By Ken Skates AM / Latest News / 0 Comments

 

CLWYD SOUTH AM KEN SKATES joined the First Minister Carwyn Jones in calling on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to observe one minutes silence at this years London games to mark the fortieth anniversary of the Munich Massacre.

In 1972 11 Israeli athletes were killed in a terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics and now the families of the dead athletes are campaigning for the tragedy to be marked at this years opening ceremony in London.

The International Olympic Committee has rejected the request, but the AM has joined politicians from the UK Parliament, Australia and across the world in supporting the families call for the event to be remembered.

Speaking during First Ministers Questions CLWYD SOUTH AM KEN SKATES said:

“The tragic events that took place at the Munich Olympics in 1972 deserve to be remembered by holding a minutes silence at the opening ceremony of this years games in London. 2012 will mark the fortieth anniversary of the massacre and it seems fitting to come together to remember those that were killed.

“The families of the athletes have continually asked the International Olympic Committee to mark the event with a minutes silence at subsequent games, but these requests have always been denied. Now is the time to address the hurt in a symbol of peace and unity.

“Having a minutes silence would be the triumph of the Olympic ideal, ensuring political differences are put aside and that we remind the world that sport can be way of promoting peace and reconciliation.

“We are hosting these games in the UK and everyone, including those of us in Wales, are looking forward to a big celebration. However we also have an important duty to remember the past and to pay our respects to those who died in such terrible circumstances in 1972.

“I’m calling on Sebastian Coe, the Chairman of the London Organising Committee and Jacques Rogge the President of the International Olympic Committee to make this happen and use the healing power of sport to bring people together.”

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Notes:

A link to the Statement of Opinion Ken has tabled in the Assembly:

http://www.assemblywales.org/bus-home/bus-business-fourth-assembly-statements-opinion.htm?act=dis&id=235953&ds=7/2012

By Ken Skates AM / Latest News / 0 Comments

KEN SKATES has branded attacks on NHS staff in North Wales ‘completely unacceptable’ after the AM obtained figures highlighting over eleven hundred attacks on healthcare staff in the region in 2011.

In a special investigation conducted by the AM, Mr Skates said there had been 310 attacks reported by the end of May 2012 against staff in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board region, three of which involved the use of a weapon.

The AM reiterated his support for a poster campaign launched recently by the NHS and the Welsh Government and said individuals caught acting violently towards nurses, doctors, health care workers and other staff should be prosecuted.

CLWYD SOUTH AM KEN SKATES said:

“In 2011 the numbers of attacks on NHS staff in North Wales rose significantly with 1164 assaults against individuals on duty in the Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board region. This is completely unacceptable behaviour and must not be tolerated in any form.

“Our NHS staff do a vital job every single day in our communities and it’s clear from the figures that they often do this at personal risk to themselves. There have been over 300 assaults reported across North Wales already this year, three of these incidents involved the use of a weapon.

“We ask a lot from workers in the health service but they must be shown respect and responsibility in return. The Minister has indicated rightly that the Welsh Government and the NHS will take a tough line with anyone who abuses or attacks staff and I think we should all support a zero tolerance approach.

“We need to make an example of people who act in this way and people prosecuted if it’s deemed necessary. We are only talking about a minority of the hundreds of thousands of people who use our health service in North Wales each week, but even this must not be tolerated.”

The figures obtained by Mr Skates highlighted 811 assaults on NHS staff on duty in North Wales in 2008, 810 in 2009, 696 in 2010, 1164 in 2011 and 310 already reported in 2012.

A poster campaign was launched recently to highlight the NHS’s zero tolerance policy for attacks on its workers, such as pharmacists, GPs and their staff.

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By Ken Skates AM / Latest News / 0 Comments

Building more Homes

This week in plenary we debated the report of the Communities, Equalities and Local Government Committee report into Affordable Housing. As one of the Committee members it was an interesting enquiry to undertake and an important one from the Welsh Government’s point of view so the Chamber was pleased that all of our recommendations were in full or in principle accepted by the Minister Huw Lewis.

I think we all agree that the provision of good quality and affordable housing will be one of the main delivery indicators upon which the Welsh Government is judged over the next four years. I’d like to thank everyone who gave evidence during our enquiry – evidence which was vital to forming our overall conclusions.

I believe the final report identities not only the important policy, funding and implantation barriers to more affordable housing but also sets out the practical steps we all need to take if we are to realise our goal of an affordable home for everyone who needs one. As our report makes clear, whilst the complexity and scale of the challenge in this area has not been made any easier by the credit crunch and financial crash over the last five years, it certainly is not the cause of it.

The challenge of meeting the need of a young person who cannot afford to buy their own flat – or the family who have been waiting years for a council house is a policy problem that predates the crash. The land prices increases seen in the last decade and the sharp rise in house prices made the goal of home ownership for many on lower and middle incomes a more distant aspiration long before Lehman brothers went bust.

As the report makes clear, long waiting lists for affordable housing have existed right across Wales for some time. Indeed, it was estimated that there were 80,000 households waiting for social rented housing in April 2010 with research commissioned by the Welsh Government itself suggesting that over 14,000 new homes are needed every year over the next 15 years – and that’s before we take into account the current unmet need.

Where the economic crash has had an important added impact is on the access to credit for many of these already excluded groups on low or medium incomes. As the report makes clear, Mortgage finance has proved increasingly difficult to obtain, with ever larger deposits being required just as the squeeze on incomes and household budgets has become most intense.

That is why the Welsh Government’s target of building 7,500 new affordable homes by 2016 and bringing 5,000 empty properties back into use is to be applauded. As Shelter Cymru have pointed out, more than 90,000 households are currently on waiting lists for council or social housing and the current changes to housing benefit mean the private rented sector will become increasingly unaffordable over the next few years for many people.

Tackling this should be a high priority for the government not only because of the desperate need for homes in Wales, but because every pound invested in creating homes is an investment in training, skills, employment and long term economic and community regeneration. Taken together with the rise in homelessness we are seeing in areas like mine in North East Wales the urgency of this issue is there for all to see.

So how do we move forward? One of the key areas of focus for the report were the recommendations we wanted to make on the availability of land; the importance of the planning process and the urgent need to get more empty properties back into use and I want to use my remaining time to say a little about this.

The availability of land – primarily publically owned land – was raised by a number of the witnesses we took evidence from during our enquiry. Using public land as a subsidy to build affordable housing was highlighted by many of those that gave evidence as a key part of the overall solution to building more affordable homes.

What became clear to us as we went on was that whilst of course we need to identify and put into use more publically owned land, it was perhaps a little surprising how much land already exists with planning permission which is not being used for development.

Whilst I can understand the difficulties that have been caused by the economic downturn and the credit squeeze being faced by commercial developers, it was the committees view that there should be an important role for the Welsh Government in working with local planning authorities, developers, lenders and housing associations to assess and record exactly the amount of such land and identify the reasons why it is not currently being utilised.

In terms of planning, this was one general issue that took up much of our time and evidence. In particular many of those who gave evidence identified specific issues around the current operation of Section 106 agreements. The government needs to look at this, in particular where the conditions of occupancy for Section 106 properties is causing some lenders a reluctance to offer credit.

I would also encourage the Minister to look at the way Section 106 agreement work in regard to enforcement. A recent investigation I did highlighted that the amount outstanding from Section 106 agreements with private developers to Wrexham Council was nearly £450,000.

In these straightened economic times it is vital the Council is able to collect the money it is legally entitled to receive. Much of this type of funding stream is used for the infrastructure around affordable housing such as new roads or children’s play areas and I would ask that the Welsh Government help councils collect what outstanding monies are owed and that if interest payments are due, these are paid in full too. The Minister may need to review the guidance on Section 106 agreements in order that they encourage more development and lending and aid the construction of more affordable homes.

Finally, on the issue of empty homes, I think we all now recognise that this is an area that needs to be a greater part of the solution to our affordable housing supply problems. Shelter Cymru have said that there may be as many as 24,000 empty properties in the private sector alone with the Welsh Tenants Federation in their evidence to us highlighting the empty local authority properties that exist and the problems councils have encountered in accessing finance to refurbish this stock.

I know from my own discussions and correspondence with the Minister that this is an issue already high on his agenda and I welcome the £5million extra he has already announced for local authorities to develop a new loan scheme to help owners bring properties back into use. I would encourage him to look at my own local authority in Wrexham which has a good record of bringing empty home back into use and using this as a model of best practice for other authorities across Wales to follow.

I sympathise with the Minister – it is an important and not least, ambitious, task that he has set himself! As a committee we have hopefully set out in our report some of the practical steps that he and the Welsh Government can take to improve the supply of affordable homes, but we do recognise that there is no silver bullet.

The solution can only come through a range of coordinated measures across the board and I look forward to monitoring the Welsh Governments progress in this area over the next few years.

By Ken Skates AM / Latest News / 0 Comments

CLWYD SOUTH AM KEN SKATES joined Welsh Health Minister Lesley Griffiths on the Senedd steps on Tuesday to help kick-off Work Out At Work Day 2012.

Organised by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, Workout at Work Day on June 19th was created to encourage people to be more physically active in order to combat stress and avoid musculoskeletal disorders, like back pain.

The two North East Wales AMs started the days events with a pre-work walk around Cardiff Bay at 7.30am.

As part of the event the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) published a new report which revealed that office workers in Wales are putting their mental and physical health at risk by working more than two hours extra each night at home.

CLWYD SOUTH AM KEN SKATES said:

“I’m delighted to help kick off Work Out At Work Day 2012 and encourage everyone to improve their physical activity in the workplace. As an employer I have an important responsibility to make sure my staff stay fit and healthy at work and avoid unnecessary injury.

“It’s actually quite easy to build more exercise into the daily work routine and become more active. It can significantly improve mental as well as physical health and I’m delighted to take part in the range of events organised this year.

“As the survey conducted by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy shows, the increased levels of work being done at home or on a mobile device is impacting on people’s overall health. We need to take more responsibility for our own health and events like these will certainly help.”

PHILLIPA FORD, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy policy officer for Wales, said:

“A happy, healthy workforce is a productive one and it is very important that employers ensure they do what they can to look after the wellbeing of their staff.

“Sickness absence can be devastating for the individual and very expensive for employers and society at large so encouraging better working habits is in everyone’s interest.

“Workout at Work Day is a great opportunity to demonstrate the easy, low-cost ways people can be more physically active on a daily basis and hopefully act as a launchpad for healthier lifestyles.”

Office workers in Wales are putting their mental and physical health at risk by working more than two hours extra each night at home, a new survey for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) reveals.

Nearly two thirds (64 per cent) of office workers polled in Wales for the CSP said they continued working on smartphones and other devices after they left the office, and spent an average of two hours 42 minutes doing so.

These stints came on top of an average of six hours 27 minutes in front of a screen in the office during their regular working day.

The UK averages were two hours 18 minutes of work at home after six hours 22 minutes in front of a screen in the office.

On Workout at Work Day about 300 physiotherapists will go into workplaces across the UK to demonstrate easy, low-cost ways for employers to help their staff lead healthier lives.

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Notes for Editors:

The survey of office workers in Wales also revealed:

• 53 per cent of office workers said their out of hours working had increased in the past two years, but of these people just 13 per cent said their boss was trying to do anything about it.

• The main reasons cited for doing extra work were to ‘ease the pressure of the working day’ (32 per cent) and ‘want to keep up to date 24/7’ (32 per cent), and ‘too much work to do’ (33 per cent).

• 37 per cent of people surveyed said additional work at home helped reduce their overall stress levels

• A worrying 26 per cent want their boss to offer counselling services for stress.

Physiotherapists are concerned that ‘over working’ is storing up both physical and mental health problems for the future – particularly since 66 per cent of those surveyed reported suffering job-related ill health such as headaches and back pain.

The CSP warned that poor posture when using smartphones and other mobile devices – which many people do their additional work on – can lead to back and neck pain.

Fewer than one in four people told the survey that they considered their posture when looking at screens outside of work. Long hours can also contribute to stress-related illness.

The CSP hopes employers will become more aware of the need to keep their staff healthy, and will use Workout at Work Day to encourage better working habits among staff. Simple low cost measures include:

• Encouraging staff to report any concerns about their health at an early stage

• Encouraging staff to take regular breaks and be physically active during lunchtimes

• Displaying leaflets and posters promoting good posture, health advice and activities for staff

• Arranging and supporting activities that help staff to get active, like lunchtime walking clubs

• Creating links with local gyms and clubs

• Implementing a Cycle to Work scheme and taking advantage of a tax exemption enabling you to loan to staff cycles and cycling equipment as a tax-free benefit

• Encouraging active travel to and from work e.g. cycling, walking and running

• Encouraging workstation assessments to reduce and treat musculoskeletal disorders.

Access to physiotherapy, fitness classes and ergonomically-designed chairs were three services that many workers in the survey said they would like their employer to pay for.

The CSP has produced a new free leaflet in association with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development called ‘Under Pressure’. This looks at the link between physical activity and mental wellbeing, with advice on staying happy and healthy at work.

For more information about Workout at Work Day or to access free leaflets with advice on staying fit for work, visit http://www.csp.org.uk/wowd The Twitter hashtag for the day is #workoutatwork

By Ken Skates AM / Latest News / 0 Comments

AM makes carers week call

LABOUR AM KEN SKATES today paid tribute to carers across North East Wales who look after an ill, frail or disabled loved one.

This week is Carers Week which aims to highlight the vital contribution made by carers to their families and their communities.

The theme for the week is ‘In Sickness and in Health’ which focuses on the need for greater support for unpaid carers to help them continue in their caring role without facing ill health, stress or financial worry.

Research done by charities for Carers Week, show two in five unpaid carers put off medical treatment because of the demands of their role.

LABOUR’S KEN SKATES said:

“Caring for a loved one can be mentally and physically exhausting and place a burden financially and on family relationships.

“Carers provide a vital role in our communities and it’s imperative we recognise their contribution and encourage employers, organisations and staff to support them as much as possible.

“We need to support carers and all the work they do. Research has shown that often carers sacrifice their own health to look after a loved one with two in five carers putting off medical treatment because of the demand of their role.

“We need a more sustainable social care sector and the Welsh Government is currently looking at major reforms in this area. It’s wrong that carers sometimes don’t get the support they need especially as they contribute so much to our communities.”

Carers Week is run by a group of eight charities including Age UK, Carers Trust, Carers UK, Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, MS Society and Parkinson’s UK.

Carers Week is organised by a partnership of eight national charities: Age UK, Carers Trust, Carers UK, Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, MS Society and Parkinson’s UK.

For more information about the events and activities taking place as part of Carers Week, visit www.carersweek.org.

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Editor’s Notes

• The Carers Week survey shows that 83% of carers suffered physical health problems associated with caring for an ill, frail or disabled family member or friend, with 36% sustaining an injury such as back pain. A total of 87% said caring had been detrimental to their mental health.

* Ken Skates has signed up to the below Statement of Opinion that was raised by Labour’s Mid and West Wales Assembly Member Rebecca Evans.

• This Assembly expresses its respect for the thousands of people in Wales who provide unpaid help, care and support to a relative or friend who, because of frailty, illness or disability, would not otherwise be able to manage;

• Notes that Carers Week, a partnership of national charities, takes place this year from 18th to 24th June; and

• Calls upon the Welsh Government to continue to support carers and ensure that they are signposted to support services, offered respite and get the advice and information they need to look after themselves and the people they care for.