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Tories call for Welsh rôle for budget watchdog

Welsh Conservatives are calling for the Office for Budget Responsibility to play 'a full rôle' in monitoring Welsh Government financial decisions when tax powers are transferred to Cardiff.

Welsh Ministers are set to be given control of stamp duty and landfill tax as a result of the Wales Bill which is currently going through Parliament. The Bill also paves the way for devolution of income tax varying powers subject to a referendum.

Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay, says that when that happens, the independent OBR, must be given a 'prominent rôle' in government scrutiny and financial forecasting for Wales.

With the devolution of taxation powers, the Welsh Government will, for the first time, have to properly account for the money it spends rather than being a spending agency with an annual grant from the UK Treasury.

I welcome initial discussions between the OBR and the Welsh Government and hope that the OBR can have as prominent a rôle as possible to give Welsh voters independent and expert analysis.

We have seen Labour recently reject the expert advice of doctors on an inquiry into the NHS and of nurses on protecting the health budget, but hope that Labour will act to enshrine the involvement of the Office for Budget Responsibility in scrutinising the Welsh Treasury.

For Labour, independent scrutiny and expert advice is not something to be feared, but something which can improve decision-making and ensure that tax levying is fair and effective

– Nick Ramsay AM, Shadow Finance Minister

NHS waits 'a national disgrace' say Welsh Lib Dems

Almost 1,400 patients in Wales are waiting more than a year for the start of their treatment, according to figures published by the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

The party obtained the details from local health boards using the Freedom of Information Act. They break down as follows:

  • Abertawe Morgannwg 545 patients
  • Aneurin Bevan 298 patients
  • Betsi Cadwaladr 61 patients
  • Cardiff and Vale 423 patients
  • Cwm Taf fewer than 5
  • Hywel Dda 63 patients
  • Powys 84 patients, commissioned by the Health Board, have been waiting over a year

Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams called the figures 'nothing short of a national disgrace' and repeated her call for a Commission to be set up to defuse political arguments about the NHS.

My concern is that the Welsh Labour Government seems entirely clueless on how to turn things around. Waiting lists are piling up and there is little sign of the situation improving.

This is why we need to establish a Commission to secure a historic and long-term plan for health and social care in Wales. A Commission with cross-party, professional and patient representatives would be able to work together and deal with the strategic problems facing our NHS in Wales. By involving doctors, nurses and patients from the outset, we would ensure that the experiences of those using our front-line health services feed into the efforts to reform our NHS.

– Kirsty Williams AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat leader

The Welsh Government has been approached for its response.

The Lib Dem leader also revealed that she'll meet Health Minister Mark Drakeford to discuss the idea of a Commission. She said he invited her to talks which will be held next week.

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Welsh Government: Report "reinforces" improvements being made in NHS

The Welsh Government says it welcomes the Auditor General for Wales' report and says the comments reinforce and support the improvements its making.

A spokesperson for the Welsh Government says:

At a time when the UK Government has cut the Welsh budget by £1.5bn since 2010, we continue to invest more than £6bn a year in the Welsh NHS. We are investing an additional £425m over the next two years in direct response to the Nuffield challenge, which reflects how vital health spending is to the longer term health and wellbeing of the people of Wales. Overall, the health and social care budget for Wales came in on target in 2013-14, as a result of hard work, prudent financial management and additional funding to manage specific pressures in the Welsh NHS. As the Auditor General and the Nuffield Trust have both identified, the Welsh NHS needs to carry on making changes to the way services are delivered if it is to continue providing quality, effective and sustainable services, free at the point of need to the people of Wales. We continue to work with health boards to make improvements in the plans they develop to ensure they focus on developing the modern NHS the people of Wales need and deserve. The Auditor General’s report reinforces and supports the improvements we are making.”

– Welsh Government spokesperson

NHS breaks even after receiving an extra £200m funding

The NHS in Wales broke even last year after receiving additional funding worth £200m from other services.

A report by the Auditor General for Wales has found that financial management in the NHS has improved yet it's warned that there are still challenges ahead.

The report also found that massive savings were the reason it was able to break even, despite three NHS bodies failing to come out even and having their accounts qualified.

The report shows that service performance for Wales was Credit: PA

The Auditor General for Wales' report also found that service performance across NHS Wales in 2013-14 was “mixed” and many key targets, such as waiting times for planned and emergency services, were not regularly achieved.

Three NHS services have had their accounts qualified Credit: PA

It is good to see performance in areas such as prevention is improving but some cancer and stroke care targets are not being met and waiting times have generally got worse.

Although it is positive that NHS Wales is introducing a three year framework, there are still a number of risks and challenges ahead that will test and challenge the NHS not exceed their allocated revenue and capital budgets.

What is clear is that the NHS cannot continue as it is, some tough decisions will need to be made to change the way services are provided and this will require the support of politicians

– Huw Vaughan Thomas, Auditor General for Wales

The report makes several recommendations to improve financial and service performance. They include:

  • NHS bodies need to more consistently report their financial positions to the Department.
  • Capital expenditure in areas such as buildings and equipment need to be better quantified and prioritised at an all-Wales level.
  • The quality of the three-year integrated plans need to improve.
  • NHS bodies need to better understand their workforce savings plans.
  • More can be done to share good practice and lessons learnt.

WRU: 'Record re-investment into the game'

Credit: PA

The WRU says re-investment into the game by the governing body is at record levels.

During the last financial year the WRU allocated £22.5 million into rugby an increase on the previous period at £22.1 million.

In this year's annual report the WRU also posted a profit before tax of £2.4 million on a turnover of £58.5 million for the period.

The total rugby allocations stand at just over £4.3 million for the community game, £1.1 million for the Principality Premiership and £17.1 million for the Regions in Wales.

It also says during the year the repayable bank debt was reduced to £15.0 million.

Police investigate alleged forgery - can you help?

Police investigating an alleged forgery in Milford Haven want to speak to this woman.

Police want to speak to this woman about the alleged forgery Credit: Dyfed Powys Police

A £50 note was used to purchase low value items and change given. The note was later found to be forged.

– Dyfed Powys Police statement

Police believe the woman in the CCTV footage may be able to help with their investigations.

She is described as wearing a white top and black/white patterned trousers.

Anyone who can identify her or provide information is asked to contact PC Anthony Coleman at Milford Haven Police Station on 101.

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Women convicted for running "pyramid scheme"

Credit: ITV News Wales

A group of women have been convicted of running a "pyramid scheme" in south Wales and south-west England.

The group encouraged around 10,000 vulnerable women to invest £3,000 into the scheme between May 2008 and April 2009.

Victims were promised they would receive a £24,000 payout when they reached the top of their pyramid, with organisers promising they "could not lose".

The scheme, called Give and Take, operated in Bath, Bristol, Gloucester, Bridgwater, Cheltenham, Torquay, Weston-super-Mare and Wales.

Eleven women, aged between 34 and 69, became the first to be prosecuted for such a scheme, under new legislation in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Act 2008.

'Under pressure' services given funding boost

Services that offer free advice in Wales are to get £2m worth of funding to help with the growing demand of people struggling to cope with the economic climate.

The Welsh Government announced the funding will be made available to organisations that give advice on welfare benefits, debt and housing and discrimination across Wales.

Citizens Advice Cymru will get a share of £390,000 for specialist discrimination advice Credit: PA

The main organisations to receive the funding are:

  • Citizens Advice Cymru
  • Shelter Cymru
  • Tenovus
  • Snap Cymru
  • Age Cymru

Free advice services provide a vital community lifeline to people facing the reality of harsh economic times. Additionally, our support is a key part of our commitment to tackle poverty.

It is vital help is available for people who need assistance with their benefit entitlements, with managing and repaying their debt, in situations where they may be at risk of losing their home or where they feel they are being treated unfairly at work or elsewhere.

– Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty

Cardiff named best city to live in UK

People living in Cardiff enjoy the best quality of life compared with the UK's other major cities, according to a report.

Cardiff Bay Credit: PA

Cardiff beat off competition from other major cities like London, Manchester and Liverpool.

The report, by MoneySuperMarket, ranked the UK's 12 largest cities by measuring a range of different factors such as house prices, salaries and 'life satisfaction'.

The Welsh capital, which scored above average on every factor apart from salaries, took the number one spot from last year's winner Bristol.

Cardiff residents were found to have the lowest average living costs at £359 a week, compared with £486 typically in London, which had the highest living costs. These costs include money spent on food and drink, clothing and footwear, household goods and services, health, transport and recreation. Cardiff also had one of the lowest unemployment rates of the cities looked at, at 8.1%.

Cardiff Castle Credit: Cardiff Castle

On a national level, the economy is performing well. Big contributors to that are growth in salary, disposable income and house prices, while unemployment has fallen.

However, the precise story differs city by city. While some, like Cardiff, Belfast and Bradford, measure up well against many of the indicators, others aren't feeling the benefit of the rising economic tide.

– Dan Plant, consumer finance expert at MoneySuperMarket
  • Cardiff
  • Belfast
  • Bradford
  • London
  • Bristol
  • Leeds
  • Edinburgh
  • Manchester
  • Sheffield
  • Glasgow
  • Liverpool
  • Birmingham
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