Review of the Year 2019

(Title Image: pixabay.com, copyright free)

The draft Welsh budget for 2020-21 is due to be published next Monday but, after writing about 780 separate articles across all three sites this year, I think you can forgive me for leaving it until January. Once the election’s out of the way I don’t even want to look at the news for the next three weeks. Politics can do one.

January

2019 got off to the worst possible start with news of the death of Plaid Cymru AM Steffan Lewis from bowel cancer aged just 34. Plaid leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) leads tributes, calling him “the nation’s perfect son”.

The then UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, saw her Withdrawal Agreement voted down three times by MPs over the coming months in some of the heaviest ever defeats for a sitting UK Government. She survived a no-confidence vote on January 16th.

Elsewhere, Hitachi halted work on the Wylfa Newydd nuclear plant, the Welsh budget was approved despite concerns over perceived bias in local government settlements and the Health Minister announced a £50million investment in NHS IT systems following a scathing Public Accounts Committee report.

February

Plans for a new Welsh Language Bill – which would’ve seen the Welsh Language Commissioner scrapped – are dropped.

Another Bill – the Senedd & Elections Bill – was introduced to implement several electoral reforms including votes at 16, changing the National Assembly’s name and disqualifying councillors from double-jobbing as AMs. The Bill was passed in November after a long wrangle over whether the Senedd should be known by a Welsh-only or bilingual name; the latter eventually being agreed.

The Senedd called for additional measures to uphold the Active Travel Act following stalled progress on getting people out of their cars. There would be sporadic boosts in funding throughout the year for walking and cycling schemes across Wales.

March

With the original Brexit Day of 31st March approaching, Theresa May was forced to seek an extension – firstly to April 12th, then 22nd May and 31st October – after MPs voted to take control of the Brexit process. This meant the UK would take part in 2019’s European Parliament elections.

The High Court rules that former First Minister, Carwyn Jones, unlawfully interfered in the rule-setting process for a QC-led inquiry into the death of Carl Sargeant. His successor, Mark Drakeford, ordered an independent review which resulted in minimal changes.

A Bill was tabled which will eventually outlaw smacking. AMs backed a call for international observers to visit an imprisoned Kurdish leader at the start of a 161-day hunger strike by Newport resident, Imam Sis, which ended in May when Turkey acquiesced.

There were angry scenes when the First Minister was accused of being “either a liar or a fool” on Labour’s confused second Brexit referendum stance – a stance which would cause Labour problems throughout 2019.

 

(Source: Huffington Post)

 

April

A little bit of history was made as Wales set a partial rate of income tax from 6th April – the Welsh Government promising no changes until 2021 at least; though there were concerns over a lack of public awareness.

Health board deficits were revealed to stand at £100million, despite a 42% fall over the last financial year. Steel industry worries began to resurface in 2019, starting with a proposed sale of the Trostre works in Llanelli. After a year-long on-off investigation, UKIP’s Gareth Bennett was finally taken to task for a sexist video featuring a Labour AM.

The flagship Welsh Baccalaureate was picked out for criticism by the Children & Young People’s Committee due to poor delivery by some schools. Later in the year, the Education Minister ordered a review of some elements of the qualification.

May

Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), survives a no-confidence vote following a damning report on maternity services at Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board, which were placed into special measures.

Events were held throughout 2019, beginning in May, to mark the 20th anniversary of devolution. The European Parliament elections saw the Conservatives and Labour routed, with Plaid finishing second in Wales and the Brexit Party finishing top of the polls – days after four UKIP and Independent AMs formed a Brexit Party group in the Senedd.

After announcing her intention to stand down, Theresa May triggers a Tory leadership election. Elsewhere, the Senedd declares a “climate emergency” following increasing public protest against a lack of government action on climate change.

May also saw the first large-scale march in support of Welsh independence in Cardiff, which was attended by an estimated 3,000 people. Further marches would take place in Caernarfon and Merthyr Tydfil over the summer.

June

Ford announced its Bridgend engine plant would close in September 2020, prompting the Welsh Government to set up a specialist task force. Also, after years of wrangling the First Minister officially scrapped a proposed £1.6billion M4 Newport bypass on cost and environmental grounds.

The Welsh Government’s response to a highly-critical committee report on exercise amongst children and young people is described as “highly disappointing” as the government rules out minimum PE teaching hours to help combat obesity.

Elsewhere, a Bill was introduced which will scrap Community Health Councils and replace it with a new Citizens Voice body – though the independence of the new organisation is questioned from the start.

 

(Source: Sky News)

 

July

Theresa May resigns as UK Prime Minister and is replaced by arch-Leaver, Boris Johnson.

Deputy Economy Minister, Lee Waters, is ridiculed on social media for saying successive Welsh governments “don’t know what we’re doing on the economy”. The Senedd backs a call – in light of the Cwm Taf scandal – for NHS managers to be held accountable in the same way as medical staff, while a Bill is introduced to ban the use of wild animals in circus performances.

A formal verdict of suicide is returned at Carl Sargeant’s coroner’s inquest, with the Welsh Government issued a “prevention of future deaths” report following evidence over the lack of support offered to ministers when dismissed from office. The Coroner also concluded that former First Minister, Carwyn Jones, gave contradictory evidence over pastoral care offered to Mr Sargeant.

August

Welsh students achieved a record proportion of top A-level grades – outperforming most of England – and also saw an improved performances at GCSE level.

The Chief Executive of the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board resigned on August 22nd after being placed on sick leave following the maternity service scandal. It was also announced that the closure of Aberthaw power station will be brought forward to March 2020.

September

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, attempts to force through Brexit by proroguing/suspending the UK Parliament, prompting the Senedd to be recalled from summer recess to have their say. A majority of AMs condemned the move as a “constitutional outrage”. The UK Supreme Court eventually rules the prorogation unlawful.

The renewed steel crisis continued, with the proposed closure of Newport’s Orb works, while TATA would later announce 3,000 job losses from its European arm by March 2021 – with 1,000 of those set to come from the UK.

The UK Government officially rules out devolving air passenger duty to Wales (in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland) over the possible impact on Bristol Airport.

The Welsh Government unveils its draft international strategy, while concerns are raised about a lack of toilets on new South Wales Metro tram-trains. The Senedd’s Communities Committee controversially recommended voting rights be extended to prisoners serving sentences of 4 years or less, and a Minister says it could happen by 2022.

The hostile atmosphere in modern politics was demonstrated at Senedd level with both Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) and Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly) being censured for using vulgar language on social media.

 

(Source: Irish Times)

 

October

The Thomas Commission reports back, recommending (to nobody’s surprise) that the criminal justice system should be devolved to Wales following a catalogue of systemic failures. The Welsh Government also publish papers supporting a “Remain and Reform” stance on Brexit as well as reforms to the UK – though it may all be too little, too late.

It was confirmed that a controversial rise in the age of eligibility for free bus passes to the state pension age won’t come into force until 2022, after the Transport for Wales website crashes under the weight of applications for replacement passes.

The Welsh Government announces plans to ban the ten most commonly-used single-use plastics, while the Health Minister launches an anti-obesity strategy (without any targets).

With the October 31st Brexit deadline looming, Boris Johnson reaches an agreement with the EU on a tweaked Withdrawal Agreement which removes the Northern Irish “backstop”. A snap UK general election was called after the Prime Minister fails to get MPs to agree to his three-day timetable to enshrine the new Withdrawal Agreement in law. Brexit is subsequently extended to January 31st 2020.

November

The (then) Welsh Secretary, Alun Cairns, resigns after misleading the public over his knowledge of the deliberate collapse of a rape trial by a former aide and (still current) Senedd Conservative candidate, Ross England.

The Senedd’s independent Standards Commissioner also resigned after being secretly recorded by Neil McEvoy AM (Ind, South Wales Central) making off-colour remarks. The recordings did, however, also include confidential information relating to at least one of three investigations into the AM. The matter was referred to the Acting Standards Commissioner, Douglas Bain.

AMs approved regulations which will see a 50p-per-litre minimum price for alcohol introduced in March 2020. After passing Senedd & Elections Bill, electoral reforms are set to be extended to local government through the tabling of a new Local Government Bill – though compulsory council mergers are formally ruled out.

December

PISA test results for 2018 showed a marked improvement in Welsh scores in reading, mathematics and science, near enough reaching the OECD average – but Wales lags behind the rest of the UK.

The Welsh Government also rejects a Plaid Cymru motion calling for the devolved legislatures to have a veto on post-Brexit trade deals, with the government preferring a seat at the table during negotiations instead.

Although all things point towards the Conservatives winning the snap UK election, maybe 2019 has one last twist left (though probably not)….

Top Posts of 2019

In keeping with the end-of-year tradition, here are 2019’s most-read posts at each of the three sites under the Oggy Bloggy Ogwr umbrella.

Senedd Home

1. “Under-powered parliament”: Support for cross-party work on increasing the number of AMs
2. Creative Wales “coming soon” as AMs debate film & TV inquiry
3. Tory AM calls for “strong government response” to community council declarations supporting independence
4. Arguments over the need for an Autism Bill linger on
5. Jac in the Fart Box
6. Green-coloured free bus passes need to be replaced before the end of 2019
7. Welsh Government “left with no choice” but to ask to extend the life of Pacers
8. Thomas Commission: Justice should be devolved to Wales
9. Free school meal eligibility criteria to change from April
10. Can the Welsh Government’s plan save the Union?

State of Wales

1. Could a Celtic Union work?
2. What might party politics look like in an independent Wales?
3. 20 @ 20: Devolution’s 20 Biggest Failures
4. The Welsh Media XI: The Press, Journalism & Independence
5. The Welsh Media I: Wales in the Media
6. 20 @ 20: Devolution’s 20 Biggest Achievements
7. Five Steps to Independence
8. Euro Election 2019: Results & Analysis
9. Radical Wales: Free Public Transport
10. The Welsh Media III: Where are people getting their news?

Oggy Bloggy Ogwr

1. Bridgenders Behaving Badly: How Bridgend Council intends to deal with ill-mannered residents
2. Council and regional consortium step in at primary school
3. Feasibility study to find a solution to Pencoed level crossing issues
4. Bridgend wins right to host world-class dog show
5. Sorting Out Singletons: What are the options?
6. Public searches for a deeper meaning behind graffiti message
7. Details of Brexit public information campaign leaked
8. Sunnyside development approved by councillors
9. Taxi drivers set to face “The Bridgend Knowledge” from November 2019
10. Major shake-up of Bridgend council wards proposed

There’s still some work to do at State of Wales and Oggy Bloggy Ogwr over the next few days, but Senedd Home returns w/c 6th January 2020.

All that’s left is to wish all readers Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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