Saturday, 1 November 2014

Senedd Watch - October 2014

  • The Welsh Government introduced its draft budget for 2015-16, which includes an extra £425million for the Welsh NHS spread over two years. As part of a budget deal with the Welsh Liberal Democrats, the pupil deprivation grant will be increased, funding will be made available to complete the Eastern Bay Link Road in Cardiff, and construction of the M4 Newport bypass will be delayed until after the 2016 Welsh General Election.
  • On October 8th, Public Services Minister, Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda), announced the Welsh local government settlement for 2015-16 would see a £146million cut (-3.4% overall). He later suggested the Wales Audit Office could investigate up to £1billion in financial reserves held by local authorities.
  • In her annual report, Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ruth Hussey, said GP services needed a boost to cope with increasing numbers of patients with chronic diseases. The report also repeated warnings about a GP recruitment crisis due to an ageing workforce, and said healthier lifestyles could prevent a quarter of premature deaths.
  • Plaid Cymru accused the Welsh Government of “duping the electorate", after dropping a promise to revisit a smacking ban in future legislation in exchange for supporting the Social Services and Well-being Act 2014. Christine Chapman AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) – a supporter of the ban - said she felt “cheated”, while former Deputy Minister for Children & Social Services, Gwenda Thomas AM (Lab, Neath), called for legislation to protect children's rights.
  • Two former ministers with the responsibility for the environment – Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) and John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) – attacked the proposed M4 bypass of Newport during a Plaid Cymru debate, claiming it was “the wrong decision” and decrying the “incredibly damaging” environmental impacts. A motion calling for a re-evaluation of the “Blue Route” was rejected.
    • On October 22nd, the Chair of the National Assembly's Environment Committee, Alun Ffred Jones AM (Plaid, Arfon), said Welsh Government answers during a debate on his Committee's inquiry into the bypass were “disappointing”. The Confederation for British Industry (CBI) were also criticised by AMs from all parties for failing to give evidence.
  • A target to put Wales into the top 20 best performing nations in PISA tests was scrapped by Education Minister, Huw Lewis (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney). A new target was set for Wales to achieve an average score of 500, as part of a new Qualified for Life strategy for education until 2020. The Welsh Conservatives said it was, “not aspiration, but stagnation”.
  • Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside), introduced the Planning Bill to the National Assembly. The Bill outlines major changes to planning law, which will include the creation of a national development plan, Welsh Ministers determining planning applications “of national significance” and changes to planning enforcement and application processes.
    • Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg criticised the Bill - calling on the First Minister to resign his responsibility for the Welsh language - as the law makes no reference to the Welsh language in planning, despite promises of significant changes.
  • The Enterprise and Business Committee inquiry into trade and investment recommended that a more coherent branding be developed by the Welsh Government, and they should be more up-front about its trade strategy. Committee Chair, William Graham AM (Con, South Wales East), said they “received conflicting evidence” from business during the inquiry, with equal praise and criticism of levels of government support companies received.
  • A Standards Committee report into member's interests recommended public funding, such as grants, as well as share options and “blind trusts”, be declared by AMs. The report also recommended removing a requirement for pension income and employment status of children to be declared.
  • Plaid Cymru's rural affairs spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales), called for Welsh farmers to be given more flexibility in face of subsidy cuts and price volatility. Proposed relaxations include the “six day rule” - which shuts down businesses six days after new animals are brought onto a farm - simplifications to livestock movement rules and a strengthening of the voluntary dairy code.
  • The Auditor General warned that increased NHS spending could lead to cuts to other services, coinciding with the publication of the Wales Audit Office annual report on NHS finances. An extra £200million was given to the Welsh NHS in 2013-14, and at least £90million was used to help local health boards balance their budgets.
  • The four party leaders in the National Assembly issued a joint statement on October 14th calling for a “fair funding formula” for Wales, further devolution of taxation powers and a reserved powers model in the fallout from the Scottish independence referendum. Welsh Secretary, Stephen Crabb MP (Con, Preseli Pembs.), set a deadline for 1st March 2015 to agree a new devolution package for Wales, after the National Assembly unanimously approved a cross-party motion.
  • A series of spot checks at Welsh hospitals - carried out as a result of a review into care standards at Abertawe Bro Morgannwg Local Health Board – found “no systemic issues of concern”, but criticised medicines management on hospital wards. Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), said the findings would be used to improve care for older patients and learn lessons from the Trusted to Care report.
    • The Welsh Conservatives repeated calls for a full public inquiry, and also unveiled proposals to replace Local Health Boards with directly-elected Health Commissioners to “put the patient voice at the heart of decision-making in the NHS”.
  • The National Assembly's Health and Social Care Committee called for “stronger leadership” to deliver the Cancer Delivery Plan. Although improvements have been made in research, screening and palliative care, the Committee were concerned about weaknesses, calling for a “body which has the remit and resources to drive delivery”.
  • Andrew Davies told BBC Wales there was “no case” for the devolution of policing and criminal justice, due to the Welsh Government's poor management of health and education, and sustained falls in crime under the Westminster Coalition. Devolution of policing has been recommended as part of the Silk Commission, and the chairman, Paul Silk, said it would provide an opportunity for Wales to ditch a “rather vindictive justice system”.
  • A report on behalf of the UK Government's Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission revealed that Welsh children living in poverty were less likely to achieve GCSEs grade A*-C than those in a similar position in England. Meanwhile, a Freedom of Information request showed that Welsh-medium pupils from English-speaking households were less likely to underachieve in English than English-medium pupils, but were equally less likely to overachieve.
  • A row erupted between the UK and Welsh Health Ministers over a series of Daily Mail articles which fiercely attacked standards in the Welsh NHS, while Jeremy Hunt described the Welsh NHS as “second class”. Mark Drakeford responded in a letter to Mr Hunt, saying the Welsh NHS had been “dragged through the mud” for “partisan political purposes”. It's believed an independent OECD report comparing health care in the UK nations would've reflected poorly on Wales, and Labour blocked its publication ahead of the Westminster election in 2015.
  • Opposition parties raised concerns about the finances of Natural Resources Wales (NRW), after it was revealed to be running a deficit and was expecting a £7million cut to its budget in 2015-16. Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Antoinette Sandbach AM (Con, North Wales), said “every service NRW provides risks being squeezed”.
  • Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood, told her party's autumn conference in Llangollen that Plaid Cymru could “hold the balance of power” following next year's Westminster elections, calling for a legal duty to re-balance wealth across the UK. Dafydd Wigley called for parity of powers with Scotland in the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum.
  • The National Assembly's Communities & Local Government Committee recommended that Darren Millar AM's (Con, Clwyd West) Holiday & Caravan Parks Bill be rejected by the Assembly, after concerns the law would damage the caravan industry. They called for the Welsh Government to consider introducing mandatory caravan agreements through alternative means.
  • NHS workers in Wales announced they would take part in a four-hour strike on November 10th (and subsequent four-day “work to rule”) due to a dispute over pay with the Welsh Government. A 1% pay increase has instead been replaced with a £160 one-off payment and the introduction of a “living wage” for NHS employees.
  • A Wales Audit Office report into funding for environmental health services warned that local authority cuts could mean a struggle to respond to e-coli outbreaks in the future. However, the report said current obligations were being met. There's been a 16.4% reduction in council environmental health staff since 2011-12.
  • A survey of teachers by the NUT found widespread dissatisfaction with annual literacy and numeracy tests, with 96% of teachers believing the tests have no positive benefits for pupils and that there was “too much pressure, too young”. The Welsh Government said the tests were “fundamental in raising standards”.
  • A new deal for Wales to receive up to £2billion in EU structural funds between 2014 and 2020 was agreed on October 30th. Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) – who chairs the committee responsible for management of EU funds – said the money “can make a real difference”. This is the third funding period in a row West Wales & The Valleys qualified for EU structural aid.

Projects announced in October include : A further round of “Invest to Save” funding worth £20million; £5million as part of a first phase of “Green Growth Wales” to encourage use of green technologies; a £300,000 innovation fund for Welsh language services; a £3.2million Welsh Government grant which will create more than 600 jobs at Canadian IT company CGI in Bridgend; an independent review into the impact budget cuts have on local museums; an announcement that all basic pilot training for the RAF and Royal Navy will move to RAF Valley on Anglesey, and a £12.6million UK Government investment in wi-fi hot spots across Cardiff.


Post a Comment