Leena Sarah Farhat – Welsh Liberal Democrats – Clwyd South
All views on this page are from the candidate unedited.
1 – Aside from Covid and Covid recovery, what do you feel is the top issue for this constituency in the forthcoming parliament term, and briefly explain how you would like to see your desired outcome achieved?
After the few years we have had, it is difficult to pick just one. The way I see it, the next Welsh Government needs to take a trauma approach to mental health. Welsh Labour appointed a mental health minister during the pandemic and we are calling for one full time. We need to ensure that we have a 24/7 mental health crisis care system, improved access and choice in psychological therapies and reduced waiting times for services. We need to fight for long term investment in services that can help prevent the need for crisis care, promote better wellbeing and reduce spending in other areas in the long-term.
Young people have it especially tough at the moment and in addition to an increased focus in schools on health and wellbeing which Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Lib Dem Education Minister, has delivered in the new curriculum for Wales, we are pledging to provide an active offer of advocacy to support young people to get the care they need.
2 – What is your plan for helping residents and businesses in your constituency in the coming years to recover from the pandemic?
Welsh Liberal Democrats are standing on a platform to create a package of investment of £1bn per year to fight the climate emergency, create new jobs and stability for supply chains and businesses, and to invest in new technology. That is a big task but I believe this could be a game changer for Clwyd South. We are home to a range of industries yet we have scope to broaden our reach. We need someone who has not been stuck in Cardiff since 2016 but someone who has taken the time to know what life is like day to day in Clwyd South. I have worked in the area through the pandemic and have the drive to attract more jobs to the area as well as use strong Liberal policies and problem solving skills to create more jobs, working with businesses to do so.
We will abolish business rates and replace them with the much fairer alternative of land value taxation. As a party we know we are the party of small businesses and have a dedicated manifesto for them to gain insight into our radical ideas for recovery in Clwyd South (https://www.welshlibdems.wales/business-manifesto).
3 – The pandemic has highlighted to many for the first time the powers that the Senedd have under devolution. How has the pandemic changed your views of devolution?
I have always been strongly in favour of devolution and believe we need to devolve even more and increase the size of our Senedd to properly serve Wales. It has been really heart-warming to talk to people and hear about how they know who the first minister is now and I do believe we need to ensure that we are treated well as a nation part of this United Kingdom.
I know many people worry about the current Conservative government in Westminster overriding the actions we take here in Wales which, quite rightly, are in the interests of those who live here. We need to make sure that the next Welsh Government not only defends devolution but expands it to create a government that serves and reflects those living here in North East Wales. For too long many have felt a disconnect with what happens here in Clwyd South and what people do in Cardiff Bay, I want to ensure that people feel that they are well represented with an approachable Senedd member who understands their issues and knows how to create the right solutions.
4 – What would you have done differently on the Welsh covid response?
Overall, I think that the Welsh Government’s Covid response was much better than that of Westminster and I do appreciate that hindsight is a powerful thing. That being said, there are two main issues with the covid response taken by Welsh Labour. Firstly, I think that the restrictions were too loose after the firebreak and had we been restricted to not going into homes we might have avoided the harsh conditions further on at what I feel would have been a small price to pay. Secondly, I would have ensured I was listening to various stakeholders during the processes of relaxing and tightening the restrictions. Many small businesses and freelancers lost out on funding and did not feel the restrictions were fair. Hospitality in particular has struggled during this time with many people paying the ultimate price of their jobs and livelihoods. The Welsh Government has a lot to answer for regarding this and I would have ensured that there remained an open and healthy line of communication with my affected constituents so I could take their worries to Cardiff Bay.
5 – Would you support legislation to hold an independence referendum for Wales? How would you vote in such a referendum and why?
I would not back legislation to hold an independence referendum at this time. Our nation has suffered so much heartache, an independence referendum would create further division at a time where we really do need to put recovery first and foremost. In the unlikely event a referendum was to be held, I would vote against independence at this time. I have yet to see any financial plans as to how Wales would be able to survive economically or how an independent Wales would be better than a federal United Kingdom. We do not need to divide people further, we need to work together to create the Wales and Clwyd South we want to see.
6 – What actions would you take, or support, as a MS to encourage Welsh language use growth? Or, if you are against this, why?
A near fluent Welsh speaker, I am an avid supporter of the Welsh language and have a strong history of work in Welsh as well as campaigning for more equality of the Welsh language. The Welsh Liberal Democrats support the target of more than a million Welsh speakers by 2050. If elected as your Senedd member, I would look to take a range of measures to ensure a thriving linguistic future for our language. I would fight to ensure the normalisation of the Welsh language in education including for life-long learning and in post-16 education. I would work tirelessly to support and enable the growth of rural, Welsh-speaking communities through a package of policies and funding. I would push to ensure that public services and health and care services are available to all users through the medium of Welsh, by providing improved workforce planning, access to training and funding. My background is in Language Technologies, where I help to make various technologies accessible in the Welsh Language and I have also helped teach STEM subjects through the medium of Welsh so I know, first hand, the value of our language.
7 – What does “climate emergency” mean to you, and why?
Globally, the clock is ticking on the future of our planet. Here in Wales we need to play our part to save it. As a Welsh Liberal Democrat I’ll do everything in my power to protect our planet for future generations and as a result stimulate our economic recovery. The Welsh Liberal Democrats will look to create a package of investment of £1bn per year to fight the climate emergency, creating new jobs, stability for supply chains and businesses, and investing in new technology. We would make every town in Wales a Tree Town, with every council preparing a long term Tree and Woodland Strategy to deliver and sustain a minimum of 20% tree cover in urban areas and 30% tree cover for all new developments. I would also push to increase tree cover on farms with payments under a Hedges and Edges Scheme, supporting climate-smart, nature-friendly farming.
8 – There can be a perception that politicians are too “South Wales focused” and can see a north south divide. Do you think this is the case, and realistically if elected which of your North Wales specific goals do you think you can deliver?
Having always lived outside of South Wales, I can understand that view. Most people don’t really know what happens in Cardiff Bay or how we are represented. We hear a lot about the projects in South Wales and I always feel that North Wales is having to play catch up on investment and opportunities, with both major parties focusing their plans around the M4. The Welsh Liberal Democrats will work for all of Wales, including the North. If elected, I will be challenging the Labour stasis in the Senedd as well as the Tory power grabs from Westminster. I will be putting forward legislation that can make an impact on people’s lives here, making sure that North Wales gets the jobs and investment we need and deserve. My priority will always be Clwyd South in honour of those who elected me and those who did not.
9 – What are your views on a LGBTQ+ plan for Wales?
It is no secret that LGBTQ+ people (myself included) face glaring inequality in Wales. The Welsh Liberal Democrats would wholeheartedly support a LGBTQ+ plan for Wales, we aim to build an open, inclusive nation free from any discrimination. We need to create a plan that works for Wales. Amongst a number of other policies we would pursue the devolution of criminal justice to Wales so that we can better prevent crime, support the victims of crime, and help people move forward with their lives. We would also look to ensure that action is taken against hate crime through measures dealing with workplace inequality, access to services, and data monitoring. Furthermore, we would protect the assumption of Gillick competence, that allows young people to access health services without the permission of parents around gender reassignment. We would equally set out a route-map to end new transmissions of HIV by 2030 and tackle stigma and discrimination. We are committed to taking every possible measure to create the inclusive society we want to see.
10 – Children and young people have missed almost a full year of regular education – what are your plans to make sure that children who have missed out on academic and social experiences are not left at a disadvantage in the next few years?
Having worked in the education sector in North East Wales through the pandemic, I know I am the candidate to put recovery first for our children and young people. A good education unlocks opportunities and empowers people to reach their potential. Our education system has faced enormous challenges through this pandemic, but it also offers us a chance to recover and build a fairer society. After the last year a lot must be done to make sure that young people can develop, access the opportunities they need and can thrive. We have a plan for Recovery in Education to do just this.
11 – Local services such as libraries, leisure centres and community centres have been badly affected in recent years due to lack of funding – how would you support local authorities?
We know our local authorities need funding and the Welsh Liberal Democrats will be here to redress the balance. We will institute legislation that requires local authorities to set council tax at the maximum possible level for all homes other than someone’s primary residence. We will close loopholes that allow people to designate second homes as businesses and ensure that they pay their way to support the communities locally. Furthermore, we will investigate changes to the funding of local government, including replacing Council Tax. We believe in a community approach and would want to see this funding invested in our community assets as we recover from this tough time.
12 – How would you resolve issues at the local health board that are emerging from special measures?
Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board was in Special Measures for over five years. We need to split this Health Board for the good of people across north Wales, particularly those in north east Wales. Too often people have to travel far to the Maelor or Glan Clwyd for check ups that could be done in community hospitals close to home. This entrenches the regional divide and I believe we can fix that. I welcome the news that Glyndwr University will be offering a return to nursing course starting this November which will help previously registered nurses prepare to return to the full register and bring more nurses to our Health Board. Wait times are often too long which is unhealthy for staff and patients. I will be looking to help fix the issues in our health system as well as pushing for a trauma approach to health.
13 – What are you planning to do to help those who are finding it hard to find work?
The Welsh Liberal Democrats would establish a Job Creation Premium, offsetting the initial costs of recruitment and training for businesses looking to grow. We would also pass an Economic Development Bill, providing long term stability to grow supply chains, strengthen the economy and invest in high-quality apprenticeships and training. We will deepen the connections between our colleges and universities to support research, innovation, and address skills shortages for ‘new’ jobs and technologies.
14 – Parts of Clwyd South were badly hit by flooding at the start of the year. On your Facebook page one of your pledges is to fight for better flooding infrastructure in the constituency. If elected, how would you deliver on this?
While a lot of flood defense funding is controlled by Westminster, there is a lot I could do in the Senedd. I would take action to protect our natural environment and biodiversity, which includes action on flooding. Moving financial support to a ‘public money for public benefit’ basis, with payments for gains in biodiversity and other ecosystem services such as flood prevention and carbon retention, is essential. I would also be fighting for Natural Resources Wales to be properly funded to carry out the work we need here in Clwyd South as well as pushing Westminster for flood defense funding to be properly used in North East Wales.
15 – A lack of bus services, a poor road network, a need for more active travel and an improved train service are some of the more contentious issues in the area. If elected what would you campaign for and deliver for your constituency?
Welsh Liberal Democrats want to make sure public transport works for everyone. We would want to implement free transport for young people up to 25 and to protect the concessionary bus pass for the next Senedd term. The fact that Welsh Labour has taken 5 years to even start work on the North Wales Metro is pitiful. We would ensure work was carried out to make our bus and train stations accessible and workable for users. We would also spend at least 10% of the transport budget on active travel, ensuring that local decision making prioritises safer and accessible walking and cycling, and provides support for all people to be able to access active travel with confidence.
16 – When Kirsty Williams joined the Welsh Labour led Cabinet she was accused of being ‘elastic in her principles’, is a vote for Welsh Liberal Democrats going to enable Welsh Labour again?
I don’t think that Kirsty Williams could ever be ‘elastic in her principles’. We did not enable Welsh Labour, we continued to hold them to account from a different position. It was the Welsh Liberal Democrats who delivered the curriculum for Wales, supported teachers and students and doubled the number of affordable homes. She was our sole representative and single handedly nurtured our education system here in Wales. I am proud of what she has accomplished, being one of the most recognizable and active ministers in this government. I challenge you to imagine what we could do with even more hardworking Welsh Liberal Democrats in our Senedd. I am exactly that.
17 – Welsh Liberal Democrats have called for a trial of a Universal Basic Income as part of ‘Putting Recovery First’ – Has the coronavirus pandemic changed the demand for such a measure and how would it be funded and implemented if your party receives a majority?
The pandemic has amplified the societal problems that already existed. UBI not only reduces inequalities and increases wellbeing, but it strengthens local economies. The Welsh Liberal Democrats would work with the UK Government to pilot a nation-wide Universal Basic Income, alongside reform to create a coherent ‘Welsh Benefits System’, bringing together existing funds and devolved benefits. We will seek further devolution of the benefits system to bring Wales into line with Scotland. We would also look to create a sovereign wealth fund where everyone has a share.
18 – If you change political allegiance from what you are currently seeking election for (eg. resigning from, or joining another party or group) will you trigger a by-election? If not, why not?
I do not think I could represent any other party except the Welsh Liberal Democrats but my position would be in the hands of my electors, my responsibility is to you. On that basis, yes, I would trigger a by-election and ensure a stable handover should that be necessary.
19 – At the time of writing where has the top three sources of funding for your campaign come from, and are there any funding sources you feel would be relevant to voters to know about?
My funding comes from individual donors and I am thankful for everything I get from them.
20 – In a few lines to wrap this up, why are you the best candidate compared to your competitors?
This election, we are at a societal crossroads. I am the radical, young and fresh option here in Clwyd South and I pledge never to lose track of my local area if you send me to the Senedd. I have a strong track-record of campaigning and am a skilled problem solver. There is a candidate here ready to challenge Labour’s complacency and Tory dishonesty. I will not push for a divisive referendum to abolish the Senedd or to proclaim independence, both of which would cripple our area. I am the candidate putting recovery first, getting everyone back on track and navigating the great people of Clwyd South out of this difficult time.