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Nice work if you can get it

Today’s Wales on Sunday reveals those Welsh MPs who are taking home additional cash on top of their basic £67,060 salary:

The latest register of MPs financial interests show that the biggest earner outside of Parliament was the Conservative MP for Cardiff North Jonathan Evans.

The former lawyer is paid £110,004 a year on top of his MP’s salary from his work as non-executive chairman of four linked pension fund companies that are part of the Phoenix Group.

Close behind, former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain, Labour’s Neath MP, made an additional £70,650 outside Parliament.

That was made up of £31,500 from Amara Mining Plc, of which he is a non-executive director; £20,000 from London’s Developing Market Associates Ltd; £15,000 from Swansea University; £1,650 for penning an article; £1,500 from South Wales University and £1,000 for speaking at a Belfast festival.

“They are all registered and I don’t have anything to add to that,” said Mr Hain

“I do charity work as well.”

Rhondda MP and shadow welfare reform minister Chris Bryant also earned £43,142 plus expenses of £4,987.12.

He picked up £2,077.77 for giving a speech to the Fundación Euroamérica in Spain, £31,375 in book advances, £540 for writing Guardian articles and £8,750 for writing columns for The Independent.

Plaid’s Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd, who represents Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, received £5,000 for work with the Constables’ Central Committee of the Police Federation of England and Wales, £270 from the BBC on top of £600 – plus £73 expenses – for an appearance on University Challenge.

He said: “One question asked if we could name the four different mustards of Europe.

“The questions were so obscure it was beyond belief.”

He has since mentioned this to host Jeremy Paxman.

Those who saw Mr. Llwyd’s appearance might wish to work out how much he was paid for each correct answer he gave. It will be a fairly straightforward calculation.

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“Landmark” rail franchise devolution welcomed by Welsh Lib Dems

Yesterday’s announcement by the UK Government regarding the Valleys train line electrification and the devolution of the Wales and Borders rail franchise is a landmark as it means decisions on Welsh train services will now be made in Wales. The fact that this power closer to the people of Wales shows just how strong the Liberal Democrat influence is in the Wales Office.

Until now, the Governments at either end of the M4 have been able to pass the buck between them over who is to blame when things go wrong. Now we will know absolutely where responsibility lies for making improvements to services and giving Wales the trains it deserves.

I’m also absolutely delighted that the Welsh and UK Governments have been able to resolve the matter of funding for Valley Lines electrification, and that this project will now go ahead as planned, and the experience of passengers will be transformed. Valleys trains have been neglected for far too long by successive Governments, and these improvements will bring a huge boost to our economy as journey times are reduced and quality improved.

Having taken full control of the Welsh rail franchise, the Welsh Government will now have to work quickly to develop the expertise necessary to design and let the next franchise if the mistakes of previous agreements are going to be avoided.

The Welsh Government have less than 4 years to decide what all of Wales needs now and in the future, run a franchise competition, select an operator and then ensure they have the trains they need to deliver decent services. This will be no mean feat, but with matters resolved and commuters knowing where to look for answers, our rail services will be properly accountable at last.

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Eluned Parrott AM calls for National Music Education Strategy

Welsh Liberal Democrat AM Eluned Parrott has urged the Welsh Government to create a Welsh Music Education Strategy.

Eluned Parrott challenged the Welsh Education Minister in the Assembly Chamber as Rhondda Cynon Taff Council are holding a consultation on cutting their schools’ music service in favour of a privatised service.

There are fears that cuts to music services could also place the National Youth Orchestra of Wales under threat, if the county music education system falls apart.

Eluned Parrott, the Welsh Liberal Democrat AM for South Wales Central, said:

“Wales was the first country in the world to have a National Youth Orchestra and has a proud history of teaching children music, yet councils up and down Wales are denying our poorest children the chance to learn through music. Cuts of this kind would never be considered to science or sports lessons, yet music is always first to bear the burden despite the clear educational benefits of music education.

“Projects such as the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in Venezuela have shown just how much of a difference that learning a musical instrument can make to a young person’s life. It teaches them teamwork, gives them a sense of personal achievement and builds the confidence to use these skills in other settings. El Sistema, as it is known in Venezuela, has been widely recognised by UNESCO and others for having rescued some of the most deprived children in that society from a life of misery on the streets.

“A National Music Education Strategy would end the postcode lottery of instrument lessons in schools, and ensure that music doesn’t become the preserve of the privileged few. Music is such a deeply-felt part of our national psyche in Wales, but I fear that the bands, orchestras and choirs that we know and love will simply die out if we don’t continue to teach our children the value of music. The Welsh Labour Government needs to stop ducking and diving on this issue and create a national Strategy.”

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Welsh Government’s Welsh-medium education strategy is clearly off track

Today’s thematic report from Estyn which assesses the linguistic progression and standards of Welsh at Key Stage 4 makes it clear that the Welsh Government’s Welsh-medium education strategy is seriously off track in respect of its target for more learners to study through the medium of Welsh.

The percentage of learners studying GCSE Welsh and two other qualifications through the medium of Welsh has barely moved between 2009 and 2013, and the percentage of learners studying at least five qualifications in this way has actually fallen in the same period.

On current performance, the targets to increase the proportion of pupils who follow their courses through the medium of Welsh for both 2015 and 2020 will undoubtedly be missed.

It’s all very well the Welsh Government coming up with initiatives, but if counties are not planning effectively and ensuring the opportunity to follow through in the medium of Welsh, there is little chance of the situation improving.

The lack of planning in some North Wales counties, namely Denbighshire, Conwy, Wrexham and Flintshire means that there are fewer youngsters studying Welsh as a first language at the age of 16 than the percentage of Welsh speakers in the local population.

There is also a debate that needs to be had regarding the designation of Welsh-medium schools and the fact that in local authority areas where schools are ‘Welsh medium’ by name, there is a higher take-up rate than in areas using the ‘bilingual’ designation.

There is an obligation on the Welsh Government to ensure that the strategic plans they have approved for Welsh in Education (the WESPs) are sufficiently robust to provide the building blocks for the targets they have set, as progress to date is clearly inadequate.

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The low pay capital of Britain

The Western Mail reports that the latest figures on weekly wages confirm Wales’ position as the low-pay capital of Great Britain with full-time workers earning an average of just £473.40:

This compares with gross weekly earnings in Scotland of £519.40 and in London of £660.50.

At a UK-level, the provisional figures from the Office for National Statistics showed only Northern Ireland had lower weekly earnings than Wales at £457.20.

Within Wales, Merthyr Tydfil had the lowest weekly pay (£403.10) while Flintshire (£527.80) had the highest.

The figures also reveal the scale of the pay gap between men and women.

Men in Wales in full-time work earned an average of £500.70 a week. Women earned just £421.90.

The figures suggest that workers in Wales have only seen a year-on-year weekly pay increase of 0.6%, with earnings edging up from £470.50 to £473.40. This compares with the 4% increase recorded last year.

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Transgender Awareness Week: Welsh Lib Dems to lead landmark debate on transgender issues

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are marking Transgender Awareness Week on Wednesday by leading a landmark Welsh Assembly debate on issues faced by Welsh trans people.

It is thought to be the first time this topic has been discussed in-depth by the National Assembly for Wales. It is estimated there are over 31,300 trans people in Wales, yet there are significant problems relating to adequate healthcare and housing provision. Welsh Lib Dem Assembly Members will be raising these issues, in addition to the perception of trans people in Wales and what can be done to further raise awareness of gender equality issues in order to reduce stigma.

The Welsh Lib Dems are calling on the Welsh Government to identify a Minister to be given specific responsibility for transgender issues, and for that Minister to report back to the Assembly within 6 months with an action plan to address the concerns raised.

Kirsty Williams AM, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said:
“This is a long overdue debate, and I’m pleased that the Welsh Liberal Democrats are giving these issues the attention they deserve. Trans people are subject to so much prejudice throughout their lives, and there’s so much more we can do to support them access public services.

“The Welsh Labour Government claims there isn’t enough demand for a gender clinic in Wales, but are doing so without any solid basis for their claim. Given that estimates put the number of trans people in Wales in the thousands, it’s astonishing to think that there still isn’t a single gender clinic in Wales.

“Trans hate crime has also been recognised as a concern by the Welsh Labour Government, yet there isn’t any publicly-funded LGBT safe housing in Wales for those facing bullying or persecution on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity in the same way that there would be for people experiencing domestic violence.

“This is yet another issue where Wales is falling behind compared to the rest of the UK. I sincerely hope the Welsh Government will take the opportunity to take action and put in place these services as quickly as possible.”

Peter Black AM, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Equalities Minister, added:
“A number of high-profile trans people such as Kellie Maloney and Chelsea Manning have helped bring transgender issues closer to the foreground of public debate, but there is much more to be done in order to improve the awareness and understanding of gender issues.

“It is widely believed that ignorance breeds fear, and this often translates into hatred and discrimination against minority groups. We need to do much more to help people understand trans issues, so they will be more widely taken into account when designing services or implementing policy.”

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