Monthly Report

23/10/2014

Welcome to the first on-line report on my activitirs since the Assembly reconvened after the summer recess. The major political event of the month, of course, was the referendum on Scottish independence. Although the No side prevailed, the campaign and result has reignited interest in the governance of the UK nations, which was debated in the Assembly.

From the September Diary

Monday, 1 September

Surgery, Caernarfon

Pontio meeting, Bangor

Meeting with Beicio Bangor, Garth centre

Thursday, 4 September

Meeting regarding Glanymôr flats, Caernarfon

Surgery, Bangor

Constituency Meeting

Friday, 5 September

Re-opening of our Bangor constituency office following renovation

Celebration of 30th anniversary of Antur Waunfawr

Wednesday, 10 September

BBC interview on Scottish referendum

Thursday, 11 September

Meeting with Professor Trevor Purt, new CEO of Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board

Discuussion on Planning with Aled Davies of Gwynedd Council

Meeting with new owners of Caernarfon abbatoir

Saturday, 13 September

Meeting electors in Deiniolen

Gŵyl Abergwyngregyn -  Hydro Energy

Monday, 15 September

Meeting Year 12 pupils at Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen

Bangor surgery

Meeting with consultants at  Ysbyty Gwynedd to discuss the hospital’s future

Tuesday, 16 September

Assembly reconvenes

Public Accounts Committee

Plenary sessioin

Debate on ‘What About Wales’ organised by Gorwel  think-tank  

Wednesday, 17 September

Chaired Environment and Sustainability Committee

Retirement party of Plaid organiser David Bradley

Thursday, 18 September

Scottish referendum - meeting in the Assembly

Friday, 19 September

‘Codi’r To’ finance committee, a charity that provides musical training to Glan Cegin a Maesincla schools.

Sadwrn, 20 September

Clear litter on Dinas Dinlle beach, a campaign by the Marine Conservation Society as part of the ' Great British Beach Clean

Monday, 22 September

Menai Science Park conference

Surgery, Bangor

Tuesday 23 September

Public Accounts Committee

Plenary sessioin

Wednesday 24 September

Finance Committee

Plenary sessioin

Thursday, 25 September

Chairing Environment and Sustainability Committee

Friday, 26 September

Macmillan Coffee Morning,, Felinheli

Meeting with Betsi Cadwaladr Halth Board, Ysbyty Gwynedd

25th anniversary celebration of Anheddau Cyf, Bangor, which offers support to vulnerable people

Saturdau, 27 September

Macmillan Coffee Morning, Caeathro

Meeting electors at Bangor

Monday, 29 September

Surgery, Caernarfon

Tuesday, 30 September

Meeting with Finance Minister Jane Hutt

Plenary session

QUESTIONS AND SPEECHES IN THE ASSEMBLY

16 September  

Questions to First Minister Carwyn Jones

Smoking

A.Ff.J.  What evidence does the Government have of the success of campaigns to persuade young people not to start smoking?

C.J. I saw that the number of young people who start smoking is falling. I would like to ensure that it falls more quickly than is currently the case, but in the tobacco control action plan there are plans to ensure that that number reduces significantly in the future.

Statement by the Minister for Finance and Business Jane Hutt

EU’s Cohesion Forum in Brussels

A.Ff.J. I welcome the Minister’s attendance at the conference. Plaid Cymru agrees that economic alignment should be one of the priorities of the European Union. The fact is, unfortunately, that economic disparity is worse in the UK than in any other European Union state. Wales has some of the most deprived wards in Europe. Unfortunately, the latest statistics show that west Wales and the Valleys, and Wales as a whole, have slipped back when compared with the average GDP of the 28 European Union member states. So, that backdrop is not a promising one.

Turning to questions, you refer in your second paragraph to the importance of engaging with civil society and social partners, but did you discuss the TTIP at all, which is the transatlantic trade and investment partnership between the European Union and the United States? One of the objectives of this agreement is to make it easier for international companies to take over public services and to give them power to prosecute governments that threaten their profits, that is, by retaining public services. Were there any discussions on this? If there were not any discussions, I would ask why, given that this is a direct threat to the very partners you refer to in the second paragraph.

Secondly, since the financial crisis, three quarters of the decrease in viable businesses occurred in west Wales and the Valleys. Has the Government made any assessment of how to strengthen and promote businesses in deprived areas and areas where transport links, and so forth, make it more difficult for them to sustain their businesses? So, that is the second question.

Thirdly, we know full well that capital expenditure is important as an economic boost. I have heard you, here, criticising the Government in London for cutting capital expenditure, although we now know that the Labour Party will adhere to those spending patterns. However, it is a matter of great concern to Plaid Cymru that this Government has put all its eggs in the M4 basket, with £0.5 billion of its additional borrowing entitlement and £0.5 billion from the block grant to be spent on one part of the road in the south-east, while ignoring the requirements of the rest of Wales, such as the opportunities to electrify the north Wales line...

17 September

Questions to the Minister for Education and Health Huw Lewis

GCSE Curriculum Review

A.Ff.J. Following these reviews, what hope is there that young people and children in Wales will learn more about the history of their country as well as the literature and art of Wales?

H.L. The Member will be aware, of course, that the review of the Cwricwlwm Cymraeg was accepted by me and then fed into the overall curriculum review...

Questions to the Minister for the Economy, Science and Transport Edwina Hart

Developing the Financial Sector

A.Ff.J. Unfortunately, banks have disappeared from towns and villages in rural Wales, and the weakness of the financial sector is that it does not support businesses and trade sufficiently. That is why Finance Wales was created, to some extent. It has been a success on a number of fronts, but there is too much secrecy around Finance Wales. Will an annual report be published from now on?

E.H. Yes. I think that when I responded to the Chair of the Finance Committee and the excellent report that the committee did, I indicated that there would be more transparency about how Finance Wales delivers in terms of the money that the public sector puts in...

23 September

Questions to the First Minister Carwyn Jones

The Bedroom Tax

A.Ff.J. Part of the changes to the benefits system is the bedroom tax, which is such a burden for so many people. Has the Government undertaken a study to see how many people have been affected by having to move house because of this tax, and what is the cost and the loss to Wales because of this tax?

C.J. I have no specific figures on that, but, considering what I see in my constituency, I see people having to pay more, because it is not that easy for them to move...

Launch of the White Paper on the Collection and Management of Devolved Taxes in Wales

A.Ff.J. I welcome the statement today by the Minister. The talk from the Government originally was that its intention was to create a treasury for Wales. By now, today's statement talks about a much less influential body, namely the Welsh revenue authority, but it is still a totally vital body. The taxes that are to be devolved to date—the landfill tax and the land tax—will not be a panacea for all of Wales’s financial weaknesses, of course. This is a very small step but an important one. When we do gain greater financial powers and responsibilities as a country, we will have to establish a real treasury, or a similar body that can give guidance to the Government, the Assembly and to the people of Wales on the fiscal position and the impact of Government policies on it. That is where we need to be if we are to be responsible, in a meaningful way, for developing our economy and our country. In the interim, we are taking this small but important step. Scotland is in the process of establishing its own body, Revenue Scotland, and so I ask you which lessons you have learned from Scotland, as we know that you have been in contact with Government officials there.

May I also refer to the situation that will exist after the establishment of the body? Some taxpayers in Wales will possibly have two bodies responsible for collecting their taxes or part of their taxes. How, therefore, will you ensure that taxpayers are aware of the existence of the Welsh revenue authority, and do you anticipate any problems arising from having two such bodies responsible for tax collection? Will some people have to complete two forms? Those are some of my questions.

You referred to Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Llywelyn the Great, who was an astute politician from Arfon, of course. I do not know whether the taxes that he levied were fair or relevant to us, but certainly his firm and fearless political leadership is something that we in Wales could certainly learn from. I can assure you that a number of great beasts are roaming the hills of Arfon still. [Laughter.] I thank the law school at Bangor University for its pioneering work in the field of the law and in this direction, too.

24 September

Questions to the Minister for Natural Resources Carl Sargeant

Renewable Energy Generation

A.Ff.J. The Welsh Government has failed to reach its target for renewable energy generation. In fact, it missed its target by more than 60%. Does the Minister know why the Government has failed so spectacularly, and what are the new targets that have been set?

C.S. I do not recognise that we have failed spectacularly. That is another political statement obviously used by the opposition. Actually, I am very proud of the work that goes on in communities and by this Government in terms of energy generation and opportunity...

Questions to the Minister for Communitie and Tackling Poerty Lesley Griffiths

Access to Bank Accounts

A.Ff.J. Given that banks are now disappearing from our villages and towns, making it less likely that people will open a bank account, what discussions has the Government had with external organisations to try to create a people's bank—a bank that would serve people in all parts of Wales?

L.G. I have not had any such discussions. I am not aware if ministerial colleagues have done so, but I think that it is important...

Plaid Cymru Debate:: Relations between UK Countries

A.Ff.J. It was a pleasure to be present in the Chamber yesterday, and it was a slightly surreal but enjoyable enough experience to hear people speaking freely about self-government, Keir Hardie and the four nations of the British state. Indeed, the ground has shifted, and there is an opportunity, as Kirsty Williams said, for Wales to speak with one voice. I think that that is important if we want to move things forward, and to do so quickly. However, we should remember that there is one reason, and one reason alone, for this, namely the SNP Government in Scotland and the strong leadership of Alex Salmond, who fired the imagination of individuals and groups on the ground throughout the country, and who shook the unionist parties to their very foundations.

Here in Wales, we are undergoing a process of financial reform and tax devolution, as a result of the UK Government’s agreeing to some of the recommendations of the Commission on Devolution in Wales. However, what has to be accepted is that the small taxes that are being devolved do not create any significant financial accountability for this institution. The only tax that can be devolved pragmatically and functionally, and which delivers meaningful accountability, is income tax. Plaid Cymru has been campaigning against the so-called ‘lockstep’ mechanism that the UK Government insisted on including in its original proposals for income tax—although it now looks fairly certain that the ‘lockstep’ will be removed, hopefully. That is to be welcomed, but it leaves the problem of the referendum, which the First Minister still believes is necessary.

Plaid Cymru disagreed with the need for a referendum on income tax devolution. We later accepted the recommendation conditionally, as part of the wider Silk package. However, the need to look at the UK as a whole surely means that we need to move on and do so fairly quickly. Scotland is receiving a new system of income tax devolution under the Scotland Act 2012, without a referendum on that question being required. A referendum itself is also a prospect filled with uncertainty aout the kind of turnout that could be expected on a technical issue of such limited appeal. If we have learned anything from the Scottish referendum, that lesson is that referenda should be confined to major and fundamental issues. That is what fires people and their imagination.

Turning to fair funding, Plaid Cymru’s position has always been that fair funding and tax responsibility go together and should be implemented at the same time. This is what the Holtham commission recommended in its second report. However, one should not be used to prevent the other.

Plaid Cymru is clear in its constitutional vision. If corporation tax is offered to Scotland, Wales must receive equal treatment. The First Minister, to be fair, did not rule this out yesterday, albeit with certain caveats, but we need to examine any fiscal offer that is made to Scotland and identify which elements would be possible or feasible to be undertaken here in Wales.

To conclude, as we debate Wales’s democratic journey as a nation, we need to be less cautious about the kind of financial responsibilities we need to undertake. We need to remove the lockstep that I referred to in order to have a National Assembly that is financially accountable. There is no shame in demanding a fair share of UK resources, but we should also be prepared to accept the responsibility that goes along with it. The ability to accept that responsibility is what will give us the opportunity to change Wales and to change the situation of people on the ground for the better.

30 September

Questions to First Minister Carwyn Jones

Welsh Language Standards

A.Ff.J.  Do you believe, First Minister, that when these standards are brought to the Assembly, four years in to the term of this Government, that demonstrates commitment and an ability to plan efficiently and effectively in relation to the Welsh language?

C.J. What is important is that we ensure that these rules are ones that are supported and also that they are practical. That means, of course, that the Commissioner has to be a part of the process, and also to consult in the correct manner—and, of course, the regulations will be brought back to the Assembly. In order to get it right, things can sometimes take a little bit of time.

Draft Budget 2015-16

A.Ff,J. This is a budget that will shrink public services. That is the intention and aim of the Chancellor, George Osborne, and that is what is happening in Wales, too. Sir Bob Kerslake, the head of the civil service in the United Kingdom, has claimed that this shrinkage will continue for a further five years, whatever the hue of the Government in London. This is an attack on vulnerable people, people at the periphery of society, and ordinary people. Everyone is paying a price for the madness of the financial markets, the failure of the previous Labour Government to control them, and the coalition Government in London that is siding with those who are already well-off.

We see this shrinkage effect in our communities: we see libraries closing, leisure centres closing, and bus services and services that support people disappearing from our society and our communities. That is the background to all of this, and that is acknowledged by the Minister.

What is interesting in this statement is that it states clearly that the block grant has been cut by 10%—or the equivalent of 10%—and yet every part of the statement talks of expansion, extra funding, and additional allocation. Additional to what, God knows, but that is the tone of the statement. So, what has been cut? Which services are contracting? Will the Minister outline the areas that will see a contraction in the next financial year?

Turning to health, we have obviously seen a huge push to shore up the health boards, including money that has been clawed back this year, in-year, and the cuts to many core areas of public expenditure. Could the Minister explain exactly what the percentage increase for health is in the next year, 2015-16, and what extra money has been allocated in-year of the total of £425 million that she mentioned?

Elderly care is one of the greatest areas of health service pressure, and demand is growing, we know that. The settlement for local government presents a clear risk of cuts to social services budgets. The Minister talks of an extra £10 million. That is in the context of a cut of £150 million to local authorities. What is going to give? Could be Minister clarify the future of funding for social services and social care?

Furthermore, we would welcome a statement on the interSeptemberate care fund. It is essential that it be protected as part of health spending, and any such protection is welcomed, of course. So, could we have any assurances about future moves to integrate health and social care?

Will you confirm, Minister, that the Supporting People programme budget is to be cut by £5 million? Why is that not protected? That deals with the most vulnerable in society, and yet £5 million is to be cut from that small but essential programme. Therefore, does the Minister agree that the inevitable result of the budget will be the closure of community services, such as libraries and leisure centres, the contraction of bus services, and support for vulnerable people in the community?

Jane Hutt:  I thank Alun Ffred Jones for his questions on my statement. I want to start by thanking him for agreeing what a difficult situation we are in, in terms of the immense challenges that we face with a reducing budget...