FMQs: Natural Resources Wales defended despite awful forestry creation figures


NRW “not up to the task”

Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) turned attention to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) ahead of a debate on a Public Accounts Committee report later this week.

The evidence was clear; the merger of three organisations to create NRW was flawed.

“….as we heard yesterday from the chief executive of NRW, no-one on the current board has either knowledge or experience in timber or forestry. Grant Thornton referred to a merged entity without a single organisational culture and an isolated forestry function beset by serious failings including poor governance, poor people management, poor budgeting and an audit culture that was not so much dilatory as entirely non-existent….do you also accept your share of the blame in creating a board that was simply not up to the task?”
– Adam Price AM

The First Minister accepted the NRW board needed strengthening and those changes are being made.

Adam asked why, then, had these desperately needed changes taken so long (six years and four reports)? NRW was only planting 10% of the desired forest creation target. The Welsh Government stopped publishing annual “Woodland for Wales” reports and we know the reason why.

The First Minister again accepted forest creation targets hadn’t been met, though he was personally committed to addressing that; one of his Labour leadership pledges was to create a national forest.

Funding crisis in Welsh schools?

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) asked whether the First Minister agreed with the Association of College and School Lecturers that there was a funding crisis in Welsh schools?

The First Minister said any cuts were the result of austerity forced on the Welsh Government by the UK Government; Wales would have had an additional £880million to spend if it wasn’t for the Conservatives.

Paul wasn’t having any of it:

“First Minister, you need to stop giving excuses and start taking responsibility. You are responsible for education here in Wales and….according to the NASUWT, we know that pupils in Wales receive £645 less per head than pupils in England, and schools in Wales are facing a collective shortfall of £291 million in their budgets, and £450 million of education funding never reaches the classroom.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM

The First Minister reminded AMs that the Welsh Conservatives said they would find money to fund their manifesto pledges from the education budget. The Institute for Fiscal Studies concluded the schools funding gap between Wales and England has narrowed to “the point where it barely exists”.

Improving young people’s mental health

David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) highlighted a trial involving 370 English schools to test different approaches to mental health. England will also be introducing mental health education from 2020 – something the Samaritans have called for in Wales.

The First Minister was keen to learn lessons:

“11,558 children benefited from school counselling in the last year for which we have figures. And anything that we are able to share with others, from our experience, we are very keen to do. But, equally, it’s always seemed to me that the sensible approach to devolution is to regard it….as a form of living laboratory in which experiments that are carried out elsewhere are available to us all, to draw any learning.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) reminded the chamber that the Welsh Youth Parliament picked mental health as their top priority, while Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) spoke of the virtues of community-based mental health projects which could be rolled out across Wales.

The First Minister accepted the voice of young people with mental health problems isn’t being listened to as it should and there’ll be something to learn from the Youth Parliament on this. In response to Huw, the First Minister said different levels of mental health need will require different levels of response, drawing comparisons with physical illness – a cold might only need over-the-counter medicines while pneumonia will put you in hospital.

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