News in brief: First Minister rejects calls for mandatory Covid jabs for care home staff
Mark Drakeford has rejected calls for Covid vaccines to be made mandatory for care home workers in Wales.
Earlier this week the UK government confirmed people working in care homes in England could be reassigned or potentially lose their job if they refused to have the jab.
However, the First minister says he advocates a voluntary approach and that care home workers should be encouraged to get the jab by “argument and persuasion”.
With more than 90% of care home workers in Wales are already vaccinated, Mr Drakeford said, “I think we have succeeded by voluntary measures, people doing the right thing.”
“If you move to compulsion, you may lose something that’s been a strength of our approach.”
On Tuesday, Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, urged the government to make Covid vaccinations obligatory for care staff and said some independent social care providers in Wales have already made vaccination a condition of employment for new recruits entering the profession.
“If the Welsh Government do not make it compulsory, there should be absolute clarity that people should take responsibility,” Mr Kreft said.
“At the very least, the code of conduct for people working in social care should make it clear there is an expectation for them to be jabbed.
“We’re going to need vaccine passport and we’re going to need boosters. This is going to go on for some years so we have to make sure that people realise their responsibility.”
Covid cases continue to climb as Wales continues to have the lowest infection rates in the UK
Public Health Wales has recorded no further deaths due to Covid and 163 new cases of the virus in the last 24 hours.
Cardiff and Flintshire each recorded 23 new infections and there were another 15 in Conwy and 14 in Wrexham.
Conwy, which is at the centre of an outbreak of the Delta Covid variant, continues to have the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 82.8 per 100,000 people, up from 71.7 in yesterday’s report and Denbighshire is next highest with a rate of 77.3 up from 64.8 yesterday.
There has also been a big increase in weekly the test positivity rate in Denbighshire, from 4.4% per 100,000 tests to 5.4%.
Wales’ national case rate is also continuing to creep upwards, rising to 23.6 from 22.5 yesterday and the positivity rate is up 0.1% to 2.4%
Meanwhile, the latest infection survey from the Office for National Statistics says the percentage of people testing positive remained low for the week ending 12 June 2021.
The ONS estimates that 2,000 people in Wales had Covid-19 equating to around 1 in 1,500 people, just 0.07% of the population. England had the highest percentage of infections at .19%, with Scotland recording a proportion of 0.17 and Northern Ireland 0.16%.
New project to boost north Wales town centres launches next week
A new fund that hopes to revitalise town centres in north Wales, will open for applications next week.
The £3 million project, piloted by the Welsh Government, will assist entrepreneurs to set up businesses in Bangor, Colwyn Bay, Rhyl and Wrexham.
The funding will be a combination of grant funding and loans to help entrepreneurs who are starting out and give a lift to town centres which have been hit hard during the pandemic.
The loan element of the scheme, which will run initially for 12 months, will be operated by the Development Bank of Wales, offering loans from £1,000 through to a maximum of £50,000.
“The past year and a half has been an exceptionally challenging time for businesses and our town centres,” Minister for North Wales Lesley Griffiths said.
“There is great potential in our town centres, and we want to see that realised. The aim of this pilot project is to help encourage new businesses to use space in four town centres across north Wales.”
More information on the Town Centres Fund is available here.
Six finalists share prestigious Artes Mundi award
This year’s Artes Mundi prize will be split between the six selected finalists in recognition of the “exceptional social and economic upheaval” of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Based in Cardiff, Artes Mundi is regarded as one of the most important art prizes in Europe and the six shortlisted artists were selected from more than 700 nominations from 90 countries.
The £40,000 individual prize was scrapped this year, with the South African multimedia artist Dineo Seshee Bopape, Puerto Rico’s Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, the Dominican Republic-born artist Firelei Báez, the American photographer Carrie Mae Weems, India’s Prabhakar Pachpute and the Japanese artist Meiro Koizumi all receiving £10,000 awards.
In a statement, the judging panel said: “Reflecting on 2020 into the present, this has been a time of enormous social, political and economic upheaval, and as a jury, we have reached a collective, unanimous decision to award the Artes Mundi 9 Prize to all six participating artists: Firelei Báez, Dineo Seshee Bopape, Meiro Koizumi, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, Prabhakar Pachpute and Carrie Mae Weems.”
“We have done so in recognition of both the context in which their work is produced; and importantly, in recognition of each individual practice which is outstanding in merit, made especially, and powerfully relevant today.”
“Together the six presentations create a coherent and timely exhibition, addressing a range of issues and topics for consideration. Furthermore, in creating new and ambitious bodies of work for Artes Mundi 9, each artist has demonstrated great resilience in overcoming the many, global obstacles that COVID-19 has presented. Collectively, the exhibition speaks to their distinctive and powerful voices in ways that are rich, thoughtful and rewarding.”
The Artes Mundi 9 exhibition runs until 5 September in the National Museum and Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff.
Minister confirms extension of eviction protection measures
The Welsh Government has extended the current ban on evictions to give private tenants extra protection while coronavirus restrictions remain in place in Wales.
During the early months of the pandemic the government introduced measures that extended the minimum notice periods in the case of ‘no fault evictions’ from two to six months.
These measures were due to come to an end at the end of the month but have now been extended up to 30 September.
Written Statement: Use of powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020: Residential tenancies – extension of the period of protecting tenants from eviction
Julie James, Minister for Climate Change, said the move was made, “to ensure that during the on-going public emergency, and in the light of the continued uncertainty caused by the emergence of new virus variants, landlords continue to give increased notice to tenants facing eviction from rented properties before landlords can issue proceedings for possession.”
“The effect will to be to delay evictions meaning that: fewer people will face eviction into homelessness at a time when local authorities are less able to respond to these situations; those renting their homes will benefit from increased security and reduced anxiety; and individuals at risk of eviction will be provided with increased time to seek support to resolve any problems.
“Consideration is also being given to what further support can be provided to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on the sector,” she added.
Council considers the future of debt hit school
Elgan Hearn, local democracy reporter
A senior councillor has asked for the contents of a probe into the financial failings of setting up Ysgol Calon Cymru to be considered when decisions are made on the future of the school.
Next Tuesday, Powys County Council’s Independent/Conservative cabinet will be decided on how to proceed with proposals to split up Ysgol Calon Cymru.
Options on the table include plans for a new 11–18-year-old English-medium campus in Llandrindod Wells; and turn the Builth Wells campus into an all through four to 18 years old all through Welsh medium school.
Chairman of the Audit and Governance committee, Cllr John Morris said: “Internal audit have undertaken an investigation into circumstances surrounding Ysgol Calon Cymru and particularly its growing dept problem.
“I have pressed for this report to come forward for some time to feed into any future plans for this area, but it is still awaited.
“I am really concerned about this failure just a few years on from the formation of Ysgol Calon Cymru and that lessons will not be learned this time.
“It is clear that there were mistakes made in developing the present model that has been extremely costly to the council in financial terms.
“Budget deficits of around £1 million were written off when Ysgol Calon Cymru was established, and we now see a substantial increasing deficit.
“It will be equally important that lessons learned from this failing project are also highlighted and errors avoided.”
Cllr Morris said that he wanted assurances from Cllr Davies that the report and its findings would be taken into account as part of the process.
Last summer, Cllr Pete Roberts as chairman of the Learning and Skills scrutiny committee asked for the investigation into Ysgol Calon Cymru.
Less than three years ago, Builth Wells and Llandrindod Wells high schools were merged to become Ysgol Calon Cymru.
The schools became campuses under one headteacher and one governing body.
Closing deficit balances were written off when the schools closed, allowing Ysgol Calon Cymru to start from a neutral finance position.
But by March 31, 2020, it had already racked up a deficit of £131,302.
It had been hoped that the report would have been published by Christmas 2020, so that the Transformation Strategy could learn from past mistakes.
The cabinet report for the June 22 meeting shows that the school had a deficit at Ysgol Calon Cymru has increased to £173,450 by March 31, 2021.
The report predicts that this will grow to over £750,000 by the end of this financial year.
The estimated cost of building a new campus at Llandrindod Wells is £28 million and re-modelling the Builth Wells campus is £18 million.
Money for a feasibility study was agreed by the cabinet in May.
It is expected that the cabinet will agree to hold “informal engagement” in September and October.
A report on this will then go back to cabinet before the end of 2021.
If approved, formal consultation would then start as part of the statutory school reorganisation process.