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Success for Aled Roberts’ campaign to save Manchester commuter train

North Wales Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Aled Roberts has welcomed the decision by Arriva Trains Wales to preserve a direct commuter train linking Llandudno and other north eastern towns with Manchester.

In the consultation Arriva Trains Wales proposed to cut the 06.34 service from Llandudno to Manchester. This would have forced all Manchester commuters to change at Chester with all the inconvenience and potential for extra delays that would bring.

New timetables recently released by Arriva Trains Wales show that a new direct service has been created linking Llandudno and Manchester. The new service will start at Llandudno Junction at 0605 and reach Manchester Piccadilly at 08.18 and come into operation on 14th December.

“This is a victory for the people of North Wales who backed my campaign,” said Aled Roberts. “We held meetings with Arriva Trains Wales and the Welsh Government’s Transport Minister to stress how strongly people felt about keeping existing commuter services.

“But most of all we were overwhelmed by the support given to our petition to save the Manchester commuter train service. I have arranged to have regular meetings with Arriva Trains Wales and hope, with the support of people in North Wales, to save other cross-border commuter train services such as the 07.49 train from Wrexham to Birmingham which could be dropped from new timetables to be issued next May.”

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Appalling A&E figures show Labour is failing Welsh patient

The latest figures once again reveal that the Welsh Labour government’s A&E targets have been badly missed.

For September 2014, 86.3% of patients spent fewer than four hours in A&E. This is despite the target for 95% of patients to be seen within that time.

The figures also showed that 1,472 patients spent twelve hours or more in A&E from arrival until admission, transfer or discharge in September. This is 400 higher than the same figure for August and the highest the figure has been since April 2013.

The Welsh Labour Government’s handling of Welsh A&E services really has been terrible. Not once has its four hour wait target been met.

It is even worse to think that almost 1,500 patients have had to spend more than twelve hours in A&E departments. That is truly shocking.

After fifteen years of Welsh Labour government, we have seen Wales’ NHS fall further behind compared to the rest of the UK. We have cancer targets that have not been met in five years, A&E targets that have never been met and ambulance response times that are by far the worst in the UK. Labour’s record on health in Wales is appalling.

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Campaign to scrap the tolls comes to the Assembly

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling on all parties in the National Assembly to support the Liberal Democrat policy of scrapping the Severn Bridge tolls when the bridges come back into public ownership.

The Severn Crossings are currently managed by a private concessionaire. The concession will end when a revenue target collected from tolls is reached. Current forecasts are that the concession will end in 2018. Once the tolls are transferred into public ownership and debts are repaid, the Liberal Democrats have pledged to scrap the tolls completely.

Scrapping the tolls will be a manifesto commitment in the up and coming General Election.

The Severn Bridge tolls are the most expensive in the UK. It now costs £6.40 for a car to cross the bridge, £12.80 for a van, and £19.20 for a coach or lorry.

Eluned Parrott, Assembly Member for South Wales Central, said:

“The Liberal Democrats are the only party who will scrap the unfair Severn Bridge tolls. We are holding a debate this week on this issue to allow other parties to state their position. It will not be long before the bridges come back into public ownership, so it is time other parties started taking what happens next seriously.

“Scrapping the tolls would help rebalance the economy and drive growth in a part of the country that is typically deprived. It is a fact that the tolls have been a barrier to the Welsh economy.

“By scrapping the tolls, the Liberal Democrats would be boosting the South Wales economy by around £107 million a year.”

Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats said:

“First impressions do matter and if the lasting impression for many of Wales’ visitors is a less than positive one, then we should be doing all we can to address this.

“Motorway tolls are not prevalent across the United Kingdom. So why on earth should people be forced to pay a tax to enter Wales?

“Not only would scrapping the tolls boost Wales’ economy, but it would save the average commuter around £1,535 a year. This policy is an important step along the way to helping build a stronger economy, and also a fairer society.”

The petition to scrap the tolls can be found here.

By scrapping the tolls, the Liberal Democrats would boost the South Wales economy by around £107 million a year according to the Welsh Government’s report into the tolls – Welsh Government: The impact of the Severn Tolls on the Welsh economy (November 2012)

Scrapping the tolls would save the average commuter around £1,536 a year.

The direct toll costs imposed on businesses are roughly estimated to be £47m (excluding VAT in 2009 prices), with £34m (including VAT) paid by consumers.

The annual cost of running the bridges is around £15m. The current operating costs are £12m a year and are made up of maintenance and toll collection, including toll collection infrastructure. Additionally, the Highways Agency spends an average of £3m on latent defects.

There are no toll roads or bridges in Northern Ireland, and there have been no toll bridges in Scotland since 2008, when the Scottish Parliament passed the Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill.

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Welsh unemployment figures remain a concern

The latest unemployment figures for Wales show a slight increase in Welsh unemployment and a the historical gap in unemployment rates compared to the UK average remains.

Unemployment across Wales rose in the last month by 4,000 whilst the UK as a whole saw a fall. Compared to this time last year, unemployment in Wales is down 1.1%, compared to 1.7% across the UK as a whole.

The Welsh Workforce has grown from 1,457,000 to 1,472,000, but the unemployment rate has grown too from 94,000 (6.5% of the workforce) to 98,000 (6.6%).

For months, the Welsh economy under Labour has been beginning to stagnate. The last few months has seen Welsh unemployment fall at a slower rate than the rest of the UK, but we’ve now seen the number of Welsh people out of work actually increase. It’s obviously good news that the size of the workforce has grown, but that doesn’t hide the fact that there are more people looking for work in Wales today than there were a month ago.

Labour’s mismanagement of the Welsh economy is in stark contrast to the Liberal Democrats’ actions in the UK Government. Thanks to the Lib Dems, there are record numbers in work across the UK and our economy is growing, but once again we see Wales lagging behind the UK as a whole, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We must ask why 6.6% of our workforce is out of work and why other parts of the UK are continuing to grow and recover faster.

The Welsh Labour Government should stop wasting money on inefficient schemes like Jobs Growth Wales and reinvest the money to tackle the issue of long-term unemployment that Wales faces, or risk leaving another generation behind.

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‘Reserved powers’ and ‘votes for 16’ announcements welcome

I very much welcome announcements in the House of Lords on Tuesday that the Coalition Government will publish plans for a reserved powers model for Wales and that 16 year olds will be able to vote in a future income tax referendum.

I am glad that Liberal Democrats are continuing to lead the charge in Government to bring power closer to the people of Wales.

The announcement on a ‘reserved powers’ model is good news for Wales and Welsh devolution. I am pleased that Ministers in the Coalition have listened to the consensus in the Assembly and have acted swiftly. That is how it should be.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have long called for a ‘reserved powers’ model. It is evident that there is still a certain amount of confusion over which areas are devolved to Wales and which are reserved by the UK Parliament. The system has been crying out for clarity.

This announcement will hopefully provide a more stable relationship between Cardiff Bay and Whitehall, reducing the numbers of disputes and enabling Assembly Members to be more creative and responsive to the demands put upon them by voters.

The announcement that 16-17 year olds will be able to vote in a future income tax referendum, is another giant step forward for the votes for 16 campaign. Despite what the detractors claimed, the world did not end when 16 year olds voted in the Scottish referendum, in fact quite the opposite – they showed a keen, mature interest in the issues at hand. It is only right that 16 and 17 year olds should be able to vote on who has the power to set their tax rates.

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M4: Buying property along ‘black route’ could have prejudiced decision

The Week In, Week Out programme has revealed that the Welsh Government has purchased property as far ago as 2005 in preparation for the M4 ‘black route’. We believe that as a result the final route decision could have been prejudiced.

The programme showed that land bought as long ago as 2005 has not been declared surplus to requirements and sold off – as is Government policy.

The fact that land bought by the Welsh Labour Government as early as 2005 was never declared surplus to requirements, and therefore sold off, clearly shows that the ‘black route’ was never off the table – despite assertions in 2009 that the project had been shelved.

But Plaid Cymru are equally guilty here, as it was one of their ministers while in Coalition with Labour who seemingly continued this land purchasing programme, and failed to sell these assets off when the project was supposed to have been cancelled. Plaid Cymru’s current opposition to the ‘black route’ is in stark contrast to the actions of their former leader, who behind the scenes seemingly helped pave the way for it to become a reality.

With every week that passes, new evidence seems to emerge that this road was a done deal – regardless of the views and concerns of the people of Wales. Members of the public will be rightly outraged that the consultation process has been nothing more than a sham all along, and that their views were never going to be listened to.

With a judicial review, a public enquiry and many other obstacles to overcome, the Welsh Labour Government should just accept that their road is nothing but a pipe dream.

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