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.

FMQs, 27th June 2017

Party Leaders

Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), went for the jugular with a question on the Circuit of Wales project. Evidence given yesterday by James Price (a senior civil servant) to the Public Accounts Committee contradicts today's decision; the civil service defended spending £9million developing the project as "value for money", but the Economy Secretary claims the project's benefits were over-exaggerated. Who's right? Did the First Minister still have confidence in James Price?

Carwyn didn't believe the two positions contradict each other, as Phase 2 of the project (an automotive technology park) – of which there's some interest by business - will go ahead. There were specific concerns about the viability of the race track itself and the company involved couldn't meet the Welsh Government's conditions for financial support.

Carwyn accused Andrew of "cowardice" for naming a civil servant who couldn't defend himself in the chamber. Andrew wasn't too happy about that and the Llywydd decided to end the questioning there.

UKIP leader, Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales), opted to continue with the Circuit of Wales. He accused Labour of deliberately stalling a decision until after the general election and believed the maximum outlay by the Welsh Government would've been £8million a year for 33 years. The decision displays a "pathetic lack of vision" and damages the economic hopes of south-east Wales.

Carwyn wasn't going to be lectured by someone involved in closing the mines blah, blah, Thatcher, blah, blah. Decisions couldn't be taken while due diligence processes were incomplete, and it would've been reckless to do otherwise. Far from the risk being £8million a year, it could've cost £157million in capital funds this financial year alone – money that could be used for new schools and hospitals.

Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) turned attentions to rising sickness rates amongst teachers, mainly due to their workloads. It's a situation that's worse than the Welsh Government were willing to admit. Did the First Minister agree with recent claims by NUT Cymru that teacher recruitment was bordering on a crisis?

Unsurprisingly, the First Minister didn't agree. There's be opportunities to come up with a better package for teachers when their pay and conditions are devolved.


Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) asked for a statement on how the Welsh Government were tackling rural crime. Crime costs the rural economy £2million a year, and in her area, a rural crime team say livestock crimes account for 75% of cases, with 2,000 sheep killed in dog attacks.

The Welsh Government are working closely with the relevant authorities, but policing is non-devolved. There's a need to change attitudes, particularly when it comes to fly-tipping. The First Minister welcomed initiatives such as those trialled by Aberystwyth University, which uses DNA techniques to successfully prosecute sheep rustling; it's vital as much evidence as possible is found.

Simon Thomas AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) asked what the Welsh Government were doing to tackle excessive gambling? The impacts run into the tens of millions of pounds, and he called for more independent research free from the influence of the gambling industry itself.

While the First Minister accepted gambling regulation was non-devolved, the Welsh Government are "exploring what they can do" to address the problem, but betting shops and the planning system are only part of the issue as online gambling increases. Recommendations from the Chief Medical Officer are due later this year.

Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) wanted an outline of support being offered to retired military personnel and their families, particularly the role of local authority "armed forces champions".

There was a specific commitment to veterans and their families in Labour's government programme. The Communities Secretary will be meeting "armed forces champions" in the autumn to discuss their role and the support the champions can give to the community. The Welsh Government have also developed a new ex-forces pathway to access social housing.


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