Welsh Liberal Democrats have condemned the decision by the Conservative UK Government to scale back rural broadband connectivity targets.
In last week’s Spending Review, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak backtracked on the Tory’s previous commitment to make broadband internet available to “every home” by 2025, instead promising 85% coverage by that date. Furthermore, only £1.2 billion of the £5 billion support to operators, such as Openreach, for bringing gigagbit connectivity to rural homes will now be made available before 2021.
Commenting, Jane Dodds said:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the disadvantages that households and families with limited or no access to the internet face in accessing education, economic opportunities, public services and vital support at times of crisis.
“I’ve seen first-hand the challenges that a lack of high-quality broadband causes for our rural communities and this pandemic has brought this issue to the forefront once more.
“Since 2010, the Conservatives have consistently made and broken hollow promises about rural broadband. Conservative MPs made superfast broadband commitments a part of their election campaign just twelve months ago. This will come as a bitter blow to many communities locally.”
Welsh Lib Dem Education Minister Kirsty Williams has announced Christmas travel plans for students.
Universities across Wales will also end face-to-face lessons in the week ending 8 December, allowing anyone who tests positive for coronavirus to self-isolate for 14 days before traveling home for the Christmas break.
New covid-19 lateral flow tests, designed to diagnose people without symptoms, will be provided to students who are planning to travel home for the holiday.
Students at universities in Wales who plan to travel home for the holidays will be asked to:
- minimise their social contacts in the run up to the end of term;
- get an asymptomatic test, ideally within 24 hours of their intended travel time. New asymptomatic testing facilities will be available at participating universities in Wales within the next few weeks;
- Plan to travel no later than 9 December, allowing time to rearrange their travel plans in case they need to self-isolate;
- familiarise themselves with their university’s plans for concluding in-person teaching and arrangements to ensure people can exit campuses safely.
The governments of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland will announce separately their plans for students living there. Each government has worked together in recent weeks on these matters. The Welsh Government will also communicate directly with Welsh students at universities elsewhere in the UK.
Kirsty Williams, the Education Minister, said:
“Many students will wish to return home for the Christmas break and I’m pleased to confirm arrangements to enable that. Our priority, and the priority for our universities, has been to enable students to travel home safely, while minimising the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.
“It’s also important students take action to minimise the chances they could bring the virus back home to friends and family members, who may be far more vulnerable to its effects. That’s why we’re asking students to limit their social contacts as they’re preparing to travel home. The more people socialise, the greater their risk of contracting coronavirus.
“We have been working with the other nations to ensure that all students, no matter where they live or study, are treated fairly and can travel home as safely as possible.
“We are also working with our universities to roll out the asymptomatic mass testing pilot before the end of term. I would encourage students to sign up for the testing pilot to make returning home at the end of term easier.
“I have been determined that students here in Wales are able to spend the holidays where they most want to, in a safe way, and these arrangements will allow that to happen.”
Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Jane Dodds Welcomed the announcement:
“Enabling students to return home safely for Christmas is a significant achievement and one that should not be underestimated. Kirsty Williams has championed this united approach and I’m pleased she has been able to make this announcement today.
"It’s pleasing to see all universities across Wales working together to work together to achieve this as well as the four governments of the UK working together at this difficult time.
“It’s fantastic to see Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Lib Dems helping families up and down the UK plan for a Christmas that is as normal as possible.”
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have this week called on both the Welsh Government and local councils to work together along with industry to ensure Wales is not left behind in the roll-out of electric vehicle charging points.
Sales of electric vehicles grew by over 130% in the year to May 2020, with sales expected to grow further in the coming years.
Welsh Liberal Democrat MS Kirsty Williams has announced after careful consideration that she will stand down at next year’s Senedd election.
Kirsty has served as the member for Brecon and Radnorshire since 1999, served as Chair of the Health Committee in the first Assembly from 1999-2003, as leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats from 2008 until 2016 and has been the Welsh Government’s Education Minister since her appointment in 2016.
Commenting Kirsty said:
“After a great deal of thought and reflection, I have decided not to stand as a candidate at the next Senedd election.
“There is, of course, sadness in making this decision, but also with a sense of achievement and pride.
“I am looking forward to spending more time with my family and I remain committed to my role in Brecon and Radnorshire and look forward to continuing to campaign with my successor to ensure Brecon and Radnorshire returns a Welsh Liberal Democrat voice.”
Paula Yates, President of the Welsh Liberal Democrats said:
“Kirsty has been an exceptional constituency champion for Brecon and Radnorshire for the last 21 years. There isn’t a street or village where someone doesn’t know someone who’s been personally helped by Kirsty over the years.”
Former Welsh Lib Dem leader Mike German added:
“Kirsty has been my friend and political ally for 25 years. As well as being a tremendous champion for Wales and for liberalism.
“I know she will continue to inspire others in whatever she does next and her legacy in her constituency and across Wales will be felt for years to come."
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have welcomed the news that malicious calls to the ambulance service have fallen over the last three years but have warned that more must be done to reduce them further.
Over the last three years 1,823 hoax calls were received and answered by the Welsh Ambulance Service.
"Now more than ever Ceredigion needs its voice to be heard"
Eligible pupils are guaranteed free school meal provision for all school holidays up to and including Easter 2021, thanks to £11m confirmed today Liberal Democrat Education Minister Kirsty Williams.
Making the announcement ahead of the October half term through a video released on her Twitter channel, the Minister said she hoped the confirmation would provide ‘some reassurance in these times of uncertainty’. The Minister also confirmed that more than £700k had also been allocated to support colleges with the equivalent provision for eligible learners.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds has written to every Conservative MP to question their support for UK Farmers and the Trade Bill currently before the UK Parliament - which does not give Parliament any powers to scrutinise trade agreements, and Conservative opposition to the Agricultural Bill amendments which would have protected Food and Animal Welfare standards.
Read the full letter below:
Responding to Plaid Cymru's Independence Commission report which has been published today (Friday 25 September) Welsh Liberal Democrats have described the report as a mix of fanatical politics and pie in the sky economics.
Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Jane Dodds said:
“Politics isn’t working for Wales or the UK as well as it could right now, I understand why independence looks attractive, but it isn’t the answer.
“There are far too many uncertainties, too many unknowns and too many risks with independence. We don’t know nor are Plaid proposing solutions to questions such as: What currency we would use? Would we still have access to the BBC? What would happen in towns and villages that straddle the border? Or whether English students will still be able to study in our universities?”
Opinion polling constantly shows the vast majority of Welsh voters are firmly against independence and time and time again that voters' concerns involve bread and butter issues like health, education and the economy.
Figures from Cardiff University show that Wales has an annual deficit of £13.7 billion which is over twice the entire budget of the Welsh NHS. On day one of independence using the most up to date figures available Wales’ debt as a percentage of GDP would be 88%, a figure which will grow over time if current spenidng is maintained. This is a figure calculated before considering the share of the UK’s debt that even Plaid Cymru admit Wales would be expected to shoulder and any of the recent extraordinary spending as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Jane Dodds further said:
“Plaid Cymru needs to be honest with the public about these figures and come clean with either how much an independent Wales will be forced to borrow on the first day of independence or what public services might be dropped.”
“The current pandemic shows how much Wales benefits financially from being part of the UK, there is virtually no way that the current furlough scheme would have been financially possible for example.
“Wales absolutely can and should be doing better, but independence isn’t the only option and it certainly isn’t the right one.
A federal and equal United Kingdom
This weekend Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds will join colleagues from the rest of the UK at the party’s conference and call for a truly federal United Kingdom.
The process would start with a declaration of a federal United Kingdom. A citizens’ assembly would then help draw up a written constitution.
Under the motion The Senedd, the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly would have their powers protected and could not be over-ruled by the Westminster government.
The governments would be required to co-operate to tackle big issues that affect the whole UK such as child poverty or the climate emergency.
Jane Dodds added:
“The idea to reform the UK to a federal nation similar to Canada and Germany is a constructive middle way between a centralising Westminster government and a dash for independence from the nationalists.
“It replaces division with the co-operation which is needed to heal the existing divisions and to build a better future for everyone.”
- The Cardiff University Government Expenditure and Revenue Wales report from 2019 shows that Wales had a £13.7b net fiscal deficit in 2017-18 (see page 4 - £40.8 billion in expenditure less £27.1 billion in revenue). In January 2020, a report from the same academic team at Cardiff University put Wales’ fiscal deficit at £13.5b in 2018-19 or £4,300 per head, compared with the UK average of £620 (see page 6).
- The Welsh Government budget for 2017-18 was £15.5 billion, of which £6.4billion was spent directly on the NHS (extrapolated from the £7.4billion budget allocated to Health, Wellbeing and Sport)
Every opinion poll regarding Welsh Independence in a range of possible scenarios has resulted in the vast majority of respondents rejecting the possibility of independence.
- The full text of the Liberal Democrat Conference on federalism is available online here (pages 24-27) and it will be debated at 11:10 on Saturday 26 September 2020.
The Clwyd West Liberal Democrats have announced that David Wilkins has been selected to contest the Clwyd West constituency at the Senedd election next year.