Why it’s time for our Senedd to reopen

The Senedd lit up blue to thank NHS staff. Picture by the Senedd.

Charlie Evans, Deputy Chairman of the Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire Conservative Association

As I write this, the Senedd has been closed for over a hundred days. By Senedd, I mean the real-life chamber, not the virtual Zoom chamber that has done little scrutinising of Government ministers during this pandemic.

The only proper scrutiny of the Welsh Government that currently exists is a cushty daily press conference which allows ministers to answer questions as much or as little as they want from journalists; or virtual committee meetings and Plenary which at the moment exists mainly for the political parties to crop videos and put them on their Twitter accounts.

Embracing the madness of these arrangements, I have taken Twitter activism to a new absurd extreme by establishing an account called @ReopenTheSenedd which has thus far amassed a huge following of 30.

But despite my half-hearted campaigning effort, (I have a full-time job not in politics), there is a serious point behind this.

 

Clarity

Why must it reopen?

Firstly, scrutiny. Scrutiny is vitally important- and is even more so in these times. In the past week, we learned over 1,000 hospital patients were sent to care homes without a COVID test, with Care Forum Wales saying care homes has gone from “safe havens to warzones”.

The plans to open schools for a fourth week in the summer term have been scuppered in many counties. The hospitality sector still lacks the clarity as to whether they will have a summer trade. And individual freedoms continue to be curbed dramatically in order to control the virus.

Extraordinary measures have been taken in these extraordinary times, so we should expect to see extraordinary levels of scrutiny. But instead, the methods of scrutinising government ministers are simply ineffectual.

Secondly, Wales has reopened. Government has allowed shops to reopen this week. Ordinary people whether business owners, retail workers or customers are hitting the streets to spend money to revive our economy. COVID thankfully has a low transmission rate at the moment but customers and workers are still taking some risks in the national recovery. Our politicians should be visible and leading from the front but instead they are seen to leading from the comfort of home.

Urgency

Thirdly, our Parliament is the only national Parliament to be closed in Europe. There is no precedent set for the Senedd’s continued closure. Westminster, Holyrood and Stormont have all returned safely, and the rest of Europe’s chambers are open, with social distancing and hybrid systems in place. Why is the Welsh establishment content with this arrangement? There is no reason why the Senedd cannot reopen with social distancing and virtual contributions and voting for MSs who are shielding.

There are murmurings this morning about there being sittings in August. Finally, there is at least some democratic light at the end of this very undemocratic tunnel. However, that’s too far away and too much opportunity to properly scrutinise during a time when the Welsh Government has never been so powerful has been lost.

The Senedd should have opened weeks ago. Businesses have had to act with pace and urgency to begin to get Wales back on its feet. The Senedd must do the same.

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