Saturday, 31 August 2013

Senedd Watch - August 2013

  • Plaid Cymru comfortably held Ynys Môn following the August 1st Assembly by-election, with Rhun ap Iorwerth taking 58% of the vote off a 42% turn out. Labour finished second with 16%, and UKIP third with 14%.
  • Former Education Minister, Leighton Andrews AM (Lab, Rhondda), defended his intervention in English language GCSE marking in August 2012, after a former WJEC acting chair described it as “authoritarian and incompetent”. Leighton Andrews said criticism was “ludicrous”, and that the WJEC board were “hung up on....points of process” without considering “fairness for Welsh pupils”.
  • Natural Resources and Food Minister, Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent), confirmed Cardiff's Prosiect Gwyrdd incinerator will receive £100million of Welsh Government funding over 25 years (£4.3million per annum). Anti-incinerator campaigners were said to be “astonished” at the figures, having mounted a legal challenge against the project. It was revealed on August 30th that Welsh local authorities were on course to meet recycling targets, with 52% of waste recycled in the year to March 2013.
  • Welsh language commissioner, Meri Huws, published her first annual report. There were 468 complaints, the vast majority relating to public or crown bodies and a quarter relating to private companies. The commissioner also responded to the 2011 census figures, suggesting “strategic and radical” policies to ensure the Welsh language's future.
  • Shadow Education Minister, Angela Burns (Con, Carms W. & S. Pembs.), proposed separate vocational and academic streams based on ability from age 14, as part of wider Welsh Conservative proposals to restore elements of the grammar school system. Education Minister Huw Lewis (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) was said to be “bemused”, saying he was “committed to excellent schools for all”.
  • The Children & Young People Committee report into Attendance and Behaviour recommended the Welsh Government's proposed truancy fines be dropped, and that more work be done to tackle bullying – cited as a main cause of poor attendance.
  • A joint Welsh Government, S4C and BBC study - released at the National Eisteddfod in Denbighshire - reported just 31% of young Welsh speakers used the language in their everyday lives compared to 61% of over-60s. The First Minister said it underlined the need for more Welsh-medium activities for young people.
  • A report from the UK Changing Union group revealed young voters (18-35 year olds) were more indifferent towards devolution, and unclear about the National Assembly's responsibilities, compared to older voters.
  • A separate poll for the Silk Commission found a majority supported further powers for the Assembly over criminal justice, policing, energy and broadcasting, with a slim majority in favour of devolving welfare. The National Assembly also had a higher approval rating (5.6/10) than Westminster (4.3/10).
  • A Vale of Glamorgan Council cabinet member called for a Welsh Government review into how the Football Association of Wales (FAW) runs the sport, after Barry Town United were reinstated to the Welsh League following a High Court ruling that their temporary expulsion was unlawful.
  • A second Assembly Bill was referred to the Supreme Court. The Agricultural Sector Bill – passed as emergency legislation in July – was deemed outside of the Assembly's competence by UK Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC. A hearing has been set for 5th December 2013.
  • The Assembly's Environment and Sustainability report into water services rejected UK Government proposals to increase competition between water companies through extending parts of the Water Bill to cover Wales. The committee said the success of the not-for-dividend business model of Dwr Cymru proved that commercial competition wasn't appropriate.
  • The number of top-grade (A* & A) passes at A-Level in Wales fell from 23.6% to 22.9% compared to 2012, and also fell compared to the England, Wales & Northern Ireland average of 26.3%. Welsh Baccalaureate passes, however, rose by 4% on 2012, while girls continue to out-perform boys - except at the highest A* grade.
  • The Assembly's Health Committee report into the 2012-13 measles epidemic warned against complacency, with 30,000 children remaining unvaccinated against measles across the country. Concerns were also raised about information sharing between health authorities.
  • Local health boards released figures to The Western Mail revealing 13,000 cancelled operations over the last three years, mainly due to bed and staff shortages. Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar (Con, Clwyd West) blamed the Welsh Government for wasting funds. The Welsh Government said operations were routinely cancelled for clinical reasons, but they were "working to reduce the number”.
  • The first results from national literacy and numeracy tests for 6-14 year olds highlighted a drop in reading ability between primary and secondary schools. Numeracy performances remained relatively stable across all age groups. NUT Cymru questioned the value of the tests, while Angela Burns AM called for a new range of middle schools for 8-14 year olds.
  • The gap in top grade (A* & A) GCSE passes between Wales and England & Northern Ireland narrowed. A*- C pass rates were 65.7% compared to a Wales, England and Northern Ireland average of 68.1%. However, there were sharp falls in A*- C pass rates in science and maths, broadly mirroring similar falls in England and Northern Ireland.
  • The Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister called for Welsh Government action following hold-ups to the doubling of the Wrexham-Chester railway. Aled Roberts AM (Lib Dem, North Wales) said it was “clear north Wales doesn't receive its fair share of expenditure for capital projects.”
  • A row broke out between English Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles MP, and the Welsh Government over local authorities blocking recording of council meetings. The Welsh Government described it as “obsessive” and a “cheap political attack” against Labour. Despite this, Local Government Minister Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham) later encouraged Welsh local authorities to allow the use of social media and filming at council meetings, describing them as "excellent tools".
  • Rare Cancers Foundation research found Welsh patients are four times less likely to receive approval for new cancer treatments than patients in England. The Welsh Government rejected calls for a cancer drugs fund, saying it was neither supported by the medical profession or the public, and that it would “disadvantage patients with serious conditions other than cancer.”

Projects announced in August include : A £15million package for seven medical technology projects, a 20-year strategy for rail development in south east Wales, a £5million 16-bed ward at Tywyn Hospital and a merger between Trinity St David's University and Coleg Sir Gar to create a “radical new institution” serving 25,000 students.

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