FMQs: Fit for Flatlining


Fit for purpose?

Video: What went wrong at Natural Resources Wales (in 100 seconds).

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), asked whether the First Minister believed Natural Resources Wales (NRW) was fit for purpose?

The glib answer: “Yes, I do”. The exchange continued.

Paul said the organisation receives £180million each year but has had their accounts qualified (given a poor verdict) by the Wales Audit Office three years in a row, culminating with a timber contract that could have cost taxpayers £1million.

“Well, I put it to you, First Minister….when it comes to holding public bodies to account, and that’s a failure on your Government’s part to make sure that bodies are held to account and are open and transparent. There is no denying NRW’s finances are a complete mess, and I know that this concern is shared by some of your own AMs.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM

The First Minister stressed that a number of changes have been made at the top of the organisation and NRW will have to properly explain themselves on a number of issues. When Paul judged the proposed pheasant shooting ban as a misplaced priority, the First Minister grasped the opportunity to deflect.

Flatlining

Making his debut as Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) came storming out of the blocks:

“First Minister, as the ink begins to dry on last week’s resignation letter, the focus is naturally shifting to the legacy you will leave behind: close to a quarter of our people and a third of our children in poverty; life expectancy in reverse; a flatlining economy with Wales stuck in perpetuity at the bottom of the league table. Doesn’t this epitomise your Government? A poverty of ambition that is the fundamental cause of the poverty of our people.”
– Adam Price AM

Following the obligatory congratulations to Adam and warm words for his predecessor, the First Minister looked to the positives:

“Let’s compare and contrast here. Unemployment is 3.8 per cent. That is lower than the UK average…. We’ve seen the best figures for foreign direct investment for 30 years. We’ve got investment projects the length and breadth of Wales that have brought many, many jobs into Wales—and, importantly, high skilled jobs as well; not jobs that are here because wage rates are low.”
– First Minister, Carwyn Jones (Lab, Bridgend)

Adam turned attention to the Welsh Government’s reluctance to reveal how much public money has been provided to Aston Martin, or confirm that they’ve underwritten some of the company’s debts: “The company has put more information into the public domain than the government”.

To that, the First Minister said you can’t work with businesses if you reveal everything about a deal. Aston Martin was also impressed by the Welsh Government’s “passion and professionalism”.

A Complex Issue

Answering a question from Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) on mental health services in the criminal justice system, the First Minister said more money has been made available to Police & Crime Commissioners to provide mental health services (which are devolved, even if criminal justice isn’t).

The causes, of course, go a bit deeper than that:

“Clearly, there’s a link between drug abuse and mental health problems, and from research I’ve looked at today it would cost about £500 million to deal with drug-related crime for the individuals involved here….Now, I know we don’t have power over criminal justice in Wales….so what are you doing to target resources at those who are dependent on drugs?”
– Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West)

The First Minister described it as a “complex issue”; suppliers and dealers are criminals, user are victims. Naxolone – which reverses heroin overdoses – is provided to prisoners when released and he pointed to a substance abuse strategy.

Video: The First Minister outlines why he prefers a new UK General Election over a “People’s Vote” on Brexit

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