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Sunday, 31 January 2016

Senedd/Election Watch - January 2016

  • Jonathan Edwards MP (Plaid, Carms E. & Dinefwr) criticised the formula used to determine rail fares after regulated fares – such as season tickets – rose by 1.1%. He said, “Calculating prices based on Retail Price Index (RPI) is an unpopular system which has attracted criticism from respected economists.”

Friday, 29 January 2016

Live From Angel Street - January Communities Committee

The next webcast Bridgend Council (BCBC) meeting I'm going to focus on is the Community, Environment & Leisure Scrutiny Committee, held on Wednesday (27th January) – you can watch it he....

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap V : The Inquiry

(Pic : BBC Wales)
Yesterday, the Public Accounts Committee published their forensic report into the failed Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales (RIFW)....and it makes really, really grim reading for the Welsh Government (pdf).

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Assembly rejects Trade Union Bill

It's a no from the Assembly....
(Pic : BBC Wales)

Earlier today, the National Assembly voted on the UK Government's highly-controversial Trade Union Bill, which most AMs – and the Welsh Government - roundly criticised last year (AMs take swipe at Trade Union Bill).

Saturday, 23 January 2016

A Mayor for Cardiff?

Should Cardiff have a directly-elected mayor?
(Pic : Cardiff City Hall)
It's a question that could be put to electors in the capital if a new campaign succeeds in getting the right number of signatures to trigger a local referendum on the issue.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Local Democracy petition given short shrift by AMs

(Pic : Carmarthenshire Planning)

When it comes to rotten boroughs in Wales, there's one that stands head and shoulders above any other and that's Carmarthenshire, which is being run in a manner similar to Saudi Arabia; there's a token elected body but an unelected monarch calls the shots.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Wales reacts to steel job cuts

(Pic : Wales Online)
As you're all probably more than aware, yesterday Tata Steel Europe announced 1,050 redundancies at steelworks in Wales and England:

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Assembly unites over changes to Draft Wales Bill

(Pic : Wales Online)
In what will probably be the final say AMs will have before the full Wales Bill is introduced in the UK Parliament – presumably in the next few months – and probably the last (serious) discussion on the constitution of the Fourth Assembly, AMs recently debated the recommendations of the Constitutional & Legislative Affairs Committee report on the draft Wales Bill (pdf).

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

EU Referendum : The IWA Debate

We still don't know when the referendum will be held on the UK's membership of the European Union but, to much fanfare, the first Welsh debate was hosted last night in Cardiff by the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) and Cardiff University, with the First Minister lining up against UKIP leader, Nigel Farage MEP.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Say Your Prayers

Oh Lord, please bless this Powerpoint presentation by BT....
(Pic : SLAYER!)
Should local authorities hold prayers before council meetings?

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Making the Metro

(Pic : BBC Wales)
At the end of November the Welsh Government launched the first publicity campaign for the proposed South Wales Metro after the project was given a firm go ahead earlier in 2015 (Metro a Go Go).

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Senedd Watch - December 2015

  • An “opt-out” organ donation system, created by the Human Transplantation Act 2013, came into effect on 1st December. Consent to have organs donated after death will be presumed unless Welsh residents aged over 18 have either specifically opted-out or their families object.
  • The National Assembly's Health & Social Care Committee failed to draw a conclusion on a proposed ban on the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed public spaces after committee members split over the issue. Labour committee members supported the proposal, but opposition members disagreed.
    • During the Stage 1 debate on December 8th, Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), announced the Welsh Government would amend the Public Health Bill to only prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in schools, food establishments and on public transport due to contested evidence on the risk of harm.
  • Education Minister, Huw Lewis (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney), defended college regulation after BBC Wales discovered fraud at a privately-run college in Cardiff, where faked credentials were used to access Welsh Government-funded student grants. He said, “No system of regulation....could be 100% fraud-proof.” A police investigation was launched.
  • An Enterprise and Business Committee short inquiry into travel problems during the 2015 Rugby World Cup called for “urgent improvements” to Cardiff Central station, improved travel information and the creation of a single command centre during major events. Committee Chair, William Graham AM (Con, South Wales East) said, "It is imperative that the lessons learned from the Rugby World Cup are acted on to ensure an enjoyable experience for all."
  • The National Assembly unanimously approved a cross-party motion calling for extra assistance for the steel industry by both Welsh and UK Governments following a number of job losses in Scotland and Yorkshire. AMs were critical that high energy costs hadn't been addressed and that exemptions of green levies for steelmakers won't come into effect until 2017.
  • The UK House of Commons voted in favour of air strikes against so-called Islamic State in Syria by 397 votes to 223. 65% of Welsh MPs, all from Labour, Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru, voted against while 67 Labour MPs defied UK leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and voted in favour. The Royal Air Force carried out its first missions on December 3rd.
  • The First Minister told BBC Wales that although Labour had no plans to raise income taxes after the 2016 National Assembly election, tax rises could be introduced to “pay for a specific thing”. He also said the UK Government's tax devolution proposals would lock-in relative under-funding for Wales.
  • The Constitutional & Legislative Affairs Committee report into the draft Wales Bill said it would “roll back” the Assembly's powers and failed to meet the principles of subsidiarity. They also criticised restrictions on passing criminal and civil laws, an over-reliance on Whitehall departments' help in developing the draft Bill and a failure to produce a workable reserved powers model. They recommended it should not proceed without serious amendments.
  • Chair of the Petitions Committee, William Powell AM (Lib Dem, Mid & West Wales), wrote to the Education Minister claiming that the policy of fining parents who take their children on holiday during term time had resulted in confusion, with councils incorrectly advising schools. The Welsh Government said, “Prolonged absence from school really does damage the attainment prospects of young people”.
  • A war of words erupted between Labour and Plaid Cymru over Barnett formula consequentials as a result of England's High Speed 2 project. Plaid maintain Wales will receive no extra money as a direct result of the project, unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Welsh Government said spending increases at the UK Department of Transport will result in an extra £755million over five years. FOI requests revealed the Welsh Government made no formal approaches to Whitehall over the project.
  • Finance Minister, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) introduced the draft budget for 2016-17 on December 8th. Key proposals include a £293million funding boost for the NHS, as well as £115million and £41million cuts to local government and higher education respectively. Funding was also increased for the pupil deprivation grant as part of a £223million deal agreed between Labour and the Lib Dems in 2014.
    • As a result of the draft budget, the local government settlement for 2016-17 was cut by £57million, described by Public Services Minister, Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda), as “better than expected”. Rural authorities were hit with cuts of up to 4%, while Cardiff's budget was cut by just 0.1%. This prompted complaints from the Lib Dems and Conservatives, with the Lib Dems threatening to oppose the budget as a result.
    • HEFCW - which represents the Welsh higher education sector - described a £41million cut to university funding as “unsustainable”, saying they were “seriously concerned” at the severity of the cuts.
    • Welsh language campaigners criticised a 6% cut to support for the Welsh language as undermining policy commitments. Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg repeated calls for 1% of the budget - £150million – to be spent on language support.
  • The National Assembly unanimously approved a cross-party backbench motion opposing cuts to arts and music education by local authorities and schools, and calling for a new strategy on arts education from the Welsh Government. There was also criticism of a lack of skilled music teachers.
  • 2014's Gross Value Added (GVA) figures for Wales showed that while GVA increased by 2.4%, Wales remained the lowest-performing nation or region of the UK with GVA per head at just 71.4% (£17,573) of the UK average (£24,616). Total Welsh GVA in 2014 was £54.3billion ($82.4billion) and Wales would nominally be ranked 29th in the world by GVA-per-head in 2015.
  • The National Assembly backed a Plaid Cymru motion calling for a tax on sugary drinks by 38 votes to 10. Those voting in favour included the First Minister and other Labour AMs, who had previously mocked the plans as unworkable and counter-productive. The Finance Minister said a tax could help address obesity levels.
  • The Children & Young People's Committee inquiry into Welsh-medium education strategies recommended targets be included in the strategies, clearer guidance be issued to local authorities and ministerial intervention be considered where local authorities are failing to deliver the strategies.
    • A separate inquiry by the same committee into supply teachers called for a review of the system, with particular concerns over continuous professional development and lack of data on why full-time teachers take sick leave. The Committee recommended a thorough investigation into where supply teachers are most commonly used and the reasons why.
  • Alice Hooker-Stroud was elected leader of the Green Party in Wales on December 16th. She said, “We enter the Welsh Assembly election as a determined and energetic party; we can and we will win seats.” Cardiff West candidate, Hannah Pudner, was named Deputy Leader.
  • A Public Accounts Committee report criticised high pay-offs for senior staff at National Museum Wales at a time when weekend top-up payments for front line staff were cut, leading to strike action earlier in 2015. The Committee also investigated recouping of costs at the National Library of Wales following a serious fire in 2013, criticising the library's £75,000 legal bill.
  • An interim report on a review of student finance by Prof. Ian Diamond stated that current arrangements are “not an option”. Welsh students carried less debt than English students, but there was “lack of consensus on the way forward” and concerns of a funding gap developing between Welsh and English universities.
  • Anglesey's Wylfa nuclear power station stopped generating electricity on 30th December, and began a shutdown and decommissioning process. Plans for the £8billion Wylfa Newydd power station are due to be submitted in 2017, with the new plant generating energy by the mid-2020s.
  • Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside), announced an extra £1million will be made available to communities affected by serious flood damage caused by Storm Eva and Storm Frank. The north west of England was hardest hit, but north Wales endured floods which closed the A55 near Bangor, prompting calls from Plaid Cymru for immediate action on drainage.

Projects announced in December include : The launch of a new university-backed scheme to encourage the take up of modern foreign languages; a £12million joint bio-refining research programme at Aberystwyth, Bangor and Swansea universities; a £290million expansion of the Help to Buy scheme; £3.9million towards business management and leadership skills training; a £7.5million modernisation of a premature baby unit at University Hospital Cardiff and a plan to protect historic places of worship.