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‘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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Ben Lake MP “disappointed” after Agriculture Bill amendment on the standard of food and agricultural imports is rejected by House of Commons

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The UK’s new Agriculture Bill was put before MPs on Wednesday (13 May) for the final time as it reached the Report Stage and Third Reading.

Alongside farming unions and campaign groups, Ben Lake MP has lobbied for the Bill to include a number of important amendments. One of the amendments sought to introduce a legal requirement that agricultural or food products imported into the UK under future trade agreements would need to be produced or processed according to equivalent animal health, welfare and environmental standards as those required of UK prodcuers.

This amendment, in the form of New Clause 2, and which was tabled by the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Neil Parish MP, was rejected by the Commons. All Plaid Cymru MPs supported the amendment and Ben Lake MP said he was “disappointed” that the house did not vote in favour of an amendment to prevent the importation of products produced to lower animal health and environmental standards, and which in turn would have supported the high standards of Welsh produce.

Ben Lake MP said:

“Without this amendment there remains no legal requirement for future UK trade agreements to ensure that any agricultural or food imports are produced to the same standards as those required of domestic producers.

“Farmers in Wales strive to produce quality food in a sustainable manner, but the failure to include this amendment to the Agriculture Bill risks undermining these efforts by keeping the door open to imports produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards.

“I have always argued that in order to protect our own high standards it is crucial that a level playing-field is maintained in relation to imports, and that farmers in Wales are not put at a disadvantage by having to compete with imports that are produced to lower standards. I sincerely hope that this amendment will be adopted by the House of Lords, so that the House of Commons has another opportunity to support it.”

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£1 billion deal for ‘Shared Rural Network’ to improve mobile coverage goes ahead

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Ceredigion MP, Ben Lake says he is delighted that a scheme to extend mobile coverage in hard-to-reach rural areas making poor mobile phone coverage a thing of the past has been given the green light, thanks to a major new deal between the Government and UK mobile network operators.

The ‘Shared Rural Network’ will mean that high quality 4G coverage will be available for 95 percent of the UK by 2026 which means consumers will get good 4G signal wherever they live, work or travel. The new plans involves four operators (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone) joining forces to create a new organisation to deliver the ‘Shared Rural Network’. Each will be able to make the maximum use out of existing and new phone masts by being able to host their own equipment on them allowing their customers to access a mobile signal. The scheme will cost more than £1billion made up of £530m from the mobile operators and a £500m investment from the Government.

Ben Lake MP, who was one of 78 cross-party MPs who wrote to the Secretary of State for Digital Culture, Media and Sport last year to ask for government support for the scheme, said:

“This is really good news for my constituents. Better mobile connectivity will make flexible working, access to education and leisure opportunities easier. It will boost regional economic growth and begin to close the digital divide that exists across the country. The mobile has become an essential tool for most of us. It will certainly come as a relief to many people living in my constituency who are frustrated by the persistent ‘not spots’ which prevent them from carrying out many tasks which other people take for granted”.

The ’Shared Rural Network’ will eliminate the substantial majority of the country’s partial not-spots with the added benefit of increasing competition for mobile services, especially in rural areas; deliver on the Government’s 95% coverage manifesto commitment to extend coverage across the country; improve road coverage by reaching a further 16,000 kilometres of roads; involve minimum environmental impact and reduce the need for duplicate infrastructure and ensure that the UK has one of, if not the best, mobile coverage in Europe.

The initiative, which is a world first, follows government proposals for an overhaul of planning rules and is part of the Prime Minister’s plan to level up the country with world-class digital infrastructure across the UK to make sure homes and businesses are better connected.

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Elin Jones welcomes speed reduction, but says it should be even lower

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Following a meeting and correspondence with the Welsh Government, Elin Jones AM has welcomed the confirmation of an initial reduction in the speed on the A487 between Bow Street and Aberystwyth.

This stretch of the A487 is particularly dangerous, and there were two fatal accidents there last year.

Ken Skates, the Welsh Government Minister for Economy and Transport, confirmed to Elin Jones via letter that the route between Waun Fawr to 300m beyond Dorglwyd Junction will be reduced to 50mph, with work taking place in the next financial year.

The reduction to 50mph has been initially welcomed by Elin Jones, however she has called for the speed limit to be reduced further to 40mph.

Elin Jones said:

“The need for a review of the safety on the A487 is clear, particularly following the two tragic accidents that took place last year. I was pleased to be able to discuss the issue directly with the Welsh Government Minister in Bow Street recently, and for him to see for himself why a speed reduction was needed.

“I’m also pleased that this has resulted in the safety and speed limit review concluding that a reduction was necessary.

“However, I and many constituents who regularly use this route feel that the speed limit could be reduced further to 40mph, which I will raise again with the Minister.

“I will also continue to call for upgrading safety at the Dorglwyd junction. There are also many areas on the A487 where safety can be improved, either with a speed limit reduction, or by providing cycle lanes and footpaths to remove pedestrians and cyclists from danger. I have called on the Welsh Government to consider all options.”

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