Reacting to the Chancellor’s budget today, Eluned Parrott AM laments the lack of concrete progress on City Deal.
The City Deal Programme, developed by the Lib Dems in the last government, was a policy which devolves powers, responsibilities and finance down to local authorities to aid them in growing their own local economy.
Eluned Parrott, Assembly Member for South Wales Central and Welsh Lib Dem Shadow Minister for the Economy commented:
“I was really pleased when the Labour administrations in the Local Authorities and Welsh Government finally applied for a City Deal, but in today’s Comprehensive Spending Review, there has been no mention of it.
“A Cardiff Capital Region Deal would be a huge boost to the economy of South Wales, and the combination of investment and devolved powers could regenerate some of our most deprived communities by driving forward vital infrastructure projects like the South Wales Metro and investing in training and skills.
“However the Chancellor has failed to give any indication about how likely the Cardiff Capital Region application is to succeed in his statement today. The Tories need to stop dragging their heels and ensure that this Region has the investment it needs to create jobs and boost productivity.”
The cost of electrifying the Valley Lines could “skyrocket” if work doesn’t start alongside the Great Western Main Line, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have warned.
The UK Government Hendy Review into Network Rail’s programme of improvements, due to be published later this week, should decide whether the Great Western Mainline to Swansea will be electrified as planned.
A point made repeatedly in the Welsh Government’s business case for the Valley Lines electrification is that the work must be carried out alongside the Main Line electrification in order to minimise costs.
Eluned Parrott AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Minister for Transport commented:
“It is a very positive sign that work on Great Western Electrification has not been paused to date, and I am hopeful that the Main Line to Swansea will be one of the projects prioritised when the review is finally published.
“However if the electrification of the Main Line is to go ahead and perhaps even be accelerated, this puts pressure on the Welsh Government to get its own act together on the Valley Lines.
“The cost of electrifying the Valley Lines could skyrocket if work on them doesn’t start alongside the Main Line – a point made repeatedly in the Welsh Government’s own business case for the project.
“Similarly, it is incredible that even now, the Welsh Government still hasn’t committed to electrifying any of the lines West of Cardiff – including the Vale of Glamorgan line which is the diversionary route for the Main Line. If that line at least isn’t electrified, any disruption or works beyond Cardiff would bring electric services to Swansea to a grinding halt.
“It is vital to the economy of South Wales that our railways are modernised across all of the Valleys, to spread the economic benefits with all. The Welsh Government cannot sit back and allow the electrification of the Valley Lines to falter in its hands.”
The Assembly must speak as one voice in calls to reduce VAT on tourism attractions in Wales, Eluned Parrott AM has said this week.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats are this week hosting a debate in the National Assembly where they are calling for VAT to be reduced from 20 per cent to 5 per cent on hotels and holiday attractions to boost the tourism industry.
This is part of a Liberal Democrat plan to make Wales and the UK more attractive as a holiday destination and to create a jobs revolution in the sector. It means the UK would follow the lead of 25 out of 28 EU member states who have cut VAT on tourist accommodation and attractions.
The World Economic Forum places Britain in 140th place for price competitiveness for tourism, out of 141 countries.
Eluned Parrott, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Economy Minister said:
“The Welsh Liberal Democrats will always support business and enterprise, which is why we are campaigning for the reduction of VAT on tourism.
“Local hotels, B&Bs and our holiday hotspots are the backbone of the Welsh economy and they need more help and support.
“The UK’s current rate of 20% is almost twice the European average which undermines competitiveness against countries with lower rates of VAT. It is simply madness to allow our local businesses to have to compete at such a disadvantage.
“Over 170,000 people in Wales rely on the tourism industry for their employment. The Liberal Democrats would support this sector, create more jobs and continue to showcase the best of Wales.
“We are hosting this debate as we want all parties in the Assembly to unite on this issue to send a clear message to the UK Government that this is a priority for businesses in Wales.”
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have rounded upon Labour’s economic record after new figures show that Wales is the only part of the UK where average wages are decreasing.
The Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings shows that average weekly wages in Wales decreased by 0.1% this year, the only region of the UK to show a decrease.
The North East of England, a region often compared to Wales, had an increase of 2%, while the UK average increased by 1.8%.
Eluned Parrott AM, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Economy Minister, said:
“These figures confirm what we’ve suspected for a while now: the Welsh economy is suffering under Labour.
“It’s no coincidence that Wales is the only part of the UK where pay packets are shrinking. Labour’s lack of economic vision is damaging our nation, and people are rightly getting fed up of it.
“With some enterprise zones creating only a handful of jobs, an empty shops rate higher than anywhere else in the UK, and hardly any focus on developing the skills of our workforce, it’s no wonder that Labour is failing Wales time after time.
“People want a vibrant Welsh economy with real job opportunities so they can get on in life. Welsh Liberal Democrats will create the conditions for business to thrive in Wales, creating the high-value jobs that will finally get our economy moving.”
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised Labour’s approach to a Cardiff City Deal, claiming that the Deal is a “sham” without the devolution of extra powers to the region.
The City Deals initiative was launched in 2011 by former Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as a way to allow cities to “stand on their own two feet” by providing them with resources and extra powers to grow their economies and improve infrastructure.
Welsh Liberal Democrats are concerned that despite this week’s announcement of £580m from Welsh Government and £120m from the region’s councils, no arrangements for extra powers to be devolved to the region appear to have been suggested.
Eluned Parrott has also criticised suggestions that the Welsh Government’s contribution to the Deal’s financing may be money already committed to the South Wales Metro, which includes £125m provided by the UK Government.
Eluned Parrott AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Economy Minister and Assembly Member for South Wales Central, said:
“The whole point of City Deals is to empower city regions to lead their own regeneration, by giving them both the resources and the additional powers to do so.
“This week’s announcement may include a request for money, but there’s no mention of any extra powers to deliver that economic growth nor any suggestion for the kind of projects that a City Deal should deliver. Without those powers and specific plans, this City Deal is nothing more than a sham.
“Using money that’s already committed to the Metro for match-funding would reek of a lack of ambition by Labour Ministers, and including the UK Government’s contribution as part of that would be downright cheeky. The Welsh Government must now come clean on where this money has come from, and whether it really is new money for new ideas.
“Glasgow’s bid was finalised nearly 18 months ago, yet thanks to Labour’s inaction in City Hall and Cardiff Bay dragging their heels ours is only just getting going. Quite frankly, Labour’s poverty of ambition is holding us back – and people in Wales rightly expect better.”
Eluned Parrott AM this week voted against the huge £10,000 pay rise for Assembly Members.
Despite urging all parties in the Assembly to join forces to fight the pay rise, the Welsh Liberal Democrats were the only party to vote against the rise. The Tories, Labour and Plaid all voted in support of the increase.
On Wednesday Assembly Members were asked to vote on the Assembly Commission’s Budget which is set to rise by around £1.1m. This huge increase in the budget is, in part, required to pay for the salary hike proposed for AMs by the Remuneration Board.
Assembly Members’ £54,000 pay is proposed to increase to £64,000 in May 2016. This 18% rise will cost taxpayers around £700,000 more per year.
Eluned Parrott, Assembly Member for South Wales Central said:
“Earlier today I voted against the Assembly Commission’s budget in protest at the proposed 18% pay hike for Assembly Members.
“I cannot accept that, at a time while public services are being squeezed and public sector workers have had their wages held back, politicians should be treated differently.
“Politicians from across the political spectrum have criticised this ridiculous increase – and this was their chance to put their money where their mouth was.
“In the end, only the Welsh Liberal Democrats stood up and voted against these proposals.
“I don’t know how other Assembly Members can look their constituents in the eyes after arguing against the pay hike, then quietly voting it through.”
Eluned Parrott AM with Cllr Nigel Howells, campaigning to get Roath Library repaired and re-opened
This week marks one year since Roath Library closed after its boiler failed. The library has remained closed since then, depriving residents in the Adamsdown ward of a much needed library service.
In July, the Council’s Cabinet agreed to ‘immediately implement’ a temporary library provision for the area which included a drop off and collection point for library books at Adamsdown Day Centre as well as a new mobile van to provide outreach in the Adamsdown and Plasnewydd wards. To date, this has not been provided.
Liberal Democrat Councillor for the area, Nigel Howells, has called for urgent action to be taken. He said: “For Adamsdown to be without a library provision for a year is totally unacceptable. Roath Library was heavily used by people looking for work, by families teaching their children to read and by the many elderly people in the area as a place to socialise and borrow books. Promises we were given about finding a temporary solution whilst the future of the library is decided must be honoured.”
“I also repeat my call for the Council to urgently carry out repairs to the library to get it back up and running as soon as possible. I’ve highlighted money that is available to do this, but the Labour Council appears reluctant to do so.”
His call was backed by Assembly Member Eluned Parrott. She said: “It is areas like Adamsdown that benefit the most from library services and the Council has some serious questions to answer as to why it has taken so long to find a temporary base for the library. I’ve spoken to hundreds of library users who are increasingly frustrated at being without a library for so long. And I understand their frustration, particularly as they are being asked to pay more and more Council Tax, yet receive less and less services in return.”
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have blamed Labour’s lack of a coherent economic strategy for a rise in Welsh unemployment over the last quarter, while UK average unemployment is falling.
Statistics released today by the Office of National Statistics show that in the 3 months to September this year, the Welsh unemployment rate rose by 0.2 percentage points compared to the previous quarter to 6.1%. Over the same period, the UK unemployment rate fell by 0.3 percentage points to 5.3%.
Eluned Parrott AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Economy Minister, said:
“There’s a growing trend emerging in that the Welsh economy is consistently underperforming compared to the UK average. The clear differentiating factor here is Labour’s Government in Cardiff Bay.
“Time and time again we’re told by Labour Ministers that they’re delivering for Wales and the Welsh economy is getting back on its feet. But when you look at the figures, it’s plain for anyone to see that their argument simply doesn’t wash.
“With some enterprise zones creating only a handful of jobs, an empty shops rate higher in Wales than anywhere else in the UK, and little to no focus on developing the skills of our workforce, it’s no wonder that Labour is failing Wales time after time.
“People want a vibrant Welsh economy with real job opportunities so they can get on in life. Welsh Liberal Democrats will create the conditions for business to thrive in Wales, tearing down the barriers that stop businesses from expanding.”
This week, the Welsh Lib Dems’ call for more nurses in our local hospitals passed another hurdle when the Assembly agreed to put the finance in place to make this happen.
More nurses for Wales is one of the Lib Dems’ key policies in the run up to the Assembly elections next year.
For too long, our nurses have been overworked, having to look after more patients than their colleagues in other parts of the UK do.
By having less patients to deal with, nurses can spend more time with their patients and families, and as a result provide better care.
Patients deserve the very best care and our plan will ensure we have enough nurses in our hospitals to do that.
Along with more nurses, we want to see improved access to your GP.
Too often people struggle to get a timely appointment with their GP. We will end this unfairness by investing in primary care, providing extra support in local communities for the people with the most complex medical needs – freeing up GP’s to see more patients and quicker.
And we would also end mental health discrimination. For too long mental health has been stigmatised and ignored. This has to change.
Waiting times for young people with mental ill health in Wales are getting worse under Labour. With 1 in 4 people experiencing mental ill health, it’s vital that we fix the system.
We will make sure that there is equality between mental health and physical health in law as well as investing to improve mental health care. It’s common sense that by investing to improve mental ill health early, we can save money later on in our NHS as well as more importantly relieving suffering for individuals and their families.
Health will, quite rightly, be very much in the forefront of politics as we approach next year’s Assembly Election. Our proposals will deliver an NHS that puts patients first.
I’m sure we will hear much from Labour on this issue but let’s not forget that it’s them that have presided over the NHS for the last 16 years in Wales and their record is quite frankly shameful with the worst ambulance response rates in the UK, longer waiting times for vital treatments and unequal access to the medications patients need.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats are today launching a package of radical policies to revitalise Wales’ struggling high streets.
In government, the party would establish ‘High Street Wales’ to empower people to drive the regeneration of their local communities and tackle dereliction and decay. Based on the ‘Main Street’ movement in America, it would offer education, hands-on-training, online resources, facilitating connections and conferences to share best practice and build strong communities.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats will also give more powers to communities by introducing a ‘Community Right to Bid’ so people can work together to protect key local services such as libraries, post offices or pubs.
Other initiatives proposed in the report being published today include:
- a new ‘Reoccupation Relief Scheme’ – slashing business rates by 50% for new occupants of premises that have been empty for a year
- tackling the proliferation of betting shops by giving them their own use class to give local communities greater say over where they are placed;
- a statutory requirement to consider walking and cycling at an early stage in new development schemes to ensure a more accessible and pleasant high street environment;
- supporting the development of Business Improvement Districts with the development of a BID learning network to share lessons and support the development of future BIDs; and
- encouraging local authorities to offer limited free parking schemes near the town centre to support struggling high streets.
Eluned Parrott AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Economy Minister, said:
“The Welsh Liberal Democrats are offering fresh, innovative and enterprising ideas to revive our high streets.
“Having a devolved government offers huge potential to be creative in supporting our local high streets, yet Labour has failed miserably with shop vacancy rates in Wales consistently above the UK average.
“Our ‘High Street Wales’ policy would empower people to drive the regeneration of their local communities and tackle dereliction and decay.
“We will also put powers back into the hands of local people by enabling them the opportunity to save key local services.
“The Labour Welsh Government has been content to sit back and witness the decline of our high streets; this complacency must end. The retail sector is Wales’ largest private-sector employer and high streets are vital in supporting the many jobs that it offers.
“We recognise that high streets and town centres are more than just economic hubs; they also strengthen the social fabric of our communities. It is time for new ideas to regenerate town centres and the Welsh Liberal Democrats would ensure that enterprise is at the heart of a Welsh Government.”