Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Senedd Watch - June 2015

  • Welsh Lib Dem leader, Kirsty Williams AM (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), called for Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW) to be scrapped following a damning report into poor treatment of dementia patients on the (now closed) Tawel Fan mental health ward at Glan Clwyd Hospital. She said HIW failed as the “final backdrop and assurance mechanism” to ensure care was of a good standard.
    • During an urgent Assembly debate on June 3rd, Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), apologised to patients and families involved. £8million was pledged for adult mental health services, with £4.5million earmarked for dementia patients.
    • On June 8th, the Welsh Government announced that Betsi Cadwaladr health board would be placed into “special measures”, while the board's Chief Executive, Prof. Trevor Purt, was suspended. The interim chief, Simon Bird, was tasked with a 100-day turnaround at the health board.
    • Older People's Commissioner, Sarah Rochira, said it should be easier to prosecute staff who abuse elderly patients, saying the Tawel Fan scandal is, "one of many many examples where care has been truly unacceptable yet isn't considered criminal", later adding that the legal system “fails” older people.
  • Tributes were paid to former UK Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, who died suddenly at the age of 55 on June 1st. Kirsty Williams said he was “a giant in our party”, while former Welsh Lib Dem leader, Mike German, said he was, a brilliant mind who knew and sensed a political direction and who knew where the party had to go".
  • A report into modern foreign language teaching found French and German GCSE entries have halved since 2002, while more than half of secondary schools don't offer two foreign languages. Education Minister, Huw Lewis (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney), launched a plan to promote foreign languages, which includes establishing four regional centres of excellence to train teachers.
  • The National Assembly approved regulations to ban smoking in cars whilst in the presence of under-18s by 46 votes to 1 on June 2nd. Violators could be fined up to £50. The regulations will come into force on October 1st 2015.
  • The UK Government officially ruled out holding an EU membership referendum on the same day as the 2016 National Assembly Election following an amendment to the EU Referendum Bill in the House of Commons. A spokesperson said, "We have listened to the views expressed by MPs across the house and decided that we won't hold the referendum on 5 May 2016." Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM (Plaid, Dwyfor Meirionnydd) expressed support for a same-day referendum in order to boost turnout.
  • The Welsh Government introduced the Public Health Bill on June 8th. Proposals include a new registration scheme for tobacco and nicotine product retailers, new public toilet planning duties for local authorities and a new licensing regime for tattoos and piercings. The Bill also includes a controversial proposal to extend workplace and public smoking bans to e-cigarettes.
  • The Welsh Conservatives criticised the Welsh Government's flagship £30million a year Communities First scheme for excessive spending on salaries, citing one Merthyr Tydfil scheme which spent 87% of its budget on pay. Communities & Tackling Poverty Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), said she was comfortable with how the money was spent and stressed the scheme was robustly monitored.
  • The Conservatives also called for an investigation into whether Business & Economy Minister, Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower) broke the Ministerial Code after the collapse of Pencoed-based IT company, Ideoba. It's claimed independent advisor - David Goldstone, who resigned on June 15th - was privy to sensitive commercial information. The Welsh Government rejected the accusations.
  • The final Programme of Government report of the Fourth Assembly was published on June 16th. The First Minister said it proved that the “overwhelming record of this government is one of delivery”, saying 95% of commitments had been delivered or were on track for delivery. Opposition leaders criticised the lack of up to date data.
  • The National Assembly passed the Qualifications Wales Bill unanimously on June 16th. The Qualification Wales Act will create an independent regulator for non-degree qualifications from September 2015.
  • An independent report commissioned by Public Services Minister, Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda), suggests local authorities could save up to £151million a year through “administrative efficiencies”. The Minister said, “Many of these savings can be delivered....without the need to await....structural reform to local government.”
    • The Minister published new proposals for local government reorganisation on June 17th, with options for 8 or 9 authorities – down from the 10-12 proposed by the Williams Commission. He told the National Assembly the proposal would, “drive down the cost of politics and administration".
    • Plaid Cymru proposed a model which retains the current 22 authorities and creates between 5 and 7 combined regional authorities. Party leader, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, South Wales Central), told the National Assembly the proposals wouldn't be a new tier of government, and would empower community and town councils to create jobs via economic regeneration.
  • In the first of a four-part inquiry into poverty in Wales, the Communities & Local Government Committee recommended the creation of an independent “Welsh Poverty Alliance” and better data collection, after expressing “deep concerns” about the failure to deliver reductions in poverty since devolution.
  • Three Labour AMs - Keith Davies AM (Lab, Llanelli), former Deputy Minister for Children & Social Services, Gwenda Thomas AM (Lab, Neath) and current Business & Economy Minister, Edwina Hart - all announced they would not seek re-election at the 2016 election, bringing the total number of retiring Labour AMs to 8.
    • Following Edwina Hart's announcement, CBI Wales called for reassurances that the Newport M4 bypass project would proceed as planned. A public inquiry is due to be held in 2016, and CBI said it was a “number one priority for the Welsh economy”. The Minister told BBC Wales “everything is in place” for a final decision.
  • A Petitions Committee report into armed forces school visits found “no compelling evidence” that schools in deprived areas were being deliberately targeted by military recruiters. They recommended the Welsh Government conduct research into the issue and that a greater range of employers be invited to schools to offer careers advice.
  • The Education Minister announced that, in response to a review of teacher training, the Welsh Government would “make it harder to become a teacher” by extending education degrees to 4 years and training subject specialists in primary schools - reforms that would result in “the best teacher training in the UK”. Opposition AMs questioned how it would work in practice.
  • Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport & Tourism, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), called for the Six Nations Championship to remain “free-to-air” amid speculation a pay-TV contract could be agreed in 2017. He said it was potentially “very dangerous and damaging” and could reduce interest in rugby by limiting audiences.
  • The Welsh Secretary, Stephen Crabb MP, told the National Assembly in his annual statement on the Queen's Speech that it should have a greater “sense of purpose and action” and not be "a vehicle for a never-ending conversation about more powers”. The First Minister welcomed the tone of the speech, saying he expected Welsh Ministers to be involved in discussions on what powers are transferred in future.
  • The National Assembly unanimously approved a Liberal Democrat motion opposing any cuts to UK Government funding for S4C. Peter Black AM (Lib Dem, South Wales West) said future funding was "at a tipping point" due to uncertainty over licence fee plans as the BBC Charter is renegotiated.
  • The Communities & Local Government Committee Stage 1 report into the Renting Homes Bill welcomed the objectives of the law, but recommended strengthening “fitness for human habitation” tests and said proposals to allow 16 and 17 year olds to hold tenancies “might not work in practice”.
  • Plaid Cymru ruled out any governing coalition involving the Conservatives after the next Assembly election, saying the Tories are “intent on pursuing policies that hit people in the middle and lowest income brackets”. The Welsh Conservatives accused Plaid of “fantasy politics” believing Tories are “the only party that can deliver a new Wales”.
  • A Public Accounts Committee inquiry into the value of the trunk road network recommended the Welsh Government should publish prioritised timelines for projects, consider establishing a single trunk road agency and trial the use of barriers at accident scenes to clamp down on “rubbernecking”. Committee Chair, Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) said, “A well maintained and developed trunk road network....helps to underpin the strong Welsh economy".
  • The Business & Economy Minister announced that up to £600million would be invested in Phase 2 of the South Wales Metro scheme by 2020, and that a not-for-dividend company would run both the Metro and Wales & Borders rail franchise. Procurement for electrification of the Valley Lines will begin in 2016.
  • 38 people were killed and at least 40 injured in an Islamist terrorist attack in the Tunisian city of Sousse on June 26th . At time of posting at least one Welsh fatality has been confirmed with an expectation that up to 30 British citizens will be amongst the dead. On June 30th, party leaders in the National Assembly condemned the attack and paid tribute to the victims. The First Minister told AMs he was in close contact with the UK's Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

Projects announced in June include : A £30million work programme for over-25s in Communities First areas; £34million for primary care in order to prevent hospital admissions; an £11million programme to expand upon the number of social enterprises; a £20million, six-year rapid growth fund which aims to create 10,000 jobs and boost exports by £200million; a £20million integrated care centre in Cardigan; a £22million fund for environmental organisations; £10million to improve services for major health conditions and confirmation that Cardiff's Millennium Stadium will host the 2017 UEFA Champions League Final.


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