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Drakeford lands in the brown and smellies

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THAT was much better.
At least from Conservative leader, Andrew RT Davies.
Last week, we reported on the difficulties Mr Davies got into when bandying around statistics with the First Minister. His performance fell flat and the subject didn’t play to his or his Party’s strengths. 

REGULATIONSBREACH PROMISES 

This week, Mr Davies was back on ground about which the First Minister knows little and couldn’t care less: agriculture, and a Minister’s breach of repeated promises not to enact costly and onerous legislation during the pandemic.
Mr Davies said Labour’s Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, betrayed farmers in Wales announcing the introduction of a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) across the whole country despite saying in the Senedd Chamber on seven separate occasions that she would not while the pandemic continues.
Mr Davies said: “We’re 10 months into this crisis, a crisis that has had a dramatic effect on all sectors of business including farming, and the Welsh Labour Government – propped up by the Lib Dem – decides to introduce a blanket NVZ across all of Wales when [Lesley Griffiths] had said she wouldn’t.
“Labour’s farming minister was quite clear throughout the course of 2020 and the pandemic. Labour promised farmersup and down Wales they wouldn’t look at introducing these regulations while we were still dealing with the coronavirus crisis. Labour has broken that promise.
“I asked Labour’s First Minister to personally intervene on behalf of farmers and rural communities across Wales and hold off introducing these regulations when we’re still in the grip of a pandemic. He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t even acknowledge that his Minister broke a promise made seven times.
“It’s yet another broken promise by the Labour Party, and shows that farmers and the Welsh public at large can’t trust Labour when it comes to protecting livelihoods and the food security of Wales and our United Kingdom.” 

FIRST MINISTERDIGS A SLURRY PIT

While Mr Drakeford tried to bluster his way out of the corner by referring to the number of agricultural pollution incidents each week, he inadvertently dug himself deeper into the hole Lesley Griffiths prepared. Neither the number nor frequency of pollution incidents have increased and the majority of pollution incidents are both localised and minor. That can be shown by direct reference to the minuscule number of enforcement actions and the even smaller number of prosecutions arising from pollution incidents.
The Welsh Government’s claims that its environmental watchdog, Natural Resources Wales, has both the necessary powers and the necessary funding to tackle incidents. If the Welsh Government’s claims on either count stand up to scrutiny, the overwhelming majority of cases relating to agricultural pollution are of extremely limited impact. If the Welsh Government’s claims about NRW are an example of ‘gilding the lily’, the problem of agricultural pollution is one to which it has contributed by neutering its watchdog. It cannot have it both ways. But Mr Drakeford tried to, even after acknowledging there had been NO increase in alleged agricultural pollution incidents.
Mr Drakeford said: “The level of pollution incidents in the agriculture sphere is damaging the reputation of farmers, damaging our environment and damaging the ability of that industry, in the long run, to trade with other parts of the world. Given that the strength of our industry is the quality of the produce that it delivers, any delay would not be in the interests of the industry.”That last point begs the question that if a delay to the regulations is not in the industry’s interests now, why delay promised at all.
Mr Drakeford continued: “The implementation of the regulations will be done sensitively, they’ll be done alongside the industry.” 

GOVERNMENT IGNOREDOWN REGULATOR

That last point would make a welcome change.The largest source of river pollution in Wales has been pollution by water companies. Agricultural leaks are implicated in 15% of incidents.As long ago as 2018, The Herald probed the incidence of river pollution. A Freedom of Information Act request that year revealed there were 2,700 incidents of river pollution in the preceding three years. Fifteen percent of 2700 is 405: that equates to 2.6 incidents each week attributable to agricultural pollution. Those numbers, as Mr Drakeford said, have not changed. Of those 2,700 incidents, only ten resulted in civil sanctions.

At the time, Andrea Winterton of NRW told us: “We always seek to be proportionate in our enforcement, and the action we take will depend on the severity of the incident. Of the pollution incidents between 2013 and 2016, many of these were minor, small scale and short-lived, often making it difficult to find those responsible.”While one pollution incident is one too many, as Andrew RT Davies recognised in the Senedd, the Welsh Government is taking a large hammer to crack a relatively small nut while ignoring major pollution causes.
The Welsh Government has ignored both its own environmental watchdog over the scope of the regulations and the industry group it convened to review the new rules. The decision of the Welsh Government is also contrary to the recommendations of its own advisory panel.Natural Resources Wales warned the Welsh Government its pollution regulations could have the ‘perverse outcome’ of making water quality worse.
The official advice from the regulator was obtained as part of a freedom of information (FOI) request submitted by NFU Cymru. The advice also said NRW did not have enough resources to implement the new rules if they applied to all farm businesses across Wales.
NRW’s advice was given specifically on the Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) being carried out by the Welsh Government. That assessment should have assessed the impact on all farm businesses in Wales. The NRW advice suggests the Welsh Government did no such thing.
NRW also claimed the Welsh Government had ‘lost an opportunity’ in only considering two options – do nothing, or an all-Wales approach – and suggested the assessment did not follow the Welsh Government’s own RIA guidance on presenting a comprehensive range of implementation choices.
It also questioned the lack of analysis on water quality in the RIA and how proportionate the measures would be in areas where low nitrate concentrations are found, concluding the assessment would be ‘open to challenge’ from a number of stakeholders.
Legal action has already been threatened by NFU-Cymru.The Pollution Subgroup of the Welsh Land Management Forum facilitated by Natural Resources Wales has consistently argued for better enforcement and the promotion of good practice.Those facts alone show the emptiness of Mr Drakeford’s words on the topic. They are of the same value as Lesley Griffiths’ seven empty promises. 

MORE TARGETED APPROACH NEEDED

TFA Cymru Chairman, Dennis Matheson, said “The vast majority of farms across Wales operate to very high standards of pollution control. Sadly, a tiny number of operators continue to flout the existing regulations and deserve to be penalised. However, the Welsh Government is using this as an excuse to hit the whole of the industry with costly new regulations.
“Tarring the whole of the industry with the same brush is not appropriate. Increasing the regulatory bar will do nothing to improve compliance amongst the small number of individuals who wilfully ignore the existing rules. Instead, the Welsh Government should be stepping up its enforcement of the existing rules.”
Mr Matheson continued: “As a member of the Pollution Subgroup it feels like we have been wasting our time meeting, discussing, debating and providing advice to Government. The Government didn’t even have the decency to consult with the Subgroup before announcing its decision. This is not evidenced-based policy-making, it’s a knee-jerk reaction and completely wrongheaded.”
Tenant farmers may struggle to meet the new requirements due to the constraints of their tenancy agreements.
“For many years, TFA Cymru has been highlighting the statutory and contractual restrictions that impact tenant farmersto the Welsh Government and provided advice as to how this could be overcome. However, the announcement contains no details about how the Welsh Government expects tenant farmers to comply.
“Tenants that meet opposition from their landlords could end up having to cease farming altogether, despite already operating to extremely high environmental standards. That surely cannot be right,” said Mr Matheson. 

RURAL COMMUNITIES FACE BIG CHALLENGES

Cefin Campbell, Plaid Cymru’s lead candidate for the Mid and West Wales region, said: At a time when the UK Tory government has slashed £137 million from the support for Welsh agriculture, the Labour Welsh Government plans to make the whole of Wales a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ), despite fierce opposition from farming unions.
“When conditions are favourable, farmers usually spread slurry on their fields between October and March, but the NVZ will ban slurry spreading for five months over the winter period. Slurry will have to be stored at a time when most cattle are kept indoors, which could result in farmers having to invest heavily in huge slurry tanks to accommodate the increased waste.
“‘As agriculture and our rural communities in general face huge challenges following the Brexit agreement and the effects of the Covid pandemic, the Conservatives take millions of pounds of badly needed money away from farmers, and Labour bring in draconian measures that will have a devastating effect on small or medium-sized dairy farms,’ said Cllr Cefin Campbell who is also Executive Board member with responsibility for Rural Affairs on Carmarthenshire County Council.
“Although I fully understand the crucial importance of protecting our waterways from slurry pollution, the Welsh Government should have taken a more targeted approach by implementing restrictions in specific areas or on farms that have a history of poor practice – as proposed by the government body Natural Resources Wales,’ he said.
“This blanket ban will punish the 95% of farmers who’ve worked tirelessly for generations to maintain that delicate balance between making a living and protecting the environment. It’s a grossly disproportionate over-reaction by Welsh Government.
“The investment needed by family-run farms to comply with these new restrictions could put their businesses at risk and even result in many leaving the land. The financial support offered by the Welsh Government to help farmersadapt to these new conditions is pitiful. The increased costs, coupled with the Tories cutting millions from agriculture aid, clearly shows that neither of the main parties can be trusted to support the farming industry, which is the backbone of our rural communities across mid and west Wales,” he added.

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Boris Johnson, his wife and chancellor Rishi Sunak to be fined for breaking lockdown rules

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THE PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie, and chancellor Rishi Sunak, have been notified that they will be issued with fines for breaking lockdown rules.

The fixed penalty notices are the result of a Metropolitan Police investigation into parties in Downing Street and Whitehall in 2020 and 2021.

Mr Johnson will become the first sitting prime minister to receive a punishment for breaking the law.

Labour immediately called for both the PM and chancellor to resign while Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called for parliament to be recalled for a vote of confidence in Mr Johnson.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon also demanded that they should quit.

Those calls have been echoed this week by Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds has called on the Welsh Conservative Leader Andrew RT Davies and Welsh Secretary Simon Hart to “show a backbone” and call for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to resign following the news that both men are to be fined over lockdown parties.

Commenting Jane Dodds MS told The Herald: “Boris Johnson & Rishi Sunak have broken the law & repeatedly lied, they must resign from their positions at once.

“While people in Wales were playing by the rules at great personal expense, those in charge thought they were above the law.

“This also will come as a painful blow to all those covid bereaved families in Wales.  The behavior of Johnson and Sunak

“The Welsh public deserves much better. For the sake of the country, both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak must resign immediately.

“If the Conservative Party is to have any legitimacy in Wales Andrew RT Davies and Simon Hart need to show some backbone and be calling for resignations immediately. No Welsh Conservative MP should be backing the Chancellor or Prime Minister staying in post.”

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Plaid sets out its economic vision for Llanelli ahead of County Council election

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PLAID CYMRU has set out its vision for economic regeneration in Llanelli ahead of the county council elections next month. The party’s priorities for Llanelli, include:

  • Delivery of a new £27m Leisure Centre for Llanelli, as part of the first phase of Pentre Awel
  • Ensuring supply chain opportunities for local businesses, and local recruitment arising from the multi-million-pound Pentre Awel scheme
  • Plans to enhance and redesign Spring Gardens and Central Square
  • Developing retail sites in the town centre
  • Commission a feasibility study for a Skateboard Park of national significance and BMX Pumptrack in Llanelli
  • Tackling empty buildings, and promote residential uses in the town – as is being done with the YMCA building
  • Delivery of the £9.3m Tyisha Project
  • Champion reform of business rates for town centre traders
  • Support more businesses with their online offering to support sales

The pledges build on actions already taken by Plaid over recent years, such as the £4.5million Market Street North project, which saw the Council buy up empty shop units from private ownership, to renovate and bring them back in to use, and the investment and revamp of the Grade II-listed Llanelli Goods Shed.

Plaid Cymru’s Hengoed ward candidate Susan Phillips stated: “Plaid Cymru is committed to doing all that we can to ensure that Llanelli has a bright future. Our manifesto sets clear ambitions for Llanelli, and places town centre regeneration at the heart.

“After decades of under-investment by Labour, the Plaid-led Council has already started the work of regenerating the town centre – leading on the YMCA building, and have also approved the development of Y Linc – the new £3.5m Arcade connecting Eastgate with the town centre. Developments such as this will breathe new life into the town, and we want to do more.

“Plaid Cymru has led on the development of Pentre Awel in Llanelli and we are committed to ensuring that as well as providing health and wellbeing benefits, that the businesses of Llanelli benefit through the construction stage, and that it will deliver employment and training opportunities to local people.

Tyisha candidate Terry Davies added: “Work has already started on the £9.3million Tyisha regeneration project, with the demolition of outdated flats already underway and we are committed to further investment in order to provide quality housing in the ward and improvements to the local environment, and now the town.

“Tackling the deprivation and decades of Labour neglect in Llanelli is a top priority for Plaid Cymru and this can be seen in the money that the party has channelled into the town. It is a breath of fresh air for Llanelli to see Plaid delivering on its promises.”

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Removing Plan B rules ‘a headline to distract from Boris failings’ says Drakeford

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FIRST MINISTER Mark Drakeford has said the decision to end “Plan B” restrictions in England next week is not part of a “careful, long-term plan” but it’s a “headline to distract people’s attention from the Prime Minister’s failings.”

Wales will complete the move to alert level zero on 28 January First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed unless the public health situation changes for the worse.

He said the phased plan to gradually relax the alert level two measures and move back to alert level zero will continue.

The Welsh Conservatives have called for the immediate removal of the vaccine passport scheme, restrictions on businesses such as the rule of six in pubs,  ditch all social distancing and the removal of mandatory face masks in schools.

Critics have questioned the Welsh Government policy to ease restrictions at a slower pace than England.

Boris Johnson announced earlier this week that England’s Plan B measures are to end from next Thursday, with mandatory face coverings in public places and Covid passports both dropped.

But that announcement came as the Prime Minister faced mounting pressure to resign amid allegations of parties held at Number 10 during lockdown.

Mark Drakeford said the move in England to ditch those restrictions was not part of a carefully thought-out plan, speaking to BBC Radio Wales he said:

“I don’t think anybody watching objectively at what has happened in England could imagine that their decisions have been made by careful attention to public health advice and with some sort of long-term plan in place.”

“Their announcements this week are entirely due to the astonishing mess that they find themselves in and an effort to find some other headline to distract people’s attention from the Prime Minister’s failings.”

Mr Drakeford said: “Here in Wales we’re in a very different position, we’ve got a government that is capable of making decisions in line with the advice, to do things in the way we’ve done throughout the pandemic, step by step following the science, making sure that we are keeping people in Wales safe.”

Speaking to Sky News this morning, Mark Drakeford said it was “very hard to see how the Prime Minister survives.”

“Even if he were to survive, he will just limp on because he’s never going to escape the damage that this week has done to his reputation.”

“From my point of view, the thing that worries me the most is the fact that the UK Government is frozen by the impact of what has happened to them.” He said.

WHAT’S HAPPENING IN WALES?

Welsh Government have said the latest public health data “suggests Wales has passed the peak of the omicron wave and coronavirus cases are falling back to levels similar to those seen earlier in the autumn” adding “There have also been reductions in the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital”.

From Friday 21st January, Wales will move to alert level zero for all outdoor activities.

This means:

  • Crowds will be able to return to outdoor sporting events.
  • There will be no limits on the number of people who can take part in outdoor activities and events.
  • Outdoor hospitality will be able to operate without the additional measures required introduced in December, such as the rule of six and 2m social distancing
  • The Covid Pass will continue to be required for entry to larger outdoor events attended by more than 4,000 people, if unseated, or 10,000 people when seated.
  • The Covid Pass is required in all cinemas, theatres and concert halls which are currently open.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The latest figures show we have passed the omicron peak and we can continue to lift the alert level two protections as part of our careful and phased plan.

“We will lift the limits on the number of people who can gather for outdoor events. We remain cautiously confident the public health situation is heading in the right direction and next week we will be able to complete the move to alert level zero unless the situation changes for the worse.

“We are in this position thanks to the efforts of everyone in Wales and our fantastic vaccination programme. It is important that everyone continues to follow the rules and the guidance to help keep themselves and their loved ones safe, including taking up the offer of a booster vaccine if they haven’t already done so.”

On Friday 28th January, Wales will complete the move to alert level zero.

This means:

  • Nightclubs will re-open.
  • Businesses, employers, and other organisations must continue to undertake a specific coronavirus risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus.
  • The general requirement of 2m social distancing in all premises open to the public and workplaces will be removed.
  • The rule of six will no longer apply to gatherings in regulated premises, such as hospitality, cinemas, and theatres.
  • Licensed premises will no longer need to only provide table service and collect contact details.
  • Working from home will remain part of advice from the Welsh Government but it will no longer be a legal requirement.
  • The Covid Pass will continue to be required to enter larger indoor events, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres, and concert halls.

The self-isolation rules for everyone who tests positive for Covid and the face-covering rules, which apply in most public indoor places will remain in force after 28th January. The next three-weekly review of the coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 10th February, when the Welsh Government will review all the measures at alert level zero.

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