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News in brief: Lib Dems make manifesto pledge to build 30,000 new social homes

15 Apr 2021 6 minutes Read
Jane Dodds, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

Welsh Liberal Democrats have pledged to build 30,000 new social homes and instigate a green homes revolution in their manifesto for next month’s Senedd election.

The party’s housing plan would see 30,000 new social homes built over a five-year period as well as funding to make new and existing homes greener, saving households up to £500 per year.

The party also said it would legislate and provide support for a right to adequate housing to ensure all residents have “the dignity of a safe and secure home”.

“For too many people in Wales this simple goal of a safe, secure, affordable home is all too often an impossible dream, Liberal Democrats would change this,” leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Jane Dodds said.

“Our plan for homes puts recovery first. We’ll create jobs by green proofing our homes, save people money on energy bills and make sure that no one is left behind.

“We have a fair, green and ambitious housing plan. A plan for Wales where everyone is able to afford a home of their own. A home, which is cheap to heat, good for our environment and helped create jobs in our communities – whether that be by building new green homes, or retrofitting existing ones.

Covid testing sign. Photo by Nation.Cymru

Two new Covid deaths reported in Wales

Today’s figures from Public Health Wales have confirmed two further deaths due to Covid-19 and 105 new cases of the virus.

The newly recorded deaths were in the Betsi Cadwaladr and Swansea Bay health board areas.

Six of the 22 local authorities in Wales reported no new cases in the last 24 hours.

In Swansea 17 people tested positive for the virus since yesterday’s report, the highest number in the country and there were 14 new cases in Newport and 12 in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Cardiff, where there have been 116 new cases in the last seven days, has the highest weekly case rate in the country at 31.6 per 100,000 people.

Gwynedd and the capital both have the highest positive test rate at 3.4% per 100,000 tests.

The national case rate has fallen from 17.6 to 17.4 the test rate remains unchanged at 1.9%.

Since the start of the vaccine rollout on 8 December, 1,640,045 people have received a first Covid jab and 559, 888 have had both doses.

Steelworks. Photo by zephylwer0 from Pixabay

Minister warns cash-strapped Liberty Steel could be forced to close plants

The UK Government’s Business Secretary has warned MPs that Liberty Steel could be forced to close some of its UK plants following the collapse of its main financial backer.

Liberty Steel is the third largest steel company in the UK and currently employs 3,000 people at 11 sites in the UK, including over 200 at its plants in Newport and Tredegar.

Last month the UK Government rejected a plea from the company for a £170 million emergency loan following the collapse into administration of its main financier Greensill Capital.

Giving evidence to the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he can offer no guarantees over the future of Liberty Steel and acknowledged that some parts of the business could be lost.

Earlier this month Liberty Steel owner Sanjeev Gupta vowed not to shut down any of his steel plants, despite the financial crisis currently engulfing GFG Alliance, the conglomerate that owns the steel manufacturing business.

‘Billions of debt’

“I am very keen to see that these assets, which are good assets, continue to operate and the company continues to operate but we can’t strip Liberty Steel from the wider group under which it sits and, as Mr Gupta says, they have billions and billions of debt,” Mr Kwarteng said.

Defending the decision to reject the appeal for an emergency loan to keep the company afloat, Mr Kwarteng said there was no assurance the money would have stayed in the UK.

“We didn’t have those guarantees. It was a very opaque structure.”

“As officials and ministers we have a responsibility to taxpayers not to simply sign off £170million without any knowledge of where that money might ultimately go.”

In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme two weeks ago, Mr Gupta said he was “committed” to his UK plants, and said he had received interest from a number of financiers offering to refinance the business.

“None of my steel plants under my watch will be shut down for sure,” he added.

An image showing how the engineering centre could look. Picture Blaenau Gwent council.

Plans for leading engineering centre in Ebbw Vale move forward

Saul Cooke-Black, local democracy reporter

Plans to establish a state-of-the-art engineering centre to support hundreds of students in Ebbw Vale have moved forward after being backed by senior councillors.

Blaenau Gwent council is working with Coleg Gwent on the project to support a vision for the area to be “a globally recognised centre for the development of new technologies” by 2027.

The plans include refurbishment of the former Monwell factory in Letchworth Road, Ebbw Vale, to create an advanced engineering centre.

Senior councillors on the council’s executive committee voiced their support for the proposal at a meeting on Wednesday, and agreed to endorse a funding bid for the development.

Cllr Dai Davies, executive member for regeneration and economic development, said the project was “a huge opportunity” for the borough, highlighting the importance of education to bring people out of poverty.

“I think we have got a real opportunity to take a giant leap forward,” he said.

Richard Crook, corporate director of regeneration and community services, said the facility would become “a regional centre of excellence”.

“It would be state-of-the-art and a real flagship to drive forward the skills agenda, particularly in Blaenau Gwent,” he said.

Around 600 learners are expected to attend the centre by 2026/27 on a range of full-time, part-time, higher education and apprenticeship courses, ranging from level one up to degree level.

An investment of £8 million is being sought, with building costs estimated at £5 million.

If funding is approved, it is expected the facility will open in September 2022.

Council leader Cllr Nigel Daniels also spoke in support of the plans.

“I think it can set Blaenau Gwent and the region on a different tack,” he said.

Under the plans, Blaenau Gwent would own the facility and offer a long-term lease to Coleg Gwent, the lead partner in the scheme.

Primary and secondary schools across Blaenau Gwent would also have access to the facility, and would be able to have guest lectures, demonstrations and use equipment for project work.

The Tech Valleys board has supported the proposal and has written a letter of recommendation to go alongside a business case which has been submitted to Welsh Government.

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