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.


FMQs, 11th July 2017

Party Leaders

Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), highlighted an interim report on health & social care that was published today. Will the final report's recommendations guide government thinking on skills, workforce, demographics etc.? He criticised the Welsh Government's reluctance to implement recommendations of major independent reports, like the Williams Commission.

The First Minister insisted the review wouldn't have gone ahead if the Welsh Government didn't intend to take it seriously. It's important to find common ground across the parties on health and he looks forward to the final report. He wouldn't, however, commit to following through on all of the recommendations until he's seen them all.

Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda), returned to the Circuit of Wales. All of the opposition parties and some Labour backbenchers have either called for a full inquiry or for serious questions to be answered. The due diligence report is due to be published during recess, so AMs won't have an opportunity to scrutinise it properly until September.

Carwyn said the Welsh Government are in discussions with relevant parties so they can publish as much of the due diligence report as possible.

Leanne then accused the First Minister of making misleading statements, referring to contradictions in accounts of Aviva and the First Minister in the run up to the first refusal in April 2016 and the final refusal last month. The statements make it look like the First Minister was blowing hot and cold on backing the scheme and whether changes to the financial model were acceptable.

The First Minister defended himself by saying the project had changed several times over six years. It was rejected because under public accounting rules the guarantee the developers were seeking would've appeared on the government balance sheet as if the Welsh Government had given them the money as capital spending – that money would have to be cut elsewhere. We also hadn't heard whether Plaid Cymru agreed with the decision or not (though all indications are they wanted the project to go ahead).

Finally, UKIP leader Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales), agreed with Leanne Wood and called for a Public Accounts Committee investigation. However, his question turned to Brexit negotiations and a planned meeting between the First Minister and the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. He hoped Carwyn wouldn't undermine the UK Government's position and will accept the UK will leave both the single market and customs union.

The First Minister isn't going to the meeting to negotiate but to outline the agreed Labour-Plaid Cymru position. He can't undermine the UK's negotiating position because he still has no idea what it is, as the UK Cabinet keep saying different things. The public clearly didn't support the Conservatives Brexit position because they didn't win the election and it was now time to reach a broader consensus.

Backbenchers

Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) asked for a statement on staff redundancies at Welsh universities. Bangor University is the latest institution to propose job cuts (117). Was it time for the Welsh Government to step in and make sure universities have the right resources?

The First Minister expects universities to “engage meaningfully” with staff. The Welsh Government don't welcome job losses and it should be a last resort not the first, but universities are independent and can make their own decisions. They shouldn't be solely reliant on government funds and should do more to attract private sector investment.

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) wanted a statement on employability programmes. Could the First Minister explain why the Welsh Government's employability programme is unlikely to start before April 2019 and why it will be provided by a single contractor?

The First Minister said a statement will be/was made later in the afternoon (so didn't go into much detail). An interim programme running between now and April 2019 is being trialled to support the Valleys taskforce.

Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) & Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) both asked questions on modern languages education. Was the First Minister open to the idea of holding a fair to encourage pupils to take up foreign languages?

The Welsh Government has a five-year plan (Global Futures) to encourage take-up. He was open to the idea of a language fair (as done in Scotland), but in the meantime, the language institutions of Spain, Germany and France are due to open offices in Cardiff in the autumn. Modern languages also won't be forgotten in the well-publicised push to increase the number of Welsh-speakers.

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