Welsh Rates of Income Tax: A ‘siginificant milestone’ in Welsh devolution

Guest post from Llyr Gruffydd AM, Chair of the Finance Committee – National Assembly for Wales

Almost twenty years after the National Assembly for Wales was founded, Welsh devolution will pass another significant milestone on 6 April.

Income Tax rates decided in Wales will apply to Wales, affecting around two billion pounds of tax collected here each year.

Your income tax rate will remain the same for 2019-20, a decision voted through by the Assembly for the first time in January.

From Saturday 6 April, each band of UK Income Tax will reduce by 10p, and Welsh Rates will be set, one for each band, at 10p.

This means no change overall, though Income Tax could be set higher or lower than that of England in future years by setting different Welsh Rates.

Devolved income tax structure

This welcome change brings more accountability to the Welsh Government by tying the amount of money available in their budget more closely to the performance of the Welsh Economy, and the decisions the Welsh Government make.

We don’t need to do anything individually, but if you live in Wales, whether or not your place of work is in Wales, you should have received a letter from HMRC with your new tax code, which now begins with a “C” for Cymru, and may want to check with HMRC that your details are correct if you haven’t.

This may seem a technical change, but I think it worth a moment on Saturday to stop and note the very first Income Tax rates set in Wales in modern times; yet another sign of our growing confidence as a nation.



Llyr Gruffydd is a regional Assembly Member for North Wales. He is currently the Chair of the National Assembly for Wales Finance Committee.

 



Find out more about the work of the Finance Committee on the Committee’s homepage or @SeneddFinance on Twitter.

 

World Autism Awareness Day, 2 April 2019

Sarah Morgan

Our guest blog comes from Sarah A Morgan, Senior Branch Engagement Officer at the National Autistic Society – Wales, as we mark World Autism Awareness Week.

 

National Autistic Society Picture of fundraisers with caption World Autism Awareness Week is back

 

NAS Autism Friendly logo

As an Autism Friendly Award holder we are proud to mark World Autism Awareness Week. The Autism Friendly Award demonstrates our commitment to being an accessible venue for visitors who are on the autism spectrum.

 

 

Below are some of the things the Assembly does in order to achieve the accreditation, we have:

• a section on our website dedicated to visitors with autism. The section provides information links to specifically designed resources in different formats;

• designated quiet areas for people with autism to rest and de-stress;

• ensured relevant staff received disability confidence training, which includes a section on autism;

• identified Autism Champions from across the organisation, and

• established links with National Autistic Society and work closely with them to ensure we are an organisation that engages with everyone in Wales, including people with autism.

We like to think that we are a modern, accessible parliamentary body with which people from a diverse range of backgrounds can easily and meaningfully interact, because our facilities, services and information are accessible to all. However, don’t take our word for it, here is what Sarah from the NAS had to say about visiting the Senedd with a group of their volunteers and service users.

“I have been to the Senedd for many different occasions, on the last visit I attend a guided tour with a group of our clients. This tour was during Disability Access day and it was specifically designed to caterer for individuals who are autistic.

Knowing that the Senedd had achieved their NAS autism Friendly Award it was a chance to see if they were applying their best practice work in practice.

The tour was very easy to book and the website was very clear and descriptive of what may happen on the day. Soon arrival we knew we would have to go through security, but they were very helpful. Then going to reception, we found the staff were once again very helpful and friendly. Our experience was all very good and it was not long before the tour guide was there to assist.

The guide was so informative and had a knowledge of the specific requirements of the group. He tailored the tour to the needs of the individuals and made it very fun and Interactive. He was always checking on the group and adjusted things accordingly.

Everyone enjoyed the tour and it was a great success, I think we all took a lot away from the visit.

The Senedd really is doing a good job of helping everyone enjoy their experience. The staff seemed very aware of Autism and how they could help make the group enjoy their visit. It is always very pleasing to know that a business is autism Friendly, but it was great to experience this first hand.”

Picture of World Autism Day logo

Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill

Guest blog by Llyr Gruffydd, Chair of Finance Committee, National Assembly for Wales . This article first appeared in the Western Mail.

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg

Llyr Gruffydd AC/ AM
Llyr Gruffydd AC/ AM

This afternoon, 20 March 2019, the National Assembly will vote to approve the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill. If the Bill is approved, it will go forward for Royal Assent and the provisions will become law in Wales.

The Ombudsman in Wales has a vital role in ensuring any member of the public who believes they have suffered injustice, hardship or service failure by a public body is able to make a complaint. The Ombudsman’s service is free, impartial and independent of the Welsh Government.  

The types of complaints the Ombudsman can receive include ambulances taking too long to arrive; failing to find the right education for children with additional needs; social housing not being repaired properly, amongst many other issues.

The Finance Committee introduced this Bill because we believe the Ombudsman’s role should be strengthened to improve social justice and protect the most vulnerable in society. This is particularly pertinent in a society where the most vulnerable people are often most reliant on public services.

The Bill will achieve this by making it easier for people to complain, removing the barrier that a complaint must be in writing. People should not be discriminated against or put off from complaining. People will be able to complain orally or through British Sign Language and maybe, in future through other digital technologies. This will help vulnerable and deprived members of society.

The Bill will also allow the Ombudsman to start his own investigations without receiving a formal complaint where there is evidence to suggest there could be a wider public interest issue. People are often reluctant or scared to come forward so they can complain anonymously and if the strict criteria is satisfied the Ombudsman can investigate.

Currently, a person has to make separate complaints to different organisations for public and private health treatment. The Bill allows the Ombudsman to consider both the private and public elements, if without doing so, the Ombudsman is unable to completely investigate the relevant action by the public service provider. This will be a fairer process giving answers to whether a person received appropriate medical treatment throughout the whole of their health care pathway.

The other main change is the Ombudsman can develop a model complaints handling process for public service bodies. This aims to drive improvements and help achieve consistency across the public sector.

This Bill represents a significant amount of hard work undertaken over a number of years and a rigorous scrutiny process by Assembly committees.

I hope the Assembly approves the Bill today; we need a Wales that provides excellent public services. Should a service fall short of an individual’s expectations, they will have confidence in the Ombudsman to investigate and make things right.

Jocelyn Davies, former Chair of the Finance Committee of the Fourth Assembly:

“I started work on extending the powers of the Ombudsman back in the Fourth Assembly. I hope the Bill is passed today as I’m looking forward to a future where we have excellent public services but when things do go wrong, the Ombudsman is able to investigate, bring redress for individuals and make improvements to public services that we can all benefit from.”


If you’d like further information about the Finance Committee, or would like to keep up to date with their work, you can visit the Committee’s webpage.

You can also follow the Committee on twitter @SeneddFinance

Disability Access Day –The National Assembly for Wales, an accessible venue for visitors and staff

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg

Our guest post comes from, Catrin Greaves, a recent recruit to our Parliamentary and Visitor Services team.

Catrin discusses the ups and downs of working life for someone living with the neurological condition dyspraxia and what its like working at the Assembly with dyspraxia, as we mark Disabled Access Day on 16 March.

Disabled-access-day

What is Dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder, is a common life-long condition affecting how the brain and body communicate.

There is no known cause for dyspraxia, though as in my case, it can be related to being born prematurely.  Someone living with dyspraxia can experience a range of symptoms, including difficulty with motor skills,  understanding and following instructions and directions, short term memory issues, difficulty with planning and coordinating daily activities, and sensory issues, where a person can be over- or -under sensitive to stimulation such as sound, touch, smell or temperature.

People with dyspraxia all have their own unique challenges and everyone should be treated as an individual with their own specific needs – as I like to say if you’ve met someone with dyspraxia, you’ve met precisely one person with dyspraxia.

‘She’s one of the cleverest young people I know, but she can’t use a photocopier…’

This was once said about me by a former manager! It highlights perfectly that dyspraxia does not affect a person’s intelligence but it can affect many everyday tasks.

To find out more about dyspraxia, visit the dyspraxia foundation website.

What is working life like for someone living with the neurological condition dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia can pose many challenges in the workplace, with high potential for what I like to call ‘dyspraxidents’! Incidences of: tripping over; forgetting things; getting lost for the umpteenth time; feeling panicky when the phone goes, your colleague is trying to talk to you AND the Plenary bell is ringing; etc.

Some of the things that I struggle with include:

  • Sensory overload, especially related to conflicting noise.
  • Short- term memory issues.
  • Difficulty with learning new sequences in order to complete practical tasks.
  • Difficulties with time management and planning.
  • Difficulty with directions and numbers (Maths was my enemy at school!).

However, with some understanding and a few simple adjustments, I see my dyspraxia as an asset. People with dyspraxia tend to be empathetic, which is highly useful to me in my role engaging with visitors from a wide variety of backgrounds and who have different requirements.

Staff with varied neurological differences can bring a different way of thinking to an organisation, and a unique set of skills and strengths.

The Senedd in Cardiff Bay

My Role – Working with dyspraxia at the Assembly

Working as a Visitor Engagement Assistant, my role is varied and interesting, I work across all the venues on the Assembly estate, including the Senedd and the historic Pierhead building.

I help the public to be inspired by and learn about the work of the Assembly, this includes everyone from tourists and locals to students and family groups. I conduct tours of the building, engaging with visitors on many topics, including the environment, Welsh culture and of course, the political work that happens in the building.

I also contribute towards the smooth running of Assembly business, making sure that the right people are in the right place at the right time. Not an easy task for a dyspraxic person!

Conducting tours around the building, I have perfected my knowledge of how the building is accessible to visitors and am proud to say that we are an accessible venue, our facilities include:

  • Ramps and lifts.
  • Autism-friendly labelling.
  • Hearing loop systems.
  • Wheelchair hire.
  • A range of different toilet facilities including gender neutral toilets, accessible toilets, a Changing Places facility with adult hoist, and toilets for people with mobility issues.
  • Disabled parking spaces.
  • A quiet room for prayer, contemplation and a calming space for distressed visitors.
  • A specific ‘Visitors with autism’ webpage.   

More information on the enhancements that have been included in the design of our estate, to ensure the building meets its target of being exemplar in terms of accessibility in the public areas, is available on our ‘Access’ webpage.

An accessible venue for visitors and staff

As well as having a range of facilities on site which ensure that we are an accessible organisation, the Assembly also champions accessibility for its employees. As I spend more than thirty hours in our buildings each week, I am pleased to say that the Assembly really values the wellbeing of the people who work here.

“I believe it is important that the Assembly leads the way in promoting an inclusive organisational culture and that it is a modern, accessible parliamentary body with which people from a diverse range of backgrounds can easily and meaningfully interact. It is incumbent on us as the National Assembly for Wales to lead on this and share our experiences, ensuring that the values of equality, diversity and inclusion are respected and practiced by all.”

Elin Jones AM, Llywydd, National Assembly for Wales.

In keeping with its values, the Assembly has a range of facilities that have made it easier for employees like me to carry out my role, and for a wide spectrum of employees who have specific needs to be considered, these can be disabilities, family commitments, or religious obligations.

In particular I take advantage of our:

  • Quiet Rooms, which can be used for many different reasons including for prayer, quiet reflection, or a break for people struggling with sensory overload. I often use it when my brain feels too full from all the different sights and sounds of this busy assembly building.
  • Embrace our disability network, which helps people to connect with each other, share their unique challenges and champion causes that are close to their hearts across the organisation.
  • Mindful network, which champions positive mental health. This is important for me because dyspraxia can adversely affect mental health, as dyspraxic people are more prone to anxiety and depression.

More information on our networks is available on the Diversity webpage.

Another reasonable adjustment that helps me is that my friendly manager sometimes offers gentle prompts to make sure that I am on track with my work.

This is very helpful because my dyspraxia symptoms can vary, with ‘up’ and ‘down’ days where I can feel more easily overwhelmed or more motivated.  

 I am also allowed to work less in our Tŷ Hywel site, where the politicians’ offices are located, because this can become particularly busy and noisy. My team have helped me to work to my strengths, and their positive attitude has helped me to feel supported and a valued member of staff.

It is due to its commitment to being an inclusive organisation that over the years, the Assembly has been awarded numerous prestigious awards for its commitment to inclusion and diversity. These include, but are not limited to being recognised as a:

  • Disability Confident employer, by the Department for Work and Pensions.  
  • National Autism Society ‘Autism Friendly Award’ holder.
  • Top Employer for Working Families.
  • Age Employer Champion.
  • Action on Hearing Loss Louder Than Words charter mark, and Service Excellence Awards holder.
  • Investors in People Gold Standard organisation, by the international mark of global excellence.

For more information about working for the National Assembly for Wales, please visit our recruitment pages. More information on our commitment to Diversity and Inclusion is set out in our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2016-21.

National Apprenticeship Week 2019

Three young people outside the Senedd
Three of the Assembly’s former apprentices outside the Senedd

Emily Morgan, who now works for our Estates and Facilities Management team, talks about her experience at the Assembly…

After completing an art foundation diploma in Glamorgan University I took a gap year to hopefully pave a career for myself.  I was considering going to university to study art when I became aware of the opportunity to become an Apprentice in the National Assembly for Wales.  I automatically knew I should apply as I knew that the Assembly was an exemplary employer.

I completed an application form using the STAR technique and sent it off with the hope of being successful. To my delight I was invited to attend an assessment centre where I was required to undergo a number of assessments specific to the post. The moment I arrived I was made to feel very welcome by the HR team. I was initially very nervous, but my nerves were soon put to rest by the friendly staff around me. After the assessment centre I was invited to interview. I attended my first panel interview and was made to feel at ease by the interview panel straight away. I received a letter a week later informing me that I had been successful, and that I had become an Apprentice! Needless to say I was overwhelmed and very excited!

During my induction, I was welcomed by my head of service, my team and my line manager. I was placed in the Resources group which consists of Human Resources, Governance and Audit and Financial Services. I have worked mainly within Human Resources; where I was based predominantly in the learning and development team and the recruitment team.

Throughout my Apprenticeship I have gained Essential Skills, an NVQ qualification, valuable work experience and some fantastic memories. The Apprenticeship scheme was the best decision I have ever made. I have gained a wealth of administrative experience and have made friends for life. After passing my NVQ and my team support interview, I gained employment in Commission and Member Support as a team support. I have since received further promotion and am now settling into my role as an Executive Officer in Estates and Facilities Management.  

For the first time I have realised that University is not necessarily the only path into employment. The Apprenticeship scheme has taken me down a different path, but it has definitely been the right one for me.

Find out more: Apprenticeships at the National Assembly for Wales​​​

Children’s Mental Health Week

Guest blog by Lynne Neagle AM. This article first appeared in the Western Mail.

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg

In April it will be a year since the National Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee published its Mind over Matter report, which called for a step change in the support available to children experiencing emotional and mental health issues in Wales.

The findings were stark.

Half of all mental health problems begin by the age of fourteen.

Three quarters of all mental health problems set in by a young person’s mid-twenties.

One in ten of our young people will experience a mental health problem.

Based on these figures, and the wealth of expert evidence we received, we concluded that if we failed to put our young people at the very centre of our strategy, mental ill health would continue to snowball.

To stem the flow, we concluded that a step change is needed in how we approach emotional and mental health in Wales. We need to equip our children and young people with the skills, confidence and tools to be emotionally resilient. We need a strategy that sees us intervene much earlier, addressing the seeds of distress before they take root.

We were deeply disappointed with the Welsh Government’s initial response to our recommendations. As a Committee we took the unprecedented step of rejecting the response, and called on the Ministers to reconsider their position.

The Welsh Government reacted by setting up a Ministerial Task and Finish Group – chaired jointly by the Ministers for Health and Education – to reconsider the robust and comprehensive evidence we presented and the recommendations to which we gave considerable and serious thought.

I sit on that Group as an independent observer with full rights of participation. I intend to hold a mirror up to the Group’s work, and to seek progress that meets the Committee’s ambitions and expectations in this area.

More recently the Welsh Government announced an additional £7.1 million to specifically address the issues raised in our Mind over Matter report.

The additional funding is of course welcome and we look forward to seeing how exactly it will be invested. As we approach the first anniversary of the report’s publication, I believe the time has come to inject pace into putting the resource and support needed in place to support us all to implement and deliver this change.

I also believe we need to guard against the ever-present danger of seeking to re-invent the wheel. What is clear is that the current approach isn’t effective enough. So to recommit and reinforce the services already in place isn’t the answer. We need a new approach.

So it will come as no surprise in Children’s Mental Health week to reaffirm that the Committee doesn’t intend to stop here. If young people are to be placed at the heart of our overall strategy for mental health, we need to continue our drive to ensure that best practice is shared, change and innovation are delivered, and our focus is shifted from the reactive to the preventative.

On that basis, we have requested a new response to each of our recommendations from the Welsh Government by next month. We do not intend to take our foot off the pedal on this and we are committed to following up on the place our children and young people are given in future emotional and mental health strategies, approaches and investments with a close and forensic eye.

During the course of our inquiry last year we spoke to many children and young people about their experiences. Some of them were deeply upsetting. Some of them also demonstrated to us that, when the proper services are effective and in place, they can be of immense help to people struggling with their emotional or mental health. Thomas was one of the young people we spoke with.

As young people so often manage to do, he summed up our inquiry in one sentence.

“If I’d got these issues addressed a lot earlier, it wouldn’t have boiled over.”

We all have a responsibility – and an ability – to implement the changes that will enable young people like Thomas get the help they need earlier and avoid issues boiling over wherever possible. And those changes aren’t only for our children and young people, but for the adults they become, and the children they go on to have. It is incumbent on us to invest to save, to prevent rather than react, and to make the step change that is so urgently needed to build a population of emotionally resilient and mentally healthy people in Wales.

If we want sustainable services, a healthy population, and – most importantly of all – fewer individuals and families experiencing longer term challenges and hardships caused by mental ill health, young people must be at the heart of the strategy. Let’s remember Thomas’s words – if we get these issues addressed earlier, they need not always boil over.

Get the report

Holocaust Memorial Day 2019 – Torn from Home

logo for holocaust memorial day
Holocaust Memorial Day logo

This week, the National Assembly for Wales will be marking Holocaust Memorial Day, which takes place on the 27th of January each year. It is coordinated by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, the charity established and funded by the UK Government to promote and support Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) in the UK.

Marking Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day is a time to remember the millions of people whose lives were taken as a part of the Holocaust during World War II, and further genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. The 27th of January was the day that Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, the largest of the concentration camps operated by the Nazi party, was liberated.

This year, Holocaust Memorial Day also marks the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, and the 40th anniversary of the end of the Cambodian Genocide.

Holocaust Memorial Day offers the chance to honour the survivors of these events, learning lessons from their experiences to influence our society today. With roots that begin in hatred, discrimination and racism, these are events can be prevented, with much work still to do to ensure a safer future for all. Holocaust Memorial Day provides the chance to begin this work.

Torn From Home

The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘Torn From Home’. Home has many meanings for those affected by these events, and losing a place to call ‘home’ is one of the ways devastating effects that genocide and persecution can have on individuals, communities and families.

This year’s theme calls on people to reflect on the consequences that being ‘torn from home’ can have on those affected, as well as the struggles faced when trying to return home, or build new lives and homes, after the events are over.

“We should never forget the horrors of Holocaust”

This week, Assembly Members and staff gathered on the steps of the Senedd to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. Dawn Bowden AM’s 90 Second Statement highlighted the efforts of those from a Merthyr Tydfil community, who this week gathered to mark the completion of a Holocaust memorial garden, with help from the Holocaust Memorial Trust, explaining that what started as an initiative by a community and volunteers is a part of the international effort of remembrance, research and education around Holocaust. She stated that “we should never forget the horrors of Holocaust, and we should use this time to reflect on conditions that allowed such barbaric acts to incur.”  

90 Second Statement – Dawn Bowden

Assembly Members, staff and the general public gathered for a vigil on the Senedd Steps
Julie Morgan at a Holocaust Memorial Event in the Senedd

The National Assembly for Wales is an inclusive organisation, where our employment opportunities are open to all and where the people of Wales can actively engage in our work. By marking days like Holocaust Memorial Day, we are inspired to continue to build diversity and inclusion into everything we do. Find out more about our work on our website.

You can find out more about the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust at www.hmd.org.uk.