Monday, December 19, 2011

Concern about the safety of children’s services in Neath Port Talbot

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black, has called on the Deputy Minister for Social Services, Gwenda Thomas to closely monitor children’s services in Neath Port Talbot following the publication of a highly critical inspection report.

Although the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales said that there had been improvements in the Council’s children and young people’s service, they identified a number of factors which they said ‘impact on the authority's ability to provide a safe, high quality responsive service.’

These factors include the loss of experienced practitioners, a continuing high turnover of staff, the reliance on agency staff, high case loads for social workers, an increase in the volume and complexity of referrals, and inconsistent case recording. The inspectorate concluded: ‘Taken together these factors pose a significant risk in respect of ensuring the welfare and safety of children in the authority.’

Mr Black said: “I am very concerned about this report and the picture it paints of the way that Neath Port Talbot Children’s Services operates. I have dealt with a constituent recently, whose experience of working with Neath Port Talbot’s Childrens’ Services raised many questions about how that section operates, its processes and the way that they manage risk. In fact I was so concerned that I met with the Deputy Minister to ask her to intervene. I know too that there have been a number of serious case reviews that also ask serious questions of the department.

“I will now be seeking assurances that there will be much closer monitoring of the weaknesses identified by this report and that a further inspection is held within the next 12 months so as to confirm improvements are continuing to be made. The Welsh Government must not rule out a direct intervention if things do not improve.”

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lull in new house building will hit first time buyers hard says Welsh Liberal Democrat


A drop in the number of new homes being started in Wales will keep prices at unaffordable levels and add to the problems of first time buyers, the Welsh Liberal Democrat housing spokesperson, Peter Black has said.


During April to June 2011, 1,205 new dwellings were started, down by 31 per cent on the same quarter in 2010 and down by 7 per cent on the number started during April to June 2009.


The low level of starts over recent years has resulted in a significant decrease in completions. Numbers remained low for the first half of 2011-12, with the July to September 2011 quarter seeing the lowest number of completions ever recorded during a quarter (quarterly data was first recorded in January to March 1974).


“Although there has been a very slight drop in house prices in Wales, this disappointing fall in both starts and completions will keep prices at unaffordable levels for many families, as demand continues to outstrip supply. It will add to the problems faced by first time buyers in getting onto the housing ladder,” said Mr. Black.


“The housing situation in Wales is desperate. The Welsh government has identified that there needs to be 14,200 new homes built each year of which 5,100 are affordable. Neither figure is being met. The number of new affordable homes in particular continues to drag along at about half what is needed.


“There must be urgent action to help first time buyers through this crisis in particular, with the introduction of a deposit guarantee scheme in Wales, along the lines of that introduced in England.


“We also need to urgently get on with the job of providing more affordable homes by actively using alternative funding methods such as bonds and building new homes at differing rent levels, so as to reflect the ability of potential tenants to pay. That would generate income streams that can then be used to increase the number of houses and flats that housing associations can build.”



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Statement by Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg

Support for Europe has always been a cornerstone of what our party stands for. Recent days have been tough for pro-Europeans in our country, but I am clear that it is in Britain’s national interest to remain at the heart of Europe.

As I have made clear since Friday, I am bitterly disappointed by the outcome of last weeks summit, which ended with the UK in a minority of one. There is now a real danger that over time the UK will be isolated and marginalised within the EU and as a consequence, our influence in the world will shrink. That is not good for jobs and growth; and will do nothing for struggling families across the country.

There is no doubt that we were in a difficult position because of the refusal to compromise from some member states and the eurosceptics in the Conservative Party. It was clear that some combination of guarantees on the operation of the single market, including in financial services, was necessary if we were going to ensure the safe passage of the package through Parliament. I regret the negotiations failed to arrive at a compromise, as I had hoped.

It is important that we now look to the future. That's why I, as a Liberal Democrat in this Coalition Government will do everything I can to make sure that this setback does not become a permanent divide. I am determined that we redouble our leadership on things like the single market, the environment, foreign policy, and defence - all the things that we need to do at a European level.

All my political life I have believed that Britain is stronger, better, greater when we lead and when we stand tall in Europe. Now, more than ever, we need a strong Liberal Democrat voice inside government making this case.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Statement about a child

Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats make the following response to the recent press release by a far right political organisation:

It was established at a court hearing in Cardiff that an unauthorised act of removal of a minor took place in the United States, and that Councillor Keith Davies was unreasonably denied access to relevant files by officers of Neath Port Talbot county borough. Liberal Democrat members of the council made it clear that we dissociated ourselves from the council's actions then and subsequently. In view of the injunction which we understand still holds in relation to events in the United Kingdom, it would be irresponsible to go further. However, people should not be seduced into voting for a party, whose ethos is anything but democratic, which is flouting court orders and which is taking advantage of a hard case to its own ends.

Councillor Keith Davies and fellow Liberal Democrat council members remain ready to assist Linda Lewis at any time should she call on us to do so. Aberavon & Neath Liberal Democrats are committed to improvements in children's services in Neath Port Talbot.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

UK LibDem becomes ELDR leader

Congratulations to Sir Graham Watson, MEP for South-West England & Gibraltar, on being elected to the presidency of the European Liberal Democrat And Reform Party in the European Parliament.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Assembly Member calls for energy companies to ‘come clean’ over cheque costs

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black has called for the energy companies to come clean over the premium that they charge to customers who pay their bills by cheque.

Mr. Black was reacting to a survey produced by Which? Which showed that on average customers who pay their dual-fuel bills by cheque are being charged almost £100 a year more than those who pay by direct debit.

Mr Black, who is the Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Social Justice said:
“While nobody disputes that it must cost more for the energy companies to process a cheque payment rather than one that is made by direct debit, there is real doubt that it costs an average of £100 a year for each and every customer who does so. These companies need to come clean over cheque processing costs.

“Many customers already suspect the energy companies of ripping them off by pushing up prices as quickly as possible when wholesale prices rise, but dragging their feet when wholesale prices fall. This latest research will simply confirm the suspicions of many people that the big power companies are abusing their dominance of the market.

“Other research has made it clear that older people, particularly those over 70, tend to use direct debits less than other sections of the population. This self-same group are one of those identified as suffering the most from fuel poverty. People on low incomes also want the control of using cheques rather than having a direct debit on their account. “The Big Six energy companies need to show us that they are not profiteering at the expense of those who pay by cheque.”

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Budget deal helps disadvantaged children & economic activity

Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, writes: "we came to an agreement with the Welsh government to start the funding for a Pupil Deprivation Grant – the Welsh equivalent of the Pupil Premium, one of the key Welsh Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges. We have also managed to convince the government to introduce an economic stimulus package worth £38.9 million.

"Like the Pupil Premium in England, we are assigning funding using the Free School Meals indicator – because it targets pupils directly and because of the strong link between Free School Meals and low attainment. This means that from April 2012, every child on free schools meals will attract an extra £450 of funding – no matter where they live, or what school they go to. This is a total Pupil Premium spending of £32 million, of which £20 million is brand new money for the education budget.

"Just two weeks ago the Welsh government lost a vote on its spending plans for the next year. The Welsh Liberal Democrats have consistently made clear, as I said in my speech at the Federal Party Conference in Birmingham, that we would only support a budget if there was substantial changes that offer more support for children from poorer backgrounds. I am proud to announce that we have achieved that today.

"On the 6th of December there will be a vote on the final budget. If the government’s budget was not to pass, an emergency provision would kick in whereby it would be cut by 5%. The consequences for Wales would have been dire. The Welsh Liberal Democrats have proven that we are a responsible party that is willing to make the big decisions in the interests of Wales.

"We may have a small group in the National Assembly, but our influence in these budget negotiations will have a big impact on children’s lives. Thanks to the Welsh Liberal Democrats, we are making huge steps in starting to break the link, school by school, community by community, between poverty and achievement that has dogged our education system for so long.

"The £38.9 million economic stimulus package we have also agreed is absolutely vital if we are to take action to tackle joblessness using initiatives to build valuable skills.

"The package comprises:

· Young Recruits Programme

· Skills Growth Wales

· Capital Investment in Schools

· Cardiff Housing Project

· Community Energy Saving Programme

· Social Housing

· Enterprise Zones



But let me be clear, this is purely an agreement about the budget for next year. With Labour lacking the 'comfortable majority' they predicted before the election, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have had the opportunity to influence the direction of our country. I am proud we have today done this in such a positive way."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tackling youth unemployment in Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend

Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg has announced a £1 billion pound Youth Contract to tackle youth unemployment, which aims to ensure that all jobless young people are earning or learning again before long-term damage is done.

In Swansea, 1,905 18-24 year olds are currently in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance and would stand to benefit from the Youth Contract. The figure for Neath Port Talbot is 1,305 whilst in Bridgend 1,265 18-24 year olds receive JSA and could potentially benefit from this initiative.

Starting next April, the Youth Contract will provide at least 410,000 new work places for 18 to 24 year olds into work over the next three years. This includes 160,000 wage subsidies and 250,000 new work experience placements.

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black welcomed the new programme:

“In these difficult times Liberal Democrats are doing the right thing and making sure we help those who need it most.

“If young people are out of work, the consequences of that will be felt for decades afterwards. We need to ensure that the young people of today do not have a false start.

“The Youth Contract will help those who need it most through advice, support, training and by giving people in Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend the experience necessary to be successful in the work place.

“While we’re clearing up the economic mess that Labour left behind, the Coalition Government is ensuring that our children do not bear the consequences of Labour’s mistakes.

“As a Liberal Democrat, I am proud that the Coalition Government is doing the right thing to prevent another lost generation.”


Commenting further, Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg said:

“Youth unemployment is an economic waste and a slow-burn social disaster.

“We can’t lose the skills and talent of our young people – right when we need them most. We can’t afford to leave our young men and women on the scrap heap. We need the next generation to help us build a new economy.

“The aim of the Youth Contract is to get every unemployed young person working or learning again before long-term damage is done.

“This is a £1bn package and what’s different about it is that it gets young people into proper, lasting jobs in the private sector.”

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Jenny Willott slates Labour over WCA, welcomes coalition improvements

http://www.libdemvoice.org/jenny-willott-mp-writes-harrington-better-assessments-better-outcomes-25981.html

Monday, November 21, 2011

Liberal Democrats still restraining Tories

Cllr Frank Little writes: Contrary to Peter Rees's ludicrous assertion* that LibDems were "propping up" a Tory government, there is yet further evidence that Liberal Democrats within the coalition act as a restraint on the Thatcherite urges of some Conservatives. From http://www.politicshome.com/uk/article/39967/the_lib_dem_brakes_are_still_on.html:

"It's clear that the Lib Dem brakes on the Tories are as effective today as they were back in the distant days of May 2010.

"In just three hours, we've had three different examples today of the way the Libs are constraining Tory ambitions:

"1. 50p tax rate.

"Many Tories are hoping that George Osborne's review of the 50p tax rate will lead to its abolition sooner rather than later. But Danny Alexander, who may know a little about how the Treasury's review is coming along, told SkyNews:

'It's very very important indeed that we continue to ensure that the wealthiest in society pay a fair contribution. That's what the 50p rate is doing. We'll see what the numbers show; I expect it is making money for the Government.'

"Yes, you read that right 'making money for the Government'. Conservatives were cheered in September when the Telegraph splashed on claimes that the 50p rate was actually costing the Treasury half a billion pounds, rather than raising any money.

"FullFact.org checked this claim and found the jury was out on whether the IFS had indeed found that the tax was not making the Exchequer any dough.

"Accountancy Age posted an excellent analysis of the 50p rate and concluded that given all the uncertainties the only clear thing was that the decision would ultimately be a political rather than an economic one.



"2. Strike laws.

"Francis Maude said on Marr this morning that if unions continued to strike then the case for increasing the threshold on ballots 'will become more pressing'.

"Yet within an hour, Danny was making clear the Libs were much less keen. He confirmed the issue was under review but said that changing the law was 'not the main response to these strikes'.

"Vince Cable has made plain that he does not want to embark on a union-bashing round of sub-Tebbit strike laws. He would prefer a new duty to keep services running rather than any threshold rise for ballots.

"3. Beecroft plans.

"Cable appears to have trounced Steve Hilton and some others in Number 10 who wanted the 'fire at will' plans proposed by Beecroft.

"Lord Heseltine, who don't forget has the PM's ear on many matters, was scathing on the Politics Sbow today about the idea that making it easier to fire people would help the economy.

"Hezza said that no business worth its salt would be making investment decisions on the basis of whether it could fire more people right now. He also said that in pure political terms the dangers of the Coalition being seen to attack workers in the downturn was not sensible:

'You don't want to make life rougher and tougher for large numbers of people you want to vote for you.'

"There, in a nutshell, is the Lib Dem/Cameroon credo that guides this Coalition and puts a brake on more radical Tory policies.

"No wonder many Conservative backbenchers are frustrated."

*The Deputy Leader of Labour-controlled Neath Port Talbot made the accusation in the budget discussion at the last council meeting, in a closing speech which allowed no opportunity for rebuttal.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Welsh LibDems increase pressure on government over solar electricity

William Powell AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development, is calling on the Westminster Government to reconsider its recent announcement of a reduction in Feed-in-Tariffs (FITs): the price that is paid to people who generate their own electricity and sell the surplus back to the National Grid.

Under the current FITs scheme, those who fit solar panels to existing properties can sell any surplus power back to the Grid for 43.3p/KWh. The Government is proposing to reduce this rate to 21p/KWh for installations registered and fitted after 12th December, 2011.

William Powell, National Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales, said:

“I fear that this proposed change could undermine the Government’s commitment to reducing our carbon footprint and the promotion of renewable energy. It could act as a major disincentive for families and those who run community facilities to fit solar panels, and seriously jeopardises the UK’s ability to reach its renewable energy targets.”

“I recognise that the FITs scheme has been a victim of its own success, with nearly three times as many applications received than anticipated, making the initial rates unsustainable in the medium to long term. However, I believe that by making this premature announcement, while the consultation on FITs reform is still underway, the UK Government is risking our long term renewable energy requirements for short term savings.”

“This proposal may threaten not only domestic green energy generation, but also the very green jobs agenda that we all want to promote. I have today written to Chris Huhne, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, to urge him to reconsider these proposals and continue with the consultation process in order to achieve a fairer alternative.”

On the wider UK front, the Local Government Association and the LGA Liberal Democrat Group are lobbying the Government over the proposed reduction in the Feed in Tariff rate for solar power on 12th December. While they appreciate the hard work done by Lib Dems in government over renewable energy, such as allowing local authorities to sell energy to the national grid (previous Conservative and Labour governments banned councils from doing this); they are calling on the government to protect community run schemes - including those run or planned by councils - by extending the cut-off date for these schemes to the end of the financial year. We accept that the tariff had to be cut but are concerned at the short notice given for the reduction.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Vale John Moth


Much-loved member John Moth died in hospital on November 8th 2011. We asked Sheila Waye, a fellow carer for children, to write a short appreciation.

John Moth, aged 77 years, was a very well-known local figure in Neath and played an active role in his Church, The Mission Hall. John will be remembered for the many altruistic endeavours in his life, not the least of which were his 15 years in a foster parent capacity. In political circles he was a helpful, staunch and active member of the Welsh Liberal Democrat Party always giving of his time willingly. Perhaps the most fitting remembrance for John, particularly at this time of the year is that John was an ex-army man. His military career, was noted by the fact that he served in Korea, serving his country and his fellow soldiers in the Catering Corps. John Moth had an immense impact on all those who met him, touching every life in his own inimitable way.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

UK Government urged to reconsider its Feed-in-Tariff proposals for alternative energy

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black has added his voice to calls for the Westminster Government to reconsider its recent announcement of a reduction in Feed-in-Tariffs (FITs): the price that is paid to people who generate their own electricity and sell the surplus back to the National Grid.

Under the current Feed-in-Tariffs scheme, those who fit solar panels to existing properties can sell any surplus power back to the Grid for 43.3p/KWh. The Government is proposing to reduce this rate to 21p/KWh for installations registered and fitted after 12th December, 2011.

"The Welsh Liberal Democrat Group in the Assembly are concerned that this proposed change will undermine the Government's commitment to reducing our carbon footprint and the promotion of renewable energy," said Mr. Black. "It could act as a major disincentive for families and those who run community facilities to fit solar panels, and seriously jeopardises the UK's ability to reach its renewable energy targets."

"I am also concerned at the impact of these changes on local jobs. One local electrical company who contacted me expressed serious concerns about the speed with which this change is being implemented. He said that the backlash from customers has been massive already; with many cancelling, and requesting refund of their deposits. At the same time, his company are attempting to secure two to three times the proposed levels of stock, to allow them to get through as many customers as possible within the time allocated. He did not know if the company would survive the week."

"There is no doubt that the FITs scheme has been a victim of its own success, with nearly three times as many applications received than anticipated, making the initial rates unsustainable in the medium to long term. However, I believe that by making this premature announcement, while the consultation on FITs reform is still underway, the UK Government is risking our long term renewable energy requirements for short term savings. The Government needs to rethink and I very much welcome the fact that the Welsh Liberal Democrat Environment Spokesperson, William Powell has written to Chris Huhne, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, to urge him to reconsider."

Monday, November 07, 2011

Liz Lynne to retire

Liz Lynne, Liberal Democrat MEP since 1999, and a former MP for Rochdale, has announced her retirement from active politics next January. Her place in Brussels will be taken by Phil Bennion.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Welsh government kills high-value jobs prospects for bay area

South Wales West Liberal Democrat Assembly Member, Peter Black has written to the Welsh Government’s Business and Enterprise Minister, Edwina Hart seeking an explanation after a potential investment that would have brought 100 high value jobs to the Swansea area was lost following her decision to end a research-based funding scheme without proper consultation.

Mr. Black has raised with the Minister reports in this morning’s press that the her decision to end European funding to University of Wales’ POWIS scholarships without putting any alternative scheme in place has led directly to a proposal to establish an IT development centre, which could have created up to 100 jobs in the Swansea area, being withdrawn.

The Western Mail reports that New Zealand-based software development company Pingar had been planning to set up a Centre for Knowledge Engineering here, but that it is now likely to choose the east of England instead.

John Beer, who was responsible for the project and who is himself a POWIS scholar is quoted as saying that there was a “lack of transparency” over the end of the POWIS scheme and that companies that had benefited from the project had learnt about its demise through the media rather than from government.

In his letter, Mr. Black asks the Minister to outline what contact her officials have had with this company and what communication the Welsh Government had with companies benefiting from POWIS about the decision to end funding. He asks how the Minister reassured these companies about funding for future research?

“From an outsider’s viewpoint it certainly seems to be the case that Mr. Beer’s suggestion that the future of collaboration has been wiped out in one fell swoop is correct,” said Mr. Black. “I am very concerned that the Swansea area is potentially losing one hundred much-needed high value jobs and I want to know what contact Welsh Government officials have had with this company to persuade them to change their mind.

“I am not questioning the assertion by Ministers that there were problems with the way that European funding was being used, they are in a better position to judge that than me. However, the way that the decision was put into effect has impacted upon a number of businesses and the future prosperity of Wales. The Minister needs to say when an alternative scheme will be up-and-running to address this imbalance.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Peter Black encourages Neath and Port Talbot residents to take back control of their energy bills

South Wales West Liberal Democrat Assembly Member, Peter Black has teamed up with the Energy Saving Trust on behalf of his constituents in Swansea, Neath, Port Talbot and Bridgend that the average home in Wales can save up to £280 a year by being energy efficient.

He says that with the cost of energy bills on the rise there’s no better time than now for householders to take back control of their bills. He urged householders to take advantage of Energy Saving Week between 24th and 28th October 2011 to learn more about the options available to them.

As people in Wales face ever increasing energy bills, Mr. Black was informed that everyday items such as TVs and computers are responsible for a staggering 34 per cent of the UK’s carbon production.

He was shown a number of nifty gadgets which can make day-to-day life easier whilst helping to reduce bills. One such item was the Eco Kettle. If everybody in the UK switched to an Energy Saving Trust Recommended kettle, then £270million in electricity could be saved annually.

He was told that other household swaps like switching traditional bulbs for new, energy efficient ones can also make a huge difference. Newer style Energy Saving Trust Recommended bulbs last ten times longer than their predecessor and cost just £2 each, meaning a substantial saving of between £45 and £70 over its lifetime.

Duncan McCombie, Energy Saving Trust director of operations for Wales, said: “It’s been a pleasure to team up with Peter Black for Energy Saving Week.

“Just a few small changes to day-to-day life can have a profound impact on the amount of energy being consumed and the carbon being produced as a nation. Energy saving works best when it doesn’t mean huge lifestyle changes. We are all suffering from increasingly hectic lifestyles, and this Energy Saving Week we’re really pushing the concept that changes needn’t be difficult in order to take control of your bills.”

Mr. Black added: “We are all responsible for contributing to reducing Wales’ carbon footprint. The cash savings that could go hand in hand with cutting energy use in households, means in these economic times, that there’s never been a more prudent time to take up these tips.

“I’d urge people across South Wales West to use Energy Saving Week as a kick-start to following a few simple changes in a bid to reduce carbon emissions in their area.”

This Energy Saving Week the Energy Saving Trust is offering householders in Wales the chance to win five top energy saving gadgets and an in-home visit from the ‘Energy Doctor’ who will help identify ways in which the winning home could save money on energy bills. To enter the competition please visit www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/wales

For more top tips on energy saving go to www.energysavingtrust.org.uk


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Welsh Government is failing to deal with housing crisis says Assembly Member


The Welsh Liberal Democrats Housing Spokesperson, Peter Black has called on the Welsh Government to do more to tackle the housing crisis facing Wales.

Speaking at the his party’s autumn conference in Wrexham, Mr. Black said too many people are struggling to get a home of their own.

“The House Builders Federation estimates that there are 100,000 Welsh families on housing waiting lists, with first-time buyers needing an average deposit of around £30,000.

They say that only 918 new homes were registered in the first three months of the year, compared to 1,120 last year, despite rises in housebuilding across the UK.

The Welsh Government's own research says that we need 14,200 new homes in Wales each year of which 5,100 need to be affordable.

We have already fallen behind that target by 9,500 homes

The Welsh Government’s response has been pitiful.

They have cut the budget for new social housing and so far all we have had is a deafening silence on how they are going to tackle this crisis.

At least the One Wales Government had a target as to how many additional affordable homes they planned to build, even if they did fail to meet it.

Under Labour we are back to vague promises and hopeless inaction.

If we do not build new homes then we will not be able to bring prices down.

If we do not provide more homes for people to rent then they will remain in desperate need of a roof over their head that they can call their own.

If we do not put in additional help for first time buyers then they will never be able to afford a mortgage to secure their first home.

I recognise that public finances are tight but if we think outside of the box then we can start to tackle this problem.

There are 26,000 empty private sector homes in Wales that can be brought back into use but we are still waiting for the government to give us the leadership and the tools to deliver.

Proposals to raise £100 million of private finance for new affordable homes have been on the cards for years with little or no progress and now it seems that the Labour government has given up on this plan as well.”


Monday, October 17, 2011

Ticking time bombs

Pensions minister Steve Webb flanked by Neath's Mathew McCarthy and Jenny Willott MP

Frank Little writes: One of the benefits of belonging to a party which is in power, albeit only in coalition, is that one gets to question ministers of the crown. On Saturday in Wrexham, Steve Webb, Liberal Democrat MP and pensions minister in the DWP, joined two officers of care organisations on a panel to be quizzed by Liberal Democrat conference representatives. Being a LibDem gathering, there were rather fewer soft questions than one would expect at a Labour or Conservative rally, but Steve dealt efficiently with everything that was thrown at him, as one would expect from an expert in the field of pensions.

He described one of the difficulties he inherited from Labour as a "ticking time-bomb". Labour before the election increased additions to Cold Weather and Winter Fuel Payments. However, these were only temporary measures and were scheduled to end within a year under Labour's deficit-cutting plans. He was at least able to set a higher CWP. (There is more in a speech Steve made to London LibDems)

On public sector pensions, he said that there was no alternative to renegotiating the funding of local authority schemes because of promises which had been made causing the schemes to be unsustainable on the present funding formula. The only alternative to a new settlement was massive taxation. He described the previous settlement under Gordon Brown's administration as "a cop-out". He emphasised that, even under the coalition government's proposals, local authority workers would still have pension provision better than most of the private sector.


Welsh Lib Dems call for moratorium on fracking


At the autumn conference of the Welsh Liberal Democrats held in Wrexham last weekend, a topical motion proposed by Eluned Parrott AM on behalf of the Vale of Glamorgan party called for a pause in preparations for shale gas exploitation in Wales. She pointed out that the technical briefing on mineral extraction made available to planning authorities was out-of-date, since it did not cover the technique of hydraulic fracturing. Speakers drew attention to the probable contamination of ground water and seismic events which have been attributed to hydraulic fracturing in parts of the United States. Cllr Frank Little stressed that action was overdue, since applications for exploratory drilling were pending, or had been granted, in many parts of South Wales.

The full text of the motion is as follows:

Conference notes that Hydraulic fracturing, also known as
‘fracking,’ is the process of drilling down and creating tiny
explosions to shatter and crack hard shale rocks to release the
gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock
at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of
the well. The process is carried out vertically or, more commonly,
by drilling horizontally to the rock layer. The process can create
new pathways to release gas or can be used to extend existing
channels.
Conference further notes that:
1. There is an ongoing application to allow fracking at Llandow
in the Vale of Glamorgan, part of which was heard by the
Planning Committee of Vale of Glamorgan Council on 26th
September 2011
2. Fracking has been suspended in Blackpool pending further
investigation
3. France is maintaining a ban on fracking until there is proof
that shale gas exploration won’t harm the environment
4. The Welsh Government has failed to clearly outline a policy
on hydraulic fracturing.
Conference calls for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until
such time as it can be proven that it represents a low risk to the
environment and wider community.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Liberals part of Danish Social Democrat-led government

Liberal International reports that Det Radikale Ventre, a Danish founding member of LI, has received 6 Ministerial portfolios in the new three-party coalition government. They garnered 9.5% of the votes (up from 5.1%) and 17 seats in the parliament. The party leader Margrethe Vestager will become Minister of Economy and Home Affairs. “We must show that we will definitely enter, participate and contribute to European cooperation”, said Mrs. Vestager, asserting that DRV will ensure that Danish politics embodies a clearly liberal and internationalist direction. Among the six ministers is the country's first foreign born cabinet minister, Manu Sareen (originally from India), who has been given the Ecclesiastical and Equality Ministry. The new Danish government announced its agenda in which they will ease strict immigration rules and scrap a “points-based system” which is used to determine immigration eligibility. LI's other Danish member Venstre, led by former Prime Minister Lars L√łkke Rasmussen, also managed to increase their seat count to 47, receiving the largest vote share in the country (over 26%).

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Peter Black slates Welsh budget as "too timid"

Responding to the publication of the draft Welsh Government budget Peter Black, Welsh Liberal Democrats’ Shadow Finance Minister, and AM for South Wales West, said:

“Welsh Liberal Democrats have two overriding objectives for this draft budget: to improve education funding in Wales and to re-boot the Welsh economy and provide training and hope for those without work. Sadly, this ‘bare minimum’ budget is far too timid to make the difference that Wales needs.

“With just one in five children on free school meals, the poorest children, achieving 5 good GCSE’s A*-C, this budget should have taken seriously the need to close the £604 per pupil schools funding gap for children, directing extra help to the to the children that need extra help the most first. The modest increase in schools funding is welcome but does not begin to provide the kind of resources Welsh children need and deserve.

“Labour continues to promote the same failed public sector programs aimed at tackling unemployment. As long as the budget ignores the need to encourage private sector jobs by incentivising employers that take on new trainees, it will fail to provide the boost the Welsh economy needs.

“As we analyse and debate the draft budget over the coming weeks, the Welsh Liberal Democrats will continue to press the case for education and skills to receive the priority they deserve.”

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Case for electrification west of Cardiff undermined by Welsh Government’s failure to engage claims AM

The case for extending the electrification of the main line to Swansea has been undermined by the failure of the Welsh Government to fully engage with the business case, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black has claimed.

Mr. Black was responding to the contents of a Freedom of Information request to the Department for Transport on how the business case for electrification was put together. The Minister of State in that department reveals that she and her colleagues ‘worked very closely with the Welsh Government to consider how the case for electrification to Swansea could be improved. Unfortunately no further services other than the hourly London train could be identified by the Welsh Government for conversion to electric operation.’

This contradicts the business case being drawn up by Swansea Council, local MPs and other campaigners who are concerned that there is no reference in the Government’s plans to freight trains, whose performance can be significantly enhanced by swapping diesel locomotives for electric. Port Talbot steelworks is one of Britain’s biggest industrial destinations and origins for freight trains, and Network Rail says 15% of the UK’s rail freight passes through Cardiff.

They say that also missing from the document is an acknowledgment of existing and future local passenger services west of Cardiff such as the hourly service between Maesteg and Cardiff, which is due to become half-hourly in the next few years. This could switch from diesel to electric by a simple extension of power supply along the single-track Bridgend-Maesteg branch. There is also a local train every two hours between Cardiff and Swansea, serving smaller stations such as Pyle and Skewen.

Commenting on the Minister’s letter, Mr. Black said that although the Welsh Government argues that it wants to extend electrification to Swansea, its early engagement with UK civil servants had undermined the business case for that work.

“I am concerned that the Welsh Government failed to argue the cause for full electrification convincingly and that they left the Department of Transport with the impression that the Swansea to Cardiff route was just a branch line. They were not batting for Wales.

“I am sure that if they had put the case forward as it is now being argued then we could have got electrification for the full length of the main line as part of the original announcement.”

Friday, September 23, 2011

Assembly Member to hold advice surgery in Neath

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black, will be holding an advice surgery in Neath next Friday. On 30th September he will be in Neath Central Library from 5pm to 6pm.

No appointment is necessary.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kirsty Williams speech to Conference


"Labour's poor services do poor people down": http://welshlibdems.org.uk/en/article/2011/517411/labour-s-poor-services-do-poor-people-down-kirsty-williams-speech-to-conference


Supervote News

There will be a Special General Meeting of DAGGER (Liberal Democrat Action Group for Gaining Electoral Reform) in Cheltenham on 12th November. The location is St Matthews Church Hall, Clarence Street, which is near the bus station, and proceedings start at 13:00.

The Group, which has Baroness Nicholson and Liz Lynne MEP among its vice-presidents, exists to promote long-standing party policy of election to the UK parliament by Single Transferable Vote in Multi-Member Constituencies (STV), the system used in Irish parliaments, north and south, and in Scottish local elections.

DAGGER says of Gender Balance in Parliament: "To get women into Parliament in the first place requires getting their names onto the Ballot Paper. The best way to do this is by adopting a voting system which offers a list of candidates who may be voted for in order of preference.

"This can be achieved most effectively by STV. The Scandinavian countries have a similar system, hence their higher number of women MPs, Ministers etc., including two women Prime Ministers in recent years. And can it be a coincidence that the Scandinavian countries, which then employ the talents of all their people, are centuries ahead of the male-run countries?"


Nick Clegg's speech

The party leader's speech to Federal Conference 2011, with commentary by Mark Pack, is here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Latest from Birmingham

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Monday at Liberal Democrat conference

See Mark Pack's round-up here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Vince Cable at LibDem autumn conference

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14967061

Video review of Liberal Democrat autumn conference

LibDems call for evidence-based drugs policy

In Birmingham yesterday, Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference carried a motion calling for an independent panel to review current drug laws.

Commenting, Co-Chair of the Home Affairs Parliamentary Party Committee, Tom Brake MP said:

“Drugs can have a devastating impact on individuals and families and can fuel organised crime. Evidence shows that our current drug policy is costly, ineffective and it is the poor and marginalised who suffer most.

“Today, Liberal Democrats reaffirmed our support for an evidenced based drugs policy, calling for an independent panel to review current drug laws.

“We want to ensure the Government has a clear focus on prevention and reducing harm by investing in education, treatment and rehabilitation, and moving away from criminalising individuals and vulnerable drug users.

“We need proper regulation and investment if we are to get to the root of the battle with drugs. Liberal Democrats are the only party prepared to debate these issues.”


Nick Clegg: Immoral to drop 50p tax

See Nick Clegg's interview on The Politics Show here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Kirsty Williams: “Welsh Government action on Enterprise Zones is now urgent”


Commenting on the UK Government’s announcement of further wave of Enterprise Zones in England, Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said:

“We have known since March that the UK government would be promoting Enterprise Zones in England.

“We already know that Zones will be established in Bristol and Liverpool. Today’s announcement by the UK Government that they will create further Zones, including one in Hereford, makes the need for Welsh Government action all the more urgent to ensure that Wales can compete in attracting investment and creating jobs, particularly near the border.

“The Welsh Government must urgently develop a strategy to help businesses set up in deprived areas by creating preferential business rates and incentives for training and capital investment or risk Wales falling further behind England.”


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Assembly Member to hold advice surgeries in Maesteg and Port Talbot

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black, will be holding advice surgeries next week.

He will be in Maesteg Library on Friday 19th August from 2pm to 3pm and then be available at Port Talbot Central Library from 3.30pm to 4.30pm.

No appointment is necessary.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wales must reform business rates to help businesses and aid regeneration

Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member, Peter Black and the party’s Parliamentary Spokesperson in Swansea West, Peter May have jointly called on the Welsh Government to follow the example of Ministers in Westminster and give Councils the right to set local business rates and keep the revenue they generate.

Currently, local councils collect business rates (technically, the National Non Domestic Rate) on behalf of central government. The Welsh Government then redistributes money to councils in the form of the Revenue Support Grant, according to a population-based formula.

"Under the current local government funding system, government dishes out grant allocations to councils each year based on an incomprehensible formula that is far too complex and lacking in transparency," said Peter May. "Councils are left at the whim of the formula-setter in Whitehall and Cardiff Bay, and there is no incentive to promote business growth either. All you get are the extra HGVs, but none of the rates income."

He went on: "Under the new system being proposed by Liberal Democrat Local Government Minister, Andrew Stunell, councils in England will be able to keep the money raised by business rates in their own area. They will then benefit from any future growth in local businesses by keeping the extra revenue generated through the rates system. In addition, Councils will also have the power to borrow against this future income so as to invest in regenerating run-down areas. This could be a a win-win for Swansea, subject only to some safeguards for rural councils and others with lower business rate bases.”

Peter Black added: “The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe that the business rate system is not fit for purpose. We want to see these reforms apply in Wales as well. That will also enable Councils to help small businesses who invest in improving their premises or who are struggling to survive. The Welsh Government cannot ignore this important reform in England. Welsh councils need tools like this to boost their local economy. They should be given them.”

Enquiries by Aberavon & Neath Liberal Democrats suggest that the immediate advantage to Neath Port Talbot is not so clear-cut, bearing in mind the loss of BP, a large ratepayer, and the scaling back of other industries in the borough. However, re-localisation would give more flexibility to Neath Port Talbot finances and transparency for the residents, as well as reducing administrative costs in Cardiff.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Kirsty Williams announces Liberal Democrat portfolios

"William Powell, with his roots in the rural community, is well placed to represent rural Wales. He is a member of the Farming Union of Wales so he will be able to speak for farmers with confidence in the Chamber. William also serves on the committee of the Lloyd George Society – a true liberal.

"Aled Roberts takes on the education portfolio. During his tenure as leader of Wrexham Council, they boosted the GCSE results of the pupils in the county. Aled has already, on his first day back, called for the Labour Government to introduce a pupil premium in Wales given that that the Welsh equivalent of Ofsted recently said that pupils from poorer backgrounds do not have the same opportunities as their wealthier counterparts.

"Our new Assembly Member for Wales South Central, Eluned Parrott, with her experience working with the higher education sector, will take on the business and enterprise portfolio.

"Peter Black takes on Local Government and Housing and I will be Shadow Minister for health. We will be ready to support the Welsh Government where we agree; however, we will not be afraid to criticise when the Welsh Government gets it wrong."


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The disbarred members - a statement by the LibDem leader

Statement from Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats:

“Tomorrow, Assembly Members will be asked to consider whether it is proper to lift the disqualification of Aled Roberts and John Dixon. The advice of Gerard Elias QC enables them to do so with regard to the facts of each case.

“The Elias report treats each case differently, since the circumstances are very different.

“In the case of Aled Roberts, Gerard Elias has confirmed that ‘at each stage of his selection and nomination process, Aled Roberts followed the guidance provided to him by the Electoral Commission and mirrored on the National Assembly website’. He also confirms that the information provided to him referred him to incorrect guidance. Finally, he says that he finds that ‘Aled Roberts did eveything that he could reasonably been expected to do in ensuring that he was not a disqualified person.’

“Gerard Elias also deals with the fact that the guidance offered to Aled Roberts in the medium of Welsh was incorrect and states that ‘he was entitled to assume that the Welsh version would mirror the English version at all times and in every respect.’

“I would like to welcome the statement by the Electoral Commission who have acknowleged their error and offered an apology.

“It is clear that this is a case of enormous importance to the future of the equality of the Welsh language, to the reputation of the Assembly and to Welsh devolution. I will do everything I can to perasuade colleagues that Aled Roberts should take his rightful place in the Assembly. Based on the contents of the Elias report, it is hard to see how any reasonable person could conclude otherwise.

“In the case of John Dixon, Gerard Elias concludes that “he honestly believed that he was eligible to be a member of the National Assembly”. However, he also concludes that he had a responsibility to check the Order but did not do so. I have already accepted the responsibility that the Welsh Liberal Democrats share in this failiure.

“It has always been my view that the disqualification of both men should be lifted. Whatever the rights and wrongs of either case, to impose a ban on either from taking up their seats represents a punishment out of proportion to any error made.

“However, given that Gerard Elias’ report makes clear that the responsiblity to check the Order rested with John Dixon, I do not believe that there is any likelihood of a majority of Assembly Members being persuaded to disregard the disqualification.

“It is with huge regret therefore that the Welsh Liberal Democrats, with John’s agreement, have decided to withdraw the motion to disregard the disqualification of John Dixon.

“John has already served the public diligently and with distinction on Cardiff Council. I have no doubt that would have been an enormously effective and hard working Assembly Member. He is paying a very high price for his mistake. It is personal tragedy for him and I desperately wish that it were different. But I cannot change the facts any more than I can change the opinions of Assembly Members.

“I hope now that Assembly Members will now be able to focus on the case of Aled Roberts and ensure that justice is done.”