Welsh morning headlines: News, Ukraine, coronavirus sport and weather as Wales responds to Spring Statement

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We have put together a round-up of all the latest news, weather, and travel information for Thursday, March 24 that will get you caught up and ready for the day as measures are announced in the Spring Statement to combat the cost of living crisis in the UK. Chancellor Rishi Sunak made several announcements, such as cutting petrol and diesel prices by 5p a litre, and changing the income threshold above which people start paying National Insurance will be also lifted to £12,500, giving people an effective £360 tax cut.

Other announcements focused on income tax, energy efficiency and other taxes and support payments – you can read more about what these mean if you live in Wales here. However, there has been criticism that these measures aren’t doing enough for those affected by the cost of living after it was announced that inflation has hit a new 30 year high.

Criticism has been vocalised by the Labour-run Welsh Government. Rebecca Evans, Minister for Finance and Local Government, said: “People will be right to feel let down by today’s threadbare statement. Bills are rising rapidly and disposable income is falling, but there is not enough in today’s statement that recognises the struggle many are facing.

READ MORE : Martin Lewis’ sinking reaction to the Spring Statement as he says it won’t help most people with rising bills

“It’s an ideological, regressive statement from the Chancellor that lacks practical measures to help those who need help the most – there is nothing for those who cannot work and those on lower incomes. The UK Government has squandered the opportunity to provide meaningful support. It exposes an out-of-touch Chancellor and exacerbates the fairness gap running through Westminster’s lacklustre approach to the cost of living crisis.”

First Minister Mark Drakeford also added via Twitter: “This #SpringStatement lets down people already struggling with the rising cost of living. Bills are rising rapidly and disposable income is falling. UK Government has wasted the opportunity to provide meaningful support and practical measures to help those who need it the most.

“In Wales we provided a #CostOfLiving package worth nearly double the equivalent support provided in England – but we know more needs to be done. We will continue to call on UK Government to join us in providing a full response to help people with this cost of living crisis.”

Wales news headlines

The number of children missing school for Covid reasons is rising rapidly

More than 12,000 children missed school in Wales for Covid related reasons last week as cases rise. School leaders warned absence is now at “crisis” levels with so many children and staff off each day – more than one in 10 pupils are now absent on average.

Latest Welsh Government figures showed 12,332 children missed school for a known Covid related reason in the week of March 14-18 with 23,500 school sessions missed. That’s up from 7,830 the previous week and 4,290 the week before.

The data, published on March 23 show 3.2% of pupils were off for Covid related reasons in the week to March 18, up from 1.7% the previous week. A further 33,029 school sessions were missed for illness other than Covid. School coronavirus cases have risen slightly as cases in the community also grow. You can see the areas with the highest numbers of schools caseshere.

Thousands more pupils were off for other reasons, not all known or authorised. More than one in 10 children are off school on average and far more in some academic years and areas. Around two in every 10 GCSE exam year 11 pupils are skipping school and another one in four A level year 13s are off. With exams just weeks away the Association of School and College Leaders described the situation as “very worrying”.

This summer will be the first in two years that GCSEs, A and AS levels have been sat and there have been claims they won’t be fair. Students have shared their worries about A level results again.

School attendance is lowest in Pembrokeshire at 84.5% followed by Gwynedd at 85.8%. The highest rates of children going to school are in Torfaen (89.3%) closely followed by Cardiff at 89.1%.

Some children’s education has been more disrupted than others. Some have not returned to classrooms since they shut at the start of the pandemic two years ago. You can read the full attendance levels per year group here.

Two MSs launch angry attack on new second homes and holiday let rules

Two Conservative Members of the Senedd have made a vitriolic attack on Welsh Government plans to crack down on second homes and holiday lets with higher taxes. The new plans include an increase to the maximum level of council tax premiums for second homes, as well rules that limit exemption from council tax for holiday let that register as businesses. The detailed proposals can be read here.

The maximum level at which local authorities can set council tax premiums on second homes and long-term empty properties will be increased to 300%, which will be effective from April 2023. Councils will be able to set the premium at any level up to the maximum, and they will be able to apply different premiums to second homes and long-term empty dwellings. The full detail of that plan is here.

The criteria for self-catering accommodation being liable for business rates instead of council tax will also change from next April. Currently, properties that are available to let for at least 140 days, and that are actually let for at least 70 days, will pay rates rather than council tax. The change will increase these thresholds to being available to let for at least 252 days and actually let for at least 182 days in any 12-month period.

Brecon and Radnorshire MS, James Evans, spoke during a plenary session and stated businesses could go bust because they cannot meet the 300% council tax cost.

He said: “genuine businesses” that are set up to encourage tourism to Wales are worried that “if they do not meet the threshold for the amount of days let, their businesses will be forced to close, when those properties, which I’m sure you hope will go back on the open market, many of those are subject to planning restrictions, some of them are too big, they’ll be too expensive and local people will not be able to afford them.”

He added: “When visitors come here, they are not going to have anywhere to stay. As my colleague Janet Finch-Saunders has said, this second home rhetoric has got to stop. The problem here is not second home owners, it’s not people running genuine businesses, it’s the Government here that have failed for years to build the houses that we need for our young people. This Government could abolish land transaction tax for young people.” You can read more of what was said by Mr Evans and Janet Finch Saunders, the MS for Aberconwy, here.

Today’s forecast

The Met Office predicts warm and sunny after a chilly start. Here is their full forecast for Wales:

Isolated fog patches first thing will quickly clear leaving a fine and sunny morning. Some fair weather cloud will build in the afternoon, but there will still be plenty of sunshine and with only light winds it will feel warm. Maximum temperature 18 °C.

After a fine evening, it will be a dry night with clear skies. Isolated fog patches may redevelop in river valleys with a touch of frost in places by morning. Minimum temperature 0 °C.

Here is how the roads and rail are affected at 7am

National news headlines

Britain to send 6,000 more missiles to Ukraine, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson will urge western allies to help “keep the flame of freedom alive” in Ukraine as he pledged the UK will supply thousands more missiles to the military in Kyiv. The Prime Minister is joining fellow Nato leaders in Brussels for an emergency summit to discuss the latest situation a month on from the start of the Russian invasion.

He will use the visit to set out details of a new support package for Ukrainian forces, including 6,000 more missiles comprising anti-tank and high-explosive weaponry. It comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for worldwide demonstrations on Thursday to mark exactly a month since Russia launched its invasion.

The Nato meeting, which will be addressed remotely by Mr Zelensky, is expected to sign off on the formation of four new battlegroups in eastern Europe. Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the battlegroups – each numbering between 1,000 and 1,500 troops – would be deployed in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.

The alliance already has 40,000 troops in Europe under its direct command, nearly 10 times the number it had a few months ago.
Mr Stoltenberg told a news conference on Wednesday that the forces will remain in place “as long as necessary”. He said: “This is a significant reinforcement of our presence in the east with air, sea and land forces.”

“We are there to protect and defend allies, ready to respond massively to any potential threat or attack against any Nato allied country.” He added that he expected leaders would agree additional support for Ukraine, including cybersecurity assistance and equipment to help protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.

William expresses ‘profound sorrow’ at slavery and acknowledges Jamaica’s ‘pain’

The couple is touring the Caribbean to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee but arrived in Jamaica onWednesday, March 22nd to a much-publicised demonstration calling on the monarchy to pay reparations for his role in slavery on the island. The Duke of Cambridge has denounced slavery as “abhorrent”, saying “it should never have happened” as he addressed the issue following days of protests calling for reparations from the royal family.

William expressed his “profound sorrow” at the forced transportation of millions of people from Africa to the Caribbean and North America – a trade which British monarchs either supported or profited from during the 17th and 18th centuries. Speaking during his visit to Jamaica with Kate, he echoed the words of his father the Prince of Wales and described the slave trade as an “appalling atrocity” that “stains our history” and he went on to acknowledge Jamaica’s “pain”.

The Cambridges’ tour of Belize, Jamaica and the forthcoming final leg in the Bahamas has prompted demonstrations and statements calling for an apology from the royal family. The future king did not say sorry, just as his father Charles had not during his trip to witness Barbados become a republic.

But he praised the Windrush generation of Caribbeans who arrived in the UK a few years after the Second World War to help rebuild the nation depleted by six years of conflict. Jamaica’s prime minister Andrew Holness appeared to suggest his country may be the next country to break away from the monarchy, telling the Cambridges it was “moving on” and intended to “fulfil our true ambitions and destiny as an independent, developed, prosperous country”. The Independent has reported the Jamaican government has already begun the process to transition to a republic, with an official appointed to oversee the work.

Speaking during a dinner hosted by the Queen’s representative in Jamaica, Governor General Sir Patrick Linton Allen, the duke said: “Anniversaries are also a moment for reflection, particularly this week with the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.”

Commenting on the sentiment expressed by Charles when he attended the Barbados ceremony that saw it become a republic in November, he said: “I strongly agree with my father, the Prince of Wales, who said in Barbados last year that the appalling atrocity of slavery forever stains our history. I want to express my profound sorrow. Slavery was abhorrent and it should never have happened.

“While the pain runs deep, Jamaica continues to forge its future with determination, courage and fortitude. The strength and shared sense of purpose of the Jamaican people, represented in your flag and motto, celebrate an invincible spirit.

“It is this same spirit that spurred on the Windrush generation, who came to the United Kingdom to help rebuild after the Second World War. We are forever grateful for the immense contribution that this generation and their descendants have made to British life, which continues to enrich and improve our society.”

Sport headlines

Welsh rugby star publicly calls out URC as ‘disgraceful’ league posts appalling video of him being knocked out

Welsh rugby star Aled Summerhill has publicly called out the United Rugby Championship after the league mocked footage of him getting concussed. The cross-continent competition shared a video clip of Cardiff Rugby wing Summerhill, 27, suffering a blow to the head amid a challenge during South African side Lions’ win earlier this month.

The clip’s caption on social media said “goodnight” alongside sleeping and laughing emojis, and “ZZZ” over Summerhill’s body as he lay on the ground. He flew home early from Cardiff’s away trip to South Africa and the social media clip has now emerged, met with criticism and outrage.

The wing tweeted in response: “Really didn’t think head injuries were something to joke about with all that’s going on with it within the sport, there we are then URC.” He was supported by former Wales international Alix Popham, who was diagnosed with early onset dementia two years ago amid his doctor’s belief he had suffered 100,000 sub-concussions in his 14-year career, who wrote: “Wow, this is disgusting, what are URC thinking?”

The social media post has been slammed as shocking, a shambles and disgraceful by fans. URC CEO Martin Anayi has responded, saying: “This should NEVER have gone up, we are investigating now with our social media agency – it has been removed – we take player safety very seriously indeed”. The Welsh wing will be in contention for a return to action for Cardiff when they face Glasgow this Saturday if he continues to pass the return-to-play protocols following the head injury.

Ex Wales number 10 dies

Former Wales fly-half and Glamorgan cricketer Alan Rees has passed away, aged 84. The talented all-rounder featured for his country at rugby union three times and also distinguished himself as a batsman and expert cover-point fielder in cricket, with Rees figuring for England as a substitute fielder in an Ashes Test against Australia. He also enjoyed a stint in rugby league, playing for Leeds.

His union caps came in 1962, when he figured against England (0-0), Scotland (3-8) and France (3-0). Rees played his club rugby for Maesteg, Aberavon, Leicester and Llanelli and has been described as “one of Neath Port Talbot’s finest sportsmen”. He played 216 times for Glamorgan, being an important part of the teams that defeated the touring Australians in 1964 and 1968. In the first of those games, he top scored for his team with 48 and 47.

For England against Australia, he took a catch off Fred Truman’s bowling. He further cemented his place in Glamorgan cricket history by striking the first boundary for the country at Sophia Gardens, against India, with Rees opening alongside Alan Jones. Renowned as a nice man who had time for everyone, he will be remembered fondly.

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