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Welsh Lib Dems would scrap subsidy for North-South air service

The publication of the Public Accounts Committee’s report on the subsidised air service between Cardiff and Anglesey, Aled Roberts is damning.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats would scrap this wasteful and polluting subsidy. This costly venture does little to address the real problems of public transport links between North and South.

People in North Wales have gained little from this service. The evidence given to the committee raised serious questions with regard to the value for money this subsidy provides. There is also the issue that passenger numbers have fallen by 43% since their peak in 2009.

Rail links are far more important for my region than this service. Any public money should be spent on improving rail links between the North and Cardiff.

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‘Health Minister burying his head in the sand over deeply worrying critical care report’

A report into critical care in the Welsh NHS, from June, published earlier this week by the health minister states that:

• Wales has the lowest critical care capacity in Europe

• There is an immediate need for an additional 73 beds in Wales

• The number of critical care beds in Wales has declined since 1999

• Most Welsh critical care units routinely run at above the recommended 75 per cent bed occupancy rate

• Demand for critical care is expected to rise by five per cent per year on average, although the demography of Wales means this might be higher for an ageing population with high rates of chronic illness.

The annual report called ‘An assessment of unmet need for critical care in Wales’ by the All-Wales Implementation Group for the Delivery Plan for the Critically Ill, recommends that in Wales “a need for an additional 73 beds in Wales immediately, rising to a total of 295 additional beds in ten years time to accommodate the expected increase in need for critical care.”

In the Health Ministers response he avoided to committing to open any more new beds in Welsh hospitals.

It is incredibly sad that after fifteen years of Labour running the health service in Wales we have the lowest number of critical care beds per person in Europe. In 1999 the then health minister was warned there was a problem with capacity and since then we have gone backwards.

I am deeply concerned with the minister’s response to the report which gives no commitment to actually increase the capacity with new beds, only to use the existing beds better. Of course we should use the existing beds better, but that will not solve the fundamental problem.

With demand for critical care set to rise year on year, Labour need to stop burying their heads in the sand and deal with an issue that has existed in the Welsh NHS for over a decade.”

Once again we are seeing how the Welsh NHS is being left behind the rest of the UK due to the failings of the Welsh Labour Government.

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Welsh Lib Dems warn of collapse in beef prices

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have warned that the recent collapse in beef and lamb prices could leave the industry in Wales unsustainable.

Ahead of the Royal Welsh Show, Welsh Lib Dem Leader Kirsty Williams and MP Roger Williams have written an open letter to the Deputy Minister for Agriculture, calling on her to work more closely with Hybu Cig Cymru to promote Welsh beef and lamb to export markets and lobby retailers to pay a fairer price to farmers.

Over the past 4 months, beef prices have dropped from 380p/kg to 312p/kg and lamb is down from 520p/kg to 380p/kg deadweight. Roger Williams has also raised this issue in Parliament with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Roger Williams, Welsh Liberal Democrat MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, said:

“This drop in prices has shaken the confidence of the whole beef supply chain. As retailers and meat processing plants increase their margins, and as import levels rise, both farmers and consumers are feeling the pinch.Unless farmers are paid a decent price for their meat, sheep flocks and cattle herds will decrease and Supermarkets’ access to the best Welsh meat will be reduced.

“Upland farmers across Wales produce top quality beef, but the cost of doing so is very high. Farmers committing to rearing a calf that won’t be ready for two years need assurance that the demand will be there after the costs have been incurred.”

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Welsh university sector in good health

The Western Mail reports that data published by the Higher Education Council for Wales has painted a largely positive picture, despite a challenging financial climate:

Together, Welsh universities attracted income worth £1.273bn in 2012-13, which was almost identical to the £1.274 billion brought in a year earlier before the introduction of a controversial new fees regime. Total income in 2010-11 stood at a mere £1.244bn.

A change in the way higher education is funded sees students themselves offset reductions to core university budgets by paying up to £9,000 for their courses.

Analysis of Hefcw’s figures for 2012-13 shows the new University of South Wales had generated £192m income, Bangor University £135m, Cardiff University £436m and Swansea University £181m – all up on that generated in 2011-12.

Other institutions were down marginally, although only two campus-based universities – Bangor (1.8% of total income) and Glyndwr (9%) – ran up deficits on continuing operations.

According to Hefcw, Cardiff Metropolitan University was most reliant on home and EU fees – with 50% of its total income coming from non-international student enrolments.

The University of Wales, Trinity Saint David was next in line, with 47% of its total income coming from home and EU students, while Cardiff University recorded the lowest share of just 21%.

The University of South Wales (60%) and Glyndwr (61%) reported the highest staffing costs – academic and aministrative – as a percentage of their total income, although both institutions have since taken steps to reduce their number of employees.

Figures show total university staffing costs are on the rise in Wales, with £731m spent in 2012-13, £720m dished out in 2011-12 and just £703m spent a year earlier in 2010-11.

Cardiff University had the highest net assets excluding pension liability (£463m) from the University of South Wales, whose figures ballooned from £126m in 2011-12 to £209m in 2012-13 as a result of merger.

The University of Glamorgan and University of Wales, Newport came together officially in April last year, albeit they submitted a single set of financial statements to Hefcw for the year ending July 31, 2013.

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London-centric arts

The Western Mail reports on comments by David Anderson, the director general of National Museums Wales who has used a blog post to launch an outspoken attack on the coverage of the arts by UK broadcasters, accusing them of a London bias that largely ignores the rest of the UK.

Mr Anderson argues that Wales does not get its fair share of UK funding for the arts,nor does it have the coverage from the UK media that its quality deserves:

He writes: “This lack of recognition and publicity from the UK print and broadcasting media – with the credibility that comes with it – in turn makes it still harder for us to attract the private funding that we need so badly to invest in our programmes and to provide match funding for Lottery bids.

Many of the key decisions that determine profile for the arts are made by publicly funded organisations based in London, such as the BBC and Visit Britain, which appear to have little knowledge or understanding of what is happening in the rest of the UK, and especially the devolved nations.”

Mr Anderson argues that funding of the arts, employment in the arts, public access to and participation in the arts, and control of the arts are “scandalously unequal”, with 71% of funding for the arts in the whole of the UK from trusts and foundations, corporate donors and private individuals going to London institutions. The remaining 29% has to be shared out between all the other nations and regions.

He writes: “We are in the second decade of the 21st century, but we still retain the highly centralised, 19th century, semi-colonial model that the arts should be concentrated in London, and that funding London is synonymous with serving the English regions and the nations of the UK. For Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland this undermines the principle, embedded in law, that culture is a devolved responsibility. It is a constitutional tension that remains unresolved.

“All the evidence shows that concentration of power and funding in London is, in policy terms, a failure.

“Despite investment of over £1bn annually of public and private funds in arts institutions in just three boroughs in Central London (Westminster, Southwark and Kensington and Chelsea), public participation levels in the arts in London are slightly lower than those across England as a whole.”

Acknowledging that the BBC is a “hugely important part of the arts ecosystem in Wales” and that its investment in the Roath Lock drama studios in Cardiff has given a massive boost to the creative economy, Mr Anderson accuses the broadcaster of a “lack of {geographical} impartiality” in its coverage.

He poses the question, “Why does the Tate’s Turner Prize – widely perceived in the contemporary art world to be tired and outdated – continue to get blanket coverage on Network BBC, when the critically more highly regarded Artes Mundi Prize in Wales has never in 12 years had any Network coverage?

“Research by the BBC itself shows that this lack of impartiality in its coverage of the arts in the nations and regions of the UK is the norm rather than the exception.

“{BBC director general} Tony Hall, in a recent speech at the Pierhead Building in Cardiff, invited his audience to imagine Wales without the BBC.

“It is a fair challenge, but we existed long before the BBC with our languages and cultural identities.

“Some of us in Wales might ask him, in turn, to imagine a BBC that is not dominated by a London-centric perception of the world, and that better reflects the diversity of our nation’s arts and cultures, our values and our debates.

“Without us – we who are outside London – not just the BBC but democracy itself will suffer, if we continue down the road we are on.”

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Nearly 20,000 patients discharged in middle of the night

There needs to be an investigation into why nearly 20,000 patients in Wales have been discharged in the middle of the night.

Research by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, via the Freedom of Information Act, shows that 19,702 patients have been discharged between 11pm and 6am since 2012.

The party discovered that not a single Health Board in Wales records the reasons why patients have been discharged. It is also currently not mandatory for Health Boards to track the leaving time of patients and therefore many have admitted that their data is not necessarily ‘complete or accurate’. Cardiff and Vale UHB was the only health board to withhold the information.

The figures collated are for inpatients only. “Inpatient” means that the procedure requires the patient to be admitted to the hospital, primarily so that he or she can be closely monitored during the procedure and afterwards, during recovery.

It is shocking that nearly 20,000 patients were discharged in the middle of the night. The Welsh Labour Government needs to get to the bottom about why these figures are so startlingly high.

While these figures are just the raw data, behind each of these stats there is a personal story. I want to know why it’s considered reasonable for thousands of people to be leaving hospital at such anti-social hours. I am particularly worried that many of these patients could be elderly or vulnerable.

There are sometimes valid reasons for patients to be released from hospitals in the middle of the night. However these figures are exceptionally high and I am concerned that the well-known pressure on beds could be leading to people being discharged at inappropriate times.

The current system for collating this important data isn’t fit for purpose. Hospitals aren’t properly recording why and when patients are being discharged. This is potentially a major problem that is slipping under the radar. We are calling on the Welsh Labour Government to ensure this data is recorded accurately and thoroughly so we can see the extent of the problem.

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