FMQs: Welsh worries over Honda announcement

Another week, another arm’s length body

Following weeks of criticism from all quarters of Natural Resources Wales and other arm’s length bodies, Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), turned his attention to Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW) and whether it was actually arm’s length enough.

“We have seen a number of high-profile cases of serious failings in care at health boards in NHS Wales, from the Kris Wade scandal at Abertawe Bro Morgannwg, to the serious safety concerns at maternity services at Cwm Taf, and the horrific failings at Tawel Fan. Even though HIW raised concerns about all of these terrible failings, it did not have the power to intervene when it needed to without first seeking permission from your Minister.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM

The First Minister said HIW was “doing a very fine job”. However, the Welsh Government intends to bring forward a Bill dealing with the role HIW undertakes. He didn’t accept at all the Conservative leader’s argument that HIW’s independence was compromised by its relations with the government.

Paul then brought up budget cuts at HIW, but the First Minister in turn blamed UK Government austerity.

Honda & Wales

Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr), turned to today’s announcement that Honda will close its Swindon plant by 2021, potentially affecting twelve Welsh companies in the supply chain – including Tredegar’s G-Tekt, Mitsui in Ammanford and Merthyr’s Kasai. This was on top of recent redundancy announcements in the Welsh automotive sector at Ford and Schaeffler. What assessment has been made of the effect on Wales of Honda’s announcement?

While the First Minister didn’t mention “the B-word”, he accepted it was lurking in the background:

“…..Adam Price is absolutely right to point to the significance of the automotive sector here in Wales – around 150 companies employing around 19,000 people. And Brexit is there in the background to this succession of announcements…..When I met, with (Economy Minister) Ken Skates, with the most senior officers of the Ford here in the UK, they pointed to the importance of the single market and to non-tariff and tariff barriers. They pointed even more to the impact of Brexit on movement of workers and their ability to move staff easily and quickly across borders.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

If Brexit was such a problem, Adam Price continued, then surely if there’s no way to secure some sort of deal then the only option is a second referendum. The First Minister told him it was a case of holding our nerve and hoping the deadlock in the UK Parliament can be broken.

Upskilling Community Councils

Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) asked about a recent Welsh Government review of community councils. She said it was important community councils were held properly accountable for the money they raise and spend, following a recent Wales Audit Office report.

“The report by the Auditor General, of course, has also highlighted the fact that the number of qualified audit opinions has doubled in 2017-18, and we now have 340 councils that that applies to. There are many recommendations in that report. In Aberconwy, we’ve currently got a situation of dismay that a community council in Penmaenmawr has spent over £100,000-worth of reserves over a three-year period, causing much concern, especially when some of the councillors on that council don’t know how this money is being spent.”
– Janet Finch-Saunders AM

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) added that one of the auditor’s recommendations was for a pool of suitably qualified clerks to support community councils. Many smaller councils find it a struggle to find the right people.

The First Minister said that of the 340 councils mentioned, most of the incidents were minor such as missed deadlines. He supported community councils sending clerks to receive the most up-to-date training, which the Welsh Government will release funding for through One Voice Wales.

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