Cardiff

Some Party leaders come to Wrexham for Election Debate

On Wednesday 30 March I attended the FSB Welsh Leaders’ Debate at the Catrin Finch Centre at Glyndwr University. I have a rather exciting story to share from the evening, but I don’t want to share it at the moment because I do not want to give away my political allegiances before the hustings that I have arranged with Sheila Meadows OBE at the end of the month.

Until then, here is the story of the evening as taken from Wrexham.com

 

With the Federation of Small Business hosting the event at Wrexham Glyndwr University the debate itself was a businesslike affair.

First Minster Carwyn Jones was subbed by Edwina Hart AM, with Mr Jones having understandable business regarding Tata Steel. Mark Reckless of Rochester and Strood fame stood in for UKIP’s Nathan Gill, with the other parties having their leadership lining up as promised – Andrew Davies from the Conservatives, Kirsty Williams from the Liberal Democrats and Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru.

Wrexham.com did offer to film and live stream the event, however organisers have said BBC Radio Wales will be ‘carrying the event’ in some form, so we will provide a link if/when we spot it, for now there is a summary of some of the points made and a few observations of the evening.

( UPDATE there is a 30 minute edit that you can listen to online, or download an MP3 of on the BBC website here )

The debate was fast paced crammed into an hour with topics focused on Welsh business and related subjects.

The initial question that dominated the first quarter of the discussions centred around the news over Tata Steel looking to dispose of their assets in the UK (More coverage on this can be found on Deeside.com, with the obvious Shotton interest).

The responses from the panel were along party lines nationally through today, with Labour stating it was not just a Welsh Government issue but global due to ‘dumping’ from China with a wish that the issue will ‘rise above politics’. Edwina Hart said she wanted to see a ‘fit for purpose’ steel industry in the UK as regardless of Tata or state owner it is making £1m per day claimed losses.

In a conciliatory tone the Conservative leader stated it was ‘vital’ that both the Welsh and UK Governments worked together, and that they were not against a ‘stake’ being taking in the business for a short while if it was so required. A ‘tit for tat tariff war’ was warned against, with a refusal of Chinese steel being linked to possible knock on effects to other demand such as Airbus planes.

UKIP cited the lack of protection from the EU over ‘dumping’, with Mr Reckless wanting the UK to stand alone to enable ‘anti dumping tariffs’. EU rules over clean energy were noted with new coal power plants being on UKIP’s agenda if the referendum votes ‘out’.

The Liberal Democrats echoed other views of steel being an ‘industry of national strategic importance’, explaining that Shotton appears to be the only profitable part of the Tata UK operation and concern over the lack of clarity to its future. Referring to the banking bail outs, Kirsty Williams said “We need to put our money where our mouth is” to similarly bail out the steel industry, saying governments spend money on things ‘a lot worse’ than saving jobs.

Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru introduced a political fight, challenging Labour’s record saying manufacturing had ‘not been a priority for years’, pointing out that the Conservatives had been lobbying for China to be granted market economy status – a move that would it is claimed have severe impact on the competitiveness of the UK steel industry. UKIP also had their nose tweaked as their EU argument was skewered with it pointed out regardless if the UK was in or out, there is still a Conservative Government in Westminster so the policy on China would not change.

Another question was asked over divides in spending, with the implication the M4 corridor in South Wales and Deeside get a bigger bite at the proverbial cherry than other areas. The M4 is currently due to get a £1 billion upgrade, with a controversial relief road being much debated. The various black and blue versions of routes were mentioned several times leaving a debate in North Wales with a question over a southern focus bruised.

All parties noted issues with the A55, with electrification of the North Wales mainline or associated transport link improvements also being seen as important by all. The dividing lines were drawn over the implementation of spending, with UKIP looking to develop links with the so called ‘Northern Powerhouse’ in a geographically imprecise area.

Edwina Hart challenged the view on the south getting a better deal than the north, saying that us here in the north get more per head spent on transport than the south. Looking at Andrew Davies, she also pointed out that the limits to cash available are due to the Conservative party in Westminster.

Kirsty Williams said there ‘was life outside of Cardiff and Newport’ and favoured a balanced regional approach, explaining how she was from mid-wales and therefore knows how it feels to be ‘not listened to’ by Cardiff. Leanne Wood went a step further saying Plaid Cymru would entrench fairness in spending into law to ensure there could be no geographical bias.

Wrexham.com has covered the mystery over the ‘deal’ for North Wales, and with the Chancellor George Osbourne putting it on par with a £1 billion city deal for Cardiff (signed and sealed) it did seem odd there was no mention of it. Andrew Davies reiterated that a strong economy was required for growth, and echoed UKIP’s view to ‘plug in’ to the Northern Powerhouse, explaining how he sees more east-west connections rather north-south.

With only twenty minutes remaining the last two questions about inward investment, tax reform, business rates and business support were answered in an often tangential manner.

Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru explained plans for Welsh Government to take equity stakes in new startups rather than straight grants, a system that would share the risk and reward.

Mark Reckless from UKIP said it was a ‘disgrace’ that the Severn Bridge tolls were to be kept under Conservative plans, with Andrew Davies from the Conservatives responding to abolish them would cost £15-20m and increase road use by 25%.

Kirsty Williams from the Liberal Democrats made the only mention of tourism, saying she welcomed more visitors and encouraged more to be done to promote Wales.

Edwina Hart from Labour spoke of her positive experiences of visiting classrooms and seeing entrepreneurial spirit from children however pondered when it was ‘knocked out of them’.

No large scale reforms of the business rates systems were proposed, with various tapers and reliefs being put forward by all to help business. Kirsty Williams did give a warning that any wholesale changes would need to be ‘very careful’ as her locality does not collect much in rates but gets much more benefit, and devolving collection and control to local authorities could exacerbate any finance gaps.

In what was quite a tranquil debate the only audience applause (and a whoop) occurred when Edwina Hart suggested that Andrew Davies’ Conservative Party could make large global corporates pay tax, presumably referring to the likes of Facebook and similar who paid £4,327 in corporation tax in the UK in 2014 despite making $2.9bn profit globally.

Mr Davies replied that more had been collected under the Conservatives recently than under the whole of the previous Labour Government, a similar applause then took place.

The event went well, with the BBC Wales host Brian Meechan conducting his work with a subtle touch, however after the meeting there was mutterings on the small scale of the event and inability to get tickets. One told us they had many interested friends who were unable to attend, with them disappointed the audience appeared ‘packed’ with ‘political types’ – we did spot a couple of candidates for various positions and members of their entourages sitting in.

There was a video link in place to Swansea, with one question posed via the connection, one wag after the meeting said: “We have a meeting about North Wales in North Wales and still South Wales gets focus”, although for those unaware of the M4 routes it would have been an educational experience.

Press Release: Disability Wales at risk of closure following funds shake-up

PRESS RELEASE
 
Disability Wales at risk of closure following funds shake-up
 
Following a Welsh Government funding change, as from the 1st of April 2016, DW will lose 68% of its income after its recent application to the Sustainable Social Services Third Sector Grant Scheme was turned down and risks closure in less than four months’ time.
 
Rhian Davies, Chief Executive of Disability Wales explains:
 
Since 1972 Disability Wales (DW) has received core funding from the Welsh Government’s Department for Health and Social Services to enable it to represent the voice of members with the aim of informing and influencing government policy. It has enabled DW to successfully influence priority issues for members such as Independent Living, Hate Crime and Access to the High Street as well as providing information and support to disabled people’s organisations around Wales.
 
Welsh Government decided to replace core funding arrangements to national third sector organisations with a new project based grant scheme called the Sustainable Social Services Third Sector Grant. The narrower focus of this grant aimed at delivery of social care services meant that DW as a rights and equality based umbrella organisation no longer fitted the funding criteria.”
 
Wendy Ashton, Chair of Disability Wales states:
 
“Losing the core grant from Welsh Government is a devastating blow particularly at a time when disabled people, who make up one fifth of the Welsh population, are experiencing cuts both to benefits and services.
 

In his speech to DW’s Annual Conference on 8 October, the Minister for Health and Social Services Prof Mark Drakeford AM paid tribute to the ‘impact’ which Disability Wales has had on the new Social Services and Well-being Act as well as the ‘exciting projects’ it is delivering including the development of citizen-led co-operatives to support people with managing their Direct Payments.
 

Disabled people form one fifth of the Welsh population and face higher levels of poverty than any other group of people with protected characteristics, a situation worsening by the day following continued UK government cuts in benefits and services.”
 
Simon Green Disabled Activist and Chair of Bridgend Coalition of Disabled People, a member of Disability Wales states:
 
Without Disability Wales there will be no national representative pan-impairment, barriers focussed body able to co-ordinate the views of disabled people and their organisations across Wales
 
“I think it will have a massive impact not just on Disability Wales but all the groups it represents including Bridgend Coalition of Disabled People.  Bridgend Coalition have benefited from being a member of Disability Wales for many years and if it wasn’t for Disability Wales we probably wouldn’t exist”
 
Rhian Davies:
 
“DW is in negotiation with Welsh Government regarding a short-term support package whilst a longer term solution is identified.  However, DW requires an urgent response and time is limited as we approach Christmas and the end of the financial year!  After more than 40 years as a national voice DW has less than four months to ensure its survival.  Who will fight for disabled people’s rights if DW is not there?!” 
  
Now the future looks uncertain for Caerphilly-based disability rights organisation. 
 

Hootankhamoon by Dale Evans

On September the 14th, I was travelling around South Birmingham searching for the fibreglass owls that make up The Big Hoot trail. One I found was number 88: Hootankhamoon by Dale Evans.

Visit my Virgin Money Giving page and please give generously in aid of Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

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Based in Cardiff, Dale Evans has worked as an artist / illustrator for many years.  Her botanical illustrations can be seen in the collections of the National Museum of Wales.  After completing an MA in Fine Art, Dale now works in a variety of media, and exhibits her own projects.

Visit my Virgin Money Giving page and please give generously in aid of Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

You say you want a revolution

PRESS RELEASE

Getting to the heart of the
Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014
 
Today, Disability Wales will host a conference on the new Social Services and Well-being Act for Wales. The event will be held at the Copthorne Hotel, Cardiff and chaired by Adrian Masters Political Editor for ITV Cymru Wales.
 
Speakers include Mark Drakeford AM Minister for Health and Social Services; Cathryn Thomas, Programme and Improvement Lead, Social Services Improvement Agency; Rhian Huws-Williams, Chief Executive, Care Council for Wales and Nathan Lee Davies, Disabled Activist from North Wales.
 
Rhian Davies, Chief Executive Disability Wales states:
 
“We look forward to hearing from a range of experts involved in the development of this Act.  An Act which promises to transform the way people experience social services across Wales. 
 
We are hoping for a lively debate and to provide opportunity for disabled people to have a say on how adult and children’s social services will operate in Wales come April 2016
 
We are 20 years on from the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, soon followed by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010.  We ask the question will this new Social Services Act for Wales uphold people’s rights and deliver the necessary support.”
 
Professor Mark Drakeford AM, Minister for Health and Social Services said:
 
“The Social Services and Well-being Act is a once in a generation chance to make social services sustainable for the future and ensure it responds to people’s needs. Disability Wales has made an important contribution to the Act and this conference is a great opportunity to discuss the way ahead.”
 
Nathan Davies, North Wales Disabled Activist States:
 
“The new Act promises much on paper, but disabled people must work with the authorities to ensure promises are kept and legislation is enforced. As a community, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels.”
 
Ted Shiress comedian and blogger will make an appearance to lighten the mood during the morning’s proceedings.  Ted was finalist in the Welsh Unsigned Stand-up Award 2010 and semi-finalist in 2011 and unique both in presence and attitude!
 
*ENDS*
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Midnight Moths by Alyn Smith

On September the 5th, I was traipsing around Birmingham City Centre searching for fibreglass owls. One I found was number 44: Midnight Moths by Alyn Smith.

Visit my Virgin Money Giving page and please give generously in aid of Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

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Alyn Smith is a professional artist and printmaker, based in Cardiff, who develops work using intricate handmade stencils and paper cuts.

Alyn takes influence from British past times, everyday objects and printed ephemera.  He produces work commercially, as well as his own limited edition screen prints.

Website: www.piedpigeonpress.co.uk

Visit my Virgin Money Giving page and please give generously in aid of Birmingham Children’s Hospital.