Today’s Senedd Roundup: Call for more detail on the cultural impact of Brexit

A Wales and Europe flag at a People’s Vote march. Picture by Ilovetheeu (CC 4.0)

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

Call for more detail on the cultural impact of Brexit

Yesterday, AMs discussed the Culture Committee’s report on the impact Brexit will have on the creative industries – a summary of which you can find here.

EU funding “has boosted arts and culture”

Chair of the Culture Committee, Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West) said Brexit could potentially be as damaging to the creative industries and the Welsh language as it might be to agriculture.

The UK has received more funding from the EU’s Creative Europe than any other EU member state, while the Common Agricultural Policy has played a vital role in supporting primarily Welsh-speaking rural areas. There were other implications people might not have considered:

    “The ability to generate income from touring productions in Europe is a vital part of our creative industry’s business model. For instance, during the last financial year, the NoFitState circus generated almost 40% of its total turnover from touring. We heard that any restrictions on touring would jeopardise the viability of touring productions such as those of the National Dance Company Wales and British orchestras.”

    – Chair of the Culture Committee, Bethan Sayed AM

David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) said many arts and heritage organisations wanted to remain part of EU programmes such as Erasmus+ (student exchange), Horizon 2020 (science) and Creative Europe. Some of these programmes were open to third parties, but third parties are only allowed to draw out as much funding as they put in or less.

    “….if Brexit comes to pass along any of the lines presently envisaged, then it will mean that Wales will have to work even harder to be recognised, it will have to work even harder to export our work internationally, and it will have to work even harder to participate on the international stage that our artists and production companies have struggled so hard to find a footing in. Their excellence cannot be displaced, and it must work, finally, even harder to attract funding for Welsh arts in a climate of cuts to the Welsh budget.”

    – Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn)

The future of the Welsh language “doesn’t exist in a vacuum”

Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) said lack of attention and investment in the arts may well have contributed to Brexit; particularly the declining numbers of secondary school pupils studying modern foreign languages. She said learning another language gives you a sense of empathy with a different culture and one of the key findings in the report was a rise in “linguaphobia” towards languages other than English since the Brexit vote.

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) reemphasised the potential risks to the Welsh language:

    “The future of the Welsh language doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so I’m pleased to see reference to agriculture and the relatively high percentage of Welsh speakers in that sector. The language was given scant regard in ‘Brexit and our land’….where there was no evidence provided. I’m eager to know what assurances the Minister gave to the Committee that Welsh language impact assessments were an integral part of the Government’s preparations for Brexit….because it wasn’t clear in the evidence provided to other committees.”

    – Suzy Davies AM

Suzy added that Wales benefits from being able to promote its unique culture, but also its agility in language skills, which is why it’s Conservative policy to create a “trilingual Wales”.

Ombudsman Bill takes a big step towards becoming law

At a Glance Guide

Public Services Ombudsman Bill as introduced (summary)

Stage 1 report (summary)

The Bill:

Gives the Public Services Ombudsman the power to carry out their own investigations and to set out how complaints should be handled across the Welsh public sector.

Aims to make the complaints process less intimidating and easier by allowing people to give oral evidence instead of having to do everything in writing.

Extends the Ombudsman’s reach to include private care homes and private healthcare providers.

Major Changes at Stage 2

The Ombudsman Bill has had a long and torturous history, being introduced as far back as October 2017.

Stage 2 proceedings were undertaken by the Finance Committee, who also introduced the Bill, with the member in charge being the Chair of the Finance Committee, Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales). Here’s a more thorough summary from the Members Research Service (pdf).

The terms on which the Ombudsman can begin an investigation on their own have been made clear, including a “reasonable suspicion of maladministration”. They’ll also have to set out their reasoning for launching an investigation in writing to the Senedd as well as issue a statement when they decide not to pursue an investigation.

Amendments to protect the Auditor General and listed bodies from defamation.

A review of the Act will need to be published by the relevant Senedd Committee within 5 years of the Bill becoming law.

 

The Key Amendments at Stage 3

Amendment 8 – Llyr Gruffydd AM

Makes sure the Ombudsman has a “clear and efficient way” of recovering costs from health service providers where those providers have obstructed the Ombudsman’s work.

Vote: Agreed unanimously

Amendment 30 – Llyr Gruffydd AM

The Ombudsman will be able to keep any recovered costs as a result of obstruction of an investigation by a health provider.

Vote: Agreed unanimously

Amendment 39 – Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West)

Instead of a Senedd Committee publishing the 5-year review, the Senedd as a whole would do it instead and would have the power to delegate the task to a committee.

Vote: Agreed unanimously

Amendment 46 – Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales)

When undertaking an investigation, the Ombudsman will have to consider whether the authority or body under investigation has had regard for the Nolan Principles of Public Life; selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

Vote: Amendment withdrawn

Reason for Withdrawal: The role of the Ombudsman is to investigate service failure, not whether public bodies are complying with ethical standards.

Amendment 47 – Mark Isherwood AM

The Ombudsman’s draft complaints handling principles will need to be approved by a Senedd vote within two months of publication.

Vote: Rejected – 11 for, 36 against

Reason for Rejection: It would be unfair for the politically-neutral Ombudsman to table a document not knowing if they have political support or not and whilst they’re unable to influence proceedings.

Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

Call for professional register of hairdressers

This week’s short debate was led by Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) on the subject of apprenticeships – subject to a statement earlier this week – and professional registration.

Mike started off by saying that if he tried to practice as a solicitor, builder, carpenter or hairdresser the full force of the law would only come down on him if he tried to set up as a solicitor as there’s legal protection for the profession.

While the other professions aren’t regulated in the same way, because practitioners often deal with dangerous procedures or chemicals the effect of malpractice can be significant. He cited hairdressers and beauty therapists as an example:

“I mean, hairdressing is totally unregulated. I have been told about that the devastating effects of negligent hairdressing treatments range from chemical burns to the scalp and face to loss of hair through misuse of products. The hairdressing industry is currently unregulated. This is a very worrying thought when you consider the chemicals used by hairdressers, who potentially could be untrained and unqualified….Beauty therapists and hairdressers can do permanent damage to your face and head.”

– Mike Hedges AM

The Hairdressing Council have called for regulation of the industry and an attempt was made at Westminster to introduce a backbench bill – which was defeated.

He also mentioned unqualified electricians; nearly a quarter of people have hired an electrician without checking their credentials beforehand, while 1.3million people in the UK have had to pay for a professional to fix the work of an unqualified electrician.

Jack Sargeant AM (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) stressed the importance of continued professional development of qualified apprentices to ensure they can carry out work in a safe manner. Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) said stories of rogue traders undermines the work and reputation of competent tradespeople.

Responding to industry changes

Replying on behalf of the government, Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), didn’t really answer the core theme of the debate – professional registration of skilled tradespeople – in great detail. He did, however, recollect trying to regulate the hairdressing profession during his previous role as Skills Minister.

“There’s no doubt that skills are inextricably linked to the ability to carry out work properly, effectively and efficiently….Demand for apprenticeships is changing, as employers seek skills at higher levels, and young people looking towards apprenticeships as an alternative pathway to full-time undergraduate learning.”

– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

He added that employers were now getting involved in shaping apprenticeships, with a focus on expanding apprenticeships in higher-skilled and technical subjects. The Welsh Government were offering £3,500 to small businesses to recruit apprentices where that business hasn’t been involved in apprenticeships before.

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