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temporarily suspended from the Plaid Cymru Assembly group and had his portfolio responsibilities of sport and tourism withdrawn.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.


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