FMQs: Powers, Trains & Special Measures

The real rough-and-tumble today will surround the (final) vote on the UK’s Brexit Bill; I’ll have something on that later, hopefully – hence why this is being posted earlier than usual. As a result, this week’s FMQs was relatively calm.

FMQs, 15th May 2018

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda): Brexit “Power Grab” Deal

It was “absurd and embarrassing” that the Welsh Government endorse Theresa May over their own party leader. Any sliver of hope that more decision about Wales would be made in Wales was gone. What extra powers have been delivered to Wales by the deal? The ones in dispute cover important areas such as state aid, farming and the environment – did the First Minister trust Westminster to be there.

The First Minister told the chamber that there “was” a power grab but that was no longer the case. All powers in dispute will return to Wales eventually, with some temporarily held at Westminster – a huge change from where we were last year. It was the first time that the UK Government had ever agreed to have its own power “bound” – and that was a tribute to Mark Drakeford’s negotiating skills.

Verdict: Block – Leanne Wood has used this line of attack for several weeks without making much progress while Carwyn has, in turn, not been convincing. It’ll all be over this evening anyway.

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

The last 15 years of the rail franchise in Wales “have been difficult” and the First Minister said yesterday he doubted services would improve for at least 4 years into the next franchise despite other government ministers promising immediate improvements. Could Carwyn also confirm when the announcement of the winning franchise bid will be announced?

The First Minister clarified his comments by saying people should expect service improvements very soon, but it would take longer (up to 4 years) for new/improved rolling stock to arrive. He said there were “no delays” to the franchise awarding process and an announcement was due for later this month with the franchise starting in October 2018.

Verdict: Miss – Surprisingly soft questioning from Andrew having been provided with straightforward answers.

Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales): Betsi Cadwaladr Special Measures

Last week, the First Minister was unable to give assurances that Betsi Cadwaladr health board will be brought out of special measures by the end of the year. There have been a number of worrying long-term problems – particularly in management and setting goals. Neil hinted (not outwardly) at the Welsh Government taking more control of the health board as the management team seem to have a task too great for them to achieve within the current administrative arrangements.

The First Minister believed the health board could “pull itself out of special measures”, but it doesn’t need an artificial timetable. There have been performance improvements, but there’s still a long way to go. The new management structure hasn’t had time to bed in yet, which is why it’s still in special measures.

Verdict: Block – This is becoming a sore spot for the government, but Carwyn handled it.


John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East): Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for sport and fitness in Newport?

£570,000 has been provided to Newport Council to support sports development this year. The Newport marathon was held successfully recently and the Newport Live scheme has put the city on a much stronger footing for physical activity than 25-30 years ago. He also said there were no plans to change policies such as free swimming.

Verdict: Miss – Straightforward question, straightforward answer.

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West): Will the First Minister provide an update on the Swansea Bay city region deal (Transport Projects)?

“Progress continues to be made”. Ideas for improved rail services and extra stops in and around Swansea have been there for a while. The issue is that the Swansea District Line bypasses both Swansea and Neath and it’s important existing services aren’t lost at existing stations.

Verdict: Miss – Straightforward question, straightforward answer. It was a missed opportunity to highlight some of the serious concerns arising about the deal.

Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon): Will the First Minister provide an update on increasing the provision of medical education at Bangor University?

The Welsh Government’s view is that Bangor working closely with Cardiff & Swansea universities will deliver more opportunities for medical students and ensure medical students have a “complete education” by having access to major hospitals in the south. The First Minister committed for a further statement on medical education in north Wales.

Verdict: Miss – Straightforward question, straightforward answer.

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