News in brief: UK minister turns his sights on the troubled tank programme based in Merthyr
A UK Government minister says the company based in Wales and responsible for producing Ajax armoured vehicles, must shoulder the cost of rectifying problems with the troubled programme.
Trials of the tanks, which is manufactured by General Dynamics UK and assembled at its plant in Merthyr Tydfil, were halted between November 2020 and March this year after problems with excessive vibration resulted in its speed being limited to 20 miles per hour.
The vibration and resultant noise caused crew members to experience swollen joints and tinnitus and according to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the army also placed an operation limit inside the tank of one hour 30 minutes and asked personnel to wear noise-cancelling headphones inside the vehicle.
Ben Wallace, defence secretary, told the Financial Times on Tuesday that any costs for solving the problems would be met by the contractor, adding his priority was finding out if the project is fixable and protecting “the interests of the men and women we are going to put in the back of this thing”.
So far, the MoD has spent nearly £3.5bn on the vehicles and 14 have been delivered.
The FT also quotes a leaked report by the Infrastructure Project Authority, which reports to the Cabinet Office and warned that “successful delivery of the programme to time, cost and quality appears to be unachievable”.
“There are major issues which, at this stage, do not appear to be manageable or resolvable within the current business case,” the report added.
Work on building the tanks at the plant in Merthyr Tydfil which employs 700 workers, was paused two weeks ago when the safety issues were first made public.
The vehicles were due to become fully operational at the end of this month, but this is now expected to be delayed until September at the earliest.
No further deaths in Wales but Covid cases continue to climb
Today’s figures released by Public Health Wales have confirmed no new deaths due to the Covid-19 but another jump in cases, particularly in areas in the north where clusters of the Delta variant have been identified.
Overall, 141 people have tested positive for the virus since yesterday’s report, including 24 in Conwy, which is at the centre of a cluster of cases linked to the Delta mutation.
Cardiff had the second highest number of new cases over the last 24 hours with 19 and Flintshire and the Vale of Glamorgan each recorded 16.
The weekly case rate in Conwy is the highest in the country at 68.3 per 100,000 people, up from 57.2 yesterday and the rate in Denbighshire, where a Delta outbreak has been linked with a number of schools, has increased from 48.1 to 56.4. It also has the highest weekly positivity rate in Wales at 4.2% per 100,000 tests an increase of 0.5% since yesterday.
The national case is up from 20.1 to 22.2 and the test rate has increased from 2.0% to 2.2%.
Finance ministers unite in calls for talks with UK Chancellor
The Finance Ministers of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer calling for an urgent meeting to discuss a range of issues, including financial recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic.
Following discussions at the Covid Recovery Summit earlier this month, ministers are urging the Chancellor to engage in meaningful discussions around budgets, the Barnett guarantee, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the UK Spending Review and Levelling Up of the economy.
“We are calling for an urgent meeting with the Chancellor to build on the commitments made at the Covid Recovery Summit that the 4 nations will work together to support economic recovery,” Wales’ Minister for Finance and Local Government Rebecca Evans said.
“It is vital that the four nations share information and meet on a regular basis to ensure that Wales and the rest of the UK recovers from what has been an incredibly challenging year.”
Scotland’s Finance Secretary Kate Forbes urged the Chancellor to, “build on constructive discussions at the Covid Recovery Summit and ensure we are working together to ensure we build a suitable recovery from the pandemic.”
“To ensure Scotland and the whole of the UK recovers from the pandemic and builds a sustainable economy, we urgently need the Chancellor to meet with us to discuss these matters,” she added.
Northern Ireland’s Conor Murphy said the UK government’s Spending Review “is of crucial importance” adding it is also important the review “delivers a good budget outcome.”
“We need to rebuild public services and the economy after the damage caused by COVID-19. This can only be done through an investment led approach to recovery.
“I look forward to a constructive engagement with the Chancellor and my counterparts in Scotland and Wales on these issues.”
The Welsh Government’s spending plans for education over the next year have been published today.
The Renew and Reform plan sets out how the government will use £150 million in additional investment over the next 12 months to help the education system in Wales recover from the Covid pandemic.
The new plan aims to address four key challenges:
- Helping learners to develop a secure foundation for learning.
- Supporting learners as they continue their progress.
- Providing help to practitioners to support their well-being.
- Continuing existing moves towards reform in education.
“The plan published today sets out how we will continue to support the well-being and progression of learners across all settings; in particular those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable, and with a focus on early years and post-16 learners.
“We are also ensuring the teaching profession have the support they need to do the job they’re best placed to do,” Jeremy Miles, the Minister for Education, said.
The government says the plan is a continuation of the support already provided to help the sector recover from the pandemic, which includes:
- £33m to support full-time learners aged between 16 and 19 who are starting A level or vocational courses at either a sixth form or FE college.
- £24m to continue support and mentoring for learners through the Recruit, Recover and Raise Standards programme, retaining the 1800 full-time equivalent staff recruited in the 2020 to 2021 academic year.
- £23.2m additional funding for free school meals during the school holidays, bringing funding for 2021 to 2022 to over £110m.
- £15m for educational technology in schools through the Hwb EdTech programme, improve digital infrastructure at maintained schools.
“The principles of the Curriculum for Wales underpin everything we do as we continue our recovery from the pandemic, including the Renew and Reform plan,” the minister added.
“The pandemic has shown the remarkable resilience and flexibility within the sector, and we must learn from that.”