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Politics

Assembly tops Stonewall employers’ ratings

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Elin Jones: Assembly 'truly honoured'

THE NATIONAL Assembly for Wales has been recognised as the 2018 UK leading employer for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the latest Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.

It’s the first time the Assembly has topped the list and comes ten years since it first entered the index. Since then the Assembly has steadily worked its way up and has featured in the top ten for the past four years.

Stonewall also highly commended the Assembly’s work in promoting, recognising and supporting transgender equality, citing it as one of only 11 exemplar organisations in the UK.

Elin Jones AM, Llywydd of the National Assembly for Wales, said: “We are truly honoured to be recognised by Stonewall as the leading employer in the UK for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“The National Assembly has diversity and inclusion at the very heart of its role representing the people of Wales.

“We are proud to support our LGBT staff network and continue to work to create an inclusive culture – not only for the people who work here but for the people we represent across all Wales’ diverse communities.

“As Wales’ parliament, it is right that we should lead by example to demonstrate what can be achieved with the right attitudes, leadership and determination.

“This is not only a great day for the Assembly, it’s also good news for staff in the many other Welsh organisations represented in the top 100 employers. They demonstrate people in Wales clearly understand the value of inclusive policy and service delivery and I congratulate them all.”

Joyce Watson AM, Assembly Commissioner with responsibility for diversity and inclusion, said: “This is a wonderful achievement which comes on the tenth anniversary of the Assembly first being recognised in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.

“It is a testament to the dedication of our staff, in particular our diversity and inclusion team, for embracing and ingraining LGBT equality in all aspects of our work representing the people of Wales.

“Our success shows that incremental changes in policy and a willing approach to changing attitudes can achieve so much and serve as an example to others.”

Andrew White, Director of Stonewall Cymru, told The Herald: “Of course, we should all expect our national Parliament to lead the way on this and other matters. But for many LGBT people in Britain this will have a special significance.

“In my last few years at school the Thatcher government brought in Section 28: a spiteful piece of legislation intended to mute all discussion of people like me in schools. The parliamentary debate leading up to this vile law treated me and my peers as somehow less worthy of rights, of family, of respect. It’s phenomenal that a parliament could now be leading ​t​o LGBT inclusion”

WALES’ EMPLOYERS PRAISED

Stonewall’s Top 100 is compiled from submissions to the Workplace Equality Index, a powerful benchmarking tool used by employers to assess their achievements and progress on LGBT equality in the workplace.

More than 430 organisations took part in this year’s index.

Each organisation must demonstrate their expertise in 10 areas of employment policy and practice, including networking groups, senior leadership, procurement and how well they’ve engaged with the LGBT community.

As part of the Top 100, Stonewall also collects more than 92,000 anonymous responses from employees on their experience of Britain’s workplace culture and diversity. It’s one of the largest national employment surveys in Britain.

A massive 91​%​ of non-LGBT employees who responded to the survey, say they understand why their employer is committed to LGBT equality.

Speaking about the way in which Welsh employers had stepped up to the mark on LGBT rights and inclusiveness, Andrew White of Stonewall said: “I am constantly impressed with how employers across Wales are transforming the lives and opportunities of LGBT people, these results show that our small but proud nation is once again leading the way.

“We know that despite the advances of LGBT rights in recent years, people in Wales still experience discrimination, abuse and isolation at work, at home and in our communities. The work of LGBT-inclusive employers is vital in securing a more prosperous, healthier and more equal nation for future generations.”

Andrew White concluded: “Creating the best environment at work for all staff results in a happier, healthier workforce, better services, and increased productivity. Workplace equality isn’t just right, it’s good for business.

“Our national parliament is rightfully championing equality, especially trans equality. The positive actions they have taken set a great example to all employers on how much can be achieved with the right leadership and desire to effect positive change.”

More than 400 employers were in contention to get a coveted spot in this year’s Top 100 LGBT inclusive employers list. The top 10 employers were a diverse mix of organisations, with representation from both the public and private sectors. The full list is in the notes to editors.

To mark the new trans-inclusive focus of the Top 100, Stonewall has also named Britain’s top trans-inclusive employers. This is a list of organisations that have gone above and beyond to ensure trans staff feel accepted. The full list is in the notes to editors.

This comes at a time when trans and non-binary people are facing a daily onslaught of abuse both in their private lives and in the public sphere.

Earlier this month Stonewall released research that showed half of trans people (51​%​) have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination or abuse and that one in eight trans employees (12​%​) have been physically attacked by colleagues or customers in the past year.

Politics

Action to tackle homelessness

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Homelessness: Minister sets out new approaches for WG

REBECCA EVANS, Minister for Housing and Regeneration, has published new policy documents which set out new approaches to tackling homelessness in a statement to the Assembly.

Rebecca Evans said: “Talking to those I meet, I often hear distressing accounts of family breakdown, domestic violence, mental health problems, financial problems, substance misuse and bereavement.

“These issues can lead to some people losing their homes and create a vicious cycle leading to rough sleeping.

“The recent increase seen in the National Rough Sleeper Count is disappointing in the face of our efforts and investment but I believe it largely reflects the increasing effects of continued austerity, increasing in-work poverty and welfare reforms”.

As well as new funding to their revenue settlements, councils in Wales will receive grant funding of £2.8m in 2018/19 to embed homelessness prevention best practice models which will help to reduce rough sleeping, prevent youth homelessness, improve access to the private rented sector and strengthen services for people with mental health and substance misuse problems.

Rebecca Evans AM also said: “Today I’m publishing a policy document which outlines how Housing First will be taken forward across Wales. There is strong evidence that Housing First works best where its core principles are followed – housing with no strings attached, ready and available support services and access to funds to help meet individuals’ needs.

“I’m also launching our Action Plan to reduce rough sleeping. Developed with organisations including Shelter Cymru, and members of Rough Sleepers Cymru, it covers a range of activity, supporting people to engage with services and get off the streets as quickly as possible. It also addresses wider issues such as a review of priority need and our guidance on cold weather plans.

“Rough sleeping is one aspect of homelessness. We can only truly address the issue if we have a system that offers secure housing for all. Building homes and expanding social housing stock can only go so far and I will work with the private rented sector to find innovative ways to harness their supply and meet demand. I will also be looking at how we continue to reduce the number of homes lying empty.

“The Welsh Government has a good track record of delivery on homelessness prevention and we will continue to provide the leadership to ensure we can end the need for people to sleep rough in Wales.”

Conservative Housing spokesperson David Melding welcomed the initiative, but, speaking outside the chamber, called for the Welsh Government to set a target for ending rough sleeping in Wales.

“We know that in Manchester they have set a highly ambitious target of eradicating rough sleeping by 2020, and the UK Government target is to halve rough sleeping by 2022 with targeted full eradication by 2027. I think that we should be aiming for a more ambitious target than that, perhaps somewhere in between.

“Wales has the potential to be a real leader in this area and so I do hope that the Welsh government step up and tackle this problem once and for all.”

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Politics

Call for Speaker’s conference on Brexit

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Brexit: Parliaments need to work together

THE LLYWYDD of the National Assembly for Wales Elin Jones AM and the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, Mick Antoniw AM, have called for a review of the inter-parliamentary and inter-governmental arrangements relating to the UK’s exit of the EU to ensure that Wales’ voice is heard loud and clear.

Giving evidence to the House of Commons’ Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) inquiry into devolution and Brexit, Mick Antoniw AM referred to the key findings of the Constitutional Affairs Committee’s report “UK governance post-Brexit” published on 2 February. Specifically, he reiterated the report’s recommendation to establish a Speakers’ Conference to improve the way parliaments work together and hold governments of the UK to account.

Mick Antoniw AM said: “A conference involving Speakers and Presiding Officers from all UK legislatures would increase understanding and cooperation between UK parliaments at this crucial time in UK constitutional affairs. Similarly, we need to see a step change in the mechanics for inter-governmental relations. The Joint Ministerial Committee, established in the wake of devolution in the 1990s, simply hasn’t evolved in line with the depth and breadth of the constitutional settlements of the devolved nations. The Committee also wants to see the EU (Withdrawal) Bill amended to put inter-governmental relations on a statutory footing. Currently, the process is driven by personality and makes the Joint Ministerial Committee little more than a speakeasy for Ministers to discuss ideas behind closed doors without any transparency or accountability.

“Now is the time for reviewing these arrangements and to develop UK inter-parliamentary working fit for the purpose of scrutinising the impact of Brexit on the constitutional framework of the UK.”

Llywydd, Elin Jones AM, said “This unique moment in time calls for a unique inter-parliamentary arrangement to scrutinise our respective governments’ arrangements. I welcome and support the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee’s call for the establishment of a formal Speakers’ Conference focused on arrangements for Brexit. Considering the impact of exiting on the range of powers repatriated and then devolved to Wales is particularly crucial as it will determine how quickly we can make decisions for the benefit of our constituents. At a time when most Assembly committees are considering issues related to Brexit as part of their ongoing scrutiny programmes, this is the missing piece of the jigsaw – and one I will be raising with my counterparts in Scotland, Westminster and Northern Ireland at our next speakers’ meeting.”

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Politics

Conservatives claim email ‘cover up’

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Couldn't get a yes or no answer: Andrew RT Davies

A ROW over whether the First Minister permitted an inquiry into his conduct access to his personal emails during a leak inquiry has intensified.

An inquiry recently concluded into whether or not details of the Cabinet reshuffle which led to the dismissal and subsequent death of former Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary Carl Sargeant.

That inquiry found that there was ‘unauthorised’ leak of the reshuffle details, leading to the obvious question as to whether any leaks were ‘authorised’, as it appears beyond question that news of Mr Sargeant’s dismissal was provided to at least two Labour MPs and one journalist.

In addition, the First Minister has refused to confirm that the Permanent Secretary was granted access to his personal emails during the recent leak inquiry.

Last week, in a response to a written question from Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies, Mr Jones said that he did occasionally use a private email address to deal with diary issues and clearing urgent press lines.

On Tuesday, Mr Davies asked the First Minister whether the private email address was used at all to instruct or to brief staff as to press lines in relation to the reshuffle.

After responding ‘No’, Carwyn Jones said that ‘all relevant evidence was made available to the inquiry’.

Mr Davies pressed the point, asking whether access was given to the personal e-mail addresses that Mr Jones uses for Government business
Mr Jones avoided a direct answer, saying: “I can’t comment on what the evidence looked like. All I can say is that all relevant evidence was submitted to the inquiry.”

Responding that ‘it’s not unreasonable to assume that, if there’s an inquiry into leaks from Government, then all correspondence would’ve been made available to the person carrying out the inquiry’, Andrew RT Davies asked for a straight yes or no answer.

Mr Jones declined to give on, instead repeating ‘all relevant information was provided to the inquiry’.

The Conservative leader has now suggested that the inference to be drawn from the First Minister’s answers is that the decision as to which evidence was either relevant or irrelevant was down to the First Minister himself.

The Welsh Conservatives are now demanding that the Permanent Secretary re-opens the inquiry, with the Permanent Secretary given “unfettered access” to Carwyn Jones’ personal email address.

In a press statement after First Minister’s Questions, Mr Davies said: “This reeks of a cover up.

“Just last week the First Minister admitted that he uses his personal email account on ministerial business, and now we learn that it is left to him to decide which emails are in the public interest.

“It calls to mind the recent Presidential elections, where public confidence was seriously undermined after allegations relating to the use of personal emails.

“How on earth can we have confidence in the system if the First Minister is the only judge of his own conduct?

“The inquiry must be re-opened, with unfettered access granted to the two email accounts that we know he has used for ministerial business.”

Mr Davies also called for a transparent process to log the use of personal email accounts by Welsh ministers and their advisers.

At present, such correspondence is only picked up by Welsh Government logs where an official email account is ‘copied in to an exchange’ – or where a conversation starts or finishes with an official email account.

He added: “There is nothing to stop the First Minister from emailing advisers directly using private email addresses, and I have no doubt that we would learn a great deal about the way Welsh Government business is conducted if his emails were to be opened up to closer scrutiny.

“We need rigorous checks in place to stop ministers from conducting government business entirely through back channels.

“This kind of practice should be entirely outlawed, except in approved accounts where security is heightened and exchanges are open to scrutiny.”

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