News in brief: Welsh Lib Dems slam UK Government over pension ‘betrayal’ of Gurkhas
Jane Dodds, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Senedd Member for Mid & West Wales has slammed the UK Government’s “disgraceful treatment” of Gurkha veterans as a hunger strike over pension payments by a number of former Gurkha soldiers outside Downing Street, enters its fifth day.
The Gurkhas, an elite group of Nepalese troops who have fought for the UK during both World Wars and other major conflicts and Gurkha soldiers have been based in Brecon for over 45 years.
In 2009 they won the right to British citizenship after a high-profile campaign by the actress Joanna Lumley. However, pension payments for veterans who fought for the UK before 1997 remain a fraction of those paid to their British Army counterparts as they are calculated on Indian Army rates.
Around 25,000 Gurkhas who retired before 1997 are thought to have been denied a full pension by the UK Government and the small group of veterans have been on hunger strike, demanding pension parity, since the weekend.
“It’s an absolute disgrace that the government have allowed this issue to boil over to the point where we have former Gurkha soldiers going on hunger strike. These are people who have put their lives on the line for the safety of our country time and time again. It is an absolute betrayal of British values, Ms Dodds said.
“We have a long history of association with the Gurkhas here in Powys, with their regiment being based in Brecon for the past 45-years.
“I’m sure many residents will, like me, find this news extremely distressing and an insult to those who have served. We are meant to be a nation of compassion, if we can’t even find that for those who put their lives on the line for us, then what does that say about the current position of our country and government?
“I am calling on our Conservative Members of Parliament to push the government and their colleagues to grant the Gurkhas the level of pensions they rightfully deserve, which is equal to that of their British compatriots.”
New figures report slowing of Delta variant cases across Wales
Public Health Wales has confirmed 1,889 new cases of the Covid Delta variant in the seven days up to 10 August, a fall of 6% from the 2,006 reported last week.
Overall, 13,360 cases of the variant have been detected in Wales since May and according to the latest data, the Coronavirus mutation accounted for 100% of all of all sequenced Covid cases recorded in Wales last week.
Betsi Cadwaladr health board continues to be hardest hit, reporting 562 new cases in the week, taking the total number of infections to 5,015, 37.5% of the national total.
Cardiff and Vale has recorded the second highest number of Delta cases at 2,270 and had 223 new infections last week.
Three of the local authorities served by Betsi Cadwaladr have the highest weekly case rates in Wales, with the rate in Denbighshire at 280.1 per 100,000 people, the worst, followed by Conwy (238) and Wrexham (202.3).
Today’s update from PHW has also reported 1,030 new positive tests for Covid over the 27 hours up to 12.00 yesterday, with 75 of those in Denbighshire. Cardiff recorded the second highest number with 72 and there were 69 in Rhondda Cynon Taf.
The national case rate is up 6.7 to 142.4 and the proportion of tests coming back positive has increased from 9.9% per 100,000 tests to 10.3% since Tuesday’s report.
Government scheme reduced council tax for over a quarter of a million households
Over 283,000 vulnerable and low-income households in Wales have benefitted from a reduction in their council tax bills over the last 12 months, according to the Welsh Government’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme Annual Report for 2020-21.
Around one in five households have benefited from a reduction in their council tax in the last 12 months and of these, approximately 226,000 paid no council tax at all.
During the financial year from April 2020 to March 2021 local authorities also received an extra £11 million to support CTRS to cover the increased award of applications for the scheme as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report reveals that over the past year:
- 283,116 households in Wales were in receipt of a council tax reduction in March 2021, compared to 275,604 in March 2020, an increase of 7,512 cases (2.7%).
- The total value of reductions provided through the CTRS in Wales from April 2020 to March 2021 was approximately £295.1m, compared to £271.9m in the previous financial year, an increase of approximately £24.2m (7.9%).
Confirming the government are continuing to monitor the challenges presented by the longer-term impacts of the pandemic on low‑income and vulnerable households, Rebecca Evans MS, Minister for Finance and Local Government, said: “As always, and particularly in the current uncertain and challenging circumstances, I would encourage everyone to check our website to see whether they are entitled for help with their council tax bill under our reduction scheme or one of the other discounts available.
“Our Programme for Government sets out our commitment to seek to reform council tax to make it fairer for all. We have begun considering the options for how we achieve this, building on our work over the 5th Senedd term. In February, we published a Summary of Findings drawing together the detailed work to explore reforms to council tax and non‑domestic rates, and the wider local government finance system.”
Plaid urge action to improve pay and working conditions for health and care sector staff
Plaid Cymru has called for a commitment from the government to higher pay and better working conditions” to improve absenteeism among NHS staff.
Newly released statistics reveal that absence rates within the NHS have been rising slowly since 2018 and increased significantly from April 2020 during the pandemic.
The figures also revealed that the highest sickness absence rate of 8.4% was amongst Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust staff, amid reports of widespread burnout and unprecedented 999 call volumes.
“It is clear that the ambulance service is at a crisis point in many parts of Wales, and have been severely affected by consequences of the pandemic,’ Plaid Cymru Spokesperson for Health, Rhun ap Iorwerth said.
“Staff absences are at a record high, with burnout common and a lack of support in place.
“The Welsh Government must commit to higher pay and better working conditions to ensure workers are able to maintain their roles properly and that staff retention can improve, and calls from unions for extra welfare support and measures must be acted on.
“This has to be part of a wider project to dramatically improve the health and care sector as an employer, so that fair play is given to all workers.”
Popular Cardiff bridge to be replaced in active travel upgrade
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
Blackweir Bridge in Bute Park could soon be replaced with a wider bridge as part of major upgrades to active travel across Cardiff.
The suspension bridge joins Pontcanna Fields with Blackweir Fields and is a key route over the river Taff for walkers and cyclists.
The bridge would be upgraded to meet active travel guidance standards, as part of a series of schemes to improve walking and cycling routes across the city.
Cardiff council has launched a public consultation on its ‘draft active travel map’, a legal requirement for local authorities showing where routes could be improved.
Other potential upgrades include a segregated cycle lane looping around the city centre; improving the Millenium Bridge which joins Sophia Gardens with Bute Park; widening the narrow path alongside the Nos Da hostel in Riverside; realigning and widening the Taff Trail through Hailey Park in Llandaff North; and improving the Rhymney and Ely Trails too.
Further work includes linking the 130 schools in Cardiff to the active travel network, making it easier for pupils to walk and cycle safely to school.
The consultation started on Monday, August 9 and will run until October 31. Then transport planners at the council will revise the map before submitting it to the Welsh Government in December.
Just over three out of 10 journeys to work in Cardiff are currently made on foot or by bike, but the council has a target to increase this to 43 per cent by 2030.
According to a freedom of information request, no complete designs or plans have been drawn up yet for replacing Blackweir Bridge, but the council has been given funding to look at what options are feasible for a replacement.
The council did not answer questions on when the bridge would be replaced, but documents show the scheme is “in development”.
Blackweir Bridge was shut for a large part of last year after vandals torched a motorbike underneath it and major floods caused a tree washing down the river to damage meshing on the bridge. The council said it was also due to people “not socially distancing” on the bridge.