Senedd Bites #23: Tributes, Mergers & Blocks

(Title Image: Wales Online)

Tributes to former Welsh Secretary, Nicholas Edwards & Lord Richard

Former Welsh Secretary, Nicholas Edwards (Lord Crickhowell), died on 17th March at the age of 84.

He was the longest-serving Welsh Secretary, being in the post from 1979-1987, overseeing economic intervention (against Thatcherite policy) in former coalfield areas via the Welsh Development Agency – which saw a rapid increase in inward investment – the establishment of S4C as well as undertaking the preliminary work for the redevelopment of Cardiff Bay.

Leader of the Opposition, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) said, “He was a politician of real vision and tenacity, and his most enduring legacy to Wales will be the transformation of Cardiff Bay – which to this day remains one of the most successful regeneration projects the country has seen.”

Ivor Richard (Lord Richard) – author of a 2004 (mostly unimplemented) review in the National Assembly’s powers (pdf), former House of Lords leader and former British ambassador to the UN – also died, aged 85, on March 18th.

The First Minister said Lord Richard, “made an important contribution to devolution through his work on future powers for the National Assembly”.

Local council mergers back on the table

See also: Have you noticed the elephant in the room?

Public Services Secretary, Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent), announced that stalled plans to merge local authorities in Wales are to be resurrected.

He said, “Councils have been clear that services are wearing down to the point of collapse and there is a general acceptance that things cannot carry on as they are and a general acknowledgement that more money, even if it were available, would not solve the problem.”

It’s understood voluntary mergers and phased mergers are preferable to forced mergers via new legislation, but all options will go out for consultation with plans for mergers to be completed either in 2022 or 2026.

AMs blocked from seeing Sargeant leak report

Despite the Senedd voting in favour of seeing a redacted version of the Permanent Secretary’s report into leaks in and around the reshuffle prior to Carl Sargeant’s death, AMs won’t get to see that report.

The Permanent Secretary, Shan Morgan, said publication of the report could have implications for future investigations after being asked by the First Minister to reconsider her stance following the vote.

The Leader of the Opposition said, “The longer this facade continues the more damaging it is for the Welsh Government, and our democratic processes cannot continue to be marred by persistent stonewalling, particularly when matters of significant public interest are at stake”.

There are now moves to use a clause within the Government of Wales Act 2006 to force the report to be published – though nothing is likely to happen this side of Easter recess.

Call for probe into excess winter deaths

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) has called for an investigation into a 13.1% increase in deaths in Wales during the first few weeks of 2018, equating to 5,841 people. England and Scotland also experienced increases in deaths of 12.2% and 36.4% respectively.

Researchers for the BMJ said the recent cold weather couldn’t be blamed as the weather was relatively mild at the start of the year, neither could flu or pneumonia as infection rates were only slightly higher than usual.

The Welsh Government said, “these figures are provisional and represent a complex picture that we need to understand. However whilst these deaths may have been unexpected, sadly not all will have been avoidable.”

Swansea Bay “should have a driverless Metro”

One of the more outspoken AMs on the issue of automation and the fourth industrial revolution, Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli), argued that any future Metro system in Swansea Bay should be automated.

A feasibility study for the Metro is due to start in April, and the AM argues that Swansea should “leapfrog” other areas by becoming a test-bed for driverless technology, suggesting the Metro itself could consist of a fleet of driverless vehicles dropping people off at the door, instead of a fixed timetable system.

“Obscene” payouts to supply teaching agency bosses

£1million worth of dividend payouts have been awarded to directors of one of Wales’ largest private supply teacher agencies, New Directions, which has been described as “obscene”. The company argues that it’s more efficient at placing supply teachers than local authorities.

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) said, “At a time when head teachers are telling us that schools are on their knees due to financial pressures, it’s obscene that a private company has profited so dramatically from the government’s procurement policies.

“Schools are losing out, supply teachers are losing out and the only people who appear to be benefiting are the two shareholders of this company.” The Welsh Government said there were no barriers to local authorities employing supply teachers themselves if they choose to do so.