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Wednesday 31 May 2017

Senedd Watch - May 2017

  • Labour lost 107 seats in Welsh local council elections on May 4th. However, they managed to retain control of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport councils. Labour lost control of Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent councils, but despite this the results were said to be “not as bad as expected”.
    • Plaid Cymru gained 33 seats and remained the second largest party in local government, but took overall control of just one council – Gwynedd. They narrowly missed out on taking overall control of Anglesey, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, but picked up extra seats across Wales – a result described by party leader, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda), as “breaking new ground”.
    • The Conservatives regained control of Monmouthshire and won an additional 80 seats, finishing second in Cardiff and in position to take control of the Vale of Glamorgan. Conservative leader, Andrew Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) said the results meant the party's “hard work paid off”.
    • The Liberal Democrats lost 11 seats but made gains in Powys. UKIP won no seats, while the Green Party gained their first elected councillor in Powys. Llais Gwynedd lost 7 seats, while Independents took control of Blaenau Gwent and increased their seat total by 11.
    • 92 council seats were won uncontested. Prof. Roger Scully of the Wales Governance Centre said it made a “mockery of democracy” and repeated calls for the introduction of single transferable vote for local elections.
  • The Welsh Government announced literacy and numeracy tests for 6 and 14 year olds will be taken online from September 2017. The tests will adapt to pupils' skills to provide “an appropriate level of challenge”. Opposition parties cautiously welcomed the proposal, but were concerned about “pitfalls” such as poor broadband connections.
  • The UK was found in breach of EU regulations on the amount of sewage and waste water discharged into Carmarthenshire's Burry Inlet. New housing developments in the Llanelli area are thought to have been a contributing factor. Dwr Cymru insisted the problems didn't cause excess cockle deaths in the area.
  • The Welsh Government were ordered by the UK Information Commissioner to disclose any public funds offered to Aston Martin to establish a new factory in the Vale of Glamorgan, after initially refusing to do so following the First Minister's belief it would “prejudice the conduct of public affairs”.
  • Operators of community energy schemes warned that business rate rises – in some cases as much as 900% - has placed many local hydroelectric schemes in jeopardy, if not completely unprofitable. The Welsh Government said it was considering special assistance, while Plaid Cymru would introduce a rate relief scheme and loans for pre-application costs.
  • Anti-Slavery Co-ordinator, Stephen Chapman, said Wales' “porous borders” with England and lack of border checks made it too easy for people traffickers to move people into the country. The number of recorded cases of human trafficking into Wales rose from 32 in 2012 to 125 in 2016.
  • The National Assembly unanimously passed the Public Health Bill on May 16th. The Public Health Act – which was amended to include measures on obesity – will regulate tattoos and body modifications, ban smoking in more public spaces and introduce measures on public toilet provision.
  • The Welsh Government accused developers behind the Circuit of Wales project of providing inaccurate information, leading to a delay in a final decision to underwrite the project. Plaid Cymru accused the government of deliberately delaying a decision until after the UK general election. The developers are looking for the Welsh Government to guarantee around £210million of the costs.
    • Plaid's economy spokesperson, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr), later demanded an investigation into how the Welsh Government responded to a critical Wales Audit Office report into the project, after it was revealed Economy Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), knew civil servants saw the report several weeks prior to publication despite publicly claiming the Welsh Government had "short notice" of it.
  • Tributes were paid to former First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, who died on May 17th aged 77. He served as First Minister between 2000-2009 and oversaw the introduction of many hallmark policies of post-devolution Wales. He retired as an Assembly Member in 2011 and was appointed Chancellor of Swansea University. General election campaigning was temporarily suspended as a mark of respect, while a funeral service was held at the Senedd building on May 31st.
    • First Minister, Carwyn Jones, said Rhodri, “wasn’t like other politicians, and that's why people warmed to him, trusted him and felt like they knew him so well. I owe him a great deal, just as we all do in Welsh Labour."
    • Plaid Cymru - Labour's coalition partners between 2007-2011 - paid tribute. Former Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones said, "It wasn't easy for him to deliver the coalition in sections of his party, but Rhodri stood firm and we agreed a very progressive programme of government."
    • Mike German - who led the Liberal Democrats into coalition with Labour between 2000-2003 - said he was "a strong opponent but a great friend. Wales has lost a great politician and stalwart."
    • Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Andrew Davies said, “As First Minister, his answers in the chamber were always worthy of attention and his encyclopedic knowledge across his brief ensured he was rarely wrong-footed.”
    • On behalf of the National Assembly the Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion), said "Rhodri's ability to communicate with, and to understand, the diverse communities of Wales ultimately won hearts and minds, and was critical in giving the people of Wales the confidence to strengthen and develop the National Assembly."
  • Political campaigning for the UK general election was suspended for a second time on May 23rd, following an Islamist terror attack at the Manchester Arena, which killed 22 people and injured 64. The First Minister condemned it as a “particular form of cruelty” that was “appalling and senseless”.
  • A Wales Audit Office concluded that “improvements” were needed to the 21st Century School programme, with some new buildings not meeting required standards. NUT Wales said the programme was “patchy”, and the report recommended an up to date picture be provided on the state of schools for the second phase of the programme, due to start in 2019.

Projects announced in May include: a £3.4million joint Welsh-Irish coastal erosion study; a £9million national broadcast archive based at the National Library in Aberystwyth; £38million towards a compound semiconductor facility in Newport under the Cardiff City Region and the launch of a nursing recruitment campaign.

  • Conservative leader, Theresa May, said her party wouldn't raise VAT is they win the election, but refused to rule out possible increases in income tax and national insurance. She told the BBC she couldn't make “specific proposals” unless she were absolutely sure she could deliver them.
  • Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood AM, warned that a Conservative victory could see the UK Government take back powers devolved to the National Assembly. The Conservatives said the statement was an attempt to “exploit uncertainty over the devolution settlement”.
  • Labour pledged to recruit an extra 10,000 police officers across EnglandandWales (with up to 900 in Wales), costing £300million, paid for by reversing cuts to capital gains tax. Plaid Cymru called for Labour to support devolution of policing, while the Conservatives criticised the plans as “nonsensical”.
  • In her final address from Downing Street before the election campaign formally started, Theresa May accused EU officials of “making threats” and accused the European press of “misrepresenting” the UK's Brexit negotiating stance, saying the European Commission's stance had “hardened”.
  • The Lib Dems pledged to raise income tax by 1p to provide extra funding for the NHS and social care. A Barnett formula consequential would result in an estimated additional £280million for the Welsh Government.
  • Labour pledged not to raise taxes for anyone earning up to £80,000 a year if they form the next UK government, as well as a commitment to not raise VAT or national insurance. Those earning above £80,000 would be asked to pay “a modest bit more” to fund public services. They also pledged to introduce a “Robin Hood Tax” on financial transactions to raise £26billion.
  • The Conservatives promised to reduce net migration to the UK to “tens of thousands”. The pledge was also in their 2010 and 2015 manifestos but failed to be implemented. UKIP promised “radical cuts” to immigration in response, including a five year moratorium on unskilled immigrants entering the UK.
  • The Lib Dems would approve the Swansea Tidal Lagoon “immediately” if they formed the next UK government. UK Leader, Tim Farron, also warned that Wales “would be taken for granted” if the Conservatives won a large majority.
  • Plaid Cymru launched their manifesto on May 16th, pledging to "defend Wales” from the Conservatives. Their key policies included abolishing business rates and replacing it with a turnover-based system, guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living and working in Wales and barrier-free trade with Europe.
  • The Conservatives committed to scrapping Severn crossing tolls if they win the general election. The First Minister welcomed the policy, which originally would only see the tolls being halved. UKIP said the Conservatives “stole their policy”.
  • Labour said Conservative plans to means-test winter fuel allowances were “sick and sneaky”, with a possible 10million pensioners hit by the changes. The First Minister said the “nasty Tory party is back, and how”.
  • Following the attack in Manchester, the parties put forward their policies on national security. Plaid Cymru called for extra police funding, Labour promised extra staff for the security services while the Conservatives would establish a commission to counter extremism.

Monday 22 May 2017

Committees Bite Size #4: May 2017

A brief break from the general election today for summaries of some of the reports that have come out of the Senedd's committees over the last couple of weeks.

Thursday 18 May 2017

Rhodri Morgan 1939-2017

(Pic : Wales Online)

The former First Minister of Wales, Rhodri Morgan, has died at the age of 77.

Sunday 14 May 2017

Oggy Bloggy Ogwr's Future

At the end of 2016 I said I was going to "retire" from blogging after the local elections.

Tuesday 2 May 2017

FMQs: Gaffes, Circuit of Wales & Borrowing

This afternoon saw the final FMQs before the local elections on Thursday and the first since the announcement of the forthcoming UK general election.