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North Wales transport plans are welcome

I very much welcome the announcement last week that the Welsh Government will be investing in improvements to the transport network in north Wales and I am also pleased that the A55 is being put forward for further improvements under the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T).

It is important now that all north Wales representatives at Assembly and local government level work together to pursue the case for electrification and modernisation of rail links in the region; there is also a need for us to make sure that the cross-Pennine route does not end at Chester and I would urge the Welsh Government to work to ensure that north Wales is included in that route.

I have been involved in direct discussions with the Minister regarding investment in capacity issues on the Wrexham – Chester line which currently puts a constraint on Holyhead-Cardiff links and is also holding up improvements to the services from north Wales to Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

The challenge now is to ensure that opportunities created by the transfer of powers over the rail franchise are realised and that north Wales will be able to gain full advantage from these latest developments.

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Queen’s Speech outlines right-wing agenda that offers no help for the poor

It is barely six weeks since a new Tory government was elected to Westminster and already we are seeing the impact of a right-wing government free from Liberal Democrat restraint. Conservative plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, introduce a ‘Snooper’s Charter’ and laws on immigration, extremism and huge cuts to welfare make it crystal clear that this government will be less liberal and less compassionate than any in recent UK history.

In government Liberal Democrats delivered the greatest reform of the pension system since its inception, cut taxes for the lowest paid, supported our poorest children to succeed at school, froze fuel duty, introduced shared parental leave and tax free childcare, delivered 2 million new apprenticeships, took action on child neglect, supported small businesses, passed law to protect our freedoms and secured the Wales Bill to lay the foundation for future devolution for Wales.

These are successes that the Liberal Democrats are proud of, that helped put us back on track after the mess Labour left our country in.

It is the Liberal Democrats that were the driving force behind devolution over the last five years, securing a referendum on further law making powers, the Silk Commission and the Wales Bill. Without Liberal Democrats in government, it is far from clear what the UK Government’s intentions are. Just last week it indicated that it would publish a mere draft Wales Bill in the autumn. That simply is not acceptable, especially after the Chancellor said we would see a Wales Bill within a hundred days.

The Tory plans outlined in the Queen’s Speech do nothing to lift people out of poverty – they will only entrench the position of the poorest in society and drive a divisive wedge between communities. If this is an indication of what’s in store over the next five years then we have much to be fearful about.

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Wrexham Council failing in its duty on Welsh medium education

Wrexham County Borough Council need to put short-term measures in place to deal with the number of children being refused Welsh medium places at schools in the county.

I am receiving a large number of complaints from parents whose children are being refused places at Welsh medium schools in Wrexham.

It is clear that the council needs to undertake an urgent review of its Welsh Government-endorsed Welsh Education Strategic Plan (WESP) as it is clearly inadequate in meeting the needs of children whose parents are seeking Welsh medium education in the county.

Any revised plan needs to set targets as to how they will cater for rising demand for Welsh medium education and also provide additional secondary places.

The WESPs are statutory documents which should both identify the demand for Welsh-medium places and detail how local authorities will meet that demand.

As a result of meetings I’ve held with the Education Minister and his officials in Cardiff a letter has been sent from the Welsh Government asking WCBC to make short-term arrangements to deal with those who have been refused a nursery place and also seeking an urgent meeting with the council over the failure of their Welsh-medium education strategy.

I will now expect WCBC to take immediate action to provide places for those being refused and look forward to seeing how WCBC plans to deal with demand in the future.

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Tory plans on electrification are as clear as mud

It would be completely unacceptable for Welsh passengers to have to wait even longer for the electrification of the Great Western Line.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced yesterday that the UK Government is going to delay or cut back a number of modernisation projects planned for Network Rail because rising costs and missed targets make the £38.5bn plan untenable.

According to the BBC, projects at most risk of being delayed are the electrification of the Great Western Railway to Swansea, as well as the electrification of the Midland Mainline.

I am writing to the Department of Transport and the Welsh Government seeking assurances that the timetable for electrification in Wales is still on target.

It would be completely unacceptable for Welsh passengers to have to wait any longer than they already have for these vital improvements.

The Liberal Democrats in Government worked hard to secure electrification for Wales, but now the Tory Government’s plans for this project are as clear as mud.

I am particularly concerned that the Transport Minister failed to properly give a firm delivery date. That simply isn’t good enough.

We need clarity as soon as possible on the future of electrification projects in Wales as this is vital to strengthen our economy.

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Initial Teacher Training ideas must be fully resourced

On Tuesday the Education Minister made a statement on Initial Teacher Education and Training in Wales.

A great deal of time and effort has been spent in the production of Professor Furlong’s report and indeed into reviewing Initial Teacher Training (ITT) so that both teachers and pupils can benefit from improved standards.

I welcome the Minister’s acknowledgement of the report’s recommendations but still have a number of concerns with how this model will work in practice.

The Minister has extended the remit of the Education Workforce Council, but adding to the responsibilities of the Council without increasing its resources risks its ability to deliver; the Minister must reassure us all that a responsible, professional EWC will not be expected to be operate on a shoestring.

I welcome the move to a four-year course for teachers, but am disappointed that the Minister has not accepted a recommendation for 50% of that course to be spent in the main subject departments as has happened in other countries, including Scotland.

The Minister must also clarify the locations of the centres and ensure that north Wales is properly represented; an assessment must be made of the impact on the region if a lack of teacher training there leads to potential teachers moving over the border.

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Welsh Lib Dems launch campaign to save S4C

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have launched their campaign to save the future of S4C, following numerous Tory threats to either cut or abolish the BBC licence fee.

The BBC licence fee provides £74m to S4C, equivalent to over 90% of the channel’s funding. The Conservative manifesto pledges to freeze the BBC licence fee ‘pending Charter renewal’ but the new Culture Secretary John Whittingdale MP has previously said it should be scrapped. With the BBC Charter due for renewal in 2017, negotiations over future funding and size of the BBC will start this summer.

The remaining £8m of S4C funding comes from the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport and is not guaranteed beyond this year.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are hosting a debate in the National Assembly today calling on the Welsh Government to make representations to the UK Government on the importance of maintaining the editorial, managerial and operational independence of S4C and the need for a sustainable funding basis to protect the future of Welsh-language broadcasting.

S4C makes an immense contribution to safeguarding our Welsh language and enriching Welsh culture, as well as bringing many benefits to the local economy. Every £1 of S4C spend is worth £2.09 to the Welsh economy and since the channel was launched in 1982 it has brought over £2.2bn of investment into Wales.

The Tories appear to have an anti-BBC agenda where they would like to shrink it as much as possible. The new Culture Secretary has said that the BBC licence fee should be scrapped, which creates huge uncertainty over future funding of S4C and government funding is not guaranteed beyond this year. This makes it extremely difficult for the channel to commission work, which has a knock on effect on jobs and future planning.

The Welsh Lib Dems will fight tooth and nail to secure the future of the S4C. In government Liberal Democrats played a key role in securing S4C’s current settlement and ensuring that the new operating agreement between the BBC and S4C gave the channel a secure future whilst retaining its independence. I am worried that without us in Government, the Tories will simply plough ahead with their plans with little regard to the future of Welsh-language broadcasting.

As discussions over the BBC Charter renewal start this summer, it is vital that the Welsh Government makes a strong case for the future of the S4C. The Tories must come clean over their plans for future funding of the S4C to end the current uncertainty, so that the channel can get back to commissioning the quality Welsh language programmes that we all enjoy.

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