Today’s Senedd Roundup: AMs unanimously back devolving Air Passenger Duty

Touchdown at Cardiff Airport. Picture by Clint Budd (CC BY 2.0)

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes the report of the UK Parliament’s Welsh Affairs Committee, Devolution of Air Passenger Duty(APD) to Wales and welcomes the recommendation by Committee that APD should be devolved to Wales.
  • Notes the consistent cross-party support that exists for the devolution of APD, including the position set out in the Finance Committee’s submission to the Welsh Affairs Committee report.
  • Calls on the UK Government to respond to the report by setting out proposals to devolve APD to the Welsh Assembly and fully devolve APD by 2021.

A point of consternation
Opening the debate, Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), welcomed the Welsh Affairs Committee report, saying APD had been a “point of consternation for all of us”:

The UK Government’s evidence maintained that Bristol Airport would be negatively impacted by any Welsh moves to reduce or remove APD, but this wasn’t an appropriate reason to limit devolution to Wales (APD has been devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland).

The Minister acknowledged that following the climate emergency declaration there would be environmental concerns. The Welsh Government’s policy would be to use APD “to secure optimal growth” for Cardiff Airport and improve connectivity. It would be fully assessed to determine if it complies with the Future Generations Act and carbon budgets under the Environment Act 2016; there may even be a marginal carbon saving if it results in fewer Welsh passengers driving to and from Bristol or other airports.

Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth), said there was very clear cross-party consensus on this and he was happy to co-submit the motion. APD would fit with taxes already devolved to Wales and he couldn’t understand why Bristol Airport felt so threatened by it.

“Baffling” battle for Bristol Airport

“It has again been baffling to see the Secretary of State for Wales – in whose constituency Cardiff Airport is – seemingly batting for Bristol Airport….And we have heard plenty of evidence to say that this wouldn’t be about disadvantaging Bristol – and there is no strong evidence to suggest that Bristol would be at a disadvantage – but that it would be advantageous to Cardiff. And that is what we are interested in here.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn)

Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) cautiously welcomed the idea, but it would be easier to judge the merits of APD devolution if there was a clear intention by the Welsh Government on what they planned to do with it – comments echoed by Michelle Brown AM (Ind, North Wales).

Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) was clear that he wanted to see APD devolved then abolished; any loss to the Welsh Government – which is likely to be as little as £1million for long-haul flights – would be “multiplied several times over” by the increased volume of passengers travelling through Cardiff. APD could also, in the future, be used to incentivise the use of electric aircraft for short-haul flights.

Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) didn’t want to see powers devolved for the sake of it, but this is another incidence of the broken devolution settlement. Ultimately, the Welsh Government is the only authority with the ability to properly manage transport in Wales.

The motion was agreed unanimously. However, while the vote is binding on the Welsh Government’s policies (as it was held during government time), it’s not binding on the UK Government in any way.

Cardiff University. Picture by Stan Zurek

Institutional racism at Cardiff University

Here’s a round-up of this afternoon’s questions to the Education Minister.

Institutional racism at Cardiff University

Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West) raised the matter of serious allegations of racism made by Cardiff University students from minority ethnic backgrounds, where it’s said some were subject to abuse following a 2016 medical school revue show called Anaphylaxis (where students “blacked up” to play lecturers). The problem hasn’t been dealt with.

“….the trouble is that some students do not believe that, institutionally, Cardiff has been willing to content seriously enough with racism or respond with enough gravity to reports and recommended actions. They also believe there is a wider cultural problem, particularly in certain schools of the university.”
– Bethan Sayed AM

The Education Minister, Kirsty Williams AM (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), was quite clear that there was no place for racism anywhere within the Welsh education system. Talks were ongoing with the student union and university, while she expected the university to deal with these allegations properly – possibly even reviewing the culture within individual departments or schools.


Careers advisors “going back into schools”

Shadow Skills Minister, Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East), said good quality careers advice was essential to match students with jobs. However, the quality of careers advice has been questioned due to a shortage of trained careers advisors and subsequent lack of understanding about apprenticeships and vocational courses.

The Minister said careers advisors were going back into schools:

“What we’ve done….after a period in which we were not able to commission Careers Wales to be providing a service in schools, is we have those trained careers advisors back in our school settings, and more importantly we’re currently running a pilot in Rhondda Cynon Taf to explore best practice. The results of that pilot will help us develop an even better careers service for children and young people going forward.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams

Active travel and schools

David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) congratulated Ysgol Hamadryad in Cardiff, which has become a “pioneer” for active travel planning, having developed personalised active travel plans for pupils and parents and taking measures to make car journeys less convenient. Was this something all schools can learn from?

Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) wanted to ensure children were involved in decision-making processes around active travel, while Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) asked how the 21st Century Schools programme was being used to increase the number of children walking and cycling to and from school?

The Minister said the Hamadryad example proves how a simple change of mindset can make a big difference – though it’s easier as it’s a completely new school. All schools within the 21st Century Schools programme have to clearly demonstrate that they’ve provided for safe walking and cycling access.

Charging additional council tax on empty properties best left to individual councils

Health Minister Rejects Health Board Chief’s “micromanagement” Comments

Here’s a summary of this afternoon’s health questions.

Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) brought up recent comments by (the soon-to-be-former) Chair of Swansea Bay Health Board, Andrew Davies, that the Welsh Government were “micromanaging” the affairs of health boards.

While the Health Minister was somewhat magnanimous – saying that while not seeing eye-to-eye on everything, Andrew Davies should take credit for overcoming some serious challenges at the board – he rejected any idea of “micromanaging”; it was all about balance:

“I don’t share the view of the outgoing Chair of the Swansea Bay Health Board. I think it’s important that there is a link, and Members…..regularly encourage, if not demand, that I and my officials, take an even greater role in holding parts of the health service to account and intervene on an even more granular level than we do presently. But certainly, through the winter, there are regular conference calls with every health board about performance, particularly in an unscheduled care system.

“There is always going to be a balance about where you intervene and where you ask and where you scrutinise and where you leave trusted parts of the system to progress. “
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething

Call for sight-saving treatment on the NHS

Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.), said that while treatment for keratoconus wasn’t available on the NHS, it was available privately at NHS hospitals:

“Minister, for £2,000 you can nip down to the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend – which, the last time I looked, was an NHS hospital – and you can pay an NHS surgeon, in his spare time, for £2,000, to actually give you the treatment that saves the sight in your eye. I fail to see that that’s to do with capacity; I think it’s to do with will.”
– Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM

Even though there’s a chance the disease will return, treatment can still give someone an extra few years of sight. Relaying a constituent’s question: “Why, for the sake of £2,000, was the NHS happy to see me lose my sight?”

The Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), said he had received correspondence on this from a number of AMs and was willing to look at it again. However, it wasn’t a matter of will, but the effective use of resources and also access to the skilled staff needed to carry out certain procedures.

Amber 999 calls for stroke victims

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) told the chamber the median response time for “amber” (serious, but not life-threatening) 999 calls has more than doubled from around 12 minutes to 26 minutes over three years. An FOI request revealed more than 4,000 patients waited longer than an hour for an ambulance when they’d suffered a stroke between January 2018-March 2019.

Strokes can be devastating, so will the Minister consider setting a binding target time for treatment of strokes – a call made by The Stroke Association?

The Minister told AMs the Welsh ambulance response model has been replicated across the UK and it’s made a positive difference – particularly in responding to life-threatening “red” 999 calls.

“….if the evidence changes, then I’m more than prepared to look again at that evidence and whether it’s still the right decision. But at this point in time, it would be just dishonest for me to say that I’m going to look again at a recent review that’s taken place when, in the last few months, I’ve reported to this Chamber on the work that I’ve already outlined.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething

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