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Pupil Deprivation Grant evaluation shows ‘significant’ new support for the disadvantaged

I very much welcome the publication of the Year 1 Evaluation of the Pupil Deprivation Grant (PDG).

It is encouraging to see that this Welsh Government-commissioned report has identified a number of positive indicators to show that the PDG is having its intended effect.

Particularly, there is evidence to show that a significant amount of new activity has been undertaken to support disadvantaged pupils; there has also been a culture change in schools which has improved the way they tackle disadvantage and monitor impact.

These findings are yet more proof that the PDG is working for disadvantaged pupils in Wales.

However, whilst I welcome the fact that improvements are clearly beginning to be made, I am concerned to see that there is ‘considerable variation’ in how the funding is being used.

The Welsh Government must now address the flaws in the monitoring of the grant and make sure that schools follow Ministerial guidance and make better use of the Sutton Trust Toolkit evaluation system.

The regional consortia must now do more to support schools and ensure that even more disadvantaged children are given the opportunity to benefit from this scheme.

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Rail figures show need for faster progress over Metro System

The publications of the number of rail passengers shows that 39% of rail journeys in Wales either begin or end at Cardiff Stations.

The fact that four in ten rail journeys across Wales begin or end in Cardiff shows that there is a strong and increasing demand for rail travel, which will see overcrowding on many of our routes worsen still further. The challenge now for the Welsh Government and Arriva is to increase this number by adding extra carriages, routes and rail lines.

The Welsh Government has announced it’s intention to improve public transport across South Wales through the creation of a Metro system by building new routes and through linking trains and buses together more effectively. We have not yet seen from the Government, however, confirmation of which proposals it intends to bring forward. We now need to see what kind of Metro system is going to be delivered, and for the detailed planning work, agreed in the Budget deal between the Welsh Government and the Welsh Liberal Democrats, to begin in earnest.

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Call for independent review into relationship between NRW and Welsh Government

Today I have called for an independent review into the relationship between Natural Resources Wales and the Welsh Government, following reports showing that a Government official tried to exert influence over NRW.

Emails revealed by the Wales Report programme clearly show a senior Welsh Government official attempting to influence NRW’s response to an on-shore wind application which was in receipt of public funds through the Ynni’r Fro programme.

Given that the project in question was connected to the Ynni’r Fro programme, I am writing to the Wales Audit Office calling on them to investigate how widespread the practice is of Government officials trying to influence planning decisions relating to the spending of public funds.

The smoking-gun produced in this email shows a culture within Welsh Labour Government of attempting to influence a so-called ‘arms-length’ body.

While the Circuit of Wales scandal was enough for people to have serious doubts about the proper workings of the relationship between NRW and the Welsh Government, this removes all doubt and demonstrates an endemic problem in the Welsh Labour Government.

While it should be noted that NRW didn’t bow to Welsh Government pressure in this case, the point is that the Government clearly tried to influence decision-making. That simply isn’t right.

Furthermore, the Government official was clear in his wish to seek other projects receiving public funds to potentially overcome previous planning objections.

Given these issues, it is now time for a full and independent review to be launched into the decision making processes and governance arrangements of NRW, as well as its relationship with the Welsh Labour Government.

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M4: ‘Welsh Government should accept its plans are doomed’

The Welsh Government’s consultation on the M4 has been widely criticised for failing to look at other options and for not properly taking into account environmental concerns.

This week in the National Assembly, AMs will debate the Environment Committee’s report into the M4 the contents of which the Welsh Government failed to take into account before making its decision on the M4.

Labour’s M4 plans are based on a ‘false premise’ due to the fact they do not take into account the effect the proposed South Wales Metro would have in reducing the number of drivers.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have been campaigning for work on the South Wales Metro system to start immediately: something the party achieved in its budget agreement with the Welsh Government.

According to a Welsh Government commissioned report, the predicted usage figures for the core Metro area are around 40,000 daily journeys. This figure is not referenced in the Welsh Government’s consultation on the M4.

The Welsh Labour Government is sticking its head in the sand over the M4. It is pretending all is fine and that it can plough on regardless. Yet we all know that’s not the case.

Rarely do you ever see Labour backbenchers stand up to their Cabinet colleagues, but even they have spoken out on the M4. The chances of the Welsh Government ever getting a strong enough majority to force through its plans are slim to none.

In budget negotiations, the Welsh Liberal Democrats agreed that no construction of the M4 relief road will start before the next Assembly elections and that a detailed Environmental Impact Study into the project will be commissioned. Therefore if the Welsh Government wants its preferred route for the M4 to be built, then it must survive a legal challenge, produce a convincing environmental assessment, win a majority at the next Assembly elections, convince its own Assembly Members of its merits, then face a public inquiry. It seems unlikely their proposals could survive such a process. It’s time the Welsh Government looked again at its plans and start working with other parties to reach a proper solution.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats also secured an agreement that commits the Welsh Labour Government to start detailed planning on the South Wales Metro system. To fit South Wales for the future we need to deliver a modern, clean and effective public transport system. If we get that right, we could take 40,000 cars off our roads everyday. We don’t need to waste a billion pounds of public money on this dinosaur road.

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Poorest children in our society continue to be let down

The poorest children in Wales are being let down by the Welsh Labour Government as is evident from the publication of the second ‘State of the nation’ report into social mobility and child poverty.

The report was commissioned by the UK Government and produced by a group chaired by former Labour Minister Alan Milburn said that is was “especially concerned ” that a smaller proportion of Welsh children who receive free school meals achieve five good GCSEs (26%) compared to children from similar backgrounds in England (38%).

This damning report highlights the magnitude of the Welsh Labour Government’s failings. It again confirms that the poorest in our society are continuing to be let down.

Welsh pupils from the poorest backgrounds continue to underperform compared to pupils from a similar background across the border. That, frankly, is not good enough and is a damning indictment of Welsh Labour’s policies.

I am pleased the report has picked up on a substantial focus on closing the attainment gap in Wales thanks to the Pupil Deprivation Grant. This money, secured by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, will mean extra support for the poorest pupils in Wales.

The report makes clear that three-year-olds in deprived areas are failing to make the expected progress. For that reason, I am particularly pleased we have managed to extend the Pupil Deprivation Grant to under 5s. It is simply unacceptable that even by that young age children are falling behind.

While the ambitions of ‘Flying Start’ are very much to be welcomed, this report echoes our concerns that poor families who do not live in disadvantaged areas are being excluded from the scheme. The Welsh Labour Government must address this major fault in the scheme. It is time the Welsh Government introduced much more measurable outcomes so that the success, or otherwise, of the scheme can be more readily addressed. It is clear there is too much inconsistency across Wales.

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600 new jobs in Bridgend

The Western Mail reports that one of the biggest jobs investments seen in Wales in recent years has been confirmed with Canadian IT services firm CGI to create 620 new highly-skilled roles in South Wales:

In a major boost to the economy and Wales’ rapidly improving inward investment record the world’s fifth largest independent information technology and business process services firm will create the jobs in Bridgend over the next few years.

CGI already employs 900 from three sites in Bridgend.

Its significant expansion is being backed with £3.2m business finance from the Welsh Government.

The expansion will take its South Wales workforce to 1,540 – 25% of the firm’s UK based staff, as it continues to expand and look to grow market share in lucrative cyber-security related services to both government and the private sector.

The investment underlines the strategically importance of Bridgend to its growth plans in the UK.

Its South Wales operations deliver a range of outsourcing, application services and infrastructure services to clients across the UK.

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