Eluned Parrott Column – Pontypridd Observer – 12th August 2015

It’s not surprising that the Welsh Government waited until the Assembly had finished for the Summer to announce that they were scrapping the targets for ambulance response times.

With the Assembly in recess, this decision will not get the scrutiny it deserves which, I suspect, is what the Labour Government wanted all along.

Up until now, there was a target set for 65% of the most urgent emergency calls to be responded to by an ambulance within 8 minutes.

As I have written before, RCT has historically had some of the worst ambulance response rates in Wales.

Since the Welsh Government started publishing figures in December 2011, the ambulance service in RCT has missed the target every single month.

This isn’t good enough, and scrapping the targets will do nothing to restore the confidence that residents have in the service, nor will it improve the service itself.

I suspect that the primary motive of Labour with this move is to reduce the opportunity for embarrassing headlines in the run up to the Assembly elections next year.

Labour have run the NHS in Wales since 1999 and on this subject, and many others within the NHS, they have failed, with Wales lagging well behind the rest of the UK.

That’s why I believe that the NHS will be the number one issue in next year’s elections and quite rightly so.

Just last week, the Welsh Liberal Democrats outlined what we would do differently with our three-point plan for the NHS, which put patients first.

Firstly, we would ensure there were more nurses on our hospital wards. In Wales, each one of our nurses has to care for more patients than anywhere else in the UK. More nurses would relieve the burden on overstretched staff enabling them to spend the time with patients that they need.

Secondly, we would end mental health discrimination. For too long, mental health services have been neglected. With 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health problem every year, it’s vital we get this right.

And thirdly, we would make it easier for you to see your GP. People are absolutely fed up of finding it a real struggle to make an appointment and access their GP. In this day and age, everyone should be able to make an appointment easily – that is what the Welsh Liberal Democrats will deliver.

For too long patients’ views have been side-lined and ignored. The Welsh Liberal Democrats will put patients front and centre of our health service.

Slight fall in Welsh Unemployment must be first of many

The Welsh unemployment rate has fallen by 9,000 over the last quarter but still remains higher than the UK average, new figures released this week show.

Statistics published by ONS show that the Welsh unemployment rate currently stands at 5.9%, compared to a UK average of 5.6%.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Economy Minister Eluned Parrott AM said:

“This is good news for Wales, and shows that we can buck the trend after several months of poor figures.

“The Welsh Labour Government now needs to demonstrate that it is serious about ensuring this improvement is not just a one off. The Welsh Government have had 16 years to bring Wales up to the UK average, and there’s no reason for the gap to be as big as it is.

“We need to address the fundamental problems in our economy. We need to find out why the unemployment rate is higher than over the border? Why does Wales have an unemployment rate of 5.9% when England and Scotland both have an unemployment rate of 5.6%?

“Our economy is still fragile and there is often very little help for older workers to retrain and reskill if they find themselves unemployed in situations like this, and the recent swingeing cuts to adult education in Wales will only exacerbate the situation. The Welsh Government urgently needs to produce a specific plan for tackling unemployment for older workers.

“Sadly the Conservative Government is hitting the young and will further weaken our economy. We are about to see under 25s demotivated from working, whilst under huge financial pressure with the ending of housing benefits and maintenance grants for poorer students.

“Wales is now caught in a pincer movement between one government that doesn’t care and another government that doesn’t work.”

Government needs to take Active Travel more seriously

The Welsh Government’s own Transport Minister has yet to attend a meeting of the Active Travel Board despite Active Travel being a key part of their transport plans and a flagship piece of legislation back in 2013.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Transport Minister Eluned Parrott said:

“It is disappointing but not surprising that Labour Ministers are shunning Active Travel.

“This Labour Government’s whole approach to transport is wrong. While plans for the Metro slide further away from reality, and they seem intent on spending around a billion pounds on a new M4 around Newport, no major progress has been made on increasing levels of cycling and walking.

“Figures from the Welsh Government show that only around 2% of the population regularly cycle and in the first year of the Active Travel Act’s operation 2014/15 expenditure on walking and cycling decreased from £13.13m to £11.79m in 2013/14.

“For this Labour Government to fully understand the challenges faced in increasing walking and cycling the Transport Minister should have attended at least one board meeting in person.

“If Active Travel truly is a key priority for this government they urgently need to rethink how they go about increasing participation in walking and cycling.”

Vital that local residents have their say over new M4

The Welsh Government has announced a series of public information exhibitions this autumn over its controversial plans for an M4 relief road around Newport.

Eluned Parrott AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Transport Minister, said:

“This is a controversial project, which could cost over £1 billion and it is vital that the public have their say. I am pleased that there are consultation events across South Wales and not just in Newport and would urge local residents to go and view the proposals and to have their say.

“Welsh Liberal Democrats are firmly opposed to this new motorway on both economic and environmental grounds. We think there are far better ways to improve the traffic flow on the M4; firstly by improving local roads so that local traffic is not drawn onto the motorway for short journeys and secondly by improving the public transport network. The South Wales Metro as well as basic improvements such as creating a direct rail link from Newport to Ebbw Vale and creating a rail station in the east of Cardiff, half way between Newport and Cardiff, will go a long way to reducing the area’s reliance on cars.

“I would encourage members of the public to visit the exhibition and to have their say.”

Cardiff Lib Dems lead the fight to reopen Roath Library

Eluned Parrott AM with Cllr Nigel Howells, campaigning to get Roath Library repaired and re-opened

Eluned Parrott AM with Cllr Nigel Howells, campaigning to get Roath Library repaired and re-opened

Cardiff’s Liberal Democrats will use a motion at today’s Cardiff Council meeting to argue that Roath Library could be reopened if there was the political will to do so.

The motion calls for money received from developments in Adamsdown, totalling £238,494, to be used as the basis for carrying out necessary repairs to the library. It could then re-open without further delay.

Roath Library sits at the heart of one of the most deprived areas of Cardiff. It was closed temporarily in November 2014 when the boiler failed, but has remained closed ever since, following damage caused by a leak in the roof.

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

“Well over a thousand people have now signed petitions calling on Cardiff Council to repair and re-open Roath Library.

“I know how much local residents value their library and I know how angry residents are at the fact that their library may never re-open.

“Just five months ago, the Council promised to keep all its branch libraries open for the remainder of this Council term.

“It is only right and fair that this applies to Roath Library as well.”

Cllr Nigel Howells, Liberal Democrat Councillor for Adamsdown, added:

“I’m proposing this motion because the money to fund these repairs can be found if the political will is there.

“Our community is one of the most deprived in Cardiff and the library is so much more than a place where people go to borrow books. For many, it is a place where they go to improve their life-chances.

“The money from developments in the area should be used to improve existing facilities.

“It is scandalous that this money hasn’t already been considered for use on the library.”

Farcical air link must be scrapped

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have restated their calls to scrap the Cardiff-Anglesey air link following another report criticizing the service.

The Welsh Assembly Public Accounts Committee report raises a number of concerns about the air link, including a discrepancy in passenger numbers between figures provided by the Welsh Government and the Civil Aviation Authority.

The report notes that “it is difficult to adequately assess the value-for-money of the air service” due to a lack of available information. The Welsh Liberal Democrats have consistently called for the service to be scrapped and the money reinvested in other public transport services.

Eluned Parrott AM, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Transport Minister, said:

“Today we see yet another report highlighting just how much of a farce the Anglesey air link is.

“Labour Ministers have poured millions into subsidizing this wasteful and polluting service, with little to no gain for people in North Wales. Passenger numbers are 35% lower now than at their peak in 2008, yet money is still spent on this service instead of improving our woeful rail and bus networks.

“The Welsh Liberal Democrats have always been clear: we would scrap the £3,700-a-day subsidy of this pointless air link, and reinvest the money to improve bus and train services for the people of Wales.”

Welsh Lib Dem Young Person’s bus scheme to be launched in September

The Welsh Liberal Democrats’ Young Person’s Concessionary Bus Fare scheme will be launched in September 2015, it has been announced today.

From September, 16, 17 and 18 year olds will receive a one-third discount on all of their journeys by bus, including the TrawsCymru network of longer-distance services.

In September 2014 the Welsh Liberal Democrats agreed to allow the Welsh Government’s annual budget to pass in exchange for funding for a range of key Welsh Liberal Democrat policies, including almost £15m for a Young Person’s Concessionary Bus Fare scheme.  The scheme will be available to 110,000 16-18 year olds.

Eluned Parrott, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Minister for Transport said:

“Affordable public transport is key to enabling young people to access work, education, training and apprenticeships.  That is why the Welsh Liberal Democrats have fought for a national concessionary scheme for young people aged 16-18, to help those struggling with the cost of transport.

“We used our influence in the National Assembly to ensure young people will have their very own bus pass.  Because of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, people aged 16-18 will now have the help they need to travel to allow them to take advantage of the opportunities on offer.

“Once again we have shown that a vote for the Welsh Liberal Democrats is a vote for Welsh Liberal Democrat polices to be put into practice.

“As always, we see today a Welsh Labour Government trying to claim credit for a policy they have been forced to implement.  Let us be in no doubt, this excellent scheme is only becoming a reality because of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.”

Chair of Liberal Youth Wales, Sam Bennett, added:

“Liberal Youth Wales have been campaigning for fairer fares for young people on public transport and I am delighted that as a result of our influence in budget negotiations, young people across Wales will now benefit from reduced fares when travelling by bus.”

Fresh concerns over rail electrification

New trains being introduced to Wales in 2017 could actually deliver slower travel times for passengers, Eluned Parrott AM has said today.

New hybrid trains which are able to run using both electric and diesel power are arriving in the UK from Japan for testing and are due to enter service from 2017 at a rate of one a fortnight. These brand new trains will enter service on the Great Western Mainline connecting Cardiff and Swansea with London.  The long serving InterCity 125s will be transferred to Scotland in a deal already struck between the Department for Transport and ScotRail.

However the new hybrid trains, whilst capable of running on diesel, are according to insider sources not capable of matching the InterCity Trains speed and performance under diesel over long distances meaning the two hours five minutes it currently takes to get from Cardiff to London is likely to be longer should these trains be introduced before electrification is completed.

Speaking Eluned Parrott, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Minister for Transport said:

“We could find ourselves in a ridiculous situation where passengers in South Wales get brand new trains which take longer to get to London than the forty year old trains that are currently being used. It is vital that we get clarification on what is happening.

“The timetable for trains will be thrown into chaos and journey times will increase. There is also a serious chance that this will cost both the taxpayer and passengers huge amounts extra because these new trains are not designed for long diesel runs at speed and the trains maintenance costs as well as projected fuel costs will be higher than previously budgeted. The Tory Government are leaving South Wales in chaos as its electrification programme falls apart.

“The electrification of the rail network in South Wales is much needed and long overdue but if these new trains are put into service before electrification is finished passengers will have their journey times extended before they get reduced, complicating timetables and pushing passengers away from rail travel.

“Since the Liberal Democrats have left office, this whole project has turned into a farce.  People have a right to know what is happening.  I have written to The Department for Transport asking for urgent clarification of this issue.”

Welsh Government’s transport plans based on money that doesn’t yet exist

The Welsh Labour Government’s transport plans are based on money that doesn’t yet exist, Eluned Parrott AM has said today.

The new Transport Plan, published this week, reveals that the Welsh Government needs to find three quarters of the capital funding for its transport projects by 2019/20.

The document reveals that there will be a huge fall in Welsh Government capital spending on transport after the next Assembly elections despite major plans for roads and rail investment.  This means the plans are heavily reliant on outside resources such as from European Union structural funds.

Eluned Parrott, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Transport Minister said:

“This document reveals that there is a giant black hole in the finances of the Welsh Labour Government’s transport plans.  Assumptions are being made that other funding will be found, but that is by no means secure.

“It’s disappointing to see such a huge reduction in the Welsh Labour Government’s commitment to transport. This once again highlights that the Government has a real weak spot when it comes to public transport.  Wales can’t afford for major infrastructure improvements, such as the valley lines electrification, to be booted into the long grass while the Welsh Government scrabbles around for the money.

“Again, we see the Transport Minister getting her priorities completely wrong.  It’s absurd to be spending over a billion pounds on the M4 relief road, especially when she is having to reduce spending elsewhere.

“The Welsh Lib Dems used our influence to halt work on the M4 relief road because we remain determined to ensure that investment is put towards public transport.”

Welsh Labour Government misses apprenticeship targets

A new report published by the Welsh Government has shown that they have missed several of their key targets for their flagship ‘Pathways to Apprenticeship’ scheme.

By their own admission their key target of getting ‘75% of learners into an apprenticeship’ was ‘not achieved by a large margin’ as just 35% of learners progressed onto their flagship scheme in 2012/13.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Economy Minister Eluned Parrott AM said:

“This report will be a serious embarrassment for the Welsh Government, as it essentially demonstrates that the Pathways to Apprenticeship scheme is not actually providing a pathway to an apprenticeship for the vast majority of learners.

“Whilst other positive outcomes will always be welcome, the scheme was designed with a particular aim in mind.  Alarm bells should have been ringing within the Government when they realised they were nowhere near hitting their key target of getting three quarters of learners into an apprenticeship.

“Significantly, if we look at the reasons why the scheme failed to place those learners in an apprenticeship, 32% said that there simply wasn’t one open to them.

“At the same time that the Welsh Labour Government was pouring funding into the Pathways programme, it was axing thousands of the very apprenticeship places the participants were supposed to be aiming for.  By failing to co-ordinate programmes effectively, it made the failure of Pathways to Apprenticeships inevitable.

“We’ve seen major criticism of Jobs Growth Wales, with Welsh Government reports showing it wasted funding by helping those who would find a job anyway, now we see evidence of the Welsh Government failing to follow through with help for those who do need training and employment opportunities the most.

“After 16 years it is about time this Labour Government redoubled its efforts to help young people.  Its job creation schemes remain badly targeted and lack ambition.”