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Lib Dems have delivered for low-paid workers

People’s quality of life depends not only on what they are paid but on how much of that pay they get to keep. Liberal Democrats in government in Westminster have ensured that Welsh workers get to take more money home without throwing the burden on hard pressed local businesses. Whilst we would welcome any moves to encourage private and public sector organisations to increase the wages of their lowest paid workforce, careful consideration needs to be given to the balance between wages and job creation as our economy continues to grow.

Liberal Democrats are working for a stronger economy and a fairer society, so we are cutting taxes for ordinary working people. Today nobody in Wales pays income tax on the first £10,000 they earn, from next April that figure will rise to £10,500. When Labour left office the equivalent figure was just £6,475.

Thanks to this 1.3 million Welsh workers have had a cut in income tax and the lowest 144,000 now pay no income tax at all. This key Liberal Democrat policy has delivered practical help quickly and effectively to the people of Wales.

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Wales must unite in call for more powers

I welcome decision of the people of Scotland to reject separation from the United Kingdom. Welsh Liberal Democrats are now calling for the parties of Wales to unite in a call for the devolution of powers to a fully functioning Welsh Parliament.

I challenge the other Welsh parties to fully sign up to the recommendations of the second Silk commission, as the Liberal Democrats have already done.

I am delighted that the people of Scotland have chosen to remain part of the United Kingdom. This is good news for Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, Wales included. However it’s clear that the UK will never be the same again, and as the entire country discusses its future Wales must not be left behind.

I’m absolutely clear that all parties must unite and speak with one voice as we call for power to be brought closer to the people of Wales. If we don’t, there is a huge threat that our nation could be marginalised and our voice diminished.

Labour and the Conservatives need to get their houses in order and make it clear to the people of Wales about where they stand on devolving powers. I challenge all parties to fully sign up to the recommendations of the second Silk commission as the Liberal Democrats have already done.

Wales needs its own say on taxation, policing, rail franchising, large energy projects and much more. Any further dithering on these powers will cost Wales dearly.

Liberal Democrats will continue to be the driving force behind bringing power closer to the people, fighting for a federal UK. We must unite to promote and build a new Union, not continue to stubbornly defend the old. Wales must have a properly functioning Parliament of its own, and I will not accept anything less for our nation.

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Welsh Government should extend Pupil Deprivation Grant to under-5s

I have recently called on the First Minister to commit to extending the Pupil Deprivation Grant to under-5s. This follows the announcement in the Liberal Democrat pre-manifesto for the 2015 General Election that the party will more than triple the existing Early Years Pupil Premium in England to £1000 per child.

From April 2015, the £50m Early Years Pupil Premium in England will be worth an additional £300 for every disadvantaged three- and four-year-old in nurseries.

Early years settings will have the freedom to choose how they spend the money to
best support the disadvantaged children in their care. Liberal Democrats in England want to extend this to £1000, helping to ensure that every child has got a fair start in life and is ready to learn when they start school.

In Wales a similar scheme to the Pupil Premium, created by the Welsh Liberal Democrats and known as the Pupil Deprivation Grant, is currently worth £918 for each child over the age of five eligible for free school meals.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have been consistent in calling for more support for Wales’ poorest children. It was a manifesto commitment in 2010 and I am delighted that we have made it a reality. However, I believe we can go further.

The early years are some of the most important in our lives but sadly by the time many children start school there are already wide variations in ability. The Sutton Trust has suggested that there is a 19-month gap in school-readiness between the most and least advantaged children. If we want every child to have the very best chance in life, we need to make sure every child gets the care and attention they deserve when they are very young.

Thanks to the Liberal Democrat Pupil Premium in England, nurseries will receive extra funding to support disadvantaged children in their care. That money will help make sure every child has a fair start and is ready to learn when they start school.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats secured the Pupil Deprivation Grant for schools in Wales to give additional funding to support pupils aged 5-15, helping to break the link between poverty and low educational attainment. Last year we surveyed schools on the impact of this grant and one of the key recommendations was that the support should be extended to include pupils under the age of five.

At First Minister’s Questions today I called on the Welsh Labour Government to extend the Pupil Deprivation Grant to nursery age children, so that all children in Wales, regardless of their background, can have the best possible start to their education.

The First Minister today confirmed that he is happy to listen to plans that will help children, especially those under five and I am optimistic that the extension of the Pupil Deprivation Grant to the under-5s can soon become a reality in Wales.

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Money Advice Service report highlights need for formal financial education for young people

A new report on young people and ‘money regrets’ by the Money Advice Service highlights the need for a more formal approach to financial education for young people.

Children need to have a basic grasp of money from as young an age as possible so that they can grow to understand budgeting and the importance of managing finances responsibly.

The Money Advice Survey’s report shows that many young people have made decisions to spend money which they now regret and which have had a detrimental effect on their lives.

Whilst help and advice are available in those circumstances, it is more important to prevent them getting into difficulties in the first place.

The Assembly will shortly be scrutinising a piece of legislation aimed at improving financial education in the future and I look forward to contributing to the discussions.

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Scotland Barnett vow doesn’t lock out fair funding for Wales

The vow taken by the three UK party leaders to protect the Barnett formula in Scotland does not mean that the formula cannot be reformed for Wales.

Liberal Democrats have already made a manifesto commitment to update the analysis of the Holtham Commission, and top-up the Welsh block grant to an equitable funding level. Holtham suggests that Wales is currently underfunded by around £350million.

The fact that Wales is badly funded under the current form of Barnett is well-known by now. This is why the Liberal Democrats have already committed to giving more money to Wales, and ensuring that Wales’ funding can never again fall to such unfair levels.

There is absolutely nothing in the commitment made by the UK party leaders today that jeopardises the fight for fair funding for Wales – in fact, it specifically mentions the need to fairly fund all of the UK’s nations. The people of Wales will see through Plaid’s desperate attempts at spin and recognise the genuine attempts to work and create a better, federal Union.

The events of the past few months have shown to me the need for all parties to work together and decide where Wales stands inside a reformed UK. If we don’t put aside our differences and build a consensus, the voice of Wales will almost certainly be marginalised.”

Going into the General Election, the Liberal Democrats will pledge that Wales will have fairer funding for the next parliament, which could mean hundreds of millions of pounds of extra funding for Wales.

The Liberal Democrats recognise the findings of the Holtham Commission that the current Barnett formula underfunds Wales; therefore in government the party would commission work to update the Holtham Commission’s analysis. The party will then seek, over a parliament, to increase the Welsh block grant to an equitable level.

The Liberal Democrats will also immediately entrench a Barnett ‘floor’ so the underfunding gap could not increase.

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Damning report lifts the veil on ineffective Jobs Growth Wales

The Welsh Labour Government’s flagship Jobs Growth Wales (JGW) scheme has come under heavy fire today after the Government’s own interim report identified a number of weaknesses with the scheme.

The report, released today, found that 73% of those on JGW placements would have found work without the Government scheme. It also notes significant failings to target those young people most in need of help to find work, particularly in Communities First areas. Participants on the scheme are also shown to be trapped in low wages, earning only 67% of the average for their age group whilst on the scheme, and only 76% of the average for their age group after they finish.

The report is an embarrassment to the Welsh Labour Government, who have claimed the scheme is the best of its kind in the world, as their own report notes that success levels are only on a par with other job creation schemes.

The Welsh Labour Government’s own report has finally lifted the veil on Jobs Growth Wales, showing just how ineffective their scheme really is. The fact that three quarters of the young people on the scheme would have found work without it shows that they’ve learned nothing from their past mistakes.

By wasting precious money on people that don’t need the support, they are failing the thousands of young people in Wales that desperately do. This scheme has done absolutely nothing to help the most disengaged and disadvantaged young people in Wales, and has actually entrenched low wage levels in our young workforce.

Perhaps most damning of all is the confirmation in this report that this scheme was set up in a rush as a political gimmick, and not to deliver real results and support for the young people of Wales. This money needs to be reinvested immediately to target support to those young people most at risk of long-term unemployment, giving them the skills and opportunities that Jobs Growth Wales has failed to deliver for them.

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