Monday, January 31, 2011

Tax & Benefits Package will hit richest hardest

The highest-earning households will lose most from the changes to taxes and benefits that are due to come into effect in April, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Full story at

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tory budget would see school spending gap rise to £881 per pupil

New figures released by the Welsh Liberal Democrats have revealed that Conservative budget proposals could see the spending gap between England and Wales rise to £881 per pupil. The new figures come the day after it was revealed that the Labour-Plaid government has allowed the spending gap per pupil to rise to a record level of £604 per pupil.

The Conservatives have proposed to protect bureaucracy and senior salaries in the NHS by slashing budgets in all other departments including housing, local government, education, economic development and rural affairs. Specifically, they have proposed to cut the education part of the local government budget by £128,350,430, equivalent to a further cut of £277 per pupil.

Commenting on the figures, Jenny Randerson AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Minister said: “Yesterday we saw the evidence that the Labour-Plaid government is failing our children. Welsh children deserve the same chances as children over the border but we spend £604 per pupil less than in England. Welsh children are now paying the price for this gross underfunding of schools over the last decade.

“The Conservatives are touring the television studios to condemn the Labour-Plaid funding gap when the reality of their proposals is that they would increase the gap up to an eye watering £881.

“It is time for the Conservatives to come clean with the Welsh public about what their budget proposals would mean.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Labour-Plaid increase the school spending gap to £604 per pupil

Responding to the news that the Labour-Plaid government has allowed the spending gap per pupil to rise to a record level of £604 per pupil, Jenny Randerson AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Minister said: “This is yet more evidence that the Labour-Plaid government is failing our children.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have warned for years that the spending gap of £500 per pupil between England and Wales would have disastrous consequences. The impact of having Plaid Cymru in the government with Labour is that the spending gap has grown to over £600.

“Sadly, Welsh children are now paying the price for this gross underfunding of schools over the last decade – even in the good times.

“In the summer, our GCSE and A level results slipped behind England for the first time in history. In December, a respected international comparison showed that Wales lags behind England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and yesterday the Chief Inspector of Schools issued her most damning report ever on the state of Welsh schools.

“Yesterday, the Chief Inspector asked the Government to “face facts”. Now more than ever, it is time for the Labour-Plaid Welsh Government to step up to the plate. It is not too late for the Labour–Plaid government to support Welsh Liberal Democrat proposals for a Pupil Premium that would target additional funding for education at the most disadvantaged pupils in Wales from nursery to age 16.

“Given these figures, it beggars belief that the Conservatives are proposing to take a further £126 million out of the education system. Only the Welsh Liberal Democrats can give Wales the education system out children deserve.”

Control orders scrapped

The Coalition Government has today ended the political games played by the last Government over national security. The results of today's review are a major victory for those who have campaigned for so long against the deluge of authoritarian and draconian legislation passed by Labour, with Liberal Democrats delivering on our manifesto commitment to scrap control orders. This Government has created a package of counter terrorism and security powers which both protects our citizens and restores our freedoms. Lord Ken MacDonald, Liberal Democrat peer and former Director of Public Prosecutions, welcomed the review in his report saying the decisions "point to an unmistakable re-balancing of public policy in favour of liberty".

Read Lord MacDonald's report here>
Find out more details about the Government's announcement>

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kirsty Williams: “We need a single port of call for children in Wales.”

The Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams AM, has today launched a bid to give the Children’s Commissioner for Wales powers to do more to stand-up for children across Wales.

Kirsty Williams has written to the Minister for Children and Families, Sarah Teather MP, to ask that she give the Children’s Commissioner powers to investigate and speak up on non-devolved matters. Currently, the Commissioner is only allowed to work on devolved matters.

Commenting, Kirsty Williams said:

“This year sees ten years since the establishment of a Children’s Commissioner for Wales, and they have done a fantastic job speaking up for children in Wales. But they are often frustrated because they are limited in what they can do. I want there to be a single port-of-call for children in Wales.

“I’ve written to the Westminster Government to ask them to give these powers to the Welsh Commissioner. They are currently reviewing how the English Commissioner should work – now is the perfect time to make these changes. Now is the time for us in Wales to have a strong an independent Commissioner.”

The Welsh Liberal Democrats also believe that the Children’s Commissioner should be appointed by the National Assembly, rather than the First Minister, to ensure they are independent from Government.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Labour hypocrisy over Education Maintenance Allowance

Iain Roberts writes on Liberal Democrat Voicc:

For all of the noise Labour’s making about the EMA, you might not realise that it was their idea to scrap it. Before he was an ex shadow chancellor, Alan Johnson was Secretary of State for Education and in April 2007 he made it clear that Labour was planning to scrap the EMA.

"An incentive scheme that rewards 16- to 18-year-olds for staying in education post-16 will be abolished when the leaving age is increased to 18.

"The Secretary of State for Education said last week that education maintenance allowances (EMAs) would no longer be necessary when the age is raised in 2015.

"Giving evidence to the Education and Skills Select Committee inquiry into 14-19 education, Alan Johnson said: 'The EMA is there as an incentive to stay on. We will not need to incentivise after 2015.'"

It’s notable not only that Labour have conveniently forgotten their plans from Government, but also that the Labour Government did not see the EMA as the best way to help poor students through their post-16 studies.

This comes on top of the revelation that Alistair Darling planned to increase VAT to 19% if Labour got in again at the last election.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Anti Stock Transfer Campaigners Welcome Landmark Ruling!

The Defend Council Housing people have issued the following media release:

The Neath Port Talbot Defend Council Housing Campaign has welcomed today's ruling from the Freedom Of Information Commissioner that the Neath Port Talbot [council] was wrong to withhold vital information from the campaign which was trying to halt the transfer of thousands of council homes to NPT Homes Ltd.

According to Huw Pudner of the Defend Council Housing Campaign

' The legal ruling by the Information Commissioner has revealed serious shortcomings in the upper reaches of the Neath Port Talbot Council. Time and time again the Council delayed and prevaricated when it refused to provide the information that had been lawfully requested. Its illegal behaviour undoubtedly had a bearing on the result of the stock transfer ballot.The Council was warned that it was abusing the democratic process but chose to carry on regardless. It is now time for the Council to halt its discredited stock transfer plan'.


'Dear Mr Pudner,
.....................Your complaint has been carefully considered and in this case the Commissioner has found in favour of yourself '
{from the letter }.


point 61

'The Commissioner's decision is that the public authority did not deal with the request for information in accordance with the Act.

* It incorrectly applied section 40 [2] to withhold the information requested.

*It breached section 10 [1] for failing to provide the information following payment by the complainant of the requested fee.

* It breached section 17[1] for failing to issue a refusal notice within 20 working days of the request.

* It breached section 17 [1] [b] for failing to cite an exemption under Part 11 of the Act which it later relied on.

* When relying on section 12{1] of the Act ,it breached section 17 [5 ] for failing to issue a refusal notice within twenty working days from receipt of the request.

from page 12 of the ruling

63 'The public authority must take the steps required by this notice within 35 days of the date of this Notice.'

'Failure to comply with the steps described above may result in the Commissioner making written certification of this fact to the High Court pursuant to section 54 of the Act and may be dealt with as a contempt of court.'

'65 Although they do not form part of this Decision Notice the Commissioner wishes to highlight the following matters of concern:
66 The Commissioner note the Council declined to make a decision regarding this case at th internal review stage and recommended to the complainant that he should contact the Information Commissioner's Office.
67 The Commissioner notes that by failing to conduct a full internal review the Council breached the section 45 code of Practice.'

from page 13 of the ruling

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Nearly half of NHS repairs backlog put staff and patients at high and significant risk - German

New analysis of NHS estates in Wales has revealed that the cost of maintenance and repairs to reduce high and significant risks in NHS buildings to staff and patients is nearly half of the total backlog cost.

The Welsh Health Estates report reveals that the total cost of the NHS repairs backlog is £460 million and that the sum of high and significant risk repairs totals £209 million. While the total backlog of maintenance cost has decreased, there were 51 sites across Wales showing increases totalling over £20 million.

The Estate and Performance Report 2009/2010 also exposes how none of the new health trusts in Wales reached operationally safe levels or complied with statutory and safety regulations last year.

The report shows:
  • A total backlog of repairs of £460 million. (£209 million High and Significant Risk Cost)
  • Two Health Trusts are still failing to meet fire safety regulations set for 2005 and 2008 (Cwm Taf, Powys Teaching)
  • None of the Health Trusts met the 2008 target for statutory and safety regulations (DDA, asbestos, legionella, hazardous waste)
  • None of the Health Trusts met the 2008 target of getting 90% of the health estate in a ‘sound, operationally safe and exhibit only minor deterioration’ standard.
  • The cost of complying with fire safety code is estimated to be £14 million (an increase of £2million since 2008-2009)
  • The total cost of implementing DDA work is nearly £16 million.
  • Veronica German, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Minister said:
    “This report is deeply worrying and shows the real extent of Labour’s financial mismanagement and poor running of our health system over the past years. This report also causes great concern as it reveals that nearly half of the backlog of repairs pose a high or significant risk to patients and staff.

    “It is equally worrying that none of the health trusts met the targets to meet statutory regulations regarding Disability Discrimination Act, Control of legionella and Health and Safety at Work. I don’t think that it’s acceptable that doctors and nurses have to work in buildings that would have to close if they were nightclubs.

    “The NHS in Wales has had since October 2004 to make sure that their buildings are DDA compliant, yet here we are, 6 years on, with £16 million worth of work to be done to ensure access for disabled people.

    “We know that money is tight and that the years to come will be difficult, however the Labour-Plaid Government has had years to address this issue and they failed. Labour has allowed a huge backlog of repairs to build up and now, when money is tight, they seek to address the problems. They are financially incompetent.

    “I want a health service where we have decent and safe buildings where patients and staff can recover and work in without fear from injury or harm.”

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    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Pensioner Income

    From Questions to the Department Of Work And Pensions, 10th January:

    Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): What assessment his Department has made of the effects of changes to prices in January 2011 on the incomes of pensioners.

    The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): In April this year, benefits and pensions will be increased by more than £4 billion, more than three quarters of which will go to pensioners. In addition, price rises in January 2011 will feed through into the September 2011 price indices, which will be used in future benefit uprating.

    Gregg McClymont: Pensioners on fixed incomes will be among the hardest hit by the Government's VAT rise. Will the Minister confirm that the VAT hike will mean that pensioners are worse off in 2011 under this Government than they would have been under the previous Government's plans?

    Steve Webb: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to the previous Government's plans. In his constituency, vulnerable pensioners, vulnerable disabled people and vulnerable families with young children received four or five cold weather payments this winter to help them with their fuel bills in January 2011. His policy, and the plans that we inherited, would have reduced those payments to £8.50 a week. We have paid £25 a week four or five times to vulnerable pensioners in his constituency.

    Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab): I will give the Minister another try: will he accept that with pensioners set to pay an extra £217 in 2011 because of the VAT rise, the basic state pension rising by only the same amount as planned by the previous Government and now news that the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury cannot agree the £140 flat-rate pension that he has extolled, pensioners have very little to look forward to in 2011 but a lot to fear?

    Steve Webb: The hon. Lady used to be an economist, so I would not dream of suggesting that any of the figures that she has quoted are in the slightest bit dodgy. She will be aware that colleagues at Her Majesty's Treasury have calculated that the impact of the VAT rise for each percentage point increase is just less than £1 a week for single pensioners. The 2.5% increase will cost pensioners £2.50 a week, which compares with our £4.50 pension increase this April, and there will be additional increases in 2012 because of the VAT rise, so I dispute her figures.

    Friday, January 07, 2011


    Freedom of Information laws are to be extended as part of a push by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg to make public bodies more accountable.

    The Deputy Prime Minister also wants to cut the length of time Government records are kept secret from 30 years to 20.

    Current FOI legislation covers councils and Government departments, but Mr Clegg wants it to include potentially hundreds more bodies such as the Association of Chief Police Officers, Financial Services Ombudsman and Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

    In a speech to the Institute for Government today, Mr Clegg said that the reforms are "part of our wider project to resettle the relationship between people and government.

    "Free citizens must be able to hold big institutions and powerful individuals to account," he maintained.

    Mr Clegg acknowledged that progress was made under Labour but this had now "stalled". There are too many exemptions to the FOI Act, while information is often placed "behind tedious bureaucratic hurdles. We still live in a society where information is hoarded by the few. And, as we know, information is knowledge, and knowledge is power."

    Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) president Sir Hugh Orde welcomed the proposals. He said: "Any organisation that operates as part of a key public service should be accountable and open to public scrutiny. The Association of Chief Police Officers has been asking to be included under the Act and welcomes the extension of authorities that it offers."

    Thursday, January 06, 2011

    Councillor John Warman

    It is with regret that we announce that Councillor John Warman has
    chosen to leave the Liberal Democrats on Neath Port Talbot council and
    join the Labour group. Councillor Des Sparkes assures electors in the
    Cimla ward that he will continue to serve them to the best of his
    ability as their Liberal Democrat member.

    We wish to make clear that, contrary to insinuations by Welsh Labour leader
    Carwyn Jones, the local party has lost no activists and the membership has
    remained steady since its rise during the 2010 General Election.