News in brief: Westminster accused of ‘levelling down’ Wales with delays to EU funding replacement
Economy Minister Vaughan Gething has accused the UK Government of denying Wales vital investment due to delays in delivering funding to replace support from the EU lost following Brexit.
Speaking in the Senedd, Mr Gething said the UK-wide Community Renewal and Levelling Up funds, which exclude the Welsh Government from involvement and are controlled by ministers at Westminster, amounts to a “levelling down” for Wales and will cost job opportunities and undermine badly needed projects.
“Only six months remain of this financial year and the UK Government has still not announced any successful bids for the Community Renewal and Levelling Up funds. This is despite the promises made to announce bids in July,” he said.
“Partners are right to ask how projects are supposed to deliver by March as required. This is a delay that leaves communities in the dark and badly compromises what can be achieved for people and businesses in Wales.
“We also have real concerns about the threat of UK Government plans on the future scale of EU-funded schemes including Business Wales, the Development Bank and Apprenticeships.
“Our framework for investing replacement EU funds builds on years of partner engagement. It is based on evidence and agreement with clear priorities for Wales. This is what a Team Wales approach looks like,” Mr Gething added.
“I have made clear to the new Secretary of State Michael Gove that we are open to meaningful discussions on how to best collaborate to make these funds a success for Wales.
“The UK Government has an opportunity to show it has listened and to end the era that says to Wales ‘You’ll get what you’re given’.
Dismissing Mr Gethings comments, Welsh Conservative Shadow Economy Minister Paul Davies accused the minister of “having a strop” and behaving “like a spurned ex”.
“Vaughan Gething’s statement is full of the resentment of a spurned ex that seems to have forgotten that Wales voted to leave the EU. He’s simply having a strop because the British Government want to actively invest in Wales rather than let his Labour administration make their usual cock-ups,” Mr Davies said.
“This was merely an opportunity for Gething to grandstand in an act devoid of useful information. He knows Wales is still getting directly funded from the EU through the structural funds that are still tailring off, after which the Shared Prosperity Fund will be introduced.
“Sadly, the minister chooses to cynically portray the British Government as an adversarial actor when it aims to fund exciting and innovative projects across Wales and the wider UK to create jobs and help the economy bounce back.
“If only Labour spent less time moaning, they might actually get somewhere in improving the economy, increasing wages, and tackling poverty across Wales.”
The EU Structural Fund ended in December 2020 with Wales no longer receiving an annual sum of £373m in economic aid.
The UK Government pledged to replace the amount lost with a Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) but has yet to provide clear details about how this will work.
In the meantime, £220m funds are being provided by a Community Renewal Fund but this covers all of the UK nations with Wales expecting to receive around £10m.
Figures released last month confirmed Wales is being hardest hit by the post Brexit loss of EU Structural Funds, losing more than double that of Scotland (£125m) and most of the English regions that have previously received European Union support.
New legislation could make faking a lateral flow test result a criminal offense
Mark Drakeford has confirmed the government intends to make falsifying the results of a lateral flow Covid test a criminal offence, if it succeeds in passing legislation introducing a Covid pass system in Wales.
The Senedd will vote next Tuesday on whether the pass scheme will be implemented from 11 October.
People will have to show a NHS Covid Pass, which will include details of their vaccine status or if they have had a negative lateral flow test result in the last 48 hours, to enter nightclubs and attend high risk events.
“A Covid pass allows those people to demonstrate they’ve taken reasonable measures to protect themselves, but it comes with the vulnerability that, at the moment, a lateral flow device particularly could be vulnerable to exploitation,” The First Minister told the Senedd.
“In our regulations, which the Senedd will have an opportunity to debate next week, we will make it a specific offence, a criminal offence, knowingly to falsify the results of a lateral flow device, to make it clear to people that to do so is to put other people directly in danger.”
Mr Drakeford also explained random checks of Covid passes would be introduced at large-scale events to avoid crown control problems.
“…the public health adverse impacts of checking everybody’s pass would outweigh the advantages of the pass itself, because you would have long queues of people spending lots of time jostling next door to one another,” he said.
“We are clear in the guidance that we will publish that, in those circumstances, it will be possible for event organisers randomly to check people’s Covid pass. So, anybody could be asked to demonstrate it, but not everybody.”
Public Health Wales has reported nine further deaths due to Covid-19 and 3,369 new positive tests for the virus in the last 24 hours.
Three of the newly recorded deaths were in the Swansea Bay health board area and Cwm Taf Morgannwg and Powys each reported two deaths.
Aneurin Bevan and Bestsi Cadwaladr each recorded one death as the total number since the start of the pandemic rose to 5,879.
Neath Port Talbot continues to have the highest weekly case rate in the UK at 938.5 per 100,000 people, up from 927.3 yesterday, and along with Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr, Caerphilly, Swansea, Vale of Glamorgan and Blaenau Gwent makes up the seven highest rates in the UK.
The national rate for the week up to 24 September is currently 649, a fall from 650.6 yesterday.
Campaigners to march against cuts to Universal Credit payments
Campaigners will stage a March Against Poverty in Cardiff tomorrow, calling on the UK government to reverse plans to cut the £20 uplift to Universal Credit payments next month.
The UK Government confirmed in August that it would remove the £20 temporary increase, introduced at the start of the Covid pandemic, leaving struggling families £1,040 a year worse off.
Analysis by Wales TUC suggests 280,000 people will be made worse off by the cut and more than a third (37.1 per cent) of those hit in Wales will be working families – many of them key worker households.
“UK Government talks about ‘levelling up’. But that idea is meaningless if they go ahead with cuts to Universal Credit for tens of thousands of workers in Wales,” Shavanah Taj, Wales TUC General Secretary said.
“UK ministers should abandon this cruel cut that will hit low-income families at a time when they’re also facing sharp increases in household bills.
“We need a social security system that helps people get back on their feet – not one that locks them in poverty. The priority now should be increasing the minimum wage, investing to create good green jobs and tackling the scourge of insecure work. Cutting universal credit isn’t the way to achieve fair work.”
The protest will assemble on 30 September at 6 pm in the Stone Circle in Bute Park, Cardiff.
Council bosses dismiss concerns about building houses on ‘brownfield’ village green
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
Council bosses have dismissed concerns about building houses on a village green in the Vale of Glamorgan, highlighting the high local demand for social housing.
Vale of Glamorgan council wants to build four houses and six flats on a plot of land north of Maes-y-Ffynnon in the village of Bonvilston.
But the plans have been opposed by local residents, the local community council, and the council’s own planning committee.
On Monday, September 27, the council’s cabinet signed off plans to appeal to the Welsh Government against the planning committee’s delay in deciding whether to approve permission.
During the cabinet meeting, Councillor Margaret Wilkinson, cabinet member for housing and building services, said: “These much needed new council homes include older person’s accommodation in the Wenvoe ward. There are 196 people wanting to live around the Wenvoe area and in the Wenvoe ward, and this [scheme] is in the Wenvoe ward.”
Council leader Neil Moore added: “This is 10 much-needed council homes on a former disused garage site. It has gone to planning twice with a recommendation for approval, and it has been rejected but with no planning reason why to reject it. If there were a planning reason to reject it, then I would look at it differently.”
The plans first came to the planning committee in July last year, but a decision was delayed as residents had applied to legally register the land as a ‘village green’, affording it extra protection from development. However, the village green application was later rejected in an inquiry held by an independent barrister, for technical legal reasons.
James Marwick, the barrister, said villagers have been using the green “by right” rather than “as of right”, meaning the council gave them permission to use the land. He also argued the site had been legally designated for housing since the 1950s, when the land was bought by the former Cardiff Rural District Council and the existing houses on Maes-Y-Ffynnon were built.
Following the legal ruling to dismiss the village green application, the council said it would be inaccurate to refer to the site as a ‘village green’. However, local residents continue to do so.
After the application to register the site as a village green was dismissed, the plans went back to the planning committee in September this year. Councillors on the committee voted against approving the scheme, but could not agree on a proper reason to refuse permission, and so voted to again defer it. The council’s housing department is now appealing that delay.
Deputy leader Lis Burnett said: “We are talking about a brownfield site here, and we are talking about the site of disused garages, for 10 units. It’s what they call a pepperpot or pocket development within a community, on a brownfield site. This is exactly the right action for us to take.”
The plot of land is technically a ‘brownfield site’ — a planning term meaning an area that has been previously built on — because a small section used to have five garages, which have since been knocked down. That section has been replaced with hardstanding, but the rest of the green area remains unchanged, according to local residents.
Ian Perry, chair of the St Nicholas with Bonvilston community council, said: “It has been used as a village green for 70 years, somewhere for children to go and play or adults to meet, socialise and hold events. It still remains a village green. Calling it otherwise is just wrong.
“Where the garages were is now hardstanding parking, but that’s just a small little area. The village green was there before the garages were. There’s a huge amount of green space, there’s space for children to play or kick a ball around, and it’s a beautiful open area. The community would love to own that land and improve it.”