Save Hardship Funding in Wales

Speech prepared for Save Hardship Funding motion for the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ 2015 Autumn Conference.

Conference,

The purpose of this motion is to say clearly that the Welsh Liberal Democrats want to ensure that everyone can not only gain access to University, but are supported to succeed in University, too.

As a party we agree that access to higher education should not be determined by your ability to pay, we can’t deliver a truly accessible Higher Education system when academic success is all too often determined by your bank balance.

The Welsh Labour Government has made widening access to disadvantaged groups and student success and learning gain priorities, but at the same time is pulling the carpet from under the feet of the most vulnerable students in Wales Рallowing Universities to pick and choose who’s more disadvantaged.

The Welsh Labour Government has cut the £2.1m Financial Contingency Fund Рa fund that provides Universities with funding to support the most vulnerable Рa small budget for the Government, but a lifeline for students in Wales.

NUS Wales‚Äô study, Pound in Your Pocket, found that more than 50% of students regularly worried about meeting basic living costs, which they felt affected their studies. This will have an even greater impact on students from low socio-economic backgrounds and BME students who typically are awarded fewer ‚Äėgood degrees‚Äô (2:1 and 1st degrees) than their white counterparts

We also know that most students struggle to pay their rent with the maintenance loans on offer. Maintenance loans have stayed the same at a time when the the cost of living has gone up and financial support like the Disabled Students’ Allowance has been cut.

And now the Tories want to replace grants with loans for the most vulnerable in England, too!

The future of higher education funding in Wales (and England) is uncertain and we should be reiterating at this key point in the discussion that we want to ensure that Higher Education is accessible to all and that everyone should be supported to succeed at University, not just get through the doors.

We also need to remind everyone of Assembly’s promise during the 2011 elections that this fund would be protected Рlet’s make sure that that promise is kept. Please support this motion.

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Welsh Labour’s lacklustre response to improving mental healthcare in Wales.

The Welsh Labour Party once again displayed their poverty of ambition for Wales.

A debate was held in the¬†Welsh Assembly this month on¬†Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services¬†(CAMHS) in Wales. The Welsh Liberal Democrats, following a unanimous decision by members at the Party’s Spring Conference, tabled the debate calling on the Welsh Government¬†to take a number of key steps including:

‚ÄĘ investigating waiting times between a child or young person‚Äôs first assessment with CAMHS and their subsequent service referral;
‚ÄĘ routinely publishing readmission statistics;
‚ÄĘ consistent and accurate reporting of inappropriate placements on adult mental health wards;
‚ÄĘ considering the introduction of mental health education within the school curriculum; and
‚ÄĘ introducing a national framework to ensure continuity of treatment in the transition between CAMHS and Adult Mental Health Services.

The Welsh Labour Government voted against all of these suggestions.

One in ten children and adolescents in Wales will experience a mental health issue, and waiting lists are too long, there is a lack of investment and focus on early intervention, too many young people are still inappropriately placed on adult mental health wards, safety checks are not common practice and many young people get lost in the transition between CAMHS and Adult Mental Health Services.

Nearly a¬†decade ago the Children‚Äôs Commissioner warned that CAMHS provision was in ‚Äėcrisis across Wales‚Äô, and we’re still hearing those same concerns echoed by child health experts in 2014.

Figures compiled by the Welsh Liberal Democrats show that the number of vulnerable young people in Wales waiting more than 14 weeks to access child and adolescent psychiatric services has almost quadrupled, from 199 in January 2013 to 736 in January 2014.

Wales made a good start in¬†being the first country in the UK to have a national strategy on CAMHS with the launch of ‚ÄėEverybody‚Äôs Business‚Äô in 2001. There are examples of excellent practice across Wales, yet sadly despite action plans, frameworks and even the Mental Health (Wales) Measure, there remain significant concerns that can no longer be ignored.

Welsh Labour, when they voted against making improvements to mental health services in Wales, displayed their¬†lack of ambition,¬†displayed a willingness to play politics with people’s health, and shows how Labour continues to let the people of Wales down.

Education in Wales needs more than ‘structural change’

A ¬†reorganisation of school services in Wales is ‚Äúunlikely‚ÄĚ before the end of the Assembly term, according to Education Minister Huw Lewis,¬†with regional consortia currently recommended as the best way forward.

Education in Wales however needs more than structural change to address the fact that a Labour-led Welsh Government since 1999 has failed young people in Wales as school standards have fallen year on year.

In an assessment of Welsh schools by the OECD Wales came 36th for science, 41st for reading and 43rd for maths in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) study.

The results were a serious, yet not unexpected blow for the Welsh Government, with another target set by the Welsh Government that is unlikely to be met. Teenagers were revealed to have scored lower in reading, maths and science than their contemporaries in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

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So whilst the structure or organisation of education in Wales is highly important, structure is unlikely to boost Pisa scores, teacher morale, or the attainment gap between Wales and the rest of the UK.

The Welsh Labour Government cannot expect a structural reorganisation to act as a magic silver bullet to solve all our problems. As with the school banding system, one solution was expected to improve standards in schools across Wales, yet year on year a fixed number of schools will appear in each band, a crude and simplistic means to improving standards across Welsh schools, a process that has so far failed to do so.

Welsh Liberal Democrats have echoed Estyn’s calls for a system that track’s an individual pupil’s progress,¬†a far more effective way to raise standards, which would also identify children who were not achieving their potential. Schools would therefore be monitored on the basis of their individual targets, rather than government-set targets, which create a far-removed system from local education.

Whilst the Hill Review discusses improving classroom teaching and learning, improving school leadership, the Welsh Government seems hung on regional consortia and the organisation of services.

Education Minister Huw Lewis said,

“We’ve made a clear commitment to drive up standards and performance across the board in Wales.

“Local authorities have a crucial part to play in this, but I’m becoming increasingly concerned about their commitment to consortia working. We’ve given them plenty of time to get their act together but today I am taking action to put in place a national model of regional working. I am minded to support this via a transfer out of the 2014-15 RSG settlement and we are pursuing this through the usual consultative process.

‚ÄúBy doing this we can ensure the consortia operating in Wales will have access to the funding they need to deliver our ambitious school improvement agenda.‚ÄĚ

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Whilst regional consortia will provide schools with the funding required and supportive regional collaboration, more must be done to look at individual student attainment, and equipping pupils with the skills that they need to get on in life.

Even Plaid Cymru are hooked on the idea of accountability and organisation of services,

“This is cherry-picking from the recommendations that the Minister‚Äôs friends in Welsh Local Government can live with and a complete volte face on the previous Minister‚Äôs attitude.

“The delivery of education services in Wales will continue to be a mess, unless other issues around governance, accountability, data sharing, targets, structures and appointments are sorted out first.”

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Welsh Liberal Democrats are championing the debate on supporting pupils, rather than government or organisations, to achieve their best. Through the Pupil Premium, or Pupil Deprivation Grant, we are beginning to break the link between attainment and poverty, and calling for a review of the school banding system to establish a system which supports individual pupils’ progress and individual schools in meeting their own targets, a progressive and far more supportive system to not only boost standards in Wales but to give children the best possible start in life to achieve their best.

Use it, or lose it.

Welsh Education Minister Huw Lewis has issued a strong reminder to Local Authorities that the pupil deprivation grant, a major education grant, must be used for its intended purposes.

Since 2011, the Welsh Labour Government has required support from opposition parties to ensure the passing of the Budget in the Assembly. Two years ago Welsh Liberal Democrats agreed to support a budget that met Welsh Liberal Democrat aims, being giving our children the best start in life, and beginning to break the link between attainment and poverty.

Our flagship policy as already introduced in England, the Pupil Premium (or Pupil Deprivation Grant) would give schools a sum of £450 for each pupil on free school meals.

Opposition parties, including the Welsh Liberal Democrats, again refused to back the Labour Government’s budget without further investment into key priorities. As a result of the 2013 budget negotiations, the grant will rise to ¬£918 per pupil on free schools meals.

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Concerns have been expressed that the money may be seen by some schools and indeed by some education authorities, as an additional fund to be used to meet local priorities. Education Minister Huw Lewis has recently asserted that the PDG (Pupil Deprivation Grant) must be used for its core purposes, to support pupils and to tackle the link between poor attainment and poverty.

Cllr Rhys Taylor said,

“The Welsh Liberal Democrats have been consistent in calling for more support for Wales’ poorest children, including¬†tacking the link between attainment and poverty.

We can be in no doubt that this extra money for schools would not exist if it were not for the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Our recent schools survey showed how students from poorer backgrounds are benefiting from this important Welsh Liberal Democrat policy.

Alan Milburn, a former Labour UK cabinet minister, recently published a report showing that pupils eligible for free school meals in England are 50% more likely to obtain five good GCSEs than their counterparts in Wales. That is wholly unacceptable and  the Welsh Liberal Democrats are ensuring that poorer students in Wales are now getting the extra support that they need.

Arfon Liberal Democrats are urging Gwynedd LEA to ensure that Pupil Deprivation Grant funding is used for its intended purpose.¬†”

 

Gwynedd received £904,050 of the £32.4m grant in 2013-14 (2009 Free School Meals Pupils), and is estimated to receive £1,947,996 of the £71.8m available in 2014/15. Some example funding outcomes of the PDG;

Ysgol Glancegin received £27,900 in 2013-14 and will receive £57,834 in 2014/15.

Ysgol Cae Top received £10,350 in 2013-14 and will receive £22,032 in 2014/15.

Ysgol Gynradd Hirael received £16,650 in 2013-14 and will receive £33,996 in 2014/15.

Ysgol Gynradd Llanllechid received £12,600 in 2013-14 and will receive 24 £22,032 in 2014/15.

 

Welsh Government for Wales?

Apparently not.

North Wales has lost out yet again after a £36 million rail scheme for North East Wales was delayed indefinitely. It begs the question do we have a Welsh Government for the whole of Wales?

North Wales has yet again lost out on vital investment that would go some way to boosting the regional economy.

“Seven miles (11km) of single rail track is due to be doubled between Wrexham and Saltney Junction, part of a ¬£36m Welsh government-funded project to improve the journey time between north and south Wales.

It would allow trains to travel up to 90mph (114km/h) in sections.

The work was due to be finished by early 2015 but Transport Minister Edwina Hart is now reviewing the plans following delays, and local councillors have said they feared the scheme was in “limbo”.”

North Wales Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Aled Roberts said

“When you look at infrastructure announcements over the years, it is more than clear that north Wales does not receive its fair share of expenditure for capital projects.

“Despite making up over a fifth of Wales’ population, our region is far too often overlooked.

“The first minister has acknowledged that the re-doubling of the Wrexham to Saltney Junction railway line will aid economic development across the region. Yet time and time we have seen delays.”

It’s a wonder that some people in Wales continue to question the purpose of devolution, and question whether Wales is better off running its own affairs. The clear red water has left Wales behind on health, education, the economy, and over-reliance on the public sector. The Welsh Government needs to act as a Government for the whole of Wales, and needs to build strong foundations for a strong economy in Wales.

Enterprise zones are slow to come to fruition, whilst the Liberal Democrats’ flagship Regional Growth Fund, a ¬£1.4bn investment, is investing in areas across the country to boost job creation and to save jobs. Where’s the commitment from the Welsh Government to all areas of Wales?!

http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/claims-cash-north-wales-rail-5373358

Welsh Government lax on NHS

The Welsh Labour Government is failing our ambulance service and Accident and Emergency services across Wales. The Government’s ambulance response times target has been missed for the eleventh successive month – a time frame in which most people would expect to see an improvement.

“The response time target is for 65% of life-threatening calls to receive an ambulance within eight minutes. In April this target was missed, as only 57.2% of calls were responded to within this time.¬†The Ambulance Trust also has an internal target for 52% of life-threatening calls to arrive within 4 minutes, yet in April only 25.9% of ambulances arrived within this time.”

Evidence has shown that where ambulances do not meet their response targets the number of deaths as a result of cardiopulmonary arrests increases. Almost 33% in a Scottish survey. This also has implications for other ambulance call outs where failure to meet response times could leave the patient partially disabled.

These figures show Wales has by far the worst urgent response times in the UK.

Following the Ambulance Review, the Health Minister, Mark Drakeford, stated that the eight minute target is to remain. We need this target in order to track how our ambulance service is performing compared to the rest of the UK.

Unfortunately it’s not just the ambulance service that isn’t being given proper support by the Welsh Government. Our Accident and Emergency services are also suffering.

The Welsh Government’s target is for 95% of patients to spend less than four hours in A&E. Figures shown that this target was also missed as 84.3% and 85.9% of patients spent less than 4 hours from arrival until admission, transfer or discharge in March and April 2013, respectively.

The target of  99% for patients not to spend longer than 8 hours in A&E was also missed.

These figures show a¬†continuing¬†decline in NHS services in Wales, a buck that can’t be passed to the Coalition Government. Whilst Joe Bloggs may not understand the¬†intricacies¬†of devolution, our Welsh Government ministers need to accept that responsibility for the NHS in Wales lies at Cardiff Bay.

After thirteen years of a Labour Government in the Assembly, we have seen our NHS fall further behind compared to the rest of the UK; cancer targets that have not been met for the last five years; A&E targets that have never been met and the worst ambulance response times in the UK.

This is not only an indication of poor patient care in the Welsh system, but also suggests the difficulty and strain placed on NHS staff when they are not being given the proper resources to care for patients in Wales.

This is just part of Labour’s legacy in Wales.

Cyfrifiad 2011; nid yr iaith yw’r broblem | Census 2011; it’s not the language.

Yn dilyn cyhoeddiad Cyfrifiad 2011 a chwymp yn y nifer o bobl sy’n siarad Cymraeg mae nifer, gan gynnwys, Cefin Campbell a sefydlodd y Fenter Iaith gyntaf yng Nghwm Gwendraeth yn 1991, yn galw ar y Llywodraeth i sefydlu comisiwn i edrych ar sefyllfa’r iaith ar draws Cymru a pham y mae Llywodraeth Cymru wedi methu cyrraedd ei tharged o godi’r nifer sy’n siarad Cymraeg i 26% erbyn 2011.

Er fy mod i’n cytuno bod angen i’r Llywodraeth ymateb, nid yw’r sefyllfa mor ddu a gwyn a safbwynt Cymdeithas (a Plaid Cymru) ar y mater.

I raddau, does gan y cwymp mewn niferoedd llawer i wneud gyda’r iaith ei hun. Mae ysgolion cyfrwng Cymraeg yn Ne Cymru yn orlawn, mae yna gymunedau yn dal i fod yn uniaith Gymraeg ac mae’r niferoedd sy’n gallu siarad Cymraeg o ganlyniad i ddarpariaeth addysg Gymraeg wedi cynyddu.

Ond os na allwn ni fynd ati i newid defnydd yr iaith yng Nghymru, be allwn ni ei wneud i ddangos gwir ddefnydd o’r Gymraeg yn y Gymru gyfoes?

Darpariaeth yw’r brif agwedd yma. Darpariaeth o gartrefi fforddiadwy, swyddi o safon a chysylltiadau trafnidiaeth o safon – yn fyr, cymunedau cynaliadwy sydd yn medru cadw eu pobl ifanc yn eu cymunedau i weithio ac i fyw. Heb gartrefi fforddiadwy na swyddi o safon yng nghefn gwlad, mae’r dinasoedd yn medru eu denu drwy gynnig swyddi a chyfleoedd i bobl ifanc.

Mae angen hybu datblygiad swyddi yng nghefn gwlad Cymru trwy annog busnesau i sefydlu mewn cymunedau trwy buddsoddi mewn broadband a chysylltiadau ffonau symudol sydd fawr ei hangen. Mae gwella gwasanaethau trafnidiaeth yn bwysig er mwyn sicrhau bod teuluoedd difreintiedig cyflogedig yn gallu dibynnu ar drafnidiaeth gyhoeddus, yn hytrach na gorfod talu i redeg ceir.

Mi fydd polisi newydd morgeisi’r Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol yn helpu pobl sy’n prynu ty am y tro cyntaf, ac yn rhoi hwb i’r sector adeiladwaith gan greu rhagor o dai, swyddi ac adfywio’r economi.

Adeiladwaith y gymuned sy’n bwysig i achub yr iaith, a hynny yw’r ffordd ymlaen.

 

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Following the publication of the Census 2011 and the decline in the number of Welsh speakers, many people, including Cefin Campbell, who first established the first Menter Iaith in Cwm Gwendraeth in 1991, are calling on the Government to establish a commission to look at the state of the language across Wales, and why the Government failed to meet its target of 26% of the population speaking Welsh by 2011.

Despite agreeing that the Government needs to respond to the decline, the situation isn’t as black and white as Cymdeithas (and Plaid for that matter) would have you believe.

To an extent, the decline in numbers has little to do with the language itself. Welsh medium schools in South Wales are over-subscribed, communities across Wales are still Welsh language communities, and the number of people that are able to speak Welsh, as a result of the education system, has increased.

However, if we can’t tackle the language, what can we do to show the true extent of the language in contemporary Wales?

Provision is key. Provision of affordable housing, quality and well-paying jobs, and adequate transport links Рin short, sustainable communities that are able to retain their young people and enable them to work and live in their communities. Without affordable housing or adequate jobs, larger towns and cities provide jobs that can pay for housing and access to other opportunities.

Encouraging businesses to set up in our communities by setting up high-speed broadband and mobile phone signal. Improving transport services so that the ‚Äėworking poor‚Äô can rely on public transport, rather than having to pay to run a car.

The Welsh Liberal Democrat policy on mortgages for first time buyers will give a welcome boost to the construction sector and create more housing, jobs, and act as a stimulus to the economy.

Community structure is paramount in saving the Welsh language, and that is our way forward.

 

Labour Government lets down first time buyers in Wales.

As part of the budget deal negotiated by the Welsh Liberal Democrats in the 2011 budget the Welsh Labour Government agreed to a scheme to help first time buyers enter the property market. NewBuy would have enabled buyers to have high loan-to-value mortgages and supported the building of 3,000 homes.

Carl Sargeant had previously said:  “We are all aware of the difficulties that people are having in either buying their first home or moving up the housing ladder. NewBuy Cymru will provide a helping hand in the shape of a mortgage guarantee to people that have been saving hard to put down a deposit for a new home.

“By helping to kick-start the housing sector it’s hoped that NewBuy Cymru will help tackle poverty and provide a welcome short in the arm to our economy.

‚ÄúI would urge people to sign up to this great scheme and look forward to officially launching it in June.‚ÄĚ

There have been concerns over the time frame of the scheme for some time with more than a year passing with various different launch dates proposed by the Government, however Minister Carl Sargeant had agreed that the scheme would be ready to launch on June 3rd this year.

The Welsh Government is claiming that due to their lack of knowledge over similar schemes Рto begin in 2014 Рthe plans to support first time buyers in a difficult economy have had to be scrapped. The scheme by the UK government will provide a loan of up to 20% of the equity, repayable once a home is sold.

Admittedly the housing sector in Wales has withdrawn support in favour of the scheme that will be launched in England, simply because the Welsh Government has been dragging its heels over a policy which would give a boost to people across Wales and to the Welsh economy.

Carl Sargeant told AMs: “The NewBuy Cymru scheme was one of the first things I brought to the chamber in terms of the announcement. What we didn’t quite seek was, the day after, the Treasury announcement in terms of their scheme, Help To Buy.

The Government has had ample time to launch the scheme, yet first time buyers will now have to wait more than 12 months for the UK Government to yet again pick up Labour’s pieces.

This news comes  just two days after the Welsh Government announced it had scrapped the failing £36m back-to-work Genesis Cymru Wales 2 scheme after it failed to meet government targets.