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Tuesday, 1 August 2017

State of Wales Goes Live

My new independence and "all things big picture" site, State of Wales, launched yesterday. It's the first of three new sites coming over the next few months.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Senedd Watch - July 2017

This is the final "Senedd Watch" post - and my final post relating to Welsh politics on Oggy Bloggy Ogwr - before I launch Senedd Home in September. While this has never been the most read feature, I know it's useful to some people. There'll be an equivalent of this on Senedd Home, but at the moment I intend for it to be a weekly update instead of monthly. State of Wales will be launching this evening, so keep an eye out for that.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

End of Term Report 2016/17

As is tradition, here's my verdict on how the Welsh Government and opposition leaders have performed in the first year of the Fifth Assembly.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Cardiff-Swansea electrification zapped by UK Government

Rail electrification between Cardiff & Swansea (including Bridgend) was promised by a Conservative-led government in 2012. Five years later they've scrapped it.

I'm not surprised as we've been softened up for this news. It's happened the same week the first round of contracts (worth £6.6billion) for the (estimated) £56billion High Speed 2 project in England – to which Wales will be paying our share of at least £2.7billion – were announced.

The Welsh Secretary, Alun Cairns, slimed his way through the issue earlier this week by talking up the benefits of the new trains. You know what contempt rail passengers are held in when the replacement of 40+-year-old trains that are frequently overcrowded during rush hour is seen as a gift instead of a basic necessity.

Alun clearly knew what was coming, but there's been dishonesty and shadow playing on this from the start. Extending electrification from Cardiff to Swansea is something the Conservatives were reluctantly talked into by the Lib Dems in 2012. They've never really wanted to do it, having wrangled over who was going to pay for it and dragging their feet. It was even omitted from their 2017 manifesto, which should've set alarm bells ringing.

The English transport secretary, Chris Grayling (who also has responsibility for rail infrastructure in Wales), argues the benefits of electrification can be delivered with the new Hitachi intercity express trains, coming into service in south Wales later this year. Fortunately, the new trains are both electric and diesel powered meaning they can run on tracks without overhead lines.

This also means they're more expensive to build, heavier, more things can go wrong with them, are less environmentally-friendly and noisier. That means higher maintenance costs for the track, inefficient engines, no real difference in journey times between Swansea and Cardiff, as much noise as's almost as if there'll be absolutely no difference to things as they are now.

It's a typical solution of a government, party and nation-state that does everything by spreadsheets, divorced from both how things work on the ground and long-term thinking.

Hitachi has built a new maintenance facility in Swansea for the new trains. If you've gone past it recently you will have noticed it's come complete with the infrastructure for overhead power lines. They're going to get rusty.

Electrification between Cardiff and London is still going ahead, but you've got to wonder – with the current state the UK Government's in – what other plans they have in store for us. As Prof. Stuart Cole has argued, this project can't simply be restarted if the expertise and resources are moved. If it's scrapped now it's unlikely anything will happen for a long time; in 15-20 years when we're still talking about this we'll wonder, "Why didn't we do something back in the 2010s?"

I suppose the only question is why has it been scrapped?

We haven't been told because the Conservatives know we won't like the answer: the money and resources for electrifying Cardiff-Swansea are needed in England.

The budget for current electrification work has over-run and if the UK Government are going to deliver pledges in parts of England, "less important" projects need to be ditched.

On an EnglandandWales scale, this is an easy to write-off project between two small provincial cities and should be placed behind the likes of Bath, Liverpool and Manchester. It also means some English cities miss out, like Nottingham and Sheffield - so it's not just Wales being left behind.

At a Welsh level, it's about providing electrified rail services between the capital, one of the most important industrial centres (Neath Port Talbot & Bridgend) and the country's second and third largest cities (Swansea & Newport respectively), as well as being a springboard for electrification in north Wales. Westminster doesn't see this.

Wales has about 6% of the UK's rail network, yet receives around 1-1.5% of Network Rail funding. Scotland gets a population-based share because rail infrastructure is devolved. It isn't devolved here because if Wales received a ring-fenced 4.9% share of UK rail spending, it would mean less money to spend in England London.

As they've significantly underestimated the costs involved, yet again Network Rail's bungling will hamper a major infrastructure project in Wales. It doesn't bode well for the new Wales & Borders rail franchise, Metro, north Wales electrification and pretty much any significant project you can think of either.

Network Rail is really good at putting new shelters in stations, painting lines, fixing bridges and installing new signalling, but beyond that, they're not looking fit for purpose when it comes to running Welsh railways.

The first rule of politics is "Don't make promises you can't keep", but that doesn't seem to apply here. So we've been lied to and let down again. The most depressing thing is you know we're going to sit back and take it because we've got no cards to play and we're used to it.

I can't wait to see what happens with the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon! Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

FMQs: RIFW Redux, Tuition Fees & Parking Fines

The final FMQs of the 2016-17 Assembly term took place this afternoon and it's also the final FMQs covered on this site.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Growing Pains: Senedd demands specialist arthritis service

(Pic :

Arthritis is perhaps stereotyped as an "old person's disease" caused by joint wear and tear, but there are a number of arthritis and arthritis-like conditions that can strike at any age such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis, lupus and fibromyalgia.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

FMQs: Mind Your Language

The penultimate FMQs of the 2016-17 term, and although there's still a lot of heat being generated on the Circuit of Wales saga (yet again) it's not generating much light at the moment but that might soon be about to change.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Right to Buy ban "needs explaining"

(Pic: The Guardian)

The Communities Committee published their Stage One report on the Abolition of Right to Buy Bill yesterday (pdf). In summary, their recommendations were that:

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

FMQs: Abortions, Smoking & Sport

Another summary of FMQs from the Senedd.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Senedd committee calls for more medical school places

(Pic : BBC Wales)
Medicine is already one of the most competitive and academically-demanding university courses. On top of that it's becoming a struggle for Wales to recruit and train tomorrow's doctors – subject to an inquiry by the Health & Social Care Committee (pdf).

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Welsh rail franchise & Metro: Still on track?

The current franchise to run passenger trains in Wales and English border counties – presently held by Arriva Trains Wales – expires in October 2018. For the first time, the Welsh Government will award the new franchise, which will include the South Wales Metro.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Senedd Watch - June 2017

  • The Welsh Government publicly revealed Aston Martin received £5.8million in repayable business finance, following a ruling by the UK Information Commissioner in May 2017. The new plant is expected to employ 750 people at St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Senedd sceptical about snare use (but stop short of a ban)

The Environment Committee  stopped short of calling for an immediate ban on the use of snares (to trap pests) in their latest inquiry report (pdf) but have displayed a certain level of scepticism.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

FMQs: Circuit of Wales, Stressed Teachers & Gambling

Here are the highlights of this afternoon's First Minister's Questions which, as you might expect, was dominated by the Welsh Government's decision earlier today not to underwrite the Circuit of Wales project in Blaenau Gwent.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Clear vision needed for post-Brexit regional funds

(Pic : Getty images)
The Senedd's External Affairs Committee have called for the Welsh Government to start planning for a post-Brexit, post-EU funding Wales in a new inquiry report published last week (pdf).

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Committees Bite Size #5: June 2017

I thought I'd done the last of these, but there's room for at least one more.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

FMQs: Brexit, Recycling & Grenfell Tower

Things are starting to get back to normal after the general election (ha!) so it's back to the grind for me with the latest First Minister's Questions from the Senedd.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Senedd Watch - May 2017

  • Labour lost 107 seats in Welsh local council elections on May 4th. However, they managed to retain control of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport councils. Labour lost control of Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent councils, but despite this the results were said to be “not as bad as expected”.
    • Plaid Cymru gained 33 seats and remained the second largest party in local government, but took overall control of just one council – Gwynedd. They narrowly missed out on taking overall control of Anglesey, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, but picked up extra seats across Wales – a result described by party leader, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda), as “breaking new ground”.
    • The Conservatives regained control of Monmouthshire and won an additional 80 seats, finishing second in Cardiff and in position to take control of the Vale of Glamorgan. Conservative leader, Andrew Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) said the results meant the party's “hard work paid off”.
    • The Liberal Democrats lost 11 seats but made gains in Powys. UKIP won no seats, while the Green Party gained their first elected councillor in Powys. Llais Gwynedd lost 7 seats, while Independents took control of Blaenau Gwent and increased their seat total by 11.
    • 92 council seats were won uncontested. Prof. Roger Scully of the Wales Governance Centre said it made a “mockery of democracy” and repeated calls for the introduction of single transferable vote for local elections.
  • The Welsh Government announced literacy and numeracy tests for 6 and 14 year olds will be taken online from September 2017. The tests will adapt to pupils' skills to provide “an appropriate level of challenge”. Opposition parties cautiously welcomed the proposal, but were concerned about “pitfalls” such as poor broadband connections.
  • The UK was found in breach of EU regulations on the amount of sewage and waste water discharged into Carmarthenshire's Burry Inlet. New housing developments in the Llanelli area are thought to have been a contributing factor. Dwr Cymru insisted the problems didn't cause excess cockle deaths in the area.
  • The Welsh Government were ordered by the UK Information Commissioner to disclose any public funds offered to Aston Martin to establish a new factory in the Vale of Glamorgan, after initially refusing to do so following the First Minister's belief it would “prejudice the conduct of public affairs”.
  • Operators of community energy schemes warned that business rate rises – in some cases as much as 900% - has placed many local hydroelectric schemes in jeopardy, if not completely unprofitable. The Welsh Government said it was considering special assistance, while Plaid Cymru would introduce a rate relief scheme and loans for pre-application costs.
  • Anti-Slavery Co-ordinator, Stephen Chapman, said Wales' “porous borders” with England and lack of border checks made it too easy for people traffickers to move people into the country. The number of recorded cases of human trafficking into Wales rose from 32 in 2012 to 125 in 2016.
  • The National Assembly unanimously passed the Public Health Bill on May 16th. The Public Health Act – which was amended to include measures on obesity – will regulate tattoos and body modifications, ban smoking in more public spaces and introduce measures on public toilet provision.
  • The Welsh Government accused developers behind the Circuit of Wales project of providing inaccurate information, leading to a delay in a final decision to underwrite the project. Plaid Cymru accused the government of deliberately delaying a decision until after the UK general election. The developers are looking for the Welsh Government to guarantee around £210million of the costs.
    • Plaid's economy spokesperson, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr), later demanded an investigation into how the Welsh Government responded to a critical Wales Audit Office report into the project, after it was revealed Economy Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), knew civil servants saw the report several weeks prior to publication despite publicly claiming the Welsh Government had "short notice" of it.
  • Tributes were paid to former First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, who died on May 17th aged 77. He served as First Minister between 2000-2009 and oversaw the introduction of many hallmark policies of post-devolution Wales. He retired as an Assembly Member in 2011 and was appointed Chancellor of Swansea University. General election campaigning was temporarily suspended as a mark of respect, while a funeral service was held at the Senedd building on May 31st.
    • First Minister, Carwyn Jones, said Rhodri, “wasn’t like other politicians, and that's why people warmed to him, trusted him and felt like they knew him so well. I owe him a great deal, just as we all do in Welsh Labour."
    • Plaid Cymru - Labour's coalition partners between 2007-2011 - paid tribute. Former Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones said, "It wasn't easy for him to deliver the coalition in sections of his party, but Rhodri stood firm and we agreed a very progressive programme of government."
    • Mike German - who led the Liberal Democrats into coalition with Labour between 2000-2003 - said he was "a strong opponent but a great friend. Wales has lost a great politician and stalwart."
    • Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Andrew Davies said, “As First Minister, his answers in the chamber were always worthy of attention and his encyclopedic knowledge across his brief ensured he was rarely wrong-footed.”
    • On behalf of the National Assembly the Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion), said "Rhodri's ability to communicate with, and to understand, the diverse communities of Wales ultimately won hearts and minds, and was critical in giving the people of Wales the confidence to strengthen and develop the National Assembly."
  • Political campaigning for the UK general election was suspended for a second time on May 23rd, following an Islamist terror attack at the Manchester Arena, which killed 22 people and injured 64. The First Minister condemned it as a “particular form of cruelty” that was “appalling and senseless”.
  • A Wales Audit Office concluded that “improvements” were needed to the 21st Century School programme, with some new buildings not meeting required standards. NUT Wales said the programme was “patchy”, and the report recommended an up to date picture be provided on the state of schools for the second phase of the programme, due to start in 2019.

Projects announced in May include: a £3.4million joint Welsh-Irish coastal erosion study; a £9million national broadcast archive based at the National Library in Aberystwyth; £38million towards a compound semiconductor facility in Newport under the Cardiff City Region and the launch of a nursing recruitment campaign.

  • Conservative leader, Theresa May, said her party wouldn't raise VAT is they win the election, but refused to rule out possible increases in income tax and national insurance. She told the BBC she couldn't make “specific proposals” unless she were absolutely sure she could deliver them.
  • Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood AM, warned that a Conservative victory could see the UK Government take back powers devolved to the National Assembly. The Conservatives said the statement was an attempt to “exploit uncertainty over the devolution settlement”.
  • Labour pledged to recruit an extra 10,000 police officers across EnglandandWales (with up to 900 in Wales), costing £300million, paid for by reversing cuts to capital gains tax. Plaid Cymru called for Labour to support devolution of policing, while the Conservatives criticised the plans as “nonsensical”.
  • In her final address from Downing Street before the election campaign formally started, Theresa May accused EU officials of “making threats” and accused the European press of “misrepresenting” the UK's Brexit negotiating stance, saying the European Commission's stance had “hardened”.
  • The Lib Dems pledged to raise income tax by 1p to provide extra funding for the NHS and social care. A Barnett formula consequential would result in an estimated additional £280million for the Welsh Government.
  • Labour pledged not to raise taxes for anyone earning up to £80,000 a year if they form the next UK government, as well as a commitment to not raise VAT or national insurance. Those earning above £80,000 would be asked to pay “a modest bit more” to fund public services. They also pledged to introduce a “Robin Hood Tax” on financial transactions to raise £26billion.
  • The Conservatives promised to reduce net migration to the UK to “tens of thousands”. The pledge was also in their 2010 and 2015 manifestos but failed to be implemented. UKIP promised “radical cuts” to immigration in response, including a five year moratorium on unskilled immigrants entering the UK.
  • The Lib Dems would approve the Swansea Tidal Lagoon “immediately” if they formed the next UK government. UK Leader, Tim Farron, also warned that Wales “would be taken for granted” if the Conservatives won a large majority.
  • Plaid Cymru launched their manifesto on May 16th, pledging to "defend Wales” from the Conservatives. Their key policies included abolishing business rates and replacing it with a turnover-based system, guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living and working in Wales and barrier-free trade with Europe.
  • The Conservatives committed to scrapping Severn crossing tolls if they win the general election. The First Minister welcomed the policy, which originally would only see the tolls being halved. UKIP said the Conservatives “stole their policy”.
  • Labour said Conservative plans to means-test winter fuel allowances were “sick and sneaky”, with a possible 10million pensioners hit by the changes. The First Minister said the “nasty Tory party is back, and how”.
  • Following the attack in Manchester, the parties put forward their policies on national security. Plaid Cymru called for extra police funding, Labour promised extra staff for the security services while the Conservatives would establish a commission to counter extremism.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Committees Bite Size #4: May 2017

A brief break from the general election today for summaries of some of the reports that have come out of the Senedd's committees over the last couple of weeks.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Rhodri Morgan 1939-2017

(Pic : Wales Online)

The former First Minister of Wales, Rhodri Morgan, has died at the age of 77.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Oggy Bloggy Ogwr's Future

At the end of 2016 I said I was going to "retire" from blogging after the local elections.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

FMQs: Gaffes, Circuit of Wales & Borrowing

This afternoon saw the final FMQs before the local elections on Thursday and the first since the announcement of the forthcoming UK general election.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Senedd Watch - April 2017

  • A British Heart Foundation report claimed 1 million Welsh adults were “physically inactive”, with women 40% more likely to be inactive than men. Physical inactivity is categorised as doing less than the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.
  • A controversial £39million timber deal agreed by Natural Resources Wales - which was criticised by the Wales Audit Office for its “irregularity” and lack of transparency - was scrapped when the company involved failed to build a timber mill.
    • River conservation trusts condemned the services of Natural Resources Wales (NRW) after claiming pollution spill-off from farms was “out of control” and the body didn't have the front line staff required to investigate complaints . NRW said it faced “challenges” over pollution but was aiming to “work smarter”.
  • Figures revealed a 16% jump in the number of junior doctors training as GPs, with 84% of training places filled compared to 68% in 2016. It follows a major recruitment campaign. Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), declared the campaign a “success” and said the “figures speak for themselves”.
  • South Wales East AM, Mark Reckless, left UKIP to join the Conservative group on April 6th. He confirmed he'll sit as a Conservative AM but won't be a member of the party. The defection makes the Conservatives the largest opposition group in the National Assembly.
    • Caroline Jones AM (UKIP, South Wales West) called for him to resign, while UKIP Assembly group leader, Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales), said Mark “betrayed the trust” of party members and has “no mandate”.
    • A Conservative source told BBC Wales that accepting Mark Reckless into their group without being a member was contrary to party rules, meaning AMs had put themselves at risk of de-selection after they voted to suspend their constitution.
  • A report by the Communities Committee into refugees and asylum seekers recommended improved housing complaints procedures, more English lessons and more support for unaccompanied child refugees. There are estimated to be between 6,000-10,000 refugees living in Wales.
  • The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) warned of “democracy deserts” after 92 local council seats went unopposed to single candidates - a similar number to 2012. Gwynedd alone had 21 uncontested seats. The ERS are campaigning for single transferable vote to be introduced in local elections and also criticised the lack of diversity amongst local election candidates.
  • The National Union of Teachers (NUT) called for the Welsh Government to delay the implementation of a new National Curriculum, with up to 40% of full-time teachers unaware of the Donaldson Review's recommendations.
  • Fines totalling more than £600,000 were waived for three local authorities – Newport, Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen – after they missed Welsh Government recycling targets for 2015-16. Simon Thomas AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) said the Welsh Government had “lost credibility” after failing to follow through with fines for two years in a row.
  • Figures revealed to BBC Wales showed there were 123 women treated for female genital mutilation (FGM) in 2016. Most of the cases were recorded in south Wales, but Welsh Women's Aid said the numbers were “only the tip of the iceberg” with an estimated 2,000 women living with FGM.
  • Youth organisations called for “urgent help” after it was revealed up to 30% faced closure due to lack of funding. The Welsh Government have commissioned a review of youth services, but more than 100 groups have disappeared over the last four years.
  • Qatar Airways announced they would launch flights between Doha and Cardiff Airport in 2018. Passengers will then be able fly to China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and south east Asia via connecting flights, potentially adding an additional 1 million passengers a year flying to and from Cardiff. The First Minister said,it is more important than ever before to sell Wales to the world."
  • The Unite union announced a ballot on industrial action would take place at the Ford engine plant in Bridgend in May, following ongoing concerns about the future of the plant beyond 2021. Ford's management said the ballot was “premature” and talks would continue.
  • The Wales Audit Office said there were “serious shortcomings” in the award of £9.3million in public funds to the company behind the proposed Circuit of Wales development in Blaenau Gwent. Their report criticised the lack of investigation into the background of the companies involved and the Welsh Government “did not explain (to our satisfaction)” why the money was awarded.
  • Economy & Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), shortlisted 12 locations for new railway stations from 46 as part of a new transport plan. They will go forward for further scrutiny and include locations in Cardiff, Swansea, Wrexham, Newport, St Clears and Llangefni.
  • The Assembly Commission launched a public consultation on creating a Youth Parliament for Wales. It follows the closure of Funky Dragon in 2014. The Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion), said “We must provide support for them (young people) to discuss issues they care about....we must listen.”

Projects announced in April include: £400,000 to cut smoking rates; an increase in savings people entering residential care can keep to £30,000 (from £25,000); a £24million EU-backed grant scheme to boost rural tourism; a £13million dementia research centre at Cardiff University and a three-year trial of HIV preventative drug, PrEP.

  • UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced a UK General Election will take place on June 8th, citing “political game-playing” by opposition parties in Westminster ahead of Brexit negotiations.
  • On April 19th, The UK House of Commons voted to hold an election - as stipulated in the the Fixed Term Parliaments Act - by 522 votes to 13. All 40 sitting Welsh MPs will defend their seats.
  • The First Minister criticised the decision to call an election during a local election campaign as “odd” and “not in the national interest”, saying the economy and Brexit should be prioritised – later challenging the Prime Minister to a debate. There was more enthusiasm from the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru, both of whom welcomed the announcement.
  • UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond, refused to rule out including tax increases or scrapping the triple lock on state pensions in the forthcoming Conservative manifesto. The Prime Minister also pledged to maintain overseas aid budgets at 0.7% of GDP.
  • At a rally in Cardiff, UK Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, called for voters to join him on a journey of “hope and excitement”. He criticised cuts to the Welsh budget, and said he would maintain the “triple lock” on state pensions and seek to close tax loopholes for big companies. Labour also announced they would make the national days of the Home Nations bank holidays.
  • UK Lib Dems leader, Tim Farron, ruled out forming a coalition with either the Conservatives or Labour after the election, saying voting for the Lib Dems was the only way to prevent a “Hard Brexit”, saying they would hold a second referendum once any deal with the EU is finalised.
  • Plaid Cymru launched their election campaign on April 25th in Bangor, saying their party offered a “ray of hope” as an emboldened Conservative government was a threat to public services.
    • Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) ruled out standing for the Rhondda seat after “much consideration” and media speculation. She said she was sure the party will put up a strong candidate and winning the seat from Labour's Chris Bryant was “do-able”.
    • Former Plaid Cymru leader and Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, was selected to fight Ynys Môn for the party. Polling suggests the seat, currently held by Labour's Albert Owen, is considered a three-way marginal between Plaid, Labour and the Conservatives.
  • The Prime Minister told activists at a campaign event in Bridgend she wanted to open new markets to Welsh businesses post-Brexit with the “best possible trading deal”. The First Minister criticised the visit to his Assembly constituency as “a stunt” and warned voters to “see the Tories for what they are.”
  • Jeremy Corbyn called for people to register to vote saying the young in particular were “being held back”. He said a “fairer Britain” should bend over backwards to help people who are struggling to reach their potential.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Reckless Abandon?

The last day of term in the Senedd always seems to throw up curve balls, and just before AMs broke for Easter recess came the news – after a day of rumours and counter-rumours – that Mark Reckless had left UKIP to join the Conservative group.

Monday, 10 April 2017

A Welcoming Wales?: Realities of Refugees Lives

(Pic : Wales Online)

Europe is currently going through its worst migration crisis since the end of the Second World War, and Wales is doing its part to shelter those fleeing the Syria in particular.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Automation: Resistance is Futile?

Continuing the running theme of the backbench members debates this term - the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" - AMs turned to automation, something that was once science fiction but fast becoming science fact.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

FMQs: Sport Wales, Gibraltar & Banks

This afternoon saw the final FMQs before an extended Easter recess, which will no doubt be taken up by local election campaigning.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Senedd Watch - March 2017

  • A leaked document revealed that unless Ford's Bridgend engine plant attracted future work, as many as 1,100 jobs could be lost by 2021. Unions described it as a “kick in the teeth”, while the Welsh Government said they would do “anything they could” to bring new work to the plant.
  • The UK House of Commons Public Accounts Committee criticised progress on rail electrification, including London-Cardiff. There were concerns there wouldn't be enough funding for valley lines electrification due to “serious management failings” on current projects. The Welsh Government pressed for rail infrastructure to be devolved.
  • In her speech to her party's spring conference in Newport, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) outlined aims to re-balance the Welsh economy for communities outside Cardiff, and prioritised access to the EU single market. The party also proposed raising income tax by 1p to pay for public services.
    • On March 3rd, the Adjudication Panel for Wales upheld a complaint against Neil McEvoy AM (Plaid, South Wales Central) that he “bullied” an officer in his capacity as a Cardiff city councillor whilst representing a tenant facing eviction. He was subsequently suspended as a councillor for one month for breaching the councillor's code of conduct.
    • On March 7th, Neil McEvoy was temporarily suspended from the Plaid Cymru Assembly group and had his portfolio responsibilities of sport and tourism withdrawn. He later apologised to the officer involved and was re-admitted to the group on March 21st.
  • Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), announced that GPs will receive an extra £27million in the coming financial year as part of a new contract. In exchange, GPs will be expected to provide additional services in residential care, diabetes and for patients using blood-thinning medicines.
  • Alice Hooker-Stroud resigned as leader of the Green Party in Wales on March 6th. She said due to a lack of funding the voluntary role had become “untenable”. She called for political party funding reforms to aid smaller parties. Grenville Ham assumed the role at the end of March.
  • The UK Chancellor's budget on March 8th included an extra £200million for Wales over four years following a boost to spending on English social care. It was also said “good progress” was being made on a £1.3billion Swansea city deal, while national insurance for the self-employed would have increased by 2% over the next two years.
    • On March 15th, the UK Chancellor announced a “u-turn” on increasing self-employed national insurance contributions – ruling it out for the remainder of the UK Parliament term - following pressure from Conservative backbenchers and the public.
    • The Prime Minister and First Minister signed off the £1.3billion “city deal” for the Swansea Bay area on March 20th. It's estimated the programme could create 9,000 jobs through hubs for the data industry, health diagnostics and steel research.
    • Finance & Local Government Secretary, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), said the budget meant “austerity wasn't over” with no clarity provided on proposed £3.5billion cuts from the Welsh budget.
  • Opposition parties raised questions over £340,000 grants to Newsquest – publisher of the South Wales Argus – after the company announced it would close its Newport base in April 2017 and move production to Dorset. The National Union of Journalists said the company, owes an apology to the Welsh Government and to Welsh taxpayers."
  • Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), told her party's spring conference they were "achieving more than other parties put together" and have a "new found confidence" ahead of the local elections in May. She also said raising teaching standards was a "national mission".
  • First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, announced she would seek a second referendum on Scottish independence between autumn 2018 and spring 2019. She described it as, “A choice of whether to follow the UK to a hard Brexit, or own relationship with Europe." The UK Prime Minister said “now is not the time” for a referendum. The Scottish Parliament gave approval for a referendum on March 28th.
  • The Welsh Government introduced a Bill to suspend “Right to Buy” for social housing tenants across Wales. Tenants would have one year after any Act is passed to take up their right. The Welsh Conservatives opposed the move, saying Labour's failure to build more social housing has caused shortages.
  • An internal report leaked to BBC Wales revealed Sport Wales risked damaging its reputation by showing favouritism in its award of contracts, with some bidders said to be given an “undue advantage” in tendering processes. Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery) said the revelations harmed the organisation and the Welsh Government needed to consider the quango's future “very carefully”.
    • The chair and vice-chair of Sports Wales - Dr Paul Thomas and Adele Baumgardt - were sacked by the Welsh Government on March 29th. The Welsh Government have also refused to release a review which led to the internal problems.
  • UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, told the Welsh Conservative's spring forum in Cardiff that the UK should look forward “with optimism and hope”. Conservative leader in Wales, Andrew Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), warned that a vote for Plaid Cymru in May's local elections would “be a vote for....independence”.
  • Park home owners demanded the Welsh Government scrap the 10% commission charged by site owners for new park home purchases. The Mobile Homes Act 2013 retained the commissions over fears that scrapping them would lead to pitch fees rising to compensate.
  • Five people were killed - including a police officer and the assailant - and at least 50 injured in an Islamist terror attack near the Palace of Westminster on March 22nd. The Prime Minister condemned the attack as “sick and depraved”. Plenary sessions at the Scottish Parliament and Senedd were suspended the same afternoon as a mark of respect.
  • At his party's spring conference in Llandudno, the First Minister told delegates he wanted Wales to become a “fair work nation” where people can access better jobs closer to home. He also admitted it would be “tough” for Labour to avoid losses in the forthcoming local elections.
  • The Senedd's Environment Committee report on the future of Welsh agriculture called for full post-Brexit access to the EU single market for Welsh agricultural produce and the creation of a single payment scheme for farmers. Committee Chair, Mark Reckless AM (UKIP, South Wales East), said “In the longer term there is an opportunity to develop innovative, ambitious policies, made in Wales to make the sector more outcome-focused.”
  • The Welsh Government will refuse to bail out four health boards, who are due to report a combined £151million budget deficit for 2017-18. The Welsh Government called for a “significant improvement” in financial performance and that the NHS overall will run a balanced budget for 2016-17.
  • On March 29th, the Prime Minister notified the EU Commission of the UK's intention to leave the European Union under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The move triggers a two year negotiation process. The First Minister warned that, “If we believe our priorities are not being championed we will....not remain silent”.

Projects announced in March include: a partnership agreement between the Welsh Government and Heathrow Airport which includes landing slots for flights from Cardiff Airport and a rail spur; a £14million upgrade to Junction 28 of the M4 in Newport; the shortlisting of Port Talbot for a Category C “super prison”; £30million towards local transport projects and a £21million programme to help food and drink producers.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Post-Brexit goals for Welsh farming outlined

(Pic : Wales Online)

Last week, the Senedd's Environment Committee published its report on the future of Welsh agriculture and land management (pdf).

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

FMQs: Article 50, NHS Deficits & Grass fires

The news that the Welsh Government will refuse to bail out four health boards dominated proceedings today, but the activation of Article 50 tomorrow also focused attentions.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Coast with the most?

(Pic : The Telegraph)

Wales doesn't have the longest coastline in the world – and the Welsh perhaps aren't considered "seafaring" in the same way as the Cornish or English. Nonetheless it's a spectacular addition to the natural beauty of the country and could also provide a significant economic boost, which was the focus of the latest backbench debate in the Senedd.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

FMQs: City Deals, IndyWales & Rough Sleeping

It was a rather sedate edition of FMQs this afternoon (not that it's different to any other week) with today also marking Carwyn's 50
th birthday 🎉 - to the jocularity of opposition leaders.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Right to Buy set to be abolished in Wales

(Pic : The Guardian)

The controversial "Right to Buy" scheme – a flagship policy of  Margaret Thatcher – is set to be abolished in Wales as part of a Bill formally introduced by Communities Secretary, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside), yesterday afternoon.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

FMQs: IndyRef2, Drugs & Urgent Stuff

The usual stuff was on the agenda today alongside an abnormally large number of urgent questions (a few more weeks and I never have to do this again). Once again, Leader of the House, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan), was filling in for the First Minister.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Committees Bite Size #3: March 2017

Here's another round up of some of the committee inquiry reports that've come out of the Senedd over the last few weeks, including: ovarian cancer screening, two Stage One reports on Welsh laws, the Kancoat grant scandal and support for ethnic minority and traveller school pupils.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Welsh Economy: On Solid Foundations?

  (Pic : via
© Copyright Kev Griffin and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.)

The latest backbench member's debate – held this afternoon – focused on the "foundational economy". No, I'd never heard of the term either, but if you care about the future of the Welsh economy it's worth paying attention to.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

FMQs: Aid, Air & Dogs

After last weekend's “excitement” I was hoping to return to normality. Plaid's Assembly Group have dealt with the issue in a refreshingly swift and professional manner even if – despite what I wrote on Sunday - a suspension seems too strong. As far as I'm concerned the matter's closed.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

We need to talk about Neil

(Pic : BBC)
For the second time in succession, a Plaid Cymru conference has been overshadowed by internal politics.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Senedd Watch - February 2017

  • The UK House of Commons approved a Bill authorising the activation of Article 50 - granting the Prime Minister leave to the start the EU withdrawal process - by 498 votes to 114 on February 1st. 10 Welsh MPs from Plaid Cymru, Lib Dems and Labour voted against the Bill.
    • The UK Government published its Brexit white paper on February 2nd. Proposals include: migration controls, maintaining the Common Travel Area with Ireland, securing rights and status of EU nationals in the UK (and vice versa) and a bespoke UK-EU free trade agreement.
    • Finance & Local Government Secretary, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), called for Wales to retain access to the European Investment Bank saying, “We are facing unprecedented challenges in terms of public finances so it's vitally important we unlock all opportunities to boost investment.”
    • Eluned Morgan AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) warned that Welsh ferry ports could lose traffic to Irish Sea ports in Scotland and Northern Ireland if the UK leaves the EU customs union. She said it would require, “more money, more infrastructure and more red tape”.
  • Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), announced higher education funding body, HEFCW, will be scrapped following an independent review. A new organisation will be established to fund universities, further education colleges, research and skills.
  • The Assembly's Culture Committee's review of Welsh broadcasting recommended the BBC commit to spending £30million on English language broadcasting, that Welsh news opt-outs be provided on Radio 1 and Radio 2 and S4C's funding be protected. On 21st February, BBC Director-General Tony Hall announced an additional £8.5million towards English language programming in Wales.
  • The Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion), admitted to BBC Wales that despite new powers “stretching” AM workloads, the argument for Assembly expansion was “difficult”. An expert panel chaired by Prof. Laura McAllister was established to explore electoral reform and is due to report in Autumn 2017.
  • A report by the think-tank Gorwel revealed 44% of AMs had previously been councillors, despite the proportion of the population who've done the same being less than 0.1%. Also, only 16% of sitting AMs had been employed in the private sector despite the sector representing 68% of the workforce.
  • UKIP leader, Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales), wrote to the Llywydd saying it was "highly irresponsible" to block any Senedd visit by US President Donald Trump, as it could put investment at risk. He also warned her "display of impartiality" could lead to calls for her to stand down. It came as Elin Jones supported a ban on Trump speaking at Westminster on social media.
  • Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) introduced member's legislative proposal motion calling for life-saving skills to be compulsory in the Welsh curriculum. She said, "Schools can do this now....but take-up is not huge." The Assembly backed the proposal by 33 votes to 3 with 17 abstentions on February 8th.
  • The Welsh Government said they would look in detail at revised financial plans for the Circuit of Wales motor sports development in Blaenau Gwent before giving backing to the project, after the company behind the £425million scheme revealed the names of possible investors. A due diligence process lasting 6 weeks will be necessary before a final decision is made.
  • The UK High Court ruled a proposed £84million takeover of Dee Valley Water by Coventry-based Severn Trent could proceed following a dispute over a shareholder vote. Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) disagreed with the ruling saying, “Small shareholders have been disregarded.....while big corporate shareholders will be laughing all the way to the bank.”
  • Citizens Advice Cymru called for employers to end workplace discrimination against disabled people after it was revealed just 43% of people of working age Welsh people with a disability or long-term condition were employed compared to 79% of non-disabled.
  • The Public Accounts Committee criticised a Welsh Government decision to award Swansea-based Kancoat £3.4million between 2012 and 2014, despite warnings from financial advisers that the company was in serious trouble, later going into administration. The Committee recommended decisions that go against official advice be documented.
  • Minister for Public Health & Social Services, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), suspended the Chair and Vice-Chair of Sports Wales and reinstated the rest of the board following a ministerial review after a damning internal report in 2016. The Minister said the decision was due to a serious breakdown in inter-personal relations.
  • Communities Secretary, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside), announced the process by which Communities First will be phased out. Funding will be cut by 30% until April 2018 with a £6million legacy fund for well-performing projects after that.
    • Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda), accused the Secretary of “walking away from our poorest communities”, while Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) said many schemes in his constituency would end - claims the Secretary rejected as “frightening people”.
  • Tata Steel employees backed a deal tabled by the company – which will involve a conditional £1billion investment and controversial changes to pension schemes – by 72% to 28% on February 15th. The General Secretary of the Community union said the vote, “provides a move forward in our discussions with Tata and find a sustainable solution for the British Steel Pension Scheme.”
  • A Freedom of Information request revealed Michelle Brown AM (UKIP, North Wales) asked the Assembly Commission if a job advert for a staff member could be altered to prevent her brother being sifted out of potential candidates. The job wasn't filled. It came weeks after it was also revealed the AM was fined for “illegally smoking” at a Cardiff hotel in May 2016.
  • A concessionary bus travel pilot scheme for 16-18 year olds, which was originally due to be scrapped in March 2017, was reinstated. Funding will be extended until 2018 when a new youth travel pass will be launched. The Conservatives said the “u-turn” was an example of Welsh Government mismanagement.
  • Future Generations Commissioner, Sophie Howe, said the proposed Newport M4 bypass shouldn't go ahead over concerns about the amount of borrowing required to fund the project and because it didn't provide a “long-term, sustainable solution” to problems resulting from Brynglas Tunnel congestion.
  • Ofcom were asked to investigate how a public affairs company, Deryn, were awarded a monitoring contract without prior tendering, and whilst having two directors sit on Ofcom's advisory board. Neil McEvoy AM (Plaid, South Wales Central) said, “It’s impossible to know whether Deryn offered the public value for money since no other companies were able to bid for the contract.”
  • The OECD backed reforms to the Welsh National Curriculum in a report released on February 28th. The new curriculum is set to be in place by 2021, with the OECD saying the changes should be underpinned by continued investment. The Education Secretary told the Senedd, “We can use our size as an advantage in ensuring coherence, confidence and a truly national commitment to reform”.

Projects announced in February include: a £10million loan scheme to bring derelict buildings back into use; the launch of £10,000 a year postgraduate student loans from August 2017; a £1million music endowment fund; a £104million programme to improve energy efficiency of 25,000 homes in deprived areas; a £10million business rate relief scheme; a £95million package for health care education and training and a £14million upgrade of A&E facilities at Ysbyty Gwynedd.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017


Following the half term break, the Senedd reconvened with First Minister's Questions....

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Born That Way

(Pic :

Earlier today the Senedd marked LGBT History Month for the first time via the latest member's debate.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

FMQs: No Love Lost

The increasingly fractious row over Carmarthenshire Council's decision to make Llangennech School Welsh-medium-only continues. Plus, other questions on climate change, scams/cold calling and the Welsh Government “leaning” on lobbyists and the Third Sector.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

We need to talk about dog shit

(Pic :

It'll be hard to find anyone who doesn't think it's disgusting, and it's about time something was done about it.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Committees Bite Size #2: February 2017

Here's my second summarised round-up of some of the Assembly's committee inquiries over the last few months, including: domestic violence, the National Infrastructure Committee, the state of broadcasting, statutory advocacy services for vulnerable children and implementation of the new National Curriculum.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

FMQs: Teachers, Llangennech & Bridgend Ford

A refreshingly Brexit-light edition of First Minister's Questions this afternoon.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Should politicians shut up?

Despite the disproportionately high salary, subdued fame and power, being a full-time politician serves as a backhanded karmic punishment for narcissism.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

How will Brexit impact Wales?

(Pic : BBC Wales)
After 6 months of evidence-taking, the Assembly's External Affairs Committee recently published its report on the implications of Brexit (pdf). It's not light reading, but whether you voted for Brexit or not you deserve to be told what's happening behind the scenes.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Senedd Watch - January 2017

  • UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, confirmed the UK will leave the EU single market (aka. “Hard Brexit”) with a UK-EU deal to ensure “free trade”, maintenance of the UK-Irish common travel area and relevant customs agreements.
    • The First Minister repeated calls for Wales to retain “full and unfettered” access to the EU single market post-Brexit during a three-day trade mission to Norway. He said, "Failure to maintain full access, free of tariffs....could make....securing investment more difficult."
    • Jonathan Edwards MP (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) described the possibility of “Hard Brexit” as the “greatest job-killing act in Welsh history”. Welsh Conservative leader, Andrew Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), didn't believe Wales would suffer serious economic damage.
    • The Farmers Union of Wales warned that a post-Brexit free trade agreement between the UK and New Zealand could “price Welsh lamb off the shelves”. Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) said farmers had to “stay positive” and see that Brexit could present opportunities.
    • On January 24th, the Supreme Court ruled the UK Parliament must vote to start the Brexit process (activate Article 50) after the UK Government lost their appeal against a High Court judgement in December 2016. A “Brexit Bill” was introduced on January 26th.
    • The Supreme Court also ruled the devolved administrations do not need to be legally consulted on Article 50. Counsel General, Mick Antoniw (Lab, Pontypridd), defended the £84,000 cost of the Welsh Government's legal challenge because, "The voice of Wales within the UK constitution is priceless."
    • The Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru launched a joint white paper on a post-Brexit plan, Securing Wales' Future, which proposed: continued participation in the single market, free movement for immigrants with a job and guarantees on post-Brexit funding.
    • The Assembly's External Affairs Committee report into the implications of Brexit recommended the Welsh Government provide their evidence base for their white paper, and that they press the UK Government to ensure Wales has a presence in negotiations involving devolved matters.
    • At a meeting of the UK's Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) in Cardiff on January 30th, the Prime Minister promised there would be no roll back of devolved powers. The First Minister described the talks as “constructive”, but warned that the devolved administrations need to be listened to.
  • DrugAid Cymru said deaths relating to heroin were expected to rise in 2017 due to increased strength/purity and a large number of users who are unknown to services. They joined calls to introduce rooms to allow addicts to inject under medical supervision.
  • An all-party group of Westminster MPs suggested Wales-only rules on immigration could be “considered”, based on a model in Quebec. The UK Government said in response that different rules for different nations could cause confusion for employers. Steffan Lewis AM (Plaid, South Wales East) argued for a Welsh visa system to recruit health workers.
  • Minister for Lifelong Learning & Welsh Language, Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent), announced regulations that introduced standards for Welsh language public services will be reviewed saying, “They can be too complicated at times, both the process of designing and implementing."
  • Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) recommended Tata Steel employees reject a tabled pensions deal – part of a package to secure the medium-term future of the company's plants. He described the deal as “opportunistic”, saying the company has used the 2015-16 crisis to “pressure workers”.
    • Unison criticised what they described as “political interference” in the ballot process, with a union official quoted as saying, “There are personal decisions to make but also the future of the steel industry to consider. We'd like politicians to keep their opinions to themselves for the time being.”
  • Landlords called for the Welsh Government to remove an additional 3% levy on stamp duty for buy-to-let purchases under the proposed land transaction tax. The Residential Landlord Association believe it will push up rents and doesn't take into account refurbishment investments.
  • The final budget for 2017-18 – the result of an agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru - was passed by the National Assembly by 27 votes to 17 with 8 abstentions on January 10th.
    • Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli) warned against“pork barrel politics” with budgets hinging on local deals and agreements at the expense long-term planning. Adam Price AM hit back, accusing AMs of “sneering” at budget deals that help often neglected parts of Wales.
  • A UK Government-backed review supported the construction of a £1.3billion tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay, believing it would make a “strong contribution” to the UK's energy supply and presents a “significant economic opportunity”.
  • The UK Government announced Severn Crossing tolls will fall from £6.70 per crossing to £3 for cars, vans and small buses when the bridges transfer to public ownership in 2018. Options being considered include a free-flowing £1.50 each-way toll (tolls currently only apply westbound) and toll-free use between 10pm and 6am.
    • Mark Reckless AM (UKIP, South Wales East) argued that clauses in previous legislation meant the imposition of tolls post-public ownership was “unlawful”. He called for the Welsh Government to consider a legal challenge. Economy & Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), said the decision to continue tolling was “baffling”.
    • Conservative economy spokesperson, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), accused the Welsh Government of “hypocrisy” for not actively considering scrapping Cleddau Bridge tolls after Pembrokeshire Council decided to maintain the tolls in May 2016.
  • The National Assembly approved a Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) for the Wales Bill on January 17th by 38 votes to 17. The Act will change the devolution settlement and devolve income tax-varying powers without a referendum. Plaid Cymru and UKIP voted against; the former because of concerns over rolling back powers, the latter because of the removal of an income tax referendum.
  • The Welsh Government introduced the Trade Union Bill on January 17th, with the aim of reversing measures in UK law which place limitations on strike action and require heightened monitoring of union activity. The UK Government warned that industrial relations law was non-devolved.
  • Estyn's annual report said teaching standards were the weakest aspect of education in Wales, with teaching “good” or “better” in only a minority of secondary schools. Also, in a third of primary schools more able children underachieved because the work wasn't challenging enough. Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor) said, “I remain committed to the ambition of providing all teachers and leaders with the right skills and knowledge.”
  • Senior civil servant, Dr Manon Antoniazzi, was appointed Chief Executive of the National Assembly, replacing Claire Clancy in April 2017. The Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion) said, "I'm delighted....Manon has accepted the challenge to lead the organisation through the next phase of our development....I would also like to thank Claire....for the outstanding leadership she has provided over the past ten years”.
  • The Senedd unanimously backed a motion calling for the UK Government to launch a public inquiry into the 1970s-80s contaminated blood scandal, which affected 273 people in Wales. Patients with blood disorders were infected with hepatitis C and HIV after American suppliers failed to screen blood batches for disease, with successive UK governments denying any responsibility.
  • A Royal College of Paediatrics report said poverty was the biggest threat to childrens' health in Wales. The report's author stressed the need for public health messages on smoking, alcohol and diet get through and that adequate resources were provided.
  • The Welsh Government published a white paper on new proposals for local government reform, which included lowering the voting age to 16, further consultation on introducing single transferable vote for local elections and regional collaboration between local authorities.

Projects announced in January include: The launch of “lunch and fun” summer holiday clubs in deprived parts of Wales; £4million to improve school results in science and technology; the launch of an £80million “new treatments fund”; £31million towards maternity service improvements in Cardiff and Merthyr Tydfil and a £36million fund to reduce infant class sizes and raise standards.