Senedd Bites #12: Prisons, Mud & Empty Properties

Inquiry launched into Carl Sargeant leaks; Labour inquiry dropped

The First Minister has ordered the Permanent Secretary to investigate how information about the sacking of Carl Sargeant was leaked to outsiders a few days before the reshuffle on November 3rd.

Rumours that Carl Sargeant would lose his job made the rounds on Twitter, with Leighton Andrews saying a BBC journalist, Labour AM and Labour MP (lobbyist, Cathy Owens, also seemed to know) all got wind of the information beforehand, but it’s highly unusual for information on reshuffles to be leaked outside the First Minister’s office.

Also, Labour’s internal investigation into the Carl Sargeant allegations has been dropped. It was revealed that no written statements had been submitted at the time of Carl’s death.

23,000 empty properties in Wales

Shelter Cymru revealed that of the 23,303 empty properties in Wales only 1% have been brought back into use in some local authorities. They told BBC Wales, “Empty homes are a blight on the community and a total waste of resource. They attract vandalism and vermin.”

Some councils have a much better record than others with Torfaen bringing 33% of homes back into use and Denbighshire and Swansea re-introducing 19% and 16% respectively. Neath Port Talbot, Powys, Ceredigion and Cardiff re-introduced less than 1.5%.

To stop this “blight” councils can charge double council tax on long-term empty homes and second homes.

“No rise” in organ donations since opt-out consent law

Organ donation rates have remained mostly flat since the Senedd passed a bill introducing a soft opt-out system of organ donation consent in 2015 according to the Welsh Government.

There were 104 donors in the 21 months since the Human Transplantation Act became law compared to 101 over the same period before then. In 2016-17, 21 families refused consent under the system.

Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), believed the figures were due to a fall in eligible donors and that it was far too early to judge the success of the law.

“Toxic mud” worries dubbed “alarmist”

Evidence given to the Petitions Committee by EDF energy claims that worries over radioactivity in mud from Hinkley Point – which will be dumped off the coast of Cardiff – are “alarmist and go against all internationally-accepted scientific evidence”, saying that the levels of radioactivity were so low that even if you ate half your body weight in seafood from the dumping grounds it would be 10,000 times lower than an airline pilot’s annual radiation exposure.

The Petitions Committee are considering whether to hold a plenary debate on a petition relating to the dumping, while the Chair of the Environment Committee, Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East), has called for a third party to test the soil.

£68million “health hub” plans outlined

The Health Secretary unveiled plans for a £68million network of primary and community care centres across Wales.

8 will consist of refurbishments to existing primary care centres/GP surgeries, while the remaining 11 will be new-builds. The plans will see GPs, pharmacists and social care staff working under one roof.

The BMA raised concerns that the programme is being announced without full consultation, but the Health Secretary said, “People in the 21st Century expect to be treated in modern, advanced health care centres that deliver a wide range of services all under one roof.”

Port Talbot “Super Prison” Petition Debated

AMs debated a 9,000 signature petition – following a request by the Petitions Committee – opposing plans for a “super prison” at a Welsh Government-owned piece of land in Port Talbot.

The debate was mainly a retread of a debate held earlier this autumn.

However, there was more pressure put on the Public Services Secretary, Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent), to block or delay any attempt to sell the land to the UK Ministry of Justice and force a compulsory sale and/or to honour a covenant on the land that it be used solely for economic development purposes.