MONTHLY REPORT

24/02/2015

ARFON ASSEMBLY MEMBER

ALUN FFRED JONES AM

January 2015

From the January Diary

Wednesday, 7 January

Meet business people at Bangor University with Dafydd Wigley

Public meeting in Bangor with Leanne Wood

Thursday, 8 January

Meet Coed Cymru chairman Roger Thomas

Meet Ysgol yr Hendre head teacher Arwel Jones

Friday, 9 January

With Hywel Williams MP to meet National Grid officials to discuss plans to convey electricity from Anglesey to Gwynedd

Monday, 12 January

The Assembly reconvenes

Meeting to discuss Language Bill

Tuesday, 13 January

Plenary session

Interparty tourism group meets industry representatives

Wednesday, 14 January

Chair Environment Committee

Plenary session

Meeting to discuss improving quality of Welsh medical surgeries

Thursday, 15 January

Meeting to set up a social enterprise in Dyffryn Nantlle

Constituency meeting

Friday, 16 January

Funeral of John Huw Jones, Llanllyfni

Surgery, Caernarfon

Dyffryn Nantlle branch meeting

Monday, 19 January

Visit to Pengelli Uchaf dairy farm with the FUW

Tuesday, 20 January

Meet winners of Wales the True Taste

Plenary session

Wednesday, 21 January

Finance Committee

Plenary session

Dinner to award Carole Willis for service to Plaid Cymru

Thursday, January 22

Chair Environment Committee

Friday, 23 January

Bangor University – Widening Access Network

Deiniolen meeting in to discuss flood prevention in Rhes Faenol

Visit Bryn Seiont Newydd (care home) Caernarfon

Sunday, 25 January

FUW breakfast, Lleuar Fawr, Penygroes

Monday, 26 January

Surgeries, Caernarfon and Bangor

Tuesday, January 27

Plenary session

National Museum of Wales

Wednesday, January 28

Chair Environment Committee

Plenary session

Thursday, January 29

Fly to Belfast – visit parliament at Stormont

Friday, January 30

Seminar at Stormont, for committee chairs in Wales and Northern Ireland

Saturday, January 31

North Wales Credit Union meeting, Bangor University

Questions and Speeches in the Assembly

January 13

Questions to First Minister Carwyn Jones

National Transport Plan

A.Ff.J. The purpose of the national transport plan is to create effective and integrated, safe and speedy connections between every part of the country. You have referred to electrification, but that has an impact on only one corridor, in south Wales, as we know. Is there any intention whatsoever, through this plan, to speed up and improve north-south links, and, in fact, links between the west and south-east of Wales? For example, the improvements happening on the railway between Chester and Wrexham are going to cost £40 million, but won’t improve the time taken on the link, which is almost four hours, between Bangor and Cardiff. So, has the Government any intention, through this plan, to improve and facilitate the connections between north and south Wales?

C.J. Well, first of all, we are in favour of that. This isn’t the responsibility of the Welsh Government, but we would be favour of the electrification of the north Wales main line...

Statement by the Minister for Finance and Government Business Jane Hutt: Autumn Statement Consequential Allocations

A.Ff.J. Thank you for the statement, although we’ve no idea how this money will be spent for the benefit of the people of Wales at present. Your statement begins with the complaint that has been a constant theme by Welsh Government, namely that the austerity policy of the Westminster coalition Government is having a detrimental effect on individuals, families and the communities of Wales. So, I do believe that it’s fair for me to ask you a specific question: if Mr Miliband were to lead the Government following the United Kingdom general election, how would things be different here in Wales? What difference would it make to the Welsh budget, for example, in the first year and in subsequent years, bearing in mind that Mr Balls has said that he would get rid of the deficit, exactly as the Tories have said? So, could you, in that context, explain, because you have again in your response to the Tories blamed the coalition for the deficiencies in the budget? This statement, once again, refers to the additional resources, the £70 million, already been allocated to the department for health and social services. Will you confirm that it is the health boards that will benefit from this funding, and that none of it will go to social services? Of course, the social services are facing exactly the same pressures as the health service, with the growth in the elderly population, which brings with it additional demands on our social services. Will you confirm that that is your intention with the £70 million?

As regards the £8.5 million that has been allocated for education, that of course will be welcomed, but this is the reality on the ground, although you say that you have protected that budget to an extent. I was in a school in my constituency the other day, a constituency with a high proportion of its children coming from deprived households according to the Government’s own index, and he said—the head teacher—told me that he will be facing a 6% cut in its budget over the next three years. So, how much of a difference do you think this £8 million will make to the schools of Wales over the next year?

As regards the funding for non-domestic rates, once again, you have said that there will be a further statement about this, but is it the intention for this additional funding to extend the rate relief scheme, as Plaid Cymru, and the Tories have called for in recent years? Many thanks.

J.H. Diolch yn fawr i Alun Ffred Jones. I don’t think Alun Ffred Jones will be at all surprised that I want to respond to my statement today,.. .

Debate: The Local Government Settlement 2015-16

A.Ff.J. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this discussion, and to make it clear that Plaid Cymru will not support this motion. The final local government settlement is a cut of nearly £150 million in the total budget—a cut, as has been said, of 3.4%. In terms of the distribution, it is interesting that the six with a reduction of over 4% are rural counties. I am not going after the party political point, but the six are rural counties. Those that do best in a poor settlement are the most urban, of course. That is going to have a devastating impact on services across Wales.

Of course, the main cause of the cuts is the Westminster austerity agenda. As far as I can see, the three main parties in England have committed to continue with that austerity—though, of course, it is not public services that caused the financial crisis behind all this. Therefore, I think that there is a message that we want to convey very clearly to the next UK Government, that we need to safeguard those services that provide support to people who really need them.

Local government’s budgetary position is known to everyone. It is not as if these cuts have been spread everywhere. Forty per cent of local government budgets go on education, and education is given some degree of protection, which in itself has an impact on the rest of the budget. About a quarter of the budget goes on social services, and Lynne Neagle has noted very, very fairly the exceptional pressures on those services across Wales. If you add to that the more than 10% of the budget over which councils have no control, it means that the remainder, therefore, has to take the burden. The facts are quite clear from local government. The big cuts have happened, of course, in leisure and sport—nearly 27%—libraries have seen a reduction of 20%, and transport has seen a reduction of about 16%. That is, the big cuts have happened and they are going to continue to happen: libraries are going to close, leisure centres are going to close. Do we really believe that that is the sort of society that we want to create in Wales? Do we really think that that will improve people’s living conditions? Do we believe that that will improve people’s health, ultimately? I doubt that. Of course, on top of that, we will see compulsory redundancies. Where councils try to protect employment, of course, they then have to target the workers’ pay and conditions, which in itself creates an additional problem.

Councils—and the Minister has more or less said this—will have to increase council tax over the next few years, only to try to keep some of those services viable and effective. But that, in turn, has an impact on a great many families, knowing that low wages are a continuing problem across all parts—well, most parts—of Wales. In the south Wales Valleys or in the rural areas, low pay is a fact that you cannot deny. The only positive note is that the Welsh Government, at last, after some persuasion, has protected the most vulnerable households from paying council tax, although it did not initially want to provide that protection.

Therefore, it is not a good time to be a councillor, nor, certainly, is it a good time to be elderly, if you receive the care of social services. I cannot see that there is—. Social services and the health service are two sides of the same coin, and one depends on the other. Poverty on one side means that there is going to be more pressure on the health service. We will be back in the vicious circle then we are so familiar with. So, we have opposed the Welsh Government budget in 2015-16 because of the Government’s decision on the M4. We are very, very concerned on this side of the Chamber about what is going to happen in our communities as a result of this settlement to local government.

20 January

The Government of Wales Act 2006 (Amendment) Order 2015

A.Ff.J. Thank you for the opportunity to speak. The Order was referred to the Environment and Sustainability Committee for its consideration, and I would like to say a few words on the committee’s conclusions.

While we support the principle of giving the Assembly powers to amend the Government of Wales Act 2006 in relation to sustainable development, we are concerned about the process followed by the Welsh Government to obtain the necessary consent at this time. We understand that the intention of the Government, if the Order is approved—and I’m sure it will be approved—is to introduce an amendment to the Government of Wales Act 2006 through the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Bill. We were disappointed that the Minister laid the Order so late in the process of scrutinising the Bill, without any prior warning. We were therefore unable to consider the Order in conjunction with the Bill.

We believe that it is essential to adequately scrutinise when amending such a significant piece of legislation, and that the process should include time to engage with stakeholders. We took evidence from the Minister, but due to time constraints and other legislative pressures, we were not able to devote as much time to considering the Order as we would have wished. We were disappointed that we did not have enough time to hold a full consultation or to take evidence from stakeholders. We do not believe that this is satisfactory.

While we support the principle of giving this power to the Assembly, we do not believe that the approach adopted by the Government is good practice. We would be very concerned if this sets a precedent for introducing any amendments to the Government of Wales Act in this fashion in the future. Our recommendation is that the Welsh Government should make it clear, in the amendment that it intends to table to the Bill, that it is only through primary legislation that any further changes to section 79 of the Government of Wales Act should be made, in order to ensure that sufficient scrutiny is included in the process.

21 January

Questions to Minister for Natural  Resources Carl Sargeant

A.Ff.J. The National Grid has recommended that the new electric lines for Wylfa B on Anglesey will be placed under the Menai straits, which is, of course, an area of outstanding natural beauty. On the Arfon side of the Menai, there are only a few miles to the substation at Pentir, and some of that is National Trust land. Will you join with me to bring pressure to bear on the National Grid to underground these lines from the Menai straits to Pentir?

C.S. Well, as the Member will be aware, many of these applications are non-devolved, to decisions taken by Welsh Ministers. The Member makes his views well known and is consistent in that process.

Questions to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty Lesley Griffiths

Children from Disadvantaged Homes

A.Ff.J. What measures are being taken to tackle poverty to help children from disadvantaged homes? 

L.G.  Diolch. Significant investment in the early years and action to improve educational outcomes, through programmes such as Flying Start and the pupil deprivation grant, will all contribute to supporting children from low-income households. Our revised child poverty strategy and tackling poverty action plan set out our overall approach to tackling poverty.

A.Ff.J . Well, it’s something that I'll be very happy to discuss with my colleague the Minister for Education and Skills...

27 January

Questions to the Minister for Finance and Government Business Jane Hutt

Wrexham-Chester Railway

A.Ff.J. Can we have a statement from the transport Minister on the redoubling of the line between Wrexham and Chester, please? A number of concerns: the redoubling has been cut back to around half the original extent promised, leaving around half the distance still on a single line; much of the route will still be restricted to 60 mph; and there is a substantial cost overrun, as I understand it. Anyway, all these concerns have been expressed to us by travellers, and I believe it’s incumbent on the Government to make a statement on it.

J.H. Certainly, the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport will, I’m sure, want to update in terms of this important stretch in terms of the Wrexham and Chester redoubling.

28 January

Questions to the deputy Minister for Health and Social Services Vaughan Gething

Waiting times in Emergency Departments

A.Ff.J.  Will the Minister make a statement on waiting times in emergency departments in north Wales?

V.G.  It remains a very busy period for emergency departments in north Wales, as has been seen across other parts of the UK. We expect the Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board to manage their local circumstances and operational pressures, based on their plans and local expertise.

A.Ff.J. Thank you. Andy Burnham was on the ‘Today’ programme the other day, showing complete ignorance of the health service in Wales—as did the interviewer too, if I may say. But Andy Burnham, who, as you know, is Labour’s shadow health Minister in England, says that the percentage of emergency patients seen within four hours in England is a crisis; my understanding is that that level stands at 92.5%. How would you describe the percentage in Wales seen within four hours, which is 81%?

V.G.  As I made clear at the time that the figures were released, these figures are not where we want them to be at all...