FMQs: The Long Goodbye Starts

Following Carwyn Jones’ announcement that he intends to stand down as First Minister later this year – more on that from me tomorrow (along with the Brexit deal) – this week’s FMQs lacked the edge of last week’s. Before I move on to the main event, it’s worth drawing your attention to this touching tribute from the leader of Bridgend Council:

FMQs, 24th April 2018

Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales): The First Minister’s Departure & Senedd Expansion

Neil said the First Minister was no doubt familiar with the phrase “all political lives end in failure unless cut off in midstream at a happy juncture”; what was the First Minister’s assessment of where he fits into this? Did he have any opinion on plans to expand the Senedd (if he were going to run in 2021 anyway)? UKIP carried out a poll which showed only 32% in favour compared to 42% against.

Carwyn said Neil Hamilton was an example of “life after death in politics”. More seriously, he said he’s outlined a timetable and it was important the country had continuity with a well-prepared successor.

On the second question, the First Minister was coy on his future post-2021 but understood the strain put on backbenchers due to the increased depth of scrutiny required, therefore we needed a “sensible debate” on the number of AMs. However, he didn’t think it was a fundamental constitutional change that needs a referendum.

Verdict: Block – Aside from the jibes, there was no give or take either way.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda): Zero-Hour Contracts

More people were now employed on zero-hour contracts in Wales than any other nation or region in the UK, estimated at 43,000. Where was this in Labour’s economic plan? Some people may want flexibility but others won’t and will be forced into these contracts. In Labour’s 2017 UK election manifesto there was a pledge to end their use.

The First Minister said it was difficult because there’s no control over the private sector and the Welsh Government had “effectively abolished” the use of zero-hours contracts in the public sector. A fair work commission will be established to look at possible levers, including laws, to make sure Wales can go as far as it can with the powers it has; there was no point using manifesto pledges in a Westminster election in that context.

Verdict: Block – Fair questions and fair answers.

Leader of the Opposition, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central): The Economy

Wales has the lowest take-home pay of the UK’s nations and regions by £52 a week and the gap has widened with Scotland when in 1999 we were pretty much the same. Andrew wasn’t confident this was going to change by the 2020s, and declines in the numbers of homes built is a sign of stagnating wages. Also, in light of the First Minister’s departure, what was the future of the M4 Newport bypass?

The First Minister said take-home pay hasn’t been helped by cuts to in-work benefits, while there are acute productivity problems in Wales – partly because of technical training, or lack of. There were manifesto commitments to increase the supply of affordable housing and it’s on the way to being delivered. Any decision on the M4 will be made based on evidence but he confirmed it will be him making the final decision.

Verdict: Block – Again, fair points raised by both sides with no “victor”.


Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West): What progress is the Welsh Government making in combatting loneliness and social isolation?

A strategy will be introduced in March 2019, building on the recommendations in the Health Committee’s inquiry. Research was recently commissioned into the effectiveness and principles of community-based voluntary approaches to addressing loneliness, but there are problems with the long-term funding of such bodies.

Verdict: Miss – Straightforward question, straightforward answer.

Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East): Will the First Minister make a statement on the number of people in Wales with type 2 diabetes?

There were approximately 178,000 people with the condition in 2016-17 and £111million was invested in diabetes care the same year. A broad approach is needed to address it, which includes focusing on obesity. The First Minister neither ruled in or ruled out the introduction of diabetes nurses as in England.

Verdict: Miss – Straightforward question, straightforward answer.

David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central): Will the First Minister make a statement on the importance of Welsh cities to the development of the economy?

Cities and large towns should be “engines of growth” for their wider regions. Local authorities need to collaborate more to produce regional development plans so they don’t see issues such as housing only affecting them within their boundaries. If that doesn’t happen then the Welsh Government “will consider further steps”.

Verdict: Block – A slightly odd answer from the First Minister considering Bridgend recently rejected the idea of developing a joint local development plan.

  • 16