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Author: Click on Wales

Sparking the flame of innovation

What will 2017 bring? It’ll be the year we trigger Article 50, marking the beginning of our exit from the EU; and Donald Trump will enter the Oval Office as the United States’ 45th president. These are things we know. But 2017 will also bring changes that many of us can’t even imagine. And whilst the bounds of these technological advancements are unknown, their impact on our lives is not. Earlier this month, I raised concerns with Welsh Economy Secretary Ken Skates that an estimated 700,000 jobs in Wales are at risk from being made defunct by automation. Human hands and – with the eruption of computers being able to learn for themselves – human brains, that are in danger of being replaced by machines and algorithms. This innovation is all part of what is commonly termed the ‘fourth industrial revolution’. Just as the first industrial revolution was marked by our ability to harness steam power; the second by our capacity to mass produce; and the third by the development of electronics and computers; this fourth industrial revolution is the combination of these digital technologies with pre-existing physical and biological systems. Machines are becoming embedded into every aspect of human life – our money, homes, factories, healthcare systems, workplaces and even bodies are becoming inextricably linked with automated systems. It is the speed at which these ‘cyber physical’ systems are...

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The maturing of the Welsh Assembly

The flurry of pre-Christmas fiscal activity in Wales will not much affect the fundamentals for public services for next year although there is some good news. Some of the longer-term implications may prove more significant. The Final Welsh Budget, tabled yesterday, more or less reflects the main decisions in the better-than-expected Draft Budget in October but is able to finance some new commitments by drawing on the larger than usual reserves (a hedge against uncertainty) as well as utilising the additional funding released through the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. The Autumn Statement added just £35.8m for day-to-day (resource) spending (0.26%) in 2017-18 and £442m for capital (8.7%) 2017-18 to 2020-21 to the Welsh Budget (1). The Final Welsh Budget primarily passes on the increased capital allocation over the next four years in the form of extra spending, including £53.4 million ‘to accelerate our commitment to 20,000 affordable homes’, £50 million for regeneration, £40 million for energy efficiency, £33 million for flood alleviation, £20 million for rural communities and £41.5m on health innovation and health estate (2). Some money has been reallocated from reserves for modest increases in a couple of areas of day-to-day (resource) spending for 2017-18, e.g. £10m for social services, £10m for support for high-street business ratepayers, and £6m for homelessness. It looks as though not all the social services money is new, some appears to have come from...

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Facing up to the Welsh public health challenge

Despite being a nation of only three million people, Wales faces a significant public health challenge. Levels of unhealthy behaviours here are worse than other UK countries, with around one in five smoking, four in ten drinking above the guidelines and nearly six in ten being classified as overweight or obese. We have made some strides in improving the health and wellbeing of the Welsh population. We are living longer and survival rates for cancer and stroke are on the rise.  But we also have serious health inequalities with the average life expectancy of a male living in the least deprived area being nine years longer than that of a male living in the most deprived. The figures are similar for females. Unhealthy lifestyles have a massive impact on the NHS in Wales – smoking costs £386 million every year, physical inactivity costs £51 million and the social and economic cost of alcohol and substance misuse is estimated to be around £2 billion each year. We are taking public health seriously.  Leading the way in public health legislation, Wales was the first country in the UK to ban smoking in public places and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is the first legislation in the world to place duties on public bodies to deliver the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The National Assembly for Wales is currently...

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A better city deal for future generations

If we’ve learned anything from the events of 2016, it’s that the things that governments do at all levels need to be better informed by and connected to people. We need to be asking ourselves what is the true impact of our big public investments? Has the money spent made a genuine, positive difference to the well-being of people and communities, or is it just another project with a set of shiny new buildings that soon lose their lustre, reflecting missed opportunities to improve the health and life chances of current and future generations. The reality is, in approaching these ventures we often have very little idea of the impact it will have or whether it will really improve people’s lives. With this in mind, the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal, a 20-year programme that involves ten local authorities in the south Wales region to improve public transport and economic growth is a valuable opportunity to make a transformational change to some of Wales’ most deprived communities. But there are a number of challenges in how we approach this. Whilst this deal provides a number of great opportunities for the area, care must be taken when slavishly following the overarching requirement as set by the UK Government; a five percent uplift in GVA (Gross Value Added). Pursuing prosperity in terms of GVA alone does not result in inclusive growth – certain sections of the public or certain geographical areas could benefit but there could be little change for those in greatest...

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Banning letting agency fees won’t solve our problems

Over the last four years the Private Rented Sector (PRS) has seen dramatic changes, and will continue to do so over the coming years. The PRS in Wales must answer to two governments, here in Wales where we have had the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 and the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2015, and in Westminster where we have had Stamp Duty changes (soon to be devolved), Mortgage Interest Tax changes and more stringent lending requirements imposed from the Bank of England. The PRS is, so far, withstanding the weight of recent legislation and taxation changes whilst continuing to improve quality and service standards, tenancy length with negligible change in rents – but only just. Wales is currently following a similar legislative path as Scotland whose landlords have also had to cope with the two-government phenomena.  Both Wales and Scotland have introduced mandatory registration and Scotland is ahead in the implementation of standardised contracts as these will be coming to Wales under the Renting Homes Act.  However, Wales has not yet gone as far as to ban letting agent fees paid by tenants. As such we have a unique opportunity to consider what might be the future of the PRS in Wales if we continue to push for these changes, by looking at our cousins in Scotland. Scotland banned fees in 2012 after a clarification to a law that had...

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