The rest of us can learn from what the Welsh are doing with education….

Two recent press releases have caught my eye. As PPC for North Devon, a rural economy where, on average, schools get £300 less per pupil than in the rest of England, I am keen on education reform. Key to that is ensuring good teaching and supporting our teachers. So I was pleased to see that […]

Two recent press releases have caught my eye. As PPC for North Devon, a rural economy where, on average, schools get £300 less per pupil than in the rest of England, I am keen on education reform. Key to that is ensuring good teaching and supporting our teachers.

So I was pleased to see that Welsh Lib Dem Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has announced the single biggest investment in Wales’ teachers since devolution. This is through a groundbreaking £24m package to help teachers deliver Wales’ new curriculum. Kirsty says,

This major investment shows how highly we value teachers’ professional learning. It is an investment in excellence and we are aiming for nothing less than a wholesale reform of how teachers learn; a process that starts from the moment they begin initial teacher education and goes right the way through their career.

The National Approach to Professional Learning (NAPL) will focus on flexible ways of learning that don’t disrupt the school day. A much more accessible blend of learning will be available through Wales’ regions and universities. This will encompass learning outside the classroom, online learning, classroom learning and coaching.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds commented,

This announcement is yet another example of the transformational reforms the Welsh Lib Dems are implementing in our national mission to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and public confidence.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are committed to creating a Wales where every child has the opportunity to achieve their potential and determine their own destiny. This funding will help us realise this vision.

Not only are the Welsh investing in teachers, but they are also protecting rural schools.  Kirsty Williams introduced a new, stronger code last week which includes a presumption against the closure of rural schools. This is part of a wider Rural Education Plan which also includes a Small and Rural Schools Grant.

Young people attending rural schools, whether in Wales or elsewhere in the UK, deserve the same level of education and support that learners in more urban areas receive. These rural schools are the heart of community life, with facilities often shared with the rest of the community. For example, when touring Chulmleigh Academy, North Devon, recently I was shown the new library and gym, both of which are used by the wider community as well.

Well done to the Welsh Lib Dems in leading the fight to champion rural education, and to support teachers more fully. Schools need more funding, not less, and our rural schools deserve better.

* Kirsten Johnson is the PPC for North Devon and Day Editor of Lib Dem Voice.

Henry Hill: Bradley faces another week of fierce criticism over ‘flying visit’

Also: Scottish Tories attack SNP over income tax ‘gap’; no boost for Plaid from new leader; and DUP’s Brexit donation given a clean bill of legal health.

Fresh criticism for Bradley over ’embarrassing’ meeting with local parties

Karen Bradley has had another bad week, with the Northern Irish press excoriating her over an ’embarrassing’ meeting with ocal parties which some present branded a “waste of time”.

The Belfast Telegraph reports that relations between the Secretary of State and local politicians are now worse than ever, something which can only hinder her ongoing bid to get the devolved assembly back on its feet. Last week she challenged them to stop grandstanding and return to government in an op-ed for the paper. There was one small sign of progress when Sinn Fein indicated that they would accept Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, returning as First Minister.

Unfortunately, this is not the only time that Bradley has been accused of not spending enough time at important events, having also been criticised for giving an under-whelming speech at an important UK-Irish event before leaving abruptly. In an editorial the Belfast Telegraph drew withering comparisonsalso between her and some of her predecessors, and another writer reports that “in this deepening crisis, the Secretary of State is being seen more and more as the problem.”

But the pain was at least spread around a little this week. Dominic Raab, the Brexit Secretary, has been strongly criticised by Northern Irish business groups for failing to engage with their concerns over our departure from the EU. He has been pressed on why he didn’t meet representatives of affected sectors, including manufacturing, freight, retail, and food and drink, on a recent visit.

He did however reiterate his commitment that he wouldn’t support any deal which undermined the constitutional integrity of the UK – although Ben Lowry, writing in the News Letter, is deeply sceptical of that.

Scottish Conservatives attack SNP over tax

Nicola Sturgeon has refused to pass on the tax cuts announced in the Budget to Scottish taxpayers – and the Tories have seized the opportunity to go on the offensive.

The Scotsman reports that Jackson Carlaw, who is standing in for Ruth Davidson whilst she is on maternity leave, pressed the First Minister on the fact that Scots now face paying £1,000 extra in income tax every year compared to counterparts in England. He also called Sturgeon ‘out of touch’, and credited that with the Conservatives’ newly-regained strength in what was once the Nationalist heartland of north-eastern Scotland.

One of those new MPs, Andrew Bowie, who represents West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, also criticised the devolved administration’s high tax approach – and was counter-attacked by the SNP for being ‘anti-devolution’, according to the Press & Journal.

In other Scottish Tory news, the Prime Minister has promised them that the UK will be out of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy by 2020, before the crucial Holyrood elections of 2021.

Nationalists call for even war to require devolved consent

The devocrat push to reduce the UK to a dysfunctional confederation continued this week when Plaid Cymru called for the Welsh Assembly to be given a veto on the deployment of British troops overseas.

Fortunately both the Conservatives and Labour figures pushed back against these proposals, according to the BBC, the latter emphasising how it would complicate some of the defence treaties and alliances the UK is party to.

This is one of the first policy stories out of the Welsh nationalists since they elected their new leader, Adam Price, who met with Theresa May in Downing Street last week. Such harder-edged nationalist positions will complicate the hope, nurtured by some Welsh Conservatives, that his leadership might make a Con-Nat pact to oust Labour viable in Cardiff Bay.

ITV have also reported on a new Welsh political poll indicating that, in the words of Professor Roger Awan-Scully, “the installation of their new leader has not generated any momentum for them at all.” It also shows that the Conservatives have sufficiently improved their position relative to 2017 to regain Vale of Clwyd and capture Wrexham from Labour.

In other Welsh news, Wales Online has interviewed each of the three candidates – Mark Drakeford, Vaughn Gething, and Eluned Morgan – vying to succeed Carwyn Jones as Labour leader and First Minister.

DUP donation given clean bill of legal health

In the aftermath of the EU referendum, the Democratic Unionists came under scrutiny from Remain-leaning outlets (primarily openDemocracy) about a substantial donation they received from a group called the Constitutional Research Council.

As well as trying to drum up concern by implying it might have had something to do with the Saudi intelligence services, there was also a slightly absurd effort to persuade people that the DUP even getting involved in mainland campaigning was somehow suspicious.

I dealt with the latter argument at the time – in a UK-wide referendum there is absolutely no reason for the DUP to confine its efforts to Northern Ireland – and this week the Electoral Commission have also ruled that, for all its being ‘dark’, the CRC’s donation was entirely legal.

This comes in the same week that the Information Commissioner dismissed Carole Cadwalladr’s long-running conspiracy theory about illegal collusion betweein Vote Leave and Leave.eu via Cambridge Analytica.

1 November 2018 – today’s press releases

We’ve got a veritable torrent of press releases today, starting with an example of the Party being rather more radical than Labour… Cable: £1.3 billion for higher-rate payers should be used to reverse welfare cuts The Liberal Democrats have announced they will be voting against the Government’s plans to raise the higher-rate tax threshold to […]

We’ve got a veritable torrent of press releases today, starting with an example of the Party being rather more radical than Labour…

Cable: £1.3 billion for higher-rate payers should be used to reverse welfare cuts

The Liberal Democrats have announced they will be voting against the Government’s plans to raise the higher-rate tax threshold to £50,000.

The policy – announced in Monday’s budget – will cost an estimated £1.3 billion pounds next year, money which could instead be used to reverse cuts to Universal Credit or end the benefits freeze a year early.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable said:

Government is about priorities. With public services desperate for investment, now is not the time to reduce taxes for high earners. Instead Philip Hammond should use the money to further reverse cuts to Universal Credit or end the benefits freeze a year early.

In Government Liberal Democrats focused tax cuts on lower earning families, and we support continued efforts to do so.

We encourage Labour MPs who disagree with both front benches about the raising of the higher rate threshold to vote with us against it and put pressure on the Treasury to change course.

Police ‘shouldn’t be forced to choose between burglaries and hate crimes’

Responding to comments from Sara Thornton, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, that forces are ‘over stretched’, Liberal Democrats Home Affairs spokesperson Ed Davey said:

The police shouldn’t be forced to choose between investigating burglaries and investigating hate crimes. The Government must give them the resources to do both.

Unnecessary Conservative cuts have taken thousands of police officers off the streets, and put enormous pressure on those who remain.

The Liberal Democrats demand better. We will end the Conservative cuts and invest an extra £300 million to give forces the resources they need to keep communities safe.

Davey: Govt must take action on organised crime

Responding to reports from the National Crime Agency that show the extend of organised crime in the UK, Liberal Democrats Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey said:

The true cost of organised crime extends well beyond the financial impact. It includes the children exploited by gangs, the vulnerable people held in modern slavery and the lives taken by trafficked weapons.

That’s why the Liberal Democrats are demanding an extra £300 million a year for the police, to rebuild the community policing that helps to prevent gangs from operating, and greater investment in the Border Force to stop the trafficking of people, weapons and illegal drugs.

But the biggest threat to the fight against organised crime is Brexit, which risks robbing us of crucial cross-border tools like the European Arrest Warrant and information-sharing systems. That’s why we are fighting to keep those tools, by giving the people the final say on the Brexit deal, with the option to remain.

Welsh Lib Dems Protecting Rural Schools

A new code introduced today by Welsh Liberal Democrat Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams is another example of the transformational impact Welsh Lib Dems are having on rural schools and rural Wales.

The new, strengthened code includes a presumption against the closure of rural schools and is part of a wider Rural Education Plan that also includes a Small and Rural Schools Grant.

The School Organisation Code has been revised to include a more detailed set of procedures and requirements that local authorities and other proposers must follow when putting together proposals to close a rural school. This includes a description of a rural school and the schools that fall under this definition.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams said:

Rural schools are at the heart of community life and key to our National Mission for Education. I want to make sure that we’re supporting pupils and teachers in rural areas and that all our young people, no matter where they live, receive the very best education.

That’s why we have acted to strengthen the School Organisation Code, ensuring that councils and other proposers do everything they can to keep a rural school open before deciding to consult on closure.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said:

Welsh Liberal Democrats have always uniquely understood and stood up for our rural communities and today is yet another example. Kirsty is transforming rural education to make our schools the best they can be. This shows once again the difference Welsh Lib Dems can make in government.

Brexiter ranks filled with dodgy demagogues

Commenting on news that Arron Banks has been referred to the National Crime Agency Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said:

This is an extremely concerning development. People have known for a long time that the Brexiter ranks were filled with dodgy demagogues, today’s news will be little surprise.

Brexit will cause great damage to this country and it cannot happen on the back of a Leave campaign littered with lies, deceit and allegations of much worse. That is why the people must have a final say on Brexit.

Government inaction on fixed-odds betting terminals ruining lives

Liberal Democrat MP, Christine Jardine, has criticised the Conservative Government’s response to the delay in implementing a planned and much needed reduction in the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals.

This delay is completely unacceptable. The Government’s inaction is ruining lives and they must not be allowed to continue make these excuses that only benefit bookmakers.

The £2 maximum stake for fixed-odds betting terminals must come into force immediately. The damage that is being done to individuals by these machines will persist with hundreds of pounds being lost in seconds, day after day.

Perhaps they can compensate by also extending the maximum stake reduction to online games such as blackjack, where you can also bet and lose some thousands in just one hand.

PM must end FOBT delay

Responding to the announcement that DCMS Minister, Tracey Crouch, has resigned from the Government over their handling of fixed-odds betting terminals, Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said:

When the Minister responsible for a policy steps down, you know the Government is moving in the wrong direction.

These machines are a blight on our society and undeniably damaging to vulnerable people.

Tracey Crouch knows this, so why doesn’t the Prime Minister? Theresa May should come to the floor of the House and explain why this will not be implemented for another year.

Lib Dems lead rebellion against Tory tax cuts for higher earners

Commenting as 21 Labour MPs voted with the Liberal Democrats against raising the higher rate tax threshold, Lib Dem Leader, Vince Cable said:

Despite the best efforts of their whips, 21 Labour MPs put principle above party and voted with the Liberal Democrats against the Government’s indefensible tax cuts for higher earners.

It is beyond belief that a party which claims to stand ‘for the many, not the few’, decided not to oppose the Government on this. Using the money to fund Universal Credit or end the benefits freeze would have been a far more progressive way of using the money.

On Brexit, Universal Credit and now the Budget, the Liberal Democrats have shown that we are the real opposition.

Henry Hill: Cox agrees to meet Tory MPs campaigning for troops who served in Northern Ireland

Also: May meets new Plaid leader in Downing Street; Bradley mulls ‘external mediator’ for devolution talks; SNP row over ‘People’s Vote’; and more.

Cox agrees to meet campaigners against ‘witch-hunt’ of Ulster veterans

Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, has been enjoying a rapid ascent to fan-favourite status after a star turn on the conference stage and some high-profile leadership against bids to fudge the Irish backstop.

This is only likely to be furthered by the news that, as reported in the Sun, he has agreed to meet representatives of the strong Tory campaign against the ‘witch hunt’ of ex-servicemen who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Over 150 Conservative MPs and peers have signed a letter to May attacking proposals for another round of historical investigations into the conduct of British security forces in the Province, calling for veterans to be offered “lasting legal protection” from further harassment – and accusing the Government of breaking the Military Covenant.

Mark Francois, a former defence minister, has joined the chorus of MPs urging the Prime Minister to take action, according to the News Letter.

The prosecution of now-elderly former soldiers is especially fraught in the aftermath of the revelation that many “on-the-run” terror suspects had been granted a de facto amnesty by the Government under the so-called “comfort letter” scheme.

May invites Plaid leader for talks in Downing Street

Wales Online reports that Adam Price, the newly-elected leader of Plaid Cymru, held face-to-face talks with Theresa May in Number Ten this week.

The Welsh nationalists currently hold four seats in the House of Commons, and may have a crucial role to play in what could be knife-edge Brexit votes. However, Price apparently reiterated his party’s commitment to a second referendum, which doesn’t suggest it’s likely to back the Government.

He also issued the inevitable request for yet more devolved powers, this time a range of economic ‘tools’ and an expanded ability to borrow, and had a dig at the Labour-led Welsh Government for failing to exert adequate influence at Westminster.

In other Plaid news, a former nationalist member of the Welsh Assembly has avoided prison after pleading guilty to making indecent images of children.

Bradley mulling ‘external mediator’ for Northern Ireland

Karen Bradley is “actively considering” whether and how an external mediator could help to get the Province’s devolved settlement up and running again, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

The Northern Irish Secretary has been come in for fresh criticism after the Government once again ducked the prospect of direct rule, instead opting to grant civil servants the power to make decisions normally made by elected and accountable politicians.

Sam McBride, of the News Letter, reports that the local Attorney General has already had to stop them “literally making up criminal offences“, and questions remain as to how long Westminster can continue to put off taking up political responsibility for Northern Ireland – especially in light of concerted efforts by mainland MPs to drive through changes to sensitive areas of social legislation such as abortion and gay marriage.

Wishart urges Sturgeon to drop support for second referendum

The EU referendum has posed a number of strategic challenges for the Scottish National Party, the latest of which is what to do about the campaign for a rematch.

On the one hand, Brexit has struck a major blow to Scotland’s easiest path out of the Union – ‘independence in Europe’. For all that hardline remainers such as Guto Bebb still extol the old orthodoxy, it is greatly in the interest of the separatist parties to see the 2016 vote overturned.

Yet to do that would be to set a very dangerous precedent that a referendum result should be revisited and ratified by the electorate after the negotiations. The danger this poses to SNP aspirations is obvious.

This explains why a row has broken out this week amongst the normally iron-disciplined Nationalists. Pete Wishart, who now has the distinction of being the Party’s longest-serving MP, accused Nicola Sturgeon of undermining the independence campaign by backing a ‘People’s Vote’, campaigners for which have in turn urged the First Minister to distance herself from him.

In other Nationalist news, this week the party was forced to suspend a member after he authored a xenophobic and antisemitic blog which was shared by SNP social media channels, according to the Herald.

DUP challenged over Budget role

The Ulster Unionists have claimed that the Government has called the bluff of its Democratic Unionist allies, after the latter backed the Budget despite threats to withhold their support over the Irish backstop, the News Letter reports.

Lord Empey, who previously led the UUP and helped to forge its ill-fated alliance with the Conservatives at the 2010 election, said that the DUP were retreating with “their tail between their legs”.

In response Sammy Wilson, the DUP MP for East Antrim, has reiterated that his party might still withdraw support from the Prime Minister at a future date.

This comes as more details emerge about the Northern Irish party’s influence. A report in today’s Daily Mail indicates that regular high-level meetings between the DUP’s Commons leadership and senior Government figures, including David Lidington and Julian Smith, have been taking place on a monthly basis.

The party has also been keen to take credit for several measures in the Budget, both Ulster-related – such as the £350 million city deal for Belfast – and UK-wide measures such as the Armed Forces Covenant donation.

31 October 2018 – today’s press releases

It’s Halloween, and the Press teams on either side of Offa’s Dyke are still working away… Don’t Let Down Welsh Farmers – Welsh Lib Dems Following the closure of the Welsh Government’s Brexit and Our Land consultation, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have urged the Welsh Government to carefully listen to the views of farmers and […]

It’s Halloween, and the Press teams on either side of Offa’s Dyke are still working away…

Don’t Let Down Welsh Farmers – Welsh Lib Dems

Following the closure of the Welsh Government’s Brexit and Our Land consultation, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have urged the Welsh Government to carefully listen to the views of farmers and ensure farmers are not let down as they begin to consider their response.

The Welsh Government’s proposed model for supporting farmers and land managers after Brexit involves removing any aspect of direct support and instead focusing on promoting economic resilience and public goods.

The Welsh Liberal Democrat response to the consultation called on the Welsh Government to listen to Farming Unions and introduce a system that retains a strong aspect of direct support.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Rural Affairs Spokesperson Mark Williams said:

Farmers are the backbone of rural communities and it’s essential the Welsh Government creates a farm funding scheme that secures the future of Welsh farmers and all the supply chains they support.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have a proud history of understanding and standing up for rural communities and today is no different. We will continue to fight for the farming support system our rural communities need.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Agriculture Spokesperson Cllr William Powell said:

Welsh farmers face immense uncertainty surrounding their futures after Brexit, as they still don’t know what access to European markets they will have or whether their funding will be protected long-term. It is essential the Welsh Government do all they can to provide much needed reassurance and the climate of certainty so vital for business planning.

We urge the Welsh Government to listen to the FUW, NFU Cymru and TFA and change course. The Welsh Government must maintain a strong element of direct support in their future farm funding schemes to protect the future of Welsh farms. Our food security and our precious natural environment depend upon it.

People’s Vote could not be disregarded without a constitutional crisis

Responding to comments by Sir David Natzler, clerk of the House of Commons, that a vote on a ‘People’s Vote’ would still have “considerable political force”, Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said:

Whether a parliamentary vote on a ‘People’s Vote’ amendment was legally binding or not, the PM could not disregard the result without a serious constitutional and democratic crisis.

The Tories are trying to claim the calamitous Chequers Deal or catastrophic No Deal are the only two options available. This is not true.

A People’s Vote is the third most sensible and consensual option, and if Parliament votes for one, the people should be granted one! Only the Liberal Democrats are united in fighting Brexit.

Moran demands transparency on Leave donations channelled through NI

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran used Northern Ireland Questions today to urge the Government to change the law to ensure full transparency and scrutiny of Leave campaign donations given to political parties in Northern Ireland.

Current laws only require donations from July 2017 to be published, meaning details of who donated £425,000 to the Democratic Unionist Party that was spent on pro-Brexit advertising in the Metro does not have to be disclosed.

Speaking in the chamber today, Ms Moran asked the Government why they were “ignoring the recommendations of the Electoral Commission” to backdate transparency of donations to 2014.

Following the exchanges, Layla Moran MP said:

It really beggars belief that the Government is allowing political parties in Northern Ireland to mark their own homework and decide whether or not details of their donations should be made public.

The law already allows for details of donations to be backdated to 2014 and the independent Electoral Commission has urged the Government to do just that. It makes you wonder if the Conservatives and their DUP partners have something to hide.

With the Leave campaign under investigation by the Metropolitan Police, people in all parts of the United Kingdom have a right to know who donated money to the Leave campaign.

Jane Dodds writes…Loneliness in Wales

The Welsh Government has just announced a consultation on a Strategy to address loneliness in Wales. We know that 17% of the population in Wales are lonely, with 54% saying they have experienced loneliness at some time in their life. Research shows that loneliness is harmful to our health, and increases the likelihood of mortality […]

The Welsh Government has just announced a consultation on a Strategy to address loneliness in Wales. We know that 17% of the population in Wales are lonely, with 54% saying they have experienced loneliness at some time in their life. Research shows that loneliness is harmful to our health, and increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%. 

Loneliness affects many parts of the population; single parents, those suffering from depression and anxiety, the homeless, young people and the elderly. Studies have found that loneliness peaks in the experiences of young people and then again in older people. For young people, we have seen severe cuts to youth services in local authorities in Wales, and loss of grants to Young Farmers Clubs.  For older people, cuts to services such as day centres, and the Third Sector results in further isolation.  .

Loneliness should be treated as a health issue, and integrated with our approaches to healthy living. For the Strategy in Wales, I would like to see funding targeted to ensure public transport is subsidised, if not free, to target groups, and that rural transport, particularly bus services, are not cut.  This element should work in parallel with an integrated transport plan for Wales.  We need to embed long term funding of community services, particularly from the Third Sector, and ensure that there are befriending services to young people and the elderly.  Finally, Wales needs a new approach to staff and personnel working in this field. It is a  scandal that those who look after our young people, elderly and vulnerable are treated so appallingly. For too long, the care and social sector has been seen as a ”twilight” service with zero hours contracts, poor working conditions and the minimum wage being paid. We need to see this valued group of workers having a more significant profile in our communities. 

I hope we see a much more integrated approach to address loneliness in Wales in the Strategy, due to be published in 2019.  A strategy is useless if it is not independently monitored, with the Welsh Assembly being held to account for its implementation.  I would like to see this Strategy being monitored and scrutinised, not by a paid Commissioner in the traditional sense, but by a team of people who are themselves affected by isolation, and will challenge our politicians and policy makers to ensure that we address the epidemic of loneliness in Wales. 

* Jane Dodds is Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats