Tuesday, 4 October 2016

FMQs : Breakfast, Food & Cadw Merger

Another Tuesday, another FMQs and, as usual, there was plenty up for discussion.

FMQs, 4th October 2016

Party Leaders

Leader of the Opposition, Leanne Wood (Plaid, Rhondda) asked whether the First Minister knew how long it takes to travel from Aberdaron to Ysbyty Glan Clwyd? He said two hours "depending on traffic", the accuracy of which prompted some laughter.

What wasn't so funny to Leanne was that two hours by ambulance was too long, particularly as vascular services are set to be centralised in north Wales at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd when a "world class" centre already exists at Ysbyty Gwynedd. There was a danger in imposing "urban models of health care on rural areas", and the move would make a mooted medical school at Bangor less viable.

The First Minister wants to make sure everyone has access to the best possible services possible and it was important – in this case – that people in north Wales have access to a specialist centre, it was just a case of deciding where it would be; Betsi Cadwaladr's board will consider the decision at their monthly meeting.

While the Welsh Tory leader was making a success of breakfast in Birmingham, the party's Chief Whip, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) filled in and was particularly combative. Only 29% of GP surgeries offered appointments after 6pm – an "appalling statistic" considering the priority Labour has placed on GP access for working people. He also asked why Labour have ditched face-to-face annual health checks for the over-50s?

Carwyn dodged the over-50s question entirely, and criticised the UK Conservatives for announcing policies at their conference that would make it harder to attract doctors from abroad. He disputed the figures provided, saying 97% of surgeries offered appointments between 5pm-6pm at least two days a week.

UKIP leader, Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales), asked whether comments by Diane Abbott that people who voted for Brexit wanted to see fewer foreigners on their streets was an insult? Also, after Jeremy Corbyn said the way to reduce immigration was to harmonise wages across Europe, it was clear Labour don't believe in any serious immigration controls.

The First Minister couldn't answer for Leave voters, but Wales would continue to offer a welcome to anyone who wants to come to live here, and he would offer Neil a welcome if he chose to live in Wales as well.....


Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) asked about the role of councils in social housing. Cardiff Council is committed to build 600 new homes over 10 year to the highest energy standards, but more needs to be done to recognise the housing crisis. Jenny asked how local authorities can make the most of their borrowing powers since the Housing Revenue Account was scrapped?

The First Minister said local authorities will play a key role in delivering 20,000 affordable homes during the Fifth Assembly. There is, however, still a cap on borrowing, but the Welsh Government were working with authorities who want to build social housing to ensure they make the most of their capacity. There are also preliminary plans to legislate to reverse a recent ONS decision to move housing associations into the public sector – which impacts on their borrowing and debt.

Co-operative and shared-ownership models are something that be explored in the future, but there are problems with using brownfield sites to build new homes as they're part of a legacy of lax environmental rules – which leaves a sizable liability.

Mark Reckless AM (UKIP, South Wales East) asked whether the First Minister expects all current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments to be permanently added to the Welsh block grant? Farmers have also told him they would like to see spending on rural development ring-fenced.

The First Minister expects all current payments to be maintained, but he wouldn't accept "Barnettisation". It is possible to ring-fence the funding until 2020, but after that there'll be no money for farmers until the UK Government decides what to do; Wales could end up with extra rural affairs powers but without the money to do anything. Any new subsidy scheme has to be carefully managed to ensure there's no over-production, which may depress food prices.

Best of the rest:
  • On progress in the Swansea Bay city region, partnerships are continuing to be made. The region has tremendous opportunities, and the First Minister encouraged local authorities to put in a city region bid before the UK Chancellor's autumn statement. The Welsh Government are looking at how best to regionalise public service delivery, as well as the creation of a metro project in the region in "years to come" - jointly to Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) & Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West).
  • On reducing domestic violence, the Welsh Government are committed to eliminating it and consulting on a national strategy for violence against women and domestic violence. The government have established links with NSPCC, but need to look at issue in a holistic way, including addressing the causes of domestic violence. Some of the issues most difficult to prove are psychological harm, such as controlling behaviour; he welcomed an approach by Gwent Police to identify it early on – to Julie Morgan AM (Lab, Cardiff North).
  • On the role of epilepsy nurses in delivering care, the neurological delivery plan for Wales recognises he role of neurology specialist nurses in supporting and managing conditions, as they put less pressure on other services. £1million has been committed towards improving services and supporting community rehab programmes – to Jeremy Miles AM (Lab, Neath).
  • The Welsh Government are working with partners to improve voter participation by encouraging people to register to vote; new powers over elections within the Wales Bill may also be used. Education is key; when politicians meet people on the doorstep who say they don't vote then they don't have a voice. It's difficult to understand the decline, which started in the mid-90s - to David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central).

Urgent Questions

Suzy Davies AM asked for a ministerial statement over plans to merge Cadw and National Museum Wales into a new body called Historic Wales. Suzy has no objection to sponsored bodies making the most of opportunities and was encouraged to see some options where Cadw isn't fully integrated with government. She had questions surrounding the merger, in particular lessons learned from previous failed plans to merge Cadw and the Royal Commission of Ancient and Historical Monuments.

Economy & Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), was committed to maximising the commercial performance, welcoming Conservative support. 2016 is on course to be Cadw's most successful year in its history following closer working with Visit Wales, showing what can be done when organisations work more closely on promotional activity and marketing.

A steering group will decide how Historic Wales will be best constituted, and will consider a range of options. Whether it needs legislation will be considered also, and there'll be a public consultation in 2017. Amidst calls for a new inquiry, he told the chamber this vision results from a cross-party inquiry in 2013 which recommended a number of changes.

The second urgent question came from Steffan Lewis AM (Plaid, South Wales East), who asked the First Minister for a statement on the implications to Wales from the recently announced UK "Repeal Bill" of EU law. This was an inevitable part of a "hard Brexit" scenario (The Big Brexit To Do List), and he was concerned about how the announcement was made. Will the Assembly have a parallel process to repeal EU law in devolved matters? What was the First Minister doing to prevent a "power grab" - which poses wider questions over our national future. Will he also reconsider a "veto" on a Brexit deal?

The First Minister was phoned at 6:10pm on Saturday by the UK Brexit Minister, David Davis, to tell him a Bill would be brought forward. As part of the process, existing EU law in the UK will be maintained despite the repeal of the European Communities Act 1973. The Welsh Government will be reserving their position until more details emerge.

There may be a need for a Legislative Consent Motion depending on what emerges. There is, however, an established procedure for negotiations - particularly in areas like agriculture – and he expected that to be used this time. The UK Government is clearly in the driving seat, but it would be "unwise" for them to force through a Brexit deal on Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. His fear is we will end up with a "hard Brexit" with tariffs, which would have a huge effect on manufacturing and industry.

Written Question of the Week

Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) posed a question on the development of rapid charging stations for electric vehicles.

The Economy & Infrastructure Secretary said the UK Office for Low Emission Vehicles offers grants for electric vehicles and home plug-in schemes. He said that "many" plug-in points have been installed or are planning in Wales (though offering no further details), with the charge points viewable at Zap Map.

The Welsh Government are considering recommendations from a steering group on increasing the take-up of electric vehicles, in particular providing support for rural areas where up-take is much lower.

Statement of Opinion of the Week

Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) wants to raise awareness of International Older Person's Day, in particular loneliness and isolation amongst this demographic group, with up to 63% of over-80s saying they're lonely according to the Older Person's Commissioner.

At time of posting the statement attracted 2 signatures and calls for the introduction of an Older People's Rights Bill to extend the rights of older people and also place a duty on public bodies to consult with older generations before making decisions that affect their lives.

Choose Your Own Committee Inquiry

I said a few weeks ago the Assembly's committees should ask the public to set their priorities so it would've been hypocritical of me not to pick up on it when they actually do that.

The Culture Committee are running a poll so we can decide which of their proposed inquiries they should prioritise.

You've got to assume all of the topics will be subject to an inquiry anyway at some point - it's just a question of ranking them by popularity; so I don't think this is quite the innovation in public engagement it's being made out to be, but the Committee should be commended for trying something different and raising awareness of their work at the same time.

11 topics have been shortlisted. You can vote for your favourites here with the poll closing on November 14th.


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