Monthly Report September 2015

15/10/2015

After a week’s cycling holiday on the Continent and a week working in the constituency, it was back to the familiar routine: down to the Assembly in Cardiff on Monday afternoons, back home to Arfon, usually on Thursday evenings, to meet electors and attend to constituency matters.   

FROM THE SEPTEMBER DIARY

Wednesday 9 September

Business visits to Denis Ferranti in Bangor and ISC in Llandygai

Meeting in Llandudno to discuss health service in North Wales

Thursday 10 September

Meeting to discuss flood prevention in Talybont

Surgery, Caernarfon

Friday 11 September

Visited Cae Glas farm, Llanwnda with Hywel Williams MP to discuss dairy industry problems, meeting organised by the NFU.

surgeries

Saturday 12 September

Plaid Cymru National Executive

Event to launch Siân Gwenllian’s election campaign

Sunday 13 September

Travel to Cardiff

Monday 14 September

Hold interviews for research job with Plaid Cymru Group - Rhun Erddin Davies of Llanwnda appointed.

Tuesday 15 September

Briefing meeting for Environment Committee

Plenary

25th anniversary celebration of Welsh Heritage Schools Initiative

Wednesday 16 September

Chair Environment Committee

Plenary

Launch of  North Wales Economic Ambition Board at Millennium Centre

Thursday 17 September

Finance Committee

Friday 18 September

Opening of solar park at Greenwood Forest Park

Surgery Bangor

Surgery Caernarfon

Sunday 20 September

Mayor’s Sunday, Caernarfon

Monday 21 September

Meet Cwmni’r Fran Wen, Menai Bridge

Tuesday 22 September

Plaid Cymru Group Meeting

Plenary

Launch RCN Cymru campaign for more nurses

Petitions Committee

Wednesday 23 September

Finance Committee

Plenary

Iau 24 September

Chair Environment Committee

Launch of report on Devolution by the Welsh Governance Centre, Cardiff University .

Friday 25 September

Chair meeting on Hydro Energy with community groups at Llanberis

Surgery, Caernarfon

Visit consultation on Arfon Cycling Routes

Saturday 26 September

Plaid Cymru Dyffryn Ogwen coffee morning

Monday 28 September

Visit Goat roundabout, Llanwnda to discuss concerns about safety of cycle route.

FUW farm visit at Parc, Bala.

Natural Resources Wales meeting in Bangor to discuss Llyn Padarn.

Tuesday 29 September

Plenary

Cross-party group on digital communication.

Wednesday 30 September

Chair Environment Committee

Dyfodol i’r Iaith manifesto launch. 

 

QUESTIONS AND SPEECHES IN THE ASSEMBLY

15 September

Public Service Workforce

A.Ff.J.

We on this side welcome the establishment of the Public Services Staff Commission and we hope that it will achieve the Minister’s ambitions. Questions do arise from this, of course. The commission is there to advise, and I presume that the commission will advise the Minister. Will this advice be published publicly, and on a regular basis? After all, you have mentioned the contact with staff across Wales. We would expect, therefore, that the discussions, and certainly the outcomes of those discussions, will be made public.

You use the phrase in the statement about the need for transformational change in public services, and that that is completely necessary. Could you explain how the work of the commission will lead to this fundamental change? The Williams commission, for example, noted one weakness within local government, namely a lack of strong leadership. What are you doing to ensure that this deficiency is addressed? Will it be part of the commission’s work?

In terms of the living wage and zero-hours contracts, of course, Plaid Cymru has promoted and supported a living wage since the beginning, and we welcome the Minister’s comments. In terms of implementing this aim within local government, how does the Minister expect councils to achieve this while facing big cuts, which are happening at the moment? Has the Government made any estimate regarding the cost of implementing the living wage within local government? If it hasn’t, is that work being undertaken at the moment? I say this as one, of course, who is very supportive of seeing workers receiving a fair wage, but I’m also aware that it happens in the context—. Gwynedd Council, for example, like many other councils, are facing having to make savings and cuts of £30 million in their budgets, and facing that sort of scale of cuts, while also looking for ways of improving the terms and conditions of workers, certainly is more than a challenge. I would say that it’s nearly impossible.

Finally, there is a reference here to the Labour Government’s vision to create one public service for Wales. But I have heard this vision being stated for quite a number of years now, and certainly it is part of Plaid Cymru’s policy as well. What progress has been made in the last 12 years on achieving this? Do you have a timetable, Minister, for implementing this vision?

Leighton Andrews, Minister for Public Services:

Can I thank the Plaid Cymru spokesperson for his comments and broad support for the work of the Public Services Staff Commission? 

Questions to Jane Hutt, Minister for Finance and Government Business

Innovation Funds

A.Ff.J. Will the Minister state how many investments that she and the Government have made have been funded through innovation funds?

J.H. Will the Minister state how many investments that she and the Government have made have been funded through innovation funds?

A.Ff.J. Right. Well, thank you very much for that answer. Unfortunately, it appears that you won’t be able to answer the second question either.

Minister, it is welcome that you eventually leveraged additional—well, I hope that you’ve leveraged additional—finance from outside the block grant, as Plaid Cymru has long campaigned for. Now then, these are not private finance initiatives, but there are still risks in leveraging private funding in terms of the payback rates and the payback period, and that money obviously has to come from the block grant. Now the Finance Committee previously asked that you provide a breakdown of the repayment profiles for the innovative financing schemes you are responsible for. Now then, I was going to ask you to update us today on how much in revenue funding these schemes will cost over the coming years, but presumably you will be able to send a note regarding that.

J.H. Well, I do apologise, Alun Ffred Jones, but I now realise what the purpose of your first question was: it was about the investment we’ve made in the innovative finance routes that we’ve taken…

UK Government Spending Plans

A.Ff.J. With reference to the block grant, what are you and the Labour Government doing to ensure that Wales receives a fair share of any spend on the HS2 scheme in England during the current term of the Westminster Parliament?

J.H. This is a matter that I have raised with the UK Government. We made sure that we got a consequential in relation to HS2, and in terms of the spending review, we do have an opportunity again to raise this. I’m continuing to press the UK Government to increase capital expenditure and to receive consequentials from any future funding for HS2. Indeed, I discussed this again in the summer with my colleagues from Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Plaid Cymru Debate: Investment in Health and Social Care Services

A.Ff.J.  In talking about healthcare and general care, there are two themes that arise time and time again: how much additional funding is needed to meet the need that increases endlessly, and, secondly, we naturally focus on failures—and those can be very serious—and weaknesses and the slowness of the service. I’d like to restate at the beginning here that the majority of patients, in my experience, receive good care, and very often the care can be excellent. But, the structures are under pressure and the shortage of staff—nursing staff and middle-grade doctors and some specialist doctors—and the disappearance of GPs from rural areas and some urban areas are obviously constant themes, and constant complaints that we receive as Members.

In referring to the situation in north Wales, where the concerns noted exist, and also where the restructuring and the closure of some local hospitals will contribute nothing in all honesty to meeting the need to plan appropriately for a better future for our health services. One ambitious scheme that Plaid Cymru is promoting is the establishment of a Septembercal school for north Wales as part of an all-Wales solution—and I emphasise that. Yes, a Septembercal training school for the north, but also as part of an all-Wales solution. We can talk about the exact structure and model of this school on another occasion, but an investment of this kind could change the whole context of healthcare in the north. It would be able to attract specialists, and they would divide their time between training, research and working within the service. And that would in turn improve the quality of the service, and would develop specific expertise. It would also be an opportunity for local students who at present can’t get a place in colleges in Wales to undertake at least some of their training in the north, without mentioning attracting bright students to the area, in the hope that those in turn would stay on.

There are other positive effects, and we need to change the image of healthcare in north Wales. So, who in actuality is going to come to work in an area that appears to be in a constant crisis in terms of health services? The argument in favour of creating a Septembercal school is one that I think can’t be contradicted. There is no other option and it’s a golden opportunity to create a sustainable structure in north Wales to contribute to an all-Wales solution.

Another aspect that I wish to refer to that needs to be developed to the fullest is teleSeptembercine. This would benefit rural areas especially, but also towns and villages that are far from the urban centres. Travel is taxing for patients and their families. It would be much better for patients to go to a local centre for tests, and then to be able to discuss those reSundayts with experts via electronic means. The audit office in Scotland recently has noted three examples of successful teleSeptembercine in that country, and it’s worth mentioning one, that is, tests for stroke patients to see whether they need thrombolysis treatment—if I pronounced that correctly. Due to teleSeptembercine, four boards in the health service in Scotland are able to offer this service for the first time, and that on a 24-hour basis. They avoid transferring the patient to the fifth board, where the experts are located. A whole host of advantages arise from this—the auditor notes that there’s a reduction in waiting times and also, of course, there’s a reduction in travel times and cost for the patient, and it enables the service to prioritise services in a much better way. That’s just one example, and there is a need to develop this expertise within our health service here in Wales. Thank you very much.

22 September

Questions to First Minister Carwyn Jones

Banking in Wales

A.Ff.J.  Unfortunately, our experience in Arfon was that bank branches were closed during the period of the last Government and have no interest now in those communities or those towns because the high-street banks, to all intents and purposes, have disappeared from our villages and towns across Wales. But, that means that there is greater pressure on us to actually enhance the credit union sector. The Government here in Wales has been funding a campaign to promote credit unions, but the support has now come to an end. Can you give us an assurance that the Government will recommence a marketing campaign for the benefit of communities and families across Wales, particularly in our rural and more disadvantaged areas?

C.J. Credit unions do have a very important role throughout the whole of Wales and in those areas  where they’ve lost banks over the years...

 Commitments for 2015-16

A.Ff.J. May I congratulate the Government on spending all their money, but for not overspending? May I endorse her comments about the Chancellor and his in-year cuts, apart from his other cuts? But, on the other hand, I believe that it would be right for the Minister to admit that the candidates for the Labour Party leadership, over this recent campaign, confessed that the Labour Government shouldn’t have been in deficit at the end of their time in Government, and that would entail cutbacks, of course, to Wales’s budget.

However, in today’s statement, you refer to almost £59 million being given to the health service and to social services. This is an annual pattern, of course, of seeing additional funding being given to these services, and I’m sure that it will be appreciated and welcomed. But you referred to  ‘a number of initiatives within the service’.

Could you give us the details, either today or in writing later, about what these initiatives are and how exactly this will lead to an improvement in performance—namely, the point you make at the end of that sentence? I believe many of us by now are rather sceptical or suspect that this is just an exercise in filling the gaps in the budget on behalf of the Government. But what we want to see is exactly how this will lead to an improvement in performance.

To move on to the capital funding, I very much believe that the additional investment that the Government has made acknowledges the importance of capital expenditure, and that’s something that we said at the beginning of the Government’s term. By now, of course, you have adopted the Build4Wales Plaid Cymru scheme in its entirety, apart from its name, of course.

I would like to ask a question about the additional funding that you’ve secured for the capital budget. It was very interesting to hear the First Minister admit, in talking about the additional £1 billion that will be spent on the M4, that Welsh Government didn’t have any control whatsoever over that and, in fact, that it was the London Government’s priority that has led to this decision. I would like to hear your comments on that, as it is crucially important, as that huge amount of money should be available for us to spend according to our priorities here in Wales.

You make reference in your statement that there has been a cut of £7 million in this year’s capital budget, and then you state that you are going to allocate an additional £46 million. Could you explain from where this £46 million comes? Is it from the innovative financing, or does it come from another part of the budget?

The plans you allude to are very much to be welcomed. I’m very pleased to see the road in Llangefni and also the training centre associated with Airbus—they are to be welcomed very much. But I have one minor question about the money allocated for Cardiff Airport: will that be a grant to attract airline companies to Cardiff, or will some alternative use be made of that loan?

Jane Hutt:  I shall use that comment again: ‘spending all the money and not overspending’. That’s how I want to be as finance Minister…

 

23 September

Plaid Cymru Debate: The Septembera

A.Ff.J.  The attitude of the coalition Government towards S4C showed a lack of understanding and was an inSundayt to the Welsh language and its vulnerable position. It’s clear, now, that the Conservative Government in London wants to undermine and shrink the BBC itself and, by doing so, S4C will also be undermined and weakened. It’s clear to me that S4C isn’t safe in the Conservatives’ hands. You will hear lots of warm words, and no doubt we will hear some this afternoon, but their actions betray the Conservatives. It’s likely that the review of the BBC’s charter will not be published until autumn 2016, but the DCMS, which continues to partly fund S4C, is already looking for cuts of 40 per cent in the budget of the bodies that it funds. It appears, therefore, that the Conservatives know the price of everything but the value of almost nothing.

The Silk commission called for this element of S4C’s budget to be devolved to Wales, and we in Plaid Cymru believe that this element of the budget, which still lies within DCMS, should be transferred to the Welsh Government. In doing so, Plaid Cymru wants to ensure the editorial independence of S4C, and the people of Wales need to have a voice in deciding the future, structure and funding of S4C, as we look ahead to the next few years, where there will be changes in the landscape of broadcasting in Wales and, it’s likely, throughout the nations of the UK.

There’s no doubt that the Welsh Government and the Assembly itself have a much better understanding of, and more sympathy with, the role of S4C as a Welsh-Septemberum broadcaster. There’s plenty of evidence that has been gathered that there is general support for S4C’s services amongst Welsh speakers, and those who don’t speak Welsh. Highs and lows, of course, are an intrinsic part of the history of television channels, and of radio too, but the importance of S4C for the use of the language and in the context of the language is vital.

I think that all of us who live in areas where the Welsh language is used very frequently realise that the situation of the Welsh language as a spoken language and as a community language remains very fragile, despite the strong growth in the area of Welsh-Septemberum education. Any language that is used less needs external signs of its value and status, or young people and young families will turn their backs on that language. That’s what’s happened in the history of the Welsh language in Wales and that’s what’s happening to minority languages worldwide. It’s a general pattern and that’s why those institutions and those external signs are needed to bring status and value to your indigenous language.

Every culture also needs opportunities to see reflections of itself, whether in literature of all kinds, news, drama and all of the arts, not to mention workplaces where the language is used and respected. S4C, of course, achieves all of those aims, not successfully at all times, but it is a public platform for Welsh culture and, increasingly over the past few years, it has been reaching out to non-Welsh speaking communities. I think that that has been a very positive aspect of S4C’s work. At its root, it’s a Welsh-language service and offers a platform for various elements of Welsh culture. That’s why it’s vitally important that this Assembly and this Government in Wales do support S4C to the hilt and, as a matter of urgency, bring it under the wings of the people of Wales to ensure its future and also to support the Welsh language in doing so.

29 September

Questions to First Minister Carwyn Jones

Financial cuts

A.Ff.J.  I would agree with you and join with you in the condemnation of the cuts coming down from London, of course, although we know that Alistair Darling’s proposals would also mean significant cuts in the budget coming here from London. But, while we’re blaming each other, and the Conservatives here are blaming you, the fact is that local government is facing one of the greatest crises, perhaps, for decades. The truth in Gwynedd is that there’s a meeting today in Felinheli, where the council is conSundayting with the public on cuts of £12 million—cuts to front-line services. Now, you’re facing this with all councils in Wales, to tell the truth, so the question is, and you must have faced this yourselves: which services does the Government feel can be cut or scrapped in local government in order for them to live within their means?

C.J. Well, this is a matter, of course, for local authorities. Local authorities will first consider the statutory services…

Questions to the Minister for Finance and Government Business Jane Hutt

A55 Floods / Government’s use of Welsh

A.Ff.J. I would wish to have two statements. Firstly, in November 2012, the A55 was closed between Bangor and Aber by floods for five hours and properties were damaged. The Minister for transport at the time stated, and I quote, that ‘this will not happen again’. Three years later, although the alleviation plan has been agreed, there is no pledge to fund the scheme and to safeguard this all-important roadway. May we have a statement that the Government will keep its promise and that that will happen soon?

I’d like, secondly, a statement on the Welsh Government’s policy on using the Welsh language in conSundayting with the public. The Government is out to conSundaytation at present as regards sites for the travelling community in Wales. Councils such as Gwynedd Council operate a totally bilingual website, and including English-only material is contrary to their policy, and contrary, I would say, to the spirit of the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011, but the material is in English only. Please can we have an early statement on the Government’s policy on the use of Welsh language in conSundayting with the public?

J.H. the Minister for Natural Resources will write to you about progress in terms of that particular flood alleviation scheme, and also, clearly, we would want to look into and ensure that standards are met in terms of the Welsh language for the conSundaytation, which is ongoing in terms of the travelling community.

30 September

Questions to Health Minister Mark Drakeford

A.Ff.J. Will the Minister make a statement on planning for the future workforce within the health service? 

M.D. A workforce capable of sustaining the NHS in the future will not simply mirror the workforce of the past. The next round of integrated Septemberum-term plans will include a particular focus on workforce planning, as we develop a 10-year workforce strategy for Wales.

A.Ff.J.Thank you very much for that response, and we look forward to seeing the outcomes of these discussions. May I refer you to nursing for those who have learning difficulties? There was a report in 2012, ‘Strengthening the commitment’, that acknowledged that specialist nurses had, and I quote, ‘a major input into the health of people with learning disabilities’.

But, a shortage of nurses in this area became apparent. There was then a further update report in 2015 that highlighted the same problem. Half of the nurses in this area are over 50 years of age. So, what plans does the Government have to ensure a sufficient supply of nurses working in learning difficulties for the future?

M.D.  Each year, we agree plans with the health boards and the other members on the boards who undertake the workforce planning…

 Debate on a Petitions Committee Report—Stop the Army Recruiting in Schools

A.Ff.J. Thank you, and thank you for the opportunity to contribute. Thank you also for this valuable report. Certainly, this report proves the value of the petitions system, so I’m very grateful for the report and the opportunity to contribute.

I represent an area where there is a strong tradition of joining the armed forces, particularly the army. There is a strong tradition within families of joining, and the Caernarfon area is one of those with the highest percentage recruited to the armed forces throughout the whole of the UK. I should also note that many young people that I’m familiar with locally have also joined over the years—some are still serving and others have left. Many have received beneficial training during their years of service, although that training, in areas such as engineering and so on, has taken them into areas of conflict such as Afghanistan, and that has certainly left a mark on them. May I also, in passing, acknowledge what Jeff Cuthbert said about the NPCT Group colleges? There is one in Bangor and I do acknowledge that there is excellent work done there with young people, although they are not formally linked to the armed forces.

Having said that about those young people who have joined, I have to say also that I, like many of you, I’m sure, as Assembly Members, have come across many veterans who are suffering the consequences of some of the experiences—in terms of health and behaviour—that they’ve had in serving their country. The events at Deepcut do raise some serious questions about training and attitudes within the armed forces. So, there are numerous aspects to this issue, because the nature of the work undertaken by the armed forces ultimately does place particular strains on people and certainly can influence people’s health and behaviour.

It is a fact that the armed forces, and the army specifically, do recruit a higher percentage of young people from disadvantaged or relatively disadvantaged areas. The army also organises events and activities in those areas, quite deliberately. The reason for this, of course, is that there are fewer job and training opportunities in these areas and therefore the armed forces is an option which is particularly appealing. I don’t blame the armed forces for that—it is just a fact—but we can’t deny the fact that there is a relatively clear link between the nature of our poorest, or relatively poor communities and the fact that they do disproportionately provide recruits for the army and the armed forces generally.

One of my constituents has drawn attention to recruitment methods which I think are unacceptable; for example, placing large colourful banners near the job centre. Now, we don’t do that, as far as I know, with other public services—perhaps we should do in terms of the health service or local government—but certainly I do believe that the armed forces should be recruiting and providing information in the same way as any other organisation would do.

I think we need a level playing field, if you like, in terms of the rules relating to recruitment and the provision of information. That is why it’s very important that we do ensure that young people have full and balanced information as they face choices as to how they’re going to enter training or education for the future. I’m certain in my own mind that young people shouldn’t be joining the armed forces at 16 years of age, either with or without parental consent. I think it’s too early to make that kind of decision, given what they could be facing. But in entering schools, the armed forces should be presenting the opportunities—and they are valid opportunities; I accept that—in a balanced way, in the same way as other trainers and service providers. So, we do have a role in protecting young people, and this petition has raised valid concerns. I think the report itself is very balanced and valuable.