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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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First Minister calls for a second EU referendum

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THE FIRST MINISTER of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has called for a second EU referendum in response to the imminent change in Conservative leadership.

After the results of the European Parliamentary Elections were announced, Mr Drakeford issued a statement, saying: “I warmly congratulate Jackie Jones on her election as a member of the European Parliament. Jackie, along with Matthew [Dorrance], Mary [Wimbury] and Mark [Whitcutt] served our party as candidates in what has been the most challenging of circumstances.

“Ever since the referendum in 2016, the Welsh Government has respected the result by arguing for a form of Brexit which would protect Welsh jobs and our economy. Labour colleagues in Westminster have done the same, most recently in negotiations with the UK Government.

“The election of a new Conservative leader changes all of that. It eliminates the chances of any agreed form of Brexit and it hugely increases the very real danger of a catastrophic no-deal exit from the EU. We cannot and will not stand by while that takes place.

“Faced with the damage of a hardline Tory Brexit, Welsh Labour believes that the final decision must be made by the public in a referendum. And, for the avoidance of any doubt, a Welsh Labour Government would campaign, in such a vote, for Wales to remain in the EU.

“We will work with any others who seek the same outcome.”

Last Thursday (May 24), Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she will quit as leader of the Conservatives on June 7, with it thought that a new leader could be in place by the end of July.

Many believe the party will elect a right wing leader who would be willing to propose a no deal Brexit, although there has been a majority against that option when Parliament voted on it before. Brexit policy was also key to the European Parliamentary Elections, where the Labour Party failed to attract votes, with its lead candidate Jackie Jones narrowly taking the final MEP seat in Wales.

The party claimed just 15.3% of the vote in Wales and 14.1% UK wide, with many pointing at the party’s indecision regarding its stance over Brexit as the reason for the loss of voters.

Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has been criticised by many in his party over his reluctance to openly support another referendum, as he attempted to appease both remain and leave voters with his Brexit policy. Mr Drakeford had been similarly reluctant to definitively back another referendum, but with this statement has gained the support of many in the party who wish for a second vote.

The European election results were also poor for the Conservatives, getting just 6.5% of the vote in Wales, and 9.09% across the UK. Governments often perform poorly in European elections, as the public express their disappointment with the ruling party, but this was the Conservatives’ worst ever result in a nationwide election by some way.

The party did not manage to come first in a single council area. The Brexit Party gained 32.5% of the vote in Wales, with Nathan Gill and James Wells claiming two of the country’s four MEP seats for Nigel Farage’s party. Plaid Cymru won 19.6% of the vote, with Jill Evans retaining her seat as Plaid beat Labour for the first time in a Wales-wide vote.

Andrew RT Davies, AM for South Wales Central and former leader of the Welsh Conservative Party, said: “The European Elections proved extremely difficult for the two major parties, but a second referendum is certainly not the answer. Labour promised to respect the Brexit vote, but rerunning the referendum would completely tear up this pledge.

“Regrettably, the First Minister has buckled at the first sign of discontent from his Labour colleagues who have been in denial ever since the people of Wales voted to leave the European Union back in 2016. That’s not leadership.

“People in Wales voted to leave and that should be respected and now delivered – anything else will have severe consequences for democracy as we know it in this country.”

In the 2016 referendum, Wales saw a turnout of 71.7% of its eligible voters, with 52.53% voting to leave and 47.47% voting to remain.

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Mixed reactions in Wales to the dramatic European Election Results

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THE BREXIT PARTY has dominated in Wales, winning 32.5% of the vote, two of the nation’s four MEPs and coming top in 19 of 22 council areas.

Nigel Farage’s party won an unprecedented triumph for a six-week-old political party.

The Brexit Party has thumped the traditional two parties in Wales who both have suffered a huge collapse in their vote.

Nathan Gill (Pictured) looked triumphant at the count in Haverfordwest posing for the press with a Winston Churchill V for victory, and demanding that his party was not a flash in the pan, but here to stay until Brexit was delivered.

Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Paul Davies AM, said: “These results are extremely disappointing for our hard-working candidates and the Party must now reflect long and hard on them.
“Here in Wales, Welsh Conservatives will continue their hard work in the National Assembly holding the Welsh Government to account and will welcome a healthy campaign in the run-up to the next Assembly elections in 2021.”

Labour’s Vaughan Gething AM said: “The results in Wales show that in Welsh Labour we have some questions to ask ourselves. Pro-referendum and remain parties gained more votes than leave parties.

“The room for a middle of the road approach has disappeared & attempting more of the same will not serve us or Wales well.”

Mark Drakeford congratulated Jackie Jones on retaining the party’s seat.

He warned that the election of a new Conservative leader would increase the chances of a “catastrophic no-deal exit from the EU”.

“Faced with the damage of a hard-line, Tory Brexit, Welsh Labour believes that the final decision must be made by the public in a referendum.

“And, for the avoidance of any doubt, a Welsh Labour government would campaign, in such a vote, for Wales to remain in the EU,” he said on social media.

Ex-Welsh Government minister Alun Davies blamed the huge drop Labour in Labour support on both Mr Drakeford and the party’s UK leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

“This is the reality we face. Poor leadership from London and no leadership from Wales,” he said

The result in Wales was a significant change on 2014 when Labour won 28.15% of the vote and Ukip 27.55%. Then, the Tories were third with 17.43% and Plaid Cymru came fourth with 15.26%.

Turnout across Wales this year was up on 2014 at 37.29%, compared to 32% five years ago.

Wales’s MEPs are now Nathan Lee Gill (The Brexit Party), James Wells (The Brexit Party), Jill Evans (Plaid Cymru – Party of Wales) and Jacqueline Jones (We;sh Labour).

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds has praised the party’s success in the European elections, claiming they’re a clear example of the Welsh Liberal Democrat fightback.

Welsh Liberal Democrats won 13.6% of the vote, enough to secure 4thplace, but not enough to win a seat. The Liberal Democrats are on course to finish 2nd across the UK.

The Brexit Party were the largest party in Wales, their 32.5% of the vote was enough to win the 1st and 3rd seats, whilst Plaid Cymru won the 2ndseat with 19.6% of the vote and Labour the 4th seat with 15.3% of the vote.
Incredibly, the Conservatives finished 5th meaning Labour and the Conservatives won only 21.8% of the vote between them. The Green Party finished 6th.

Brexit landslide: The tables at the count in Haverfordwest showed the obvious pattern (Pic T Sinclair/Herald)

Jane Dodds said told The Herald: “I’m proud of the entire Welsh Liberal Democrat team that allowed us to secure this successful result. We have secured our best ever European election result and our best result in Wales since 2010. To finish 4th and come close to electing Wales’ first ever Welsh Liberal Democrat MEP is a real achievement.
“We achieved this result because of our longstanding, unambiguous and passionate campaign to stop Brexit. Poll after poll has repeatedly shown that the Welsh people want to be given the final say and the opportunity to choose an Exit from Brexit. We stood up for them and we have been rewarded.
“It is deeply disappointing the Brexit Party have won two seats in Wales, particularly since their share of the vote was less than the combined vote share of us, Plaid Cymru and the Greens – the three pro-remain parties. We will continue to oppose the Brexit Party and all they stand for with all our might.
“Labour and the Conservatives must take a long, hard look at these disastrous results. They’re supposed to be the two leading parties. Yet in Wales and across the UK they’ve seen their share of the vote plummet. They have been punished for their incompetence and their attempts to deliver Brexit.
“This result shows the Welsh Liberal Democrat fightback is in full effect. Voters are listening to us again, supporting us again and believing in us again. These results show we’re on course to return a strong and effective Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Group in 2021.”

National declaration: Results for the Wales Region were announced in Haverfordwest on Sunday night (Pic T Sinclair/Herald)

Political organisation Wales For Europe suggested that the results show a swing towards remain.

A spokesman told The Herald: “On the balance of votes across all parties, pro-Europeans have won.
“The Brexit parties have lost.
“The result is yet more evidence that over the past three years Wales has changed its mind on Brexit, as has the UK as a whole.
“It confirms polling evidence that if there were a referendum tomorrow, Wales would now vote Remain. The case for a new referendum remains strong.
“But there is no room for complacency, especially in a situation where the Tory leadership election is likely to increase sharply the risks to the country, not least to Wales.
“We still have a real fight on our hands against a nasty populism that seems to be endemic across the Western world.
Despite the passionate effort of many activists, the pro-EU side did not cover itself in glory in this campaign. In any new referendum – which must remain the key goal – victory will only be won by an effective, unified cross-party campaign.
“The result also sends a clear message to Labour’s UK leadership: it now has every reason urgently to adopt a more robust line and to proclaim it clearly and loudly. The leadership in Wales has even more reason to use its influence to ensure there is no delay.”

THE RESULTS –

Vote totals and share

Brexit Party – 271,404 – 32.5%
Plaid Cymru – 163,928 – 19.6%
Labour – 127,833 – 15.3%
Lib Dems – 113,885 – 13.6%
Conservatives – 54,587 – 6.5%
Green – 52,660 – 6.3%
UKIP – 27,566 – 3.3%
Change UK – 24,332 – 2.9%

LOCAL RESULTS

Pembrokeshire
• Brexit Party: 38.1%
• Plaid Cymru: 15.6%
• Lib Dems: 12.2%
• Labour: 11.2%
• Conservative: 10.0%
• Green: 7.0%
Turnout: 39.55%

Carmarthenshire
• Brexit Party: 32.8%
• Plaid: 31.1%
• Labour: 12.5%
• Lib Dems: 7.8%
• Green Party: 4.9%
• Conservative Party: 4.9%
• Ukip: 3.2%
• Change UK: 2.7%
Turnout: 41.80%

Ceredigion:
• Plaid Cymru: 37.2%
• Brexit Party: 32.9%
• Lib Dems: 16.3%
• Green Party: 6.8%
• Labour: 5.1%
• Conservatives: 3.7%
• Ukip: 2.4%
• Change UK: 1.4%
Turnout: N/A

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Government acts on porn access

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THE UK will become the first country in the world to bring in age-verification for online pornography when the measures come into force on July 15, 2019.

It means that commercial providers of online pornography will be required by law to carry out robust age-verification checks on users, to ensure that they are 18 or over. The move is backed by 88% of UK parents with children aged 7-17, who agree there should be robust age-verification controls in place to stop children seeing pornography online.

Websites that fail to implement age-verification technology face having payment services withdrawn or being blocked for UK users.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will be responsible for ensuring compliance with the new laws. They have confirmed that they will begin enforcement on 15 July, following an implementation period to allow websites time to comply with the new standards.

UK Minister for Digital Margot James said: “Adult content is currently far too easy for children to access online. The introduction of mandatory age-verification is a world-first, and we’ve taken the time to balance privacy concerns with the need to protect children from inappropriate content. We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to be online, and these new laws will help us achieve this.”

Government has listened carefully to privacy concerns and is clear that age-verification arrangements should only be concerned with verifying age, not identity. In addition to the requirement for all age-verification providers to comply with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) standards, the BBFC have created a voluntary certification scheme, the Age-verification Certificate (AVC), which will assess the data security standards of AV providers. The AVC has been developed in cooperation with industry, with input from the government.

Certified age-verification solutions which offer these robust data protection conditions will be certified following an independent assessment and will carry the BBFC’s new green ‘AV’ symbol. Details will also be published on the BBFC’s age-verification website, ageverificationregulator.comso consumers can make an informed choice between age-verification providers.

BBFC Chief Executive David Austin said: “The introduction of age-verification to restrict access to commercial pornographic websites to adults is a groundbreaking child protection measure. Age-verification will help prevent children from accessing pornographic content online and means the UK is leading the way in internet safety.

“On entry into force, consumers will be able to identify that an age-verification provider has met rigorous security and data checks if they carry the BBFC’s new green ‘AV’ symbol.”

The change in the law is part of the Government’s commitment to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online, especially for children. It follows last week’s publication of the Online Harms White Paper which set out clear responsibilities for tech companies to keep UK citizens safe online, how these responsibilities should be met and what would happen if they are not.

CEO of Internet Matters Carolyn Bunting said: “We are delighted to see the government tackling the issue of online pornography. Children seeing online content for which they’re not emotionally ready can be very damaging, especially if they don’t speak out about it.

“While our research shows that parents overwhelmingly support age-verification and are confident it will make a difference, we must recognise that digital solutions aren’t the only answer and parents can’t become complacent about their child’s digital world.

“There is no substitute to having regular and honest conversations with your child about what they’re getting up to online, establishing an open dialogue about their digital life from a young age.”

Will Gardner, CEO of Childnet said: “We hope that the introduction of this age-verification will help in protecting children, making it harder for young people to accidentally come across online pornography, as well as bringing in the same protections that we use offline to protect children from age-restricted goods or services.

“Talking to children is vital and education has a major part to play here, and we need to ensure all young people are given a platform to discuss the pressures they face online and have the skills to spot and understand the gap between perception and reality. We are releasing a new extended PSHE toolkit later this month to address the issue of online pornography along with related topics of body image and healthy relationships.

“We know that conversations with young people, parents and carers and teachers are paramount to giving children the information, support and skills that they need.”

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