News in brief: Annual house price increases in Wales highest in the UK
House prices in Wales have jumped 11% over the last 12 months, the biggest increase recorded in the UK.
The average house price has risen to £185,000, the second highest behind England, where prices rose by 10.2% to average £275,000 per property
The increase in Scotland was second highest at 10.6%, with the average price of a property reaching £167,000. Northern Ireland lagged behind with a 6% hike and an average value of £149,000.
The average UK house price climbed 10.2% in the year to March, up from 9.2% in February, the highest annual growth rate in the UK since August 2007, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.
According to the ONS, “The pandemic may have caused house buyers to reassess their housing preferences. In our UK HPI data, we have seen the average price of detached properties increase by 11.7% in the year to March 2021, in comparison with flats and maisonettes increasing by 5.0% over the same period.”
Some areas of Wales have seen a surge in the number house being purchased as holiday homes over the last two years and last month it was revealed that in Gwynedd, around 40 per cent of houses that go on the market every year are now bought as second homes.
Language campaigners have been calling of the Welsh Government to act to solve the housing crisis in Wales which means that people are often not able to buy homes in their own communities and earlier this week the new Minister for Education and the Language promised that the Government will tackle the housing crisis in the most Welsh-speaking areas.
Jeremy Miles said that action was needed “to ensure that we have Welsh-speaking communities that thrive in the future and that people can afford to live in their communities”.
Health chief warms against complacency as cases of Indian variant increase
Dr Giri Shankar, Incident Director for Covid-19 outbreak response at Public Health Wales has warned people “not to become complacent” following confirmation yesterday that the number of cases of the Indian variant B.1.617.2 have increased from 11 to 25 since last Thursday.
Covid rates in Wales have been falling in recent weeks but the presence of the new mutation of the virus, which is described as “highly transmissible” is being closely monitored.
“The emergence of another transmissible new variant is a reminder that we should not become complacent, even as rates of the coronavirus across Wales remain low,” Dr Shankar said.
“Protect yourself and others by remaining at least two metres away from everyone else, washing your hands regularly, and by wearing a face covering where required.
“Self-isolate and get a test if you or anyone in your household develop symptoms.”
On Monday England’s health minister Matt Hancock confirmed the number of infections had increased by 75% to over 2,000 in just four day and public health experts warn the variant is expected to become the dominant strain in the UK within days.
Health Minister Baroness Eluned Morgan says the Welsh Government would not rule out introducing a targeted vaccination programme if cases continue to rise and last week First Minister Mark Drakeford said that he will not rule out calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to stop travel in and out of areas where the variant is spreading quickly or placing restrictions on movement in and out of Wales himself.
Meanwhile, today’s update from PHW has confirmed no new deaths due to Covid, and 44 positive tests for the virus in the last 24 hours.
Newport reported eight new cases and the weekly case rate remains the highest in Wales at 29.7, unchanged from yesterday and it also has the highest positive test proportion at 2.2 % per 100,000 tests down from 2.3% yesterday.
The national case rate has declined from has shown a small increase from 9.5 to 9.6 yesterday and the test rate is down up from 0.9% to 1.0%.
Wales Green Party warns mishandled trial of UBI “could set the policy back years”.
Wales Green Party have voiced concerns over plans for a Universal Basic Income trial in Wales, announced by First Minister Mark Drakeford last week.
After initially welcoming the Welsh Government’s announcement of a pilot, the Greens says to trial the policy with care leavers only, misses the main benefit of UBI and defeats the purpose of the trial.
“Although we welcome this long-standing Green Party policy being pushed up the agenda in Wales, any trial has got to be meaningful,” Anthony Slaughter, leader of Wales Green Party said.
“Care leavers are massively under-supported, and it’s true that government needs to do more to facilitate their lives outside of care. However, this is not the same as UBI.
“Universal Basic Income is, as the name suggests, universal. Although we welcome further financial support to those who need it, this cannot be confused with UBI. The trial simply will not give any useful results unless it is trialled on a sample representative of the population as a whole.
“Mishandling this trial could set UBI in Wales back years.”
Lauren James, Deputy Leader of Wales Green Party, and co-founder of UBI Lab Newport, part of the network responsible for the UBI Pledge, signed by 25 elected Senedd members, added that support from the UK government would be needed to make the trial a success.
“it is clear that a major stumbling block with this trial is the powers of the Senedd. In Scotland, they found a trial was near impossible under their powers. More devolved powers are vital to ensuring the same does not happen here.
“UK Government must lend their full support to the trial, and equally the Senedd must push for the powers they need to ensure it is useful and accurate,” she added.
Office staff at Cardiff council to continue home-working after the pandemic ends
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
Office staff at Cardiff council will likely continue to work mostly from home after the coronavirus pandemic ends.
Reducing the cost of running buildings, cutting congestion from commuting, and a better work-life balance were some of the reasons listed for the permanent switch in a new cabinet report.
In the summer, council bosses will consult staff and trade unions on the long-term changes.
Working from home also has drawbacks, the report said, like loneliness, making teamwork harder, and the potential ‘blurring lines’ between work and home lives.
Office workers across the country began working from home in March last year, to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Workplace rules on social distancing are likely to remain in place until at least autumn later this year. But after the rules are dropped, many will stay at home.
The council’s cabinet will consider a report detailing the proposed changes on Thursday, May 20.
The report said: “When physical distancing will no longer be required, the council does not intend to revert back to the pre-pandemic office footprint and traditional staff office working patterns.
“Instead, a new hybrid model will seek to maintain the benefits of increased home and flexible working arrangements experienced over the past year, while mitigating the risks.”
The council will split its workforce into categories: some council workers will have the option to work in the office a few days each week; employees like frontline workers will keep their desks in offices; while other staff will work from home the whole time.
Any workers who find working from home challenging, perhaps due to health needs, “will be prioritised” for office space, according to the cabinet report.
With more staff working from home, the council has already decided to stop renting its offices at Wilcox House, on Dunleavy Drive near the International Sports Village. Now council bosses will review the need for the rest of its offices and depots.
The cabinet report said: “As a result of adopting hybrid working, the nature and scale of the council’s accommodation footprint will need to be reviewed, and where appropriate rationalised, adapted or modernised.
“The council will therefore need to undertake a fundamental review of its office and depot accommodation requirement, with detailed business cases for both presented back to cabinet for consideration.”
The main office building used by the council is County Hall, at Cardiff Bay. In recent years, the council has considered demolishing the building and relocating its headquarters, perhaps to Callaghan Square. However, the cabinet report does not mention any specific plans yet.
Conservative councillors have previously called for some of the excess office space at County Hall and City Hall to be rented out for startup businesses. The idea could generate extra rental income for the council, while supporting new businesses getting off the ground.