Today’s Senedd Roundup: Bridgend Ford engine plant to close in September 2020

Photo by Grahame Jenkins on Unsplash

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

Ford Europe has announced that the Bridgend engine plant will close on 25th September 2020, with the loss of around 1,700 jobs.

The company have blamed “cost disadvantages” compared to other plants and excess manufacturing capacity due to a fall in demand for its engines (and the closure of several production lines at Bridgend) as the reasons behind their decision.

Carwyn Jones AM (Lab, Bridgend) said: “The workers deserve so much better than this after all their efforts and hard work. They did all that was asked of them.”


The Unite trade union – one of the unions which represent workers at the plant – called on the Welsh and UK governments to work on a rescue plan, with the Leader, Len McClusky, describing the decision as a “grotesque act of economic betrayal”.

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said: “This will be one of the worst acts of industrial vandalism that we’ve seen in the UK for decades.”

It comes just weeks after Honda announced its intention to close its Swindon plant in 2021 with the loss of 3,500 jobs, while Nissan decided against manufacturing a new vehicle in Sunderland.

© Copyright Richard Hoare and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence BY-SA-2.0)

Calls for Health Minister’s resignation defeated.

A debate calling for the resignation of Health Minister Vaughan Gething over the ongoing problems at Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board has been defeated by 28 votes to 20.

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes that 8th June 2019 marks four years since the Betsi Cadwaladr health board was placed into special measures and further notes that ministerial oversight of special measures arrangements has consistently been with the current Health Minister.
  • Regrets that Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board still has significant improvements to make in mental health services, governance, leadership and oversight.
  • Calls upon the Health Minister to accept his responsibility for failing to deliver the required improvement at the health board and resign.

The Public Accounts Committee recently published a report on this very issue, a summary of which you can read here.

Health Minister painting a rosier picture than staff

Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.), said this debate wasn’t tabled to demoralise staff, but to get answers. The Health Minister has often painted a rosier picture of the situation than staff have. Many of the areas of concern which resulted in the board being placed into special measures haven’t been resolved.

“This is what the Conservatives would do: we would draught in help from experienced managers working in the NHS throughout the UK…. We would implement robust and independent consultation events to engage and empower staff, to help them identify areas of concern free from external pressures. We would underpin the areas that have shown such devastating failures of performance and provide them with management support and funding to improve.”
– Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM

Angela wasn’t the only AM to point out that the health board is named after Betsi Cadwaladr (“the Welsh Florence Nightingale”) and her legacy was being tarnished by association – Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) even suggested changing the board’s name.

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) ran through a number of reports and concerns relating to the board, including the recent Public Accounts Committee report which said Welsh Government intervention has made little impact. He called on the Health Minister to accept responsibility for failing to deliver improvements and resign.

Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) said the board’s finances were “spiralling out of control”, while Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) called for an end to political appointments to health boards and a stronger inspection regime.

Reorganisation should be on the table

Jack Sargeant AM (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) painted a more balanced picture; some constituents praise the level and quality of care their receive, while others have clearly been let down. Particular areas of concern were well-known: out-of-hours GPs, ambulance response times and mental health. He didn’t think reorganising the health board should be completely off the table, but any changes had to have a clinical justification.

“This new normal, of course, represents an ongoing financial crisis, it represents recruitment problems, failures in long term planning, particularly in terms of the workforce, GP services collapsing, an over-reliance on locums and agency staff, and a failure to deal with complaints in a timely or appropriate manner.”
– Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales)

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) repeated a call for performance standards for NHS managers to be introduced so they can be struck off in the same way as medical and nursing staff.

Reflecting on progress to date

The Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) said the anniversary was an opportunity to “reflect on reality and the pace of progress to date”. Two areas of concern in 2015 – maternity services and GP out-of-hours services – have now come out of special measures.

He also refused to set a timetable for the board to come out of special measures.

“I noted that any decisions on changing the escalation status of Betsi Cadwaladr will be taken after receiving advice from the Wales Audit Office, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and the NHS Wales chief executive. That is as standard under the intervention arrangements that we do have in place, so I won’t set….an artificial timetable for the health board to move out of special measures.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething

Replying to Jack Sargeant, he didn’t see any objective reason for the board to be reorganised; the last thing the board needs is upheaval.

An amended motion noting the anniversary, removing any reference to resignation, but also noting progress made and stating that any decision on special measures will be taken based on expert advice was passed by 32 votes to 20.

The Lansbury Park estate in Caerphilly, one of Wales’ poorest areas. Picture from Google Maps

Senedd backs cross-party call for a new anti-poverty strategy

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Calls on the Welsh Government to produce a tackling poverty strategy, with a detailed budget and action plan for implementation.
  • Calls on the First Minister to clarify the areas of responsibility for tackling poverty within each ministerial portfolio.
  • Acknowledges and drives accountability on progress made on the tackling poverty agenda.

We need leadership

John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) summarised many of the well-known problems facing people in poverty across educational achievement, life opportunities and housing. He highlighted criticisms of the Welsh Government’s prosperity strategy, as well as academic findings that welfare reform was one of the main drivers on an increase in poverty.

“Despite this alarming picture….the Welsh Government does not currently have an overarching poverty strategy as it did in previous years, and greater leadership is required. The most commonly used measure of poverty is the proportion of the population who live in a household whose income is less than 60% of median income, adjusted ….after housing costs. However, we still do not have a definitive definition of what poverty means that can be used by Government departments, local authorities and private and voluntary sector organisations.”
– John Griffiths AM

Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales), endorsed the general need for leadership but pointed to various statistics and reports which showed falls in absolute poverty and improvements to peoples’ sense of well-being.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) certainly wasn’t going to look on the bright side, saying Westminster’s policies “were killing people”. She wanted to see the people most affected by poverty being more involved in developing the policies to help them. Leanne also repeated calls for administration of welfare to be devolved.

Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen) lamented the Welsh Government’s decision to drop a target to eliminate child poverty by 2020, but successive UK governments had made it impossible to achieve:

“The result is that, for a decade now, child poverty figures in Wales have stagnated….started to rise – an unparalleled failure of our economic model in the UK, the unjustifiable price of austerity, a trap for future generations. The most brutal truth of the Conservative record is….avoidable deaths associated with poverty….have risen through the age of austerity.”
– Lynne Neagle AM

In-work poverty

Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) noted the rise of in-work poverty and the number of people having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. The roll-out of universal credit has reduced family incomes and the Welsh Government needed to do more to ensure employers receiving government support didn’t exploit their workers.

“….the Government needs to review its early intervention strategies and plans such as Flying Start. 44% of children living in poverty don’t qualify for Flying Start and we need to move the focus back to the creation of a national and local strategy in terms of early intervention.”
– Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon)

Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) repeated words from a UN report which said the post-war consensus has been deliberately removed and replaced with “a harsh and uncaring ethos”. Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) believed the free school meal system needed a review due to low take-up and complicated eligibility criteria caused by universal credit, while Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) called for every local authority to designate a member responsible for eliminating food poverty.

“The bread and butter things”

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), said the elimination of poverty was one of the reasons he entered politics. The Welsh Government’s approach to policy was, in his words, “focused on the bread and butter things” by providing universal benefits like free prescriptions.

While he wouldn’t commit the Welsh Government to a specific anti-poverty strategy, poverty will become a priority measure in the Welsh Government’s budget planning process on the direction of the First Minister.

Vote

The non-binding motion secured 38 votes. There were 12 abstentions.

Brecon Beacons National Park. Picture Nation.Cymru

Rewilding Wales?

This week’s short debate was lead by Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) on the subject of “re-wilding”.

A controversial subject

Joyce Watson accepted that rewilding was a controversial subject and only seems to grab headlines when the re-introduction of wild carnivores like wolves is raised – though the re-introduction of beavers is being investigated for Carmarthenshire.

She raised Tuesday’s statement on the future of farm support and the principle of it being tied to the public good – but what is “public good”? Managed re-wilding which can store carbon emissions in light of the climate emergency is a clear example of it.

“Rewilding Britain’s plan is to put carbon sequestration front and centre as a model of payments that values carbon sequestration in different restored ecosystems to develop long-term mitigation of climate change. In other words, that translates as managed rewilding, and not neglecting swathes of our countryside.”
– Joyce Watson AM

John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) said good management was essential to ensure biodiversity was maintained and rewilding should be seen as part of conservation management – some of which (birds, for example) may require grazing to continue rather than be cut back.

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) warned that rural communities are yet to be persuaded that re-wilding isn’t going to be forced on them without their involvement – as perceptions are of the Summit to Sea project.

A pivotal moment

Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), was a bit cautious despite saying that biodiversity and climate change were at a pivotal moment. Rewilding has clearly divided opinion with many believing that wild species were being re-introduced at random and productive land was being abandoned – she couldn’t support putting animals in that situation.

“If we were to allow the Welsh countryside to develop through natural succession, it is likely this would turn large areas of Wales into woodland, and on the face of it, this could seem like an attractive idea – helping us to reach our woodland planting and climate change targets. However, many of our most threatened and priority habitats in Wales are not woodland, and rely on management through grazing, for example, to hold them in a more open condition, to allow their characteristic plant and animal species to thrive.”
– Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths

An additional £11million has been announced towards nature recovery, creating 30 new meadows and restoring a further 22 other sites. Farmers deserve praise and the Minister said she was inspired by the level of commitment many have shown towards protecting biodiversity; they deserve to be rewarded for carrying out such work, whilst not neglecting their food production role.

Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

Another Brexit Debate

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Declares its unequivocal support for a confirmatory referendum on whatever terms proposed by any Prime Minister that the UK leaves the EU, with remain on the ballot paper.

Untangling the Brexit knot

Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) said an unambiguous clarity on the way forward on Brexit was needed as policies of the Westminster parties have been confused. The hardships people faced when considering voting Leave in 2016 were down to the UK Government, who were negligent towards disadvantaged communities on the one hand and targeted vulnerable people with cruel policies on the other hand.

Suggesting that a second vote would be undemocratic was contradictory “newspeak”.

“Those who advocated leaving the EU have had one opportunity after another to deliver on the result, but when it came to the crunch, they had nothing to bring to the table except empty rhetoric, so they resigned instead. They’ve had their chance and they’ve failed, leaving us with no choice but to revisit the original decision, but this time knowing what’s at stake….”
– Delyth Jewell AM

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) argued that there were multiple versions of Brexit:

“….A soft Brexit, a hard Brexit, a Brexit with an agreement, a ‘no deal’ Brexit, a free market Brexit – there’s a protectionist Brexit, open Brexit, xenophobic Brexit, the Canada option, Norway plus, Ukraine option, Swiss option, Turkey option. I’m told there’s a Tory Brexit somewhere. There’s certainly an ERG Brexit. There’s a Corbyn Brexit, there’s a UKIP Brexit, there’s a Brexit Party Brexit, there’s a ‘red, white and blue’ Brexit, apparently, and a ‘Brexit means Brexit’ Brexit.”
– Llyr Gruffydd AM

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) thought there was a plan too and she was prepared to accept the result, but there’s no consensus on the way forward and many people will have changed their minds.

Carwyn Jones AM (Lab, Bridgend) echoed that, adding that Brexit has become such an all-consuming matter it dominates everything to the point that nothing gets done, with the UK Parliament near paralysed as British industry faces another crisis.

Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen) said her party had failed to grasp the nettle “on the most important issue of our times” and left the door open to “opportunists, zealots and charlatans”. She welcomed the First Minister’s newfound commitment to a second referendum. Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) later said consent has to be informed consent as evidence mounts that people were lied to and manipulated by the Leave campaign.

The people have spoken

Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) accused Plaid Cymru of ignoring the views of the people and thinking they know best. The white paper they agreed with the Welsh Government made no reference to a second referendum. He called on whoever succeeds Theresa May as Prime Minister to leave the EU on October 31st 2019 as planned – deal or no deal.

“Although legally the referendum was non-binding, the Government to implement the result. The fiasco that followed showed that our politicians’ words are of no real value. Brexiteers are being blamed for the division that now clearly exists in the UK population, but it is the Remainers’ non-acceptance of the referendum that has caused the divide….”
– David Rowlands AM (BXP, South Wales East)

Shadow Brexit Minister, Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West), pointed out this wasn’t the first debate from Plaid calling for a second referendum. The good performance of the Brexit Party at the European elections should send a clear message as to what people want to see happen.

Striking a more neutral tone, Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly), said that while Remain was still a better option, you can’t assume that Leave voters are “wrong”. Democracy in the UK was fundamentally broken and putting the decision back to the people again could entrench divisions in society – as a result he’s a convert to proportional representation.

“….the point I’m making is our democracy is not functioning. The only way through right now, reluctantly, is a referendum. But we need to look at this. We need to think about how we can repair our democracy. There is a way forward, and that way forward is reforming our electoral system.”
– Hefin David AM

Prepare for a referendum now

Counsel General and Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath), said that while the Welsh Government, working with Plaid Cymru, provided a detailed blueprint of Brexit going forward, the UK Government has wasted three years and the Conservates will waste more time on a leadership election.

“So, we are making clear now that we will campaign to Remain and we need parliamentarians of all parties to recognise the only way forward is to legislate for another referendum. The UK Government should be taking the necessary steps to prepare for another referendum, drafting the relevant legislation, consulting the Electoral Commission and seeking agreement to another extension to the Article 50 process.”
– Counsel General and Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles

The motion was carried by 36 votes to 16.

The Senedd’s central funnel

Llywydd to review security procedures after people denied access to the public gallery

the Assembly Commission will review its security procedures after climate change protestors were denied access to the public gallery above the Senedd chamber prior to a debate on declaring a “climate emergency”.

At the moment, policy limits six members of a protest group from being in the gallery at any one time. Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) said: “I am not in a position to establish this one way or the other, but it was certainly the impression of some of those people that whether or not they were admitted depended on their appearance, on whether they were perceived to be respectable. “

National Football Museum plans “woolly”

The Welsh Government’s plans for a National Football Museum in Wrexham have been described as “woolly” and “lacking ambition” by Welsh football writer, Phil Stead, and Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales).

At the moment, the plans are to locate the museum at Wrexham Museum, but there has been support for the museum to be located at The Racecourse stadium. However, the Welsh Government were said to be confident the plans would be a success and a way forward is expected to be agreed by the summer.

£4.3million for Welsh language promotion

Coinciding with the 2019 Urdd Eisteddfod in Cardiff, International Affairs & Welsh Language Minister, Eluned Morgan (Lab, Mid & West Wales), announced £4.3million to support and promote the Welsh language. The money will be used by 79 different organisations and will be used to support hyperlocal Welsh language news publications (known as Papurau Bro).

The Minister said: “This funding ensures we continue to innovate and build on successful practices and projects, which provide opportunities for Welsh speakers old and new to use, share and enjoy the language over the coming year and for years to come.”

Girls need to be targeted in sport participation drive

The Chief Executive of Sport Wales, Sarah Powell, has said primary-age girls need to be targeted to boost the numbers of women taking part in exercise overall. Despite a 1% rise in the number of women and girls taking part in exercise at least three times a week over the last year, participation amongst women remains lower than men.

She called for more women’s and girls sports teams to be set up and for parents to ask why there are limited opportunities for girls sports at school and to demand changes.

Post-Brexit rights monitor “to be based in Swansea”

The UK Government has selected Swansea to host a watchdog to monitor the rights of EU citizens after Brexit. It’s expected the organisation will support 200 legal experts. The Welsh Secretary said it was “exciting” and that even in the event of a No Deal Brexit, the institution would still be required.

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