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Politics

Development Bank ‘not a guaranteed solution’

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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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Community

Llanelli MP & AM call for school transport solutions

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Llanelli’s MP and AM joined Tumble residents on Friday (15.01.20) to walk along the unlit path that children have been forced to take since a bus service to Maes y Gwendraeth school was scrapped.

A number of school bus routes in Carmarthenshire have been cancelled in response to UK Government legislation which has restricted the types of vehicles that bus companies can use. This has left many children who relied on these services with no safe way to get to school.

Nia Griffith MP and Lee Waters AM are working with local residents and councillors, like Dot Jones in Tumble, to find solutions that can be implemented by the County Council or UK Government.

Lee Waters AM said, “After carrying the bags and instruments of a Tumble pupil three miles to school on Friday morning it’s clear we need to get these services running again. I’ve been working with the Council and Welsh Government to try and find a common sense resolution to the problem of cancelled school buses right across Llanelli.

“It’s a complicated situation, and unfortunately the Welsh Government’s powers are limited, but we may have found a way forward if the UK Government are willing to be flexible. The Welsh Government has written to ask them to exempt school transport in Carmarthenshire from the new regulations which would allow the local services to resume.”

In addition to commercial school bus routes, there is also a scheme for pupils to access spare places on the coaches that pick up children who live further away from school for a small fare. However, local parents have raised concerns about the availability of this scheme and the process by which places are allocated.

Nia Griffith MP said, “We must work together to find ways to restore bus transport as soon as possible, even if the situation is complex.

“I understand the County Council will now review the scheme which lets pupils use spare places on existing school buses, but this needs to be done as quickly and effectively as possible to ensure the maximum number of pupils benefit.

“It is crazy to have buses with spare capacity passing the bus stop and leaving pupils to walk. But we need transport back for all pupils who have lost it.”

Cllr Rob James, who joined the walk to Ysgol Maes y Gwendraeth on Friday, said: “The bus services that have been withdrawn are vital services to many of our communities and must be retained.

“The local ward Councillors and I are thrilled with the support we are getting from the local MP and AM to solve these issues and we hope that there can be a resolution shortly.”

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Partnership outreach van providing help and support to those in need

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Partnership outreach van providing help and support to those in need in Llanelli extended thanks to further funding by Police and Crime Commissioner

Following the success of a partnership outreach van parked up in Station Road, Llanelli in December – the initiative is being extended thanks to further funding provided by Police and Crime Commissioner, Dafydd Llywelyn. The Commissioner originally instigated the additional partnership working pilot in Llanelli in response to local concerns relating to substance misuse – and the response to the van in Llanelli was overwhelmingly positive, with 35 people receiving support from one or all of the agencies on the van across both nights.

Dyfed-Powys Police teamed up with Dyfed Drug and Alcohol Service (DDAS), Carmarthenshire County Council and Crimestoppers Fearless campaign in order to be able to engage with members of the community on the new outreach van, in order to support and signpost those in need during the festive period. The partners then came together and held a debrief session to consider the initial success and value of the initiative. Of the 35 people who had visited the van to seek support on both evenings – 12 were referred into DDAS and housing and employment services for longer term support.

At the conclusion of the debrief, there was consensus amongst the partners that the communities of Tyisha and Glanymor would benefit from extending it and there was an appetite for it, therefore each agency was keen to commit ongoing resources to the outreach van for the next three months. The initiative will then be reviewed again at that point.  

Chief Inspector Chris Neve of Dyfed-Powys Police said: “I am once again grateful to the Police and Crime Commissioner and our partners for their ongoing support for this initiative – which proved to be a popular and valuable opportunity for the communities of Llanelli to speak and work with the services involved. I was pleased to see so many people receiving the support and advice they needed in the initial phase of the initiative – and we now look forward to being able to continue to provide these services for the next three months and helping many more people. I encourage anyone who requires support and advice from any of the agencies, or would just like to chat with any of them, to come along and visit the van.

The council’s Head of Homes and Safer Communities Jonathan Morgan said: “This is an excellent opportunity for the community to speak to our officers first-hand about any issues they may have or any advice they may need on housing matters. We have exciting plans to transform the Tyisha ward and the community is a big part of that, we want to make Tyisha a better place to live and work for everyone.”

The project aims to provide a convenient and approachable opportunity for those in the community that would benefit from advice and support from these services, but who may not always proactively seek this out. It also allows the agencies to understand and experience first-hand the issues in the area.

The outreach van will next be parked in the St Elli Shopping Centre, Llanelli on Thursday January 16 between10am and 2pm, where all the partners will be there promoting the project and explaining what they can offer. 

Then from Thursday January 23, the van will be parked back in Station Road between 2pm and 7pm for anyone to access, and then every two weeks for the next three months. They’ll be ready and waiting to provide advice and support to all those in need.

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Politics

Opposition slate WG Budget

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FINANCE MINISTER Rebecca Evans unveiled the Welsh Government’s draft Budget with plans to invest more than £8bn for the Welsh NHS alongside ambitious projects to help combat climate change.


In the first Budget following the declaration of a climate emergency in Wales, there is significant new funding for low carbon transport and housing and support to restore Wales’ natural environment. This budget also protects major ongoing funding for renewable energy, the development of zero-carbon technologies and access to nature.


The 2020-21 draft Budget will see the Welsh NHS receive an inflation-busting increase of £342m next year, alongside an almost £200m boost for local government. Core funding for local authorities will grow to almost £4.5bn, boosting resources for schools, social care and other local services.
There will also be additional funding to tackle poverty, including extra support for disadvantaged pupils, and investment for town centre regeneration in a budget that delivers real-term increases for all Welsh Government departments.


This Budget also confirms that Welsh rates of income tax will be unchanged for next year, maintaining the pledge not to raise tax rates this Assembly term. It also focuses on longer-term, preventative measures to promote the wellbeing of future generations.


The UK government’s September 2019 spending round provided funding allocations for one year only. Following this announcement, like-for-like funding for Wales next year will be £300m lower compared with 2010-11.
Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said: “This draft Budget delivers on our promises to the people of Wales and invests for the future of our planet.
“Despite a decade of austerity, we have consistently prioritised our NHS. Our plans will confirm a £37bn investment in the Welsh NHS since 2016.
“As we take on the climate emergency, I am protecting our existing investment and delivering a new £140m package with support for low carbon transport and a National Forest for Wales.


“Funding increases for other vital public services, such as schools and local government have also been secured in this year’s Budget. Ministers have also worked across government to focus on long-term, preventative measures such as mental health investment in line with the Well-being of Future Generations Act.


“Even though our like for like funding remains below 2010 levels, this Budget strives for a greener, equal and prosperous Wales.”


Responding for the Conservatives, Darren Millar AM tore into the Draft Budget 2020-21.


Speaking in the Senedd on Tuesday (Jan 7), he said it was “…an opportunity the Finance Minister has missed…”, and full of policies that are “…tried, tested, and failed”.


From the M4 Relief Road, to Cardiff Airport, and from health and education to the economy, Mr Millar said that the Finance Minister had a golden opportunity to invest in the people’s priorities, drive a more dynamic economy, and build on the opportunities for Wales outside the European Union.


“But,” he began, “where there was the opportunity to be imaginative you’ve opted for the mundane. Where there was the opportunity to rise to the challenge and be ambitious for our economy, you sat back. Where there was the opportunity to be radical you’ve stuck to the tried, tested and failed.”


Mr Millar continued his passionate critique of the Draft Budget, calling the lack of investment in Welsh roads – including the M4 Relief Road rejected by the Welsh Labour Government following a £144-million investigation – “… one of the biggest barriers to growth and investment in South Wales” and calling for investment in the A55 and A40.


“But ironically, when we look at where the Welsh Government is investing in transport – it’s actually in the most polluting form – air travel.


“This year, we’ve seen a further £4.8 million for the state-owned Cardiff Airport, on top of a loan above £21m announced in October.”


Just last week, pre-tax losses at the airport trebled from the previous year to some £18.5m, far more than the modest £1m loss during the airport’s last full year in private ownership in 2012.


Specifically on the environment, Mr Millar – who represents Clywd West – said: “This was proclaimed as a ‘green’ budget, but the reality is that the Welsh Government’s response to its climate change emergency declaration has been slow, vague and uncosted. We need to see more investment in cleaner technology in line with the drive to phase out diesel and petrol vehicles.


“Many Welsh counties have the poorest network of electric vehicle charging stations in Britain. Why isn’t this budget doing more to invest in these? It’s a missed opportunity to invest in clean technology and encourage consumers to make greener choices.”


Speaking later, Mr Millar said: “There are elements of this Draft Budget I have welcomed, as have my Welsh Conservative colleagues, but overall its one failed opportunity after another from a failing Welsh Labour Government.”


Plaid Cymru shadow minister for the economy and finance Rhun ap Iorwerth AM said: “This is a budget that delivers only in its lack of ambition.


“Twenty years of Labour rule in Wales has shown us that more money for our NHS doesn’t in itself mean better services. What we need to see from this Labour government is a strategic plan on how this extra funding will be spent on preventative measures instead of the continued mismanagement of our NHS and health boards that are still in special measures. Meanwhile, local government is still not being given the level of funding it so desperately needs to deliver crucial front line public services.


“The £140m package for low carbon transport is not nearly ambitious enough and such a small package in the face of such a colossal global climate crisis shows that this Labour government isn’t taking the issue seriously enough.”


Rhun ap Iorwerth added: “To compound the problem of Labour mismanagement, the truth is, that the Welsh Government’s budget will be tied to the priorities of whatever government is sitting in Westminster, and we know that UK Governments – of whichever colour – care little about addressing Wales’ needs.”

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