Today’s Senedd Roundup: Tidal Lagoon rises from beneath the waves….again

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

Tidal Lagoon rises from beneath the waves again

First Minister’s Questions

Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) brought up the proposed-scrapped-but-not-quite-dead Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. The world’s first test centre for tidal energy will now be built in Scotland and Wales was at risk of losing momentum. He asked whether the Welsh Government would support new proposals coming out of the Swansea City Region?

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) raised the idea of collective buying of energy by the public sector through public procurement. David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) said any resurrected tidal project could be used to help the steel industry in light of an expected rejection of a Tata-ThyssenKrupp merger.

The strike price for energy remains a sticking point, but the First Minister called for the UK Government to consider the fact this will be the first of its kind:

“….the UK Government should recognise this was always to be a demonstration project, that it is inevitable in nascent technologies that the price of electricity would be higher than it otherwise would be in the marketplace, and, just as previous governments were willing to do in the fields of solar and wind, that they must find a tariff for marine energy….that allows those new technologies to be attempted and….thrive here in Wales.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford

Brexit: Has Wales run out of cold storage space?

Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr), focused on Brexit preparations – in particular, the Welsh food industry stockpiling ingredients and alike in cold storage facilities.

He told the chamber a report, which hasn’t yet been published by the Welsh Government, suggests there’s no more room:

“Can you confirm, First Minister, that there are only two companies in the sector in Wales and the one you received representation from – Wild Water Group – operates two of the three cold storage facilities for food in Wales? Can you confirm that they have asked you to urgently invest in a new storage facility?…. You’ve done this for medical supplies; given the lack of warehouse capacity in that area, why not do the same for food, given the devastating impact you yourself claim the pressure on supply chains Brexit will cause?”
– Adam Price AM

Adam suggested it would cost £3-4million to provide additional capacity.

As suggested in Adam’s statement, the First Minister expects some products to be in short supply if there’s a “No Deal Brexit”. He promised to look into whether the mentioned report can be published, but told AMs there’ll always be competing priorities in the “sober business of government”. Further discussions with the food industry will take place and while he wasn’t yet convinced by the case for investing in additional storage capacity, he wouldn’t rule it out either.

Transparency and Accountability

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), turned to a favourite Conservative topic – issues around support given to businesses. He said that since 2010, the Welsh Government has wasted millions of pounds on loans and grants to businesses which have since failed after minimal transparency and oversight of decisions.

The First Minister said the process always involves risk:

“I certainly don’t apologise for a single moment for the fact that successive Welsh governments have seen it as their duty to assist Welsh firms….and if you’re going to do that on an entirely risk-averse basis, where you’re never willing to take a chance on a company that might turn out to be a really important part of our economic future, then, of course, you can eliminate every possibility of something going wrong by never doing anything.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

The First Minister found it contradictory that Paul Davies was complaining about lack of transparency, whilst listing information that could only have been in the public domain. He wasn’t going to listen to “holier-than-thou” rhetoric over wasted money while he sat in on a UK Cabinet meeting which resulted in £80million of compensation being paid out due to cancelled contracts relating to Brexit (a Chris Grayling production).

 

Minister for Housing and Local Government Julie James. Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Government to establish separate Planning Inspectorate

The Welsh Government has announced its intention to establish a stand-alone Welsh Planning Inspectorate. At present, the Planning Inspectorate operates on an EnglandandWales basis, with a division based in Cardiff which reports to the Welsh Government and the English Department for Housing and Local Government equally.

In November 2018, AMs were told the Welsh Government was considering the move following increasing divergence between Welsh and English planning law.

“Planning law and policy has diverged and continues to diverge at an accelerating rate from England, in order to meet the unique needs of communities and businesses in Wales.

“We are also moving forward to consolidate and unify planning law in Wales to form a separate Welsh planning Code.

“For these reasons, I have instructed officials to begin work on a separate, dedicated service for Wales.”
– Minister for Housing & Local Government, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West)

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) welcomed the announcement, saying: “As far back as 2013, we proposed that an independent inspectorate be included in the Planning Bill but Labour voted against our amendments….I will now be calling for any planning inspectorate for Wales to be located in north Wales and committed to creating a planning system that will be for the benefit of our communities across the whole of our nation.”

It’s expected the new organisation will be operational by 2021.

Photo by Daniel Frank on Unsplash

New regulations to formalise Welsh language duties in primary care

Recently-introduced regulations will widen duties and obligations GPs, dentists, opticians and pharmacists have towards the Welsh language (Cymraeg – pdf, English – pdf). They build upon Welsh Language Standards introduced in 2018.

The explanatory memorandum ( English – pdf; there seems to be a technical problem with the Welsh version) says the regulations will mean independent primary care providers:

  • Will have to tell their respective local health boards which services they’re willing to provide through the medium of Welsh.
  • Will have to make Welsh language versions of any form or document from the local health board available to patients/the public.
  • Must have bilingual signage.
  • Should encourage Welsh-speaking staff to wear a badge identifying that they can communicate in Welsh and also encourage staff to attend relevant training courses, where available, to raise awareness of the Welsh language.
  • Should encourage the recording of Welsh or English language preferences by patients or on behalf of patients.

The memorandum goes on to say the duties are “at a level that is considered appropriate and reasonable” and “provides a reasonable starting point” before any future expansion of Welsh-language services in primary care.

The regulations use the negative procedure, meaning they’ll come into force automatically on May 30th 2019 unless the Senedd tables a motion and votes to block them.

Photo by Adrian Pingstone and released to the public domain.

Improvements promised to North-South air link under new contract

In a letter to the Senedd’s Public Accounts Committee (pdf), the Director General of the Welsh Government’s Economy Directorate, Andrew Slade, has confirmed that a new public service obligation (PSO) contract will see enhancements to the north-south air link between Anglesey and Cardiff.

In the letter, Mr Slade says that the new contract includes:

  • An increase in the number of available seats on each flight from 19 seats to 29 seats – if the UK Government allows it in the future.
  • Check-in will remain open until 30 minutes before departure to make it more attractive to business passengers.
  • Passengers will be able to book online and bilingually, alongside the introduction of an annual marketing plan.
  • Fast-track security and access to the executive lounge at Cardiff Airport as well as in-flight cabin crew service serving complimentary refreshments.

A four-year PSO contract was awarded to Humberside-based

in February 2019, with the company taking over the route after the previous operator, Citywing, went into administration.

Blast Furnace located at the Port Talbot steel plant

Tata-ThyssenKrupp merger “expected to be blocked”

A proposed merger between Tata and ThyssenKrupp looks to be in some serious doubt as both companies expect the European Commission to block it over competition concerns. A formal decision isn’t expected to be made before 17th June.

Tata expects its steel operations in Wales, including Shotton, Llanwern, Trostre and Port Talbot, to remain operational despite the setback.

However, they remain concerned about UK energy prices, saying: “In the last 18 months it’s gone up quite significantly and that’s not helping us. But we have plans to keep UK (operations) running as long as they are performing well and is cash positive, and I think the team there is working hard to make it that way.”

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