Monthly Report - June 2015

14/07/2015

ARFON ASSEMBLY MEMBER

ALUN FFRED JONES AM

June 2015

From the June Diary

Monday, 1 June

Visit Ysgol Rhiwlas with Councillor Hefin Williams

Visit Stryd Becws, Rhiwlas

Tuesday, 2 June

Meet David Anderson, Director General of the National Museum

Assembly Plenary Session

Wednesday, 3 June

Travel to Brussels with Environmental Committee members l

Thursday, 4 June

Meetings with directors of the European Development Bank and Marine and Agricultural Departments of the EU

Friday, 5 June

Surgery, Caernarfon

Saturday, 6 June

Bangor Carnival

Monday, 8 June

Meeting with Cadfan Roberts

Interview with Dylan Iorwerth for Radio Cymru

Surgery

Tuesday, 9 June

Seminar ‘Waste and the Economy’

Plenary

Lecture by Dafydd Wigley on ‘Waste and the Future’

Wednesday, 10 June

Chair Environmental Committee

Plenary

Thursday, 11 June

Surgery

Friday, 12 June

Meet Richard Foxhall, Horizon

Meet Dilwyn Williams, Chief Executive, Gwynedd Council

Saturday, 13 June

Gŵyl Rhostryfan Festival

Sioe Dyffryn Ogwen

Monday, 15 June

Meeting with Councillor Dafydd Meurig

Tuesday, 16 June

Plenary

Wednesday, 17 June

Finance Committee

Meet officials of the British Veterinary Association

Thursday, 18 June

Chair Environmental Committee

Dyffryn Nantlle branch meeting

Friday, 19 June

Visit Bangor University Cancer Researth unit

Meet Dr Atenstaedt, head of German Industries UK

Meet Fron Development Group

Saturday, 20 June

National Council, Aberystwyth

Visit Neuadd Pantycelyn

Monday, 22 June

Meet Angharad Tomos and Ben Gregory re Penygroes Library

Filmed for programme on Mountain Rescue teams  

Surgery

Tuesday, 23 June

Meet Neil Anderson of Capital Traffic to discuss transpor policy

Plenary

Wednesday, 24 June

Discuss Wales Finance Bill with Jane Hutt

Chair Environmental Committee

Plenary

Sponsor lecture by Wynford Ellis Owen

Thursday, 25 June

Annuao Meeting, Codi’r To

Visit Exhibition on Caernarfon-Bontnewydd Bypass

Friday, 26 June

Surgery, Caernarfon

Surgery, Tregarth

Tuesday, 30 June

Meet Siân Gwenllïan at Assembly

Wales Tourism Industry summer reception

Supper with Daily Post editor

 

Questions and Speeches in the Assembly

2 June

Questions to the Minister of Finance and Government Business, Jane Hutt

CyMAL name change

A.Ff.J. In a statement issued last Friday, the Government announced that they had decided to change the name of CyMAL, responsible for museums, libraries and archives, to a new title that takes a lot longer to say. Now, this unit has had some success over the years and there is some envy of it in other parts of Britain. Can we have a statement from the Deputy Minister explaining the purpose of this move, the rationale for the change, and the cost of making that change?

J.H. Well, of course, the Minister did make that change and he did make a statement, based on the need to ensure that the service and the role of the former CyMAL and the new and enhanced opportunities that come from those services, are clearly described. 

Statement: Update on the Invest-to-save Fund

A.Ff.J. Thank you for the statement. I am sure that we all hope that the resulting outcomes of these investments will be of great benefit to public services in Wales. You have made a statement that this funding has either been repaid or is being repaid by each one of the schemes. My question is: what monitoring is taking place to assess the value of the schemes and whether they are achieving their objectives? Now then, I know that you have given a very lengthy response to Nick Ramsay, but is there a detailed assessment being carried out of the efficiency savings and the service improvements, and is that now a part of the monitoring programme?

May I ask one specific question on one of these schemes, namely a very substantial investment of about £13 million, which is much greater than the other schemes, for the consolidation of the all-Wales public sector broadband? Now, I take it that this is a project that includes the Government itself, of course. Therefore what are the arrangements for the repayment of this sum, and what are the outcomes? Could you give us more details—possibly not today, but in written form—on that scheme?

Thirdly, when will you announce the details of the matured schemes? The money has been repaid and the results and outcomes are known, but will you list those and show in detail the outcomes and improvements that have taken place as a result of the investment? You’ve alluded generally to the fact that this forms part of the way in which you assess the schemes, but will you actually publish the details so that we can get a feeling for the value of the schemes and for those that have been proven to be most successful and, as you said, in order to then ensure that other parts of the public services in Wales that are in a position to benefit from these schemes can take advantage of them? Thank you.

J.H.  Diolch yn fawr, Alun Ffred Jones. Of course, as you say, the outcomes are key…

Statement: EU Structural Funds 2014-20 Progress Report

A.Ff.J. Thank you very much for this opportunity to contribute to this statement. The main purpose of the structural funds, of course, is to raise the level of GDP and DVA in those areas that receive that support, and I accept the points that Alun Davies made in relation to the eradication of poverty as well. Unfortunately, despite the expenditure and the praise of the programmes, the expected outcomes haven’t taken place here in Wales. The comparative level of GDP per head in the west Wales and the Valleys area has remained consistently low, and those areas where there’s poverty and deprivation have also remained without a great deal of movement. So, the question is: why has that happened despite this rather significant investment that has been made over this past decade?

You referred in your statement that we need to be more focused—not business as usual, which was your description of it. So, how is the Government going to ensure that this next tranche of funding is going to give a genuine boost to wealth and employment in Wales, and to change the situation, which has proven very difficult to achieve up till now? And it’s not clear from the statement what those priorities are, or what the strategy is to achieve them.

The Guilford report states very clearly that there is a need for clear leadership, and the report of the Finance Committee suggests that perhaps WEFO isn’t the best path to follow to set that direction. You’ve referred to the private sector. Our opinion in Plaid Cymru is that a body should be established, led by the private sector, to work side by side with the Government. Have you considered this, and if you’ve rejected that suggestion, could you tell us why you’ve done so?

Finally, the only reference in the statement to any specific schemes is that to the metro as a scheme that structural funds are expected to contribute towards. Now, we’re already talking about spending £1 billion of the Government’s borrowing ability on the M4 scheme. Have you any idea of how much of a contribution you expect the structural funds to make to the metro, remembering the fact that there are other areas in Wales that are also expecting a boost of that kind? Are there other schemes in the pipeline, such as the metro, that you can refer to in other parts of Wales that will receive funding under this next tranche of structural funds? 

J.H. Diolch yn fawr, Alun Ffred Jones. I hope my statement and, indeed, my responses to questions demonstrated my commitment particularly to engaging with the private sector in this new round of structural funds, and also recognised, just in terms of your points about what kind of change we are going to see…

9 June

A.Ff.J. I have three questions, but, in order to place them in context, it’s worth quoting a letter that has just come from my office, sent by a constituent from Lôn Meirion in Bangor. The first sentence says:

‘I wish you to know that my wife and I have received excellent treatment by various branches of the Betsi Cadwaladr health board’ and it goes on to list. That’s just to place this in context.

Three questions: last night on the radio, the Deputy Minister suggested that it was political reasons and pressure that had led to this decision, and it does appear rather strange that you’re intervening now. Therefore, may I ask you this: is this political intervention, or are there political reasons for the intervention or are they more clinical in nature?

The second question is: you’ve noted the fields about which you are concerned, and you have named and listed the people who are going to assist, but I’m still not clear what exactly these people will do. Will they go up and have a discussion with the board, or will they take over some of the responsibilities for strategy and policy and so on? It seems very dark to me at the moment, as to exactly what will happen; shedding some light on that would assist.

Finally, regarding the decision to suspend the chief executive, this board has a chair who is relatively new, who was appointed by Welsh Government relatively recently. The chief executive, who was the chief executive of another health board prior to this, has just been appointed. So he must therefore be considered a fit-and-proper person, and yet today we hear that he is being suspended. The question that comes to my mind is: did Welsh Government have a part to play in the decision to appoint Mr Trevor Purt to his post, and did Welsh Government have any part in the decision to suspend him?

M.D. I’ll take the three questions in order, Llywydd. The first, to be clear on the process, once again, the foundation of the decision that I made yesterday was entirely the basis of the advice that I received from the tripartite arrangement...

10 June

Lifelong Learning

A.Ff.J. We often refer to young people who are not in education, employment or training, but the percentage of people over the age of 50 who have numeracy and literacy problems is higher than the percentage of the younger population. This then leads to an inability to apply for jobs and actually gain employment. I notice that there are cuts of up to 90% in community courses, so how do you, as a Government, intend to assist this older age group that has these special needs?

Julie James, The Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology: We’ve protected, as much as possible, essential skills training for people at all ages…

16 June

Questions to the First Minister

Barnett Formula

A.Ff.J. You say, First Minister, that the Barnett formula has come to the end of the road and is not fit for purpose, as you say. Are you willing to apologise to the people of Wales, therefore, that the UK Labour Government had failed to fund Wales fairly when it was in Government in Westminster?

C.J. Well, first of all, the circumstances aren’t the same. As he knows full well, the situation regarding Barnett has deteriorated over the years…

17 June

The Marine Spatial Plan

A.Ff.J. Will the Minister make a statement on the marine spatial plan? 

Carl Sargeant, Minister for Natural Resources:  Marine planning is an exciting new concept. The first Welsh national marine plan is eagerly awaited and presents us with a unique opportunity to bring clarity for all those planning and undertaking activities in Welsh seas.

A.Ff.J. Thank you for that statement. The stakeholders to whom we have spoken have said that your unit does not have sufficient resources to bring this scheme into being within your timetable. So, my question is: do you have the resources, and when will this scheme be announced?

C.S. Do I have the resources? Yes, I do. I’m introducing a marine planning system as a long-term plan, introducing later this year.

Digital Exclusion

A.Ff.J. There’s a great deal to be praised in the work of BT in upgrading broadband connections, but can I draw the Minister’s attention to one case in my constituency, in the village of Nasareth, where the post office has closed but where there is now a mobile post office available on a weekly basis? Unfortunately, due to poor broadband connections, it’s impossible to carry out any work on that mobile van—it’s the lack of connectivity—and, as far as I can see, attempts to persuade the Post Office and BT to resolve the situation have failed. I would be grateful if the Minister would look at the situation because, in fact, you are depriving a relatively deprived rural area of a basic service.

Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty:  Well, again, this would be an issue for the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport. 

The Future of Local Government in Wales

A.Ff.J. There’s no doubt, in my opinion, that changing in 1994/5 was the biggest mistake in the recent history of Welsh politics. But I have one simple question: given the two maps that you’ve published, what exactly are the considerations that have led you to offering two models in north Wales? That is, what are the arguments in favour of the two-county model and, then, the arguments in favour of the three-county model in north Wales?

Leighton Andrews, Minister for Public Services: I think there’s clearly been a very intense debate in north Wales, as in other parts of Wales, around the future configuration of local government…

23 June

Welsh Language Service

A.Ff.J. A pamphlet has been distributed about opting out of organ donation. They’ve been distributed over the past two weeks and an elector of mine has contacted the telephone line that is recommended in the leaflet, asking for information. He’s done so a number of times—a dozen times—and pressed the Welsh option, but still hasn’t received a reply. Can we have a statement from the Minister for health on this breach in the Welsh Government’s Welsh language scheme, in that Welsh speakers are not being treated equally?

Jane Hutt: Clearly, that is a matter on which the Government wants to ensure that it is delivering in accordance with, not only our Welsh language scheme, but also in communicating with the people of Wales, on this very important development and change…

Statement: Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan for Wales Annual Report 2015

A.Ff.J. I welcome the statement and congratulate the Government on seeking and enabling innovative ways of raising capital and borrowing money in the face of the cuts from Westminster—cuts that would have happened under Labour, of course, as various statements by those in the Labour leadership race prove. This search for innovative ways of raising capital was part of Plaid Cymru’s manifesto in 2011 and one such vehicle was the Build 4 Wales company. This was pooh-poohed by the First Minister in a big way. According to the First Minister, this was pie in the sky, and yet, in this statement, we find the Government extoling the virtue of the non-profit distributing investment model. Giving it a boring title does not change the fact that this is Build 4 Wales under another name. There we go; all’s well that ends well, I suppose.

 If I can refer to the Superfast Cymru programme with Government, private and European money, one problem with this scheme—and I extol its virtues as well—is that BT refuse to share information as to which areas will benefit from the scheme, and consequently we do not know which areas will be left out and therefore we cannot plan for that eventuality. So, what is the Government doing about that so that some forward planning can be done?

Some of the programmes that you refer to, and are in the document as well, are all-Wales schemes, but most of the big schemes mentioned in your statement are in the south-east—not unexpected, not surprising. So, could you provide a map showing the distribution of the site-specific capital schemes in the pipeline, or recently completed, and their value? Of course, smaller scale capital spend brings greater benefits to businesses in Wales, although a few big bangs are necessary as game changers.

I cannot see any reference to the M4 relief road scheme in the statement. Is there any reason for that? Perhaps the Government has had a swift change of heart. Lastly, all our spend should be based on well-researched strategy, and presumably now you’ll have to adhere to the principles laid out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. Can you explain whether the investment plan has been revised in any way, given that the FG Act is now the guiding principle for all Government activity? Will you make a commitment that all structures built by public money, or partly built by public money, be they housing or industrial units, will have to be built to the highest energy-efficient standards found in the best models in Europe?

Jane Hutt: Thank you, Alun Ffred Jones, for acknowledging that it is a Welsh Labour Government that’s delivering on the all-important ways of levering in innovative finance through the non-profit distribution model…

Debate on the Queen’s Speech

A.Ff.J.  I would like to concentrate on amendment 5 in the name of Elin Jones. There’s been a great deal of discussion this afternoon on the constitution, and talk that we do nothing but discuss the constitution. Well, the Tories have done nothing but talk of the UK constitution since the days of John Major, to tell the truth, and we're still at it now. That is why this proposal to hold a referendum is an issue of debate, and that’s a part of our amendment.

The referendum does raise significant concerns for us here in Wales, but it is worth saying that Plaid Cymru agrees that the people of the United Kingdom should have their say on this issue, and that Plaid Cymru doesn’t oppose the principle of holding a referendum on this particular issue. What’s ironic, of course, is that the European Union has already changed significantly, in terms of how much legislation is made in Brussels. And there is no doubt, in our view, that membership of the European Union has been and continues to be beneficial to Wales in terms of agriculture, in terms of economic regeneration, and in terms of promoting trade and job creation, and perhaps even more important, close collaboration in terms of responding to climate change across the continent is crucially important. Leaving the European Union would put all of those things at risk.

But in terms of the referendum and the role of young people, the Scottish independent referendum demonstrated clearly that 16 and 17-year-olds are entirely capable of making important political decisions for themselves when they have the necessary information in front of them. Isn’t it significant that it was in Scotland, a nation that has had a measure of devolution, that we saw that first step happening, and not, of course, in the sclerotic UK that we have at present? As I say, the evidence from Scotland, which is confirmed by research from both Austria and Norway, shows that with assistance from families and schools, 16 and 17-year-olds are more likely to vote than people between 18 and 34 years of age. The way in which young people are introduced to politics in their formative years is crucially important for the future of representative democracy. I welcome the consensus there is, as far as I can see, across this Chamber that this should happen. What is very disappointing is that the party in power in Westminster has rejected this opportunity to extend the vote to young people.

The arguments have already been made, but it’s clear, isn’t it, that if a 16-year-old is mature enough to make the decision to join the armed forces or not, then certainly that individual is mature enough to vote in an election? Plaid Cymru is in favour and has been in favour of giving the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds in all elections, and a Plaid Government would actually ensure that that would be implemented following the next Assembly election, if we were in power. It’s a huge shame that these people’s voices won’t be heard as we take this crucially important decision on the future of the United Kingdom within the European Union—they are the people, of course, who will have to live with the ramifications of that decision.

In terms of another aspect that’s been referred to, namely what is included in the amendment, there’s the fact is that there is a threat that the people of Wales will be silenced completely in the referendum. It’s entirely possible that one nation will vote to leave the European Union while the other nations of the UK vote to remain within it. That’s why Plaid Cymru has introduced an amendment to this Bill in the House of Commons—to ensure that Wales isn’t withdrawn from the UK without there being a clear majority for doing that within Wales. The Scottish Government has called for exactly the same rule. It’s a shame that the Welsh Government isn’t battling for Welsh interests in the way the Scottish Government is battling for their interests, and, rather, is leaving us in Plaid Cymru to shoulder the burden of fighting Wales’s corner. I very much hope that our efforts in the House of Lords will be able to push this amendment through and ensure that it is part of the Bill.

30 June

Cancer Strategy

A.Ff.J. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s cancer strategy?

C.J. Our cancer delivery plan sets out the actions we are taking in cancer services and outcomes. Yesterday, for example, we announced how a further £1 million a year is being invested by the cancer implementation group to remodel and improve cancer services in Wales.

A.Ff.J. Thank you very much. You will be aware, First Minister, of the campaign by Mr Irfon Williams from Bangor, Hawl i Fyw—Fighting Chance. There has been good and promising news following his treatment in Manchester recently. Mr Williams has behaved with dignity throughout this difficult time, and he is very keen to meet with you to discuss the situation of patients similar to him. Would you be willing to respond positively to that request?

C.J. Well, I don't know yet what the aim of such a meeting would be. May I say at the outset that I’m very pleased to hear that things are going well for Mr Williams…

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

A.Ff.J. The centre in Abergele has a very good reputation, but it is very difficult to get access to it. There are young people in my constituency, and in north-west Wales, who very often have to wait for months, when they are most vulnerable, until they are assisted by specialists. What can your Government do to ensure that young people who are in such a need do have access to these crucially important services at the right time?

C.J. Well, I have alluded, of course, to the additional funding that has been announced…

Careers Wales

A.Ff.J. May I request another statement from the Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology on the decision to abolish funding for Careers Wales for vetting work experience placements for school pupils? The Deputy Minister has said that she believes that it’s possible for the schools to carry out this work themselves. Schools in my constituency are certain that that isn’t possible and, indeed, that they don’t have the time or the skills to do so in a safe manner. As work experience is considered to be an important part of children’s education, it is important that we should listen to the views expressed by professionals. According to one headteacher, he says that the letter was written by someone who clearly hasn’t been anywhere near a school for many years. So, may I ask for a further statement on this situation?

Welsh Wine

A.Ff.J. One aspect of your food and drink strategy is wine from Wales. The Minister for the economy and I visited the Pant Du vineyard in the Nantlle vale recently. and that you intend to visit it in the near future. Saying ‘vineyard’ and ‘Nantlle vale’ in the same sentence still seems rather exotic to my mind. But the produce of the south of England vineyards get a lot of attention and marketing these days, but there is very little promotion and marketing of wines from Wales. Indeed, if you go on the wines from Wales website, you will see—English wine producers: Wales. So, do you intend to meet with representatives from the industry—there are 15 vineyards in Wales—in the near future, in order to give more of a boost to wines from Wales?

Rebecca Evans, Deputy Minister for Farming and Food: Yes, I do intend to do just that. I have a visit planned for Pant Du, and also Ancre Hill, to discuss issues facing the wine industry in Wales...