FMQs: Call for investigation into possible Ministerial Code breach

Public procurement “not fit for purpose”

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) focused his attention on the Welsh Government’s public procurement record. In 2017, just £150million was spent through the National Procurement Service (NPS) compared to a target of £1billion. The NPS was even unable to repay a £5.9million Welsh Government loan. Why has NPS failed so badly and why were the Welsh Government “dithering and kicking another decision into the long grass” on its long-term replacement.

The First Minister said public procurement was under review and a slimmed-down NPS was one part of that, but he rejected “dreary old tropes”:

“Well, it’s a dreary old trope that the Member offers us week after week. I can assure Members that the review of the NPS has been led by the people who use that service….We do that precisely in order to make sure that local economies are able to take advantage of public procurement, as we move to a situation where it is not the cheapest price, but the greatest value in the round for public expenditure that we get from the £6 billion worth of public expenditure that is carried out in this way each year.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

Did Dafydd Elis-Thomas breach the Ministerial Code?

Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinwfwr) brought up the recent row over the appointment of a new head of the National Library, particularly whether the post-holder had to be a Welsh-speaker:

“….it’s become apparent that the (Deputy Minister for Culture, Dafydd-Elis Thomas) has opposed making Welsh language a requirement for the post of national librarian, contrary to your own government’s policy. E-mails between the Welsh Government and the national library….confirm that the Government had tried to make a deal in terms of the national broadcast archive, to bring pressure to bear on the library authorities not to make the Welsh language a requirement for the post.”
– Adam Price AM

A month later, the money for the broadcast archive was in the balance (though an agreement has since been reached). Did this “inappropriate influence” constitute a breach of the Ministerial Code and Nolan Principles on Public Life?

The First Minister disagreed and using snippets of telephone conversations didn’t count as evidence. It was all OK because it turned out fine in the end. He said we need to look at what we now have – a national librarian who’s a fluent Welsh-speaker and a new broadcasting archive. That was more powerful testimony, while Adam Price was “only recognising the weeds of the matter, not the substance”.

Social media companies responsible for clamping down on abuse of women online

This afternoon was also an opportunity for AMs to put questions to Deputy Minister without portfolio, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan).

Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) raised the issue of abuse of women online. A recent review found that female politicians were disproportionate targets for such abuse, which she said was cowardly and detrimental to efforts to encourage women into public life.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) later described it as an “epidemic” and something she has personal experience of – though research suggests it now affects younger women to a greater extent than older women. Did the government agree that it should be recorded as a form of gender-based abuse?

The Deputy Minister said it was critical social media companies were properly held to account and she would tell the UK Ministers responsible to properly engage with them as it’s a non-devolved matter; “We cannot afford to let the bullies win” and the Welsh Government’s position is that abuse of candidates and holders of public office was intolerable, as was intimidation of voters.

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