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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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Lack of Welsh Government leadership on cancer delivery

The Welsh Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee report into the Welsh Government’s Cancer Delivery Plan finds a number of issues with cancer diagnosis and treatment in Wales and makes thirteen recommendations for how these issues could be improved.

The number one recommendation states that “we (the committee) are concerned about whether there is sufficient leadership to ensure that the Plan’s goals are achieved by 2016. We think that if the goals are to be met, there needs to be a body which has clear responsibility, and enough resources, to make sure that the Plan is achieved.”

It was clear from the evidence that we took that there is nothing wrong with the Cancer Delivery Plan itself. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with this Welsh Labour Government, implementation of that plan is not up to scratch.

From speaking to health professionals and patients during to enquiry it was clear that there is patchy service across Wales, with many health boards not even routinely providing written care plans for patients. At the very least people should know what they can expect from their treatment.

Earlier this week we saw how far off the Welsh Government are from hitting their own cancer waiting times target. A target that has not been met in over 6 years. It is time the Welsh Government delivered for cancer patients in Wales

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Welsh Liberal Democrats oppose further Welsh Government attempts to centralise planning decisions

Welsh Liberal Democrats have opposed the Welsh Labour Government’s attempts to degrade the voice of applicants in the planning appeals process.

Using the ‘Town and Country Planning (Determination of Procedure) (Wales) Order 2014’ the Welsh Labour Government wishes to change the way in which planning appeals are dealt with. The measure, if implemented, would mean that Ministers decide the level of appeal each case receives and thereby remove the ability of principal parties to select the appeal method they feel the case requires.

When the Planning Bill was launched last week it was widely criticised for centralising planning decisions with the Minister and diminishing the voice of local communities.

Given this it is particularly disappointing that only a week later the Welsh Labour Government have chosen to bring forward supplementary legislation to do the same thing in another area.

Our planning system is far from perfect, however, as we reform the system we need to ensure that the voices of local communities are not lost in the process.

These proposed regulations in their current form are opaque and undemocratic.

Decisions on whether proposed developments merit a public hearing should not be left down to the Planning Minister, without any need to justify their decision.

These decisions must be made in an open and transparent way, with a clear set of criteria that can be used to determine any disputes.

Welsh Liberal Democrats would welcome a proper debate on this issue within the Planning Bill; these regulations must not be bulldozed through the Assembly with little discussion.

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Labour Government letting Welsh cancer patients down

There needs to be a huge improvement to cancer waiting times after figures published earlier this week show that a key waiting time target has once again been missed. It has been over 6 years since the target was last met.

The Welsh Labour government has a target for 95% of urgent patients to be seen by a specialist within 62 days. A target that has been missed every month since 2008. New figures released today show that, just 85.2% of these cases had started definitive treatment within this time period. The figures also showed that not one of the six LHBs met this 95% target.

Last year the Health Minister told us that the cancer 62 day waiting time target would be met by October 2013, yet still that important target has not been met. In fact, the target has not been met once whilst Carwyn Jones has been First Minister.

It is simply not good enough that not a single Welsh health board met its 95% target. Being diagnosed with cancer is a terrifying experience and no-one should then be forced to wait over two months until the start of their treatment.

Whether it is cancer waiting times, referral to treatment times or ambulance response times, the Welsh Labour Government has continued to show that it cannot run the NHS in Wales. I hope Welsh Labour will listen to my calls to set up a cross-party and no-party commission to look into how we can address the significant problems our NHS faces, now and in the future.

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