Today’s Senedd roundup: Criminal justice failings “must be addressed” as AMs back Thomas Commission report

Photo by Tom Blackout on Unsplash

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Welcomes the report of the Commission on Justice in Wales and thanks the members and staff of the Commission for their work.
  • Recognises the dedication and commitment to public service shown by the people and organisations who work within the justice system, but notes with dismay the central finding of the Commission that the people of Wales are let down by the justice system.
  • Supports the Welsh Government’s intention of both taking forward those recommendations within its current competence and working with other bodies to take forward recommendations within their responsibility.
  • Notes the Commission’s key finding that in order to make a lasting difference to the delivery of justice in Wales, policy must be determined and overseen in Wales and supports the devolution of justice and policing, and full funding for each as a way of aligning the justice system with the wider policy objectives for Wales agreed by the Senedd.

Significant failings need to be addressed

The First Minister told AMs that while there were examples of good practice within the criminal justice system, there were several failings that had to be addressed. “Advice deserts” have appeared in Wales due to legal aid cuts and the Welsh Government has had to fill the gap to the tune of £8 million despite justice being non-devolved.

The other main failings include Wales’ proportionally higher imprisonment rate and the lack of facilities for women prisoners.

The Welsh Government is already taking forward recommendations within their remit – including looking at apprenticeship provision for young offenders and establishing a law council – however, up to two-thirds of the recommendations require co-operation from the UK Government.

 

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) believes devolution of criminal justice was an opportunity to built a new, much fairer, system. Meanwhile, former solicitor, John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East), said the way the current system operates “brutalises people” and “ruins their life chances” when imprisoned unnecessarily.

Chair of the newly re-christened Constitutional Affairs & Justice Committee, Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd), said his committee will hold an inquiry into how the Welsh system of tribunals works and how Welsh public policy fits with the EnglandandWales legal jurisdiction.

While making it clear devolving criminal justice wouldn’t be an easy process, Carwyn Jones AM (Lab, Bridgend) said Wales’ position was highly unusual:

“….it’s clear that the commission has delivered a damning indictment on the state of the justice system in Wales. But it has also provided us with a bold vision and a route-map for how we can deliver improved outcomes for the people of Wales, and that must be our overriding objective in creating a fair and more just Wales.”
– Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath)

Geographic realities

Naturally, not everyone in the chamber supports the devolution of criminal justice.

Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales), said the report failed to accept “demographic and geographic realities” – namely that crime doesn’t respect borders and North Wales Police co-operates more closely with forces in north-west England. Many services to manage offenders and prevent re-offending were already within the remit of the Welsh Government.

Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) suggested that just because there were difficulties it doesn’t automatically follow that services should be devolved, as it would equally mean that devolved services that experience problems should be returned to London rule. Unlike the Conservatives, he agreed with other AMs that cuts to policing and justice have gone too far.

The motion was carried by 38 votes to 15.

Rebecca Evans AM. Photo National Assembly for Wales and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Lack of ambition criticised by opposition and Labour AMs alike as draft Welsh budget approved

The Motion

The Senedd:

UK Treasury “has made changes without notice”

Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), told AMs she was only able to introduce a single-year budget due to delays to the UK Government’s comprehensive spending review. There’s further confusion ahead with a UK budget set to take place on 11th March, while changes from London have already resulted in a combined £200 million cut to financial transactions and capital spending “without any prior notice” for the 2019-20 financial year.

“Prevention has been at the heart of this budget, supported by our focus on eight cross-cutting priorities of early years, social care, housing, employability and skills, better mental health, decarbonisation, poverty, and biodiversity.”
– Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans

Where’s the ambition?

The chairs of some of the Senedd’s committees ran through their scrutiny and observations – which was summarised here.

Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth), echoed what a number of those committees said – that there was a lot of window dressing concerning climate change and decarbonisation but little meat when it comes to spending; bold commitments have been made which “will take willpower to achieve”.

“What we have is a Labour Government that is unwilling to be radical and the background of a Conservative Government that has proved to be uncaring as to the impacts of grave cuts to public expenditure for ideological reasons over a decade and more….I fear that this draft budget is another missed opportunity to tackle some of the main threats that we face.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn)

Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) thought it was a little unfair to criticise the UK Government for their timings as there were many issues which were out of their hands – such as the 2019 UK election. One area of spending on which he believes there was cross-party support was lack of support for bus services – spending an extra £29million on electric buses means little if services themselves are halved.

Several AMs – including Labour AMs -were disappointed by the lack of funding to deal with homelessness, while Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) believed the Welsh Government could’ve done far more with the powers at its disposal to address the impact of austerity. He wanted to see more radical thinking, suggesting that ideas for new taxes or changes to income tax should be brought forward.

A vote on the final version of the budget is scheduled for 3rd March 2020.

Photo by Larry White from PixabayWelsh clubs “would be covered by English safe standing rules”

Here are some of this week’s international affairs, culture & Welsh language questions.

See also: State of Wales – Independence Minutiae: Stadium & Event Safety

Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) asked, in light of proposals at the UK Parliament to introduce safe standing at English football grounds, what the Welsh Government intended to do to ensure that Welsh clubs playing in the English pyramid weren’t left behind.

Mandy Jones AM (BXP, North Wales) saw the possible approval of safe standing as a catalyst to redevelop parts of Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground.

On the latter point, the Deputy Minister for Culture, Tourism & Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Ind, Dwyfor Meirionnydd), said it was for the owners of the Racecourse to ultimately take that forward though he was open to discussions – pointing to investment at Colliers Park with the FAW.

He added that the Welsh Government has no position on safe standing, but perhaps didn’t need to:

“….the current regime ensures that the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, as the licensing authority, is responsible for admitting spectators to football grounds, which include all those in the Premier League and the English Football League….Clearly, where Welsh teams participate in those leagues, they are covered.”
– Deputy Minister for Culture, Tourism & Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas

Building confidence to use Welsh at colleges
Shadow Welsh Language Minister, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), noted that during a recent event held by Colegau Cymru, she heard that FE college lecturers, students and apprentices with Welsh language skills preferred to use English. Surely one of the main ways to support the use of Welsh in further education was more Welsh-speaking staff – it was clear that the required number of Welsh-medium teachers and lecturers was going to fall short of what was required.

Minister for International Affairs & Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan (Lab, Mid & West Wales), agreed there was a problem but positive steps were being taken.

“I do think that we have a problem in relation to a number of people who’ve been through Welsh-medium education who don’t have the confidence, to use the language, in particular in FE colleges. And that’s why this group is so essential, I think, so that we do have Coleg Cymraeg that encourages people to use the Welsh language. But one of the things they’ve done is to create ambassadors to try and get people the same age as students to convey that message themselves. And I think that is extremely important, and a step forward.”
– Minister for International Affairs & Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan

Making Wales’ presence known around the world

Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) mentioned that the Welsh Government’s international strategy mentioned 21 overseas offices, but it wasn’t clear where the Welsh overseas presence needs to be further developed or, indeed, what the government intended to do once links had been established.

“Your strategy goes on to say that you will raise Wales’ profile by working with Welsh diaspora, alumni, and partner organisations, focusing in the first year on the USA and Japan, and identifying influential Welsh people around the world. You say also that you will create a comprehensive database of Welsh links, with an aim to create 500,000 contacts in five years. However, the international strategy doesn’t go on to elaborate what exactly you’ll do with those links once they’ve been forged.”
– Dr Dai Lloyd AM

The Minister clarified that each overseas office had to have enough flexibility to do things slightly differently depending on where they were. The economy was a key focus concerning the diaspora and making links to improve inward investment.

Work was already starting with the FAW on promoting Wales during Euro 2020 – particularly in Italy. National Museum Wales are also hoping to hold an exhibition in Japan during 2022 to build upon efforts to raise Wales’ profile during the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

An electric car charging . Picture by Jeonomias

Transport decarbonisation plans need to be scaled-up

Here’s a round-up of this afternoon’s questions to Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower).

Rhyn ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) believes Wales was still at an early stage in terms of investment in low carbon transport. Plaid Cymru agreed a £2 million package to invest in a national charging network, but there seemed to be little evidence of any of this being spent.

“….do you accept that spending only half of that throughout the whole of Wales on public charging points up until the end of last year is a proof of the Government’s failure in turning spending pledges into reality? And if that’s your attitude towards the charging network, doesn’t that pose some very grave questions about the pledges made more broadly now in terms of tackling climate change and the willingness and ability of Government to turn those plans into reality?”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

The Minister told him government priorities were based on advice from the UK Committee on Climate Change and the commitment to source 100% of electricity for the South Wales Metro from renewable sources was a sign that they were taking this seriously. On electric vehicles, there was still more for the market to do – not just government.

Helping small businesses

Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth), asked how the budget helps small and micro-sized businesses? Having recently visited Chepstow high street, he found that some businesses paid no business rates while others were “clobbered with really high rates of business rates relative to the size of the business.” Was there a case to review the entire business rates system?

The Minister confirmed that there’s a review of local taxes plans – including business rates and council tax. While she didn’t want to “reform for the sake of reform” there was a case for an element of fairness in the business rates system.

“We’ve undertaken a suite of research to help us with that, including what would the implications be if we were to move to a land value tax, for example; looking at the implications of potential revaluation, who would be the winners and losers; and then also some work that looks at the implications of universal credit, specifically on the council tax side of local taxation….we’ll be publishing in a series of documents over the coming three months, I imagine, and they’ll be available….to explore in terms of a potential better way to do local taxation.”
– Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans

Improving the budget process

Given the tight timeframes to prepare the proposed Welsh budget, Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) asked whether the budget process itself could be improved – particularly to enable interested parties to make representations.

“The way the process works, with a draft budget and then at least several weeks of apparent consultation and consideration of what’s in that draft budget before we then bring forward a final budget for consideration, I wonder whether that process gives the impression to people….that there is a greater opportunity to change that budget in a more significant way than experience suggests may be the case.”
– Mark Reckless AM

The Minister described this year’s budget timings as “chaotic”. Changes to the budget process are being discussed by the Finance Committee and she thinks there’s a case for earlier consultation on budget proposals and more budget debates.

Image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay

“Honest conversation” needed on taxes to pay for social care

Paying for social care in light of an ageing population is an ongoing challenge. Yesterday, AMs were updated on Welsh Government thinking on how to address this.

Health & Social Services Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), said that despite social care being a priority for the Welsh Government – and the generous policies in terms of savings and asset allowances put in place in Wales – social care could need anything up to an additional £327million to maintain current provision.

While free social care remains an aspiration, it would cost an estimated £700million that the Welsh Government doesn’t have. Instead, finding new ways of funding care is the priority and tax rises aren’t ruled out.

“The inter-ministerial group is exploring options around: the introduction of funded non-residential care; a contribution towards the cost of residential care for those who pay the most; and the provision of funded personal care for anyone eligible.

“Taking forward any or all of the options that I’ve just summarised will require investment over and above the resources required to maintain current service levels. We have previously debated the possibility of raising taxes in Wales to generate resources for social care.”
– Health & Social Services Minister, Vaughan Gething

Shadow Social Services Minister, Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) said pressure on budgets was undeniable, but the key to bringing costs down was early intervention and prevention. There were alternatives to a tax, such as giving councils more budget flexibility or adopting new models of delivery like the Buurtzorg model in the Netherlands (small teams of nurses working in a specific community).

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) also stressed the need for preventative action, though he accepted there was a need for an “honest conversation” on taxes to pay for care. He also suggested the Minister over-estimated the cost of social care – which he believes would be around £250-350million – though the Minister explained his £700million figure included accommodation costs.

Finally, Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) repeated the case for a publicly-funded, free at the point of use National Care Services based on the NHS, reminding the chamber of the fight Aneurin Bevan had against naysayers when told the NHS was too difficult to establish.

 

 

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