News in brief: Westminster accused of undermining democracy with PCC voting changes
The Electoral Reform Society has attacked the UK Government’s plans to adopt First Past the Post voting for Mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner elections.
The society, which promotes electoral reform across the UK, warned the plans, included in Westminster’s new Elections Bill, are an “attack on voters” and described them as a regressive move that, “far from improving accountability, would undermine the legitimacy of those elected”.
Both Labour’s Andy Dunbobbin in North Wales and Plaid Cymru’s Dafydd Llywelyn in Dyfed-Powys won on second preferences, after falling short of their Conservative challenger with the first vote in PCC elections in Wales earlier this year.
“This latest announcement confirms what we’ve long known – the government’s elections bill proposals are less about improving our democracy than they are an attack on voters ability to cast their ballot and have their voice count,” Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research, Electoral Reform Society said.
“Imposing Westminster’s broken first-past-the-post voting system on mayoral and PCC elections across the UK is a step backwards for our elections. This is a regressive move that would likely see significant positions handed to people without the support of a majority of the voters – undermining the legitimacy of those elected.”
“These proposals show yet again the government has little interest in improving democracy but instead is using this bill to undermine our democracy and cast the views of voters and their votes on the scrapheap,” she added.
Confirming the government’s plans, Kit Malthouse, the minister for policing, told the Telegraph: “We are strengthening the accountability and role of police and crime commissioners, to help cut crime and deliver on the people’s priorities.”
Chloe Smith, the minister for the constitution, added: “Britain’s long-standing national electoral system of first past the post ensures clearer accountability, and allows voters to kick out the politicians who don’t deliver.
“First past the post is fair and simple – the person with the most votes wins.”
Minister repeats vaccine call as Covid hospital admissions reach the highest level since March
Health Minister Eluned Morgan MS has warned of growing pressure on the NHS due to the increase in Covid cases and reiterated calls for everyone who is eligible in Wales to get vaccinated.
In a statement to the Senedd, the minister revealed there are currently around 40 hospital admissions a day of patients with Covid and just over 480 confirmed cases in hospitals across the country—the highest number since March. The government’s current modelling of the pandemic also suggests there could be over 3,000 new cases a day and 100 new hospital admissions every day as the delta wave peaks towards the end of the month.
“As we look further ahead to the winter, there are also threats from other respiratory infections, such as RSV and seasonal flu. If we are to be successful in controlling both coronavirus and other respiratory infections this autumn and winter, we must continue to focus on improving the take-up of Covid vaccination, especially amongst those groups and communities where take-up of the vaccine is relatively low,” the minister said.
“Currently, there are around 373,000 unvaccinated people in Wales who could have had the vaccine, and the majority of those are under 50 years of age. We’re particularly worried about the low take-up of the vaccine amongst pregnant women.
“Unfortunately, over the past three weeks, there’s been an increase in Covid-related hospital admissions amongst unvaccinated pregnant women. Just as important, we will be making sure everyone who is eligible receives the booster jab. We’ll also be working hard to encourage people to receive the flu jab, to build on last year’s take-up numbers—the record numbers last year.”
Meanwhile, today’s report from Public Health Wales has confirmed 10 further deaths due to Covid and 2,298 new positive tests for the virus.
Four of the newly reported deaths were in the Aneurin Bevan health board area, Swansea Bay recorded three deaths in the past 24 hours and there was one further death in Betsi Cadwaladr, Cwm Taf Morgannwg and Hywel Dda.
The total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic has now risen to 5,770.
In the seven days ending 10 September 15,768 people have tested positive for the virus in Wales, a decline of close to 1,000 from the previous week.
The weekly national case rate has also fallen, from 510.8 per 100,000 people to 500.1 in Tuesday’s report.
Carmarthenshire currently has the highest weekly rate in the country at 717.3, while overall, 10 of 22 local authorities in Wales have rates over 500.
Rise in Covid cases hits school bus services
Rhondda Cynon Taf council has warned of delays of up to 45 minutes for school bus services due to a shortage of bus drivers and passenger assistants.
Rhondda Cynon Taf council leader Andrew Morgan told BBC Wales services face disruption because of the number of drivers and assistants self-isolating and said pressure on councils was “at its worst” since the pandemic began.
“All the services are under huge pressure,” he said.
“We’re just urging parents to be mindful that if the bus doesn’t turn up their child should stay at their collection point and as soon as possible a sweeper bus will pick them up and take them to school…
“We actually have additional buses out on the network who can be diverted as quickly as possible so we are talking about a half hour to 45-minute wait potentially.”
“We are doing our very best and the contractors who run the fleet of buses to make sure children get to school on time.”
Mr Morgan said the council was under pressure as it was trying to run normal services while providing support to contact tracing, vaccination centres and dealing with a number of staff on leave with Covid.
“Actually, the pressure on local authorities is probably at its worst now than at any time in the last 18 months,” he concluded.
Over 1,300 people have tested positive for Covid in RCT over the last seven days and the weekly case rate of 564.1 per 100,000 people is the sixth highest in Wales.
MS calls for more housing stock to be transferred to registered social landlords
The Welsh Government is being urged to play a more proactive role in encouraging the transfer of housing stock from local authorities to registered social landlord (RSL).
Following her question to Mark Drakeford during First Minister’s Questions yesterday, Tory MS Janet Finch-Saunders said there are clear economic benefits for the move and accused Mr Drakeford of adopting a “hands-off approach”.
According to Community Housing Cymru, in 2019/20, associations spent £1.3bn directly in the Welsh economy, and for every one of the around 10,000 full time staff, another 1.5 jobs were supported elsewhere.
Mrs Finch-Saunders also claimed associations play a leading role in addressing the climate emergency, citing the £17.9m spent on reducing carbon emissions in their existing stock.
“Housing associations provide around 165,000 homes and related housing services for around 10% of the population. Our associations often go beyond their core purpose of providing affordable housing for those who need it, playing an essential role in community cohesion and in our work to combat climate change,” the MS for Aberconwy said.
“There are numerous examples proving that our 59 RSLs are delivering for our communities. In my own constituency, Cartrefi Conwy has founded an award-winning building and maintenance social enterprise contractor. Similarly, Adra has been shortlisted for three national Housing Awards and Monmouth Housing is driving toward full zero carbon building.
“I remain most surprised that the last local authority to transfer 100% of its housing stock was Neath Port Talbot in 2011. This is why I have called on the Welsh Government to take steps to promote the transfer of stock to RSLs so that the whole of Wales can reap the economic and community benefits.
“Whilst the First Minister’s answer today took a hopelessly hands-off approach, emphasising that Local Authorities are required to ballot tenants before a transfer can take place, there is certainly more work that his administration can do to assist with achieving transfer.”
Report into £5 million overspend on cultural hub to be discussed next month
Elgan Hearn, local democracy reporter
The findings of a probe into why a flagship Powys County Council (PCC) project, Y Gaer in Brecon, was delivered late and £5 million over budget, will be discussed next month.
At a meeting of the Governance and Audit committee on Monday, September 13, councillors were told that October 8 had been set as a date to discuss the report on Y Gaer.
In June 2020 it was revealed that the council’s internal auditors, SWAP would look into the issues surrounding the project.
But due to the coronavirus pandemic, the council focussed on business-critical services, and work on the investigation has been delayed.
The report should have been discussed in July and had also been pencilled into a forward plan for the September meeting,
A draft copy of the report had been with the council’s Housing and Community Development service.
Director of environment and economy, Nigel Brinn said “We’re very keen to get the paper to you as soon as possible.
“Our plan is to issue it to members next Monday in advance of it going out to the public.
“It’s a really important piece of work one of the biggest pieces of audit work undertaken given the duration and volume of work to go through.”
Committee chairman, Cllr John Morris said: “Put the morning of October 8 in your diaries – tentatively.
“This is quite a detailed report, we need more than a week to get to grips with it.”
Cllr Morris told committee members that they would meet confidentially before a public meeting to go through the “issues and areas” that they would discuss.
“Then it will go out to the public domain, and we’ll look at it in a single item meeting on October 8,” said Cllr Morris.
The SWAP report is supposed to concentrate on the process of governance and financial control to find out if they were effective at the time and whether any lessons can be learned for future projects.
Calls for an investigation to find out the causes of the problems were originally made back in 2019 by Cllr Karen Laurie-Parry.
She wanted an independent review set up as “no-one appeared concerned” about the spiralling cost.
In December 2019, Brecon’s new cultural hub and library, Y Gaer (Welsh for Fortress) finally opened.
It is the redevelopment of the Grade II* listed Shire Hall and construction of a new modern library at the former Brecknock Museum & Art Gallery which saw the project costs rise, from £9million to £14million.
The Welsh Government and National Heritage Lottery Fund have provided almost £4 million in grant funding for the project.