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Impartiality of civil service questioned

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Carwyn Jones: Knew nothing of friend and colleague's health issues

THE CONTINUING wrangle over an inquiry into the circumstances which led to the death of former AM Carl Sargeant has intensified this week after a suggestion that evidence to the QC-led inquiry was being ‘filtered’ by Welsh Government civil servants.

In the meantime, the Coroner’s Inquest into Mr Sargeant’s death opened in a way which raised a series of questions about the tactics adopted by the legal team representing First Minister Carwyn Jones and threw doubt on Mr Jones’ public statements about his knowledge of his late Cabinet colleague’s mental health.

Conservatives in the Assembly pounced on a leaked Welsh Government email which showed the Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Government, Dame Shan Morgan, telling Welsh Government staff to share evidence for the Carl Sargeant inquiry with senior civil servants first. Paul Bowen QC is investigating Carwyn Jones’s handling of the sacking of the Alyn and Deeside AM from his cabinet and in an email to Welsh Government staff entitled “support to staff”, the Permanent Secretary, Dame Shan Morgan, asks “those who believe they have evidence relevant to the investigation should bring this to the attention of David Richards, Director of Governance; Peter Kennedy, HR Director; or my office”.

Only a subsequent ‘clarification’ after the email’s leak suggested that employees could give their evidence direct to the Independent Inquiry Team without it being looked over by their senior managers.

Questioning the Permanent Secretary’s latest involvement, Welsh Conservative leader, Andrew RT Davies said: “This once again raises serious concerns over the conduct of the Welsh Government and calls into question the independence of this whole process.

“If the inquiry is to be fully independent then all potential evidence should be handed over to the QC leading the investigation, not pre-vetted by the Permanent Secretary or her minions.

“This latest communication shines a light into the dark tactics being deployed by certain individuals in the Welsh Government to influence and control the upcoming inquiry, and that is simply unacceptable.

“Carl Sargeant lost his life in incredibly tragic circumstances, and there is a responsibility on everyone involved to ensure this process is fully independent and transparent so that the family can find the answers they need to find peace with what has happened.

“The Welsh Government must apologise and immediately withdraw this instruction so people can provide evidence to the inquiry free from bully-boy tactics and intimidation.”

A spokesperson for the permanent secretary said: “We have been clear that as a civil service we will fully co-operate with the work of the IQCI [independent QC investigation], and any evidence held by staff on Welsh Government systems will be collated and transferred to the investigation in its entirety and without redaction.”

A request by The Herald for an explanation as to WHY the Permanent Secretary issued the email remains unanswered and the prospect of Wales’ leading civil servant acting ‘on behalf of the Welsh Government’ raises a substantial question about whether the right distance is being maintained between the sectional interests of the party in government and the national role of the Welsh Government as an institution.

A Plaid Cymru spokesperson responded: “This email raises serious questions about the internal processes of the Welsh Government and risks jeopardising the independence of the inquiry.

“It is vital that this inquiry remains independent, transparent and fair.

“Plaid Cymru will be urgently raising questions about this matter with the Welsh Government.”

Dame Shan Morgan has also come under significant pressure following her decision to deny lawyers acting for the Sargeant family the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses giving evidence to the inquiry.

The family of Carl Sargeant has threatened legal action after claims they had been excluded from a probe into the late minister’s sacking by Carwyn Jones.

A solicitor acting for the family, Neil Hudgell, said: “The grieving Sargeant family are losing patience and faith in the inquiry and are hurt and upset that everything they have asked for has been ignored.

“Mr Bowen can only go as far as the permanent secretary will allow and we currently have an inquiry process where there will be no effective involvement from the family. How can that be fair?”

A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: “The protocol (agreed between the Welsh Government and the Inquiry) sets out the basis on which the investigation will be conducted and enables the family and any other participant to put forward questions they wish to be asked by the investigator.”

A spokesperson for the independent investigator said: “Mr Bowen QC confirms that the independent QC Investigation will continue to run under the published Operational Protocol while this is resolved.

“Mr Bowen QC is committed to conducting a thorough and independent investigation,” the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile at the inquest into Carl Sargeant’s death, a QC representing Carwyn Jones has claimed that other women have come forward with allegations of inappropriate behaviour against the late Alyn and Deeside AM.

Those allegations, as those supposedly made before Mr Jones sacked Mr Sargeant, all have the inestimable benefit of not being subject to challenge or proper investigation. Moreover, taking the First Minister’s lawyers claims at face value leads to a substantial question of how – if the allegations have substance – Carwyn Jones remained unaware of any issue with his close friend and former colleague’s supposed conduct.

Moreover, the attempt to publicly smear Mr Sargeant, who –as before his death – has no opportunity to defend himself is, Coroner John Griffiths observed unlikely to be relevant to the Inquest process, which raises the obvious question of why it was raised at all by the First Minister acting through his lawyers.

As it is, Mr Jones’ claims to have been a close friend of Mr Sargeant, those were thrown into even deeper question by the QC acting for the Sargeant family.

Leslie Thomas QC told the inquest that the first minister must have been fully aware of Mr Sargeant’s personal issues when he sacked him, as they had been friends for 16 years.

In a statement the first minister and Welsh Labour leader said he had not been aware of any mental health illness or vulnerabilities at the time.

Carwyn Jones is due to give evidence to the inquest, an event that should provide some insight into his ability to reconcile his public and personal pronouncements with information set to be laid before the Coroner.

A request for information as to who is paying for Mr Jones’ representation at the Inquest was unanswered.

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Politics

Elin Jones raises Fibre Ceredigion’s connectivity with Openreach

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ELIN JONES AM has attended an Openreach drop in session in the National Assembly of Wales to raise concerns about the lack of Fibre in areas of Ceredigion.

Elin Jones met with Openreach’s Partnership director in Wales, Connie Dixon, and Catherine Colloms, Director of Corporate Affairs. Elin also met with Openreach engineers and was shown the process undertaken in order to install fibres in people’s homes and businesses.

Elin Jones said:

“There are still many homes and businesses in Ceredigion that need to be connected to superfast Broadband. Many are in rural locations, but there are also whole villages and, in most cases, homes that are just at the end of the line and have fallen out of scope.

“More needs to be done to ensure that access to Superfast Broadband for premises across Ceredigion is equally available. I hope to meet with Openreach in the near future in Ceredigion in order to assess the challenges that they face in installing Fibre, but also for them to see the need in our communities for superfast.”

Connie Dixon, Openreach Partnership Director for Wales, said:

“We’re already working closely with the Welsh Government to bring fibre broadband to Wales and as a result of this partnership nearly 95 per cent of the country can access superfast broadband today. But we also know there’s more to do and we’re working hard to reach those properties that currently can’t access fibre broadband.

“We’re also committed to future-proofing the network with full fibre technology but in order to build a new full fibre network for Wales we’ll need the support from our public sector partners.

“It won’t be quick or easy, but action to reduce red tape and remove barriers will speed things up. Full fibre will open up huge possibilities for the Welsh economy and help answer long terms challenges like energy use, climate change and sustainable rural communities.”

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Plaid candiate votes to fight for police devolution

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AHEAD of the general election on 12 December 2019, Ben Lake, Plaid Cymru candidate for Ceredigion has outlined a commitment to continue to fight for the devolution of policing to Wales.

Between 2010 and 2018, the number of police officers in Wales fell by 9% – with rural Wales particularly hit due to the unfair funding formula used by the UK Government.

Plaid Cymru have announced that they will create a new £50m crime prevention fund to recruit 1,600 extra police officers through the devolution of policing. The proposals would see a greater police presence locally, and helping to root officers in their communities, rather than being stretched over large geographical areas with little resources.

Earlier this year a Welsh Government-appointed commission said Wales should have full control of its justice system, including powers to run policing – with further studies suggesting Wales’ four forces would be in line for £25m extra from the UK government if policing was devolved.

Ben Lake said: “Time after time, police budgets have been cut by the UK Government, meaning far fewer officers are available to police forces in Wales. Welsh forces and rural areas have been hit harder than those in the rest of the UK, due to an unfair Home Office funding formula.”

“Since my election in 2017, I have seen firsthand the detrimental impact this funding arrangement is having on Welsh police forces and communities, something I was glad to raise in Parliament.”

“We cannot expect a one size fits all approach police funding to work effectively across the whole of the UK, and as such, it is imperative that the criteria for the central Government grant are revised to reflect the demands and unique challenges faced by rural forces in areas such as Ceredigion.”

“It remains unacceptable that Wales is the only nation in the UK without powers over policing and justice, especially given the clear financial dividend that devolution would bring about.”

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Politics

Conservative Candidate for Ceredigion, welcomed Lord Nick Bourne back to Aberystwyth

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THIS week, Lord Nick Bourne of Aberystwyth, visited the University town to meet with Amanda Jenner, the Conservative Candidate for Ceredigion in the forthcoming General Election. Lord Bourne joined with members of the Aberystwyth University Conservative Society to support Amanda with her General Election campaign to be the next MP for Ceredigion.

Coincidently, Amanda Jenner and Lord Bourne have taken similar paths – both Aberystwyth University Law Graduates who have gone on to work in the Education sector before turning to politics.

Lord Bourne, until recently, was the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Wales Office and was heavily involved with the Mid Wales Growth Deal.

Commenting on the Growth Deal, Lord Bourne said,

“One very important thing that we have been spending a lot of time on as a Government, is to ensure we get money into Mid and West Wales, including Ceredigion, particularly to motivate businesses here.”

“I personally hope that this extends to projects involving Aberystwyth University – who are already doing tremendous work, led by Elizabeth Treasure the Vice-chancellor, to ensure we have prosperity and sustainability.”

Amanda Jenner added,

“From speaking with businesses in Ceredigion, I can see that there are some fantastic opportunities here, including in the tourism and education sectors. If elected as your MP, I would be a strong voice in Westminster, fighting to ensure that the Growth Deal stays on track and that we get the levels of funding needed for the proposals put forward by the partners of the Growth Deal.”

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