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Buy new trains with new powers instead of M4

The Welsh Lib Dems are urging the Welsh Government to use its newly devolved powers around rail franchising to plan for the future with a Welsh Rolling Stock Strategy, investing in new train carriages and ensuring the future growth of our rail services.

Around 73% of the existing fleet of carriages will be unable to operate after 2020 due to electrification, franchise renewal and EU accessibility legislation coming into force. The Welsh Lib Dems want the Welsh Government to put plans in place now to ensure this is done smoothly and efficiently.

The call comes as the Welsh Labour Government reveal in an answer to me that, despite spending large amounts of time calling for rail franchise powers to be devolved, they have spent no time working on plans to use those powers.

Welsh borrowing powers, combined with European Union investment and future franchise agreements, could be used to invest in new carriages instead of wasting the money on the M4 relief road.

Train users across Wales know all too well just how old, creaking and overcrowded our trains are right now. Just last month a train door was ripped from its hinges as it entered a tunnel. It’s no wonder that so many get in their cars instead of taking public transport.

No longer can Welsh Labour Ministers pass the buck on rail services, as the buck now stops with them. It’s shocking to find out that the Welsh Labour Government hasn’t spent any time figuring out what to do with the powers that they’ve been so desperate to be given. These new rail powers are a golden opportunity to improve our train services, and without a Strategy in place right now that opportunity could be lost.

It makes sense for the Welsh Government to invest in its own rolling stock. Not only would it be cheaper for any future Government-owned franchise to have its own carriages, these carriages could be leased to any private company running Welsh rail services in the future to recoup costs for the Welsh public purse.

Nowhere in the Welsh Labour Government’s decision-making over the M4 relief road did they take into account the potential impact of expanding public transport instead. Labour may be ignoring the benefits, but I’m absolutely convinced by the case for investing in our railways instead of building an expensive and unneeded road.

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A ‘damning report’ into mental health services

An Assembly inquiry into Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS ) has found that the service “does not have capacity to meet the demands currently placed on it.”

Over the last four years, there has been a 100% increase in demand for CAMHS, yet the Children, Young People and Education Committee found that evidence “overwhelmingly suggest a perception of significant under-capacity within specialist CAMHS and this was leading to long waiting lists and increasing difficulties in accessing the service.”

The Committee also has expressed concerns over “whether the level of spend per child per head of population is appropriate”.

Welsh Government statistics show that in respect of the spend per head of population in 2012:
– £82.75 per head was spent on general mental illness;
– £58.18 per head was spent on elderly mental illness;
– £13.94 per head was spent on child and adolescent mental health.

There is no hiding from the fact that this is a damning report. Children and young people in Wales suffering from mental health issues have continuously been let down by the lack of appropriate services available.

For too long the Welsh Labour government has buried its head in the sand and ignored the catalogue of concerns and warnings that have been raised. The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe this issue cannot continue to be overlooked.

There is a clear disparity in spending with regard to mental health. The level of spend per child per head of population is way behind that of adult and elderly patients. I see no valid reason for that to be the case and this should be looked at as matter of urgency.

As a committee, we have seen evidence that the number of children being prescribed medicines has increased at an alarming rate. Many young people are being prescribed drugs without other strategies being explored beforehand. It is not a great leap to suggest this is happening due to the lack of clinical psychologists and therapists that are available.

There is also an absence of services available to young people who do not meet the ‘medical need’ criteria from CAMHS services. The current criteria are narrow and exclude many people who need support which means there is a significant level of unmet need.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have repeatedly been the party in the Assembly that have championed mental health and deplored the lack of services available to young people suffering from mental health issues. We need a radical change in how things are done in Wales and we as a party will continue to lead the way on the subject.

The Minister has recently announced a review into CAMHS in Wales. Whilst this is welcome, it is essential that this review looks into the underlying problems and that the recommendations are acted upon immediately.

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Welsh Councils told to cut admin costs

The BBC report that the Welsh public services minister has set up an independent review of administrative costs in councils across Wales.

They say that the review aims to establish how public money is spent and where savings can be made:

Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews has said “significant change” is ahead and has indicated that he is open to the idea of them being cut to as few as six.

Councils have until Friday to submit their ideas for voluntary merger.

Mr Andrews said he expects councils to focus “limited resources” on frontline services for the public and trim backroom spending.

“This review will enable me and local authorities to compare and contrast expenditure and understand where practice should be changed to move a greater proportion of the spending to delivering services to citizens,” he said.

Andy Silvester from The TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “The minister is spot on that reducing wasteful spending and unnecessary bureaucracy is the way forward.

“Saving money in those areas ensures that frontline services are still delivered for taxpayers.”

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Nice work if you can get it

Today’s Wales on Sunday reveals those Welsh MPs who are taking home additional cash on top of their basic £67,060 salary:

The latest register of MPs financial interests show that the biggest earner outside of Parliament was the Conservative MP for Cardiff North Jonathan Evans.

The former lawyer is paid £110,004 a year on top of his MP’s salary from his work as non-executive chairman of four linked pension fund companies that are part of the Phoenix Group.

Close behind, former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain, Labour’s Neath MP, made an additional £70,650 outside Parliament.

That was made up of £31,500 from Amara Mining Plc, of which he is a non-executive director; £20,000 from London’s Developing Market Associates Ltd; £15,000 from Swansea University; £1,650 for penning an article; £1,500 from South Wales University and £1,000 for speaking at a Belfast festival.

“They are all registered and I don’t have anything to add to that,” said Mr Hain

“I do charity work as well.”

Rhondda MP and shadow welfare reform minister Chris Bryant also earned £43,142 plus expenses of £4,987.12.

He picked up £2,077.77 for giving a speech to the Fundación Euroamérica in Spain, £31,375 in book advances, £540 for writing Guardian articles and £8,750 for writing columns for The Independent.

Plaid’s Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd, who represents Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, received £5,000 for work with the Constables’ Central Committee of the Police Federation of England and Wales, £270 from the BBC on top of £600 – plus £73 expenses – for an appearance on University Challenge.

He said: “One question asked if we could name the four different mustards of Europe.

“The questions were so obscure it was beyond belief.”

He has since mentioned this to host Jeremy Paxman.

Those who saw Mr. Llwyd’s appearance might wish to work out how much he was paid for each correct answer he gave. It will be a fairly straightforward calculation.

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“Landmark” rail franchise devolution welcomed by Welsh Lib Dems

Yesterday’s announcement by the UK Government regarding the Valleys train line electrification and the devolution of the Wales and Borders rail franchise is a landmark as it means decisions on Welsh train services will now be made in Wales. The fact that this power closer to the people of Wales shows just how strong the Liberal Democrat influence is in the Wales Office.

Until now, the Governments at either end of the M4 have been able to pass the buck between them over who is to blame when things go wrong. Now we will know absolutely where responsibility lies for making improvements to services and giving Wales the trains it deserves.

I’m also absolutely delighted that the Welsh and UK Governments have been able to resolve the matter of funding for Valley Lines electrification, and that this project will now go ahead as planned, and the experience of passengers will be transformed. Valleys trains have been neglected for far too long by successive Governments, and these improvements will bring a huge boost to our economy as journey times are reduced and quality improved.

Having taken full control of the Welsh rail franchise, the Welsh Government will now have to work quickly to develop the expertise necessary to design and let the next franchise if the mistakes of previous agreements are going to be avoided.

The Welsh Government have less than 4 years to decide what all of Wales needs now and in the future, run a franchise competition, select an operator and then ensure they have the trains they need to deliver decent services. This will be no mean feat, but with matters resolved and commuters knowing where to look for answers, our rail services will be properly accountable at last.

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Eluned Parrott AM calls for National Music Education Strategy

Welsh Liberal Democrat AM Eluned Parrott has urged the Welsh Government to create a Welsh Music Education Strategy.

Eluned Parrott challenged the Welsh Education Minister in the Assembly Chamber as Rhondda Cynon Taff Council are holding a consultation on cutting their schools’ music service in favour of a privatised service.

There are fears that cuts to music services could also place the National Youth Orchestra of Wales under threat, if the county music education system falls apart.

Eluned Parrott, the Welsh Liberal Democrat AM for South Wales Central, said:

“Wales was the first country in the world to have a National Youth Orchestra and has a proud history of teaching children music, yet councils up and down Wales are denying our poorest children the chance to learn through music. Cuts of this kind would never be considered to science or sports lessons, yet music is always first to bear the burden despite the clear educational benefits of music education.

“Projects such as the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in Venezuela have shown just how much of a difference that learning a musical instrument can make to a young person’s life. It teaches them teamwork, gives them a sense of personal achievement and builds the confidence to use these skills in other settings. El Sistema, as it is known in Venezuela, has been widely recognised by UNESCO and others for having rescued some of the most deprived children in that society from a life of misery on the streets.

“A National Music Education Strategy would end the postcode lottery of instrument lessons in schools, and ensure that music doesn’t become the preserve of the privileged few. Music is such a deeply-felt part of our national psyche in Wales, but I fear that the bands, orchestras and choirs that we know and love will simply die out if we don’t continue to teach our children the value of music. The Welsh Labour Government needs to stop ducking and diving on this issue and create a national Strategy.”

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