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Andrews blames media for ‘information deficit’

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Leighton’s back: And this time it’s digital

THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY must look beyond the fragmented media in Wales to better communicate its work to a wider audience and address the democratic information deficit, at least that’s the claim of the Digital News and Information Taskforce report presented to the Assembly last week.

The report encourages the Assembly to lead the way and establish an integrated content service using social media and other channels to engage directly with the people of Wales. It recommends placing people, rather than the institution and its processes at the heart of topical news stories as it looks to build citizen engagement.

Chaired by Leighton Andrews, the former Welsh Government Minister who lost his seat to Leanne Wood, who was then appointed to a publicly-funded post which never previously existed, and who has now turned up as ‘Professor of Practice in Public Service Leadership and Innovation’ with Cardiff University’s Business School, the Taskforce also recommends:

The Assembly reimagines itself as a content creator, pushing content directly to the platforms that audiences are already consuming

Designing all communications with the user at its heart, taking every opportunity to consider the impact of the Assembly’s work on people of Wales when explaining Assembly business, structures or policy making

A presumption of Open Data, so that others can freely use, re-use and redistribute Assembly data

Providing open access to the Assembly’s resources for teaching via the Hwb platform, which is accessed by over half a million young people, and all schools in Wale s

Leighton Andrews said: “These are radical proposals to use modern digital communication to better understand what people are thinking and concerned about, to engage in real-time with people and to share with them how their representatives are responding to these issues, and I want to thank the members of the Digital News and Information Taskforce for their work.

“Assembly Members and staff must recognise their role as content creators, and see the Assembly as a content platform which should reflect the nation’s conversations about the issues which are of most concern to it.

“The Assembly has done much to embrace digital communication, but in an age where increasing numbers of people are looking to social media for news, and traditional media outlets are providing less political coverage than ever, the Assembly must provide the people it serves with engaging content, delivered in formats that they wish to use.”

The report prepared by the Taskforce does not consider whether the Welsh Government – as opposed to the Assembly – in which Mr Andrews played such a boisterous and controversial part, might be to blame for alleged public ignorance and indifference to its activities.

The report instead appears to countenance blaming the institution itself, as opposed to its distinguished current (and former) political occupants.

When Mr Andrews refers to ‘traditional media outlets providing less political coverage than ever’, it is interesting that a supporting example given in the report refers to Trinity Mirror’s decision to cease the Daily Post’s dedicated Assembly coverage. It does not reference other local media, shows no sign that other local media have been considered, and does not mention the coverage of local and national politics by other newspaper groups in Wales.

Mr Andrews failed to mention that many members of the panel advising him were drawn from a narrow cohort of ‘digital media consultancy’ firms, who might be considered to have an interest in boosting the claimed effectiveness of the strategy he now propounds.

Leighton Andrews’ announcement was also given enthusiastic coverage by the BBC, for whom he was formerly Head of Public Affairs.

Llywydd of the National Assembly for Wales Elin Jones AM said: “I want to thank the Digital News and Information Taskforce panel for their work. They have provided us with thought provoking, practical proposals to strengthen the way we communicate as we seek to become an open, digital parliament which engages with all the people of Wales.

“We are approaching the twentieth anniversary of the Assembly, which is an opportunity to refresh the way in which the Assembly presents itself and to build a deep and genuine dialogue with the people of Wales. I look forward to discussing the report, and how we take it forward, with Assembly Commissioners.”

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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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