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.”