Today’s Senedd roundup: Health board urged to consider feedback before implementing controversial shift changes

Health Minister, Vaughan Gething. Photo by Ymnes is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

 The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Regrets Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board’s proposals to extend nursing shifts without pay for more than 4,000 nurses and health care support workers.
  • Fears the loss of goodwill among staff who already regularly work through their breaks or are on call on their wards or units.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to protect frontline workers’ pay and conditions within the NHS by ensuring that this regressive proposal is scrapped.

 Taking advantage of nurses’ goodwill

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) told the chamber that while the proposals to change nursing shifts in north Wales were stated to be about standardising rotas, it’s ultimately about saving money – an estimated £25,000-a-month from a £42million budget deficit.

“Put in a nutshell, it’s extending nurses’ shifts by an extra half-hour without pay. It would mean a nurse currently working a 12.5-hour shift, which includes a half-hour unpaid break, is expected to work the same shift but only get paid for 11.5 hours.

“I think it’s important that we recognise that many nurses currently take their breaks on their wards or units, and are effectively on call in an emergency.”
– Llyr Gruffydd AM

He said the management at the health board were taking advantage of nurses’ goodwill and the proposal was being put forward as the health board lists 500 nursing vacancies.


Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.) said that tinkering in this manner leaves staff feeling “unloved, unworthy and undervalued”. Human beings naturally react differently under stress, so what do you think will happen to nurses when they’re put on this system? Nonetheless, the Tories wanted a stronger-worded motion and would vote to amend it.

Mandy Jones AM (BXP, North Wales) told AMs she’s received a lot of correspondence on the issue. There was nothing wrong, in principle, with standardising shift patterns but it shouldn’t be done to the detriment of already overworked staff.

 Health boards need to listen

The Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) said from the outset that staff rotas are a matter for individual health boards, though they have to comply with the Nurse Staffing Levels Act. It was key that the health board listened to people taking part in the consultation, but that process wasn’t yet over.

“I understand that….the consultation period has been extended to ensure adequate time for all staff potentially affected to consider information and take part in the consultation. I also understand that trade union representatives have raised concerns about the potential impact, including work-life balance, potentially increased childcare costs, and travel, laundry and food costs. I expect the health board management to consider….all feedback before any decision is made. So, the motion does not reflect the reality that local consultation processes have not yet been completed – that is ongoing and no decision has yet been taken.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething

NHS staff were valued and work was ongoing to reduce sickness rates amongst staff in every health board. There was naturally going to be disagreement between employers, staff and unions on major changes, but there has to be wriggle room for revising any proposals should the need arise.

Vote

A government-backed, softer-worded, motion calling for health boards to listen and noting appreciation for all NHS staff was passed by 33-11 with 3 abstentions.

Carole Cadwalladr invitation to Senedd event defended

Political activism by young people welcomed

The Motion (Amended/Final Version)

The Senedd:

  • Supports the call of the Fridays for Future movement for all politicians and business leaders to listen to young people because their determination, their ideas and their efforts are urgently needed to bring about a low carbon Wales.
  • Applauds the role that students and young people have played in bringing the climate emergency to the attention of policymakers and the public.
  • Welcomes the commitment from Welsh Government to introduce votes for 16-and-17-years olds in time for the 2021 Welsh General Election, giving those young people a stronger voice.

Not just skipping school

Students around the world are set to take part in a series of walk-outs on 20th September, with many events expected to take place around Wales. Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) said the timing was significant as it was happening at the same time as a major UN climate summit.

“….the political narrative around climate change has been transformed. Indeed, the terminology has changed. We’re not saying ‘climate change‘ now – we are now recognising it as a climate emergency.”
– Llyr Gruffydd AM

Dr Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly) said we all had to understand where this was coming from; young people were not only frustrated but were afraid about what the future might bring. Lowering the voting age so younger people have a voice and are listened to was part of the solution.

“How many times in this Chamber have we sat here, wanting to get more young people involved in politics? Sometimes….we can’t make then come forward to us with opinions, and then they come out, and we’re going, ‘Oh my God, isn’t it awful that little Johnny’s left school because they’ve come out and have an opinion on something?…. Let’s patronise them instead and say, ‘Well, let’s go and sit in a room with them and ask them what they think, but let’s not really listen; let’s just go away and pretend that we’ve listened and then we’re all okay and we can go back to what we’ve always done and ignore them.’”
– Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West)

Yes; skipping school

Shadow Environment Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), asked for AMs to “pause and reflect” on what condoning school walk-outs might mean. He quoted a caller to a radio show who said anyone not taking part in a climate strike was a climate change denier – which might build peer pressure to take part in something they don’t want to do even if they support the message.

“….instead of calling for disruptive action within the school setting, let us empower young people to actually engage in the journey that the whole of society—the whole of society—needs to take, and make sure that they stay part of this journey, because, ultimately, it will be every sector of society that will benefit from a better, cleaner environment that has climate change at its heart….”
– Shadow Environment Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM

Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) didn’t support strikes of any kind as they were a sense of failure. While he was convinced on some measure of human impact on the climate it was, of course, the EU’s fault by encouraging a switch from petrol to diesel. The scale of the transformation needs to be properly addressed through sensible policies, not simply resort to “virtue-signalling”.

We’re listening

Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), was often left impressed by some of the knowledge younger people, including primary-age children, have about the effects of climate change.

The Minister neither condoned or condemned the climate strikes, but said everyone had to listen:

“We must remember we also have a responsibility to represent those children and young people who do not choose to strike. That is why our Government amendment to the motion reflects the central call of the Fridays for Future campaign for all politicians and business leaders to listen to what children and young people have to say about climate change.”
– Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths

Vote

The motion was carried 24-6 with 15 abstentions.

Leanne Wood censured for blogger outburst

Standards Committee
Complaint against Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda)
Complaints made by: Anonymous male
Published: 18th September 2019 (pdf)

The Complaint/The Investigation

On 16th January 2019, the blogger Royston Jones (Jac o’ the North) posted a tweet referring to the Twitter profile and professional interests of the then recently-returned Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East): “‘Women’s rights and international development’. God help @PlaidCymru.”

A few hours later, Leanne Wood replied: “Do you have to be an arsehole all the time? Have a day off.” Royston expressed his disappointment at her reaction.

On 21st January an anonymous man – not Royston himself – complained to the Standards Commissioner, saying that Leanne Wood has breached the Members Code of Conduct by using “arsehole” in response to a “bland sceptical comment”. Subsequently, she “dropped to the lowest common denominator” and “excessively strong wording….must be challenged before it becomes common currency” amongst politicians.

Leanne Wood’s Defence

  • Royston Jones/Jac o’ the North has been a “persistent, pernicious influence in Welsh politics for many years” and while she supports freedom of speech, Royston frequently posted untruths – including conspiracies involving  herself and the lobbyists, Deryn.
  • She went on to describe him as “abusive and obnoxious” and believes she may have a case for defamation based on some of his articles.
  • “I don’t regret using the only type of language that someone like Jones understands. His tweet warranted a strong and direct response.”
  • Leanne described the comments as “misogynistic bullying” and an attempt to undermine a woman politician.
  • Leanne Wood has refused to apologise.

The Standards Commissioner’s View

  • The tweet by Royston Jones hadn’t attacked anyone and was directed only at Delyth Jewell’s stated political interests; whether anyone agrees with it or not, they were views he was entitled to hold and express like any member of the public.
  • Royston Jones’ post could’ve been reasonably responded to or ignored – there was no need to reply in the manner that Leanne Wood did.
  • The Commissioner accepted that online bullying and abuse of women in public life needed to be challenged and dealt with robustly, but AMs are expected to use social media in a way which is consistent with the Code of Conduct; calling someone “an arsehole” was inconsistent with this.
  • There was a breach of 4(b) of the Members Code of Conduct, which states that: “Assembly Members should at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of the Assembly and refrain from any action which could bring the Assembly, or its members generally, into disrepute.”
  • There was a further breach of 4(g) of the Member’s Code of Conduct, which states that: “Holders of public office should promote and support these principles (of public life) by leadership and example”.

The Committee’s Conclusion

  • The Committee agreed with a statement of support from Women’s Aid that abusers: “can be expert manipulators and controllers and abusive men know that to trigger a response from women they don’t always have to be explicitly abusive; it can be a ‘drip-drip’ of criticisms and put-downs to cause a bystander response, which they can then use against her to bring her down.”
  • While the Committee agreed that online abuse needs to be dealt with and called-out, the appropriate response was to not use offensive language.
  • Subject to the Senedd’s approval, the Committee recommends Leanne Wood is censured.
Picture by Daniel Reche from Pixabay

AMs debate the virtues of running

The first short debate of the new term was lead by Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) on the subject of running and exercise.

“You run your own race”

Rhianon listed several major running events in Wales, with the Swansea 10k and the Cardiff half marathon due to take place over the coming weeks. Islwyn has a strong running pedigree and a scheme has been started to encourage more women to take up running for the first time called Future Flyers.

The Welsh Government’s “daily mile” initiative will also play an important role in encouraging children to move from lighter physical exercise towards more organised athletics:

“The daily mile has the potential for numerous benefits beyond simply improving fitness. And like music, and like musical access, it can help children become more engaged with the outdoors, build self-esteem and confidence as well as help developing team-working skills. The Fitbit and counting steps is not the preserve of adults, and so I’m heartened to see more and more children consciously aware of the need to be active, as a former teacher and educator, especially with all the temptations they face of staying sedentary in front of screens and now a myriad of devices, potentially, for many hours.”
– Rhianon Passmore AM

Lack of facilities remains a problem and austerity has led to budget squeezes, though she called for funding to be considered to develop an athletics track in Islwyn.

Bringing individuals together

Deputy Minister for Culture, Tourism & Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Ind, Dwyfor Meirionnydd) revealed that he’s a runner himself, setting a personal goal to run at least 5km three times a week.

While the health benefits of regular exercise were obvious, the social aspect of exercise was often ignored, strengthening community ethos and helping to address loneliness and isolation.

“Unfortunately, the situation we are facing, according to the latest information we have as a Government in the national survey for Wales, is that only 53% of adults, so that’s only a little over half of Welsh adults, say that they undertook 150 minutes of physical activity in the previous week.”
– Deputy Minister for Culture, Tourism & Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas

He said he wasn’t a fan of broad strategies, but was more a fan of action plans – the daily mile being one example of such. 36% of schools now take part in the daily mile. Also, around £16 million of Sport Wales’ £43 million annual budget was dedicated to developing community sport and physical activity.

Ken Skates AM Minister for Economy and Transport. Photo National Assembly for Wales and licensed under CC BY 2.0

Ineos selects Bridgend site to develop new off-road vehicle

The chemicals company, Ineos, has selected a new business park to the south of Bridgend as the site of a new factory to assembly an off-road vehicle to called the Grenadier, which will compete with Land Rover.

The Brocastle business park is immediately to the south-east of the Bridgend Ford engine plant, which will close in 2020 with the loss of up to 1,700 jobs. It’s expected that the 250,000 sqft Ineos factory will create 500 jobs when fully operational.

Economy Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd West) said: “I am delighted to welcome INEOS Automotive to Wales and delighted that they are the latest in a line of prestigious companies to sign up to our Economic Contract, designed to drive growth and responsible business behaviours in companies. The health and wellbeing of workers is already an important part of INEOS’ ethos and this is evidenced in the Economic Contract.”

It’s reported that the Welsh Government will provide around £10million alongside unspecified support from the UK Government. The Minister also confirmed that the announcement doesn’t affect support for Ford workers and the Bridgend economy resulting from the Ford closure.

Should domesticated animals be included in the proposed circus ban?

Labour candidate victim of politically-motivated rape

The Labour Westminster candidate for Aberconwy, Emily Owen, revealed she had been raped for politically-motivated reasons in 2018 after being drugged.

Ms Owen decided not to report it to the police and only decided to make the information public after struggles over several months. In May 2017, she said she had received sexually suggestive messages and said the media’s reporting of it made matters worse.

Rise in assaults on paramedics

According to the latest figures, the number of attacks against paramedics in Wales rose from 70 incidents during April-June 2017 to 100 incidents in April-June 2019.

Swansea paramedic, Jon Johnson, told BBC Wales: “We have training to calm the situation but people under the influence of alcohol, drugs or who have mental health issues are unpredictable.”

The law in England and Wales changed in 2018 and 12 people have since been jailed for assaulting paramedics, though the Unison union called for tougher sentencing.

People’s Vote rally held in Newport

A rally supporting a second referendum on Brexit was held in Newport on 13th September attended by an estimated 450 people.

Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) said party politics had to be put aside for the common good, while Labour’s Owen Smith MP said: “Our government admitting to the threat of food shortages of medical shortages, admitting they may even need to call in the army – the only way to resolve this crisis is told hold a People’s Vote.”

Brexit Party campaigns to “bring back Montgomeryshire”

A Brexit Party candidate has thrown his support behind a campaign to hold a referendum on re-constituting the former county of Montgomeryshire, which makes up the northern third of Powys.

The county was originally abolished in 1974 and the Montgomeryshire District Council was abolished and absorbed into the Powys unitary authority in 1996.

Oliver Lewis said, “It simply cannot make sense to have issues decided by people so far away.” However, the Conservatives accused him of “naval-gazing”.

Tory AMs seeks Westminster seats

Two senior Conservative AM, Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) and Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) announced their intention to seek selection to run in their respective Westminster parliamentary seats at the next UK General Election.

David Jones MP and Guto Bebb MP have announced their intention to stand down at the next election, triggering a selection process.

If they’re selected and subsequently elected as MPs, under the terms of the Government of Wales Act 2006, both would be automatically disqualified if they don’t resign the Senedd seats within 8 days of being elected as an MP.

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Philip Hughes

Leanne Wood was censured for saying “Do you have to be an arsehole all the time”. Really? What the hell has happened to us? When did we become a nation of snowflakes. We have a PM who has shut down parliament . Who has been described as “the father of lies”. A PM who walked into a hospital, and in front of the press said “there’s no press here”. A PM who got a roasting from a father of a 7 year old for the NHS’s under-funding and under-staffing, and it’s the father who gets pulled over the coals by… Read more »