FMQs: Natural Resources Fails

The Leader of the House, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West), was filling in for the First Minister this afternoon.

“Without due regard for taxpayers money”

The Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) went straight to the Public Accounts Committee report – published yesterday – on Natural Resource Wales’ (NRW) accounts for 2017-18.

“….we have an institution here in Wales that is operating without giving due regard to legal frameworks or taxpayers’ money. As you know, NRW is responsible for a catalogue of failings that have grave outcomes for the sustainable management of Wales’s resources. Not only have the body’s accounts been qualified for three of the five years of its operation, but it’s also lost £1 million of public money to the taxpayer.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM

Did the Leader of the House still believe NRW was fit for purpose?

Of course she did. There were changes on the way at management level and tinkering with how NRW operates will add further pressure.

Paul then said the Leader of the House wasn’t accepting the scale of the problem – namely, that NRW was failing to learn from its mistakes. It raises concerns over the Welsh Government’s ability to manage public services, with problems at Betsi Cadwaladr and 19 schools in special measures.

Julie James wanted to focus on the good – NRW’s recently acclaimed response to Storm Callum – and reiterated that the new management needed time to bed in.

Privatisation by stealth?

Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) asked whether it was still Welsh Government policy – outlined by the First Minister in 2011- to phase out the use of the private sector in the NHS? The Leader of the House said it was.

Adam then raised a recent Wales Audit Office report on radiology:

“….one area where targets are currently being met is in radiology but this is because health boards are increasingly outsourced to the private sector….in response to what (the Auditor General) describes as difficulties with recruitment and retention of staff, outdated and insufficient scanning equipment, along with IT weaknesses within the NHS. Isn’t what is happening….a policy of privatisation by stealth as a sticking plaster to mask longer-term structural problems within the Welsh NHS?”
– Adam Price AM

Adam told the chamber that spending on private contractors by the NHS had risen to £38.5million last year, up from £11million in 2011. That wasn’t how you build a sustainable NHS; you invest in the equipment and staff.

Julie James “couldn’t disagree more”. Private contractors were only used on a case-by-case basis and the opposition would be critical if they weren’t used to provide cover to ensure a free at the point of use service was delivered during periods of difficulty.

Medicinal Cannabis

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) brought up recent changes to UK law which will enable unlicenced cannabis-derived drugs to be prescribed by doctors where there’s a clinical need. She asked if this could be expanded.

“Sativex is only licensed for the treatment of spasticity, and then it’s only available to a small group of people living with MS who meet the criteria. Now that the legislation’s been changed, can the Welsh NHS make medicinal cannabis available to everyone who would benefit from it, or do we need to continue to hang on the coat-tails of NHS England?”
– Leanne Wood AM

The Leader of the House said there were up to 21 drugs being developed with some cannabis-derived ingredient, but it was appropriate to wait for full testing and that would be better led at a UK-level seeing as control of drugs is non-devolved.

Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) then weighed in about the “irresponsible behaviour” of PCC Arfon Jones (Plaid, North Wales Police) and his visits to cannabis clubs in London, which “promote illegal activity”.

Julie James didn’t consider it relevant to the question.

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