Today’s Senedd Roundup: Questions raised over management of the NHS

Health Minister Vaughan Gething faces calls for his resignation

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

“No single person” to blame for damning Cwm Taf maternity report

First Minister’s Questions was dominated by today’s announcement that maternity services at two Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board hospitals have been placed into special measures.

“Who’s to blame?”

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) asked straight up who was to blame for the Cwm Taf Morgannwg situation?

According to the First Minister, failures happened at several levels; it was impossible to select individuals to hold to account. To Paul, though, this raised further questions about the Welsh Government’s management of the NHS, with five of seven local health boards receiving some form of intervention:

“….let me remind you, this isn’t the first time we’ve raised this terrible situation. And the last time I questioned you in March, you told me that mothers and babies are no longer at risk under Cwm Taf. If that was the case, I for one have been left wondering why the Health Minister has ordered maternity services at the Royal Glamorgan and Prince Charles hospitals to be put into special measures.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM

There was no lack of transparency or accountability on the Welsh Government’s part, though the accounts from affected families were “powerful and distressing”. To put people at ease, the Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Medical Officer – as well as Health Inspectorate Wales – will be undertaking nationwide reviews of maternity services.


Climate Emergency = No Newport bypass?

Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) also asked about Cwm Taf Morgannwg; some of the concerns date back to 2015 when Mark Drakeford was Health Minister. As for the current Health Minister, there’ve been some calls for his resignation; would Mark act on that?

The First Minister didn’t agree with that assessment and the Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), was going to meet affected families face-to-face.

Adam’s second question was on the Newport bypass.

“First Minister, yesterday, your government declared a climate emergency….which we hope the Senedd will endorse through our motion tomorrow. Most people will be of the view that yesterday’s announcement will be incompatible with any decision to plough ahead with the M4 black route. Can you confirm that the declaration of a climate emergency….is a change in policy that will be a new and materially relevant factor in your M4 decision making, and have you asked officials for additional advice on that basis?”
– Adam Price AM

The First Minister didn’t think it was a new policy; it’s merely to draw attention to climate change and the short timescales available to deal with it. The Welsh Government will look to see if there’s more they can do as part of their Low Carbon Action Plan. He also confirmed that due to European election purdah, his decision on the Newport bypass won’t be announced until the first week of June.

While the whole thing is becoming increasingly tiresome, there was a third brief question on Labour’s Brexit stance ahead of Labour finalising their European manifesto. The First Minister’s position hasn’t changed; his preference is “to go back to the people” if the UK Parliament can’t agree on a way forward.

Levelling the Playing Field for Local Leisure Services

Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) raised the topical issue of funding for local authority leisure services. Leisure services operated by non-profit trusts are eligible for business rate relief, but local authority-run services aren’t – often leading to multi-million-pound bills. Could something be done?

David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) raised the plight of Cardiff Swimming Club, who’ face a £53,000 annual bill and loss of pool time following the transfer of Cardiff International Pool. Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) asked for additional funding due to leisure’s role in reducing loneliness and boosting physical activity.

The First Minister told the chamber business rates paid by councils were ultimately redistributed back to them, but the Finance Minister was meeting with councils to determine if there’s a problem. Due to the absence of a spending review at UK level, he has no idea how much money Wales is due to receive from April 2020.

 

Image: National Assembly

Wales isn’t making the most of university research

Economy & Infrastructure Committee
Innovation & Research (pdf)
Published: 11th April 2019

“Despite the Welsh Government’s claims that it has a vision for research and innovation, it is clear that those in the post-compulsory education sector are not aware of it. There is a need for a vision that encompasses everyone, and recognition that investment will be needed to create more innovation from cutting edge research conducted in Wales.”
– Committee Chair, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery)

See also: State of Wales – The Welsh Economy VII: The Knowledge Economy

  1. Welsh research centres need to work harder to secure UK-wide R&D funding

The UK Government Industrial Strategy set a target of 2.7% of UK Gross Value Added (GVA) being spent annually on research and development by 2027. To support this, UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) was established with an annual budget of £4.5billion. UKRI is open to all UK research centres and universities. £3.8billion of this money is redistributed via UK Research Councils.

By comparison, the Welsh Government spends just £92million on R&D – though the actual figure is less than that due to decisions taken by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW).

The Welsh Government said that due to the current financial and funding uncertainty, it would be difficult to set a Welsh target for R&D spending – though the Committee recommended they do so anyway.

Preliminary work is being undertaken to establish a Welsh research office in London to improve Welsh access to UK level funding, but the Committee was told that there needs to be more than just office space; any Welsh presence in London had to be led by “a visionary, charismatic, forward-facing” person to fight Wales’ corner.

  1. There needs to be a clear vision for the future of R&D in Wales

The Welsh Government intends to introduce a Post-Compulsory Education, Training and Research Bill before the end of the Fifth Senedd in 2021.

The Committee and witnesses believe there needs to be a clear vision for where R&D will go in the future, as well as proper acknowledgement of the unique contribution universities make to the Welsh economy – particularly some of the strengths of the higher education sector including its interconnectivity and the relative strength of Wales’ research base.

There were additional concerns that the proposed new post-compulsory education body – Research & Innovation Wales (RIW) – won’t be independent of the Welsh Government. One item of particular concern was that RIW wouldn’t be allowed to engage with the UK Government without the expressed permission of the Welsh Government.

The Committee also believes that the dual funding system – whereby universities receive a quality-related (QR) funding grant and also have access to competitive research grants – needs to be maintained. They also recommended the principle that funding decisions should be made based on peer review and not by the government (Haldane Principle) should be enshrined in law.

  1. Investment in R&D in Wales is lower than our population share and research quality warrants

Almost half of all research funding in the UK is spent at Cambridge, Oxford and London universities. As decisions at a UK level are based on research excellence, stronger universities get stronger.

Welsh universities “punch above their weight” in terms of high-quality research and research productivity (in 2014 a third of Welsh research was deemed “world-leading” and a half “internationally excellent”), but geography is part of the reason why they miss out.

Welsh universities received just 3.9% (£71million) of all QR funding in the UK in 2018-19 and HEFCW didn’t spend anything on Innovation & Engagement funding – compared to £19million in Scotland and £210million in England. As part of the Diamond Review into higher education funding, it was said every £1 spent on innovation and engagement generates an additional £7.90 in external funding for universities.

Small businesses told the Committee they often found it difficult to engage with universities, while SMEs also lack the capacity to put together the kind of bids needed to secure large amounts of research funding – this was the sort of thing Innovation & Engagement Funding is used for.

There was also very low engagement with venture capitalists, with just 0.5% of all UK venture capital activity taking place in Wales. This wasn’t said to be a problem with the support offered by universities, but more a problem down to the lack of access to external funding needed to scale up commercial ideas and spin-outs.

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