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Politics

​​Budget agreement could be the last​

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Deal secures whole of budget: Mark Drakeford

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT and Plaid Cymru have agreed a ​two-year, £210m Budget agreement.

The deal includes ensuring no cuts to the Supporting People grant​,​ £15m to improve vital north and south links on the A487 and A470​,​ and a £40m boost for mental health funding over ​two years.

There is an extra £20m-a-year for higher and further education and £6m for a young farmers’ grant scheme over ​two years.

There is additional funding for the Welsh language; for Wales to deal with the impact of Brexit, including support for businesses and for music in schools. The agreement builds on the one struck between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru last year.

It also includes:

  • ​A £7m development fund for undergraduate medical training in North Wales
  • £2m to remove the tolls on the Cleddau bridge in Pembrokeshire in 2019-20
  • £3m to support the design and development of a third Menai bridge crossing
  • ​A further £2m for the secretariat and investment support for a new ‘Arfor’ economic region in west Wales

Welsh Government Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said: “We are pleased we have been able to agree this ​two-year deal with Plaid Cymru, which secures the whole of our Budget.

“This agreement builds on the one reached between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru last year and includes a series of recurrent allocations for the Welsh language, arts, end-of-life-care, mental health, higher education and Visit Wales.

“We have also been able to agree capital funding to take forward the new integrated healthcare centre in Cardigan and the results of the feasibility studies into a national art gallery and football museum in North Wales, which were agreed as part of last year’s agreement.”

Adam Price, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for finance, business and the economy, said: “This is a Budget Agreement that will deliver for people and communities in all parts of Wales.

“It protects the vulnerable, invests in our young, and innovates for all our futures. This is a pan-Wales budget agreement, from the Cleddau to the Menai from Wrexham to the Rhondda, from culture to agriculture, from energy and transport to education and health – new ideas for a new Wales.”

In an effort to deflect from the idea that Labour had made concessions to Plaid Cymru, and after the announcement of the Budget agreement, Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said in a BBC Wales interview that there was nothing in the Budget that Labour would not have delivered and that Plaid’s support was a matter of Assembly arithmetic.

And if that appeared more than a tad graceless, the brittle nature of any accord was underlined when Adam Price pointed out that Plaid had not managed to obtain everything it had wanted, including an agreement on tuition fees and public sector pay, and commented: “This is Labour’s budget and it will have to answer to the people of Wales as to why it is failing to deliver on its manifesto commitments such as lifting the pay cap and stopping the rise in tuition fees.

“Plaid Cymru secured a deal that would deliver benefits to communities in every part of Wales. Our budget deal will mean investment in the things that matter to people, including employing 80 new district nurses, £40m for improving mental health services, an additional £40m for our universities and colleges, a Brexit Preparedness Fund for businesses, a young farmers’ entrant’s scheme and a major £3​m investment in a power station for our steel industry.

“But we are frustrated that the Labour government failed to implement important policy matters such as the pay cap and rising tuition fees, particularly as they were commitments made in Labour’s 2017 manifesto. Indeed, what is not included in this budget has made the void between Plaid Cymru and Labour more and more apparent and has made future co-operation between the parties more and more unlikely.

“We will be robustly scrutinising the details of this budget when they are announced, and we will hold the Labour government to account on the decisions it takes.”

The Conservative Party in Wales attacked the agreement.

Andrew RT Davies, said: “This budget deal is the latest charade in the Plaid-Labour love-affair and significantly sees both parties break a number of election promises to the people of Wales.

“Despite the well-publicised vows to the electorate only three months ago and being in government in Wales, the Labour Party has once again failed to take any action on public sector pay or tuition fees.”

All in all, the draft Budget seems to be a document with few close friends, even among those responsible for its content; while the Conservatives are yet to put forward any positive alternatives instead of criticising from the side-lines and carping at Plaid Cymru.

Margaret Thomas, UNISON Cymru Wales Secretary, said: “The Welsh Government is being creative in their budgeting in order to protect public services across Wales.

“UNISON welcomes the additional funding for the NHS in Wales, as well as the pledge to build more affordable homes.

“We are also pleased to hear plans around additional childcare. The majority of UNISON members are women, many work part-time, and we know women still fulfil most of the child care responsibilities in the home – so this will hopefully be of great benefit to them.

“We also recognise the Cabinet Secretary’s attempt to protect Welsh local government budgets and offer a more favourable settlement than in England.

“But the point must be made that this innovative budgeting will not protect our essential public services from further drastic UK government imposed cuts to the Welsh Government block grant, anticipated in their Autumn Statement.

“This budget comes at a time of unprecedented austerity. Public services should be properly invested in, and Wales deserves to be properly funded.​ ​The fact also remains that public sector workers across Wales, and the rest of the UK, have already suffered ​seven, long​,​ hard years of pay restraint.”

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Politics

New Year’s messages from party leaders

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Leanne Wood: Wales needs powers to tackle its own problems

Andrew RT Davies

AS ASSEMBLY Members we have the privilege of being in a position to make a meaningful difference to the lives of the people of Wales.

My New Year’s resolution will be to carry that mantra into 2018, and concentrate on the things that bring us together rather than things that drive us apart.

As a country we are often accused of looking at our feet rather than at the horizon. Let’s make 2018 the year that we challenge that narrative and look ahead to the opportunities in front of us.

New Year’s Day is a hopeful time, as we mark the passing of one year and look ahead to a healthier and happy new one.

It is a time of positivity, and a time to be open to change.

2017 was a difficult year in so many ways. Yet it was in the very depths of adversity that we witnessed the best of human nature – and the true strength of community spirit.

The Assembly itself also witnessed great tragedy, but we have to continue to look forward and reach for the more positive future that’s just around the corner.

Above all, we must remember that in spite of our political differences there is much that binds us together.

There are huge opportunities ahead for this country and there will be times when our ability to come together will serve the people of Wales far better than working in isolation.

Wishing everyone across Wales and the United Kingdom the very best for 2018.

Carwyn Jones

AS the year draws to a close, it is a good time to reflect on the events of the last 12 months and look ahead to the year to come.

2018 offers us new opportunities and a chance to build on the progress we have made this year, and over the past two decades of devolution.

There are certainly challenges and uncertainty ahead, but many reasons for optimism too. I look forward to my ministerial team and I driving forward our ambitious plans for Wales – focusing on growing the economy, creating jobs, supporting our public services and improving the day-to-day lives of the people of Wales.

I want 2018 to be a year that unites us – a year in which we celebrate all we have in common and work together to build the fair, open, prosperous nation that we all want Wales to become.

I wish you and your families a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

Leanne Wood

PEOPLE here in Wales face many problems and challenges which cannot be solved by our National Assembly because of its limited powers and because its current Labour government lacks the necessary will and ambition to get those powers.

Neither can our problems be solved by Westminster, where the concerns of Wales are an afterthought at best. I very much hope that 2018 will be the year where we collectively conclude that only people in Wales can solve the problems this country faces.

As the political landscape changes alongside our relationships within the UK and Europe, as people in countries like Catalonia and Scotland push for self-government to have more control over the decisions that affect them, we have the chance for 2018 to be the year that people here consider how we in Wales can be empowered to tackle more of our problems for ourselves.

While the other parties may be content for many big decisions to be taken on our behalf in London, Plaid Cymru believes that decisions are best made by those who are directly affected by them. Plaid Cymru therefore believes also in further devolution within Wales.

My team and I will be dedicating time in 2018 to be in open consultation with people right throughout the country about how we can make the most of the opportunity devolution has given us to practice a different kind of politics, how we can extend and deepen our autonomy to develop a real alternative to the mess that Westminster has to offer.

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Politics

Mandy Jones sworn in as AM

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Taking office: UKIP's Michelle Brown AM (L) welcomes new AM Mandy Jones

MANDY JONES has been returned as an Assembly Member for the North Wales region following the resignation of Nathan Gill.

Mr Gill, whose sporadic attendance at the Assembly had become a running sore, resigned just before Christmas.

When a regional Assembly seat becomes vacant, the Llywydd informs the Regional Returning Officer for the relevant region.

Where the seat was vacated by a Member who was elected at an Assembly general election from a list of candidates submitted by a political party, the Regional Returning Officer is required to contact the next candidate on the list submitted at the time of the general election by that political party.

Once the Regional Returning Officer has established that the person is able and willing to serve, the Regional Returning Officer informs the Llywydd of the name of the person.

When the Llywydd receives notification of the name, that person becomes an Assembly Member. However, he or she cannot undertake the work of an Assembly Member until the oath has been taken.

The Regional Returning Officer informed the Llywydd on 27 December 2017 that Mandy Jones is able and willing to serve and was therefore returned as an Assembly Member for the North Wales region on that day.

And, on December 29, Mandy Jones AM was sworn in as the new Assembly Member for North Wales, in a ceremony at the National Assembly’s North Wales Office in Colwyn Bay.

Mrs Jones was accompanied at the ceremony by her family, and fellow UKIP AM for North Wales, Michelle Brown.

Mandy Jones commented: “I am extremely grateful and honoured to have the opportunity to be the Assembly Member for North Wales. I live here, I raised my children here and I promise to serve this region to the best of my ability.

“I will work hard on your behalf by supporting local businesses in delivering good jobs and campaigning for better local health and transport services in north Wales.”

UKIP Wales Leader Neil Hamilton welcomed Mandy Jones to the UKIP Assembly Group stating: “We are looking forward to welcoming our new team member, Mandy Jones into the group. UKIP is stronger with an additional member in the National Assembly and on the front foot in Wales. We are looking forward to 2018, where we will be even more active and vocal, as we continue to stand up for the people of Wales against the cosy Cardiff Bay consensus.”

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Politics

‘Payroll vote’ attacked

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23 on the roll: Carwyn Jones

THE EVER-INCREASING size of the Welsh Government ‘pay-roll vote’ is damaging the effectiveness of democracy in Wales according to the Welsh Conservatives.

Following Carwyn Jones’ last reshuffle, twenty one Labour Assembly Members now hold remunerated positions – be it ministerial, commission or committee chair posts – which currently represents a staggering 75 per cent of the governing party in Wales. In Scotland, the percentage of SNP members in similar paid-up positions is closer to 50 per cent.

The pay-roll vote and democratic deficit intensifies in Wales with the inclusion of Independent AM, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, and Lib Dem AM, Kirsty Williams, as Welsh government ministers.

Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies, has said the ‘bloated’ government pay-roll vote is damaging the heart of democracy in Wales.

He said: “The ever-increasing and bloated size of the Welsh Government ‘pay-roll vote’ is damaging the effectiveness and heart of democracy in Wales.

“As an opposition party, we work around the clock to hold Carwyn Jones and his chaotic government to account, but the Welsh Parliament is unquestionably being harmed by the ever-shrinking voice of genuine backbenchers.

“By bringing three quarters of his Labour members into the ‘paid-up tent’, the First Minister is effectively closing down scrutiny of his actions and those of his government.

“A tired government of 18 years standing and devoid of new ideas is seeking to cover-up its numerous failures by increasing the democratic deficit in Wales – people and communities deserve better and for that we need to start with a fully functioning democracy and smaller government pay-roll.”

‘Welsh Government pay-roll vote’

Labour Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers (12):
Carwyn Jones – First Minister
Ken Skates – Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport
Vaughan Gething – Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services
Huw Irranca-Davies – Minister for Children and Social Care
Mark Drakeford – Cabinet Secretary for Finance
Alun Davies – Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services
Rebecca Evans – Minister for Housing and Regeneration
Lesley Griffiths – Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs
Hannah Blythyn – Minister for Environment
Eluned Morgan – Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning
Julie James – Leader of the House and Chief Whip, with responsibility for digital infrastructure and equalities
Jeremy Miles – Counsel General

Other Welsh Government Ministers (2):
Dafydd Elis Thomas – Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport
Kirsty Williams – Cabinet Secretary for Education

DPO and Committee Chairs (7):
Ann Jones – Deputy Presiding Officer and Chair of Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister
Lynne Neagle – Children, Young People and Education Committee
Mike Hedges – Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee
Mick Antoniw – Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee
John Griffiths – Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee
David Rees – External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee
Jane Bryant – Standards of Conduct Committee

Other roles (2):
Joyce Watson – Commissioner – Equalities and the Commission as the employer of Assembly staff
Julie Morgan – Chair of the All-Wales Programme Monitoring Committee (EU funding oversight)

During the last Assembly term, the scope of the payroll vote was demonstrated when a Labour AM, Jenny Rathbone, was sacked by Carwyn Jones as Chair of the All-Wales PMC for breaching ‘collective responsibility’ by speaking out against a policy decision made by the Welsh Government – despite fulfilling a number of supposedly ‘backbench’ roles such as sitting on Assembly Committees as a Labour representative.

While Mr Davies’ point has merit, in the Westminster parliament the total number of ministers in government posts in June 2017, following the general election and reshuffle of Theresa May’s Government, was 118.

This was the same number as under the Cameron administration in May 2015, but more than all other post-1979 general elections bar 2010.

As a point of comparison, there were sixty government ministers in 1990 and India, with a population of over 1.3bn, has under eighty.

There are nine unpaid ministers in Theresa May’s June 2017 Government.

The Prime Minister is able to invite Ministers to attend Cabinet without making them Cabinet Ministers. There are five people in Theresa May’s June 2017 Government who attend Cabinet without being full Cabinet Ministers.

There is no formal definition of the payroll vote. It is generally considered to refer to all those who hold a role in the administration, whether paid or unpaid. This includes senior roles, as well as more junior roles including Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPSs).

The proportion of Members of the House of Commons who have been part of the payroll vote has varied from 19-22% between 1979 and 2017. More recently, the Conservative Government rigged the Select Committee system, which is supposed to scrutinise the government, by appointing nine members of its payroll vote to select committees.

There have been calls for the size of the payroll vote to be limited.

Most recently, in a 2011 report, the Public Administration Select Committee noted that the proportion of those holding government posts would be exacerbated by the proposed reduction in the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600 following the forthcoming Boundary Review. Their recommendations included cutting the number of PPSs to one per Government Department and that the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 should be seen as imposing a strict limit on paid and unpaid ministers.

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