Owen Donovan, Senedd Home
Health Minister survives no confidence motion
The Government has defeated Plaid Cymru’s motion of no-confidence in health minister Vaughan Gething.
Plaid tabled the vote last week after an independent report, commissioned by the minister, described maternity services at Cwn Taf as “dysfunctional”.
The Health Minister avoided censure as AMs backed a Labour amendment removing criticism of Mr Gething.
Both Plaid and the Tories called for Mr Gething’s resignation last week after his announced that services at the Royal Glamorgan and Prince Charles hospitals were being placed in special measures.
Introducing the no-confidence motion, Plaid Cymru health spokeswomen Helen Mary Jones said:
“We have to be able to rely on a health minister to provide the service with really robust challenge, to insure that where there is failure it is addressed and where there is best practice it is shared,”
“Instead we have a series of serious failings with no-one held to account. There must be accountability for this series of failings and for the inadequate response to them.”
“Playing Bingo” with 20 Years of Economic Development
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) said this week was a perfect time to reflect on Wales’ economic performance over the last 20 years. He was proud of the work Plaid Cymru did in office whilst holding the economy brief – bringing in the ProAct and ReAct programmes – but can Labour explain the decline in comparative wealth in Wales since 1999?
The Minister told AMs there were many successes:
“In the last 20 years, we’ve seen the number of people in Wales without qualifications reduce from more than one in three to fewer than one in five. As a consequence, we now have a lower employment inactivity rate than the UK average….Jobs Growth Wales helped thousands upon thousands of young people avoid long-term unemployment….During the period of 2010-15….parts of England during that period that saw long-term youth unemployment rise by 2,000%. The figure here in Wales was less than 100%….”
– Minister for Economy & Transport, Ken Skates
Rhun said there was a sense Labour was “playing bingo” with economic statistics, cherry-picking good stories. While unemployment and economic inactivity were down, underemployment and low wages remain endemic and Wales remains rooted to the bottom of regional gross value added tables.
In reply, the Minister pointed out that since 1999, Wales has seen the fifth highest increase in GVA-per-head of the UK’s 12 nations and regions.
National Infrastructure Commission “behind schedule”
Shadow Economy Minister, Rusell George AM (Con, Montgomery,) raised concerns during economy questions about the National Infrastructure Commission’s slipping timetable regarding its remit. He was concerned about the length of time it takes the Welsh Government to make decisions:
“I am concerned that the Government has got here currently a very poor approach to long-term infrastructure planning and delivery. Of course, one example I’ve referred to is the M4 delivery road. We’ve had money spent – public money; vast amounts of public money spent – and we’re still waiting, of course, on a final decision.”
– Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM
He added there was little coordination between infrastructure spending by local authorities (leading to a “Mad March” phenomenon where projects are approved right at the end of a financial year) and that at a national level.
Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), agreed with some of the points. He was content with the pace of work undertaken by the infrastructure commission but accepted that there needed to be a clear pipeline of projects so people can remain in work and move from one project to another.
Simpler rail fares?
In a second question, Russell George AM said a constituent worked out that rail fares in mid-Wales were more expensive over shorter distances (i.e. from Caersws or Newtown to Telford) that they were if they travelled to Birmingham. Could he ensure fares were reasonably priced in the future?
Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) added that on a recent journey along the Cambrian Coast Line, she noticed large numbers of young people using trains to travel one or two stops to school. Could the Minister commit to keeping fares affordable for young people?
“….the rail delivery group, which includes Transport for Wales, is looking into delivering a better value fare system. It will be underpinned by an easier-to-use range of fares and it will be delivered by updating regulations. It could see pay-as-you-go, with a price cap, introduced on commuter services….It could give flexible workers a far better deal as a consequence.”
– Minister for Economy & Transport, Ken Skates
The Minister added that consideration is being given to:auto-enrolling young people on the MyTravelPass scheme and TfW Rail are going to: extend free rail travel to 11-year-olds, introduce free off-peak travel for under-16s when they travel with a fare-paying adult and extend child fares to the age of 18.
Brexit Minister rejects allegations that EU funding was wasted
Here’s a round-up of this afternoon’s questions for the Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath).
Will Brexit make austerity worse?
Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) highlighted recent UK Government analysis which showed that the UK economy was expected to contract by anything between 2-8% depending on the type of Brexit, with the lower end projection based on the UK staying in the single market. Surely this kind of economic hit would make austerity worse?
The Counsel General agreed with that assessment, but Delyth said Labour’s policy of leaving the single market and customs union would cause significant damage to Wales. Shouldn’t the Welsh Government be doing all it can to prevent this and arguing for a second referendum and remaining in the EU?
To the Counsel General, it wasn’t that black and white:
“In relation to her description of the Welsh Government’s position, which remains, as I will say again, as described in the policy document agreed with her party, it is not a question of being outside a custom’s union. We have called for a permanent custom’s union with the EU and close alignment to the single market….And I do reject the point about party political expediency. There are difficult judgments to be made in reconciling the response the British public gave in 2016 with what we understand in this place….to be the damage caused to the Welsh economy as a consequence of Brexit.”
– Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles
Welsh Government “failed to manage EU funds”
Shadow Brexit Minister, Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) asked for more information about a committee set up to investigate post-Brexit structural funds – for some reason, it’s not in the public domain. There was also an onus on the Welsh Government to learn lessons from its previous management of structural funding:
“Do you accept that the previous use of structural funds was squandered….by the Welsh Government? Do you accept that there’s some responsibility on the Welsh Government for the failure to use those funds to boost our Welsh economy, particularly given that our productivity and our wages are behind many other parts of the UK, and we remain one of the poorest nations – certainly in west Wales and the valleys – of all Europe?”
– Shadow Brexit Minister, Darren Millar AM
The Counsel General rejected the “outrageous allegations” that EU funds were mismanaged. The benefits in skills, productivity and such over the last few decades were outlined in Economy Questions. It was now down to Westminister to live up to the Leave campaign’s promises and ensure Wales wasn’t “a penny worse off” after Brexit than before it. Could the UK Government be trusted to manage the proposed Shared Prosperity Fund in Wales?
Research underway on Brexit’s impact on supply chains
Delyth Jewell AM later asked a second question on Brexit’s supply chain impact, particularly within the automotive sector:
“Since the referendum, the automotive sector in the UK has announced a number of closures. The debate about to what extent Brexit is to blame rages on, but people have genuine concerns about their jobs. The closure of the Honda plant in Swindon worries me….since one of its component suppliers is the Kasai plant in Merthyr Tydfil which employs 200 people. It’s one of 12 Welsh suppliers that face grave risks in the face of the (Swindon) closure, and follows on from the news that 400 voluntary redundancies are expected at Ford in Bridgend and 220 jobs are on the line due to the closure of the Schaeffler plant in Llanelli.”
– Delyth Jewell AM
Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) added his own concerns about the future of Monmouth’s Tri-Wall Europe which manufactures cardboard packaging for the car industry.
The Counsel General said the Welsh Government has “made representations” to the UK Government over UK-wide planning. Closer to home, EU preparation funding is being used to research and map out the supply chains of companies like Tri-Wall in a global, EU and inter-UK context so policy-makers can better understand the potential impacts.
Senedd backs new primary care model as trainee GP recruitment scheme expands
Notes the action being taken to transform services in line with the Primary Care Model for Wales.
Providing more services closer to home
Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), told AMs the broad aim of the new primary care model was to provide more allied healthcare services closer to where people live and alongside GPs. There was also good news on GP recruitment, with 96% of training places filled in the first round (80% England) with additional funding provided to fill more places than originally planned.
“….our model in Wales is drawn on innovative practice, designed locally and agreed nationally by all stakeholders….bringing together people from pharmacy, from social care and, of course, from general practice. And it’s that range of stakeholders that have agreed on a new way forward. So, we’re using our programme of reform of primary care contracts to support community pharmacists to be members of clusters, and for more general medical services to be planned and delivered at a cluster level.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething
Ideas in Wales were now being picked up elsewhere, with the English NHS’s ten-year plan adopting something very similar to Wales’ primary care clusters. However, he accepted access to GP services remained a big problem, though some GP practices are adopting new techniques which have brought appointment waiting times down to one or two days.
Not all “hunky-dory”
The Conservatives tabled a number of amendments to the motion – none of which were successful. Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) said the Minister’s speech gave the impression everything was “hunky-dory” in primary care when nothing could be further from the truth.
“….according to the BMA, 24 GP practices have closed across Wales, 29 are managed by the health board and 85 are at risk….On top of that, the Royal College of GPs, in their most recent survey, found that 23% of GPs have said that they’re unlikely to be working in general practice in five years’ time. That’s almost a quarter of the GP workforce.”
– Darren Millar AM
Recent changes to the GP indemnity scheme have made Wales a less attractive place for GPs to work and has taken £11million from cash available to individual practices.
Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) – who’s a GP – said there was a wider team within primary care including practice nurses, district nurses, dentists, pharmacists and administration staff. Some fantastic work was going on. However, the service remains under pressure; his practice in Gowerton receives 700 phone calls a day, requiring a triage system.
Innovation is key
Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) said clusters employing GP support officers has reduced the workload, particularly with regard to non-medical issues. Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) shared constituents’ concerns about moves to multi-disciplinary primary care centres, but it was vital to provide 21st century-level services and he hoped it would lead to improved equality of access across class and geographical divides.
Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly) said that no AMs wants to receive a call from constituents saying their GP surgery is going to close, but it happened in Bargoed. When one practice closed, it put pressure on the remaining practice (Bryntirion surgery).
“I completely understand the point made that we need to invest 11% of the budget in GPs….but you’ve got to say, ‘Where is that going?’ And where it went in Bryntirion….was to recruit a lead GP, Dr Mark Wells, who would then take responsibility for the design of the practice, design the practice himself, and then take responsibility for the running of it. And they did.”
– Hefin David AM
Three of the improvements said to have been made at Bryntirion (Twitter video) include a mini call centre where patients are directed to the most appropriate service, open access to allied health professionals (pharmacy, mental health, physiotherapy) in addition to GPs and stronger records to better plan and monitor ongoing treatment.
Senedd makes a stand against racism
Supports the global fight to root out racism and strives towards a more equal Wales and also supports the principles of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
Calls on the Assembly Commission on behalf of the Senedd to develop a cross-party declaration embodying the principles of the CERD in consultation with the most appropriate persons and organisations.
Building a strong and diverse society
Deputy Minister without portfolio, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) repeated a call by the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, following the Christchurch terror attack that there needed to be a global effort to root out racism in all its forms. While the UK passed a law in 1969 outlawing racial prejudice, casual racism remains with us and many people from ethnic minorities may well have come to accept that casual racism should be tolerated.
“….we must continue to build a strong and diverse society, where people of every race, faith and colour are valued for their character and their actions. We want to create a peaceful and harmonious country where our children and future generations can thrive. It’s crucial that encouraging reporting, supporting victims, holding perpetrators to account, continue to be top-level priorities.”
– Deputy Minister without portfolio, Jane Hutt
Some key areas of policy focus include increasing the number of people from ethnic minorities in public life – something the Assembly Commissioner for Equalities, Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) – was working on. Also, addressing socio-economic problems, improving racial equality in schools and properly tackling racist hate crimes.
Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) said that while crime has generally fallen, experiences of hate crimes have increased. He applauded work by North Wales Association for Multicultural Integration who have tried to break down barriers by promoting understanding of different cultures – something later echoed by Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East) who said education was key to combatting racism.
He didn’t accept, however, a challenge from Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) that comments from the likes of Boris Johnson that Muslim women wearing a full veil “looked like letterboxes” made the situation worse.
“The rise of the far-right should concern us all”
“Sadly, this is against a rising tide of racist incidents outside school. A recent Cytûn analysis highlights a 40% increase in religious hate crime, which has doubled over three years. Islamic communities have been the most targeted, followed by Jewish communities. And the rise of the far right should concern us all.”
– Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central)
In her own contribution, Leanne Wood AM said few people would argue that someone was a lesser person due to their race. It was time to call out “poisonous” comments in political debate – like those she mentioned earlier. It was also right to accept Wales and the UK’s involvement in a colonial past which treated people from other races as inferior – a line couldn’t be drawn under that past, but the political will to do something about it was welcome.
Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) praised the work of the likes of Show Racism The Red Card, using football and sport to promote anti-racism messages amongst young people. John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) always found the cultural richness of Newport neighbourhoods like Pill a great positive, but they retain serious socio-economic problems.
Caroline Jones AM (Ind, South Wales West) bemoaned the rise of far-right politics. However, she didn’t accept any irony having been elected on a UKIP ticket; she decided to leave the party as soon as it embraced far-right elements.
“I’m getting tired of everything being blamed on immigrants. I don’t know how people can look at the NHS and blame problems on immigrants and immigration, because they keep our Welsh NHS going, and it’s political decisions that cause problems with the NHS. When things get tough, we don’t have to turn on our neighbours, because that’s what too many irresponsible politicians are doing nowadays.”
– Neil McEvoy AM (Ind, South Wales Central)
The motion was unanimously approved.
Llywydd Calls For Larger Senedd In Speech Marking 20 Years Of Devolution
May 6th marked the 20th anniversary of the first elections to the Senedd.
Yesterday, AMs past and present gathered for an address and reception following a bog standard day of plenary business.
A heavy responsibility
In her address, the Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion), recounted how nervous and excited the “Class of ’99” were when they first took their seats, but nonetheless devolution has allowed Wales to plough its own furrow, becoming the first legislature in the world to achieve gender balance in 2003. Since 1999, 142 individuals have served as AMs.
“We, elected AMs and staff, have overseen the building of our new democracy over this last 20 years and it will be the youth parliamentarians of today and others who will be here to continue our work. They have never lived in a Wales without its own Parliament. For them, devolution will one day be a distant memory belonging to a time before governing our own affairs was the natural state of being for our nation, just as it is for all nations.”
– Llywydd, Elin Jones
Some elements of devolution have been more “painful and laborious” – particularly the Legislative Consent Order (LCO) system, which was eventually scrapped in 2011 following the successful referendum on law-making powers. If the Senedd was to fully reach its potential though, it needs further changes:
Challenges and opportunities
The First Minister, Mark Drakeford’s (Lab, Cardiff West) core message was that while it was time to celebrate what’s been achieved, it was also time to face up to the challenges ahead.
It was easy to forget just how rocky the start of devolution was – a narrow vote in favour and within the first year three party leaders had been replaced; “it seemed to be a place on a knife-edge”. Twenty years ago, law-making and tax-varying powers would’ve seemed unthinkable – as would leaving the EU.
“That sense of a progressive social justice agenda for Wales has been the hallmark of our first 20 years, and I hope it will be there through the next 20 years as well. Just as I hope that we will demonstrate that the devolution journey is not yet over, that the things that we have added to the repertoire of our responsibilities in the first 20 years are not the end of devolution.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford
There’ve also been a number of cultural and economic changes that in 2019 were unthinkable in 1999 – economic inactivity being lower than the UK average and public smoking reduced to negligible levels. In negative terms, politics has become more divisive inside and outside the chamber when there was once a broad cross-party consensus. We’re also in one of the longest periods of public spending restraint for 200 years; “foodbank” wasn’t even a word in 1999.
Other future challenges picked up on by the First Minster include climate change and generational inequality.