Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Senedd Watch - January 2012

I've now added an "Independence Index" page in the top bar which will include my current and future posts relating to nationalism, devolution or Welsh independence categorised by subject matter. It also includes a list of future blogposts I'm yet to write and an expected date for when to expect them.
  • Building regulations were devolved to the National Assembly on December 31st. Environment Minister John Griffiths (Lab, Newport East) hopes it will enable the Welsh Government to "deliver a 55% improvement on 2006 [carbon emission reduction] requirements for new homes".
  • A row over export figures has broken out, after the First Minister said in a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron that 50% of Welsh exports were to the European Union. Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards and Conservative economic commentator Prof. Dylan Jones-Evans have both said that exports to the EU amounted to just 39.9% in the final quarter of 2011, while Wales exported significantly more to North America than the UK average.
  • Nominations for the next leader of Plaid Cymru opened on January 3rd and closed on January 26th. Dafydd Elis Thomas, Elin Jones, Simon Thomas and Leanne Wood will be the leadership candidates.
  • The Archbishop of Cardiff has criticised the Welsh Government's proposed opt-out organ donation law saying that "our bodies are not the an asset of the state." The Church in Wales held a public debate on the issue.
  • Keith Davies AM (Lab, Llanelli) claimed that the A&E department at Prince Phillip Hospital in Llanelli is being "bypassed" by ambulances - suggesting patients are being transported to Carmarthen or Swansea. This comes as Hywel Dda NHS trust undertakes a review of hospital services in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion.
  • The number of district nurses in the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg Health Board have fallen, while the number of patients has risen according to figures obtained by Peter Black AM (Lib Dem, South Wales West). He said he was concerned "increasing workloads will take their toll on the health of district nursing staff".
  • UCAS figures show that applications to Welsh universities fell by 9.3% up until December 2011 compared to a whole UK figure of 6.3%. Other figures also suggest that Wales is struggling to retain graduates with 34.6% of new graduates leaving Wales between 2003 and 2007. However the home student rate in Wales was higher than many regions of England.
  • The Welsh Government says that the Welsh NHS will remove and replace faulty breast implants of women based on clinical need. The faulty implants were manufactured by a French company and differing government responses to the potential risks, as well as the role of private clinics, had led to confusion.
  • Four nations : Botswana, Lesotho, Mexico and Liberia, have chosen Wales as a training base for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage Huw Lewis (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) said that the training camps would "provide opportunities to develop sporting, educational and cultural exchanges with countries that come to Wales and provide opportunities for children and local communities to get involved".
  • The First Minister criticised the UK Government's decision to use tunnels to ease concerns about the environmental impact of a £32bn high speed rail network in England in the Welsh Secretary's constituency of Chesham & Amersham. The First Minister said that the £500m cost of the tunnel amounted to "buying off" Cheryl Gillan, who threatened to resign from the Cabinet over the issue.
  • The proposed 30 new Westminster constituencies in Wales have been unveiled by the Boundary Commission for Wales. The reduction by 10 MP's is the result of a UK Government decision to equalise Westminster constituency sizes.
  • Simon Thomas AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) criticised a 500m "no go zone" around the Millennium Stadium during the 2012 Olympics as a missed opportunity to promote Welsh business. The Welsh Government responded by saying they were tied by Olympic rules which protect corporate sponsors and were a condition to allow Cardiff to host events.
  • Education Minister Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda) rejected calls by the National Union of Teachers, and Simon Thomas AM, to abandon plans to introduce school banding for Welsh primary schools. Conservative education spokeswoman Angela Burns (Con, Carms. West & South Pembs.) said that while she was not opposed to school measurements, she was "concerned about the way the categories were weighted." He has also been criticised by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) for deciding to stop producing figures showing a funding gap between English and Welsh schools. This is due to there no longer being a consistent comparison between the two sets of figures.
  • Deputy Minister for Agriculture Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) gave a keynote speech to the National Farmers Union saying that Common Agricultural Policy reform was at the top of his agenda to "meet the needs of farming, of rural communities and Wales as a whole." He also aims to reduce bureaucracy and regulation for the farming industry. He also welcomed the development of a new feed for cows developed at Aberystwyth University that would help produce premium milk all year round. The project will be supported by the Welsh Government via an EU programme.
  • Business Minister Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower) has held talks with her UK counterparts relating to a debt crisis at Cardiff-based clothing retailer Peacocks. Peacocks failed to find new investors and entered administration on January 18th with the loss of 249 jobs. Peacocks is one of Wales's largest private companies, employing 10,000 people in the UK.
  • Unemployment in Wales fell by 1,000 to 8.9% in the three months to November 2011. Unemployment across the UK rose by 118,000 to 8.4%.
  • There have been calls for Wales to "opt out" of a UK Government proposal for an 80mph speed limit on motorways. Sustainable Transport Cymru says and increase in the speed limit could lead to more accidents and increased carbon emissions.
  • A Plaid Cymru review into their poor election performance in last year's Assembly election  made 95 recommendations, including a possible English-name of Welsh National Party, a new Academy for campaigning and organising and clearer leadership and accountability. Dr Eurfyl ap Gwilym, who chaired the review, also criticised the performance of some Plaid spokespeople saying they need to "pull their socks up" and need a "sound understanding of their own brief."
  • A Welsh Government report into support for micro-businesses (that employ under 10 people) has concluded that it's "confusing" and that regulation was "overwhelming". It calls for a single-brand for business support. Edwina Hart welcomed the report and said she intends to "take forward their recommendations".
  • Minister for Communities & Local Government Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) unveiled a Welsh Government target of a 50% reduction in road deaths in Wales - including a 65% reduction in child deaths. High-risk drivers like young drivers will be targeted in particular and officials will launch consultations with road safety organisations and the police.
  • Funding for a race body – All Wales Ethnic Minority Association (AWEMA) – was suspended by the Welsh Government after its chief executive Naz Malik was accused of nepotism and corruption in running the organisation. Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West), chair of the Assembly's Public Accounts Committee,  said he would welcome a police investigation due to the nature of some of the allegations.
  • A tourism survey by Visit Wales has found that visitors rate Wales highly, scoring 9/10 in many areas including general satisfaction, friendliness and the natural environment. Edwina Hart welcomed the findings and said that she was pleased that Wales "lived up to the promise."
  • The First Minister joined school children to celebrate the 90th year of Urdd Gobaith Cymru at the organisation's centre at Llangrannog, Ceredigion. Special receptions were also held at the Welsh Office and Downing Street by Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
  • The Assembly's Petitions Committee will allow opponents of energy schemes to put forward their views in a call for evidence after the committee received three separate petitions relating to waste-to-energy plants.
  • The Assembly's Enterprise & Business Committee will launch a high-level inquiry into Wales' airports and seaports. It comes as Cardiff Airport saw a 10% fall in passenger numbers in 2010. Committee chair Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) said that "if Wales is unable to to connect to the world through it's ports and airports it makes our ambitions much more difficult to realise."
  • School inspectorate Estyn published its annual report and its findings suggest that up to 40% of pupils arrive at secondary school with a reading age below their chronological age. It also found that most pupils feel safe at school, teaching standards were generally good but that disadvantaged and more able pupils were both not achieving as well as they could.

Projects announced in January include : a joint Wales-EU £30million "Skills Growth Wales" fund to improve skills in Welsh companies until 2015, £1.3million towards a flood prevention scheme in Pontypridd, £2million towards the development of a motorsports park in Blaenau Gwent, approval for a £16million revamp of Cardiff Royal Infirmary, a joint Wales-EU £2million fund for "high growth start-up" companies and an £82million fund to train 2,000 non-medical NHS staff.


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