Monday, 31 July 2017

Senedd Watch - July 2017

This is the final "Senedd Watch" post - and my final post relating to Welsh politics on Oggy Bloggy Ogwr - before I launch Senedd Home in September. While this has never been the most read feature, I know it's useful to some people. There'll be an equivalent of this on Senedd Home, but at the moment I intend for it to be a weekly update instead of monthly. State of Wales will be launching this evening, so keep an eye out for that.

  • The Economy & Infrastructure Committee concluded that the Welsh Government faced a "heroically ambitious" task to award the new Wales & Borders rail franchise, setting out 10 key priorities for the new service including simple fares, new trains and a clock face timetable.
  • The Church in Wales believed young people were put off collective acts of worship in schools because they were "not done well". The comments came as a petition from two Cardiff students calling for an end to collective worship was referred to the Education Secretary. A "broadly Christian" daily act of collective worship is currently a legal requirement in schools.
  • The FAW Trust said extra money was required for grassroots sport, as expectations based on current funding levels were "unrealistic". Sport Wales receives £22million a year from the Welsh Government, a cut of 14% over the last seven years.
  • Eluned Morgan AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) repeated calls for a city region-style deal for rural Wales following a report on post-Brexit rural strategy. The report's recommendations include the establishment of a Commissioner for Rural Wales, improved infrastructure and fair funding.
  • Shelter Cymru believed discretionary housing payments – help for those struggling to pay their rent – have been "wasted" by local authorities. Councils said application numbers had been low and underspending resulted in hundreds of thousands of pounds being returned to the UK Government.
  • Liz Saville Roberts MP (Plaid, Dwyfor Meirionnydd) claimed Welsh police forces would be £25million a year better off if policing were devolved in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland, and that planned changes to policing formulas for EnglandandWales could see a £32million cut to Welsh police forces.
  • Exam regulator, Qualifications Wales, warned that GCSE results could be lower than expected for 2016-17 due to a large number of students taking GCSE English Language, Welsh and Maths exams a year early. Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), said she would consider stopping the practice.
  • The Welsh Government unveiled plans to increase the number of Welsh speakers to 1 million by 2050, including an expansion of Welsh-medium education by a third (including nursery groups) and an increase in the amount of time devoted to teaching Welsh in English-medium schools.
  • The Education Secretary announced that university tuition fees in Wales will rise in line with inflation from 2018, increasing from a maximum £9,000 a year to £9,300. She said it was because of a fee rise in England, but the move was condemned by the NUS and opposition politicians who said it contradicts Labour's general election pledge to scrap tuition fees.
  • Up to 300 jobs are set to be created in Newport after Spanish train manufacturer, CAF, announced they would build a facility at Llanwern to become operational from autumn 2018. It was reported the company will be offered £3million in grant funding from the Welsh Government, who said it was "a major coup for Wales".
  • The UK's Government's Repeal Bill – formalising Brexit – was published on July 13th. The Welsh and Scottish governments issued a joint statement saying neither would be able to support the Bill in its current form, describing it as a "naked power grab".
    • Environment & Rural Affairs Secretary, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), warned the Welsh farming industry faced being "put back decades" after Brexit, citing a lack of engagement from the UK Government. She repeated condemnation of the Repeal Bill saying she couldn't accept the Bill as it is.
  • A campaign was launched against proposals to outlaw "smacking" in Wales by removing it as a legal defence in court cases. Be Reasonable Wales claim the change could lead to "ordinary parents facing jail". Communities Secretary, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside), hopes to secure cross-party support for the move, but polling suggests a majority of people in Wales are against criminalisation.
  • Steffan Lewis AM (Plaid, South Wales East) accused the Welsh Government of only consulting large anchor businesses on the potential impact of Brexit and neglecting the "Brexit shock" that could hit smaller firms. The Welsh Government claimed they had been working with companies of all sizes.
  • The Children's Commissioner, Dr Sally Holland, called for a radical overhaul in how bullying is handled by schools in a new report. The report claimed there was a lack of consistency, with many schools reluctant to address the issue.
  • A Newport-based steel company, Coilcolor, which supplied products to some of the world's biggest companies went into administration after flooding from Welsh Government land destroyed £3.7million worth of machinery in November 2016. The company claimed the Welsh Government "paid lip service" to them, with significant delays in payments.
  • Local Government & Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), launched a consultation on local government electoral reforms. Some of the proposals include lowering the voting age to 16, giving councils the option of introducing new voting systems and electronic voting.
  • Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) announced there was "no case" to establish a medical school in north Wales, though there was a case for expanded medical education. Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) said the Health Secretary had "shown contempt" for north Wales.
  • UK transport secretary, Chris Grayling, scrapped a proposed electrification of rail lines between Cardiff and Swansea on 20th July, saying improvements could be achieved without engineering works. The Welsh Government said the announcement was "disturbing", while Plaid Cymru argued Wales receives 1% of Network Rail funding despite having 6% of the track.
  • Michelle Brown AM (UKIP, North Wales) was recorded by a former employee describing Labour's Chuka Umunna MP as a "f**king coconut" and also making abusive remarks about Tristram Hunt MP and former US President, Barack Obama. She apologised and admitted the language – used in a private conversation in May 2016 - was "inappropriate".
    • Labour demanded an immediate suspension while the case was referred to the Standards Commissioner and UKIP's National Executive. There were also calls for her suspension from Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and Nathan Gill AM (Ind, North Wales).
  • BBC's Panorama reported a 43% increase in the number of men and boys seeking treatment for eating disorders, also revealing England spent six times per-head than Wales on eating disorders. Two Welsh health boards also didn't record the numbers seeking treatment.
  • A row broke out over a proposed £400,000 Welsh Government-backed sculpture of an iron ring outside Flint Castle, with the architects claiming it represents the surrender of Richard II to Henry IV. However, more than 10,800 people (at time of posting) signed a petition calling for the sculpture to be dropped as it was a "symbol of oppression", being a visual pun of Edward I's "Iron Ring" of castles built during the 13th Century Anglo-Norman conquest of Wales.
    • The Economy & Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), paused the sculpture plans on July 26th pending a review, adding that he "recognised the strength of feeling" around it.
  • A pro-fracking organisation accused PCC Arfon Jones (Plaid, North Wales Police) of "cronyism" and "abuse of power" after North Wales Police withdrew a contingent of officers from an anti-fracking protest site near Preston. The PCC questioned whether Welsh police officers should be sent to protests in England when there's a moratorium on fracking in Wales.

Major projects announced in July include: A continuation of Cardiff-Anglesey flights; a £6.8million strategy to introduce "precision medicines" based on genetics; a pilot of free weekend travel on some long-distance TrawsCymru bus services until May 2018 and a £3.4million National Imaging Academy (radiology) based at Pencoed, Bridgend.


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