Today’s Senedd Roundup: Concerns over post-Brexit immigration policies 

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

Jeremy Miles AM. Picture: National Assembly

Wales needs a flexible and managed approach to migration

Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath) acknowledged the “considerable uncertainty” the Brexit process will have caused EU nationals living in Wales. He accused the UK Government of ignoring evidence and ideas presented by the Welsh Government on the potential negative impacts of migration restrictions.

“The (UK) Government’s plans would have a real impact on both the private and the public sectors. Wales would be affected proportionally more than the UK as a whole, in terms of the number of people migrating for work, and there would be an estimated reduction to gross domestic product in Wales of between 1% and 1.5% over 10 years.”
– Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles

The Counsel General believes and overly restrictive migration policy will hit certain economic sectors, particularly social care and food processing. The UK Government’s proposal to let EU workers work for 12 months before having to leave wasn’t good enough and he called for the proposed annual salary threshold (for all migrants – EU and not – to qualify for a UK visa) to be lowered to £20,000 (from £30,000).

Shadow Brexit Minister, Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) said it was clear immigration was on many people’s minds when they voted in 2016. While the contribution of immigrants was praise-worthy, there was a clear case for the system to change, not to simply carry on as before as the Welsh Government want. Why should migrants from the EU and EEA get preferential treatment over non-EU and EEA migrants? He did, however, agree that the salary threshold was perhaps too high and welcomed a UK Government review.

Welcomed and valued

Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) said migrants would always be welcomed and valued in Wales. Whilst welcoming the Counsel General’s identification of the potential risks, she wondered why it wasn’t that being followed up with concrete actions?

“Having admitted that the UK Government has completely ignored Welsh Government concerns up until now….It simply isn’t good enough to say now that he hopes that they will listen in the future. He knows they won’t; I know they won’t; every sensible Member in this Chamber knows they won’t. The time has come to demand more powers for Wales, Minister, so that we can take action ourselves to protect the economy rather than make repeated requests that fall on deaf ears.”
– Delyth Jewell AM

Plaid Cymru’s policy is for educational visas not to count towards any immigration quotas and called for powers over visas for academics and students to be devolved, alongside general powers over immigration. In response to that, the Counsel General said that the Welsh Government were working alongside the Scottish Government on shared interests to ensure their views are taken on board at UK level.


Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) was also aggrieved by what he described as the UK Government’s “tin ear”; no suggestions have been taken on board despite the Welsh Government’s evidence-based positions. The response requires better inter-government arrangements and he asked the Counsel General for an update on that.

The Counsel General didn’t expect Wales to have a veto on anything, but all four nations in the UK should at least have a shared understanding of how policies should operate.

Tory leadership candidate Boris Johnson backed by the Welsh Secretary Alun Cairn . Picture by Annika Haas (CC BY 2.0)

Senedd demands promise kept that Wales “won’t lose a penny” after Brexit

Following the publication of figures which suggest there could be a £2.32 billion decrease in the money Wales would receive in structural funding from the UK Government after Brexit when compared to the EU, a timely debate took place in the Senedd yesterday.

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes that Wales receives around £370m every year in structural and investment funds from the EU and also notes that promises were made during the EU referendum that Wales would not lose a penny as a result of Brexit.
  • Regrets the lack of detail from the UK Government about its proposals for a UK Shared Prosperity Fund and that it failed to respect devolution in developing these proposals.
  • Rejects the idea of a centralised/UK-directed fund or one which seeks to bypass the devolved administrations.
  • Calls on the UK Government to fulfil the promise that Wales would not lose a penny as a result of Brexit and ensure Wales retains powers to develop successor arrangements for structural and investment funding.

Need for clarity “vital”

Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), told the chamber that there was a distinct lack of clarity from the UK Government on how the £370 million a year Wales receives in EU structural funding will be replaced after Brexit, despite announcing a Shared Prosperity Fund two years ago. Structural funding has been used on a wide range of different projects, with 48,000 new jobs and 300,000 qualifications delivered.

“We have called for not a penny less than we would have expected within the EU, simply asking for the promises made to the people of Wales during the 2016 referendum to be honoured. We have also called for the Welsh Government to retain autonomy in the development and delivery of successor arrangements….The UK Government has committed a number of times to respect devolution in developing the Shared Prosperity Fund, but their actions have resolutely not done so.”
– Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans

Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) agreed on the need to create a fair system of structural funding and that any promises made during the referendum by the Leave campaign should be upheld. It was, however, too early to write off the Shared Prosperity Fund and it was worth waiting to see how the UK Government will iron things out.

David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) argued that the stalling of Brexit at Westminster and in the Senedd by opponents has prevented a deal being done and hindered the fund’s development – something Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) said was “extraordinary”; a government accusing the opposition if they can’t get their own business done.

Like handing a cheque to London

“The risk is clear that Whitehall will repeat its traditional formula of distribution of economic development funding. And look at what the figures published yesterday….tell us about what would mean. One of the campaign’s organisers said it will be like handing every Londoner a cheque for over £200 and taking £700 from every Welsh person. Wales could lose over £2.3 billion over six years, with money flowing to the prosperous south-east of England.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn)

Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) wanted to see the 2016 Leave promises honoured and broadly agreed with the motion – though the £370million a year in EU structural funding was “our money”.

Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) reminded the chamber there were people behind the figures who’ve been supported through various EU programmes – whether that’s the unemployed, minority groups, parents seeking childcare or women. All of that was now up in the air.

The scale of the challenge

“I want to reiterate the scale of the challenge. If we are under any illusion as to how critical that is, the statistics in that….report that was issued yesterday set that out so starkly for us. If we don’t make our arguments successfully….Wales could lose in funding the equivalent of £743.11 for every citizen.”
– Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley)

Chair of the External Affairs Committee, David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon), stressed that structural funding should be based on need and not population shares. The UK was already one of the most unequal nations in Europe; one of the most prosperous nations overall, yet home to some of the poorest regions.

This was backed by the Chair of the Finance Committee, Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales), who criticised a lack of engagement by the Welsh Secretary, Alun Cairns, who refused to give evidence to his committee. Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen) said the Welsh Secretary’s backing for Boris Johnson in the Tory leadership contest – who’s promising large tax cuts for the wealthy – was a sign of the direction of travel.

Vote

The motion was carried by 34 votes to 12.

Picture Jeremy Segrott via Flickr, Creative Commons Licence CC-BY-2.0

Ebbw Vale to Newport rail services “from 2021”

Here’s a summary of this afternoon’s Economy Questions.

Going Digital

Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West) said that to properly diversify the Welsh economy, we need to take advantage of emerging infrastructure, such as 5G internet. Large parts of Wales still struggle to get 3G signals.

“According to the UK Government’s research, the impact of 5G is estimated at £198 billion per annum by 2030, with a 10-year gross domestic product impact of £173 billion between 2020 and 2030. So, we must have an ambition to take a portion of that, and it’s been suggested that Wales aims for a 10% share of this, which would mean an uplift in GDP of £17.3 billion from 2020 to 2030.”
– Bethan Sayed AM

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), said that in many respects the Welsh economy was already more diverse than other parts of the UK, with manufacturing playing a bigger role in Wales and there being less reliance on service industries.

Bethan Sayed suggested Transport for Wales could be an avenue to explore this further and the Minister agreed, with Transport for Wales being asked to look at using railway stations as bases for electric charging points.

The Newport M4 Commission

Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), was somewhat sceptical that the Commission established in light of the scrapping of the Newport bypass would be any better at looking at the alternatives than the public inquiry. Was there actually anything new to consider?

He also questioned why there was a sudden change of heart within the Welsh Government on the project’s environmental impact when their own legal and technical advice said the project would be carbon neutral and compatible with the Future Generations Act?

Firstly, the Minister was confident the Commission would come back with solid recommendations within six months, while the cost of the initial work represented only a fraction of the total projected cost of the bypass. On the environmental change of heart, there was an obvious answer:

“Since we presented a very compelling case, of course, there’s been a declaration of climate emergency, a greater understanding and appreciation that we need to act now, that we need to be more responsive and responsible and, therefore, the bar has been raised. Whilst I don’t think that the (Future Generations Act) requires amending, I do think it necessitates a very careful consideration within Government of how we take forward, not just transport infrastructure but all infrastructure….”
– Minister for Economy & Transport, Ken Skates

Ebbw Vale-Newport rail services “from 2021”

There were a number of questions and follow-up questions relating to public transport in Gwent. Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) asked about the importance of public transport links to the new Grange University Hospital near Cwmbran, Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East) asked about frequency of bus services and David Rowlands AM (BXP, South Wales East) asked about rail services between Ebbw Vale and Newport.

The Minister has already been in discussions with the health department on public transport links to the Grange Hospital and called on local authorities in the region to prioritise bus spending wisely.

On Ebbw Vale-Newport rail services, the Minister had good news:

“….we are committed to taking forward plans to introduce four trains per hour as soon as we possibly can do on the Ebbw Vale line….we are (also) committed to introducing an hourly service between Ebbw Vale Town and Newport from 2021. I’m also pleased to say brand-new trains will be introduced on the services through Blaenau Gwent during 2022, and this will provide, obviously, increased capacity (425 seats vs 292 at present) and level boarding.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

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