FMQs: “Not too long” (but no date) until M4 Newport bypass decision

Waiting is the hardest part

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) asked when a decision was due on the Newport M4 bypass.

“It’s quite clear that, despite £44 million of taxpayers’ money being spent on the inquiry into solutions for the M4 relief road, the details are now gathering dust on your desk, First Minister, given that it has been months since the report was published. Your Government is continuing to drag its heels on finding a viable solution, and the uncertainty that this is creating is hurting Welsh businesses and is damaging investment.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM

The First Minister understood the frustration of AMs that a decision hasn’t been taken sooner, but the inspector’s report is still being worked on by Welsh Government officials. He expects “the right legal advice” to be with him before too long. He won’t give any further answers without that advice in front of him.

He wasn’t happy at being accused by the Tories of dithering when scores of infrastructure projects in Wales have been cancelled by their party.

First Minister “won’t be drawn into speculation” on senior civil servant’s future

Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr), brought up Martin Shipton’s exclusive last week that the head of the civil service in Wales, Shan Morgan, has been asked to stand down.

He said either the story’s true – in which case the Permanent Secretary has grounds for constructive dismissal – or it’s not and it’s a deliberate attempt to undermine here. Which was the case? Was this, instead of being a “Night of the Long Knives”, a “Night of the Short Memories?”

There was a flat denial from the First Minister; nothing to see here:

“I’m not going to be drawn into speculation about how other people may have come across information they think they have and so on. What I will do is simply report the direct conversations that I have had with the individual that the Member has named, and I give him this assurance absolutely that the things that he has read in the newspaper have never once arisen in any conversation that I have had with the Permanent Secretary….”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

Administrative devolution of welfare

In what seems to be a shift in Welsh Government policy, Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore), asked for an update on the administrative devolution of welfare. He thought it would better align with government priorities on poverty – though best done with due diligence and due care.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) was pleased by the shift in policy tone and austerity was asked for the Welsh Government to learn lessons from how the SNP have mitigated against Westminster-led austerity through welfare administration powers.

David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) struck a more cautious tone:

“….since 1945, the social contract that’s been the bedrock of the welfare state is that a citizen has a direct relationship with the state for a level of economic security and, no matter where he or she lives in the United Kingdom, they have the same basic economic rights to benefits. If we mess about with this principle, we could end up breaking that consensus we currently enjoy and that sustains a welfare state.”
– David Melding AM

The First Minister confirmed that the case for administrative devolution will be explored further and committee work will feed into that. There were already a number of areas that could be considered welfare-related where the Welsh Government has taken action in relation to council tax (council tax benefit, absolving care leavers from paying council tax and removing the penalty of imprisonment for non-payment).

In response to Leanne Wood, he believed there was much to learn from the Scottish experience.

The First Minister didn’t want to see a break-up of the welfare system with different payments in different parts of the UK, it was more about the system itself and how it was delivered on the ground.

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