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Fall in unemployment welcome

Figures published today show that unemployment in Wales fell by 6,000 in the 3 months to February 2014.

Liberal Democrats in the UK Government are building a stronger economy and today we can see what that means for people in Wales.

The Liberal Democrats’ overarching goal when forming the Coalition Government was to get our economy back on track. These figures are further proof that the measures taken by the Coalition Government are working.

While the fall in unemployment is promising, there can be no room for complacency. There is a still a long way to go as many people are still struggling to find work. The Welsh Liberal Democrats want to see Welsh businesses thrive and have the confidence to take on more staff. For that to happen, we need both the UK and Welsh governments working constructively together for the people of Wales.

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MPs First Class

The Western Mail reports that Welsh MPs are continuing to buy first class rail tickets, according to the latest figures which show they spent more than £27,000 on the fares between April and November 2013:

Former Labour foreign minister and Rhondda MP Chris Bryant claimed the highest total (£3,421) of a Welsh MP, making 17 claims.

Aberconwy Conservative MP Guto Bebb had the highest number of individual claims (55), costing £3,419.76 – the second biggest amount.

Conservative Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire Simon Hart claimed the third highest (£3,030), followed by former Labour Wales Office minister and Caerphilly Labour MP Wayne David (£2,848.80).

Across the UK, MPs submitted 3,131 successful claims worth more than £325,000 for first class rail expenses.

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Welsh Government transport policy under fire

Today’s Western Mail reportsthat the respected transport journal, ‘Local Transport Today’ has launched an attack on the Welsh Government, describing its policies as “ a muddle.

The magazine, which is widely read across Britain by civil servants and ministers, local government officers, academics, transport consultants and lobbyists, says that only a year ago the Welsh Government was strengthening the powers of the four regional transport consortia – representing all local authorities – and urging the 22 unitary authorities to collaborate:

“A change of minister has seen the collaboration agenda largely grind to a halt and the regional transport consortia stripped of their responsibilities, amid mutterings of being ineffective and bureaucratic. And so funding is now being channelled via the 22 councils again.”

The editorial acknowledges that the government has created two city-region boards, one for South East Wales and one for Swansea Bay, and that ministers want the boards to help with strategic planning and identifying transport priorities.

“But the boards have bizarre compositions, with many councils having no representation,” it comments.

“The Williams Commission has recommended the creation of fewer, larger councils, but its plans appear inconsistent with the city regions.”

Local Transport Today also comments on the rail electrification row.

“It seems incredible that such basic confusions can arise in multi-million-pound projects,” it says.

This muddle, it argues, “is just one of a number hampering transport policy in Wales right now”.

It says the Welsh bus industry is “stumbling from one predicament to another as a bewildering array of reforms comes out of Cardiff … Funding has been cut, rules have changed and further reforms are mooted… Then there is the cut to concessionary fares reimbursement, which could yet end up in the courts.”

Stagecoach believes the 11% cut in funding for the free-travel scheme – where bus operators are supposed to be fully reimbursed for their costs – is illegal and has threatened a legal challenge. In July, it will close its Brynmawr depot and reduce services, blaming “misguided cuts”.

Stuart Hyslop, of Wrexham-based GHA Coaches, said: “I’m shocked that they’re surprised, because they’ve had enough warning. Do they think we run buses on fresh air?”

Cardiff Bus is reducing services next week. Llanelli’s local buses will be slashed next month. Managers at small local bus companies, which have previously provided replacement services, said they could not expand now, because of funding cuts and the Welsh Government’s sudden changes.

One, who asked not to be named, said: “We want to make our services work, but we’re forced into a corner. The most frustrating thing is that everything happens at such short notice. I can’t invest money in buying new vehicles when the Welsh Government are as blasé as they are at the moment.”

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Mark Williams hails Major Victory for Child Protection following his campaign on this issue

Ceredigion’s Welsh Liberal Democrat MP, Mark Williams has welcomed the Government’s announcement that it is seeking to bring forward proposals in the Queen’s Speech to amend the criminal law on child neglect to ensure it includes emotional and psychological neglect, following intense pressure from Mark Williams MP and Action for Children.

This is the culmination of a long campaign, which has sought to see the law changed through amendments proposed in the House of Lords, and most recently through Mark Williams’ Child Maltreatment Bill, which he bought to Parliament through a Private Members Bill.

Mark Williams commented:

‘This is a major victory for all those involved in safeguarding children across the UK. We have seen a number of cases involving children who have been emotionally and psychologically abused by their parents, with the police and criminal justice system powerless to do anything due to our outdated Victorian-era criminal law.

‘The reform will allow agencies to work together effectively to safeguard children, and means justice is finally available for the children who had parents who quite simply couldn’t have cared less about them.

‘Ever since I was first approached about this issue by Action for Children I have felt the case for reforming the law was unassailable and I’m delighted the Government is now taking our proposals forward. This is not the end of the fight to protect children, but it is one more essential piece in a puzzle to ensure all those involved in safeguarding children have every possible tool at their disposal.’

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Education report is another damning indictment of Welsh Labour’s policies

The latest report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is another damning indictment of Welsh Labour’s fifteen-year failure to get to grips with education in Wales.

The messages contained in the report follow an already well-established pattern, and once again we find school leadership, teacher training, assessment, and the lack of a long-term vision highlighted as concerns.

There are simply too many new initiatives being deployed, and before those reforms have time to “bed in” they are being replaced with something new.

Welsh Government must stop trying to come up with a variety of quick fixes and have the political courage to take one sound and sustainable plan then see it through to completion.

The recruitment, training and retention of excellent teachers is an essential part of that plan.

There must be a clear understanding between politicians, education professionals and parents with regard to the way forward now, and even though improvements might take some years to deliver the Welsh Government must resist the urge to meddle.

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Liberal Youth Wales calls for focus on Mental Health Provision

IRCymru (Liberal Youth Wales) has called for more focus on mental health provision in Wales to tackle lengthy waiting lists, ensure more support for students returning to education and create greater parity of esteem between mental and physical health.

Welsh Liberal Democrats supported a motion tabled by the youth wing of the party at their Spring Conference. The motion calls for action to improve access to mental health services to reduce waiting times, a national framework to ensure continuity of treatment for young people transitioning from adolescent to adult services and a programme of mental health support in the workplace.

Commenting, Chair of Liberal Youth Wales, Sam Bennett, said:

“Liberal Youth Wales put forward this motion to shine a light on the need for improvements to mental health services in Wales, which is a very important issue for us.

“In particular we are calling for a national framework to ensure continuity of treatment for young people. Too often people can get lost when transitioning between adolescent and adult services, which can mean the individual re-engages with services several years later when they have become much more unwell. There are also issues for young people who may face problems with continuation of treatment when they re-locate to study at college or university.

“It is unacceptable that the treatment of mental health in Wales continues to let patients down. We are putting forward strong proposals to help end the discrimination in terms of access to mental health services and treatment and give people the freedom, choice and dignity that they deserve.”

Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams, added:

“I am very pleased that improving mental health provision in Wales has been given such a focus during our conference, from the motion by our youth wing to discussions on the need for mental health ‘places of safety’. Too often the choice for patients is limited to community treatment or inpatient wards. It is time to review mental health services to ensure people can access the most suitable treatment and we must bring an end to the escalating waiting lists, which cause so much distress and anxiety for patients and their families.”

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