News in brief: Minister slams Westminster over tax devolution request

Picture by Luke Stackpoole.

Finance Minister Rebecca Evans has strongly criticised the UK Government over its handling of the request for further tax raising powers to be devolved to the Senedd.

Describing the process as “protracted and challenging” the minister said the request for powers relating to a vacant land tax showed “the agreed process for devolution of further tax competence to Wales is not fit for purpose” and questioned Westminster’s commitment to devolution.

She also accused HM Treasury of “continually requesting detail related to the specific operation of the proposed tax – a matter for Wales – rather than information related to devolving competence for legislation in a new area of taxation” and of “moving the goalposts as to what information is required at any point”.

“Given the challenges encountered taking this particular, very narrow area of legislative competence through the mechanism, it is difficult to envision a scenario whereby, with the current UK Government approach, the Welsh Government could successfully make the case for further tax competence,” She concluded in a written statement.

“The failure of this mechanism significantly impacts the ability of this government and future governments to use tax as a lever to influence behaviour or support public spending to meet the needs of the people of Wales.

“I hope this response is not indicative of the UK Government’s wider attitude towards devolution. We firmly believe that devolution must be respected and strengthened to secure the future of the Union.”

Workplace safety measures are crucial to preventing spread of coronavirus. Picture by the Welsh Government.

Weekly total for Covid-19 reaches levels last seen in May

Public Health Wales has reported 165 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours, taking the weekly total to 615, the highest recorded in Wales since the end of May.

Caerphilly, where a local lockdown was imposed yesterday evening, recorded 33 new cases, the most in the country over the last 24 hours.

The proportion of positive tests in Caerphilly has risen to 83.4 per 100,000 of the population, the second highest in the UK behind Bolton, where the UK government introduced new restrictions yesterday.

Rhondda Cynon Taff has recorded 100 cases in the last week, with 20 confirmed today, taking the infection rate to 41.4 and Merthyr Tydfil is also causing concern for health officials with a rate of 51.4 after 12 positive tests were registered by PHW since yesterday.

Dr Giri Shankar, Incident Director for the Novel Coronavirus outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said: “We are concerned at the significant rise in positive coronavirus cases in the Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf areas over the past few days, and our investigations indicate that a lack of social distancing by people of all age groups in a range of different locations has resulted in the spread of the virus to other parts of the population.”

MP Chris Bryant has warned a local lockdown could be put in place in Rhondda Cynon Taff “by the weekend” if cases continue to rise.

“If we carry on as we are then there will be a lockdown, perhaps by the weekend, because a small minority of people are being fundamentally irresponsible,” Mr Bryant told BBC Radio Wales.

“They are refusing to isolate when they come home from holiday, refusing to be tested when they are showing symptoms, going to caravan sites in groups of six, seven, eight families together, holding parties in houses, giving false names to pubs so they can’t be traced.

“The truth is that we are all in this together. Some people think they and the people they love are magically immune but if we don’t take this seriously there will be a major lockdown, which will affect people’s livelihoods and finances.”

Despite the increasing number of infections in Wales, no new deaths have been reported in more than a week.

The total number of infections since the start of the pandemic is now 18,829. There were 9,607 Covid-19 tests conducted yesterday

Caerphilly Town Centre. Photo by Dylan_MG, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Shadow minister calls for clear local lockdown strategy

Plaid Cymru has called on the Welsh Government to provide a clear strategy on local lockdowns following the introduction of restrictions on Caerphilly County Borough that were put in place yesterday evening.

The new measures in the area include a requirement for everyone over the age of 11 to wear a face covering in shops, a ban on travelling outside the county borough without a “reasonable excuse” and friends and family can no longer meet indoors, while overnight stays are also be banned.

Care homes visits have also been halted to due to the spike in cases in Caerphilly over the last two weeks.

Unlike the lockdown which was imposed in March, pubs, bars and restaurants are allowed to stay open.

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister, has also renewed calls to make the wearing of face masks compulsory in shops, to help prevent lockdowns in other areas.

Currently face coverings are not mandatory in shops in any other part of Wales.

“We all want to avoid new lockdowns if possible, but the Welsh Government must publish their local lockdown strategy – what is their early warning system, who makes the call and who is responsible for enforcing the rules? This should be sensitive to differences between communities in different parts of Wales,” Mr ap Iorwerth said.

“With the relaxing of restrictions, there has to be clearer enforcement of the basics, including social distancing, hand washing and – of course, the wearing of face masks. And without a clear guide for the alarm bells to watch for, the public did not have fair warning that a local lockdown could be imposed.

 “Face masks should have been part of keeping us safe. They’re a preventative measure to limit transmission. And with rising infection rates in other county boroughs, the wearing of face coverings should be made compulsory in all shops in Wales at once. It makes no sense to only make it mandatory after a spike in cases has been confirmed.”

Oia, Santorini. Photo by szeke, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Three more Greek Islands added to quarantine list

Travellers from three more Greek islands are required to quarantine upon arrival in Wales from this morning.

Santorini, Serifos and Tinos have been added to the list of countries under travel restriction, which require travellers to self-isolate for 14 days.

Last week the Welsh Government placed Crete, Lesvos, Mykonos, Paros and Antiparos and Zakynthos, also known as Zante on the list following an increase of Covid-19 cases in the region.

Returning holidaymakers have been linked with several coronavirus clusters in Wales over the last three weeks.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething revealed yesterday that a group of friends returning from Ibiza had infected 13 people with Covid-19 on their return to Wales and the NHS Wales Test Trace Protect service has identified six clusters amounting to over 30 cases of coronavirus linked to four flights from Zante, two of which landed in Wales and two in England.

Circus elephant. Photo by Wolfgang Claussen from Pixabay

Campaign to ban circus animal performances praised by Senedd committee chair

The Chair of the Senedd Petitions Committee, Janet Finch-Saunders MS, has welcomed the ban on travelling circuses using wild animals in performances in Wales from 1 December.

The legislation preventing their use, the Wild Animals and Circuses (Wales) Act, came into effect yesterday.

“This is the culmination of a long-running and determined campaign by a great many people in Wales and this Committee is pleased to see their efforts recognised today,” Mrs Finch-Saunders said.

“Part of that campaign was a petition, signed by more than 6000 people, calling for a ban. The Committee brought the petition to the attention of the Welsh Government which introduced legislation to the then National Assembly for Wales.

“This shows the impact democracy and the Senedd’s petitions system can have in highlighting important issues and effecting real change.

“I congratulate the petitioners and their supporters for their unstinting campaigning.” 

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