The Welsh Government is giving an additional £1.5m to election returning officers to make polling stations for the upcoming Senedd election on May 6 COVID-secure.
The additional funding is being provided to cover the range of extra staff and equipment required to ensure the protection of staff and public health.
Voters attending polling stations will see many of the protective measures they are already now familiar with in other settings. Hand sanitiser will be available, and screens, social distance markings and protective barriers will be in use as appropriate.
In addition, all voters and staff should wear a face covering (unless exempt), while social distancing will be in place both inside and outside polling stations. While voters will be encouraged to bring their own pen or pencil to mark their ballot papers, fresh clean pencils will still be available.
Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James said: “The Welsh Government recognises the challenges of running an election during the current pandemic.
“The additional £1.5m in funding we’re making available will help ensure polling stations are covid-secure for both staff and voters. This includes funding for personal protective equipment, social distancing aides, cleaning materials, and additional staff to manage polling stations.”
The Minister added: “We are all aware how difficult it has been to continue with essential local authority services over the past year. Electoral administrators and returning officers are no exception to this and have been working tirelessly in a challenging and ever-changing environment to prepare for these elections and maintain public confidence in our democracy. I am very grateful to them for their endeavours.”
Anyone who is shielding, or anyone who would for any reason prefer not to attend a polling station, can apply for a postal or proxy vote in advance of the elections. Details on how to apply for a postal or proxy vote can be found on the Electoral Commission website and will also be provided on poll cards.
Anyone who has tested positive for coronavirus, or who is displaying symptoms, should self-isolate. The Welsh Government has put in place new rules to allow for emergency proxy voting leading up to polling day and until 5pm on the day itself. This will mean that voters who are self-isolating due to coronavirus exposure, testing or symptoms can still have their say in these elections without having to leave their home.
Swansea to benefit from new grant scheme to tackle sticky situation caused by chewing gum staining
The Welsh Government has announced a new £1.85m scheme to help five local authorities to tackle chewing gum staining.
Swansea Council, along with other authorities in Blaenau Gwent, Denbighshire, Flintshire and Newport will receive funding from the Chewing Gum Taskforce Grant Scheme to help them clean gum off pavements in their local area this summer and to invest in long-term behaviour change to help prevent the issue in future.
Chewing gum litter wastes millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money every year; the annual clean-up cost across the UK is estimated at £7 million.
Created last year by the UK Government and working together with Welsh Government, Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, the Chewing Gum Taskforce brings together the country’s major chewing gum producers, including Mars Wrigley, GlaxoSmithKline and Perfetti Van Melle, in a new partnership to remove gum litter from UK high streets.
Under the scheme, administered by independent environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy, the chewing gum firms will invest up to £10m over five years.
More than 45 grants will be awarded this year across the UK and six of these will be used to fund innovative projects that encourage long-term behaviour change.
Deputy Climate Change Minister Lee Waters said: “The need to get rid of chewing gum immediately after use means it is an item commonly disposed of irresponsibly, with gum staining present on more than two thirds of Wales’ streets.
“Cleaning streets of gum is expensive and labour intensive. I’m really pleased this new fund has been established to support Councils across Wales and encourage people to think about the issues caused by chewing gum litter”
Allison Ogden-Newton OBE, Chief Executive of Keep Britain Tidy, said: “This is an exciting new opportunity for councils to tackle the ongoing problem of gum pollution.
“The grants will allow councils to clean up historic gum litter staining in our towns and cities, as well as taking action to prevent people littering in the first place.”
The fund will be opened to councils across the UK, with larger grants available for two or more councils working together to achieve greater impact.
The grants will consist of a cash award to fund street cleansing as well as access to a gum litter prevention package. Previous pilots have reduced gum littering by up to 64%.
Littering is a criminal offence and Welsh local authorities can issue penalties of up to £150, rising up to £2,500 if convicted in court.
Through the UK Environment Act 2022, the Welsh Government will be able to ensure that enforcement powers are used with a high degree of professionalism, whether by council staff or private contractors and introduce new enforcement guidance.
The Chewing Gum Task Force forms part of wider Welsh Government action to tackle litter and protect our environment. This includes developing a new Litter & Fly-tipping Prevention Plan, introducing a new Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers and an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme for packaging.
Social work students to receive more financial support from September
Social work students will be eligible for greater financial support from September as part of an extra £3.5 million package of support, the Deputy Minister for Social Services has announced.
The enhanced financial support will be available for both undergraduate and postgraduate students in Wales via the Social Work Bursary, which will provide almost £10 million over the next three years to assist future social workers.
Eligible undergraduates studying for the social work degree will be able to access up to £3,750 per year over the three-year course in addition to the funding available to them through Student Finance Wales.
Postgraduate students will be able to access £12,715 per year of their two year course. This will reduce the loan element students will need to repay after their studies.
This represents a more than 50% increase on the current bursary for both undergraduates and postgraduates.
Social work is changing; people’s needs are changing, and cases are becoming more complex. The pandemic has added pressures to social work and recruitment and retention challenges are increasing.
The Social Work Bursary incentivises people to take up social work training with the aim of building a sustainable social work workforce in Wales. The increase to the bursary is just the first step in plans to increase recruitment to the social work sector, with Social Care Wales due to publish a social work workforce plan this summer.
The Deputy Minister for Social Services, Julie Morgan said: “This announcement will provide much needed additional financial support for social work students. It will help more people train as social workers, help them remain on and complete their course and build capacity within the system. By supporting our future social workers as they take their first steps into the sector, we can better recruit and retain staff in the sector.
“Our overall ambition for the health and social care workforce is for parity of esteem between the professions. Social workers carry out a vital role within our communities, supporting people to take charge of their own lives. They are at the core of our social care system and key to the delivery of effective care, which makes a real difference to individuals and to the communities in which they live.”
Chief Social Care Officer for Wales, Albert Heaney said: “I am pleased that we have secured Welsh Ministerial agreement for an extra £3.5 million package of financial support for new social work students towards their courses from September.
“This funding, provided through the Social Work Bursary, will provide an extra boost to support both undergraduate and postgraduate students in Wales to undertake and complete their courses and increase the ranks of our invaluable social workers.”
The Chief Executive of Social Care Wales, Sue Evans, said: “I am delighted to see further support from Welsh Government for the social care sector and specifically for social workers in Wales. Social Care Wales provided the evidence to enable Welsh Government to increase the bursary for social work students.
“We recognise and appreciate the invaluable work carried out by social workers across Wales and look forward to seeing more students joining the profession.
“We will shortly be publishing a workforce plan for social work that identifies the range of actions we need to take with partners to support the development and support for social workers in Wales who are working in every community of our country. Improving the bursary offer is a key element of this plan.”
Construction work underway at new active travel route for Bridgend employment site
Construction work on a new active travel route for the strategic employment site at Brocastle in Bridgend has started, thanks to a £2m investment by the Welsh Government.
The route, which is about 3km south-east of Bridgend town centre and runs parallel with the A48, will link the 116-acre site at Brocastle with the Waterton roundabout, 2km to the north-west.
A 2km cycleway, kerbing and surfacing works, new signalised road crossings, replacement traffic signals and street lighting will be built. The £2m funding for the route, which is being provided by the Welsh Government, is the final package of the wider infrastructure works on the Brocastle site.
The active travel route is expected to be completed by the autumn. The work will be undertaken by Wales-based civil engineering contractor Alun Griffiths (Contractors) Limited.
Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said: “As part of our plans to create a more prosperous Welsh economy, the Welsh Government is working hard to help create new job opportunities in the communities people live.
“The strategic employment site we have developed at Brocastle provides a great location for us to attract new businesses to Bridgend. I am pleased to confirm parts of the Brocastle site are already under offer. We have a strong pipeline of further enquiries from a range of owner-occupiers and developers.
“The completion of the active travel route will further enhance the accessibility and attractiveness of the site to potential new tenants.”
Minister for Climate Change, Julie James said: “We need to take bold action to tackle climate change, so I’m pleased we’ve been able to invest £2m in this new active travel scheme, which will help reduce car use and encourage more people to walk or cycle to work.”
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