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A Europe of partnership, solidarity and peace

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Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 11.42.05IT MAY seem unusual to see a Plaid Cymru politician – one who believes in greater autonomy for our nation – support Wales’ continuing membership of the European Union.

The EU empowers our nation, our businesses, our communities and our people far more than one may realise.

Through our membership, the Welsh Government – as much as I disagree with its priorities and performance – is responsible for delivering a great deal of policies. Agricultural policy, worth £200m per year to our farmers, and regional development worth more than £1billion is set by the Welsh Government.

This doesn’t include the research and development funding, marine and fisheries, lifelong learning or Youth Action monies.

Far from empowering us and “taking back control” as the leave campaign urges us, the reality is that exiting the European Union would see responsibilities removed from Wales and put back into the hands of politicians in Westminster.

Unlike the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the EU is a wealth-distribution union. We in Wales are net beneficiaries of that union. Every man, woman and child gets back £40 per head more back from Europe compared to what we pay in.

London is the richest region of Europe with west Wales and the valleys amongst the poorest. This is not the fault of Europe. This is the continuous hangover of a socially, politically and economically unbalanced British State where wealth is polarised in the south east of England.

Those who advocate a ‘Brexit’ say that “it’s our money” and what we could save from EU membership can be better spent in Wales. But all of my political life I have fought successive Westminster governments, of all hues, to see greater investment in Wales.

Anybody who believes we can trust Westminster to distribute wealth in a post-EU UK need only look at the decades and decades of underinvestment in our communities to see through this pipe dream.

We know that 1 in 10 Welsh jobs are dependent on our EU membership. We know that Welsh businesses undertake trade worth £5billion a year with Europe. We know that the EU accounts for 44% of all Welsh exports. What we don’t know is what a post- EU, post-leave looks like and what it means for our jobs, families, children and grandchildren.

Those who seek to divide us by scapegoating migrates for the country’s ills, and give us their faux outrage over ‘sovereignty’ have no vision or strategy for our future. Far from a leap of faith, we’re being asked to take a giant backwards step into the unknown.

The dismantling of the welfare state, policing budget and social service cuts and the rising level of poverty are the failures of Welsh and Westminster governments.

Leaving Europe will not change that fact that we have longer hospital waiting times, a lack of affordable housing, an increased pension age, or that our roads, rail and connectivity infrastructure have all been neglected. Only by changing the governments we elect in Wales and Westminster can these damning records be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Perhaps more fundamental than all of this, indeed far more fundamental than any of the Prime Minister’s socalled renegotiation deals is that we the people can decide what type of nation we want to be, and whether we want to be a full participant in forging our own destiny.

I want a Wales that is a progressive, outward-looking country which shapes its own future on the international stage and shares in the principles of partnership, solidarity and peace.

The EU is not faultless. There are many things we can and should change.

But the Europe of today is a much more secure and safer place than the Europe of conflict one hundred years ago.

We have an equal say in this referendum. Let’s not allow the squabbles of the political class of Westminster to hijack this profoundly important debate.

Let’s believe that we can achieve a better Europe together, with Wales taking centre stage within this family of nations.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas is the Assembly Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. He reporesents the National Assembly for Wales on the EU’s Committee of Regions .

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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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Politics

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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