Today’s Senedd roundup: Tories blast Labour for north Wales NHS woes
Owen Donovan, Senedd Home
First Ministers’s Questions
Pouncing on UK Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy MP’s comments that devolution wasn’t working for people in north Wales, Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) believed that the problem lies not with devolution, but the party running Wales.
He was in no doubt why people in the north think this way: health.
“….the people of north Wales feel rightly let down by your government and frustrated at the lack of progress being made to tackle the issues that matter most to them, particularly health services. It should be a great source of embarrassment and concern that Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board is the worst-performing health board when it comes to A&E waiting times, with just 66.8% of patients being seen within the critical four-hour period….But yet whenever anyone raises an issue or scrutinises your record, like today, you tell us we’re dragging the NHS through the mud.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM
The First Minister believed the Tory leader had misinterpreted what Lisa Nandy said; this wasn’t about institutions of devolution itself, but feeling disconnected from decisions made on their behalf – and he agreed with that assessment. There was also little point picking up Betsi Cadwaladr’s performance because there were issues everywhere.
“Listen to experts” on health service changes
It was an inevitability that the row over A&E services at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital would make an appearance and Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) put the First Minister on the spot by asking who was responsible for making A&E services at the hospital unsafe, with staff members well below UK standards.
When he was told “the local health board”, Adam Price pointed to the Welsh Government’s website which lists oversight of NHS delivery and performance as one of the Labour-run government’s responsibilities.
“During the recent general election, Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, highlighted the ‘extreme’ and ‘catastrophic’ risk as a result of losing some 24-hours services in north-east England. His answer: ‘We pledge that within the first 100 days of a Labour Government we will get on top of this.’ You’ve been in charge of Wales not for 100 days, but 20 years. Where have you been?”
– Adam Price AM
The First Minister said some of the figures Adam Price quoted were wrong. There’s record investment in health and more A&E consultants were working than ever before; any present shortage is UK-wide.
While not rejecting the idea that the public and politicians should have their say, they had to engage with Cwm Taf health board on their proposals.
“The point I made yesterday, and I make it again this afternoon, is that when a decision has to be made as to whether a service is safe, whether it is of the right quality and whether it is sustainable into the future, then the right people to ask about that when the decision comes to be made, not while the decision is in preparation, are the people who are experts in the service that is being provided. I think that is a really important principle….”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)
Wales should have a say in post-Brexit trade
Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) pointed to reports from CSA Group that it could step up production in the UK in the event of tariffs with the EU, while Nissan was reportedly planning to shift production from the EU to the UK. In light of this, as First Minister does he still think that the UK Government should agree its trade policies with Wales or face a veto?
The First Minister believes it’s premature to discuss the impacts of Brexit whilst there’s been no material change due to the transition period. His position is that when the UK starts to negotiate new trade deals, its hand would be strengthened if it had the backing of all the UK’s governments and structures should be put in place to ensure this happened.
Climate emergency highlighted in Senedd’s committees report on the draft Welsh budget
The draft Welsh budget will be debated in the Senedd this afternoon (more from me tomorrow). Over the last week, some of the Senedd’s committees reported back on their conclusions regarding the budget.
The Culture Committee, as of posting, didn’t publish a report despite holding budget scrutiny sessions.
Draft Welsh Budget 2020-21 (pdf)
Published: 29th January 2020
Key conclusions – “If you’re going to declare a climate emergency, treat it as an emergency.”
- While welcoming the budget increase, the Committee would have liked the Welsh Government to have been more ambitious on climate change and are worried that big changes (i.e. public pensions) are being foisted on Wales without the accompanying finance from the UK Treasury.
- A change in strategy is needed (i.e. new taxes, tax increases) if the Welsh Government wants to guarantee it will have additional funding in future years.
- It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to properly measure the impact spending decisions have – positive and negative – on certain groups of people.
- The declaration of a climate emergency doesn’t seem to have been reflected in the budget at all despite an overall increase in the amount of money spent directly on decarbonisation. The Committee was disappointed there wasn’t a more radical approach.
- There are no signs yet of a cultural shift towards “preventative spending” (spending on certain services so people don’t end up reliant on more expensive services further down the line).
- There’s more targeted spending to tackle specific problems relating to poverty (i.e. holiday hunger, period poverty) but it’s unclear if the draft budget would impact the root causes of poverty.
- The Committee is disappointed there’s not more analysis on what impact different Brexit scenarios will have on the draft budget.
Economy & Infrastructure Committee (pdf) – “We need more details.”
- Despite a commitment to decarbonisation, it’s unclear how money is being spent, and on what particular measures, to decarbonise transport.
- There are concerns about a lack of transparency surrounding Transport for Wales’ budget and the subsidies TfW Rail receives.
- Research and evidence relating to the economic impact of Cardiff Airport should be published.
- The Welsh Government should commission a review of research and innovation, including public and privately-funded activities.
Communities Committee (pdf) – “Spend more on preventing homelessness.”
- The Committee welcomes the “significant” local government settlement for 2020-21, but the relatively modest increase to local authority capital spending may impact decarbonisation efforts.
- Information on grant schemes to make environmental improvements to homes should be easily accessible.
- Spending on homelessness and homelessness prevention should be increased or the government’s ambitions are unlikely to be fully realised.
- The Welsh Government should provide details on which Communities First projects received legacy funding and what was being done to support them to become self-sufficient.
Environment & Rural Affairs Committee (pdf) – “Stop arsing about on climate change.”
- There’s little evidence of a transformative and radical budget concerning the climate emergency; a new carbon impact assessment should be published alongside future draft budgets.
- It’s unacceptable for the Welsh Government to “continue to plead ignorance” about the cost and benefits of decarbonisation.
- The Welsh Government has failed to meet its target of eradicating fuel poverty by 2018 and the Committee would like further information on how funding for schemes like Arbed will be better used in the future.
- The Committee welcomed a decision to continue direct payments to farmers through to 2021 and the Minister should set out a timetable for a post-Brexit replacement.
- More details are needed on the National Forest policy.
Health & Social Care Committee (pdf) – “Why are health boards still struggling to balance their books?”
- The Committee welcomes the reported improvement in health board finances, with a total £50million deficit from two health boards (Betsi Cadwaladr, Hywel Dda) compared to £96million in 2018-19. However, the continued inability of health boards to manage their finances “remains a cause for concern”.
- The Welsh Government needs to explain how the budget supports transformational change, particularly full integration of health and social care.
- There remains a lack of parity between physical and mental health and details of the £700million ringfenced for mental health should be provided.
- There has to be a greater commitment to spending on sport and exercise as part of an agenda to prevent health problems before they begin.
Children & Young People Committee (pdf) – “Schools should be front of the queue for any additional funding coming Wales’ way.”
- The Committee welcomes the increased funding for local authorities, but concerns about school funding remain; the Welsh Government should prioritise schools for any additional money that they may receive as a result of spending changes on education in England.
- The Committee is concerned that there are still no details or funding allocated for a specialist mother and baby mental health unit.
- A new child poverty reduction strategy is needed.
- All aspects of funding to roll-out the new National Curriculum should be kept under review.
- The Welsh Government should explain why £12million needed to meet its commitments on degree-level apprenticeships isn’t included in the draft budget.
More schools counted as “good” in latest school categorisations
The latest school categorisation for Wales showed an increase in the number of schools deemed to be highly effective. All state primary and secondary schools in the country are placed into four colour-coded bands – ranked green to red – based on the levels of support they might need.
“I’m encouraged that the percentage of primary and secondary schools in the green category has gone from 41.6% last year to 46.9% this year. This tells a story of improvement and increased capacity in the system that should be recognised. These schools will have a key role to play in supporting others, sharing their expertise, skills and good practice.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor)
The Minister remained concerned that a relatively high proportion of secondary schools – 13.5% – required the highest levels of support (amber and red).
Welsh Government launches Creative Wales
The Welsh Government has officially launched Creative Wales, a new body tasked with promoting the creative industries including film, television, music, publishing and gaming.
“My vision for Creative Wales is for an organisation that will take the existing successes in the screen industry and build on these to drive growth across the whole creative sector; developing a skills base that is world-class, expanding support beyond film and tv and positioning Wales as the place to locate a creative business.”
– Deputy Minister for Culture, Tourism & Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Ind, Dwyfor Meirionnydd)
The body will be focused on skills development, promotion abroad and dynamic and simplified funding support. Posts to an advisory board are due to be advertised soon.
For 2020-21, Creative Wales will be provided with more than £7 million in funding.
Job Sharing: “There are more creative and flexible ways of working”