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A Short Note on Fat Cats and Sharing The Cream

The debate on inequality and wealth distribution has fired up again following “Fat Cat Wednesday”…

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/fat-cat-wednesday-what-is-it-ftse-100-ceos-executive-pay-earned-average-british-salary-2017-a7508531.html

… subsequent interventions by the leader of the UK Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn …

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/10/jeremy-corbyn-maximum-pay-panel

… and even amongst the global movers and shakers at Davos with the World Economic Forum recognising that this is one of the top challenges for the year ahead …

https://www.theguardian.com/business/live/2017/jan/11/wef-global-economic-risks-trump-brexit-business-live?page=with:block-5875f591e4b0c0afac91f9f4#block-5875f591e4b0c0afac91f9f4

So, is it right to get all fired up about income and wealth inequality? Perhaps we should be more relaxed about the “obscenely” wealthy?

Well, I hate to come over all sensible and “middle-way” but there truly is a balance to be struck here.

The rising inequality at home and globally should be deeply worrying for all of us, not because of the green-eyed monster of income envy or class-war, but because it directly contributes to the rising disenchantment with society, the economy and politics. It looks like (and indeed can increasingly be that) the rules of the game are being written by a powerful elite for their own benefit.

Moreover, when one large group of people (the now mythologised 99%) are told to accept their poorer lot in life, and a smaller (the equally mythologised 1%) other segment get to live like modern version of the Medici, it not only feels bad, but it causes bad things to happen.

https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/about-inequality/impacts

But as much as we should aim to reverse the growing wealth and income inequality gap, we also need to be careful to encourage the entrepreneur and successful business leader– from the White Van Man or Woman to the tech-wizard to the CEO – to go out there and create successful businesses, grow them and grow the jobs, take the risk and receive due reward, and pay good wages and pay the progressive taxes to fund our collectively provided public services like schools and hospitals and highways and more.

Rising inequality is bad. Wealth creation is not. Government and political leaders need to be on the side of wealth creators and also on the more equal distribution of wealth.

Of course the wealth creators are the entrepreneurs and top CEOs and business leaders. But they are also the productive shop-floor and factory-floor workers without whom no business could function, and the public sector and para-public and other workers (like teachers and health workers, housing associations staff and many others) who hone and sustain those healthy productive citizens.

They all contribute to wealth creation, and all deserve a fair share of the rewards. Note: I don’t say the same reward, but it needs to be a darn sight fairer than it is now. Too much cream isn’t good for anyone, so it’s in the interest of the 1% as well as the 99% that we share it around a bit more fairly.

This is a moral imperative, but it’s also an economic and political necessity too. People feel in their gut that things are getting out of hand. If politicians just say “that’s just the way it is” then expect the public disengagement and distrust of politics to worsen.

It does not have to be this way. It’s up to us to fix it.

 

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A New Year, And There’s Work To Be Done!

My best wishes for a happy and peaceful 2017. Let me extend my thanks to all those who toiled over Christmas in our public services, taking time away from their families to do great and often unsung work looking after us: the care-workers and social-workers, the nurses and health professionals, the police and PCSOs, the probation and prison staff, and so many more. But also the shopworkers and production-line workers and others who keep the economy running while the turkey is sliced and the crackers pulled. Thanks for all you do throughout the year, but especially over the festive period.

The National Assembly has swung straight back into action, picking up where it left off last year. We’ve had major announcements of additional funding following the “final budget” which will boost jobs and the economy, as well as dealing with some of the major challenges we face nationally and locally.

So, there is a further £53m of capital funding which has been allocated to accelerate the delivery of the Welsh Labour Government’s key commitment to deliver 20,000 affordable homes over the course of this Assembly term – in total £1.36bn of capital will be invested in delivering this ambitious commitment to create more affordable homes.

And the Welsh Labour government is investing a further £50m of capital in regeneration programmes. This funding will focus on Wales’ most disadvantaged communities and support wider government ambitions, including the Ministerial Taskforce for the South Wales Valleys Taskforce, the Metro and the city deals.

As part of the final budget, an extra capital funding (to the tune of £33m) will support the work of Natural Resources Wales and local authorities on priority flood risk management schemes over the next four years. This is in addition to the £150m innovative coastal risk management scheme which will start in 2018.

This amounts to an extra £136m boost for regeneration, house-building and flood defence. Most importantly, they boost the economy and provide jobs. That’s the way to start 2017!

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Government and Business Must Work Together to Stop Environmental Decline

The Living Planet Report, which was published recently by the global conservation organisation WWF, highlighted the alarming rate at which species all over the world are declining.

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WWF’s Living Planet Report found that we risk a 67% decline in global populations of vertebrate species by 2020 if we don’t act now. © Martin Harvey / WWF

Iconic animals like African elephants, polar bears, and mountain gorillas are all at risk. So are ones that we may be more familiar with like salmon, butterflies, and hedgehogs.

The report found that, unless we take urgent action to turn this around, we could see a shocking 67% decline in vertebrate species by 2020—just four years away.

This isn’t just happening in a far-away land. This is happening here at home in Wales too. Another recent report, the State of Nature, found a third of priority species declined during the last decade.

The most shocking thing is that human activity is driving this. WWF’s report warned that the most serious threats are things like overfishing, unsustainable agriculture, pollution, and climate change.

The truth is that our use of natural resources has grown so dramatically that we are endangering the key environmental systems that are relied upon not only by wildlife but by humans too.

So what does this mean for Wales? And how can we stop this decline in nature so that our grandchildren benefit from a rich and diverse natural environment just as we have done?

The good news is that the last Assembly foresaw this problem when it passed both the Well-being of Future Generations Act and the Environment Act.

Together they set a strong legal system to protect our natural environment both for ourselves and future generations.

Those Acts now need to be delivered. The Government must now consider the effect that all of its decisions and strategies have on the use of natural resources in Wales and globally.

And, in fact, the Living Planet Report suggests we meet that challenge by transforming the way our economy works.

To achieve that, the development strategies and economic models of Government and businesses alike must recognise just how vital our natural resources are.

Not only do they provide us with the food, energy, and materials that are so vital to economic growth, but they’re also essential to flood prevention, crop pollination, and clean air and water.

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The Welsh Government has already identified developing Wales’ renewable energy sector as a priority. Now it needs to deliver. © Global Warming Images / WWF

The Welsh Government recently published its Programme for Government. In it, developing the renewable energy sector and the ‘green economy’ were identified as priorities.

It also recently published its well-being objectives, which build on the Programme for Government by pledging to foster sustainable economic development and a modern, low-carbon economy.

The scale and pace of these programmes will be critical to determining whether the change will be as transformational as it needs to be to address the problems highlighted in the Living Planet Report.

For example, during the previous Assembly, the Environment and Sustainability Committee published ‘A Smarter Energy Future for Wales’.

It suggested Wales should aim to meet all of its energy needs from renewables and, in the context of the need to reduce carbon emissions by at least 80% by 2050, set a target date for achieving this.

My colleagues and I on the current Climate Change, Environment, and Rural Affairs Committee will be exploring this issue over the next Assembly term.

The green economy cannot sit, or be thought of, separately from the economic development strategy. Low carbon and resource-efficiency must be the very essence of the Welsh economy.

Procurement is a key lever to sustainable economic growth. That’s why Wales needs a National Procurement Policy that supports local economies and helps maintain our natural environment.

So I welcome the recent commitment made by the National Procurement Service for Wales to only serve sustainably-sourced fish in public sector venues.

I hope to see them building on that commitment by pledging to only use FSC-certified wood in the public sector.

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Only using FSC-certified timber is a great way of making sure that the wood we use is sustainably-sourced. © Jürgen Freund / WWF

It is imperative that the public sector leads by example, giving business and industry the incentive to operate in a way that respects the natural environment.

I don’t dispute that this is a significant challenge. That’s why we can’t afford to wait. Faced with the prospect of a 67% decline in species, we must remember that 2020 is only four years away.

Government and politicians must work with businesses and environmental organisations to plan for a low-carbon and resource-efficient economy.

Both the Welsh Government and the National Assembly have recognised the gravity of the problem. Now we need wholehearted commitment from them, and from business, to making change happen.

Tomorrow, WWF Cymru will host Assembly Members and business voices in an event in the Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay to discuss Wales’ response to the Living Planet Report and building a sustainable Welsh economy. For more information, visit the event web page.

 

 

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Huw Irranca-Davies AM & Chris Elmore MP Welcome Publication of Welsh Labour Government’s Draft Budget

The budget is aimed at protecting core services and helping to deliver Welsh Labour’s programme for Government, Taking Wales Forward1, as well as Welsh Labour’s ambitious manifesto commitments2.

It has been drafted against the backdrop of considerable fiscal uncertainty, which has resulted from successive years of Tory cuts to the Welsh Government’s budget. The outcome of the EU referendum has compounded this, with uncertainty about the impact on UK public finances and the Welsh budget in the longer-term.

Huw has joined the Welsh Labour Government in pressing the Tories to re-think their harsh austerity agenda and said “This budget provides stability for local services in Ogmore and across Wales. I stood on an exciting set of pledges at this year’s Assembly elections that will make a real difference to the lives of residents in my constituency. I am absolutely delighted that this budget marks another step forward in meeting our ambitions over this Assembly for 100,000 new all age apprenticeships, the best childcare support in the UK and delivering business rate relief for small firms. The Tories in Westminster are making life very difficult for the Welsh Government.  They have no strategy for Brexit and continue to slash budgets and I am joining with politicians from devolved institutions from across the UK and calling upon them to end this failed austerity experiment.”

Chris Elmore, MP for Ogmore added “I’m delighted the Welsh Labour government are protecting services like education and health while their English Tory counterparts are obsessing over privatising parts of the NHS and taking the education system back fifty years with grammar schools. Carwyn Jones and his Welsh Government team are prioritising services that will really impact on people’s lives for the better, working to make ordinary working people’s lives better, fairer and easier in uncertain economic times. ”

  1. http://gov.wales/newsroom/firstminister/2016/160920takingwalesforward/?lang=en
  2. 100,000 new apprenticeships for all ages, Business rate relief for small firms,         £100m fund to boost school standards, New treatment fund for the NHS, 30 hours free childcare a week for 48 weeks, Doubling to £52,000 the amount of cash older people going into care can keep from the sale of their homes
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May You Live in Interesting Times…

“May you live in interesting times” goes the well-known phrase. This was originally meant as a curse!

But we are indeed living in interesting times. The post-Brexit vote scenario has had some highly predictable impacts, with real and tangible economic impacts flowing from the uncertainty of “what happens now?”, the impact on exchange rates, and speculation on future access to markets. This matters locally as well as nationally. It boils down to jobs and economic growth.

Government at all levels needs to do everything to ensure that we maintain confidence for existing employers and for inward investors. So it was heartening to see our Welsh Government immediately launch a Business Confidence Plan and New Jobs Growth Fund, demonstrating our commitment to a prosperous future.

The new £5 million Growth and Prosperity Fund will help to ensure the Welsh economy continues to grow and Wales continues to be an attractive destination for investment. It will support Welsh businesses projects which have jobs, investment and growth at their heart.

Our Welsh Labour Government will also discuss what ‘Finance Wales’ can offer to the private sector at this uncertain time and will be bringing forward a plan for export support that will enable businesses to capitalise on global opportunities for their products and services.

As part of the commitment to developing skills development, the All-Age Apprenticeship Programme will contribute to supplying the future skill needs of companies as well as a range of skills programmes designed to meet the needs of companies investing in, or growing their activities in Wales.

The National Transport Finance plan also sets an ambitious five-year programme of interventions to modernise transport networks connecting communities and business to jobs, facilities and services.

There will be impacts from the vote to leave the EU. We cannot hide from that. But we should do everything possible not just to mitigate the downsides, but also to strenuously build prosperity in which everyone can share. Our Welsh Labour Government is committed to doing exactly that.

On a different note: it was a delight to be there at the Maesteg v Neath match last Saturday, celebrating the re-opening of their clubhouse after the devastating arson attack three years ago. The club has rebuilt its premises, but it is also rebuilding its team after some tough years. Like a Phoenix it is rising again, so full credit to the staff, volunteers and supporters, and good luck with the season ahead.

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“Our Money” – Wales Should Not Lose Out as a Result of the EU Referendum

I and others campaigned hard to persuade people of the merits of staying in the EU, but we lost the argument, and whilst disappointed, as democrats we must fully accept the outcome of the referendum. The majority of people across the country, and people in this area, have voted to leave the EU. No matter whether you were “in”, or “out”, now we have to make this work.

And we will make this work. We will work in times of uncertainty to provide businesses with the reassurance that they can have a stable pro-business approach from the Welsh Government, and that investment in skills and jobs here will be supported. We will work alongside local government and others to continue the community regeneration and drive to tackle poverty and inequality. We will strive to make this work. We have to do this, together.

But let’s not be under any illusions that there will not be major impacts locally and nationally, unless the clear promises made by leading Brexit spokespeople – notably here in Wales the Conservative Leader RT Davies as well as UKIP’s Neil Hamilton et al – to make good any shortfalls in European funding. It is now for the Conservative UK government in Westminster and the Welsh Conservatives in Wales to make good on the investment promised, so that existing and planned schemes can proceed. So that jobs can be kept and created.

Colleges and local employers have already expressed their real fears for the future of training courses and apprenticeships which were funded by the additional money (above that which we in Wales paid in) which has been coming to us via EU structural funds. Ambitious plans for the South Wales Metro and other major infrastructure projects which are so vital to the economic prosperity of South Wales and the valleys will now need new and additional funding from the UK government to make them happen.

The Welsh Conservatives and UKIP leaders who argued for Brexit must be held to account to make good on all their promises: to protect our investment in jobs and training and infrastructure in Wales; to protect the funds for hard-pressed hill-farmers in Ogmore, for community regeneration schemes and rural development (all but 2 of the council wards in Ogmore are deemed rural), environmental works and flood protection; and so much more.

Our message from Wales to RT Davies and Boris Johnson and all should be simple and loud. You told us that it was “our money” and that it would be coming back to us when we left the EU. You told us there would be £350m per week coming back to our NHS. We now expect this, all of this, to be delivered. Wales should not lose out.

So we will work together now to make our future outside of membership the European Union.

But in so doing, I also make this direct plea. Let’s not allow the politics of hate and division to pollute our public discourse. We are surely better than that.

Immigration became a major issue during the referendum campaign (even though we are now seeing Brexit campaigners admit that Brexit won’t make much of a difference). Sensible debate and sound policy is needed to manage the pressures and the benefits of immigration. And I look forward to discussing these and other issues rationally and calmly with my constituents over the coming weeks and months.

But some on the extreme far-right have immediately seized on the Brexit vote as an excuse to vilify and attack people who have come here legitimately to work and live, to pay their taxes and support our public services, whether from Poland or Ireland, China or Bangladesh, or anywhere outside Britain. In recent days people have been told to “go home” after the Brexit vote, been assaulted, and had their homes and businesses vandalised. It seems to have given license to some closet-racists to come out of their closets spewing hate and bile.

This is not good enough. I want every non-British person who lives and works among us to know that they are safe and welcomed here in Wales and in our communities in Bridgend and Ogmore. Whether they work in our health services or social care, food-processing or construction sectors, our universities or our manufacturers, we value their contribution to our economy and our communities.

We should have respect for all who contribute to our society and economy, whether born here, or whether choosing to come and live and work alongside us. We should speak out against those extremists who espouse hate and whip up fear. We are better than that.

So, let’s get on and work through the detail of what Brexit means, as well as making sure that we in Wales do not lose out.

Wales is open for business even if the terms of that business have now changed. And we are an open and welcoming country, which truly values the contribution of everyone who comes to live and work here.

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Together for Wales – Our Pledges to You

A helping hand for parents, breathing space for small business, continuing improvement in schools, the latest treatments for the sick and fairness for the older generation.

First, we will build on the incredible success of our apprenticeship, training and jobs placement schemes. A future Welsh Labour Government will fund 100,000 extra apprentices by the end of the next Assembly. This new all-age scheme will mean everyone will have the chance to fulfil their potential in the workplace.

Second, we will give a tax-break to small businesses in Wales using our new powers on business rates. We know that small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy – and of our communities too. This new scheme will benefit over three quarters of business premises in Wales. Half of all eligible businesses will pay no business rates at all.

Third, we will refresh our commitment to rigour in the classroom, and give the teachers the resources they need to deliver for our children. A new £100million fund for school standards will build on the Literacy and Numeracy Framework, school tests and our record breaking GCSE results.

Fourth, we believe that people in old age who need extra help – those who have played fair and paid in – deserve a fairer deal. So we will double the capital limit they will be allowed to keep on the sale of their home should they need to go into care. That’s an effective £26,000 tax-break for thousands of older people in Wales. Responsibility rewarded. That is the kind of Wales I believe in.

Fifth, we will develop a New Treatment Fund in Wales to ensure that people suffering life-threatening conditions can have access to the latest medicine and treatment. We are proud of our record on the NHS – we are treating more people, more effectively and more quickly than ever before in Wales. We will strive to improve things still further in the coming years.

Finally, we will deliver the most ambitious childcare offer in the UK. This will mean 30 free hours of childcare for working parents – covering not just 38 weeks, but 48 weeks worth of care for 3 and 4 year olds. This will supplement the Flying Start scheme we already have in place in our most disadvantaged communities. This is an investment not just in working families, our children’s future – but in our economy too.

We are on the map, in a way that we never have been before. Together for Wales, we can deliver these new pledges, and deliver on our country’s promise.

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