Today’s Senedd roundup: Government all at sea on marine conservation

Picture by Denis Egan (CC BY 2.0)

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

Environment Committee
Progress on Marine Protected Areas (pdf)
Published: 14th November 2019

This inquiry was a follow-up to a report published in August 2017.

  1. A lack of Welsh Government enforcement duties has hindered progress

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are all forms of legally-recognised protected conservation sites at sea, with activities within them carefully managed. MPAs make up 69% of Wales’ inshore waters.

The management and enforcement arrangements are described as complex, but a failure by the Welsh Government to integrate fisheries and marine conservation and some witnesses called for a new law to be introduced to set out clear enforceable duties with regard to marine conservation.

Other witnesses expressed disappointment with the lack of progress since the 2017 report, despite the introduction of a new management framework and action plan which lasts until 2023. The Committee concluded that a clear and ambitious MPA strategy was required and recommended such a strategy be published by summer 2020 at the latest.

  1. Staffing and finance continue to be a cause for concern

The Welsh Government accepted recommendations on staffing and finance from the 2017 report, but the Committee has found that, again, very little progress has been made – despite a £600,000 increase in funding for offshore marine policies.

There were suggestions that local management areas should be established, each with at least one dedicated officer (depending on the area’s needs) – however, the Welsh Government opted to focus on specific projects with the greatest impact.

There are only four Welsh Government staff members dedicated to marine conservation out of 104 staff members in the Welsh Government’s Marine and Fisheries Division. However, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has said that 60 posts will be dedicated to marine work in the future following an organisational redesign.

Other than the potential loss of finance, Brexit isn’t expected to have a major impact – but there are concerns that as the EU has been largely responsible for funding and driving up standards, that level of leadership might be lost even if the rules etc. are carried over.

  1. Welsh MPAs are in a “surprisingly poor” condition

An assessment by NRW found that 45% of Welsh MPA features were in a favourable condition and 45% were in an unfavourable condition (presumably with the other 10% neither good nor bad or lacking information).

This was described as “surprisingly poor” given that MPA designations have been in place for over ten years. The Port of Milford Haven said some of the areas had no active management, while the Welsh Government said it wants to develop a permanent process for recording the condition of MPAs by 2022.

More Diverse, More Welsh: Committee’s verdict on the future of teaching Welsh history

 

 Culture Committee
Teaching of Welsh history, culture & heritage (pdf)
Published: 14th November 2019

The inquiry was selected by a poll of nearly 2,500 people, of whom 44% selected this subject for the Committee to focus on.

  1. Pupils are not being taught Welsh history as intended

Several reviews have taken place into the content and manner of Welsh history in the curriculum. In 2013, an independent group made several recommendations including providing clear guidance within the curriculum on the relationship between local, Welsh and global history and also that Welsh history should be included within every GCSE History specification offered in Wales.

Following reforms to GCSE and AS/A Level History in 2015 and 2017 respectively, specific units had to integrate Welsh history where appropriate, but this isn’t being taught as intended. Aberystwyth University’s Dr Steven Thompson said “tokenistic” Welsh elements were added to broader British history modules, with the focus still primarily being on “traditional” topics including the Nazis/World War 2, civil rights movements and the Tudor dynasty/Henry VIII.

The Committee was told that Welsh history was still story-based and didn’t have the same academic rigour applied to it as other topics.

There were concerns from some witnesses at a lack of teaching resources for Welsh history – but Dr Elin Jones – who led the 2013 review – said local history societies often had a lot to offer, suggesting the resources are there but are not being properly utilised.

  1. The new curriculum needs clear guidance on which events in local, Welsh, British and international history should be covered

The new curriculum is less focused on content and more focused on general purposes. The draft humanities area of learning says that it should support “learners to develop an understanding of Wales and their understanding of what it means to be Welsh”.

Dr Elin Jones didn’t have any confidence the new curriculum will be based on clear guidance and good history teaching practice, while the Owain Glyndwr Society said pupils in different parts of Wales will have in-depth knowledge of one part of Welsh history focused on their local areas (i.e. coal mining, slate, Chartists, specific principalities), but not others.

Teaching unions expressed concerns that history will be diluted as a specific academic discipline and will be absorbed into a general “humanities-based curriculum”. UCAC told the Committee that some teacher training colleges were abandoning history and geography courses and merging them into “humanities”. This was said to potentially have a huge impact on GCSE and post-16 teaching.

  1. History teaching needs to be more inclusive

Uzo Iwobi from Race Council Cymru said black history should be a mandatory part of the history curriculum. There’s some tension between flexibility and mandating core topics, but there was a general sense that many teachers may choose to ignore black history if it was deemed to be relevant to their local area.

Some teachers may not be properly equipped to teach history from non-white perspectives and some students were said to be critical of teachers’ lack of knowledge – said to be at least partly down to low numbers of BME teachers. Witnesses stressed the importance of knowing about each other’s communities:

“I want the kids who live in the docks (Butetown) to know about North Wales….as much as I want the people in Harlech to know about the docks and the coal industry….because it’s about Wales. This is our country and we need to know the total of how we got here, and, more importantly, how we are going to move forward. And we can only move forward together.”
– Gaynor Legall

The Committee recommended that the new curriculum has diversity as a core element and how diversity is currently included in history teaching should be reviewed by Estyn. They also recommended that Wales’ racial and religious diversity is included in teacher training programmes and properly reflected in learning materials.

The Siambr at the Senedd building

AMs back Assembly Commission budget for 2020-21

AMs have unanimously approved the Assembly Commission’s budget for 2020-21, which covers the running cost of the Senedd itself. The total budget is worth £61.4 million.

Assembly Commission for Finance, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), said an increase on last year’s budget is largely down to changes in accounting rules relating to leased assets; without the rule change, the budget would’ve been £59.6 million.

The only major change from the draft budget was an increase in £360,000 to cover an estimate relating to annual hours and earnings of AMs and AM support staff from April 2020, based on revised Office for National Statistics data.

“As we know, the pressure on Members remains significant, given our relatively small number and the complex issues that we’re addressing now, most noticeably the impact of the UK leaving the EU. We need a budget that provides the right level of resource to support Members through this period. The longstanding uncertainty around the timing of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and the terms of any departure, has created challenges in planning how we resource that work as an Assembly, and how we as a legislature can deliver those changes.”
– Assembly Commissioner for Finance, Suzy Davies AM

Chair of the Finance Committee, Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales), was pleased that a recommendation from last year that underspends be returned to the Welsh consolidated fund has been implemented. He was also pleased that spending relating to the Youth Parliament and other forms of public engagement has been properly accounted for – amounting to £250,000.

The biggest cause of concern is a provisional £4 million estimate to replace the windows at Ty Hywel. It was too soon to say any more on that as no feasibility studies have been carried out. Though he welcomed the Commission’s agreement to provide details on its plans in 2020, he was disappointed this won’t happen until next October.

The Commissioner said the window replacement scheme “wouldn’t come cheap”, but any attempt to replace them now would be “unpalatable” due to the cost involved. The goal is to do it as cost-effectively as possible.

Photo by Nation.Cymru

Votes at 16 in Senedd elections and conditional ban on double-jobbing by councillors as law clears next stage

At a Glance Guide

Stage 1 report (summary)

The Bill (in its original form):

  • Renames the National Assembly of Wales and changes the post-nominal letters of AMs.
  • Extends the requirement to hold the first plenary meeting following a Senedd election from seven to fourteen days (presumably to allow for detailed coalition negotiations).
  • Lowers the voting age at Senedd elections to 16.
  • Changes and amends the reasons why a prospective AM can be disqualified from standing.

Major Changes at Stage 2

While the Stage 1 report was drafted by the Constitutional Affairs Committee, Stage 2 was undertaken by a Committee of the Whole Assembly and was a marathon plenary session which went on beyond 10 pm.

Depressingly, most of the discussion (in public anyway) has revolved about what the Assembly calls itself, with a bilingual name “Senedd Cymru” and “Welsh Parliament” approved at Stage 2. A recent poll has suggested some level of public support for it to be known solely as “Senedd”.

Name change aside, there were a number of significant amendments at Stage 2 which didn’t get half as much attention:

  • Extends the right to vote in Senedd elections to qualifying foreign citizens.
  • Places a duty on the Senedd (Assembly) Commission and the Llywydd to fund and monitor Electoral Commission activities in relation to Senedd elections.
  • The Electoral Commission will be required to draft a code of practice for electoral observers at Senedd and local government elections.
  • Members of the House of Lords won’t be disqualified from being a member of the Senedd as long as they request a leave of absence from the House of Lords within eight days of being elected to the Senedd.
  • Local councillors will be disqualified from being a member of the Senedd at the same time (“double-jobbing”) except when they haven’t yet formally accepted an office, they’ve been elected to the Senedd within 372 days of the next scheduled local authority election or they’ve been elected to a council within 372 days of the next scheduled Senedd election (I understand there’s some flexibility here with regard to unscheduled/snap elections). In essence, this means newly-elected and re-elected councillors who double-job as a Senedd member will have a grace period of just over a year to stand down as one or the other.
  • People who’ve been declared bankrupt, are registered sex offenders, have been convicted of electoral fraud, have served a prison sentence of one year or longer or are members of a legislature outside the UK will be disqualified from standing for the Senedd.

 

The Key Amendments at Stage 3

Amendment 3 – David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central)
Places a duty on secondary schools to promote awareness of electoral registration and citizenship amongst 16-17-year-olds.
Vote: Rejected – 19 for, 36 against
Reason for Rejection: The new national curriculum is expected to include citizenship education.

Amendment 6 – David Melding AM
Places a duty on the Welsh Government to report on the effectiveness of extending the franchise at Senedd elections to qualifying foreign citizens.
Vote: Amendment Withdrawn
Reason for Withdrawal: Welsh Government committed to post-legislative scrutiny of the Bill’s impacts.

Amendment 127 – Carwyn Jones AM (Lab, Bridgend)
The plural name of the office and post-nominal letters will be “Members of the Senedd/MS” or “Aelodau o’r Senedd/AS”.
Vote: Approved – 37 for, 18 against

Amendment 160 – Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West)
Places a duty on the Welsh Government to report on the effectiveness of lowering the voting age to 16.
Vote: Amendment Withdrawn
Reason for Withdrawal: Welsh Government committed to post-legislative scrutiny of the Bill’s impacts.

Amendment 162 – Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn), with support from 5 Labour AMs
Changes the National Assembly’s official name to “Senedd Cymru” (monolingual).
Vote: Rejected – 16 for, 39 against
Reason for Rejection: For the sake of accessibility of law and the principle of bilingualism, there needs to be a Welsh and English name.

Photo by C Morrison from Pixabay.

Government will attempt to frustrate offshore oil and gas exploration

While control over offshore oil and gas exploration is non-devolved, the Welsh Government’s new marine plan will see it use its land-based powers to frustrate attempts to explore for oil and gas off the Welsh coast.

On Tuesday, Minister for Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), told AMs: “We completely oppose any extraction of fossil fuels in the seas surrounding Wales. In the plan, we have gone further than this to say that where offshore fossil fuel extraction has land-based elements – that is, any elements that would fall into the responsibility of Welsh Government – we will apply our policy to avoid continued extraction of fossil fuels, using all powers available to us.”

Government “not taking onshore wind seriously enough”

Inspectorate demands action at Wrexham hospital

Healthcare Inspectorate Wales has demanded urgent action at Wrexham Maelor Hospital due to a large number of patients being left on trollies in corridors. BBC Wales reports that during an unannounced visit in August, some patients were waiting eight hours on trollies in the hospital’s A&E department.

Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board said: “The patient safety issues highlighted are unacceptable, and we have already made a number of immediate changes to provide reassurance about the quality and safety of care provided in Wrexham Maelor’s emergency department.”

Former WLGA chair sent to troubled council

The former chair of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), Seve Thomas, has been appointed as a senior adviser to Merthyr Tydfil Council following a request for assistance due to political and budgetary pressures.

The Chief Executive & Council Leader will be offered coaching following a review which found unclear policy priorities and a breakdown in collaboration between the Independent-run authority’s political groups.

In August, the original adviser, Kate Allsop, was removed from post after a few days when it was revealed she was standing as a Brexit Party parliamentary candidate.

Call for more action to tackle violence against teachers

A teachers’ conference has called for an information campaign to be launched in schools to war against violence or threats against teachers. BBC Wales reports several individual cases of teachers being abused, both physically and verbally.

The Welsh Government said: “There is a duty is on local authorities and schools to ensure that schools are a safe environment for all. If at any point the environment within a school becomes unsafe, the school should ensure that the relevant authorities are informed so that appropriate support can be made available.”

University staff to hold eight-day “work to rule” strike

Members of the UCU union have announced an eight-day strike at universities across the UK in protest at disputes over pay and pensions. 79% of UCU members who voted did so in favour of “action short of a strike”, including only working to the terms of a contract, not covering for absences and refusing to reschedule lectures affected by strike action.

Strikes will affect Bangor, Cardiff and Trinity St David universities.

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