FMQs: Newport bypass decision delayed until after by-election

Newport bypass decision put on hold

Starting off, the Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), asked how long we could expect for a decision or recommendation to be made regarding the Newport bypass?

“Well, as the Member knows, advice has been published. That makes it clear to me that a decision on the M4 relief road is captured by the civil service rules of purdah….the Government is unable, prevented by the right-and-proper rules, from making an announcement that could have an impact upon a local by-election of that sort. So there will be no announcement formally. I am unable to make any announcement, until that by-election is concluded (on April 5th).”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

Paul wasn’t happy; it was “one excuse after another”. Labour have dithered on the issue for 20 years and despite spending £44million on the public inquiry, we’re still waiting for a commitment. He called on the First Minister to share the report as soon as possible.

The First Minister stuck to his guns and wasn’t going to budge; he’s bound by purdah rules. He did, however, maintain that the Senedd will get a binding vote on the project at the appropriate time.

Poverty and place

Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) brought up the First Minister’s recent speech to the Scottish Labour conference in which he said class rather than geography was the most powerful factor in shaping lives. Then why was it that:

“….life expectancy is falling in Wales faster than anywhere else, indeed, faster than anywhere else in Western Europe? To depart from the language of a seminar here, let’s spell out what that actually means: the chances of a child born today….in Wales living to the age of 90 are significantly lower than they are in England. Will you accept that this now represents a full-scale public health crisis here in Wales?”
– Adam Price AM

Adam said there were a string of public health problems: diabetes cases higher than anywhere else in the UK and 8% of the population in Gwent, there was last week’s Health Committee report on physical activity amongst children and 27% of three-and-four-year olds were either overweight or obese. He accused the Welsh Government of not treating it with a sense of urgency, with commitments – like changes to the curriculum – earmarked for 2022 and later.

The First Minister urged caution in the interpretation of life expectancy figures; the fall was very recent. There was only so much the government and NHS could be blamed for on this when the wider issue was poverty and the impact that has on diet and exercise.

“….we are not waiting for particular events in order to make a difference. We’re already doing things. The Active Travel Act 2013 passed by this Assembly makes a difference every day to the chances that children can walk or cycle to school. The actions that we are taking in the food field to try to make sure that those families that need the most help to make sure that they are able to access the type of diet that they need, to provide families with the skills they need in order to prepare food that is good for the long-term health of their children those are programmes that are happening in Wales today.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford

Narrowing the gap between haves and have-nots

John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) said that a person’s social class will determine a number of life outcomes from birth until death including education, health, life expectancy and job security; those born in lower income groups were disadvantaged, so what were the Welsh Government doing to create a fairer Wales?

The First Minister said more equal societies promote better economic chances; he cited the fact that Japanese women born today will live on average to be 100 because the gap between top and bottom in Japanese society was narrower. It was important to start early:

“….here in Wales, we are determined, as part of our Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015, to create that more equal Wales, and that does mean, as John Griffiths has said, investing in those earliest years, those first 1,000 days of a child’s life, because of the way that that goes on making a difference to the rest of the life course.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford

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