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We’ll prioritise income tax cuts for ordinary workers

In Government, the Liberal Democrats achieved our number one pledge of cutting tax for millions of low and middle come earners, whilst lifting the lowest paid workers completely out of paying tax altogether.

That is how a Government ensures that work pays.

In Government, we also fought to give Wales the power to vary Income Tax if it so wishes. I am pleased that this will now be taken forward.

Too often, and maybe this sums up the mentality of the political bubble in Cardiff Bay, this has been described as being given ‘tax raising powers’

That’s not how I see it.

I want to make clear today that, in Government, the Welsh Liberal Democrats want to cut Income Tax for Basic Rate tax payers

Our conference has already asked our policy committee to bring forward costed proposals to reduce the basic rate of income tax from 20% to 19% to relieve the tax burden on those paying the basic rate of tax – at today’s levels, those earning between £10,600 and just over £42,000 a year.

We have already seen that the Tories will prioritise tax cuts for the best off. I suspect Labour and Plaid will be content, as they usually are, to defend the status quo.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats will prioritise tax cuts for the ordinary workers in Wales.

This would be a clear statement that it pays to work in Wales, that we’re a competitive nation, and we’re ready to reward hard work.

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Plaid’s recycled policies no answer for Welsh high streets

Plaid Cymru’s attempt to relaunch its existing small business policies will do very little to help struggling Welsh high streets.

Earlier this month, the Welsh Liberal Democrats launched its own policy paper on the High Street with a raft of fresh and innovative policies to help bring down Wales’ empty shop rate and support independent traders.

These included:

• establishing ‘High Street Wales’ to empower people to drive the regeneration of their local communities and tackle dereliction and decay. Based on the ‘Main Street’ movement in America, it would offer education, hands-on-training, online resources, facilitating connections and conferences to share best practice and build strong communities.
• giving more powers to communities by introducing a ‘Community Right to Bid’ so people can work together to protect key local services such as libraries, post offices or pubs.
• a new ‘Reoccupation Relief Scheme’ – slashing business rates by 50% for new occupants of premises that have been empty for a year
• tackling the proliferation of betting shops by giving them their own use class to give local communities greater say over where they are placed;
• a statutory requirement to consider walking and cycling at an early stage in new development schemes to ensure a more accessible and pleasant high street environment;
• supporting the development of Business Improvement Districts with the development of a BID learning network to share lessons and support the development of future BIDs; and
• encouraging local authorities to offer limited free parking schemes near the town centre to support struggling high streets.

In contrast, Plaid Cymru’s policy launch comprises three policies that have already been launched by the party, and aren’t specific to the plight of Welsh high streets.

By just repackaging their existing policies, Plaid won’t fool anyone into thinking they’ve got answers for our struggling high streets.

In contrast, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are offering fresh, innovative and enterprising ideas to revive our high streets and support traders. We recognise that high streets and town centres are more than just economic hubs; they also strengthen the social fabric of our communities.

We will offer incentives to fill empty shops by cutting their business rates, while putting power back into the hands of local people by helping them to save and develop the key local services that will encourage shoppers to return.

Plaid Cymru have clearly run out of imagination and ideas, and Wales can do so much better.

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More Nurses Bill passes Assembly hurdle

The bill to introduce safer nurse staffing levels in Wales is a step closer to being a reality last week as Assembly committee members voted on amendments for the bill.

Members of the Health and Social Care Committee voted on amendments and the bill will now move on to Stage 3 in the National Assembly.

The Welsh Government’s amendment to remove the word ‘safe’ from the title of bill passed – something Kirsty Williams didn’t support.

In December 2013 Kirsty Williams was successful in the National Assembly’s ballot to introduce backbench legislation. Her proposal would see Wales become the first country in the UK with a legal duty on safe nurse staffing levels.

Kirsty Williams said:

“This has been a long journey, but we are a step closer towards safe staffing levels in all of our hospitals a step closer.

“The premise of my More Nurses Bill is very simple: nurses who have fewer patients to care for, can spend more time with each patient. As a result, they can provide better, safer care.

“Nurses in Wales have to care for more patients per head than any other part of the UK. We simply can’t allow this situation to continue, which is why I hope all parties will back our significant and positive change today.

“I’m disappointed the Minister has removed the word ‘safe’ from the bill. Whilst this won’t directly affect the outcomes of the bill, the removal of the word is a missed opportunity to symbolically say what the intentions of the bill are.”

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AMBULANCE RESPONSE TIMES: “We know nothing about 95% of calls”

Ambulance response data released under the new targeting system leaves us “in the dark” regarding the performance of the vast majority of emergency calls.

Under the new system implemented by Labour Ministers, targets are only applied to calls categorized as ‘red’. Less urgent ‘amber’ and ‘green’ calls (95% of all calls according to the data) are not subject to any targeting, nor is any performance data published on these calls.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have also expressed concerns that, although the new targets are considered to be easier to meet, the 65% threshold still hasn’t been met in three health board areas – Hywel Dda, Cwm Taf and Powys.

This new targeting regime may make life easier for Labour Ministers, giving them one less negative headline every month, but in reality people are being left in the dark as to how well their ambulance service is actually performing.

The simple fact is that we know absolutely nothing about 95% of October’s ambulance calls and how quickly they arrived. A rugby player with a broken leg, or an older person fallen down the stairs, could be waiting for hours upon hours, and we would have no idea.

Even if targets aren’t applied to these less urgent calls, at the very least we should be able to see how quickly they’re responded to. People have the right to hold their Ministers to account, but this new regime amounts to a backwards step for transparency by Labour.

Even though these targets should be easier to meet, ambulances across mid Wales and in Cwm Taf still aren’t arriving within the target time. Ministers should be incredibly concerned by this, with Hywel Dda in particular way below the 65% target.

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Welsh Lib Dems call for Deposit Return Scheme in Wales

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling on the Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sargeant, to support the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) in Wales. The system would see customers pay a small cash deposit when they buy a bottled drink, and get the money back when they return the item to a collection point.

As well as raising the issue in a debate this week, the we have also tabled an amendment to the Environment Bill which puts provision for a DRS in Wales on the face of the Bill.

There are a number of reasons why we are in favour of implementing a Deposit Return Scheme and, as a fellow member of the Corona generation, I having been calling on the Minister for Natural Resources to consider the possibility of reintroducing such a scheme here in Wales.

Litter surveys show that nearly 20% of the litter on Welsh beaches is made up of drinks containers (plastic bottles, metal drinks cans, glass bottles etc.) and this would be an effective way of directly tackling that. It also fits well into the European Commission’s Circular Economy strategy which aims to transform Europe into a more resource-efficient economy. As a nation, we have to become more resource-efficient and I think the DRS could go a long way to changing behaviour and altering the way people feel about single use containers and packaging.

With the right political will I believe we can make this a reality, and I would like to see the Welsh Government commissioning a feasibility study to look at how such a scheme might operate in practice, and also to consider running a pilot scheme for Wales, as has been done recently in Scotland.

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Labour’s lack of ambition on housing is hurting Welsh families

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have hit out at Labour’s “lack of ambition” to tackle Wales’ housing crisis, ahead of a Welsh Government debate in the Assembly on affordable housing targets.

Labour Ministers’ targets aiming for only 10,000 affordable homes to be built over five years. A report produced by the late Professor Holmans for the Welsh Government says that at least 5,000 affordable homes need to be built every year, far greater than the number currently targeted.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have announced plans to set a target of 20,000 affordable homes, in part through increasing the Social Housing Grant from £35 million to £75 million per year.

Statistics may show that 2,218 Affordable Homes have been built in Wales this year, but 692 units have been lost on average through demolition and Right to Buy.

The Welsh Government have therefore only actually delivered 1,526 affordable homes this year, a small step towards their 10,000 target.

Labour like to grandstand on housing and boast what they call achievements, but the reality is that their lack of ambition on housing is holding Wales back and hurting Welsh families.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are the only party with the ambition to tackle Wales’ housing crisis. We believe that every person should be able to provide a secure environment for their family.

The contrast between Welsh Lib Dem ambition and Labour’s record couldn’t be starker. People rightly expect their Government to provide enough affordable homes for the people they claim to represent, and Labour Ministers have fallen far from the mark.

For decades, successive Conservative and Labour governments have not built enough homes. This has left us with a crippling undersupply of housing while demand for social housing has soared. Welsh Liberal Democrats will take action to address this imbalance.

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