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.


State of Wales will launch at the end of the month, while Senedd Home (which will house all posts relating to everyday Welsh politics – like this one) launches in September. Oggy Bloggy Ogwr will become Bridgend-only.

I'll explain what's happening again another time because there's going to be some "disruption" over the next couple of weeks, but for now, I turn attentions to the AMs.

FMQs, 18th July 2017

Party Leaders

Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales) asked whether the First Minister agreed the Welsh economy needs to become more diverse, particularly in terms of attracting private capital? As he's done for the last few weeks, he pointed to the Circuit of Wales as an example of a failure to attract that sort of investment.

The First Minister told him that if the Circuit of Wales was in such a strong position they wouldn't have needed a government-backed guarantee. He didn't disagree with the principle that Wales needs to be more attractive as a business destination. There's interest in the proposed technology park in Ebbw Vale and the recent announcement of CAF opening a train-building facility in Newport is more good news.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) wanted to know whether Wales is moving closer to, or further away from, free university tuition? She's heard a lot of justification for a proposed hike in tuition fees in Wales, even though it contradicts Labour's recent manifesto commitment to free university tuition. Students believe fees should be frozen and Plaid want higher education funded from the education budget.

The First Minister believes a strong support package for both undergraduates and postgraduates has been put on the table via the Diamond Review and is more generous than England. The NUS signed up to that and he was surprised to hear Plaid Cymru distance themselves from the Diamond Review. If Plaid wants tuition fees abolished they should outline where the money will come from.

Finally, Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), targeted Cardiff & Vale Health Board. Firstly, a "damning" Wales Audit Office report into the award of HR contracts which were potentially unlawful, lacked transparency and were awarded without advertising. This board is under close scrutiny by the Welsh Government because it has a budget deficit of up to £35million.

The First Minister said it was a matter for the health board, but the Health Secretary has demanded an explanation. Any answers will be shared with the Senedd.

Secondly, Andrew briefly turned to one the big stories of the week – the court ruling on staff parking fines at the University Hospital, Cardiff – where staff are facing financial ruin after being ordered to pay unpaid fines that may reportedly run into hundreds of thousands of pounds collectively.

In something that's not likely to make him popular, the First Minister said parking enforcement was introduced due to a death at the site caused partly by illegal parking, as well as the impact illegal parking has on traffic flows. Enforcement has to happen even if the cases here are unfortunate otherwise if gives drivers a green light to park anywhere they like without penalty.

Backbenchers

David Rowlands AM (UKIP, South Wales East) asked when a report on the inquiry into the land sales to South Wales Land Developments (RIFW scandal) will be published? He described the inquiry as a test of competence of the entire scrutiny framework in devolved Wales.

The First Minister was quick to say that the Auditor General believes the Welsh Government acted quickly and the review will focus on the governance of RIFW and the professional advice received. Legal proceedings were underway (presumed to be in order to reclaim some of the lost money) which meant he couldn't comment further.

Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) asked for a statement on a recent Estyn report into Coleg Cymunedol y Dderwen in Bridgend county. Huw praised the headteacher, Nick Brain, for vowing to turn around the school in a year following a highly-critical report and subsequently achieved record GCSE passes which led to the school being taken out of special measures.

Carwyn was pleased the school has made significant progress and hopes it will continue to do so. The turnaround showed the difference leadership can make as the staff and pupils are largely the same as they were before. Extra assistance is available if the school needs it in the future.

Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) asked about Welsh Government support for enterprise zones. When will the current zones be reviewed, and how will their success be measured?

The Welsh Government remains committed to the existing 8 enterprise zones with "success" being the creation of more jobs. Initial discussions have been held on the future of the zones. The case for creating new enterprise zones will always be examined.

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