Monday, 2 January 2012

Senedd Watch - December 2011

I trust anyone reading this had a nice Christmas and New Year.

As you can see, I've given the blog a bit of a revamp - complete with cheesy new banner. Hopefully it's a bit more polished and easier on the eye now. I'm now also on Twitter which should make it easier to keep up to date with my latest posts if you are so inclined.

  • NHS boards in Wales are facing a £50million shortfall despite warnings from Health Minister Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham) that there will be no more "bail outs" in future. Conservative Health Spokesman Darren Millar (Con, Clwyd West) said that the Welsh NHS was in a "dire financial crisis". Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor) implied that poor performing health boards should use good practice from better performing ones.
  • The Auditor General has said that the system of grants administered by the Welsh Government – worth some £2billion a year – is "overly complex" and "rarely learns from mistakes". Darren Millar said "valuable lessons needed to be learned" and that "grants are not always the best vehicle to deliver support".
  • Education Minister Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda) unveiled the Welsh Government's scaled-back "21st Century Schools" programme of school building and modernisation. The total budget until 2015 will be £1.36billion to be spent on numerous projects throughout Wales – significantly less than the £4billion initially proposed by local authorities.
  • The Welsh Government's budget for 2012-2013 passed the Assembly on December 6th by 34 votes to 22, after Labour and the Liberal Democrats reached a deal in November, which will see extra spending on deprived pupils and energy efficiency schemes. Further negotiations between Labour and the Lib Dems are due for the possible Barnett consequentials related to the UK Government's Autumn statement which could see an extra £300million come to Wales.
  • The First Minister accused the UK Government of "financial chicanery" after Scotland received more as a result of the autumn statement compared to Wales. He also criticised the length of time it took to determine the consequentials.
  • School banding for secondary schools was unveiled by the Welsh Government. Schools were placed into five bands – 1 the best 5 the weakest – based on several statistics and factors, including social factors. Six local authorities in Wales failed to achieve a single secondary school in the top band.
  • Local Government & Communities Minister Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside), unveiled the prioritised National Transport Plan. The plan now focuses on improving east-west connectivity and reducing poverty. Opposition politicians have attacked the plan as lacking vision and a regurgitation of previously announced projects.
  • The First Minister wrote to UK Prime Minister David Cameron to criticise the PM's decision to walk away from a possible accord relating to the ongoing economic problems in the Eurozone. The First Minister also raised concerns that the decision could provide ammunition to the Scottish independence movement and lead to the break up of the United Kingdom. A joint letter from Carwyn Jones and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond was also sent to the Prime Minister expressing the concerns of both devolved administrations.
  • Unemployment in Wales rose by 11,000 over the three months to October 2011 to stand at 9.1%. The UK as a whole also saw a large rise of 128,000 to 8.3%.
  • A new Welsh Seal has been approved by the Queen for use on legislation passed by the Assembly. The Seal was a requirement after the yes vote in the March 2011 referendum, which enabled the National Assembly to pass Acts on devolved matters for the first time.
  • Headline Gross Value Added (GVA) for Wales rose by 3.5% in 2010 compared to 2009 to stand at £45.5billion or £15,145 per capita – the fastest growth of the UK's nations or regions. Despite this, GVA per capita in Wales remains the lowest of the UK's nations and regions at 74%, with a big difference between East Wales (91.4%) and West Wales & The Valleys (62.8%).
  • A poster campaign has been launched by the Welsh Government to prevent attacks on NHS workers by patients. There have been 200 successful prosecutions since April 2010.
  • Julie Morgan AM (Lab, Cardiff North) called for compulsory micro-chipping of dogs after a spate of attacks on people in Wales in the last three years.
  • A row has broken out between the Welsh Government and the Welsh Office after it was revealed that the Welsh Government were seeking to open a full time office in London to provide "flexible accommodation". The Welsh Office have accused the Welsh Government of seeking "separation between Wales and Westminster for the sake of it."
  • A dispute between the devolved administrations and the UK Government over spending on the 2012 London Olympics has been resolved. An extra £8.9million will be transferred to Wales after changes were made to spending on the Olympics by the previous Labour UK Government but neglected to include a Barnett Formula consequential.
  • Community Housing Cymru have urged the Welsh Government to spend an additional £122.5million on social housing as a way to boost the economy. They claim it could create up to 2500 jobs and apprenticeships and ease the estimated 91,000 strong waiting list for social housing in Wales.

Projects announced in December include : a £64m expansion of the Children's Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, a £40million improvement to rail services between Llanelli and Swansea, station access upgrades and Chirk in Flintshire and Ystrad Mynach in Caerphilly county, a proposed £30million bus rapid transit system in Cardiff, a joint £2million grant to the Cardiff Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre from the Welsh Government and Cancer Research UK and a £5.5million investment in mental health as a consequence of the Mental Health Measure 2010.

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