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GCSE results again reflect persistence and determination

This year’s GCSE results once again show that students and teachers are working hard to achieve high quality grades in Wales. I congratulate everyone on their efforts.

The new standards of marking are more rigorous and more is expected of GCSE candidates if they want to achieve the best results.

However, with increased focus on standards of numeracy and literacy in examinations it is vital no young people are put at a disadvantage in a more robust system. As today’s results show, comparable outcomes with last year have largely been achieved.

Given the unseemly events surrounding English Language GCSE grades in Wales earlier this year and in 2012, the persistence and determination of both teachers and pupils is to be applauded.

As pupils now consider the next steps in their careers, the Welsh Government must carefully consider how it will make sure that Welsh GCSEs have the appropriate credibility and portability to give our young people the best chance for the future.

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No complacency allowed over road safety statistics

The latest road safety statistics released yesterday show a fall in casualties. This is welcome, but the sad rise in deaths should come as a warning sign to the Welsh Labour Government. We must never stop efforts to improve road safety for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike.

The Welsh Government has invested heavily to boost the number of pupils walking to school, yet the number of children doing so is falling. The Welsh Government needs to ensure that it is achieving value for money for the taxpayer with these schemes.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats want to see local councils consulting with parents and teachers to introduce more 20mph zones outside schools. Although they’re not the answer for all schools, many are incredibly effective at slowing traffic down and avoiding potentially fatal accidents.

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Further slump in “disgraceful” cancer waiting times criticised by Welsh Lib Dems

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised the further reduction in Welsh cancer waiting times, branding the figures as “disgraceful”.

New figures for June show that only 84.3% of newly-diagnosed Welsh urgent suspected cancer patients started their treatment within 62 days. This is down from 88.5% in May 2014, a fall of over 4 percentage points.

The Welsh Government’s target of 95% of urgent suspected cancer patients starting treatment in the 62 day window has not been met since June 2008, over six years ago.

Kirsty Williams AM, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said:

“The Labour Health Minister’s pledge to turn around these disgraceful waiting times has come to nothing. In fact, waiting times are getting worse under his watch.

“We cannot keep leaving cancer patients and their families in the lurch without the timely treatment they need. Waiting for over two months to start treatment is completely unacceptable, yet for many cancer patients it’s the reality under Welsh Labour’s NHS.

“The Welsh Labour Government’s cancer waiting time target hasn’t been met for over 6 years. I wish I could say this was the extent of the problems in our health service, but the simple fact is that the Welsh Labour Government constantly fail to deliver for Wales.”

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Train companies need to justify fare rises

I am concerned at the news that regulated rail fares will rise by 3.5% from January 2015.

Train commuters feel they get a raw deal. Services are regularly overcrowded, often less clean than they could be, and carriages are often old and lack services such as WiFi and air conditioning which should be common place by now.

If train companies are to increase their fares they need to demonstrate to passengers the improvements that they can expect. Train companies should plan their timetables better to ensure more capacity at peak times, ensure their trains are at the very least clean, and they should prioritise expanding extra services such as WiFi.

For too long train passengers have felt let down. Now is the time for train companies to show how they can improve the whole passenger experience.”

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Liberal Democrats to scrap Severn Bridge tolls

The Liberal Democrats are announcing today that the party would scrap the Severn Bridge tolls in the next Parliament.

The Severn Crossings are currently managed by a private concessionaire. The concession will end when a revenue target collected from tolls is reached. Current forecasts are that the concession will end in 2018. Once the tolls are transferred into public ownership and debts are repaid, the Liberal Democrats have pledged to scrap the tolls completely.

The manifesto commitment will come in the Liberal Democrats’ ‘Pre-Manifesto’, to be published in September.

The Severn Bridge tolls are the most expensive in the UK. It now costs £6.40 for a car to cross the bridge, £12.80 for a van, and £19.20 for a coach or lorry.

Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats said:

“The Welsh Liberal Democrats are delighted that we have secured this commitment. We are the only party that will completely scrap the unfair Severn Bridge tolls.

“This announcement will offer a huge boost to the Welsh economy and save the average commuter around £1,536 a year. It will help to build a strong economy and a fairer society.

“These tolls shouldn’t be used as a money-maker by either the Welsh or UK Government. Tolls are extremely rare in the UK, so I see no reason why people should be forced to pay to enter Wales.”

Jenny Willott, MP for Cardiff Central and a member of the party’s ‘Manifesto Working Group’, said:

“These tolls are a genuine strain on local businesses in my constituency.

“By scrapping the tolls, the Liberal Democrats would be boosting the South Wales economy by around £107 million a year. This will help rebalance the economy and drive growth in what is traditionally a deprived region.

“In the forthcoming General Election, a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote to scrap these unfair tolls.”

The petition to scrap the tolls can be found here.

Scrapping the Severn Bridge tolls would boost the South Wales economy by around £107 million a year according to a Welsh Government report.

That is a saving for the average commuter of around £1,536 a year.

The direct toll costs imposed on businesses are roughly estimated to be £47m (excluding VAT in 2009 prices), with £34m (including VAT) paid by consumers.

The annual cost of running the bridges is around £15m. The current operating costs are £12m a year and are made up of maintenance and toll collection, including toll collection infrastructure. Additionally, the Highways Agency spends an average of £3m on latent defects.

There are no toll roads or bridges in Northern Ireland, and there have been no toll bridges in Scotland since 2008, when the Scottish Parliament passed the Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill.

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Welsh Government’s £7m tourism budget slammed as inadequate

The Independent reports on a growing controversy amongst the Welsh tourist industry, whether the £7 million the Welsh Government has allocated for promoting Wales is adequate or not.

They say that Welsh tourism groups have slammed the £7m budget as “hopelessly inadequate”. Adding that the Welsh Government’s marketing budget is dwarfed by those of other parts of the United Kingdom. This is because Scotland spends £47m on promotion and even the seven-mile long Channel Island of Jersey has nearly as big a budget as Wales, at £6m:

In a series of submissions to Westminster’s Welsh Affairs committee, tourism leaders complain that the number of international visitors has dwindled since tourism was devolved to the Welsh Assembly in 1999. The number of overseas visitors to Wales has fallen by 250,000, while those to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland have risen, according to the Welsh Association of Visitor Attractions (Wava).

They express frustration at the slow progress of Tourism minister Edwina Hart’s promotion strategy, and point out the industry is worth £8.7bn to the Welsh economy, representing 18 per cent of GDP. The group describe the tourism budget as “pathetic” and argue that the Welsh Assembly has been unambitious in its targets for tourism revenue growth. At 10 per cent by 2020, this is significantly lower than England’s target of 51 per cent and Northern Ireland’s 81 per cent.

“Many are dismayed by what is happening within Welsh tourism under stewardship of the Welsh Government,” they told MPs. “If the Welsh Assembly Government does not increase their marketing spend Welsh tourism/attractions will inevitably slowly decline as our markets are gradually captured by other parts of Great Britain.”

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