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Welsh Government must proactively market Wales to ensure tourism continues to grow

New figures show that visits and overnight stays in Wales for both businesses and pleasure are up, but the Welsh Government mustn’t be complacent.

Wales has so much to offer, yet we struggle to sell it to the rest of the UK and the wider world. We need a proactive marketing plan to attract new visitors. Cardiff is only two hours away from London by train but how many European and American tourists visit us?

Mid and North Wales is equally easily accessible for leisure tourism and contains some of the most stunning countryside you’ll ever see. But the tourists don’t come because they don’t know about it.

The Welsh Labour Government can’t afford to sit back, we need to market ourselves to a new generation of visitors to see what Wales has to offer.

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Future Generations Bill will achieve very little

The Welsh Liberal Democrats cannot support the Future Generations Bill in its current state.

The Well-being of Future Generations Bill aims to ensure joined-up thinking by public bodies. However, there have been multiple criticisms, including from the Assembly’s Environment and Sustainability Committee, that the Bill is unclear and the requirements on public bodies are too weak to be effective.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are concerned that the Bill lacks clarity and direction. The party is arguing for there to be a distinct and robust definition of sustainable development that reflects the importance of nature and living within environmental limits. The Liberal Democrats also argue that the Bill lacks targets for combatting climate change.

I have also argued that the Bill needs to create a truly independent Future Generations Commissioner to hold Welsh Government to account.

In its current state, this Bill will achieve very little and Wales will have missed an opportunity, if it is taken forward without drastic reform.

While we are committed to the principles of sustainability, this Bill is far too weak, and cannot deliver a sustainable future for Wales. It is a catch-all Bill which seeks to improve everything, and in reality will do next to nothing. Without seeing proof of the Welsh Labour Government’s commitment to tightening up major elements of this Bill, we cannot support it. We also need a Commissioner with real independence, who is not the prisoner of Welsh Government.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats will be working to ensure that this Bill is transformed from being a set of warm sentiments to a piece of legislation that sets out a clear path to a sustainable Wales, with the capacity to make a real difference to people’s lives.

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Dog breeding bill doesn’t go far enough to tackle the problem

The Welsh Government’s legislation on animal welfare does not go far enough to tackle many of the issues surrounding dog breeding in Wales.

The Animal Welfare (Breeding of Dogs) aims to stop ‘puppy farms’, where dogs may be kept in cramped conditions with little concern for their needs. However, campaigners have continuously voiced their concerns that the proposed maximum ratio of one member of staff to every 20 dogs is still too high.

This bill is yet another example of a Government bill that doesn’t meet its aims.

I have spoken on a number of occasions about the scourge of puppy farming, and I am disappointed to see that this issue has not been properly addressed in this bill. For that reason, my party can’t support this inadequate bill.

Many dogs can have litters of ten puppies or more; with the proposed ratio of one member of staff to twenty adult dogs, it is not inconceivable that a person could have responsibility for hundreds of animals. This will inevitably result in the welfare of those animals being compromised.

This is not an acceptable situation and it is regrettable that, despite having urged Ministers in the past and in the face of overwhelming feedback from the consultation, this issue has not been addressed in the revised regulations. For these reasons, we have voted against the Government’s proposals today.

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A further £4m of taxpayers’ money to be spent on ‘pointless’ air link

A Freedom of Information Request has revealed that the new North-South air link will cost taxpayers £3.94 million pounds over a period of four years.

Links Air are being awarded their second contract tomorrow with Welsh taxpayers subsidising every seat on every flight by almost £50.

Publicly funded flights have been running since 2007 at an estimated cost of £9m. The previous contract with Citywing and Links Air ended in December but the Welsh Government has now renewed their contact.

The National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee said it has significant concerns about the service.

The Welsh Government are spending £3.94million over the next four years, subsidising a 19 seated plane which flies four times a day from Anglesey to Cardiff. The service has seen passenger numbers fall by 43% over the past few years.

It beggars belief that the Welsh Labour Government continues to throw £3,700 a day of taxpayers’ money at these flights. This is despite falling passenger numbers and little evidence of any economic benefit.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats would scrap this wasteful and polluting subsidy and instead concentrate on improving rail links. Many of Wales’ railways remain woefully inadequate, with train carriages overflowing and packed to the rafters and in some cases unfit for purpose. With that in mind, it is completely unacceptable that the Welsh Labour Government still remains dedicated to this pointless service.

Passenger numbers have dropped rapidly with there being a 43% drop since their peak. It is time to end this costly debacle before even more public money is poured into a service that is both economically and environmentally unsustainable.

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Welsh export figures show hit and miss results of trade missions

Last week’s Welsh export figures have shown big drops in the value of exports to key markets that have been visited by Welsh Government trade missions,.

Export levels to countries identified as key markets for Wales including the USA, China, Japan and Turkey have decreased. Each one of these countries were visited by Welsh Government trade missions in 2013.

This week the Welsh Government rejected a key recommendation of a report from the Assembly’s Enterprise and Business Committee which, after taking evidence from business leaders and people who deal in international trade, had called for Key Performance Indicators and targets to be set in order to judge the success or failure of trade missions.

The value of Welsh exports has fallen over the last twelve months overall which is a concern, but within that there have also been big falls to key markets. Drops in trade to America, China, Japan and Turkey are noticeable as each of these countries had a high profile trade mission in the last year, led by a Welsh Government Minister.

Each of these countries has been identified as a key market for Wales, yet exports to these countries is going down. That will be seen as nothing but a failure for the low-key in-house trade support services that the Welsh Labour Government provides.

Last Wednesday the Welsh Labour Government dismissed a chance to put in place proper targets to ensure that trade missions and other activities are successful; we need to ask why Welsh Labour Ministers so afraid of these trade missions being properly scrutinised?

These foreign trips cost a lot of money for the Government and the businesses who go on them, and many of them will be questioning the benefit of attending if no new trade is forthcoming and export levels continue to slump.

If we want to sell the benefits of Welsh firms going on trade missions, the Government needs to understand what is working and what is not. That involves evaluating past visits and assessing the economic benefits to Wales and individual businesses, so we can focus our resources in the most effective way.

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Kirsty Williams AM questions need for referendum on tax powers

The leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams has questioned the need for a referendum on tax varying powers if all parties include the commitment to devolve these powers in their manifestos.

After giving evidence to the House of Commons’ Political and Constitution Reform committee, Kirsty said:

I challenge parties to include a pledge to devolve tax varying powers to the National Assembly in their General Election manifestos. If that happens, then I don’t see the need of a referendum.

Let me absolutely clear that if there is indeed a referendum on tax varying powers, then I will fight tooth and nail for a ‘yes’ vote. However, while there is a desire for devolving power from Westminster, I don’t sense that desire from the people of Wales for yet another referendum.

Tax varying powers will bring much needed accountability to Wales’ political system. It will sharpen minds in Cardiff Bay and bring the same level of accountability to Wales that exists in almost all other national parliaments. For too long successive Welsh Labour Governments have been able to simply spend money without having the responsibility for raising it.

Liberal Democrats have been the driving force for bringing more powers to Wales. At every stage we have been pressing, and we will continue to press, for decision making to be brought closer to the people of Wales. It is time that Wales has the further powers it needs to build a stronger economy and help build a fairer society.

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