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Closure of Bridgend Law Court is bad for the administration of justice

I have added my voice to those demanding that Justice Department plans for the closure of Bridgend Law Courts should be dropped.

The Justice Department proposal would mean the closure of Bridgend Law Courts, with the consequent transferring of civil, family and tribunal hearings to Port Talbot Justice Centre, and of criminal cases to Cardiff Law Courts.

It is my view that the journey times for those in the Bridgend County Borough Council area who would be required to attend hearings in Port Talbot are unreasonable, as is the route.

Public transport links between the two towns appear reasonable on the face of it, but no account has been taken of the fact that those travelling by bus will face a more than 700m walk including the crossing of a busy dual carriageway from the bus station; whereas those travelling by train will be obliged to walk approximately 750m along a dual carriageway, starting by walking across the main Swansea to Paddington railway line via a level crossing.

In any case, I do not feel that subjecting Bridgend residents to a 30 mile round trip to Port Talbot in one direction, or a 46 mile round trip to Cardiff in the other serves the administration of justice.

Mention is made of the possibility of hearings being conducted by video link, on paper, or over the telephone. I do not feel that telephone hearings or paper-based hearings are appropriate in any but the most basic of cases.

The majority of human interaction is non-verbal, and therefore to deny the court the opportunity of seeing defendants, witnesses, and victims in person is wrong.

Finally, I am very concerned that these closures will increase the number of guilty pleas made by those defendants who cannot face a stressful, unfamiliar, costly, or time-consuming journey.

Worrying evidence is already appearing that suggests poorer people are pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit out of fear they will face crippling costs imposed by the new financial penalties the Ministry of Justice has decided to impose.

The closure of local courts can only exacerbate this trend, and is bad for the administration of justice.

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Ambulance response times in desperate need of improvement

Ambulance response times are in desperate need of improvement.

Figures published for July show that just 61.7% of emergency responses to Category A (immediately life-threatening) calls arrived at the scene within 8 minutes. This is a 0.3% improvement compared to the previous month.

After failing to meet its ‘urgent’ emergency 8 minute target for over 20 months, the Labour Government in Wales has announced that from October it will now classify fewer calls as needing an 8 minute response.

I’m sorry to say that we still have the lowest ambulance response times in the UK. I’m pleased to see that there has been some improvement compared to last year, but it’s clear our ambulance service is still struggling.

It’s of particular concern to see such varied performance. For only 51% of ambulances in Ceredigion to arrive within the target response time is appalling.

NHS staff and paramedics work incredibly hard and do an extremely difficult job, which we are all thankful for, but they are being held back by the Labour Government in Wales.

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Have Plaid Cymru lost their way?

The Western Mail contains an interesting analysis this morning by a former activist, who asks whether Plaid Cymru have given up Welsh nationalism to become just ‘a generic British anti-austerity party’?

In an article for the current affairs magazine Planet, Simon Brooks – who founded the Welsh language communities movement Cymuned and is the author of several books on Welsh cultural issues – suggests that the cause of Welsh nationalism has become subsumed within what he calls “a pan-British anti-austerity radicalism”.

He writes: “Opposing fracking, standing up to the cuts, support for the latest public sector strike: these are worthy causes, but British in character and the word is not meant in any pejorative sense.

“There is a failure here to develop a national narrative.

“The image of political hugging on the stage during the leaders’ debates [when Plaid leader Leanne Wood, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Green Party leader Natalie Bennett had group hugs], the ‘anti-austerity alliance’, is the image of a nationalism which is a point on the political compass of a wider British radicalism rather than the compass itself.

“Nationalism has become party to a pan-British radicalism, and generous towards those who reject the national cause.

“This was an election in which Plaid Cymru embraced a party, the England and Wales Green Party, which was standing against its own candidates, including in Ceredigion, its main target seat.”

According to Brooks, there is nothing new in what he calls Plaid Cymru’s new-found interest in the British Left: “Making common cause with English radicals has been the bulwark of every Welsh general election campaign since 1968.

“This alliance delivered to the Liberal Party its hegemony between 1862 and 1922 … and to Labour its hold over anglophone Wales up to the current day.

“By becoming Old Labour Lite – that is, by portraying Welsh Labour as Red Tories, and Welsh nationalists as inheritors of Lloyd George and Nye Bevan, the Party of Wales hopes to inherit the radical crown.”

But, Brooks argues, the strategy contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction.

“Civic nationalism” of the kind being pursued by Plaid does not differ from similar approaches in England and the wider UK, and therefore there can be no logical reason to press for the break-up of the UK.

He writes “In its argument for progressive British politics, Plaid Cymru may well be undermining ‘Red Tories’, but it is making the intellectual case for the continued dominance of an improved Labour Party in Wales.”

Brooks points out that, with its anti-austerity message, Plaid Cymru’s national vote at the general election rose by just 0.8% – a poor result in comparison with the success of the SNP, which won all but three of the seats in Scotland.

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Number of patients waiting nine months or more for treatment trebles in four years

The Western Mail reports that the number of patients waiting more than nine months to start NHS treatment has trebled in the past four years.

A Freedom of Information Request has revealed that 25,373 people spent 36 weeks or longer on the waiting list in June compared with 7,434 in September 2011.

It also found that the percentage of patients waiting at least 26 weeks jumped from 8.5% of all patients in September 2011 to 15.2% in June 2015.

It means 66,819 patients waited beyond the target time of 26 weeks in June 2015 compared with 33,301 in September 2011.

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ONS must stay in Newport

The UK Government must nip in the bud any suggestion that the Newport based Office for National Statistics (ONS) will be moved back to London say Welsh Liberal Democrats.

A wide-ranging review of of the ONS has been commissioned by the UK government, led by a former deputy governor of the Bank of England. A Financial Times report today (Tuesday), indicates that Sir Charlie Bean is tipped to recommend a move back to London for the statistics office.

“This review must not be seen as an excuse for taking highly skilled jobs away from Newport,” said Veronica German, Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Spokesperson for South Wales East. “High value jobs such as these provide strength to our local economy, making Newport an attractive place for key professional workers of the future.

“Service improvements can be just as easily achieved in Newport as in London. Physical distance from the Treasury and the Bank of England is irrelevant in this digital age. I have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who implemented this review, seeking clarification that jobs will not be cut from Newport in favour of London.”

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Tory MP slammed over tax credit cut criticism

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have hit out at a Conservative MP after he criticised his own Government’s decision to cut the working tax credits of millions of working people.

According to the Office of Budget Responsibility, under Changes to tax credits announced by the Conservative UK Government a two parent household earning £16,000 with one child could see a cut of more than £2,000. If they have an income of £21,000 they’ll see a reduction of more than £2,500.

Aberconwy MP Guto Bebb told The Times that he thought the changes are “eye-wateringly painful to those affected”. This is despite voting in favour of the Welfare Reform Bill in Parliament which implemented these changes.

Aled Roberts AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for North Wales, said:

“Guto Bebb seems completely oblivious of the fact that the reason these immoral cuts to tax credits never happened over the last five years is that Liberal Democrats were in Government, blocking attempt after attempt by the Tories to slash them.

“Now the Conservatives have free rein in Downing Street, we’re seeing their true colours as they implement billions of welfare cuts with no regard for the consequences.

“Guto may be complaining now about the effects of cutting tax credits, but he voted in favour of them in Parliament – unlike the Liberal Democrats who opposed these damaging cuts which will disproportionately affect the working age poor.”

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