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Development Bank ‘not a guaranteed solution’

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Lloyds: In Llandovery

A NEW report by a think tank has assessed the potential of a public development bank for Wales to boost lending to firms and promote economic development locally.

The report by the Public Policy Institute for Wales describes evidence that ‘bank branch closures are having a negative impact on individuals and businesses in Wales, but more specific research is need to ascertain what impact bank branch closures is having on individuals and communities. Finding out the extent to which vulnerable areas are affected by bank branch closures can also help identify which specific services can be provided in the future.’

The report states: “However, even the most extensive public banking model, opening community banks would not be able to replace the branches that have been closed in Wales in recent years.”
On ways to protect banking services it comments: “A public development bank is potentially useful option, but not a guaranteed solution.”

Plaid Cymru Mid and West AM Simon Thomas said: “We need action from Governments in Westminster and Wales on bank branch closures.

“It is unacceptable that the bank network is being stripped from rural Wales. We cannot have a gap in the banking services available to rural and urban Wales.

“Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts has called for a change in the law to protect the last bank in town. We are now seeing often in our communities from Llandysul to Llanidloes towns left without a bank.

“While bank branches are expensive to maintain and are used by fewer people in the past they are still an important resource. The report highlights research by the Federation of Small Businesses that bank branch closures affect small businesses in rural communities, as they are more likely to require cash purchases than in urban areas.

“High street banks have a duty to consult effectively with the local community over closures. While banks are private companies making commercial decisions, in effect access to banking is essential for modern life and participating in democracy.”

“The Labour Government in Cardiff Bay should be looking at how other financial institutions like Finance Wales and credit unions have a role to play. Other ways to protect banking services for small businesses and individual customers like developing the services provided by the Post Office will be hampered by the closure programme of successive Westminster governments of different political colours.”

The report identifies problems with lending to small and medium sized businesses, automation has made banks more geographically and operationally distant from small businesses.

Bank closures contribute to this problem according to the Federation of Small Businesses.

Mike Cherry, FSB National Chairman, said: “The rapid pace of bank branch closures across the UK presents some very real and tough challenges for small businesses. FSB members highly value the face-to-face interaction they receive in-branch, particularly when making complex financial transactions, with staff who often have a greater understanding of their business and the local economy. In addition, many of our members deal heavily in cash and cheques and need access to over-the-counter banking facilities on a regular basis.

“Small businesses are keen to embrace the opportunities of the digital economy. However, barriers towards digital inclusion, such as unreliable broadband connectivity, and a lack of confidence in using digital services creates serious challenges. These are some of the reasons which explain why the protection of in-branch banking is so important for financial inclusion.”

Large banks were three times more likely to shut a branch in Wales than in London and the south east of England, and five of the top ten areas affected by the 600 branch closures in Britain in 2015-2016 were in Wales – Powys, Denbighshire, Gwynedd, Conwy, and Carmarthenshire.

The FUW is particularly concerned as internet banking is not always an option in rural areas; many people will not have an appropriate internet connection- if they have a connection at all, and especially the elderly may not be familiar with IT and the process of doing their banking online.

Speaking earlier this summer, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “The closure of rural banks has a detrimental effect on rural areas, as they serve not only villages and small towns but many of the neighbourhoods in surrounding areas, as well as providing employment to local people.

“Closures are a great loss to residents and local businesses, particularly the elderly or residents who are unable to travel to the nearest town. The closures will of course also affect small businesses, as they will have to travel further afield for their banking needs.
“In addition, internet banking is not always an option in rural areas; many people will not have an appropriate internet connection if they have a connection at all, and especially the elderly may not be familiar with IT and the process of doing their banking online.
“For many telephone banking is impractical, as they prefer to deal with their personal finances on a one-to-one basis and mobile banking is limited in many rural areas. It is worth considering as well that some people may not be able to get to mobile banks during the short time they are present in villages.
“With more and more rural services and businesses being closed down, we must also acknowledge that it is becoming less and less attractive for young families and indeed business owners to remain in the countryside.
“If the problem of rural depopulation is not addressed with some urgency it could have severe consequences for our rural communities and with that also our rural economy.
“It is clear that if we want to ensure that Wales develops its full potential in being a rural economic powerhouse, we must make it attractive for working families to stay and also encourage vital services like business banking to remain available in our countryside.
“The provision of acceptable broadband services is an increasingly critical part of meeting the needs of rural Wales.”

A report from the British Infrastructure Group found nearly a quarter of Welsh constituencies appear in the worst 20 constituencies in the whole of the UK for broadband speed.

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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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