FMQs: Withybush, M4 Newport & Mobile Signals

FMQs, 23rd January 2018

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda): Rumoured hospital closures in west Wales

It’s only been three years since Hywel Dda health board reconfigured services to provide a long-term solution. As First Minister, he’s ultimately responsible for health, but moving services into the community shouldn’t be used as an excuse to close general hospitals. Could he offer assurances that A&E departments at Glangwili and Bronglais won’t close?

The First Minister said it was for the health board to answer and the Welsh Government has no view on it, neither do they consider it policy. The focus shouldn’t just be on lost beds but getting people through and out of hospital as quickly as possible – all parties are signed up to that through the parliamentary review so they can’t argue when options come up that they don’t like.

Verdict: Block – The consultation is open and shouldn’t be prejudiced, but it’s more buck-passing on health from Labour to health boards.

Leader of the Opposition, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central): M4 Newport Bypass Costings

Did the First Minister still believe the M4 Newport bypass will cost no more than £1billion? The First Minister said that only 2 years ago, yet not projected costs are expected to be up to £1.5billion. It’s a key infrastructure project the Welsh Government is struggling to deliver. Was there an upper limit for the project to still be considered viable?

Carwyn explains that the projected costs had risen due to delays, inflation and a decision to charge VAT by the UK Government – a reversal of the latter “could save hundreds of millions of pounds”. All we hear is spin from the Conservatives.

Verdict: Block – There are big questions to answer by both Welsh and UK governments. Tit-for-tat doesn’t help.

Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales): A&E Pressures

A&E consultants recently wrote to the First Minister claiming safety is being compromised to an unacceptable degree. They’ve asked for increased funding for extra beds in acute care and social care. Bed occupancy rates have barely changed over 7 years as the number of beds is cut by as much as 25%.

Yet again, the First Minister said he was aware of the pressures and thanked NHS staff for their work during a difficult period. It was a matter for health boards to ensure they have enough beds, though he agreed with the consultants on the need to spend more – but that money will have to come from somewhere else in the budget, such as schools.

Verdict: Block – As always, “it’s a matter for the health board” but asking where the money will come from is fair.


Neil Hamilton AM: Will the First Minister make a statement on mobile phone coverage in Mid and West Wales?

The First Minister accepts that nobody will pretend that mobile coverage is universal across Wales; it’s not a devolved issue, but the Welsh Government has a mobile action plan which could include business rate relief to encourage farmers to allow new masts on their land. He was open to other ideas such as drones or helium kites to boost signals.

Verdict: Miss – Straightforward question and answer.

Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales): Will the First Minister make a statement on the operation of cashless payment systems for school meals?

Carwyn told AMs that there were many advantages to cash cards as they protect the IDs of children who receive free school meals and stops them losing lunch money. There should be some method of reminding parents of the balance on the cards and it wasn’t right that if there were no credit on a child’s card – due to delays in pay or benefits – that they should go without.

Verdict: Miss – Straightforward question and answer.

Jane Hutt AM (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan): Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact of the roll-out of universal credit in Wales?

The First Minister was “concerned”, particularly changes to housing payments which were leading to rent arrears. £6million in grant funding has been provided to advice services. He still opposes any devolution of the welfare system because we’re net beneficiaries and the solution is to elect a Labour UK Government instead.

Verdict: Miss – Serious issues here, but was used as an opportunity to take potshots without taking responsibility.

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