh Government’s Bill proposes to reform central and local government controls over RSLs, enabling the ONS to reconsider the reclassification and return them to the private sector.

The Government is also seeking cross-party support for legislation to remove the defence of reasonable punishment, and will consult on proposals with the intention of introducing a Bill in the third year of this Assembly term.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “The Bills we intend to introduce during the second year of this Assembly will support our efforts to build a Wales that is healthy and active, prosperous and secure, ambitious and learning and united and connected.

“The five Bills will tackle harmful alcohol consumption, help support working parents, protect tenants from unfair fees and reform and improve local government.

“Last week the UK Government set out its legislative intentions in the Queen’s Speech. While wholly unambitious, the statement included the Repeal Bill and other Brexit-related Bills.

“As I have repeatedly made clear, the UK Government must respect the devolution settlement. If this does not happen, we will consider other options, such as a Continuity Bill, to protect Wales’ interests.

“Leaving the European Union will have a significant impact on the business of this Welsh Government and National Assembly. It would be naive to assume that it will not also have an impact on our own legislative programme – but, we will do all we can to keep driving forward progress and delivering for the people of Wales.”

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CADNO: Llanelli’s election outlook

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LET’S say this is a straightforward call.

If Nia Griffith doesn’t hold this seat by a health and hefty margin, Labour will be on course for the sort of national drubbing not suffered by the Party since the 1930s.

And, bearing in mind Llanelli was unflinchingly loyal to Labour even in those disastrous times, Cadno is confident in his prediction of a Labour hold.But that doesn’t mean this is a boring election.A return to Parliament for Nia Griffith is on the cards and the only fight worth talking about is who finishes several thousand votes behind in second.  
Llanelli’s rugby supporters – a byword for impartiality and their ability to see both sides of a referee’s decision – are a metaphor for Llanelli’s Brexit-supporting voters.

Those far-sighted electors see beyond the untold damage even the PROSPECT of Brexit has done to their constituency and the livelihoods of hundreds and still support trashing the local economy.This produces an interesting position. The Brexit Party, Limited, is fielding a candidate in Llanelli. Susan Boucher.

Cadno doubts you’ll have heard her name – even if you live in Llanelli. Ms Boucher is standing up for the values of Nigel Farage. So, readers, she stands for nothing at all.Having decanted Llanelli boy Rob Buckland to Swindon to sit as Conservative MP there, the Conservatives have returned the favour by parachuting-in Tamara Reay to build on the party’s distant second place in the 2017 election.Ms Reay wants to ‘Get Brexit Done’. As meaningless and fatuous a collection of syllables as Cadno has ever heard. You can’t imagine the voters of Llanelli backing Boris for PM, even by proxy. And while they might want to ‘Get Brexit Done’, Cadno cannot believe that even the most masochistic of voters will take one look at Llanelli, what a decade of austerity has done to it, and think: “We need more of this.” Not even Giles Morgan is that daft. Maybe.

At least in Llanelli, Brexit supporters’ votes will be split between a Limited company whose director is a coward and a charlatan and a party whose leader is a charlatan and a coward. It’s a tough choice for the true believers, but Cadno bets the Brexit Party finish a very poor fourth. They’re a busted flush.In the 2017 election, Plaid Cymru’s vote was squeezed – as were the votes of other small parties – by the big two.

Cadno does not quite see that happening to the same extent this time around; the Greens and Lib Dems have helped them with handing over their handful of votes to make sure that doesn’t happen. Before the last election, Mari Arthur was dropped on the local constituency party with all the effect of a stink bomb in an enclosed space. Long-standing members fled, retching. There is hope that Plaid Cymru can inch its way up to second place in the constituency. However, Cadno thinks getting too close will be self-defeating. 

Plaid once regarded Llanelli as a viable target for a Westminster seat. It isn’t. The best thing for Plaid would be to finish a distant and dismal second so that it can dedicate its (very) scarce resources to more winnable or sustainable Westminster territory and abandon the fantasy of winning UK Parliamentary seats in the former industrial areas of South Wales.

Plaid’s best hope is – and always will be Assembly elections – following which it can exert real influence over the executive decisions of the Welsh Government (maybe, one day, even form one). 

Plaid should leave the fantasy and gesture-driven politics to Labour and the Conservatives. Plaid needs to be realistic about the scope – and limits – of its ambition.

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First Minister agrees to investigate hold-up in new school

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THE FIRST MINISTER of Wales has agreed to make inquiries about a delay in the building of a new school in Llanelli. The Welsh Government called in the Ysgol Dewi Sant project earlier this year.

Mid and West AM Helen Mary Jones said:“I’d like to draw attention to the situation faced by pupils and staff at Ysgol Gymraeg Dewi Sant in Llanelli, which as the First Minister will know is Wales’s oldest Welsh-medium school, where publicly funded Welsh-medium education began. He may also recall that the situation faced by pupils and staff in the school is serious. Whole classes are being taught in corridors and the physical state of the building is extremely poor. Staff and pupils and parents were very grateful to receive funding through the twenty-first century schools programme, but the scheme has been called in by another part of Welsh Government due to issues in relation to the planning system and some concerns about flooding potential.

“I would not suggest for a moment, Llywydd, that I’d ask the First Minister to interfere in any way in the due process that needs to be gone through around the planning issue, but it is my understanding that the initial deadline for that decision to be made has passed, and I would like to ask the First Minister today to speak to the relevant Ministers—the Minister for Education, the Minister with responsibility for planning—so that the pupils and families and teachers in that school can be told when this process will be over, and with a view to ensuring that the Welsh Government’s proposed investment is not lost because of the delay in the planning system.”

First Minister Mark Drakeford, during questions in the Senedd said: “I thank Helen Mary Jones for that supplementary question and for drawing attention to the history of Dewi Sant school and the place it holds in the history of Welsh-medium education here in Wales. I’ll certainly make inquiries, as the Member says, not to interfere in any way in the process, but to make sure that information about it is properly known to those who have a direct interest in it.”

Speaking after the exchange in the Senedd chamber Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Helen Mary Jones added: “I’m glad I had the opportunity to raise concerns in the Senedd. I’m pleased that the First Minister appreciates the frustrations around this issue and has agreed to speak to the relevant Ministers to ensure there is no unnecessary delay.”

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Snap election builds in unfairness

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A SNAP General Election is unlikely to break the break deadlock, the Electoral Reform Society has warned
The ERS says results are likely to be ‘clear as mud’ when it comes to translating voters’ preferences, with ‘vote-splitting, wasted votes and unfair results on an industrial scale’.
One in four (24%) voters are planning on voting ‘tactically’ – rather than for their first choice – increasing the likelihood of random results under Westminster’s winner-takes-all voting system, according to BMG polling for the Society.
When the same question was asked before the 2017 general election, 20% of people said they’d opt for someone who was not their first choice.
Westminster’s voting system rests on a handful of marginals changing hands: “Eleven seats were won by less than 100 votes in 2017. North East Fife was held by the SNP by just two votes. Such are the vagaries of the system that the Conservatives could have won an absolute majority based on just 533 extra votes in the nine most marginal constituencies.
“A working majority could have been achieved on just 75 additional votes in the right places. Two very different outcomes based on less than 0.0017 per cent of voters choosing differently,” the Society’s 2017 election report noted.
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Few believe a third General Election in the space of four years will ‘fix’ the current impasse: the only agreement seems to be that there is yet more volatility coming our way, with parties hoping to gain from the chaos.
“It’s amusing to remember that Westminster’s voting system is supposed to deliver ‘strong and stable’ government. It has totally failed to do what it says on the tin, and no wonder – people are rightly shopping around, but this two-party system is totally unable to cope.
“This election is likely to see ‘tactical’ voting on a scale never seen before, alongside widespread ‘vote-splitting’ and candidates getting in on fractions of the vote.
“First Past the Post voting is now an engine of volatility, which could make the current problems even worse. We could see a ‘wrong winner’ election – where the biggest party did not win the most votes – another hung parliament, and wasted votes in the millions. It’s time to join other advanced democracies in backing a fair voting system where seats match votes.
“This must be the last election conducted using Westminster’s scandalously unfair electoral system. It’s time for Westminster catch up with the rest of the world, with proportional representation and an end to the disaster of winner-takes-all voting.
“Whatever the case, this election will be a ‘hold your nose’ ballot, with one in four feeling forced to vote tactically for their second or third choice.
“A snap election guarantees nothing but an unfair lottery for voters. Let’s build a democracy fit for the 21st century, with an electoral system that encourages cooperation, not gridlock.”
ERS analysis of the 2017 election found that millions of people’s votes were thrown on the electoral scrapheap. 68% of votes had no impact on the result – representing 22 million votes going to waste.
Professor Sir John Curtice told LBC today that this election is likely to see a very high number of votes for parties other than the traditional ‘big two’.
In June, he told the ERS: “There is little doubt that Britain’s traditional two-party system is facing its biggest challenge yet in the wake of the Brexit impasse. If that challenge persists it would seem inevitable that there will renewed debate about the merits of the first-past-the-post electoral system.”
The latest YouGov poll puts Labour and the Conservatives on joint support of 59% – far below their 82% reached in 2017.
The ERS is calling for a proportional voting system for Westminster, the Single Transferable Vote system used for Scotland’s local elections and elections in Ireland.
The warped nature of the system is reflected by the fact that in 2017 it took 43,000 votes to elect a Conservative MP, 49,000 for Labour, nearly 200,000 per Lib Dem and over 500,000 votes for the Greens’ single MP. It took just 28,000 votes per SNP MP and 29,000 per DUP MP. The SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrats support PR.

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