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Fishermen’s fury over transition sell out

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Milford Haven: Half fish landed are from Belgian boats

‘LIKE drinking a pint of cold sick’, was how Scottish Conservative MP Douglas Ross described the UK Government’s climb down over fisheries policy in talks with the EU.

Mr Ross said the UK Government had “delivered far less than I hoped or expected” for fishermen, before adding: “There is no spinning this as a good outcome. It would be easier to get someone to drink a pint of cold sick than try to sell this as a success.”

The UK Government went into talks with the EU over a deal for the transition period following March 2019 expressing confidence that it would be able to regain control of UK fishing waters at the point the UK formally departs the European Union next year. However, despite rumblings from Michael Gove – Secretary of State for the Environment – and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson that the return of control over Britain’s fisheries was non-negotiable, it turned out that the UK Government thought it was.

The blow could have electoral ramifications in Scotland, where recent Conservative success in coastal communities has been helped by UK and Scottish Conservatives making the sort of noises that have encouraged Scottish fishermen to back them at the ballot box.

Regardless of the UK’s much-vaunted red lines, the EU made access to British waters by European fleets a red line of their own and the UK Government blinked first.

The CFP has faced harsh criticism in the past, with the Scottish Government calling it “the EU’s most unpopular and discredited policy”. The policy has been accused of being an overly centralised, top-down approach from Brussels to managing fisheries.

A key issue for fishermen is the equal access of EU vessels to UK waters. They argue that as the UK has a relatively large fishing zone compared to many of its continental European neighbours, EU fishermen benefit more from access to UK waters, a criticism supported by the University of the Highlands and Islands.

The Conservatives committed in their 2017 manifesto to leaving the Common Fisheries Policy. The manifesto outlines that the UK “will be fully responsible for the access and management of its waters”.

In the June 2017 Queen’s Speech, the Government announced a Fisheries Bill for the upcoming Parliamentary session. Its purpose is to “enable the UK to control access to its waters and set UK fishing quotas once it has left the EU.”

The UK Government has now abandoned that policy without parliamentary discussion.

The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has reacted angrily, saying: ‘There will be a lot of concern throughout the fishing industry about what seems to be emerging.

‘We were led to believe that the UK would be as an independent coastal state from March 2019. The Prime Minister told us that only a fortnight ago. This timetable and perhaps much else has been conceded as part of the transition.

‘In fact, under international law the UK will be an independent coastal state from March. But we will immediately tie ourselves into an arrangement with the EU that is worse that we had before – as the UK will not have a seat at the table when the quotas are decided.

‘The UK’s central problem with the CFP has been that EU vessels, in value terms takes 4 times as much out of UK waters as our vessels take out of EU waters. That imbalance – essentially an exploitative relationship – will continue during the transition.

‘This is being presented as tactical concession that will not prejudice our longer term aims. But it has all the hallmarks of a capitulation’.

A recent report by the Public Policy Institute for Wales says that, while the Welsh fishing fleet as a whole could gain, there are large divisions in the industry, with most vessels, fishers, and ports likely to be ‘net losers’ from Brexit.

At Milford Haven, for example, over half the fish landed are from Belgian-registered vessels with local fishermen’s smaller boats unable to take advantage of a UK fishery zone post—Brexit.

In addition, only a smaller number of vessels face large potential gains, including some ‘flagships’ that land much of their catch in Spain.

The report’s authors say: ‘Parts of the UK fishing industry have been excited by the prospect of claiming exclusive rights to fish in UK waters and larger shares of fishing quota as a result of Brexit. However, the Welsh fleet comprises mainly small-scale vessels that would not benefit from exclusive access to an extended fishing area. They also catch primarily shellfish species that are not managed through quota limits.

‘Most of the seafood produced by the Welsh fleet is exported to EU countries or through EU trade agreements, therefore potential tariff and non-tariff trade barriers could significantly impact market access and competitiveness’.

The authors highlight that the structure of the Welsh fleet is unique and there is a real risk of it being ‘left behind’ in UK-EU negotiations by the demands of larger fishing interests.

Although there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding the outcomes of Brexit, looking forward they estimate that fishing opportunities relating to Welsh waters post-Brexit will be much larger than Wales’ current share. However, as any increases would accrue to existing UK quota holders, the Welsh fleet requires a new arrangement of quota sharing within the UK to get its fair share.

To take advantage of new fishing opportunities, the authors suggest both the UK Government and Welsh Government will need to make targeted changes to the management of fishing opportunities, so that benefits are felt in Welsh ports, coastal communities and wider society from what is, ultimately, a public resource.

However, that area of governance is one of those the UK Government has announced it will retain in its own hands after the UK leaves the EU.

Mid and West AM Simon Thomas, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Climate Change and Rural Affairs for Plaid Cymru commented: “Concerns have been raised by the fishing industry following the announcement earlier this week about the transition period for the Common Fisheries Policy, under which the UK will be “consulted” on quotas rather than an equal partner in fishing negotiations with the situation remaining largely unchanged until 2021.

“Last month, the Public Policy Institute for Wales reported that Wales’ fishing fleet has specific needs, with smaller fishing vessels specialising in shellfish and that they need tariff free access to European markets. There are concerns of perishable foodstuffs being held up at customs, continued pressure on seafood species and no say over quotas for alternative catches.”

Mr Thomas continued: “As it is becoming increasingly clear that the Westminster Government cannot be trusted to represent the interests of Wales’ fishermen and women, measures need to be taken by the Labour Government to safeguard the fishing industry in Wales from the uncertainty of Brexit. We need to empower our communities and country in order to ensure that decisions affecting Wales are made in Wales.

“On so many issues, when Westminster refuses to do what’s best for Wales, we must have the tools to do things for ourselves.”

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UK Budget must take crucial steps to help recovery

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LLANELLI Labour representatives are urging the UK Government to take the necessary steps to begin recovery and secure prosperity across all parts of the UK.

Llanelli’s MP Nia Griffith and MS Lee Waters set out Wales’ priorities ahead of the UK Budget on Wednesday March 3 2021.

They are urging the UK Government to make a series of commitments to Wales, including:

• sustaining UK-wide business support
• delivering welfare and taxation measures to support the most vulnerable
• redressing the historical under investment in Wales on research and development and rail infrastructure
• providing an injection of funding to support the transition to Net Zero carbon emissions
• providing guarantees for Wales’ specific funding pressures

Speaking ahead of the UK Budget announcement, Nia Griffith MP reiterated her calls for continued business support for those on the lowest of incomes. She said:  

“It is vital that the Job Retention Scheme and Self Employed Income Support Scheme are retained – not threatened with being removed at the eleventh hour and putting livelihoods at risk. A delay to repayments should also be introduced for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme with recognition given to the self-employed who are facing deferred bills.”

“It is also vital that the £20 per week increase to Universal Credit is maintained and put on a permanent basis, making it available to people in receipt of legacy means-tested benefits. More than 300,000 families in Wales have benefitted from an extra £1,000 a year as a result of the uplift and removing this now would have a detrimental and long-lasting effect on thousands of households across Wales.”

Lee Waters MS said:

“The UK Government should continue to take advantage of historically low interest rates to invest in Wales’ infrastructure and public services. Particularly on rail, where we have been underfunded to the tune of billions since the start of devolution, this is the moment where Rishi Sunak can demonstrate his commitment to ‘levelling up’ all four nations of the UK.”

“This budget is a chance to hardwire a greener, fairer way of doing things into our recovery from Coronavirus. We are ambitious about our target of being Net Zero carbon by 2050, and averting the climate crisis which is increasingly affecting Wales through flooding. But to make that transition, we need a step change from the UK Government’s budget that allows us to invest in renewable energy and green jobs.”

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MS summoned to Court over tweet

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PLAID CYMRU’s Mid & West Wales Regional Senedd Member Helen Mary Jones has been summoned to appear at Swansea Crown Court.

HHJ Paul Thomas QC ordered Ms Jones to court after she retweeted a third-party’s post which expressed the hope a defendant in an ongoing murder trial would be convicted.

The tweet referred to the trial of 70-year-old Anthony Williams, who killed his wife shortly after the start of the first lockdown in March last year.

Mr Williams had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter.

However, while the trial was ongoing, a domestic violence campaigner tweeted:: “Another perp using the ‘I just snapped’. It is complete b******t! As so many of us will know, there would have been history of domestic abuse.
“I hope this jury finds him guilty of murder. Rest in peace, Ruth.”
On Saturday, before the jury returned its verdict, Ms Jones shared the tweet.

There was no history of domestic abuse and no suggestion of it was raised during Mr Jones’ trial.

When the Jury returned to Court on Monday, HHJ Paul Thomas said: “It’s come to my attention that, over the weekend, there have been some highly inappropriate comments made on social media about this case.
“I should make it abundantly clear that those comments have not come from anybody connected with the case and, having been shown the contents of one such piece of social media, they clearly don’t have any idea about the evidence in this case or the issues in this case.”
None of the jurors saw the offending post and continued their deliberations.

On Monday afternoon, the jury acquitted Mr Williams of murder.

By retweeting the remarks made by a third party, the risk existed that the jury could have been influenced and their decision-making compromised.

On Thursday, Helen Mary Jones will have the chance to explain her actions to Judge Thomas in person.

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Welsh budget ‘very much a draft’

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THE SENEDD’s Finance Committee’s report on the Welsh Government’s Draft Budget for 2021-22, voices serious concerns for public services, inequality and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Committee is clear that the need to address and alleviate poverty is more critical than ever, with the pandemic deepening the problems already faced by low-income and disadvantaged households.

HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE

The Finance Committee is worried about the impact of the pandemic on non-COVID care, due to sustained pressure on the NHS and its healthcare workers. The Finance Committee also believes the impact of the pandemic on mental health will be considerable over the next year and beyond.

The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee agrees that the public health emergency Wales is facing should not be underestimated, either in terms of responding to the immediate challenges of the pandemic, or the need to do what can be done to maintain the vital non-COVID services on which people rely.

The Committee believes the true scale of the implications for the health and wellbeing of people in Wales, may not become clear for years. The crisis has also exacerbated underlying issues, including the fragility of the social care sector, the ongoing health inequalities across Wales, and the need for a clear strategic vision to drive health and social care integration and service transformation.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND EDUCATION

The Finance Committee is concerned that increased funding in the local government settlement will not cover all cost pressures, such as social care, childcare, and education.

The Finance Committee is deeply concerned about the risks to children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those in early years, falling behind in their education as a result of the pandemic. The Finance Committee is calling for more information about how funding will support learners to ‘catch up’ while also delivering the current ways of learning.

ECONOMY, SKILLS  & REGENERATION

The Finance Committee heard evidence that the Draft Budget does not provide a coherent approach to supporting businesses through the pandemic. While recognising that it may be sensible to allow some degree of flexibility, the Committee is concerned that the implementation of the business support packages has been “patchy” with smaller businesses finding it harder to access funds. This has been further complicated by the different approaches to business support from different Governments within the UK.

The Committee believes the Draft Budget could have been clearer in outlining the Welsh Government’s long-term approach to potential shifts in consumer behaviour towards online retailers and the effect on local economies. The Welsh Government should rethink previous policies on revitalising town centres in light of the pandemic.

CHALLENGES NEED LONG-TERM APPROACH

Llyr Gruffydd MS, Chair of the Finance Committee said: “This is the final Draft Budget of the Fifth Senedd. This year the pandemic has delayed UK fiscal events, resulting in delays to publication of the Welsh Government’s Draft Budget. This has reduced our time for scrutiny which is particularly concerning given that COVID-19 will have an impact on public spending for years to come.

“This Draft Budget is very much a draft. A lack of forward-funding figures with only a one- year revenue funding settlement, and the timing of the UK Government’s Budget set later for 3 March has made budget-setting even more challenging for the Welsh Government.

“Much of our work is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst welcoming the extra money for health and social services, the Committee is concerned about the long-term impacts on non-COVID care. We also have serious concerns over workforce capacity and mental health.

“Our businesses need support more than ever, with many being forced to close. For them to have a future after this pandemic, we support calls for the simplification and consolidation of the financial assistance schemes available.

“COVID-19 has brought many serious challenges and the financial impact on health, the economy and public services will be felt by society for years to come. While there is a need to respond to the immediate situation we are hopeful that there is an opportunity for longer-term planning to ensure that Wales can recover strongly.”

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