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News in brief: New £48m social care fund dismissed as ‘a drop in the ocean’

14 Sep 2021 9 minutes Read
Photo by Elien Dumon on Unsplash

The Welsh Conservative have described the government’s £48 million Covid recovery fund for social care as “a drop in the ocean” and offers no solutions to the sector in Wales.

The new funding was announced this morning by Deputy Minister for Social Services Julie Morgan, who said the majority of the funding – £40m – has been allocated to local authorities and will be used to help the social care sector meet the ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic.

The Tories Shadow Social Services Minister, Gareth Davies MS welcomed today’s announcement but said the support “will sadly not alleviate the problems that have been allowed to mount in Wales’ social care system.”

“Sadly, this is not a plan for social care and will not address the postcode lottery when it comes to provision in Wales. There is no solution presented here and once divided by 22 councils, the funding is a drop in the ocean.

‘Ringfenced’

“Nevertheless, how this money is spent is important and the Welsh Government should ensure this pot is ringfenced with strict guidelines for councils so we can have confidence that it will be used in the intended areas,” he added.

“We’ve long been told by Labour ministers in Wales that their grand plan for social care would be ready once the British Government announced its own for England. However, we remain none-the-wiser as to when an actual programme will be presented by the Welsh Government.”

Covid heatmap. Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

ONS reports increase in Covid deaths in Wales

The number of deaths in Wales due to Covid-19 increased from 25 from 15 according to the latest weekly figures released by the Office for National Statistics.

Over the week ending 3 September 542 death from all causes were recorded in Wales, 74 fewer that the previous week and three more deaths (06%) above the five-year average.

Over the seven days featured in the study, 4.6% of all death certificates issued mentioned Covid-19.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the ONS has recorded 54,363 deaths in Wales and of these, 8,046 deaths (14.8%) mentioned Covid -s 5,336 deaths above the five-year average.

Public Health Wales has reported five further deaths in today’s update, taking the total number of deaths recorded to 5,760.

The daily figures released by Public Health Wales include the deaths of a hospital patients or care home resident where Covid-19 has been confirmed with a positive laboratory test and the clinician suspects this was a causative factor in the death.

Deaths counted by the ONS are when Covid-19 is mentioned by doctors on the death certificate and which occur in all settings – including hospitals, care homes, hospices and people’s homes.

Two of the newly recorded deaths reported today were in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board and one death was recorded in both Aneurin Bevan and Betsi Cadwaladr health boards. One person resident outside of Wales also died due to the virus in the last 24 hours.

PHW also reported 1,924 new cases of the virus, taking the total to 16,1016 for the week up to 9 September.

The national weekly case rate has fallen from 521.7 per 100,000 people to 510.8 since yesterday’s report.

Forest

Farmers air afforestation fears

Farmers have voiced concern at proposals for a major expansion of the Welsh Government’s tree planting programme and the increasing number of private companies who are buying up farms in Wales and turning them into forests to offset their own or their clients carbon emissions.

During a meeting with Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters MS, Farmers’ Union of Wales members and officials from Carmarthenshire also asked for a more collaborative approach from the government.

“The FUW supports the overall aims of the Welsh Government with regards to environmental issues but we are concerned that a number of recent policy proposals to increase tree planting targets from 2000 hectares per year to 5000 ha/pa could see agricultural funding being diverted towards forestry and woodland with a lack of clarity on the consequences for Wales’ family farms and rural communities,” FUW Carmarthen County Chairman Phil Jones said.

Mr Jones added that farmers understand the important role trees play in mitigating climate change but that it was important to plant the right tree in the right place and that such initiatives have to work in partnership with farming communities across Wales.

“There are many examples where afforestation by private companies has led to the loss of family farms, biodiversity losses and impacted negatively on the rural economy. We need to ensure that policy goals that we understand, and support are not undermined by the delivery of such policies,” Mr Jones added.

Speculation about future carbon trading is believed to be a major driving force behind the purchase of large areas of Welsh farmland for tree planting by companies and individuals from outside Wales, raising concerns that a land grab is underway that will disenfranchise Welsh communities and strip them of their carbon assets.

“Planting trees and selling carbon credits to businesses looking to offset their carbon emissions may represent a profitable option for some farmers. However, the same carbon cannot then be used to offset a farm’s own carbon emissions, and members are concerned that a rush to sell off carbon could hamper future farming generations’ ability to meet net-zero targets,” FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman concluded.

Photo by Georg Arthur Pflueger on Unsplash

Employment service targets new recruits to work in care sector

An employment and training service based in Conwy is targeting new candidates to help meet the unprecedented demand for workers in the social care sector.

Conwy Employment Hub is holding virtual sessions that will introduce would-be recruits to roles within the industry, held over four days later this month.

In partnership with the Welsh Government and WeCare Wales, the Hub – which oversees the Communities for Work, Communities for Work Plus, and PaCE initiatives – is hoping to attract people who are currently not in education, employment or Training.

With the UK facing a care jobs crisis – Brexit and mandatory vaccinations are among the biggest issues facing health chiefs – there is a nationwide push to plug the gaps as soon as possible.

Libby Duo, Strategic Manager for Conwy Employment Service, said: “While the sector is facing a tough time due to various factors it is important to remember this is a rewarding and skilled profession which needs support more than ever before.

“The two-day ‘Introduction to Social Care’ events will be held online, making them more accessible, and will provide basic knowledge of what’s needed to apply for a job.

“Essential skills include being reliable and committed with a positive and friendly attitude, caring for others, and demonstrating adaptability.

“If successful the candidates will receive further training in-post and there are progression pathways – it’s a great opportunity.”

In the last month, there were reportedly more than 760 care vacancies on recruitment portals in Wales, and nationally the number of old people living with advanced dementia is expected to double over the next two decades.

The online Introduction to Social Care sessions will be held from 10am-3pm on September 21, 22, 29 and 30. To register, visit here or call 01492 575578.

For more on WeCare Wales and opportunities in the social care sector, visit www.WeCare.wales.

Lydstep Flats, Cardiff. Photo via Google

Delays as cost to replace cladding at flats doubles

Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter

Works to replace cladding at council flats in Llandaff North will be delayed as forecasted costs are expected to double.

Lydstep Flats were found to have flammable cladding in March 2018. The cladding was  removed in December that year.

But residents living in the three high rise blocks of flats are still waiting for replacement cladding to be installed, and now could be waiting until 2023 according to Cardiff council.

Works to replace the cladding were predicted to cost the council £7.4 million, but this has now increased to £15.1 million due to “significant inflationary pressures”.

Details of the delays and doubling costs were revealed in a report to the council’s cabinet, which will meet on Thursday, September 23 to sign off the works.

The cabinet report said: “The original indicative cost plan was £7,408,289 for the three blocks at Lydstep Flats. However, following the stage one scoping and review stage, and that the full requirements of the works are known, the updated cost plan is £15,109,023.

“The greatest part of the increase in cost is due to the very significant inflationary pressures that have been experienced over the course of the project. These pressures are a result of a number of factors, including Brexit.

“It has been reported that material costs have been increasing at a rate of five per cent to 10 per cent a month for some producers, and a 20 per cent increase in labour costs has also been experienced.”

An appendix explaining the detailed reasons behind the increasing costs has been kept confidential and was not published.

The council is planning to install a ceramic brick-based cladding on Lydstep Flats. While each part of the cladding system is non-combustible, new building regulations brought in last December means the whole cladding system must be tested together before installation.

High demand for fire testing means the earliest slot the council could book was last month, according to the cabinet report. A full report on the results of the test might not be available for another six months. However, the replacement works could go ahead before then.

But it is still unclear when works on site will actually begin. The cabinet report said they will likely take until early 2023 to complete, which means residents would have waited five years since flammable cladding was first found on their flats.

It is also unclear when works will begin to replace cladding on Loudon House and Nelson House in Butetown.

A council spokesperson said: “The council’s communities and adult services scrutiny committee is set to review the council’s recommendations for Lydstep Flats before the report goes to cabinet for a decision on Thursday, September 23.

“Cardiff council acted quickly to remove the cladding from these high-rise blocks after the Grenfell tragedy and our tenants’ welfare has always been our primary concern.

“The decision to replace the cladding on our high rises was agreed in April 2020, but changes to building regulations and new rules on fire-safety, test requirements, delayed works beyond our control.

“The effects of the pandemic and Brexit have since played a major role in pushing costs up. A separate report on Loudoun House and Nelson House will be brought to cabinet later in the year.”

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