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Welsh Government

New Children’s Commissioner for Wales announced

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The First Minister has announced the appointment of Rocio Cifuentes as the new Children’s Commissioner for Wales.

Ms Cifuentes will take up the position in April 2022 when Sally Holland’s tenure as Commissioner ends.

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The Commissioner promotes and protects children’s rights and ensures that the Welsh Government’s policies and legislation benefit children and young people.

Rocio Cifuentes is the chief executive of the Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team. EYST is Wales’ leading organisation supporting Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The role of Children’s Commissioner for Wales is an extremely important one – the pandemic has caused huge disruption to the lives of children. This role will help to shape the future for a generation of children, whose lives have been shaped by coronavirus. That’s why it’s so important to continue to have a strong voice to speak up for them and to inform our decision making.

“I want to pay tribute to Sally Holland for all her work during her time as Children’s Commissioner. Sally has been a strong advocate for the children and young people in Wales – from embedding children’s rights in key pieces of legislation, to providing an insight into children’s experiences of the pandemic via the large-scale, internationally renowned ‘Coronavirus and me’ surveys. Sally Holland has made an impressive and long-lasting contribution to a generation of children in Wales.

“Now, more than ever, the decisions we take as a Welsh Government must have the voice of children and young people at its very core and I’m proud that Rocio Cifuentes as our new Commissioner, will carry out this very important role.”

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The First Minister accepted a recommendation from a cross-party panel of Members of the Senedd, to appoint Ms Cifuentes as the next Children’s Commissioner for Wales.

Ms Cifuentes was born in Chile, arriving in Wales as a one-year-old with her parents as political refugees. She attended Cambridge University, where she read Social and Political Science, before undertaking a Masters in Social Research, at Swansea University.

She has led the Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team (EYST) since its inception in 2005. She previously worked for the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations, Swansea Young Single Homelessness Project, Gower College and Swansea University.

Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt, who chaired the cross-party selection panel said: “It is imperative our next Children’s Commissioner has the knowledge, understanding and the lived experience to ensure all views and values shape the brighter future our children so desperately need.

“I’m delighted Rocio Cifuentes has been appointed as our next Children’s Commissioner. She brings a wealth of expertise and understanding to the role and I look forward to working closely with her in the coming years.”

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Rocio Cifuentes said: “It’s an immense honour and privilege to be appointed as the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. As the First Minister says, the role of Commissioner will be more important now than it ever has been, delivering for the generation of children that have lived through Coronavirus.

To all the children and young people of Wales, I make the commitment today to ensure your voice, your views and your future is at the heart of everything we do.”

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Transport

£48m ‘gap funding’ support package for Welsh bus industry

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The bus industry in Wales is set to receive a support package worth £48m to help them recover from the impact of the pandemic and deal with emerging financial challenges, the Welsh Government has announced today.

The Bus Emergency package will provide ‘gap funding’ until the end of this financial year for bus operators to maintain the necessary bus services and routes in their area, in return for greater public control over Welsh bus services.

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This funding is one of a number of short-term measures that have been taken by the Welsh Government to support bus operators at a time when they needed it the most. With the longer-term future of the bus industry in mind a review of the existing Bus Services Support Grant (BSSG) scheme will also be taken to consider how it can be used to move the industry away from a reliance on emergency funding schemes and bridge the gap to franchising.

Announcing the latest emergency funding package, Deputy Minister for Climate Change, with a responsibility for transport, Lee Waters said: “The bus industry is emerging from some of its toughest times, and we need to continue to provide support to help the industry recover and secure a healthy future.

“During the pandemic passenger numbers fell by around 90% and have still only returned to between 50% and 70% of pre-Covid levels, leaving operators struggling with reduced revenue and contending with the latest challenges of rising fuel and operating costs.

“The funding I’ve announced today will provide a short-term solution to help the industry to begin to recover from the challenges it has and continues to face whilst we develop a longer-term solution to tackle the gradual decline in passengers over the years.

“In March I set out our plans to bring forward legislation to change the way bus services are delivered across Wales. Throughout this process we will be working closely with local government, the bus industry and passengers, to design a system that is ‘easy to use, easy to access and well connected’ providing people a ‘real sustainable transport alternative’ to the private car.

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“We will provide an update on how these plans are progressing later this year.”

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Money

Over 500 teenagers in Wales to get £1600 a month in basic income trial

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The Welsh Government has launched its basic income trial scheme that sees it giving more than 500 people leaving care in Wales £1600 each month for two years – with no strings attached.

Equating to £19,200 a year before tax, it’s believed the cash offered is the highest amount provided on a basic income pilot anywhere in the world.

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The £20m scheme is controversial, and previous universal basic income trials in Kenya, Finland and California failed.

Welsh Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt says this particular scheme is a direct investment in the lives and futures of some of Wales’ most vulnerable young people.

The minister added that those taking part in the pilot will also receive individual advice and support to help them manage their finances and develop their financial and budgeting skills.

Local authorities will play a key role in supporting them throughout the pilot. Voices from Care Cymru will also work with the young people to give them advice on wellbeing, education, employment and help them plan their future after the pilot.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We want all our young people to have the best possible chance in life and fulfil their full potential. The state is the guardian of people leaving care and so has a real obligation to support them as they start their adult life.

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“Our focus will be on opening up their world to all its possibilities and create an independence from services as their lives develop.

“Many of those involved in this pilot don’t have the support lots of people – myself included – have been lucky enough to enjoy as we started out on our path to adulthood.

“Our radical initiative will not only improve the lives of those taking part in the pilot, but will reap rewards for the rest of Welsh society. If we succeed in what we are attempting today this will be just the first step in what could be a journey that benefits generations to come.”

The Welsh Conservatives however have criticised the scheme as “giving out free money” and say it won’t help tackle the problems some vulnerable young people face.

Joel James, the Welsh Conservative shadow minister for social partnership said: “Whilst I wholeheartedly support helping the poorest and most vulnerable in our country, the Labour Government is not even close to living in reality with this trial.

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“Countless trials from across the globe have found basic income does not have the expected outcomes as it fails to incentivise work and proves time after time to be a waste of public money.

“If rolled-out across the board with every adult in Wales receiving £1,600 a month it would cost nearly £50 billion a year, and at the same time reward the wealthiest in society rather than helping those who need it most.

“Our NHS is at breaking point and our economy is in a fragile state, but instead of tackling those issues head-on, Labour are more interested in Basic Income – which will cost the country an absolute fortune.”

Welsh Government Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt said: “We’re in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis like no other and we therefore need new ways of supporting people who are most in need.

“Our Basic Income pilot is an incredibly exciting project giving financial stability to a generation of young people. Too many people leaving care face huge barriers to achieving their hopes and ambitions; such as problems with getting a safe and stable home, to securing a job and building a fulfilling career. This scheme will help people live a life free of such barriers and limitations.

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“We will carefully evaluate the lessons learnt from the pilot. Listening to everyone who takes part will be crucial in determining the success of this globally ambitious project. We will examine whether Basic Income is an efficient way to support society’s most vulnerable and not only benefit the individual, but wider society too.”

Tiff Evans of Voices from Care Cymru, speaking on behalf of young people who have experienced care, said: “This is a brilliant opportunity for care leavers in Wales. It is good to see that care leavers in Wales are being thought of and Welsh Government are providing this opportunity for them as young people to become responsible, control some parts of their lives and have a chance to thrive and be financially independent.

“We thank Welsh Government for investing in them and their future and we look forward to other changes and developments for care experienced young people in Wales in order for them to reach life aspirations.”

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Food & Drink

Proposal to ban tea and coffee for under 16s in Wales branded ‘illiberal’

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photo of person s hand pouring liquid to cup

Proposals to consider banning the sale of tea and coffee to under-16s in Wales have been labelled ‘outrageously illiberal’ by the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

The Welsh Labour Government reportedly confirmed that it is considering the move as part of plans to make young people healthier and stop rising obesity rates.

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The move comes as the Welsh Government raise concerns of the rising consumption of high-caffeine energy drinks among young people is also causing concern about the effects on their education.

Commenting Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said: “It is beggars’ belief that this is even under consideration.

“We are all aware obesity is a serious problem in Wales and it is important that we take action to reduce the levels across Wales.

“However, it doesn’t take an expert consultation to realise that tea and coffee are not responsible for high obesity levels.

“It would be outrageously illiberal to ban the sale of coffee and tea to under 16-year-olds, something which they regularly drink themselves at home.”

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(Lead image: Elina Fairytale / Pexels.com)

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