Brexit: Lamb exporter to EU making virtually nothing

One of Wales’ largest lamb exporters says the extra cost and paperwork of selling meat into the EU means it is making “virtually nothing”.

Meat processing plant Randall Parker Foods in Llanidloes, Powys, warned it may lose a third of its 150 workers unless new border controls change.

The company processes one million lambs a year, half of which are exported to the European Union.

The UK government said they are working to help exporters with the new rules.

Randall Parker Food’s general manager Dale Williams said the UK’s new post-Brexit trading relationship with the EU “means extra cost, tying someone up all day to do the paperwork for one vehicle”.

“If there’s multiple products it can take hours per product because we have to send the documents off to be verified before we can release the vehicle to go on its journey,” he said.

“As it stands today we’re operating for virtually nothing. We’re doing it for the sake of keeping the doors open at the moment.”

Some staff have already been furloughed and Mr Williams fears he could lose a third of his business “which will make the company seriously unviable”.

“If the export paperwork and documentation and controls either side of the border continue, I think we will have to make redundancies,” he said.

For importers there are big changes too – like Daniel Lambert, who imports wines from the EU for the company he runs in Bridgend.

He said it has taken him 20 days to get the declaration he needs so the wine producers he buys from can begin the process of sending over his purchases.

He was a supporter of the UK remaining in the EU, but said: “This isn’t about Brexit, this isn’t about a desire for the EU.

“This is about the UK government getting its act together and getting a system that is easy to use, that the layperson can look at, because otherwise you’re going to have to use customs brokers for everything and that’s just going to put unnecessary costs on by the import and export.

“It’s not good for the consumer, and it’s raising prices when they don’t need to rise.”

Mr Lambert added that his freight costs had nearly doubled because of the price importers have to pay for customs declarations.

Consignments of goods can also be delayed if other businesses using the same haulier have not produced the correct paperwork.

Mr Lambert said other problems at ports because of Covid-19 and stockpiling were exacerbating the situation, which he said was more than teething problems.

Farmers Fresh – a co-operative of 2,700 farmers which has a plant in Wrexham – has been exporting to the EU for 20 years.

Three-quarters of the one million sheep they process are for EU customers – and director Mike Gooding said trading with the EU was now like “being a salmon swimming up river”.

“It’s not helped because the rules and regulations are not clear and there is inconsistent interpretations of those rules,” he said.

Mr Gooding added there was strong demand for Welsh lamb in Europe but problems now are “a result of interfering with a system that was working fine and imposing on it a system that is not fit for purpose”.

He said that his company has looked at new markets around the world, but in most cases New Zealand is already exporting lamb there.

“Simply turning up and waving our flag and trying to establish our credentials is not a guaranteeing trade in other parts of the world,” Mr Gooding said.

“We are dealing with reams and reams of paperwork. The electronic systems, the databases need to be properly installed and properly defined.”

The UK Government acknowledged they are “aware of a small number of issues” since 1 January but added “overall businesses are adjusting well” to the new rules and said trade “continues to flow smoothly”.

“Our agri-food industry is vital, and we want to help businesses take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead,” the UK Government spokesperson said.

“We are working closely with exporters to help them understand the new requirements.”

Stormont: BT ran rings around NI civil servants over contracts

Officials at the Department of Finance displayed “a culture of indifference” about protecting public money, a Stormont committee has said.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) investigated the department’s handling of online services contracts with BT.

It found that contract extensions increased payments to the company by more than £120m.

The department said additional sums paid to the telecoms giant were for additional services and projects.

It added that they all were individually assessed as being value for money.

The report suggested that BT “ran rings around civil servants”.

In June, an Audit Office report criticised Department of Finance civil servants for “poor strategic planning”.

The contracts related to online services – NI Direct and LandWeb – which were designed to bring “digital transformation” to the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

LandWeb is a site that provides professional bodies with online access to Land Registry records.

The PAC report said contract extensions meant the executive “increased its payments to BT by over £120m, more than double the original contracted values”.

Its members held the view that “when it came to protecting public money, there was a culture of indifference”.

“This was epitomised when the NIAO [Northern Ireland Audit Office] queried significant overruns on the contract and were met with a ‘so what?’ response,” it said.

“It was evident to the committee that Department of Finance staff involved with these contracts did not have the necessary commercial skills or experience to negotiate the best deal for citizens or to manage contracts.”

The committee identified that in the LandWeb project, the department did not secure open book accounting, meaning greater transparency on the part of BT.

Its report said that, as a result, the department had no idea what profits were being made by a supplier and was therefore “negotiating blindly”.

“Equally damning was the discovery that, in relation to the NI Direct contract, where open book accounting was secured, contract management procedures did not extend to routinely examining BT’s books.

“Therefore, Department of Finance had little idea of BT profit margins and the committee was concerned these could be large.”

Committee chair, DUP MLA William Humphrey, said members were “shocked at the inadequate negotiation and management of these two contracts”.

“One thing that really stood out for us was the number of times these contracts were rolled over, to the benefit of BT,” said Mr Humphrey.

“In the case of NI Direct, the department misunderstood the terms of the contract and was forced to extend it for three years as a result of failing to put alternative delivery mechanisms in place.”

In the Audit Office report, Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said he was “alarmed” mechanisms had not been put in place to secure better value for public money.

The Department of Finance said it was “committed to protecting the public purse and ensuring staff have the necessary commercial skills to manage contracts and negotiate the best deal for citizens”.

The BT contract funded a contact centre, developed 13 major applications, two major consultancy contracts and had cross-cutting applications across various central government departments, it said.

Work is already under way on implementing the PAC recommendations, which covers historical contracts dating back to 1999 and 2012.

The PAC report acknowledged the progress the department had made, including more effective management of contract expiry dates, expenditure levels and a reduction in the number of direct-award contracts.

The department added: “The £120m figure cited by the PAC does not take account of the effect of inflation, especially on the LandWeb contract.

“The estimated value of the contract for the core LandWeb services in 1999 prices was £46m and the cost to date of those services, when adjusted to 1999 prices, is just under £45m.”

A BT spokesperson said the reports recognised significant progress made in digitising Northern Ireland’s public services and the successful delivery of the LandWeb system.

They said: “On NI Direct, BT is proud of its record in delivering more than 35 new digitised services and processing 22 million digital transactions – more than double the original targets.

“Despite the increased costs from additional services BT was asked to provide, independent consultants concluded that contract costs were below market average and within market range.”

Stormont: Culture of indifference shown over public money

Officials at the Department of Finance displayed “a culture of indifference” about protecting public money, a Stormont committee has said.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) investigated the department’s handling of online services contracts with BT.

It found that contract extensions increased payments to the company by more than £120m.

The department said additional sums paid to the telecoms giant were for additional services and projects.

It added that they all were individually assessed as being value for money.

In June, an Audit Office report criticised Department of Finance civil servants for “poor strategic planning”.

The contracts related to online services – NI Direct and LandWeb – which were designed to bring “digital transformation” to the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

LandWeb is a site that provides professional bodies with online access to Land Registry records.

The PAC report said contract extensions meant the executive “increased its payments to BT by over £120m, more than double the original contracted values”.

Its members held the view that “when it came to protecting public money, there was a culture of indifference”.

“This was epitomised when the NIAO [Northern Ireland Audit Office] queried significant overruns on the contract and were met with a ‘so what?’ response,” it said.

“It was evident to the committee that Department of Finance staff involved with these contracts did not have the necessary commercial skills or experience to negotiate the best deal for citizens or to manage contracts.”

The committee identified that in the LandWeb project, the department did not secure open book accounting, meaning greater transparency on the part of BT.

Its report said that, as a result, the department had no idea what profits were being made by a supplier and was therefore “negotiating blindly”.

“Equally damning was the discovery that, in relation to the NI Direct contract, where open book accounting was secured, contract management procedures did not extend to routinely examining BT’s books.

“Therefore, Department of Finance had little idea of BT profit margins and the committee was concerned these could be large.”

The report suggested that BT “ran rings around civil servants”.

Committee chair, DUP MLA William Humphrey, said members were “shocked at the inadequate negotiation and management of these two contracts”.

“One thing that really stood out for us was the number of times these contracts were rolled over, to the benefit of BT,” said Mr Humphrey.

“In the case of NI Direct, the department misunderstood the terms of the contract and was forced to extend it for three years as a result of failing to put alternative delivery mechanisms in place.”

In the Audit Office report, Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said he was “alarmed” mechanisms had not been put in place to secure better value for public money.

The Department of Finance said it was “committed to protecting the public purse and ensuring staff have the necessary commercial skills to manage contracts and negotiate the best deal for citizens”.

The BT contract funded a contact centre, developed 13 major applications, two major consultancy contracts and had cross-cutting applications across various central government departments, it said.

Work is already under way on implementing the PAC recommendations, which covers historical contracts dating back to 1999 and 2012.

The PAC report acknowledged the progress the department had made, including more effective management of contract expiry dates, expenditure levels and a reduction in the number of direct-award contracts.

The department added: “The £120m figure cited by the PAC does not take account of the effect of inflation, especially on the LandWeb contract.

“The estimated value of the contract for the core LandWeb services in 1999 prices was £46m and the cost to date of those services, when adjusted to 1999 prices, is just under £45m.”

A BT spokesperson said the reports recognised significant progress made in digitising Northern Ireland’s public services and the successful delivery of the LandWeb system.

They said: “On NI Direct, BT is proud of its record in delivering more than 35 new digitised services and processing 22 million digital transactions – more than double the original targets.

“Despite the increased costs from additional services BT was asked to provide, independent consultants concluded that contract costs were below market average and within market range.”

Universities degree not the only route to success

Education and training for young people in England after the age of 16 is to be overhauled to ensure employers get the skilled workforce they need.

Ministers are setting out plans to improve vocational education, saying it is an “illusion” that degrees are the only route to success.

They say funding will be targeted at training relevant to the labour market.

But groups representing the further education (FE) sector say colleges must be properly funded to deliver.

The Department for Education (DfE) also launched its consultation on “post-qualification admissions” on Thursday, which could change the application system so that students receive university offers after they have their A-level results.

Publishing its Skills for Jobs White Paper, the DfE said it wanted to “put an end to the illusion that a degree is the only route to success and a good job and that further and technical education is the second-class option”.

A white paper is a policy document produced by the government to set out their proposals for future legislation.

The measures put forward include:

In December, the government announced that tens of thousands of adults without an A-level or equivalent would be able to benefit from nearly 400 fully-funded courses from April.

It was the first major development in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee (LSG) scheme, which was launched in September.

Mr Johnson said it would mean “everyone will be given the chance to get the skills they need, right from the very start of their career”.

“In the years ahead, the reforms we have announced today will deliver high-quality technical education across the country – and help people retrain and secure better paid jobs,” said the prime minister.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “These reforms are at the heart of our plans to build back better, ensuring all technical education and training is based on what employers want and need, whilst providing individuals with the training they need to get a well-paid and secure job.”

British Chamber of Commerce director general Adam Marshall said: “We welcome these ambitious plans to put the skills needs of businesses at the heart of the further education system.

“As local business leaders look to rebuild their firms and communities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it is essential to ensure that the right skills and training provision is in place to support growth.”

But organisations representing school and college leaders warned that funding to the FE sector needed to be raised to help deliver the proposals.

In November, an the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said FE colleges and sixth forms faced significant financial uncertainty.

Chief executive of the Association of Colleges, David Hughes said: “Colleges have been calling for this, after years of being overlooked and underutilised, but government has to not only recognise the vital college role, it also needs to increase funding.

“Colleges have shown during the pandemic that they are the vehicle to transforming lives, and supporting communities and employers, and we need the spending review this year to invest more in them.”

Head of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, said: “We continue to be concerned about the severe underfunding of the post-16 sector, which plays such a vital role in delivering the technical and vocational education that the government says it is so keen to boost, as well as academic routes which are also of the utmost importance.”

David Robinson, director of post-16 and skills at the Education Policy Institute, said: “The government is right to place further education and skills at the heart of its post-Covid recovery strategy, but for these ambitions to be realised, its plans must be backed up with sufficient levels of funding.

“A more enduring financial settlement will help to ensure that it can deliver genuine quality throughout the further education sector and offer support to those young people and adults pursuing these pathways – including support with maintenance costs.”

Covid: Priti Patel urged to explain border security stance

Home Secretary Priti Patel should explain the UK’s coronavirus border policy to MPs, Labour has said.

It came after Ms Patel said the borders should have been closed in March 2020 to slow the virus.

The UK did not impose a ban or quarantine restrictions on travellers arriving into the UK from abroad between mid-March and June.

Asked about her comments, Boris Johnson said the UK had “instituted one of the toughest border regimes in the world”.

He also accused Labour of “looking backwards, playing politics and sniping from the side-lines”.

However in a letter to Ms Patel, Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds expressed concern that “the government’s chaotic border policy led to vital opportunities to stop the spread of the virus being missed.”

“Conservative incompetence meant ministers were too slow to take action on securing our borders against Covid and have failed to enact a clear strategy throughout this crisis, including on border testing.”

He called on the home secretary to urgently update the House of Commons “on what has been learned from these critical mistakes”.

In video obtained by the Guido Fawkes website, Ms Patel told a meeting of the Conservative Friends of India group on Tuesday night that she had been “an advocate of closing them [the borders] last March”.

Quarantine rules were introduced in June for all arrivals to the UK and in July “travel corridors” were introduced exempting travellers from certain countries from having to quarantine.

A report from the Home Affairs Committee of MPs previously described the failure to implement border measures earlier in the pandemic as “a serious mistake”.

At the time, the Home Office insisted all government decisions had been “been guided by the science, with appropriate measures introduced at the right time to keep us all safe”.

Asked about Ms Patel’s comments on the call, a Home Office spokesman said: “We have strong measures at the border in place which are vital as we roll out the vaccine.”

Troubles pension: Stormont must not play games

Stormont’s Finance Department must not “play games” over the funding of a pension scheme for Troubles’ victims, the NI secretary has said.

Stormont and Westminster have been involved in a long-running row about how payments should be funded.

Executive ministers argue that as the scheme was passed by Westminster, it should produce the funding.

But Brandon Lewis warned against called “red herrings”, insisting it had to come from Stormont’s block grant.

The block grant is the amount of money given to the executive by the Treasury each year.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Lewis said: “We must make sure progress is not diverted – this is a devolved matter and devolved matters are funded by the block grant.

“The Department of Finance and NI Executive also needs to step forward and get the Independent Fiscal Council (IFC) organised to provide advice and the scrutiny and to help them on these kinds of budgetary matters.”

He said there was a “moral and ethical duty” to ensure victims could access the scheme as quickly as possible.

“The Department of Finance need to ensure they do not play games with victims and their pensions and ensure money is made available to the Department of Justice to get on with delivering the programme,” he added.

Stormont Justice Minister Naomi Long said Mr Lewis’s comment was “disappointing and disingenuous”.

The Victims’ Payment Scheme was set up to offer money to people who were badly injured during the Troubles, with payments of between £2,000 and £10,000 a year for the rest of their lives.

Upon their death a spouse or carer will get the payments for a further 10 years.

The scheme is a recognition that criminal injuries awards from decades ago were largely inadequate.

Applications for the process are expected to open in March and the scheme has previously been estimated to cost up to £800m.

Read more: What’s the trouble with the Troubles pension?

Speaking later on Wednesday in the House of Lords, Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey described the stalemate as “intolerable”.

He said the UK government had a responsibility to ensure the pension was paid on time to victims.

Other Northern Ireland peers – Lord Dodds of the DUP and Baroness Ritchie of the SDLP – also raised their concerns about the delay in resolving the funding dispute.

Speaking on BBC Radio Foyle’s News At One programme, Baroness O’Loan – a former Police Ombudsman for NI – accused the UK government of a “dereliction of duty”.

“This is not a huge ask for the UK government in terms of the national economy but it is a burden the NI budget cannot meet,” she said.

“A solution is really required now, and that solution must be that the British government accepts that it is responsible for paying these payments.”

The scheme has been delayed by the row about how it should be funded, prompting criticism and legal actions from Troubles victims and their representatives.

On Tuesday the victims’ group the Wave Trauma Centre said it was “outraged” by the dispute between Stormont and Westminster.

Alan McBride from the group said victims had been treated “disgracefully” due to a “long, long road of delay and deny” by politicians.

Last year a judge ruled that Stormont’s Executive Office was acting unlawfully in delaying the introduction of the scheme.

The judge said it was deliberately stymieing the commencement of payouts in order to pressurise the government into funding it.

The ruling came after legal challenges by two victims – Jennifer McNern, who lost both legs in an IRA bomb attack in 1972; and Brian Turley, one of the so-called Hooded Men detained and subjected to special interrogation methods by the British military in the 1970s.

Covid: Close courts in England and Wales or face strikes, union warns

A union has warned of industrial action unless courts in England and Wales close while improvements are made to staff coronavirus safety.

The PCS said “escalating” infection numbers were putting workers at “unnecessary risk”.

Cases could be dealt with virtually for the time being, it argued.

But the Ministry of Justice said it was “simply untrue” to suggest people attending courts or tribunals were at “elevated risk”.

A spokesperson added that it was “clear that justice must continue to be done”.

The PCS’s demand for court closures comes amid a growing backlog of cases in England and Wales due to the pandemic.

In the crown courts, 54,000 cases have yet to be heard, with the inspectorates for policing, prisons, probation and prosecutions expressing “grave concerns” about the impact on criminal justice.

But the PCS – which represents ushers, security staff and Crown Prosecution Service employees – said 600 Covid cases had been confirmed on the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) estate since 24 November.

It called for lateral flow testing at every court and for every prisoner attending hearings.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It is obvious that Covid cases are at unacceptable levels and HMCTS staff are being put at unnecessary risk while courts remain open.”

He added: “Our members do an invaluable job keeping the justice system going during this global pandemic but their safety is our union’s number one priority.

“The technology exists for crucial cases to be heard virtually and this is what now needs to happen.

“We are not ruling out industrial action if HMCTS management fail to act.”

A source told the BBC there was a “strong likelihood court staff would be balloted for strike action” unless the situation changed.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors, agreed with the PCS.

Chief executive David Greene said closing courts appeared to conflict with “the imperative to mitigate” the growing backlog of cases, but argued there was “almost certain to be a significant loss of capacity due to court closures following outbreaks of coronavirus, and due to staff, lawyers, judiciary and parties falling sick”.

“We believe the measures we propose represent the least bad option for ensuring that courts can continue to operate safely,” he added.

Government coronavirus guidelines state that fulfilling a legal duty – such as attending court as a duty lawyer or jury member – is a reasonable excuse for leaving home.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Throughout this pandemic the government has been clear that justice must continue to be done.”

Every building the department operated met government Covid guidelines, which remained “sufficient to deal with the new strain of the virus”.

“Positive test numbers are consistent with the wider community and it’s likely that the vast majority contracted the virus outside courts,” the spokesperson said

“It is simply untrue to suggest people are at an elevated risk of infection when at a court or tribunal.”

During the first lockdown, which started in March last year, fewer than half of the courts in England and Wales were kept open, contributing to the current backlog.

Boris Johnson expects rules to be kept to amid Senedd alcohol row

The prime minister expects everybody “no matter their position” to follow Covid rules, his spokeswoman said after Conservative Welsh politicians were seen drinking during a pub alcohol ban.

Welsh Tory leader Paul Davies, Darren Millar and Labour’s Alun Davies have apologised for drinking in the Welsh Parliament days after the ban came into force. They deny breaking rules.

A fourth Senedd Member Nick Ramsay has denied being a part of the gathering.

Senedd authorities are investigating.

On 8 December, a group of Members of the Senedd and staff drank alcohol in the Ty Hywel building in Cardiff Bay, that houses the Senedd’s offices.

A ban on the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol in licensed premises came into force in Wales at 18:00 GMT on 4 December – four days before the politicians were seen drinking together – although hospitality businesses can sell alcohol to take away after 18:00.

Speaking at a journalists’ lobby briefing Allegra Stratton, Boris Johnson’s press secretary, said she had not spoken to the prime minister about whether Welsh Conservative Senedd leader Paul Davies should remain in post.

But she added: “More broadly, the prime minister needs everybody – no matter their status, no matter their position in life – to be going above and beyond in following the rules on Covid.”

The former chairman of a Westminster standards watchdog questioned whether the three involved should be put up for election at the next Welsh Parliament polls on 6 May.

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life said if the allegations were proven “then both parties are bound to ask questions” ahead of the election.

“Do they want such people, who have shown such a lack of leadership, standing for election?,” he said.

He told BBC Radio Wales: “I think it’s very serious, poor behaviour by a group of politicians who we expect to give a lead about the spirit of the rules never mind the precise detail.”

He said the action by the Labour Party – to suspend Alun Davies – was appropriate and the Conservatives “should have done the same”.

Mr Ramsay was deselected by his local Conservative group last month after 13 years.

A statement from his solicitor, Tim Gir, said Mr Ramsay was at the tea room on his own at the Senedd, without an invitation from anyone else, after work.

“He was hungry and he wanted to get something to eat. He was working on an article for the Argus [newspaper]. He sat on his own and was socially distanced,” said Mr Gir.

“He attended the tea room at approximately 6pm. He had a chicken curry. He left at about 8pm. Others came in whilst he was there but it was not a ‘gathering’ Mr Ramsay was part of.”

On Wednesday afternoon the health minister said the “last thing” that should happen at the end of an investigation was that “it’s only staff who essentially get thrown under the bus, everyone needs to look what they’ve done”.

At a press conference, Vaughan Gething refused to be drawn on whether the Tory members should stand down or be suspended.

But he said the Labour group’s decision to suspend Alun Davies “was the right thing” to do.

He said he himself had been subject of press stories “where some people made comments, without wanting to understand the facts or not being interested in them so I don’t think I should then lay in on an issue like this”.

But, he added: “Any sense of people not all being in this together, isn’t helpful in terms of message that we all need to follow.”

A senior Conservative source has told BBC Wales they were “totally flabbergasted” that the party Senedd members involved have not stood down pending the investigation.

“There’s a lot of anger and I don’t know how they can continue,” the source added.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to in the party is just completely baffled by this.

“This is a complete own goal.”

David Fouweather, a Conservative councillor in Newport, said the Tories involved should “stand aside and go”.

One senior Conservative grassroots official who contacted BBC Wales said: “I’m furious. The party messaging is trying to break up the Cardiff Bay cartel and they’re having nice drinks with Alun Davies who, let’s not forget, has been really vicious in public against us.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of Conservatives and they’re not happy at all.

“Nobody is going to put their head on the line for Paul Davies. I’ll be very surprised if he continues to the end of the week.”

The official also referred to Mr Millar’s call at the start of the pandemic for the first minister to sack Health Minister Vaughan Gething over claims he broke Covid rules at the time when he sat and ate chips while on a walk with his family.

The grassroots activist said: “Darren Millar talking about Vaughan Gething having his chips – well, what on earth is he doing?”

Another Conservative councillor said: “Paul’s position as leader is now untenable, especially when you consider the strain that hardworking people are under.”

A senior Welsh Government minister also joined calls for the Conservative Party to take action of its own.

Eluned Morgan, mental health minister, said she had written to the party asking it suspend those involved while “investigations continue into this alleged incident”.

Labour has suspended Alun Davies from the party’s Senedd group pending an investigation.

Plaid Cymru MS Rhun ap Iorwerth said politicians failed to set “the best example that’s something that should be regretted by all of us”.

“I want to be taking about how we can push government to deliver better in its response to this pandemic,” he said.

“It’s a matter of concern to me that distractions like this move the focus from where it should be and where you then have questions about the role of political leaders – and I count all of us, whether in government or in opposition, in that bracket.”

Catering company Charlton House has the licence for serving alcohol on Senedd premises.

The Welsh Government confirmed the alcohol ban applied to the person running the licensed premises, rather than customers.

Charlton House said it was “aware of an alleged breach of public health regulations at the Senedd estate” and took its “responsibilities and obligations to restrictions and public health regulations across the UK very seriously”.

“We are currently undertaking a full investigation into this matter,” the firm added.

Wales’ chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton said it was “important that everybody follows the rules”.

“I don’t know the details of what may or may not have happened down there, I’m sure that will come out in the fullness of time,” he told BBC Wales Live on Tuesday.

A statement on behalf of Paul Davies, Darren Millar and Welsh Conservative chief of staff Paul Smith, who was also at the meeting, said they were “profoundly sorry”.

“While we did not break the rules, we recognise that what was part of a day’s work would not be seen to be following the spirit of them, especially given the tough time the country has been going through,” the statement said.

A spokesman for the Senedd Labour Group said a member had been suspended from the group “while an investigation takes place into this alleged incident”.

In his statement, Labour’s Alun Davies said: “I am very sorry if my actions have given the impression that I am in any way not committed to upholding the regulations which I have consistently supported throughout the last year.”

He said the purpose of the meeting “was to seek to persuade the Welsh Conservatives to support my proposal for a Welsh Hearts Bill, which the Senedd endorsed on 21 October, and to make a commitment to enact this life-saving legislation in their manifesto for May’s election”.

Alun Davies added: “The Senedd Commission has already confirmed to me that I did not breach the coronavirus regulations on the consumption of either food or alcohol that were in force at that time.”

A spokesman for the Senedd Commission said: “We are aware of an incident on the Senedd estate last month which may have been contrary to public health regulations in force at the time.

“The Senedd Commission takes the public health regulations in Wales very seriously and is currently investigating the matter in order to establish an accurate account of what took place and to determine whether action may be required.”

Police records: Boris Johnson doesnt know impact of deleted files

The government does not know how many cases might be affected by hundreds of thousands of police records being accidentally wiped, the PM has said.

Boris Johnson told the House of Commons the police were working “round the clock” to rectify the error.

Around 400,000 fingerprint, DNA and arrest records were deleted from the police database.

Earlier, Home Secretary Priti Patel said it was not yet known whether any of the data had been permanently lost.

Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said: “The Home Office is actively working to assess the damage and… they believe that they will be able to rectify the results of this complex incident and they hope very much that they’ll be able to restore the data in question.”

Asked by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer how many convicted criminals had had their records wrongly deleted, Mr Johnson said: “We don’t know how many cases might be frustrated as a result of what has happened.”

He added: “Of course it is outrageous that any data should have been lost.”

Last week it was revealed that the information was wiped from the Police National Computer (PNC) – which stores and shares criminal records information across the UK – after being inadvertently flagged for deletion.

The PNC is used in police investigations and provides real-time checks on people, vehicles and crimes, as well as whether suspects are wanted for any unsolved offences.

An estimated 213,000 offence records, 175,000 arrest records and 15,000 records on people were potentially incorrectly deleted as a result of a defective code.

Ms Patel, who has launched an internal investigation, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that criminals would not get away with serious crimes as a result of the error.

“It is not about serious criminals getting away with anything. Multiple records are held on the same individuals on the same crimes on other profiling systems as well.”

She told the BBC that officials could be instructed to re-submit the entries manually.

“I’m also clear with Home Office engineers and technicians that if we have to do manual uploads from other systems, that is effectively what we will do and that will potentially take time, but that is another option for us right now.

“We will absolutely provide updates once we know what has happened in terms of retrieving data. This will take time because it is a coding error.”

The Home Office previously said that the faulty script was introduced in November 2020, but it did not run until earlier this month when the error within it immediately became apparent.

Police records: Cases affected by deleted data not known – PM

The government does not know how many cases might be affected by hundreds of thousands of police records being accidentally wiped, the PM has said.

Boris Johnson told the House of Commons the police were working “round the clock” to retrieve the data.

Around 400,000 fingerprint, DNA and arrest records were deleted from the police database.

Earlier, Home Secretary Priti Patel said it was not yet known whether any of the data had been permanently lost.

Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said: “The Home Office is actively working to assess the damage and… they believe that they will be able to rectify the results of this complex incident and they hope very much that they’ll be able to restore the data in question.”

Asked by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer how many convicted criminals had had their records wrongly deleted, Mr Johnson said: “We don’t know how many cases might be frustrated as a result of what has happened.”

He added: “Of course it is outrageous that any data should have been lost.”

Last week it was revealed that the information was wiped from the Police National Computer (PNC) – which stores and shares criminal records information across the UK – after being inadvertently flagged for deletion.

The PNC is used in police investigations and provides real-time checks on people, vehicles and crimes, as well as whether suspects are wanted for any unsolved offences.