Friday, 31 July 2015

Senedd Watch - July 2015

  • An independent report into University Hospital Cardiff's accident and emergency department described “endemic bullying behaviour”, an “authoritarian” management regime and chronic staff shortages. Cardiff & Vale University Health Board accepted the findings.
  • Leader of the House of Commons, Chris Grayling MP, announced that MPs representing English constituencies – and, in some cases, Welsh-based MPs - would have a veto on legislation affecting England-only (or EnglandandWales). Labour accused the Conservatives of attempting to manufacture a larger majority, while the SNP said it was a “cobbled-together mess”.
  • The Welsh Government launched a green paper on reforms to transparency and openness in the Welsh NHS, including proposals such as "strengthening" community health councils and giving local health boards borrowing powers. It's anticipated legislation would be introduced in the Fifth Assembly.
  • NUT Cymru warned that an (average) £64-per-pupil funding cut for 2015-16 – the first school spending cut in a decade – will come as “alarming news to teachers, parents and pupils.” The Welsh Government said that despite the cut they had met their pledge to keep school spending at 1% above changes to the block grant.
  • Shadow Health Minister, Darren Millar (Con, Clwyd West), called for a Wales Audit Office probe into local health board spending on fruit and vegetables. Some health boards were spending twice the market price for bananas, totalling an excess £390,000 across Wales.
  • Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), announced a national blood and transplant service would be established in May 2016. Currently, north Wales is served by the English NHS Blood & Transplant Service. It's estimated it would save £600,000 per year and create 16 jobs.
  • In the UK Chancellor's emergency budget on July 8th, George Osborne announced a £9-per-hour national living wage would be introduced by 2020, benefits would be capped at £20,000 per household outside London and working benefits would be frozen for four years. It was also announced that devolution of air passenger duty (APD) to Wales will “be considered”.
    • Finance Minister, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan), described the budget as “an assault on young people” due to welfare cuts specifically targeting under-25s.
    • Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Andrew Davies (Con, South Wales Central), said a lower benefit cap outside London was “fair”, saying people should not make more from benefits than they would in work. He hoped private employers would move towards widespread adoption of the “living wage” and promised the Welsh Conservatives would introduce a 6-month council tax exemption for first-time buyers if they won the 2016 Assembly election.
    • The Welfare Reform Bill was approved at first reading by 308 votes to 124 in the House of Commons on July 20th. 48 Labour MPs - including 7 from Wales - rebelled against interim Labour Leader Harriet Harman's calls to abstain in order to “listen to voters” on welfare, which would result in £12billion of cuts by 2020.
  • Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside), hosted a summit on the future of opencast mining on July 9th. He said, “I am concerned about the significant and lasting impacts of the failure to restore on communities living in close proximity to opencast sites” adding that he was discussing the issue with the UK Government.
  • The National Assembly's Petitions Committee report into a petition calling for defibrillators to be made available in public spaces recommended more be done to raise awareness of existing machines. Committee Chair, William Powell AM (Lib Dem, Mid & West Wales) said, There is little doubt that almost everyone is capable of using them to save lives.”
  • The leaders of Welsh Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Lib Dems signed a letter condemning proposed cuts to BBC and S4C – possibly amounting to £1.5million a year to S4C alone – and the small amount of English-language programming aimed at Welsh audiences, saying the “future of broadcasting in Wales is now in serious jeopardy”.
  • Welsh Lib Dem research revealed NHS staff made over 10,000 complaints about staff shortages since 2012. Party leader, Kirsty Williams AM (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor) said, “These figures paint a picture of a Labour-run NHS that is under enormous strain and in desperate need of help”. The Welsh Government said overall staffing numbers are up on 10 years ago.
  • Plaid Cymru energy spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales), pledged Wales would produce all of its energy needs from renewable energy within 20 years if Plaid Cymru formed the next Welsh Government, facilitated by energy efficiency drives and community-owned power schemes.
  • A review into alleged abuse at care homes in south east Wales (Operation Jasmine) suggested the owners of the care homes in question should have been prosecuted. The reviewer, Dr Margaret Flynn, said the “absence of a judgement or legal resolution compounds the families' grief and sense of grievance”.
  • The Finance Minister introduced the Tax Collection & Management Bill to the National Assembly on July 14th. The Bill establishes a Welsh Revenue Authority to manage devolved taxes from April 2018, which includes landfill tax and stamp duty.
  • A Wales Audit Office report into the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales (RIFW) criticised the lack of Welsh Government oversight, suggesting the taxpayer could have lost £15million as a result of undervalued land sales. The Welsh Government said they would consider taking legal action to recover any losses.
  • A public consultation by the Assembly Commission found 53% of 11-25 year olds support lowering the voting age to 16, and 79% believed it was important for young people to learn about politics. Llywydd Rosemary Butler (Lab, Newport West) said, "This is the biggest ever response we've had to an Assembly consultation and therefore offers an authoritative analysis of the views of young people.”
  • A draft Minimum Alcohol Price Bill was put out for consultation by Deputy Health Minister Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) on July 15th. The proposals include introducing a minimum per-unit alcohol price of 50p and fines for retailers who don't comply with the law.
  • The Business & Enterprise Committee recommended more job opportunities be created for the over-50s, who are less likely to work than those of a similar age in the rest of the UK. Committee Chair, William Graham AM (Con, South Wales East) said, “People are living longer and will have to retire later meaning work is now a necessity not a choice for the majority of this age group.”
  • In a letter to Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the Chair of the Environment Committee, Alun Ffred Jones AM (Plaid, Arfon), was concerned NRW was seen as “too close” to the Welsh Government and “doesn't appear to be clear about its purpose”. According to a survey only 14% of NRW staff believe the merger which formed the organisation in 2013 was well managed.
  • The Welsh Government proposed paying the tuition fees of medical students who commit to becoming GPs in order to stem a shortage as the workforce ages and retires. £4.5million was committed towards staff training and other proposals include flexible working and a GP recruitment drive. Labour previously criticised similar proposals from Plaid Cymru as “unworkable”.
  • Plaid Cymru economy spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Mon), expressed concern that a recently-announced £600million investment in Phase 2 of the South East Wales Metro was a re-announcement of plans for Valley Lines electrification. He said, "A Plaid Cymru government would take the Metro forward with a real vision....instead of re-badging....public transport schemes as a Metro."
  • Deputy Minister for Farming & Food, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Mid & West Wales), said an EU withdrawal would have "catastrophic consequences" for Welsh agriculture through the loss of £240million of annual CAP payments. UKIP leader in Wales, Nathan Gill MEP, said the UK Government could guarantee continuation of payments with money saved by an EU exit.
  • A short inquiry by the Constitutional & Legislative Affairs Committee into the future of devolved powers recommended a "clear and durable" devolution settlement based on easy to understand reserved powers. The Committee and witnesses were concerned about the current proposed list of reserved powers, which could limit the National Assembly's ability to legislate.
  • The newly-formed Women's Equality Party said they intended to field candidates at the 2016 National Assembly election. UK leader, Sophie Walker, told BBC Wales, "We are going to field candidates and we think we stand a good chance and we think that will form a very good basis going forward to 2020".
  • A Public Accounts Committee inquiry into UK welfare reform recommended that tenants affected by the "bedroom tax" should receive financial help from the Welsh Government. A member of the Committee, Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central), criticised the "partisan" foreword to the report by Chair, Darran Millar AM, adding that the Welsh Government lacked resources to help tenants due to austerity.
  • The Health Minister announced a 12 month trial from October 2015 with regard ambulance response time targets, where targets would be scrapped for all but life-threatening emergencies. The NHS Confederation welcomed the proposal, but opposition parties were concerned about "moving the goalposts" and a long-standing failure to hit current response targets.
  • The Welsh Liberal Democrats pledged to create 2,500 "rent-to-buy" homes - which can be purchased without a deposit - if they form the next government after the 2016 National Assembly elections. Peter Black AM (Lib Dem, South Wales West) said, "if you can afford your rent then we will help you buy your own home".

Projects announced in July include : The launch of an upgraded TrawsCymru bus service in west Wales; a series of events in Cardiff in 2016 to mark the centenary of Roald Dahl's birth; a £19million extension to the Superfast Cymru scheme to reach an additional 45,000 premises by June 2017; a new 5-year plan to address high levels of suicide; £30million for four schemes to boost the rural economy and approval for a £200million gas-fired power station at Hirwaun.


Post a Comment