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I want to see an extra one million women in work by 2020

I am profoundly frustrated that it is taking so long to achieve real equality. And the older I get, the more impatient I am for rapid and radical progress.

As a Welsh Lib Dem, I believe passionately in the link between a stronger economy and a fairer society. I believe in the fundamental importance of the economic empowerment of women.

In the last five years, we have championed significant legal changes to empower women in the workplace. But we recognise that economic change is half the story. We need social change as well – hence the Coalition’s work to stop violence against women and girls.

What we have done is about more than simply fair treatment for women. It’s about liberating the full political, social and economic power of women. And our society – our economy – can only benefit from that.”

The Lib Dem manifesto will contain a commitment to a full month of paternity leave after a child’s birth to incentivise take-up from fathers. If we are to achieve true gender equality and to eliminate the pay gap, we have to re-shape families. Parenting is a joy and a challenge best faced as a team and the earlier a father is fully engaged, the better that team will play.

For many men this isn’t a question of radical feminism, it is simply common sense – dragging the law and the state into the 21st century.

We are ambitious to see 1million more women in work by 2020. To achieve this, we realise that childcare has to be tackled head on. We are committed to expanding free childcare further to 15 hours a week for all 2 year olds and 20 hours for all 3 and 4 year olds.

We recognise the role of carers – overwhelmingly women – and want to support them to return to work if they want to, including by increasing the amount they can earn before benefits are withdrawn.

To reach our target, we need more women to see that it is financially worthwhile to work. The increase in the personal allowance is fundamental to this. The Budget announced an increase to £11,000 by 2017. We want to increase the personal allowance to £12,500. That would take all full-time employees on the minimum wage out of income tax altogether.

Legislation is needed to nudge those employers who have not yet understood that female employees are good financial news for them. Larger employers should be obliged to publish the average pay of their male and female workers.

I believe we should go further and oblige employers to report an analysis, by gender, of job applicants and those interviewed and appointed. Neither of these measures involves quotas. They do not force employers to take on unsuitable people. But they do force them to publicly come to terms with their own record on gender equality. To me, that is all part of the crucial interaction between legislation and changing attitudes.”

To embark on a scientific career, girls need to choose the right GCSEs and A Levels.

Girls of that age are susceptible to peer pressure but also are very open to the influence of role models. Professor Karen Halford from this University’s Engineering Department makes an exceptional contribution mentoring young girls into engineering. The only problem is that we need to clone her hundreds of times over. Again, in England, the Government has run a “Not Just for Boys” campaign on career options.

I’m also a huge fan of the “Inspiring Women” programme set up by Miriam Gonzalez-Durantez, which seeks to show that women can and should work across professions and industries in which they are traditionally under-represented.

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Welsh Government should do more to promote community woodland groups in Wales

The WOODLANDS and YOU initiative, known as WaY, is one mechanism by which the Welsh Government can support community woodland groups, and yet both the promotion of this initiative by NRW and the take-up of opportunities have been limited. I would urge the Minister to consider the Welsh Government’s role in supporting community woodland groups so that they can use and contribute to the management of the Welsh Government Woodland Estate.”

Llais Y Goedwig, the grassroots association representing woodland groups across Wales, estimates that there have been only 13 agreements granted since WaY began with a further 6 in negotiation. NRW staff themselves have described these figures as ‘disappointing’. Commenting, Jane Vaughan Gronow of the Llais y Goedwig Board said:

Welsh Liberal Democrats believe that WaY is a great scheme and would like to see it well resourced and promoted. I think the limited attention that WaY has received to date may be an indication that NRW have not yet fully articulated their position on community involvement on the Welsh Government Woodland Estate. We would welcome some clarity on this so that the benefit for communities and the forest estate as a whole can be maximised.

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More disappointing ambulance response times

Figures released yesterday show that in Wales in February, 51.2% of emergency ambulance responses to Category A (immediately life-threatening) calls arrived at the scene within 8 minutes, up from 48.5% in January and 42.6% in December, but still a long way below the target of 65%.

In England and Scotland the target for the same priority call is 75%.

It’s disappointing to see that after all these years, the Welsh Labour Government is still letting patients down badly. Yes there has been mild improvement this month, but we are still a long way from where we need to be. The regional variation within the figures is a major concern too, with just 41% of urgent calls being answered with 8 minutes in Monmouthshire and RCT.

What these figures show is that Plaid Cymru and the Tories were wrong to walk away from discussions on a cross party commission to look at the challenges in the NHS. Now, more than ever, we need to come together to start finding solutions to the significant challenges our NHS faces.

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Calls for rethink on redesigned BBC News site

Following the redesign of the BBC News website this week which saw a link to the Welsh page disappear from the front page and main header, I have called on the BBC to amend its main navigation list to give Wales a higher prominence.

It is deeply disappointing that the BBC have relegated Wales to the second tier in this way, just to serve a new design.

Since the advent of devolution across the UK, the BBC has played a crucial role in ensuring people in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are able to easily access news about our own public services, and not just those of England. This Anglo-centric redesign undermines much of that work.

In an age when the public are becoming more disengaged with politics and as devolution and the public’s understanding of it still growing, the BBC as a public broadcaster should do more to promote Wales and Welsh News.

We all know that Welsh news often doesn’t get the prominence that it should; therefore the BBC should be doing more to promote it, not less.

I am calling on the BBC to reintroduce the Wales tab on their website as a priority.

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Betsi backdown welcome but consultation now urgent

I welcome the decision to defer the plan to downgrade maternity services at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and remove breast cancer surgery from the Wrexham Maelor and Gwynedd hospitals. But now it is essential that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board undertake a proper consultation on the provision of services at all three sites.

Common sense has prevailed over the botched decisions on maternity and breast cancer surgery. They were taken under the urgency procedure but, as the Community Health Council pointed out to the Health Minister, problems within the maternity services had been in evidence months before.

Senior officials within the Health Board have raised the idea of concentrating different health services on one site so that the three hospitals in North Wales operate as one. But there has been no proper discussion of this proposal. Such a radical rethink of our health services needs to be the subject of widespread consultation.

My own view is that the concept of one hospital on three sites will not work in North Wales given the geography and long distances that make travelling across our region very difficult. Many patients would be left isolated from their families unless specialist medical teams become more mobile or there is major investment in public transport.

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Minister sends in team to review blue badge refusals by Swansea Council

The Welsh Government have sent a team into Swansea Council to review the large number of blue badge refusals by that authority.

I have previously revealed that out of 5,618 applications in 2014, Swansea Council refused 1,135 or 21%, three times higher than any other council in Wales. Rhondda Cynon Taf, which is of comparable size received 7,117 applications and refused 372 or 5% of them. Of the other councils who responded to my survey, the Vale of Glamorgan refused 8% of the blue badge applications they received, Monmouthshire 3%, Flintshire 7%, Newport 3% and Anglesey 1.3%.

In a question time session on Wednesday, I asked the Economy Minister whether she was concerned by the way that Swansea are handling blue badge applications. In response she revealed that she has sent in an expert team to review their administration of the blue badge scheme. She expects a report from this team before Easter after which she is going to consider how the scheme will be operated in future.

As a regional Assembly Member my caseload continues to be dominated by complaints about the way that this blue badge scheme is operating. I work with four councils on this issue and Swansea is by far the most difficult. We have had many cases where the rules say that a blue badge should be issued but Swansea Council have refused it.

This is borne out by the Minister’s own concerns about councils refusing badges for people with cognitive disorders, which as she points out in her response to me, the regulations provide for blue badges to be issued in these cases. I have also had experience of Swansea Council submitting applicants to intrusive and unnecessary questions and in one case point blank refusing an applicant who later qualified for higher rate personal independence payments.

I very much welcome the Minister’s review of blue badge refusals and hope that it will lead to a better understanding by local councils of the rules under which they should be issued.

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