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Lib Dems say M4 plan makes budget talks difficult

The Welsh Lib Dems are now the only party talking to the Welsh Government about a deal to support the budget. Their leader, Kirsty Willaims, says that following Plaid Cymru's decision to quit the negotiations over the £1 billion Newport motorway announcement says she'll keep negotiating but the plan for the M4 makes it "difficult".

The Welsh Liberal Democrat priority for the next budget continues to be extra support for Wales’ poorest school children through our Pupil Premium. However, it’s very difficult to see how we can support a budget that prioritises the current M4 proposals and that is what we will explain to the Welsh Government in future negotiations.

The M4 announcement yesterday was a huge mistake. It completely flies in the face of the environmental and economic issues. Our proposed alternatives are far less expensive and less likely to damage vast swathes of the environment. A responsible Government wouldn’t spend its entire borrowing powers on one single road, leaving no money left for other transport projects.

– Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Kirsty Williams AM

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Plaid quit budget talks over "reckless" new M4

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood has pulled her party out of budget talks with the Welsh Government in protest at the decision to spend £1 billion on a new motorway around Newport. She claimed it was a reckless and undemocratic decision, arguing that cheaper and more effective solutions to the traffic jams on the existing M4 would have left more money to be spent in other parts of Wales.

The Welsh Government does not have a majority in the Senedd and needs the support of at least one other party to get its budget passed. In the past, it has reached a deal with Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats or both. Plaid and the Welsh Lib Dems has reached an agreement to negotiate jointly in future.

This is a stand that Plaid Cymru has been compelled to make. The Welsh Government acted with complete disregard for the democratic institution when it took this decision without proper scrutiny and with no business case.

Plaid Cymru wants the M4 congestion problem resolved now and resolved properly. There is an option to do this at a more reasonable cost giving us the same answer and that is why Plaid Cymru in government turned down this more expensive and environmentally damaging option.

In budget negotiations, we would have worked hard to ensure the best value for money for the Welsh taxpayer, and yet the Welsh Government has blown a billion pounds on this extravagant project when there are more efficient and more cost-effective alternatives.

– Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood AM

NHS Wales to become 'living wage' employer

The living wage will come into force from September

Around 2,400 of the lowest paid employees in the NHS in Wales will receive an increase in their basic salary as the organisation becomes a living wage employer.

The health minister announced today that all staff will be paid at least the living wage of £7.65 an hour – more than the minimum wage rate of £6.31 an hour.

The change which will come into force from September.

The Living Wage Commission has called for all public sector workers to be paid a living wage of at least £7.65 per hour.

Professor Drakeford said:

"This sends a clear signal that the Welsh Government is committed to tackling poverty and that NHS Wales is a fair, equitable employer.

“I have also decided the fairest option that will benefit the majority of workers is to award all Agenda for Change staff a flat cash payment of £160 and to protect the ability for those not at the top of their pay bands to move up to the next increment when it becomes due.

"This will mean that more than nine out of 10 NHS staff will receive a pay award in 2014-15."

Connecting Wales to the future: different views from two governments

by Adrian Masters
Arguments continue over the cost of electrifying the Swansea to London rail line
Arguments continue over the cost of electrifying the Swansea to London rail line Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Both UK and Welsh Governments will set out the sort of transport and other big projects they think would benefit Wales in the future. In a speech in Cardiff, the Welsh Secretary David Jones will list his 'key priorities for infrastructure development with a view to boosting the Welsh economy.'

At the same conference, the Welsh Finance Minister Jane Hutt will say that the Welsh Government's investment in infrastructure has reached almost £3bn since it launched a new plan in 2012.

The UK Government still holds the purse strings of course which is why Jane Hutt will make much of the fact that some of that £3bn has been raised without Westminster's help, from 'innovative finance schemes.'

The two governments share control of infrastructure, with ministers in Cardiff responsible for roads, bridges, tunnels and water supply and Whitehall in overall charge of rail, power supplies, aviation and shipping.

So will they present competing visions of the future or plans that are complimentary and co-operative?

The precedents aren't hopeful. Ministers from the two governments continue to argue over paying the cost of electrifying the main rail line from Swansea to London and the Valleys Lines.

The UK Government insists that the Welsh Government agreed to share some of the bill. The First Minister has repeatedly said that since rail isn't devolved the whole cost should be borne by the government at the other end of the M4.

And the M4 itself, or improving the section around Newport, is another infrastructure project where there's controversy and disagreement about funding and what form it should take. Fasten your seatbelts.

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People 'tipped into debt simply by having a bill to pay'

Victoria Winckler from think tank the Bevan Foundation says it is "really worrying" how many people in Wales are in too much debt.

She said: "There is a problem at the bottom of the scale, where people simply don't have enough to make ends meet, and they can be tipped over into financial difficulty through no fault of their own, such as the birth of a child or having a bill to pay."

One in six people in Wales 'in too much debt'

400,000 people in Wales - around one in six of the population - are in too much debt, according to a new report.

The report was commissioned by the Welsh Government and delivered by the Public Policy Institute for Wales.

The Welsh Government says low income is strongly linked with indebtedness and financial exclusion - where people cannot access lower-cost borrowing and resort to payday lenders or loan sharks.

We know that one in six people are being over burdened by debt, which is too many.

While there are many factors which cause people to go into poverty we believe that the impact of the UK Government's welfare reform is too deep, too fast and changes to the benefits system, including the bedroom tax, is contributing to the poverty problems faced by individuals, families and communities in Wales.

Credit unions offer a real, community based alternative to traditional banks and payday lenders.

– Jeff Cuthbert, Communities and Tackling Poverty Minister

Welsh Govt: Tackling poverty is a 'key priority'

The charity, Age Cymru, warns that around 50,000 pensioners in Wales lives in 'severe' poverty. The group is calling on the Welsh Government to do more to support older people across the country.

Tackling poverty remains a key priority for the Welsh Government and I am committed to taking forward a number of programmes that lift people out of poverty or stop the risk of them falling into it.

Examples of our work include appointing an Older People's Commissioner to champion older people's rights, announcing further grant funding of £1million for front-line advice services and fully-funding our free local bus travel service for older or disabled people. There are 725,000 bus passes in circulation, demonstrating the success and popularity of the scheme.

However, we recognise that it is important to identify new opportunities to reduce poverty and improve the lives of those living in the poorest parts of Wales

– Jeff Cuthbert AM, Welsh Government Minister for Tackling Poverty
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