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Minister says Welsh Gov doing ‘everything we can’ to support people in cost of living crisis

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Following regulator Ofgem’s announcement that it will be increasing the domestic energy tariff cap by 54% from 1 April, Welsh Government Social Justice Minister, Jane Hutt has said that a typical household’s dual fuel energy bill will rise to almost £2,000 a year.

The minister described this as “a very worrying time for people”.

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In a written statement, Jane Hutt MS said that “Energy bills have been fuelling the cost-of-living crisis we are all currently experiencing” and that “there are few signs of this crisis easing.”

The energy price cap, which was raised in October, has helped to shield households from some of the worst of the cost increases in the domestic electricity and gas market over the winter months, which has seen a large number of suppliers fall into administration.

But it has not been enough to protect households, particularly low-income households, from ever-increasing energy costs. National Energy Action has calculated some 22,500 more households in Wales have been pushed into fuel poverty by the October increase.

Jane Hutt MS said: “This further rise in the price cap by OFGEM in April risks pushing tens of thousands more families into fuel poverty.

“The UK Government’s immediate solution appears to be to load even more costs onto consumers’ bills. Its energy bills rebate will provide a £200 discount to electricity bills only from October, which will then be automatically recovered from people’s bills in £40 instalments over the next five years.

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“It has also announced a £150 council tax rebate for homes in bands A to D in England from April. Wales will receive a funding consequential as a result of this announcement. We are considering how to target this at those who need it most. A further announcement will be made in due course.

“We are doing everything we can to support people in Wales with the cost-of-living crisis and rising energy bills, including doubling the Winter Fuel Support Payment to £200 and making increasing investment in our Discretionary Assistance Fund to help people who need urgent and emergency support.

“It is time the UK Government acted to support households and to address the turmoil in the domestic energy markets.”

The Welsh Conservatives meanwhile are calling on the Labour-run Welsh Government to use the newly announced £175m from the UK Government to give families a council tax rebate and ease of cost of living crisis.

Following Ofgem’s confirmation today that the energy price cap will rise by £700 from April, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced a three-part plan to help with household fuel bills immediately and protect people against half of this increase – worth £350 per household, in a total package of support worth £8.6 billion across the United Kingdom.

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The plan includes a £200 ‘smoothing’ rebate on energy bills for all households across Britain, to be paid back over the next five years at £40 per year – starting from April 2023.

It also includes a non-repayable £150 cash rebate for homes in Council Tax bands A-D – equivalent to 80 per cent of all households, helping both lower and middle-income families.

There’s also £144 million of discretionary funding for local authorities to support households not eligible for the council tax rebate.

Points two and three of the plan are devolved and will see the Labour administration in Cardiff Bay receive an extra £175m in consequential funding.

Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies MS, said: “As the British economy continues its recovery from the pandemic, we must confront the global inflationary pressures caused by the world economy coming swiftly back to life.

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“Much of this inflation is being driven by the rising cost of energy due to increased demand worldwide – and that is feeding through into pressures on the cost of living at home.

“Soaring energy bills are a major worry for hardworking families across Wales and the UK and the Conservative Chancellor has once again stepped up to the plate to help people in a time of need.

“With Labour ministers in Cardiff Bay set to receive £175 million as a result of the Chancellor’s action plan, it’s vital they use this money immediately to fund tax rebates and create a discretionary fund for local authorities to use on households who do not meet the criteria.

Jane Hutt MS, the Welsh Government Social Justice Minister said that she and Lee Waters MS, the Welsh Government Minister for Climate Change, had written jointly to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, setting out a series of actions that they want the UK Government to take to support households with their energy bills.

These include removing the social policy costs imposed on household energy bills and move them to general taxation; Introducing a differentiated domestic energy tariff cap or social energy tariff targeted to better support lower income households; and provide further and increased support through the Warm Home Discount and other winter fuel payment schemes.

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The letter also calls on the UK Government to expand the ability of suppliers to write off household energy debt and introduce a match-funding element to the scheme, with the costs met by the UK Government; and Increase Local Housing Allowance rates.

The minister also called for a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas producers as a means of measures to helping people through this cost-of-living crisis.

Jane Hutt added: “The cost-of-energy crisis and the wider cost-of-living crisis extends beyond any action the Welsh Government can take alone. We have expressed our concern to the UK Government and will continue to do so.

“Urgent action is needed to relieve bill payers from these very high energy prices.”

Meanwhile, Citizens Advice Cymru say that support on energy bills is “strange, complicated and untargeted”.

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Rebecca Woolley, Director of Citizens Advice Cymru said: “The package of measures announced by the UK Government will provide some relief for all households in April, but it doesn’t go far enough for people on low incomes.

“Energy rebates are a buy now pay later solution which only provide temporary relief later this year. And if the proposed reduction on Council Tax was introduced along similar lines in Wales, our analysis suggests that around 230,000 households on the lowest income may not benefit at all. The Welsh Government needs to intervene to make sure those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic, are not left even further behind.”

Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, added: “This is a strange, complicated and untargeted package of measures. For people on low incomes who need it most there are far easier ways for the Westminster government to deliver support. If the [UK] government is serious about helping families facing the desperate choice between heating and eating it should use the benefits system.”

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Swansea

Swansea to benefit from new grant scheme to tackle sticky situation caused by chewing gum staining

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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.

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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.

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“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%.

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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.

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Carmarthenshire

Welsh Water facing criticism of large bonuses and creaking infrastructure in wake of hosepipe ban

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Following the news that residents in Pembrokeshire and parts of Carmarthenshire face a hosepipe ban this summer, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised Welsh Water for paying large bonuses to its bosses while infrastructure creaks.

Data from Ofwat, the Water Services Regulation Authority, showed that 169.9 megalitres/day were being wasted through leakage in Welsh Water’s network during 2020-21. The company also failed to meet its Per capita consumption (PCC) targets which are designed to push for less water to be taken from the environment.

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The Welsh Liberal Democrats say that their analysis of Company House data shows that executives at Dŵr Cymru were paid £2.6 million in 2020 and 2021 including £931,000 in bonuses, benefits and incentives.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, Jane Dodds MS said: “We cannot control the hot and dry weather, but we can control wastage through outdated or poorly-maintained infrastructure.

“Welsh Water brands itself as “not for profit”, yet we see them paying their executives eye-watering bonuses while their infrastructure is in desperate need of upgrades and they continue to pump raw sewage into our rivers.

“Bonuses are meant to reward outstanding behaviour, yet the record of Welsh Water is far from outstanding.

“From leaking pipes to sewage overflows, it is time Welsh Water put our environment and the public ahead of profit. I hope this summer’s drought is a wake-up call for both the Government in Cardiff Bay and Westminster to get tougher on water companies.”

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Ian Christie, Welsh Water’s Managing Director of Water Services said: “We have not seen such prolonged dry conditions in Pembrokeshire since 1976. Introducing the hosepipe ban is not a decision we have taken lightly, however if we are to make sure there is enough water to see us through the rest of the summer and into the autumn then we need to act now to try and prevent any further restrictions later on.

“The ban will apply to just over 2% of the three million population we serve in Wales. More broadly we do not intend to introduce restrictions more widely across our operating area.”

From 8am on 19 August, the company has announced that a hosepipe ban will come into force for customers in Pembrokeshire, and parts of Carmarthenshire. This will mean that residents will not be able to use a hosepipe to carry out activities in and around their properties such as watering plants or filling paddling pools or hot tubs.

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Welsh Conservatives

Andrew RT Davies calls for ‘proper blue plaque system’ for Wales

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Andrew RT Davies MS, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, is calling for a ‘proper blue plaque system for Wales’ whilst attending the Eisteddfod in Tregaron.

Currently, blue plaques in Wales are the result of different local schemes. Davies has said he wants to see a national scheme for Wales, following discussions with constituents who have struggled with the current system, which would fund and coordinate the placing of bilingual plaques across Wales.

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When making the call he also said that he would enter a bid to a new system for Derrick Hassan to be commemorated with a blue plaque at the house he lived in in Rhiwbina. Derrick Hassan, who died in May, was the first black police officer to serve in South Wales Police.

Commenting, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “Blue plaques are a great way of fence posting our history. They remind us of the inspirational people who lived in our villages, towns and cities, and they inspire us to try and do great things.

“The plaque system, as it stands, is fragmented, and people can find it hard to interact with.

“That’s why I’m calling for a proper blue plaque system for Wales.

“Usually, Welsh Conservatives want to reduce the number of quangos, but I think in this instance it’s important to have a one stop shop for these big blue counters of history.

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“If Labour ministers do listen to us, and set up this national body, I’ll be putting in an application for Derrick Hassan to receive a blue plaque.

“Derrick was the first black police officer to serve in South Wales Police, and I think it would be wonderful to have that celebrated with a blue plaque on his house in Rhiwbina.”

(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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