Monthly Report - November 2014

15/12/2014

FROM THE NOVEMBER DIARY

Monday 3 November

Radio Cymru interview re Pontio

Assembly Finance Committee – discussion on the Budget

S4C news interview re Pontio

Tuesday 4 November

Public Accounts Committee

Chair Plaid Cymru Assembly Group meeting

Plenary Session

Crown Estate event

Wednesday 5 November

Chair Assembly Environment Committee

Plenary Session

Thursday 6 November

Constituency Meeting, Caernarfon

Friday 7 November

Meeting with Prof. Gareth Wyn Jones, Bangor

Awards Ceremony, MPCT Bangor

Saturday 8 November

Coffee morning, Peblig

Sunday 9 November

Remembrance Sunday service, Bangor Cathedral

Monday 10 November

CAB Gwynedd and Anglesey meeting

Tuesday 11 November

Assembly Public Accounts Committee

Chair Plaid Cymru Group meeting

Remembrance Day ceremony

Plenary Session

Wednesday 12 November

Finance Committee

Plenary Session

Thursday 13 November

Chair Environment Committee

Antur Nantlle Annual Meeting

Friday 14 November

Opening of Siop Ogwen and Police Station, Bethesda

Surgery, Dyffryn Ogwen

Lecture by Dafydd Wigley, Penygroes

Saturday 15 November

Meet electors, Penygroes

Monday 17 November

Surgery, Caernarfon

Visit businesses in Caernarfon with Osborn Jones

Tuesday 18 November

Chair Plaid Cymru Group meeting

Plenary Session

Opening of ITV Wales’ new base in Cardiff Bay

Wednesday 19 November

Chair Environment Committee

Meet Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle pupils for S4C Hacio programme

Fly to Dublin with members of the Public Accounts Committee

Thursday 20 November

Visit Irish Parliament, Dail Eireann, to meet officials and members of the Dail’s Public Accounts Committee

Friday 21 November

Conference of Gwynedd and Anglesey Asperger / Autism Support Group

Saturday 22 November

Funeral of Emlyn Evans, Bethesda, founder of Barn magazine

Monday 24 November

Visit sheltered accommodation units at Cae Garnedd, Bangor

Surgery, Caernarfon

Tuesday 25 November

Public Accounts Committee

Chair Plaid Cymru Group meeting

Meeting with Environment Minister Carl Sargeant

Plenary Session

RSPCA dinner                                              

Wednesday 26 November

Finance Committee

All-party group on Biodiversity

Plenary Session

Speak at Smart Energy event

Thursday 27 November

Chair Environment Committee

Reception at Anafon Energy, Abergwyngregyn

Friday 28 November

Visit food bank at Tesco Caernarfon

Surgery Caernarfon

Saturday 29 November

Rugby match, Wales v South Africa

QUESTIONS AND SPEECHES IN THE ASSEMBLY

Questions to the Minister for Finance and Government Business Jane Hutt

Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board

4 November

A.Ff.J.

This morning, a letter was given to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee stating that Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board had been placed on the third stage of the escalation status grid, as there were concerns about three particular areas: first, overspending, with the advance warning that it will be £27 million over budget by the end of this year; secondly, concerns about capital projects, and thirdly, concerns about waiting times. I listened to the First Minister earlier this afternoon, and all I can tell you is that the director of the health service in Wales said quite clearly this morning that waiting times in north Wales are a cause of concern to the Government here. May I therefore ask for a statement from the Minister reporting on the position in the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area so that we can get some details on the concerns that exist and an explanation of what is happening, to tackle the situation?

J.H. I think that the First Minister answered this question earlier fully in terms of his opportunities, but I would say to Alun Ffred Jones that this is a routine part of performance management of NHS organisations, in terms of escalation and intervention arrangements. ..

Questions to the Minister for Natural Resources Carl Sargeant

Recycling

A.Ff.J. May I join the Minister in congratulating the success of the work that has been done on recycling? It is certainly a cause for celebration and is an example of a consistent policy, funded properly that is bearing fruit. That has been achieved, we should emphasise, by county councils, which are criticised so often in the Chamber. The challenge—and it is a real challenge—will be to increase the percentages from the current 52% to 64% by 2019-20. It is going to get even harder and, in this case, there is no doubt that communication and gaining a better understanding among the public is crucial. The question I have is this. Is the Minister prepared to hold a national communications campaign to improve people's understanding of the need to recycle?

Reference has been made to the blueprint, which follows changes in European legislation, and the emphasis on having one consistent method of collection across Wales. I would remind the Minister that a report by the environment committee 10 years ago recommended that the Government adopt a single general system across Wales, and that system was the kerbside separation of recyclables. Would the Minister now acknowledge that it was a mistake not to adopt that policy then and give clear direction to local authorities?

Thirdly, the Minister, perfectly rightly, has referred to the advantages of the cyclical economy and the fact that high-quality material that is recycled then attracts a better price. There are no examples in his statement of where this is working well. How much of the material that is recycled in Wales is being sold to and treated by Welsh companies? After all, if the majority of this material is exported for sale to companies in England—as I suspect is the case—we are certainly not getting the full benefit bearing in mind the cost in relation to recycling. Does the Government have any figures to show how much of this material is recycled in Wales?

Finally, with reference to green material recycling, which Ann Jones referred to, there is no doubt that this is a service that is appreciated, but I would have to say that we should be encouraging people to compost their own green material home. That is the sensible thing to do. It costs less, it is less of a drain on the environment and, truth be told, it is completely counterproductive to take lorries around the country to collect this green material when the majority of it could be recycled in the home.

5 November

Quesions to the Deputy Minister for Health Vaughan Gethin

Acute Services in the Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board Area

A.Ff.J. Will the Minister make a statement on acute services in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board area?

V.G. Thank you for the question. Acute services are a key priority for the Welsh Government. I expect health boards to provide safe, sustainable and high-quality care in the most appropriate setting.

.A.Ff.J. Thank you very much. Do you acknowledge that medical opinion is that residents should live within an hour’s journey from a trauma centre and accident and emergency unit and, if so, that ensuring such a service in Bangor is crucial to serving the population of north-west Wales safely?V.G. Diolch am y cwestiwn dilynol. Mae’r her o redeg gwasanaethau ysbytai, nid yng ngogledd Cymru’n unig ond ar draws Cymru, yn un y mae’r Siambr hon wedi ei hystyried ar nifer o achlysuron, fel y gwnaeth y pwyllgor iechyd mewn amryw o ffyrdd hefyd...

Plaid Cymru Debate: The Economy

A.Ff.J.

In response to the Queen’s Speech this year, Plaid Cymru called for an economic fairness Bill that would address the status of the United Kingdom as the most unequal state in Europe, to rebalance the economy so that all the wealth does not remain in London and the south-east of England. I listened to Eluned Parrott and her analysis of the motion and the need to be more detailed in terms of our thinking; I think that everyone understands that there is serious economic inequality, not just on a regional basis, but on an individual basis in terms of per capita wealth between the south-east of England and Wales, and the other regions of England, to be fair. 

Plaid Cymru would want to legislate to put a legal duty on the United Kingdom Government to create an economic policy that would rebalance per capita wealth and which would create a fairer economy in terms of prosperity and opportunity. The fact of the matter is that, under Labour and Conservative Governments in London, wealth has been polarised at an individual level and on a regional level. We all know that central London is the richest area in the European Union, while some Welsh communities are now poorer than some former communist countries. Again, although Eluned Parrott says that the same pattern is to be seen in other countries, the pattern is more pronounced here in the United Kingdom, and that is what we are trying to respond to in this motion, and with the suggestion of creating an economic fairness Bill.

We have heard that the banking service has been centralised in London and the south-east, but that has been reinforced after the economic recession in 2008, while the traditional strengths of the Welsh economy remain weak—industrial output is 15% lower and manufacturing 10% lower than the levels prior to the recession.

 These statistics are a damning indictment of the economic failings of the United Kingdom Government, bearing in mind the international context.Yn amlwg, byddai Bil fel hwn yn ceisio symud pwyslais yr economi oddi wrth y gwasanaethau ariannol a thuag at gynhyrchu a pheirianneg, gan dderbyn eto y pwynt a wnaethpwyd ynglŷn â’r economi werdd gan Alun Davies, a hefyd yn cyfeirio gwariant a buddsoddiad mewn isadeiledd at yr ardaloedd hynny lle mae’r GVA isaf.

This matter of targeting capital investment at areas that need this investment most is an crucially important matter, because we are currently seeing expenditure being directed towards London, and this is huge expenditure, such as that planned for the HS2 railway and which is viewed as British expenditure with no consequential for Wales. However, the benefit, as far as we see and as happens time and again, will go to one area, namely London and the south-east of England. That is one of the issues that the Government of the United Kingdom—while Wales remains a part of the United Kingdom—has to get to grips with.

I want to make one further comment before I conclude. The inequality that we see in the British economy also tends to happen in Wales, where there is a tendency to focus on the M4 corridor, where it is relatively easy—or easier, at least—to create economic growth. We want to see Welsh Government policy trying to bring fairness to every part of Wales, and to certainly not recreate the failings that have happened on a British level. We want to see growth being extended beyond the south-east here in Wales, too.

11 November

Questions to First Minister Carwyn Jones

Promoting Tourism

A.Ff.J.

Businesses in Caernarfon have had a very successful summer, and the work that Cadw has done by the castle walls, in an area known as ‘the south of France’, has been warmly received. However, we do need interpretation boards there. There is also a site behind the harbourmaster’s office on Cei Llechi that still needs to be developed. It is a key site as it is adjacent to the castle. Will you ensure that your departments take advantage of every possible opportunity to look at the potential for improving the environment in the ancient town of Caernarfon?

C.J.

 will ask the Minister to write to you on the details, but of course Caernarfon has seen major changes, and not only in terms of the fact that the castle is there, but also in terms of what has happened in Victoria dock...

12 November

Questions to Finance Minister Jane Hutt

Barnett Formula

A.Ff.J.

You have referred to the Institute for Fiscal Studies report, which is reported in the ‘Financial Times’ and the ‘Western Mail’ today, and which proves again that the Barnett formula works against the interests of Wales—and England, as it happens, as well. Have you had any negotiations at ministerial level with the Westminster Government to amend the Barnett formula?

J.H.

I am glad that Alun Ffred Jones has drawn attention to this today. Of course, my key focus at the moment is to secure fair funding for Wales and to secure the funding floor, which we all agreed in this Chamber is the key to addressing the disadvantages of the Barnett formula as it is applied to Wales...

A.Ff.J.

I am still not clear how many meetings have been held where you have made the case for a change to the formula. You say that there have been negotiations. Could we see the minutes of these meetings to see what case has been presented? You also say that we need to scrap the Barnett formula, but the leader of your own party has said that the formula will remain in place in the context of negotiations and discussions in Scotland. So, for the people of Wales to understand exactly where everyone stands, could you note clearly that the Labour Party, should it form the next Government in Westminster, will abolish the Barnett formula and reform it?

J.H.

I think the important progress that we have made in recent years, which I secured as your Minister for finance in that joint statement of funding reform in 2012, was recognition by the UK Government that there had been convergence as a result of the Barnett formula in Welsh relative funding since the start of devolution, and that there was very likely to be further convergence in the future unless we halted it....

Revenue Authority for Wales

A.Ff.J.

There will be a cost associated with establishing the revenue authority for Wales. Have you asked the Treasury for a proportion of its budget as a contribution towards this cost, bearing in mind that it will be doing less work. If so, what was the response?

J.H.

Discussing the transfer costs has been part of my negotiations with the UK Government. Interestingly, Scotland, in terms of the Scotland Act 2012 and the new tax powers that it has secured, did not raise the issue of costs, but we certainly have...

Questions to the Minister for  Public Services Leighton Andrews

The Draft Budget

A.Ff.J.

Will the Minister make a statement on the impact of the draft budget on local government?

L.A.

I announced the provisional local government settlement on 8 October. It provides authorities with the information they need to prepare their budgets for next year. Authorities should engage with their communities as part of that process.

A.Ff.J.

The county councils have been making significant savings over a period of years and this latest blow—a cut of £190 million—is going to have a serious impact on statutory and non-statutory services. In light of the report published by Baroness Andrews, discussed yesterday, which emphasises the importance of libraries, museums and arts activities to the development of children and young people, how will you ensure that councils maintain these services in light of the poor settlement received by local government?

L.A 

These are matters that all local authorities will have to consider in the light of their own priorities. I know, as I look across the proposals that come out from councils throughout Wales—some run by his party and some run by other parties—that they are actively engaging with how best to deliver these services at the present time... 

18 November

Questions to First Minister Carwyn Jones

Autism

A.Ff.J.

A number of cases have come to my attention in my constituency, brought to my attention by parents who say that the schools refuse or are unable to diagnose conditions in this field. A number of parents have had to go private in order to secure a diagnosis before schools are willing to recognise this and respond with the appropriate programmes. What guidance do you as a Government give to local authorities to ensure that children with this condition are identified and that the local authority response is appropriate?C.J.

C.J.

We would expect them to be able to identify these children. I do not understand why they would have to go privately for a diagnosis. However, every local authority is duty-bound to ensure that it provides the services needed by children with special educational needs and autistic children. So, if there is an example of where that is not the case, I am sure that the Minister would want to hear about it.

DRAFT BUDGET 2015-16

A.Ff.J.

As others have already mentioned, the background to this budget is the financial squeeze emanating from London. Ordinary people will see diminishing services while those responsible for creating the recession—the unregulated and immoral financial markets, that were revered, incidentally, by the Labour Party when it was in Government—continue to break international law without penalty and without anyone raising their voice against them. As Mick Antoniw said very clearly, the rich continue to get richer while the poor get poorer.

Listening to the Minister, you could think that more money is to be spent on each and every service in Wales. There is additional money, it seems, for social services and education is being protected. If so, how are county councils going to deal with the £190 million they are going to lose next year? If there is additional spending for social services, and demand is high, and if spending on education is to be maintained, that is 60% of the budget of local government. The cuts in every other area will be swingeing. Indeed, before George Osborne gets hold of that additional £45 billion, every library, leisure centre, swimming pool, theatre, day centre and rural bus service will be under threat. That is the reality facing some of our councils next year. The Minister talks about difficult decisions for the Government, but the truth is that it is councillors and county councils in Wales that will make those difficult decisions, and it is they who will have to face the people as they see their services declining and getting further and further away from them, and the Government will have washed its hands of that.

The major shift in the budget is the additional £225 million for the health service for next year. The Minister argues that it is the Nuffield Trust report that led to that decision, and of course that is what explains the £200 million that has been pulled together this year to fill the black hole in the health boards’ budgets. But the Minister should—she has not done this at all, as far as I can see—refer to the auditor general’s report for this year on the health service, which had identified this overspend, which he estimated to be £192 million at that time. So, in reality, the additional funding for this year is going to fill a black hole. The question facing us all is: what assurances can you give that the additional funding will lead to changes that will actually improve services for ordinary people?

 

The Public Accounts Committee heard that the Betsi Cadwaladr health board is likely to overspend by £60 million by the end of this financial year, and close behind will be Hywel Dda health board, which is likely to overspend by £40 million. That is half of the additional funding already accounted for. It is perhaps pertinent that these are two health boards that serve rural areas. Reference has already been made to the Townsend formula as a foundation for the distribution of this additional funding, but health service officials admitted here that that too is flawed.

Accepting that the Government is in a difficult position, having failed to persuade its own party when in government to put right the inequity of the Barnett formula—I have heard Ministers and Members shouting their mouths off about Barnett, and that is quite fair—but the truth is that, while Labour was in Government in England, it did nothing at all to reform the Barnett formula, never mind actually putting right the discrepancy between the expenditure in Wales and in Scotland.

So, in a critical situation such as this, I would expect the Government to look in detail at all programmes to assess their value and efficiency. But, when questioning the Minister, I was given to understand that only one minor scheme is to be terminated of all the Government programmes—one scheme, while condemning our local authorities to another year of swingeing cuts to services that support real people the length and breadth of Wales.

25 November

Effect of UK Government Welfare Reforms in Wales

Intervention in speech by Alun Davies AM

A.Ff.J.

T hank you very much for taking my intervention. I agree with your analysis, but the Labour Party has stated that it will stick to the spending plans of this coalition for two years. How will that improve conditions for the people you have just been talking about?

 A.D..

We know that this programme is not simply a policy, but a philosophy that the Conservative party has followed for many years...