Last week, the latest in a long line of reviews into the ambulance service in Wales was published. Unbelievably, this is the ninth review of the ambulance service in six years and just confirms what many have believed for some time that the Welsh Labour Government are losing control of the health service in Wales.
Of course people in RCT have known about these shortcomings for years, as month after month our area is bottom of the league when it comes to ambulance response times.
The latest figures reveal that staggeringly, only 42.1% of Category A emergency calls are responded to within the target time of 8 minutes. That’s miles worse than other areas in Wales, and nowhere near the Government’s target of 65%. What I fail to understand is why we are so out of step with much of Wales – something is clearly wrong and needs addressing urgently.
A reliable and responsive ambulance service is vital for our area so that lives aren’t put at risk. I really hope that this latest review will lead to some real action.
Another area of the NHS where Wales lags behind England is in the ratio of the number of nurses to patients. As anyone who has been in hospital will know, nurses are a vital part of the NHS service. They are not just responsible for their patients’ well being, but dispense medicine, recognise early signs of complications, monitor their patient’s emotional condition and help their patients’ families understand the treatment a patient is receiving.
Nurses work extremely hard but are being asked to do more for their patients, with fewer resources. And nowhere is that more evident than in Wales.
Here, on average nurses have to deal with over 10 patients, whereas in England they each treat just 8. Obviously, dealing with more patients puts a limit on the investment of time and level of attention each patient receives.
Local reorganisation of the NHS in Wales in also concerning as it is likely to mean a reduction in the number of A&E units across Wales – and as we know, ambulances are having to queue up outside those units at present because they’re so overcrowded. Less A&E Units would only worsen ambulance delays putting more pressure on overworked staff. I therefore support the calls by Welsh Liberal Democrats in RCT for specialist A&E units to be maintained at the Royal Glamorgan and Prince Charles hospitals.
It was the Welsh Labour politician Aneurin Bevan who spearheaded the establishment of the NHS. His party in Wales now presides over an NHS that costs us more but delivers less than our neighbours in England. I wonder what he would have made of it.
Town Centres need our support
I make no apology for returning to the subject of our local Town Centres in this week’s column. They are the lifeblood of our towns and provide much more than a place to shop by many people in our community.
Local Welsh Liberal Democrats have recently carried out a survey of Town Centre businesses throughout RCT and the results come as no surprise with many businesses reporting that they are struggling to survive.
One of the biggest issues raised by traders was car parking charges, with 100% of those who responded saying their trade had declined as a result of increased charges.
Most worryingly was the fact that 94% of traders thought that RCT Council wasn’t doing enough to help them.
That figure doesn’t surprise me when we see the decision to approve plans to create a new Shopping Centre at Talbot Green being made without any apparent thought as to how it will affect other local traders.
Traders were also critical of the council’s so-called regeneration efforts with many believing that their views were not considered as part of the design process, nor was any help forthcoming during the inevitable disruption that took place during the work.
The survey is an excellent piece of work that summarises the many issues that our local traders are facing on a day to day basis as they struggle to survive.
You can see the full results of the survey here.
What is clear is that urgent action needs to be taken to address this decline. Both RCT Council, and the Welsh Government need to start listening to the views of local traders and work with them to produce a strategy to ensure they once again thrive and prosper.
Along with my local Welsh Liberal Democrat Colleagues, I will be attending a meeting with RCT Town Centre Traders this Thursday (11th April) at the Gelliwastad Club, Gelliwastad Road, Pontypridd at 7pm. I would encourage every local trader to attend to discuss the issues they face and to see how together with their local communities they can make sure their voice is heard.
Local Shopping Centres are at the heart of every community, they bring people together, they provide essential services and they create jobs and investment. It is therefore vital that we do all that we can to ensure that they survive.
Local traders need our support
The recent decision by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Development Control Committee to give the go ahead for a new town centre in Talbot Green will undoubtedly cause further issues for currently hard pressed traders in neighbouring centres such as Pontypridd.
At a time when these traders need our support, this decision does nothing to further their cause.
My Welsh Liberal Democrat colleague on RCT Council, Cllr Mike Powell, spoke and voted against the proposal.
He, like me, can see the potential disastrous consequences for local traders should this proposal go ahead. Even the consultants commissioned by the Council admit that the development could result in an almost 6% reduction in business for traders in Pontypridd. Whilst that figure might not seem that significant, for many traders that are already struggling to survive it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Local traders have had a raw deal from their local Council. Years of indecision and inaction have been followed by a crippling recession yet the Council appears reluctant to even meet with traders to discuss how they can support them in their time of need.
Out of town shopping centres have already spelt the death knell for many town centres throughout Wales. Our local independent traders just can’t compete when they are faced with car parking charges, higher business rates and restrictions on opening hours. They need a level playing field.
Both the Council and the Welsh Government should be doing more to help these traders and, as the Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Business Minister, this is something I will continue to pursue in the Assembly.
What Wales needs are strong and prosperous high streets and town centres, with a range of diverse independent shops alongside well-know brands. Local shopping centres used to be, and should be, the lifeblood of our communities. While many of us use out of town shops, it is the elderly and vulnerable, those without access to a car, who will suffer if we let our town centres die. Please support our town centres – shop there, eat there, meet there.
Eluned Parrott, Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales Central has challenged Welsh Ministers to issue guidance to Councils regarding the collection of bulky waste items including beds, tables and fridges following worries that fly tipping may increase following the controversial plans of Labour run Cardiff and RCT Council to charge residents for collections.
“I have been contacted by concerned residents from Cardiff and Rhondda Cynon Taff who are worried that the decision to begin charging householders for collecting items such as beds, tables and fridges will mean an increase in illegal fly-tipping. They naturally fear that bulky rubbish will simply be dumped in back lanes and in local parks to avoid paying these new charges.
“Fly tipping and littering blights many communities and while progress has been made on cleaning up some of our communities in Cardiff through alley-gating over recent years and other measures, I’m very concerned that the actions taken by these Labour Councils will reverse this trend.
“It is also likely that the cost of clearing up any additional fly-tipping will be far higher than any income generated by these charges, and for that reason I hope they will see them as the financial, as well as environmental, mistake they are.
“I have called for both Councils to abandon these charges and am also asking the Welsh Government Minister to monitor the levels of fly tipping to judge if this adds to the problems many residents already face.”
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised the Labour Government’s chaotic approach to empty homes and have called for co-ordinated action which gives councils the tools and resources to make real progress to tackle the number of empty homes across Wales.
In January the Welsh Liberal Democrats launched an online poll in January asking people what they wanted debated in the National Assembly for Wales. A debate calling for a ‘Welsh strategy for bringing empty homes back into use’ was overwhelmingly the winner. Latest figures show there are an estimated 31,644 empty homes in Wales, with 23,287 classed as long-term empty dwellings.
Commenting, Welsh Lib Dem Assembly Member Eluned Parrott AM stated:
“Empty homes are a blight on our communities. Across Cardiff, Rhondda Cynon Taf and the Vale there are 5869 empty homes. Dereliction discourages investment and empty houses are a focal point for anti-social behaviour, arson and petty crime. They can become a danger to public health and damage the local environment.
“Regenerating empty homes offers significant benefits for our economy; it provides jobs, stimulates investment, ends the social impact of empty properties and helps to meet the demand for accommodation, helping young people to get on the housing ladder or providing a much needed roof for someone who has been homeless.
“We welcome the ‘Houses into Homes’ initiative which is a good start, helped by the fact that the initial £5million for the scheme was doubled to £10million following the budget deal between the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the Welsh Government last year. However, we need a coordinated strategy which gives councils the tools to tackle empty homes in each area, if we are to make real progress in this area.
“We need a national strategy on empty homes which includes establishing a Welsh Empty Homes website to share advice and guidance, an empty homes officer in each local authority, simplifying legislation and procedures which allow councils to take management of empty homes, allowing councils to impose higher council tax rates on long term empty properties and looking at incentive schemes such as the UK Government’s ‘New Homes Bonus Scheme’ which reward councils for every new empty home brought back into use.
“The Welsh Government’s approach to tackling empty homes it too chaotic and councils do not have the tools and resources to make real progress. The number of empty homes in Wales has risen by 6% on the previous year, so it is time for the Labour Government to lay down its priorities and coordinate action through a national strategy to tackle empty homes.”
||Long Term Empty
|Vale of Glamorgan
|Rhondda Cynon Taf
Higher Council Tax but fewer services
I noted with interest the news that RCT’s Labour Cabinet are proposing to introduce a Council Tax rise of 3.95% this year. That’s on top of a 7% increase in the Police Budget that Labour’s new Police Commissioner has already had agreed.
Yet instead of better services from their Council, local residents are expected to pay more and receive less. Gone will be weekly bin collections and in will come charges for the collection of bulky waste.
Before the local elections last year, Labour’s manifesto contained the following pledges regarding waste collection:
- … a Labour controlled RCT will commit to continue weekly black bag collections…
- … Labour will continue its policy of maintaining zero charges for bulky collections.
These services are important in helping to control illegal fly-tipping and keep our streets clean, so it is a huge disappointment to see the Labour council abandon these promises so soon after being elected.
And sadly this isn’t the first time that they’ve turned their back on public opinion. The way that they have U-turned over Pontypridd Paddling Pool shows that their promises really aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
What I don’t understand, though, is why RCT is so different from neighbouring Councils who are proposing rises more in line with inflation. Why are Council Tax bills in RCT already among the highest in Wales, even before this latest hike? Do the services we get in return justify such big bills?
But then Labour’s history on taxation, whether it is at a local or national level, has always been one of tax-and-spend. This compares starkly with the attitude of the Liberal Democrats who want to see a more progressive tax system.
You only have to look at the way we are delivering a fairer tax system nationally for evidence of this. By this April, more than 20 million basic rate taxpayers will be £600 a year better off than they were under Labour. Raising the amount you can earn before paying income tax was our number one priority at the General Election. We don’t believe you should have to pay any tax if you don’t earn enough money to live on. It was so important to us that we put it on the front page of our manifesto. And I’m really pleased to see so many hardworking residents starting to benefit from this and that more people on lower incomes are being taken out of the tax system altogether.
When times are tough, with rising bills and wages not keeping pace with inflation, Liberal Democrats want to give people real, practical help.
And whilst cutting income tax won’t deal with all the problems, it will make a big difference to many families.
Eluned Parrott AM, Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales Central, has called for the Welsh Labour Government to urgently address poor ambulance response times in South Wales Central.
Shocking figures released today showed that:
in Cardifff, only 60.4% arrived within time
in the Vale of Glamorgan, only 52.9% arrived within time
and in RCT, only 43.5% arrived within time – the worst performance in Wales
The statistics have also shown that the All Wales ambulance response rate was its lowest in 2012 and the 65% all-Wales target was missed for the seventh successive month. The Welsh Labour Government’s target is for 65% of category A calls to receive an ambulance response time within eight minutes. This target was missed, with only 56.1% of calls in December receiving an ambulance within that time.
Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats is also calling on the Health Minister to raise the all-Wales target to 75% to match Scotland and England and so that the current review into the ambulance service can be based on realistic funding to attain that target.
Eluned Parrott commented:
“The figures released today have shown that ambulance response rates in December were the lowest of any month in 2012. Wales has the slowest ambulance response times in the whole of the UK and they have been getting worse. The Welsh Labour Government cannot hide behind adverse weather conditions or unusually high sickness rates as they have done in previous winter seasons.
“People in South Wales Central are not getting the service they deserve at critical times in their lives. One major reason for these dismal figures is the persistent failure of the Welsh labour Ministers to establish what resources are needed to match rising demand for ambulance services.
“An ambulance service that is able to respond quickly, with well-skilled, motivated staff is often the crucial first stage in a response to medical emergencies. While paramedics and technical staff are striving for excellence, they are facing immense pressure and having to work with increasingly stretched resources.”
Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, commented:
“Until now, Wales has funded its ambulance service to meet a target of 65% of ambulance responses to life-threatening conditions within 8 minutes – whereas England funds to achieve 75%. The Minister herself should now decide to raise that target, so that the review can be based on realistic funding to attain it.
“What Wales does not need is another period of re-organisation, such as by breaking up the all-Wales ambulance service and losing many of its specialist personnel. Uncertainty may cause some to go in the next few months unless it is made clear that the review will be focused on financing and efficiency – not on breaking up the organisation.”
The full statistics can be found here.
Good news from the Autumn Statement
There was some (slightly) early Christmas cheer in the UK Government’s Autumn Statement this month as the Chancellor announced plans to cut taxes for lower-paid workers and boost the state pension.
From April next year, the Income Tax Personal Allowance will be raised to £9,440 per person meaning that income tax will only be paid on earnings above this amount. The news means that more than 85,000 people in RCT will be getting another tax cut this Easter, and 6,600 people will be taken out of paying tax altogether.
Raising the Personal Allowance was one of the key manifesto commitments we made as Liberal Democrats in the 2010 General Election, and it’s not something the Conservatives would have done on their own. I don’t believe that people should have to pay tax until they earn a reasonable wage. I’m incredibly proud that my colleagues in Westminster have been able to make sure that people on lower incomes are now up to £600 a year better off because of the Liberal Democrats in government.
There was also good news for pensioners in the Autumn Statement with the announcement of a further rise in the state pension next April of £2.70 a week. This was another key pledge of the Liberal Democrats and our insistence that pensions at least keep pace with inflation – the “triple lock” – is in stark contrast to the derisory way that Labour treated the elderly in our society. Who can forget their miserly 75p a week increase!
And the last bit of good news I’d like to highlight is the announcement that Labour’s 3p rise in fuel duty that was planned for January has been cancelled. This is welcome news not just for people who rely on a car to get to work, but also to the many businesses that have been struggling with increased transport costs.
Times are still tough, not just in Wales but across Europe, but I really do hope that 2013 will bring more stability to our economy and more prosperity to us all. It is time to look to the future with confidence.
The Chancellor announced in his Autumn Statement that the Government no longer intends to expand regional and local pay – a policy that would have had a detrimental effect on Wales.
Over the past year the Welsh Liberal Democrats have led the campaign against regional and local pay. In September, the Welsh Liberal Democrats took a motion to the UK party conference calling for Ministers to put an end to Tory plans for regional pay.
Eluned Parrott, Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales Central commented:
“I am delighted that the Liberal Democrats have put a brake on George Osborne’s plans for regional or local pay. Yes, we need to rebalance the economy, but regional or local pay isn’t the answer.
“The Welsh Liberal Democrats have always believed that moves towards regional or local pay would further engrain regional inequalities. It is the people of South Wales Central that would have paid the price for this ill thought out policy. That is why we took our campaign against regional pay to our Party Conference, which not only secured our party’s position on the matter, but also gave our Ministers in Government a clear direction. I am immensely proud that the Welsh Lib Dems played such a key part in this campaign.”
Commenting on the raising of the Personal Allowance further than already planned, Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales Central Eluned Parrott said:
“Liberal Democrats are working for a stronger economy and a fairer society, so that everyone can get on in life. That’s why we are cutting taxes for working people in Wales.
“Today’s announcement means that by April, 265,600 ordinary working people in Cardiff, Rhondda Cynon Taf and the Vale of Glamorgan will get a further Income Tax cut, bringing the total tax cut to £600 a year since Liberal Democrats joined the Coalition Government.
“This welcome news also means that Liberal Democrats have lifted 22,670 low-earners in the South Wales Central region out of paying Income Tax all together since the Coalition Government came to power.
“Liberal Democrats want fairer taxes, which is why we made raising the tax-free allowance our number one priority at the General Election – so important that we put it on the front page of our manifesto.
“When times are tough, with rising bills and wages not keeping pace with inflation, we want to give people real, practical help.
“Cutting Income Tax will not deal with all of those problems, but it will help. And I hope it will make a big difference to every family in the UK.”