Today at Welsh Conference

Welsh Liberal Democrats gather in Swansea this weekend for their first Spring Conference since the disastrous election last year which saw them lose four of their five AMs. The party has had to pick itself up from that heartbreaking and thoroughly undeserved defeat. It has re-organised its resources and is ready to fight the Council elections in May. They also have the only Liberal Democrat Minister standing, in Kirsty Williams, who is doing a great job as Wales’ Education Secretary. Below is their agenda for the day.

They are having discussion sessions with their party spokespeople, motions on students and the community, ending the right to buy and community banking and  a long debate on their council elections manifesto. The details are below.

Morning session

09:15 Opening of Conference
9:40 Party Spokespeople: Cllr Peter Black: Finance, Local Government, Heritage, & Housing Jane Dodds: Communities & Social Justice

10:00 Topical/Emergency Motion

10:20 PM1: Students and the Local Community

Conference notes:

  1. The positive impact of students and universities on the local economy
  2. The transient nature of student communities
  3. The tensions that can arise between long-term residents and the changing studentpopulation

Conference believes:

  1. Collaboration between groups leads to the most effective and sustainable solutions to the issues and challenges transient communities face
  2. That it is the responsibility of students, landlords, and local authorities to keep the local areas tidy
  3. More can and should be done to improve community relations between long-term and student residents

Conference calls for:

7. Local authorities to work with students unions and universities on a variety of projects including:

  1. Creating an information pack for students and landlords detailing what resources are available to them within the community. This can include material and adverts from local businesses and groups, guidance on contacting the council, guidance around bin collection and local events.
  2. Informing students of their rights as renters through online materials and workshops
  3. Run community building projects such as Cardiff Digs and Love Bangor
  4. Promote and work with Communities 1st and similar groups
  5. To recognise work done by students in the local community through the useof Higher Education Achievement Report or other award schemes

10:50 PM2: Standing up for our Local Communities

Conference Notes:
• All council seats in Wales face election in May 2017.
• The financial pressures faced by local government and the challenge of maintaining
and improving appropriate public services.
• The impact of Britain’s departure from the EU on our economy.
• The widespread disconnection of the public from all levels of government, the
unrepresentative demographic profile of councillors, low turnouts in elections, and the arrogant attitude of some councils in Wales towards transparency and accountability.
• The recent manifesto for the National Assembly for Wales elections 2016, which included many policies for and regarding local government.

Conference believes that Welsh Liberal Democrats should promote a flourishing system of democratic local government, which empowers communities and in which power should be exercised at the most viable local level compatible with effective action and democratic control.

Conference calls for a manifesto which:
Empowers people and communities by

1 Campaigning for the devolution of power from Cardiff Bay to the hands of local communities, giving local government responsibility for areas such as economic development and community regeneration.
2 Meaningfully devolving power and responsibility from local authorities to community councils, where appropriate, so communities can set their own destiny.
3 Rebuilding trust in our democracy by campaigning to introduce STV and votes at 16 for local government elections, and ending the era of excessive six-figure ‘golden- goodbyes’.

Creates prosperous communities by

4 Regenerating town centres by introducing measures to support SMEs, including investing in digital infrastructure, town centre parking, and local transport.
5 Calling for the introduction of Regional Passenger Transport Authorities to localise decision making to ensure accessible, affordable and reliable transport.
6 Encouraging Local Councils to collaborate on delivering more coordinated public transport to better serve local communities.
7 Investing in the maintenance of our highways and pavements, including cycle routes.
8 Investing in the digital connectivity of our communities, including mobile phone signal and broadband to support homes, businesses, and tourism.

Values Homes by

9 Delivering 20,000 new affordable homes across Wales over the course of the Assembly term.
10 Introducing a Rent to Own model to give everyone an equal opportunity to own their own home.
11 Ensuring new social housing is built to meet the Welsh Housing Quality Standard and that at least 10% are built to full wheelchair accessibility standards.
12 Ensuring all councils have an accessible housing register, so they know where their wheelchair accessible, adaptable and adapted homes are, and how many they have.
13 Improve the enforcement of standards in the Private Rented Sector to ensure better
housing quality for renters.

Ensures dignity in care by

14 Introducing and supporting measures to bring frontline health and social care services together, to give patients the best possible care at the most appropriate time.
15 Ensuring that local authorities are no longer using fifteen minutes for care slots and fast-tracking applications for social care for terminally-ill people, their families and carers.
16 Developing social prescribing and ‘insulation on prescription’ to link up the NHS with the fuel poverty agenda and other schemes.

Promotes a national mission of education reform by

17 Extending the Welsh Pupil Premium to support our most disadvantaged pupils.
18 Reducing infant class sizes to give teachers the time to focus on a child’s individual
19 Supporting the introduction of a new education Leadership Academy to recognise and
promote teaching excellence.
20 Introducing Wales’ first ever rural and small schools policy to raise standards in all of
our schools, no matter where they are based, and ensuring all schools get a fair
hearing when their future is being considered.
21 Supporting the development of a new curriculum, made in Wales but shaped by the
best from around the world.

Protects our environment by

22 Supporting co-operatives to develop renewable energy projects in or on suitable publicly owned buildings and land, where practicable.
23 Investing in and protecting recycling centres to enable Local Authorities to meet recycling targets.
24 Supporting the development of community-based energy efficiency advice and mentoring schemes, especially in areas of significant fuel poverty.
25 Upgrading all council-owned buildings to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy waste, and investing in low or zero carbon technologies in buildings.

Strengthens our communities by

26 Rolling out 20mph zones in residential areas where there is community demand.
27 Ensuring a more thorough assessment of community need in any planning decision.
28 Establishing an Asset Transfer Advisory Committee in each local council area to
protect local community assets such as libraries and community centres.
29 Calling for the development of the Community Budgets model in Wales to combine services, encouraging the breaking down of boundaries between different services.

Promotes the Welsh language and culture by

30 Supporting affordable housing in rural Welsh-speaking areas, ensuring young people can stay and support their communities.
31 Supporting calls for language impact assessments for proposed developments a statutory requirement before planning permission is granted.
32 Protecting the cultural infrastructure and organisations, including sport, leisure provision and youth provision.
33 Campaign for VAT on tourism to be cut from 20% to 5% to boost local economies and create jobs.

Conference notes the key message of the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ 2017 campaign will be;
• Growing local and regional economies for the benefit of all.
• Investing in our communities.
• Delivering our national mission of educational reform.
• Reforming and restoring trust in our democracy.
• Rejecting business as usual and the complacency, favouritism and lack of vision of many of Wales’ councils and councillors.

Conference also calls on the National Policy Committee to work with local parties and council groups to support them in drafting local manifestos ahead of the local government elections in May 2017.

12:10 Education Minister, Kirsty Williams AM

Afternoon session

13:45 PM3: Right to Buy

Conference notes:

1 The Welsh Labour manifesto commitment to remove the right of long term tenants to buy their homes
2 The dramatic reduction in Right to Buy applications over many years with only 638 homes sold in 2015-16
3 That in 2015/16 the number of social houses increased by 0.2% with 1,143 new homes built (a net increase of 374 when the house sales were taken into account)
4 That successive Welsh Governments have reduced the Right to Buy discount so that is now up to £8,000
5 Changes to the rules on Housing Revenue Accounts will make give local authorities far greater power to invest in new homes

Conferences believes:

6 That having the right to own your own home is a long standing liberal principle, but it should not come at the expense of society through huge subsidies
7 That the discounts introduced by the Thatcher government were excessive and saw thousands of homes sold at huge discounts with local authorities not able to build replacement homes
8 That 20,000 new affordable homes should be built during the current Assembly term
9 That Welsh Labour are focussing on Right to Buy to distract from low numbers of
homes built by councils
10 That if a tenant buys their home then this creates a capital receipt that can be used to
build a new home

Conference calls for:

11 The Welsh Government to scrap the remaining Right to Buy and Right to Acquire discount so that tenants looking to buy their homes pay 100% of the market value
12 The Welsh Government to abandon their plans to scrap the right to buy
13 Local authorities and housing associations to use right to buy proceeds to invest in
more social housing.

14:20 PM4: Community Banking

Conference Notes:

  1. 1  Between January 2015 and January 2017 1,046 bank branches closed across Great Britain. (Which?, 2016).
  2. 2  Between April 2011 and April 2016 131 bank branches had closed in Wales (BBC, 2016).
  3. 3  Although changing customer behaviours is often cited as a reason for bank branch closures, only 56% of bank account holders use Internet banking according to Government figures. (Which?, 2016).
  4. 4  Post Offices have taken a far greater role in providing banking facilities (both personal and business) to communities where banks have closed. However, even Post Offices are under threat of closure in smaller communities.
  5. 5  In January 2016 the Department for Work and Pensions wrote to claimants who used post office card accounts to encourage them to move their benefits payments to a bank, building society or credit union account.
  6. 6  The main banks are Public Limited Companies, and whilst they do provide an essential service to the public, this is not a public service.

Conference Believes:

  1. 7  It is essential that members of the public and businesses have easy access to basic banking facilities such as cash withdrawal, paying-in, and getting change.
  2. 8  Whilst regulation of financial services is essential to protect the consumer, it would not be appropriate for legislation to be imposed on banks to force them to keep bank branches open.
  3. 9  The number of consumers using their local branches has reduced significantly over the last 10 years due to the take up of Internet, telephone and mobile
    banking. However, there are still those that do not have such facilities available to them or unable to use the facilities and are therefore digitally excluded from banking.

Conference calls for:

  1. 10  Unitary Authorities such as councils to provide secure Internet banking facilities through libraries so as to help reduce digital exclusion from banking.
  2. 11  The Digitial Communities Wales programme to be extended to include training on digital banking facilities. Local Authorities should be engaged to provide training through the programme.
  3. 12  Post Office franchisees to be able to claim a rebate on their business rates, the amount of the rebate being dependent on the turnover of the business, where Post Offices are franchised to small businesses and there are no banks within the local community.

13 Unitary Authorities to be allowed to take on the activities of the Post Office franchise through secure cash office facilities where there is neither a Post Office nor a bank within a community.

15:00 Party Spokespeople: Cllr William Powell: Farming, Environment & Rural Affairs Baroness Randerson: UK/Welsh Government Relations

15:20 Topical/Emergency Motion

15:45 Leader’s Speech: Mark Williams MP

16:15 Conference Adjourns

16:30 Closed Sessions

Boundary Commission Briefing

IR Cymru Meeting

19:00 Cardiff University Drinks Reception

19:45 Gala Dinner, Guest Speaker; Baroness Sarah Ludford

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