Today’s Senedd Roundup: Carmarthenshire ‘should be stripped’ of lead Swansea City Region role
Owen Donovan, Senedd Home
First Minister’s Questions: LGBTS in Catholic Schools, Hunger Strikes and Language Targets
Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr), asked three questions, though the substantive one covered LGBTs in the Catholic school curriculum:
“….in the context of Catholic schools, there is confirmation on websites and, indeed, in the testimony of teachers that the belief that gay relationships are morally unacceptable is being presented to children and young people in 2019. Your Education Minister, it’s reported, is content to continue to allow discretion to Welsh faith schools to teach relationship and sex education in line with their own beliefs. Is that something you support?”
– Adam Price AM
The First Minister said consultations were still ongoing (more here), but it was “entirely unacceptable” that those sort of views were being expressed.
Turning to Kurdish hunger strikers (there’s a debate on this tomorrow) Adam asked what the Welsh Government’s position was? The First Minister gave a non-committal answer which boiled down to “wait and see”; Adam didn’t quite understand it.
The final question focused on concerns from the Public Accounts Committee that not enough was being done to promote the use of Welsh within the public sector – to which the First Minister said the Welsh Government were working on promoting and boosting confidence in using the Welsh language “every day”.
Were mothers and babies put at risk in Cwm Taf health board?
Following the recent publication of a Health Inspectorate Wales report into Cwm Taf health board maternity services, Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), asked straight up whether mothers and babies were put at risk?
The First Minister said they were no longer at risk, at least:
“I don’t believe that mothers and babies are now being put at risk because action has been taken….to attend to some disturbing information that came to light. Those actions, I think, are succeeding. There is more for the health board to do, but I believe that the health board is seized of the urgency of those issues; that it has acted on the information that has come forward….”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)
Paul Davies said expectant mothers had a right to the best possible care and the best possible chance of delivering a healthy baby and he drew comparisons with plans to downgrade maternity services in Pembrokeshire which he believes would put patients at risk.
The First Minister told him there were no plans to change existing services at Withybush Hospital, while checks and balances ensured issues within Cwm Taf were raised and addressed; it was a hard-hitting report, but the right action has since been taken.
No new consultation on north Wales vascular services
Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) raised the recent row over emergency vascular services in north Wales. There were accusations that the Welsh Government and Betsi Cadwaladr health board had misled the public over proposed changes to vascular services. Was a new consultation necessary?
Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) agreed, all but calling for the decision to be reversed through extra investment.
The First Minister denied any manipulation. 80% of services would continue to be delivered locally and the idea of centralising highly-specialised services was to ensure staff had enough practical experience and casework to ensure patient safety.
“….(Janet Finch-Saunders) will know what’s been put in place: £2.3 million from the Welsh Government for a vascular hybrid theatre, and, as a result of concentrating that service on one site, the health board has been able to attract six additional consultant vascular surgeons, an additional consultant radiologist, four vascular junior doctors, extra vascular specialist nurses, a dedicated 18-bed vascular ward. All of these would be put at risk if we said to all of those people who have been attracted to this new service….”
First Minister, Mark Drakeford
Welsh Government lays out demands for future EU deal
Tucked away within the papers of this week’s meeting of the Senedd’s External Affairs Committee was a list of clauses the Welsh Government want to see included in any future law implementing the EU Withdrawal Agreement (pdf).
The Welsh Government’s draft clauses include:
- A “system for free movement of goods, persons, services and capital” between the UK and single market (EEA) subject to safeguards.
- A customs union between the UK and EU (but not the existing customs union).
- Some form of alignment on competition law, environmental regulations, employment rights and social policy.
- Close co-operation on education, research and culture.
- Consultation with the Welsh Government over the UK’s draft negotiating position prior to starting talks on a long-term deal with the EU.
- A statement every three months from the UK Government on progress in any future negotiations. Also, if no agreement has been reached within eight months of the transition period ending (in December 2020), the UK Government should issue a formal statement saying no agreement is likely to be reached.
- Any future agreement will need to approved by the UK Parliament and in consultation with the Welsh Government; though they don’t expect the Senedd to have any kind of veto, an agreement shouldn’t be considered final until it’s at least been debated in the Senedd.
- If the UK Parliament rejects the deal, the UK Government will need to issue a statement within 21 days on how the UK Government intends to proceed further.
Of course, there’s the small problem of actually getting the Withdrawal Agreement through the UK Parliament. As things stand, the UK is set to leave the EU in a “No Deal” by default on March 29th unless an extension to Article 50 can be negotiated with the 27 EU member states.
First Minister: No Deal Brexit on March 29th “more likely”
First Minister, Mark Drakeford predicts that a no deal Brexit is more likely as a consequence of the recent deadlock at Westminster.
Carmarthenshire “should be stripped” of lead Swansea City Region role
An independent report into the Swansea City Deal – jointly ordered by the Welsh and UK governments – has strongly hinted that Carmarthenshire Council should lose its role as lead authority and be replaced with a new leadership model.
The report (pdf) recommends an “independent” leadership alongside a more strategic focus on the deal, rather than the present focus on specific projects such as the Llanelli Wellness Village. That project has been mired in controversy since the suspension of several senior figures at Swansea University towards the end of 2018 – which triggered the review.
“A combination of its (Mark James/Carmarthenshire Council’s) inability to provide a regional tier of support advice and assurance combined with confusion over its role has been at the heart of much of the unease we have heard expressed regarding progress. There needs to be an authoritative tier of assurance and support to the individual programmes and also to the decision-making boards. We believe that a reconstituted (management) office with strong professional and independent leadership is key to delivery.”
A full summary of the report’s recommendations is available from Jacqui Thompson.
It’s also reported that Carmarthenshire Council are attempting to block publication of a second review from the city region’s Joint Committee – which has been made available to Pembrokeshire councillors – that highlights a level of mistrust between the city region’s partner councils and the lead authority (Carmarthenshire), as well as a number of other “irregularities”.
Carmarthenshire’s Chief Executive, Mark James, is due to leave office in the summer.