Monthly Report May 2015

15/06/2015

ARFON ASSEMBLY MEMBER

ALUN FFRED JONES AM

May 2015

The UK General Election was obviously the political story of the month, and the result will have a profound effect on the work of the Assembly and on all our lives. Despite many vague promises, we are no nearer resolving the most important issue for Wales – a fair funding system that would make it easier to tackle the problems of our NHS and other public services. The situation is summed up in my speech opening a debate on the Barnett Formula on May 13, which you can see in this issue.  

From the May diary

Friday, May 1

Surgery, Caernarfon

Tuesday, May 5

Plenary Session

Meeting with the Marine Preservation Society

Thursday May 7

General Election

Monday, May 11

Surgery, Caernarfon

Codi’r to Meeting

Tuesday, May 12

Meeting with the Salmon and Trout Society

Meet Post Office representatives to discuss future of Penygroes branch

Meet minister Carl Sargeant to discuss the Planning Bill

Tuesday May 13

Finance Committee

Reception UNESCO

Reception Europe Day 

Plenary Session

Thursday, May 14

Chair Environmental Committee

Lunch with Wales’ MEP’s

Talwrn Gŵyl Fai, Penygroes

Friday, May 15

Meeting with Gwynedd Consultancy

Meeting with Scottish Power, Llandudno

Open playing field at Rhosgadfan

Saturday, May 16

Slateman race, Llanberis

Launch Caernarfon Food Festival

Monday, May 18

Surgery, Bangor

Tuesday, May 19

Plenary Session

Speak at Royal Chemistry Society meeting

Wednesday, May 20

Chair Environmental Committee

Plenary Session

Speak at Phil Williams memorial lecture

Thursday, May 21

Finance Committee

Caernarfon Mayor Installation ceremony

Friday, May 22

Surgery, Caernarfon

Constituency meeting

Saturday, May 23

Young Farmers Rally

(Assembly half term break)

Friday, May 29

Briefing session with Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board

Surgery, Caernarfon

Questions and Speeches in the Assembly

5 May

Historic Environment (Wales) Bill

A.Ff.J. Deputy Minister, you’ve just alluded to names and place names, and their importance. Now, the historic environment certainly includes the buildings, and that is the main thrust of this Bill, as far as I can see, but the historic environment also includes those names that you have referred to, and those could be in Welsh or they may be in English, or, indeed, they could show traces of the old Scandinavian language here in Wales. But, in Welsh, these names are often very descriptive. They refer to the environment, or some geographical feature. They also very often include references to the industrial or cultural history of the area, and are an integral part, I would argue, of our historic environment.

My question—. You will also be aware that a petition has been presented today by Mynyddoedd Pawb, asking for some form of protection for the names of mountains here in Wales, and also other names with historical connotations. May I ask you, therefore, Deputy Minister: have you given any thought to including some form of legislation that would protect place names here in Wales, for reasons—some of them—that you have already alluded to? And if you haven’t considered that, may I ask why not, given the importance of these names, in terms of telling our own history here in Wales?

Kenneth Skates, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism: I’d like to thank Alun Ffred Jones for his question and for his contribution. The point he raises has been raised in the past by a number of experts as well, that being the value that intangible heritage has in today's society…

The Welsh Language and the Planning Bill

A.Ff.J. I thank the Minister for his support for this amendment. This amendment is a significant one because it recognises that the Welsh language is or will be a planning consideration, and that’s a very positive step. But, as we know, in legislation, the context and the details are key. That’s why we will need a technical advice note and/or appropriate guidance. That will be vital to ensure that planning authorities throughout Wales implement this amendment in a consistent and accurate way.

Therefore, I urge the Government and ask for confirmation today from the Minister, if this amendment is passed, that we will have such a note as soon as possible. We also encourage him to consult with planning authorities and experts urgently to realise the intention behind this amendment. That’s the challenge and that’s the Government's duty, and dragging your feet any further will not be acceptable. So, I encourage everyone to support the amendment. 

12 May

Welsh Language Strategy

A.ff.J.  Will the First Minister make a statement on the progress made over the last four years in relation to the Welsh Government's Welsh language strategy? 

Carwyn Jones: Over the last four years we have made large strides in implementing our ‘A living language: a language for living’ strategy. These include notable developments in the fields of education, legislation and promotion. We have more important work to do over the remaining two years of the strategy.

A.Ff.J. Your emphasis four years ago was on increasing the number of Welsh speakers and providing opportunities to use the Welsh language. What steps within the strategy that you mentioned do you believe will contribute most to achieving these objectives?

C.J. The principles, of course, are contained within the policy statement ‘Bwrw mlaen’, in relation to how we ensure that the Welsh language is a living language and one that is used, and ensure that there is a change in people’s habits when it comes to its use on an individual and community basis…

13 May

Tackling Poverty

A.Ff.J. Does the Minister have SMART targets for tackling poverty? 

Lesley Griffiths: Our ‘Tackling Poverty Action Plan 2012-2016’ sets out measurable targets and milestones to support better outcomes for those living in poverty. These targets reflect the levers available to us around health, education and reducing worklessness, which are the areas where we have the opportunities to make a real difference.

A.Ff.J. Thank you. SMART targets, as I understand it, have to be specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related. What SMART target within your anti-poverty strategy has proved to be most effective?

L.G. I think it’s ‘achievable’; I’m not quite sure if the translation was correct. And I think that is the word that our targets absolutely have to be: the ‘A’—the ‘achievable’—is the most important. ..

Opening Plaid Cymru’s Debate on the Barnett Formula

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

  1. 1.      Recognises that the Barnett funding formula is not in the best interest of Wales;
  2. Notes that if Wales was funded on the same basis as Scotland per head of the population, it would receive an additional £1.2 billion every year; and
  3. Calls on the Welsh Government to make the case for Wales to be funded on the same basis as Scotland.

A.Ff.J. I’m very pleased to move the motion before us in the name of Elin Jones. There’s no need for me to say that these next five years will be difficult ones for our public services, and for individuals who receive benefits, bearing in mind that adults in work are the largest percentage of those—people who often work for the minimum wage, and, very often, on short-term contracts without guaranteed hours. I have been speaking to a number of workers in the care sector recently, and with care companies as well. These companies often can only pay between 40p and a £1 over the minimum wage, even to qualified staff. The pressure on local government will be inevitable, and it will be very, very painful. We’ll see pressure on our schools, our social services—goodness knows what’ll happen to our libraries, to our leisure centres, the arts and public health and many other areas. And, therefore, the subject of funding for Wales is timely and important.

All of the parties here today have proposed amendments to the motion, but none of them challenge the basic premise in our original motion. To that extent, we welcome the fact that there is unanimity here in Wales that the Barnett formula is not appropriate for our days and our situation.

A few years after I came to the Assembly, more than 12 years ago now, there was a debate here on this exact subject, namely the need to reform Barnett. The Labour Party were unanimous that day—including some people who are still on the frontbench 10 years later—that there was no need to do anything. Indeed, the warning we were given that afternoon, and I remember the words well, were

‘be careful what you wish for’,

with the threat that any change could make the situation worse. Looking back at the last few years, the increase in the number of families in poverty, the pressure on public services, and what’s in front of us, does anyone here regret those words now, and recognise the failure to reform the Barnett formula—indeed, to reform the Barnett formula where there was money circulating in London? Regardless of the opinion of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats here, we didn’t have any acknowledgment from their parties that there was anything wrong over the last five years, and there won’t be any change, as we know.

When there was an agreement between Plaid Cymru and Labour, before forming the One Wales Government, one of our conditions was to form, of course, a commission to look in detail and objectively at funding for Wales. Mr Gerry Holtham and his fellow commissioners came to the inevitable conclusion that Wales was underfunded. And, as you remember, the estimate at the time was a figure of about £300 million. Looking back over the period since the late Joel Barnett created that formula, I hate to think how much money has been lost by Wales. The figure is amazing, I’m sure. But, despite the conclusions of that excellent commission, there’s been no acknowledgement of the validity of that figure by the leaders of Labour in London or later by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Five years and no change, no commitment—nothing, in truth.

One of the amendments refers to the Barnett floor that Gerry Holtham recommended as a first step, and that was very relevant, of course, when general funding was increasing, and the budget was increasing in general. We are now in a period where it is very unlikely that there will be any additional funding coming from the Barnett floor, although that’s what’s being proposed in one of the amendments. In any case, the raw formula of the late Joel Barnett, who, of course, in his latter years wanted to see the end of the formula and said it again and again—it was an embarrassment, I think, by the end, that we were still talking about it—that formula has been confirmed during the last year. One of the strangest sights of the Scottish referendum, among a number of strange sights, was the three party leaders rushing up to Scotland, almost hand-in-hand, to ensure that the formula would stay intact forever. It was evident to everybody who witnessed that that it was some kind of bribe to keep Scotland within the United Kingdom. It is worth reminding ourselves that, if Wales was funded at the same level as Scotland, and comparing like-for-like, we in Wales would receive more than £1 billion extra. Or, to put it another way, that’s £400 per head in addition.

Now, basically, the political power and goodwill of Scotland secured this deal—not only last year, but also in the past, while politicians of the UK parties in Wales have failed to protect the interests of our people here in Wales. Of course, I do accept that Gerry Holtham, for one, and some others, have noted that we shouldn’t make that comparison, given that the settlement for Scotland is unreasonable. But the fact is that the British parties have given their seal of approval for that settlement, and I did not hear anybody criticising that at the time. Therefore, if that deal is good enough for Scotland, why isn’t it good enough for Wales? Now, Gerry Holtham’s argument, of course, is that, given that it’s unreasonable, we should not, therefore, ask for the same settlement. But I don’t see, given that reforming Barnett now has been set aside—then the only comparison we can make is with another country that is in a similar situation to us here in the UK and ask for the same settlement, or a similar settlement. That would, of course, lead to an improvement or, at least, to ensuring the Mayntenance of some of our public services. The comparison with Scotland is amazing, of course, considering that the GVA per capita in Scotland is about 94% of the UK average, while the Wales percentage is more than 20% lower. There are a number of other comparisons that can be made to show how great the need is here in Wales, and yet there’s been no acknowledgement of that from London, whichever party has been in power.

Therefore, I challenge the party spokespeople today—those who will be taking part—to justify why Wales should be treated in a second-rate way. If reform of the Barnett formula is not in the pipeline, then give us parity with Scotland so that we can press ahead with work to empower and strengthen our economy, and to empower and strengthen our communities and the position of families across Wales as a result.

Closing speech (Part)

A.Ff.J. Thanks to everybody who’s contributed this afternoon. We’ve heard a lot about fairness this afternoon, and we’ve witnessed a great deal of political timidity at the same time. In the debate, after my opening remarks, Peter Black accused me of confusion. I am easily confused—[Laughter.]—but what I’m not confused about is that Wales has been let down and has been underfunded for decades. Peter Black then went on to say that Danny Alexander had promised that he’d introduce a Barnett floor. And then nothing happened, of course. That’s the problem. Even when people concede things, nothing happens. Even a diluted Silk has been bundled into the long grass, as far as I can see. 

Simon Thomas answered the point that Peter Black made that, yes, everybody’s in favour of a formula based on need—everybody’s in favour of this. But that was ditched by the coalition in the vow in Scotland. That’s the long and short of it. So, since Barnett is not on the table to be reviewed, then let’s have parity with Scotland. What’s wrong with asking for that? Do people not want that? Don’t you want the means to be able to serve our communities better? Are you happy with the present situation?

19 May

European Structural and Investment Funds

A.Ff.J. How do Welsh per capita productivity rates compare to UK per capita productivity rates?

Carwyn Jones: Well, as regards productivity in Wales, we’re more or less in the same place, but what we do know is that we are behind Germany, we are behind North America and we are behind our competitors. ..

Questions to the Minister for Finance and Government Business Jane Hutt

A.Ff.J. I’m asking for two oral statement in the Assembly on two decisions that have far-reaching consequences, both of which relate to education. The first is on the Welsh Government's decision to terminate its contract with Careers Wales for it to vet work experience placement settings for secondary school pupils. According to a statement by the heads of secondary schools in my constituency, who have contacted me, they say:

Work experience under the existing conditions will no longer take place from September onwards.

I think it’s important that we hear here whether the Government has decided that there is no value in work experience.

The second is the Welsh Government's decision to award the contract for the creation of a national entity for teaching Welsh for adults to the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. I’d like an oral statement outlining how this decision was made. After all, this particular establishment has no previous history or expertise in the field. Most importantly, we’d like the opportunity to question the Minister on the matter and to see the submissions and how the decision was reached.

EU Funding Ambassadors

A.Ff.J. Thank you for the statement. The statement is a little short on facts, although it is clear that there has been quite a bit of talking, and I am sure that these ambassadors can make a contribution. The committee’s report, as I recall, concentrated a fair bit on Horizon 2020 and the possibilities therein. The report made the point that we needed collaboration between universities in Wales and between Welsh universities and other universities within and outwith the United Kingdom. So, can you tell us how successful the new partnering has been?

I was going to ask you of the value of the contracts awarded under Horizon 2020, but you have mentioned a number. So, what is the total value of the contracts that have already been won? You mentioned some that were worth hundreds of thousands, which is valuable in itself, of course, but the sums available under Horizon 2020 are very significant indeed. So, can you confirm the sum of €30 million, if I understood correctly, that Cardiff University alone has won? Am I right in that, or perhaps you could correct me on that?

Finally, may I ask you about the Ireland-Wales programme? What’s the value of this programme in its entirety, and what sort of bodies and organisations are likely to benefit from it? We look forward to having an update on the successes under these programmes and to see how effective the ambassadors have been. Thank you.

J.H. I thank Alun Ffred Jones very much for his questions and the opportunity to expand on the way forward in terms of Horizon 2020, and the ways in which the universities are working together and partnering not just with each other, but also within the UK and with partners across Europe—of course, they require that trans-national link to be able to succeed in terms of Horizon 2020 expectations…