A WAR of words has broken out between First Minister Carwyn Jones and former Cabinet member Leighton Andrews about allegations that a report into bullying was made by Mr Andrews to the First Minister as long ago as 2014 and that one of the AMs he reported as being a target of adverse briefing was the late Alyn & Deeside AM Carl Sargeant.
Mr Sargeant died in November this year after being dismissed from his Cabinet post.
He was sacked from his post on the basis of allegations about his behaviour that were never put to him.
The First Minister finds himself exposed on the issue, after making a series of pious announcements about how the Welsh Assembly would not cover up allegations of bullying and inappropriate behaviour following a series of allegations about the conduct of senior figures at Westminster.
That position has been progressively unpicked by Mr Andrews in a number of tweets, blog posts and very few media interviews.
And in the Welsh Assembly on Tuesday (Dec 12), Mr Jones’ position was left even more exposed by a dramatic personal statement by Conservative AM Darren Millar.
Mr Millar revealed that when he asked the First Minister questions about bullying in the Welsh Government in 2014, he did so at Mr Sargeant’s request and timed the questions to coincide with Mr Sargeant telling him that a formal complaint of bullying had been made against a special advisor (SPAD) to the Welsh Government.
Mr Jones was not in the Senedd to hear Mr Millar’s statement, having left after fielding First Minister’s questions.
TWO ISSUES UNRAVELLED
The issue of the First Minister’s treatment of Carl Sargeant and the latter’s death have become intertwined with a second issue, namely whether or not the First Minister misled the Assembly when he said – three years ago – no allegations of bullying had been made to him about the conduct of either special advisers or specialist advisers.
This article sets out the way in which both issues wind around themselves and why Carwyn Jones finds himself in jeopardy.
There are currently three investigations ongoing that affect the First Minister directly and indirectly. A further investigation – into allegations made against Carl Sargeant – has been discontinued.
The first investigation is into the way Mr Jones investigated allegations against Mr Sargeant; the second is into whether he misled AMs; the final one is the investigation by HM Coroner into Carl Sargeant’s death. Any one of the outcomes of those investigations have the potential to end Mr Jones’ career in ignominy.
While each of those investigations are hazardous to the First Minister’s political health, if Mr Jones is found to have breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct, there is no way for him to ride out the ensuing storm.
WHAT IS THE MINISTERIAL CODE?
‘Ministers are expected to behave according to the highest standards of constitutional and personal conduct in the performance of their duties’.
The ministerial Code, issued by the First Minister, provides guidance to ministers on how they should act and arrange their affairs in order to uphold these standards. In particular, they are expected to observe the 7 principles of public life and the principles of ministerial conduct. The code applies to Cabinet Secretaries, Ministers and the Counsel General.
WHAT DOES THE CODE SAY?
‘It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to the Assembly, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead the Assembly will be expected to offer their resignation to the First Minister.
‘In particular, the First Minister may also refer matters concerning himself to an Independent Adviser’.
WHY IS CARWYN JONES IN DIFFICULTIES?
In November 2014, Darren Millar AM submitted a Written Assembly Question to the First Minister asking: ‘Has the First Minister ever received any reports or been made aware of any allegations of bullying by special and/or specialist advisers at any time in the past three years and, if so, when and what action, if any, was taken?’
Mr Jones’ answer could not have been more unequivocal: ‘No allegations have been made’.
WHAT IS CARWYN JONES ALLEGED TO HAVE DONE?
Mr Jones’ version of events has been challenged by his former Cabinet colleague Leighton Andrews.
Leighton Andrews says: ‘I made a complaint to the First Minister about one aspect of [deliberate personal undermining of Carl Sargeant], of which I had direct evidence, in the autumn of 2014. An informal investigation was undertaken. I then asked for it to be made formal. I was told it would be. I was never shown the outcome. There was no due process’.
Mr Jones has maintained that no allegations were made, sparking a war of words between himself and Mr Andrews. At First Minister’s questions on December 5, Carwyn Jones came perilously close to calling his former colleague a liar. Mr Andrews responded by publishing a more detailed account of events and invited the First Minister to repeat what he had said in the Senedd without the benefit of Parliamentary Privilege to protect him from legal action.
Mr Jones has, so far, declined Mr Andrews’ invitation.
Now, fuel has been thrown onto the smoking embers under the First Minister.
In a devastating Personal Statement in the Senedd thisTuesday, the Conservative AM Darren Millar revealed that not only had he been asked by the late Carl Sargeant to ask the November 2014 question, but also that Mr Sargeant asked him to delay asking the question until AFTER an allegation of bullying was made to the First Minister against a named SPAD. By way of corroboration, Mr Millar revealed that he had discussed the matter during October and November 2014 with the Conservative Chief Whip, Paul Davies. Mr Millar also said that other AMs were aware of what was going on.
The First Minister’s answer can only be read compatibly with the accounts given by Mr Millar and Mr Andrews if he can claim either that he did not understand the question at the time, or that the question was phrased so as to make his answer entirely truthful without it being in anyway accurate. Mr Jones has suggested that what he calls his ‘lawyerly way’ might have led him into answering the question the way he did, but he has rather undone that suggestion by his subsequent comments attacking others’ accounts.
If the answer cannot be read compatibly with the accounts of his fellow AMs – and it is a significant verbal stretch to perceive how it might be, no matter how ‘lawyerly’ Mr Jones’ way is – then the choices left are stark.
For Mr Jones’ response in November 2014 to hold water he will have to successfully advance the proposition that several other AMs are themselves lying or are/were mistaken. The odds are not in Mr Jones’ favour on that one.
And the alternative position for Mr Jones – that he did not treat complaints as being made formally or that complaints that were made to him were not made in the correct form or format – lays him open to a charge of dealing with Mr Millar’s questions in less than good faith. Moreover, if Mr Jones did not take the allegations seriously because he regarded it as part and parcel of the normal rough and tumble of politics, it runs an absolute coach and horses through the pious approach he took before Mr Sargeant’s death.
Neither proposition, no matter how finessed, lets Carwyn Jones off the hook. The former would instantly end his career as First Minister; the latter would wound him so severely that he would - almost certainly – be persuaded to step down in favour of an alternative leader. In short, and in either of those circumstances, Mr Jones was either a knave or a fool.
WHO KNEW WHAT AND WHEN?
And there is another wrinkle of suspicion that bears consideration: if Mr Sargeant did complain about an over-mighty SPAD, it is open to question whether or not his card was marked. A self-perpetuating club of insiders would not take kindly to having their gilded cages rattled; links are undeniably strong between the national Welsh media and some ministerial special advisers.
That possibility is given some credence by what former Cabinet member Leighton Andrews wrote on his blog.
The Herald contacted Mr Andrews regarding his blog’s content and the First Minister’s remarks regarding bullying. He gave us permission to quote directly from his blog.
‘From discussions with many well-connected individuals over the last few weeks I have been able to piece together the following:
- A Labour AM told the Labour Assembly Group meeting on November 9 that he had been texted by someone he regarded as a reliable source that Carl was to lose his job, before the reshuffle was announced
- A leading Welsh journalist received a text in advance of the reshuffle’s announcement that Carl was to be sacked
- A Welsh Labour MP told another Welsh Labour MP that Carl was to lose his job, before the reshuffle was announced’
Mr Andrews asks the question ‘who leaked?’ The ancillary questions to that are ‘who would benefit from such a leak?’ and ‘what would be such a leak’s purpose?’
A QUESTION OF TIMING
Mr Andrews’ sequence of events is of vital importance.
Mr Sargeant was dismissed as a Cabinet Secretary on November 3 and died on November 7. Two days after that event members of the Labour Assembly Group were told by one of their number that their deceased former colleague’s dismissal was leaked to them before Carl Sargeant was dismissed. Mr Andrews’ allegations that news of Mr Sargeant’s dismissal was currency among Labour MPs beforehand and a journalist was informed would be the toxic icing on a cake.
The reason for that is straightforward: at the time he was dismissed and at the time of his death Mr Sargeant had not been given the details of the allegations made against him by anonymous third parties whose versions of events he was given no opportunity to rebut. The leaking of his dismissal suggests that the case against Mr Sargeant had been judged by the First Minister and a decision made that would take no account of his innocence, guilt, or ability to answer the charges. If, has been alleged, the First Minister had previously dismissed one of the complaints relied upon to sack his ‘dear friend’, questions arise about the First Minister’s competence in deciding the allegations. Most tellingly, it is one of Mr Jones’ SPADs who carried out inquiries for the First Minister into the allegations against Mr Sargeant.
The number of people who would and should have known about both the investigation into Mr Sargeant and the decision to dismiss him would have been passingly small. Mr Jones himself and perhaps a handful of other people. Political circles being notorious hubs for gossip, it would take only one leak for ripples to spread.
There is no doubt that if the First Minister does not know who leaked he is being peculiarly incurious.
At the end of Mr Millar’s statement on Tuesday, a number of prominent Labour members exchanged looks that suggested that their consciences might well now be pricking them into reflecting on what they knew.
Mr Jones’ position has not looked more precarious than it does now and, while some AMs have accused others of seeking to settle political scores, it seems that Mr Millar’s intervention might well prove the one that does for the First Minister.
“Inherently unfair” social care funding needs total overhaul
Moves to top up the pay of self-isolating social care staff in Cardiganshire should be part of a complete overhaul of the “inherently unfair” way the sector is funded.
According to Care Forum Wales, the dysfunctional system had led to chronic underfunding for a quarter of a century with many care homes facing the prospect of financial ruin and the threat of closure while having to deal with the enormous challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The chair, Mario Kreft MBE, spoke out after Health Minister Vaughan Gething announced he is planning to top up the wages of social-care workers forced to self-isolate because of coronavirus.
At the moment they are only eligible for statutory sick pay – currently £95.85 per week – if they have to self-isolate or take sick leave due to the virus.
Mr Gething said an announcement would be made “soon”, adding that “my expectation is that we will top-up the wages of those taking time off because of coronavirus to 100% of their normal wages”.
The Health Minister also acknowledged there were “broader long term questions about the terms of social care workers”.
Mr Kreft said: “We welcome anything that is going to improve the terms and conditions of care workers.
“Providers did have concerns that there were incentives for people not to self-isolate when perhaps they ought to.
“The funding care homes receive from local authorities and health boards enables providers to do no more than pay statutory sick pay and nothing over and above that.
“If we’ve got to incentivise people to self-isolate then that money has to come from somewhere – either the local authorities and health boards or the Welsh Government.
“We have invited to a meeting next week to look at the detail of how it can work and this is among the issues we will be raising.
“What this does not address is the inherent unfairness that has been built into the system over a generation when social care has been largely commissioned by local authorities which has effectively set pay levels at such a low rate.
“We have had 25 years of failure and inadequate resources. This is a golden opportunity to right some fundamental flaws that have pushed the social care sector to the brink of financial ruin.
“Even before Covid, we have suffered regular care home closures across Wales because of the postcode lottery of fees.
“That’s why we devised the Cheapskate Awards to highlight the gross unfairness of a system that ensures that a care home in Cardiff receives £12,000 a year more for providing the same level of service for an individual resident in a care home in Powys. That equates to a staggering £500,000 a year for a care home with 40 beds.
“Fundamentally, this is about the traditional Welsh values of fairness and equality.
“The league table of fees across Wales was a clear illustration that the current system is unfair and unsustainable.
“Even the fees paid in Cardiff are inadequate – they are merely the best of a bad bunch.
“Five of the six local authorities in North Wales are in the bottom 10 of the worst payers so we also have a North-South divide adding to the inequity of the post code lottery.
“Working in social care is already a career to be proud of but we now need to make sure that it also a career in which our wonderful staff are also properly paid, one that they can afford to go into.
“The only way to achieve that is have root and branch reforms to the way social care is funded with an urgent national action plan which recognises that the sector is a pillar of Wales’ foundation economy as designated by the Welsh Government.
“It would be sheer folly to carry on doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. We need a totally new approach, fit for the 21st century to enable us to pay social care workers what they deserve.”
Residents urged to look out for voter registration letter
LOCAL residents are being encouraged not to lose their voice on decisions that affect them by making sure their electoral registration details are up to date.
With elections taking place in Ceredigion in May 2021, this is an important opportunity for residents to make sure they can take part.
The annual canvass ensures that Electoral Services can keep the electoral register up to date, identifying any residents who are not registered or have moved.
Next year’s Senedd elections will be the first time 16-17 year olds and qualifying foreign citizens will be able to vote. It is therefore very important to capture these groups of people in the electoral register.
Electoral Registration Officer, Eifion Evans said: “It’s important that residents keep an eye out for messages so that we can make sure we have the right details on the electoral register for every address in the county. To make sure you are able to have your say at elections taking place next year, simply follow the instructions.
“If you’re not currently registered, your name will not appear in the messages we send. If you want to register, the easiest way is online at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
“This year’s canvass, which we have to carry out by law, is taking place during a challenging public health situation. We are working to ensure that we take account of public health guidelines, including the continued importance of social distancing.”
People who have moved recently are particularly encouraged to look out for the voter registration messages from Ceredigion County Council and check the details. Research by the Electoral Commission indicates that recent home movers are far less likely to be registered than those who have lived at the same address for a long time.
Rhydian Thomas, Head of Electoral Commission Wales, said: “It’s really important that everyone who is entitled to vote is able to do so. More people are now entitled to vote in Wales, including 16-17 year olds and qualifying foreign citizens. Making sure you provide the necessary information to your local authority when it is needed will ensure the process runs smoothly. This is particularly helpful in the current public health situation, as it will help avoid the need for home visits from canvassers.
“There’s lots of helpful information about registering to vote on the website: https://www.
Residents who have any questions can contact Ceredigion’s Electoral Services on 01545 572032.
Conservatives accused of contempt for devolution
THE WESTMINSTER Government is undermining the devolution settlements of each of the UK’s nations according to opposition parties.
Just before the parliamentary recess, the Conservative Government published a White Paper on the future of the UK’s internal market. The same day, July 16, it opened a brief consultation. The Consultation lasted 28 days and ended yesterday, Thursday, August 13.
White papers are policy documents produced by the Government that set out their proposals for future legislation. White Papers are often published as Command Papers and may include a draft version of a Bill that is being planned. This provides a basis for further consultation and discussion with interested or affected groups and allows final changes to be made before a Bill is formally presented to Parliament.
The UK’s devolved administrations have reserved powers for a range of issues, including agricultural and animal welfare standards and building regulations.
The proposals advanced by Westminster would see powers of those two areas of policy removed from the devolved administrations’ control. Building regulations in England are both differently focused and of a lower standard than those in Wales. For example, harmonising building regulations around England’s lowest common denominator could scrap the Welsh Government’s regulation requiring sprinklers to be fitted in new homes.
The UK Government did not consult with any of the UK’s devolved administrations about its proposed legislation before publishing the White Paper and announcing an unusually brief consultation on such an important policy.
POWER GRAB? WHAT POWER GRAB? THAT POWER GRAB
When The Herald put the White Paper’s content to Conservative Shadow External Affairs Minister, Darren Millar, and asked about the change in powers over building regulations and animal welfare standards.
We received a furious response.
“To suggest that this is a power grab is utter nonsense,” fulminated Mr Millar.
We suggested no such thing. We asked only about two regulatory areas covered in a 104-page policy document.
Darren Millar continued: “As a result of the UK’s exit from the European Union scores of new powers are set to be transferred to the Welsh Parliament – so far from being a power grab, this is actually a significant power gain for Wales.
“These powers have never been held before by the Welsh Government and this legislation will give the Welsh Parliament additional levers which can be used to help ensure that economy of Wales recovers from the impact of Covid-19 while ensuring seamless trade across the UK.”
As Mr Millar said that ‘scores of new powers’ are heading the Welsh Parliament’s way, we invited him to identify some of them.
He did not answer in time for our deadline.
The problem for Mr Millar is Government line in the debate on the EU Withdrawal Agreement set out that Westminster will take some powers from Wales, even as it provides additional powers over other areas of policy.
The position was set out by the current Minister of State at the Wales Office, David TC Davies.
In the Withdrawal Agreement debate, David TC Davies said the following: “The reality is that the change will be called a power grab. I did not hear the phrase used today, but it will be described as a power grab. Of course, it is a power grab, and what a wonderful power grab it is, too. We are grabbing powers from Brussels and bringing them back to London.”
He continued: “The Government’s whole purpose is to ensure there is a single market within the United Kingdom. We cannot have a situation where different nation-states within the United Kingdom go off and do their own thing.”
The powers being lost to Westminster over agriculture and building regulations are not examples of devolved administrations ‘going off to do their own thing’ in the future. They are examples of devolved administrations which had exercised their powers and face their policies roll-back.
WESTMINSTER CLAWINGBACK POWER FROM WALESOther Welsh parties are less impressed by the White Paper. Cllr William Powell, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said: “In my view, the manner and content of this consultation demonstrate a lack of respect by the UK Government for the Welsh devolution settlement.
“Under the cloak of enabling Westminster to create a new UK internal market at the end of the Brexit transition period, this most ideological of governments is effectively putting to the sword decades of devolution, validated by the Welsh people in two referenda.”
William Powell continued: “The Bill would allow the UK Government to set out how the devolved administrations would interact with Westminster post-Brexit, compelling Scotland and Wales to accept whatever new standards – in the field of animal welfare, environment and food are built into trade agreements of the future.
“Whereas vital areas of policy, such as agriculture, food safety and the environment are currently overseen by the governments at Holyrood and Cardiff Bay, this UK government clearly wants to have ultimate control over issues previously determined by the EU. In other words, it represents a radical clawback of power, undermining Welsh democracy and giving Boris Johnson and his associates a free hand in post-Brexit negotiations with other countries.
“Welsh Liberal Democrats are committed to respecting the devolution settlement & the principle of Welsh Home Rule. Therefore we roundly condemn the UK Government’s cavalier tactics in this consultation.”
‘THIS IS A POWER GRAB’
For Plaid Cymru, Liz Saville Roberts MP said: “Four weeks and a series of loaded questions over the summer whilst Parliament isn’t sitting is all this Westminster Government has given people in terms of a consultation on a fundamental shift in the constitution of the UK.
“It is as if the Westminster Government cannot even hide its contempt for devolution.
“This is a power grab, plain and simple. From nakedly taking back competencies already held in Wales, to the fact that this legislation was not proposed jointly with the devolved administrations, the Westminster Government is chipping away at two decades of devolution.
“People will not fall for the Westminster double-speak of adding to devolution, these changes will only diminish Wales’s ability to carve its own path.”
NO DISCUSSIONS WITH WESTMINSTER
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We support having rules across the UK to regulate the internal market, but these rules must be agreed between the four Governments in the UK, each of which has their own responsibility for economic development. Any new system must have independent oversight and dispute resolution.
“Unfortunately, the UK Government did not manage to share the Paper with us, and Welsh Ministers have had no recent discussions with the UK Government on these issues. Any attempt to unilaterally impose a system will be deeply damaging.”
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