News in brief: Opponents round on UK government over plans to change PCC voting system
Campaigners have criticised the UK government’s plans to change the voting system for electing Police and Crime Commissioner in England and Wales.Currently the PCC elections use the Supplementary Vote system (SV) which allows voters to list their first preference, as well as a second choice on the ballot paper.
If the top candidate doesn’t secure 50% of the vote, second choices come into play, giving the winner a broader spread of support and a stronger mandate for these crucial roles.
But proposals, announced in March by Home Secretary Priti Patel, would see the current preference-based SV system replaced with Westminster style First Past the Post.
Opponents of the change say the move could see unpopular and highly divisive candidates sneaking into office with low levels of support and being given significant powers when the majority of voters opposed them.
The change could be included in this month’s Queen’s Speech – but campaigners are urging the Home Secretary to drop these ‘bizarre and unwanted proposals’.
“Scrapping voters’ ability to pick a second candidate will lead to millions more having to hold their nose at the ballot box,” Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society said.
“The Supplementary Vote system is far from perfect but imposing First Past the Post on these major elections will drive down voter choice and turn back the clock.
“First Past the Post frequently sees people elected with just a third of the vote. That is a major risk when powerful policing and leadership roles are being decided on.”
“We need to be finding ways of increasing accountability for our politicians, improving our democracy and making it fit for the modern age – rather than imposing a discredited and broken voting system.”
Wales has a Police and Crime Commissioner for each of the four forces, Dyfed-Powys, Gwent Police, North Wales and South Wales and the PCC is responsible for maintaining an effective and efficient police service by holding the Chief Constable of the respective forces to account.
Covid cases continue to fall in Wales
Wales continues to have the lowest percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 in the UK, according to the latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics.
For the two weeks up to 2 May the ONS estimates 1,500 people in Wales had Covid, equating to around 1 in 2,070 people a fall of 21% from the study the previous week, when 1,900 people were thought to have the virus.
In England, 46,100 people within the community population had Covid, equating to around 1 in 1,180 people, while 2,400 people in Northern Ireland had the virus, equating to around 1 in 750 people.
Scotland had the highest infection rates in the study with around 1 in 760 people testing positive for the virus.
Meanwhile, Public Health Wales has reported no further deaths due to Covid in todays bulletin and 47 new cases of the virus.
Eight of 22 local authorities reported no new cases, while Newport recorded nine, the highest number in the country.
Newport continues to have the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 23.3 per 100,000 people and the positive test rate at 2.2 % per 100,000 tests is also the highest in Wales.
Yesterday, the leader of the council blamed the spike in cases over the last week on people for “not following the simple and basic rules of social distancing”.
“We’ve seen a number of cases in certain areas here in Newport, which are emerging not because of any breakdown in any system, but because people have become a little bit more relaxed, and what is happening is that in some cases people are not adhering to all important social distancing rules,” Cllr Jane Mudd said.
“And it’s really important if people do find they’ve been asked to isolate they must follow that guidance and isolate.
“However, we are seeing an increase in the number of cases of covid within Newport because people are not following the simple and basic rules of social distancing and self-isolating when requested to do so.
“It’s absolutely important to be able to continue in the direction we are continuing, enabling businesses to reopen and people to go about their normal lives.”
Meanwhile, the national weekly case rate up .1 to 9.7 since yesterday and the test rate remains unchanged at 1.0% since yesterday’s report.
Liberty Steel in talks over £200 million rescue loan
Liberty steel owner Sanjeev Gupta’s is in talks with a US based investment company in an effort to secure a loan of over £200m to save his business empire from collapse.
According to the BBC, a skeleton agreement has been agreed with California-based investment firm White Oak Global Advisors.
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 Greensill Capital, the main source of finance for Mr Gupta’s conglomerate GFG Alliance, which owns the steel business.
Reports last week suggested three Liberty Steel group companies could face winding up orders over the coming weeks.
Any loan secured would need the approval of Gupta Family Group’s creditors which include Credit Suisse and Tata Steel.
Many of Liberty Steel’s assets were part of Tata Steel’s UK business until they were purchased for £100m in 2017.
New look Cwmcarn Forest Drive to reopen next month after six years
Saul Cooke-Black, local democracy reporter
A revamped Cwmcarn Forest Drive will open its gates and welcome visitors by car for the first time in more than six years next month, it has been confirmed.
Natural Resources Wales and Caerphilly County Borough Council have confirmed that the new look drive is set to reopen on June 21.
The visitor attraction, which is owned by NRW, has been closed since 2015 to allow for the felling of about 150,000 trees affected by the disease Phytophthora Amorum.
Over the last two years it has undergone significant development to create an attraction that is accessible and enjoyable for all audiences.
Several new all-ability trails have been created along the route opening up access to the forest for all, along with new picnic seating areas.
Parents looking to entertain little ones can also look forward to three new play areas, sensory tunnels and a woodland sculpture trail.
A wooden cabin with panoramic views over the valley will provide opportunities for outdoor learning and wellbeing activities, while information signs will allow people to learn more about the history and the heritage of the woodland.
Geminie Drinkwater, project manager at Natural Resources Wales, said: “It has been a tremendous privilege to be able to work on this project and see the ideas and aspirations of many local people and visitors brought into fruition.
“Cwmcarn Forest is such as important asset to the local community and visitors alike, providing much needed access to green space.
“Over the last year the covid-19 pandemic has brought into focus just how important this is to our physical and mental wellbeing.
“What we’ve created here is something that will be cherished by many – young and old – for years to come.”
Caerphilly council’s cabinet agreed last month to a collaborative arrangement with NRW for the local authority to manage the forest drive.
Admission costs will be £8 for a car, £4 for a motorbike, £15 for a minibus and £30 for a coach.
Cllr Philippa Marsden, leader of Caerphilly council, said: “It is fantastic to be working with NRW to bring this much-loved attraction back to public use.
“To see the progress made over the last two years has been a pleasure.
“The impressive green space boasts a range of brand new additions, including the luxury glamping pods and a number of activity areas, there truly is something for everyone to enjoy and we hope that residents and visitors make the most of all that Cwmcarn has to offer in the coming months.”
An official ceremony to mark the reopening of the drive will take place once Covid-19 restrictions are lowered further.