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.
  • A deal was struck to place Hoover pensions into a protected fund to prevent them from collapsing. The company will pay £60million towards the fund, which affects 4,000 people in Wales. The UK Pension Regulator said, "We do not agree to these types of arrangements lightly but in this case we believe it is the right outcome for scheme members."
  • A freedom of information request by BBC Wales revealed up to a third of cancer patients weren't given the name or contact details of their key worker. The Welsh Government said they were developing new standards.
  • Following the hosting of the UEFA Champions League final in Cardiff on June 3rd, the Welsh Government confirmed they were in discussions to host The Open golf championship and a stage of the Tour de France. Economy Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South) said, "I think there is great potential to host new major events that have not yet been to Wales".
  • The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) announced cuts of £28.3million to university funding. Universities warned of redundancies, but HEFCW said the funding amounted to just 10% of all money raised by Welsh universities (due to higher tuition fees).
  • The Welsh Government unveiled a proposed curb of zero hour contracts in the social care sector, whereby care workers will be given a choice after three months whether to stick to a zero hours contract or move onto a minimum-hours contract.
  • Following the UK general election result, the First Minister demanded the UK Government "rethink" its plans for a "Hard Brexit", calling for a broad-based consensus and a transitional deal, as he wasn't convinced the Brexit process could be completed within two years.
  • The Welsh Government told the Public Accounts Committee that the Additional Learning Needs Bill will no longer save £4.8million, but actually cost an additional £8.2million - £13.1million more than initially thought. The figures used to draft the original impact assessment were criticised as faulty.
  • The results of a consultation on the titles of the National Assembly suggests the most popular option is changing the name to "Welsh Parliament" and AMs to Welsh Parliament Members (WPMs). The Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion), said the move would, "play a part in ensuring that more people fully understand the powers of the Assembly".
  • AMs backed a proposal by Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) to introduce a Member's Bill on autism by 40 votes to 9 abstentions. The Bill aims to protect the rights of autistic children and adults in Wales.
  • Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), seemingly dropped a Welsh Government target to improve Welsh performances in the OECD's PISA examinations. The target is for Welsh pupils to achieve average scores of 500 by 2021, but she told the Children & Education Committee it's "not my target". The First Minister later contradicted this by saying the target remained in place.
  • Following a major fire which killed at least 79 people at the Grenfell Tower in West London on June 14th, Ann Jones AM (Lab, Vale of Clwyd) said her legislation to make installation of sprinkler systems in new-build properties in Wales mandatory was often thwarted by the UK Government, who inflated the cost of the systems.
  • The Conservatives complained over the political balance of committee chairs after it was agreed Labour would take the vacant Environment Committee chair, resulting in Plaid Cymru having more chairs than the Conservatives despite being a smaller group. Paul Davies AM claimed the move breaks Assembly rules.
  • A task force for digital news recommended journalists headed by an "impartial editor" be employed by the Assembly Commission to provide news about the Assembly on digital platforms. The chair of the task force, Prof. Leighton Andrews, said it wouldn't be a propaganda tool as it was focused on the legislature.
  • As many as 1,100 jobs are to be lost from a Tesco call centre in Cardiff due to a centralisation of operations in Scotland. The centre is due to close in February 2018. The Economy & Infrastructure Secretary said a "package of support" would be provided to employees, while local AMs called for a re-think of the decision.
  • Education experts warned that a lack of careers advice in Welsh schools was preventing young people getting out of poverty, describing it as a "national disgrace". Only 1.3% of school leavers went into work-based learning in 2016.
  • Targets for new teacher recruitment were missed in 2015-16 by up to a third in the case of secondary schools and 19% for primary schools. NUT Cymru said the figures "bordered on a crisis" and were caused by high levels of work-related stress and the job not meeting expectations.
  • On June 27th, the Welsh Government decided they would not underwrite the Circuit of Wales project in Blaenau Gwent – effectively cancelling it - believing the projected job figures were exaggerated and there was a risk to public finances. A £100million automotive technology park will be taken forward instead.
    • Plaid Cymru's economy spokesperson, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr), said the Welsh Government had rejected the "single biggest private investment ever in Wales" and the private sector would "think twice before investing in the south Wales valleys again". He later accused the Welsh Government of misleading the public, calling for an independent inquiry into the decision.
    • The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth), accused the Welsh Government of "fobbing off" the committee's investigation into the project after two senior civil servants refused to attend an evidence session.
  • The First Minister unveiled the legislative programme for 2017-18 on June 27th, including new laws to introduce a minimum alcohol price, scrap up-front tenant fees, expand free childcare, reform local government and update regulation of registered social landlords. Consultation will also begin on introducing a law to outlaw "smacking" in 2018-19.

Projects announced in June include: A £500million first phase of Swansea city centre regeneration; and £1.3million to expand computer coding clubs in schools.

  • The UK general election on June 8th resulted in a hung parliament. The Conservatives fell short of an overall majority in the House of Commons with 318 seats. Theresa May subsequently formed a minority government, securing the support of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on June 26th. Alun Cairns retained his post as Welsh Secretary in a reshuffle on June 11th.
    • Channel 4 News revealed a Neath-based call centre had undertaken potentially illegal practices for the Conservatives during the 2017 general election, such as paid canvassing and misleading calls. The company also hired many people on zero hours contracts for the campaign. The Conservatives said they had acted within the law.
  • Labour won 28 seats in Wales and 262 across the UK as a whole. The party said they were ready to attempt to form a government if the Conservatives were unable to do so.
    • The First Minister described the Conservative-DUP deal – which included an additional £1billion+ for Northern Ireland over two years - as a "straight bung" which "kills the idea of fair funding" and threatens to destabilise the UK.
  • The SNP lost 21 seats, including senior figures Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond. They did, however, remain the largest party in Scotland with 35 seats. The Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour all made gains in Scotland.
  • Plaid Cymru won 4 seats in Wales - an increase of 1 compared to 2015 and matching their best ever performance in a Westminster election. However, their vote share fell by 1.7% nationally and they failed to win Ynys Môn – one of their key target seats.
  • The Lib Dems won an additional 4 seats across the UK, but lost their only MP in Wales – Welsh party leader, Mark Williams – alongside 36 deposits; Tim Farron stood down as leader of the UK party on June 14th. UKIP also failed to win any seats and saw their share of the vote collapse by 10.8% across the UK and 11.8% in Wales.


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