SIX MONTHS after the Welsh Government declared a climate emergency, the National Assembly for Wales’ Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee has expressed disappointment that the action promised in the announcement has not materialised. Instead, it says it has been a continuation of “business as usual”.
The Committee has released its second annual report on the Welsh Government’s progress in addressing climate change. The focus of the Committee’s work in 2019 has been the Welsh Government’s decarbonisation plan, “Prosperity for All: A low carbon Wales”.
A LOW CARBON WALES
The Committee has raised concerns that many of the policies and proposals contained in the Welsh Government’s Plan, 76 in all, existed long before its climate emergency.
The Welsh Government told the Committee that it is unable to be specific about the cost of those policies or their impact on delivering emissions reductions. In the absence of such information, the Committee found it difficult to see how the Welsh Government can assess the impact or value for money of its decarbonisation policies. Previously members had expressed disappointment with the lack of focus on decarbonisation by the Welsh Government while scrutinising its draft Budget.
The Welsh Government has said it wishes to go further than its new target of 95% emissions reduction and aspires to reach net-zero by 2050. However, the UK Climate Change Committee said: “On current understanding, it could not credibly reach net-zero greenhouse gasses by 2050.” The Committee is questioning how achievable this “aspiration” is. This is particularly the case given the volume of emissions in non-devolved areas.
LIMITS FOR WG
Responsibility for carbon emissions is divided between the Welsh Government and the UK Government. The UK Government is responsible for 60% of policy areas, such as energy, that result in Welsh emissions. The Committee believes the Welsh Government should be more upfront about the limits of its potential impact on Welsh emissions reductions.
This is not about avoiding accountability, but the opposite. The committee believes that the Welsh public should be able to understand more fully the Welsh Government’s successes and failures. It should also be able to hold the UK Government to account for its performance in non-devolved areas. Given that the Welsh Government is dependent on the effectiveness of UK Government policies to achieve its targets, it needs to explain what it will do if there is a change of UK Government policy that threatens its ability to meet its targets.
Also, the Committee’s report on the draft Welsh Government Budget expressed disappointment about the lack of emphasis on decarbonisation.
Mike Hedges, Chair of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee said: “As a Committee, we’re concerned that a ‘climate change emergency’ could be seen as just words and has not resulted in urgent action. We don’t want things to continue as business as usual, it is an emergency and should be treated as one.
“We welcome the Welsh Government’s ambition for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 but we need to know a lot more about how this can be achieved, particularly as the policy for much of Wales’ emissions lies with the UK Government.
“We need urgent action and our Committee has provided a series of recommendations for the Welsh Government. Today we’re calling on the Welsh Government outline details of actions it has taken since the declaration of a climate emergency.”
WG settles ‘scandalous’ land sale case
THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has settled a claim against its former advisors about land sales which took place under a purported regeneration scheme.
The Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales (RIFW) had issued proceedings against Amber Fund Management and Lambert Smith Hampton concerning the portfolio sale of 15 properties in 2012.
The settlement has been reached on a commercial basis and without any admission of liability by any party.
The detailed terms have been incorporated into a confidential settlement agreement between the parties.
The Welsh Government Minister for Local Government, Julie James, said the £40.7 million tied up in the Fund can now be made available to support future investments across Wales.
RIFW was set up as an arms-length body by the Welsh Government to allow the Welsh Government to raise money which could then be used to fund regeneration and investments in Welsh businesses.
It was a complete shambles.
One of the advisors appointed had previous connections with one of the parties which bought some of the land at an undervalue.
Vital information was not relayed to the RIFW’s board by the Welsh Government and Board members were kept in the dark about transactions carried out in their name.
Under the oversight of their appointed agents and Welsh Government civil servants, RIFW sold publicly owned assets by private treaty and without prior valuation at a price that reflected the assets’ existing use, under sale terms that provided only limited protection to the public interest in their significant future development values, and via a negotiation process that left RIFW lumbered with undesirable assets.
The Chair of the Senedd Public Accounts Committee, Nick Ramsay MS, said: “The out of court settlement between the Welsh Government and the former advisors of RIFW effectively brings a curtain down on a very sorry and lamentable episode.
“The hasty sell-off of publicly-owned land at bargain-basement prices effectively deprived Welsh taxpayers of tens of millions of pounds which could’ve been used for essential services.
“We look forward to examining matters further with the Permanent Secretary and Head of the Welsh Government Civil Service, Shan Morgan, at our next meeting on Monday, November 23.
“We will be asking what robust steps have been taken to avoid history repeating.”
RIFW was set up as an arms-length body by the Welsh Government to sell off land around Wales including in north Wales, Monmouthshire and Cardiff, and use the money, in conjunction with European funding, to reinvest in areas in need of regeneration.
But the Public Accounts Committee found that the body was poorly managed, poorly overseen by the government, and that, because of a change in the direction of RIFW, from one of regeneration to property asset disposals, some of the Board members felt they lacked the necessary knowledge and expertise to fulfil their roles.
It also learned that the Board was not presented with key information regarding the value of the land in its portfolio, or of expressions of interest from potential buyers.
Fifteen plots of land, originally supposed to be sold separately, were instead sold as a single portfolio at a price which did not take into account potential use of the land in the future. This decision resulted in Welsh taxpayers missing out on tens of millions of pounds of funding.
The Committee learned that one of the organisations charged with offering expert advice to the Board, Lambert Smith Hampton Ltd, had previously acted on behalf of a director of the buyer of the land, South Wales Land Developments Ltd (SWLD), and signed an agreement to do so again one day after the sales went through.
The Committee concluded that the RIFW Board had been poorly served by its own expert advisors.
Angela Burns MS – Shadow Minister for Government Resilience and Efficiency – said: “The Fund was established to sell valuable packages of Welsh Government land, with the money used to support regeneration schemes. However, evidence has since emerged that shows that the sale of RIFW’s assets was undertaken at a loss of tens of millions of pounds. A loss which was borne ultimately by the Welsh Taxpayer and yet another example of the complete inability of this Labour Government to be fiscally prudent.
“Millions of pounds have been squandered, millions that could have been invested in our education and health systems or spent building Wales’ economy or supporting some of our more vulnerable citizens. It’s an absolute scandal and the real scandal is the Welsh Government can slide out of their responsibility for this debacle”
Included in the scandal are:
- Fifteen sites sold for £21 million; with the taxpayer missing out on staggering sums of money
- A site in Rhoose purchased from RIFW for less than £3m – sold on for almost £10.5m South Wales Land Developments Ltd. Taxpayers losing out
- An Abergele site purchased from RIFW for £100,000, without overage, and sold for £1.9million. Taxpayers losing out
- Land in Lisvane sold for £1.8million – worth £39million.
Welsh Conservatives also claim the Welsh Government has squandered £1 billion on other projects, including:
- £221m on uncompetitive Enterprise Zones
- £9.3m on flawed initial funding of the Circuit of Wales
- £97.9m on delays and overspend on the A465 Heads of the Valleys Road
- £157m on the M4 relief road inquiry
- Over £100m propping up Cardiff Airport
UK not ready for Brexit
In its fourth report assessing government’s preparations at the border, the NAO highlights that planning for 1 January 2021 has built on work done for previous EU Exit deadline.
Departments have made progress towards implementing the systems, infrastructure and resources required to operate the border in relation to Great Britain at “minimum operating capability” by January 1 and are reasonably confident most will be ready, but timetables are tight.
There is little time for ports and other third parties to integrate their systems and processes with new or changed government systems, and contingency plans may need to be invoked for some elements.
Even if the Westminster government makes further progress with its preparations, there is still likely to be significant disruption at the border from January 1, as traders will be unprepared for new EU border controls which will require additional administration and checks.
The government’s plan for reducing the risk of disruption at the approach to the short Channel crossings is still developing, with various issues yet to be resolved. It intends to launch a new GOV.UK web service called ‘Check an HGV is ready to cross the border’ for hauliers to check and self-declare that they have the correct documentation for EU import controls before travelling and obtain permits to drive on prescribed roads in Kent.
Government is preparing civil contingency plans, such as to ensure continuity of the supply of critical goods and medicines in the event of any disruption to supply chains.
The UK Government will also need to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol from January 1. However, due to the scale and complexity of the changes, the lack of time and the impact of ongoing negotiations, there is a very high risk it may not be implemented in time.
The government has left itself little time to mobilise its new Trader Support Service (TSS), in which it has announced it is investing £200 million, to reduce the burden on traders moving goods to Northern Ireland and to help them prepare.
The government is spending significant sums of money preparing the border for the end of the transition period and, in 2020 alone, announced funding of £1.41 billion to fund new infrastructure and systems, and wider support and investment.
The NAO says that government must continue to focus its efforts on resolving the many outstanding issues relating to the border and develop robust contingency plans if these cannot be addressed in time for the end of the transition period.
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “The January 1 deadline is unlike any previous EU Exit deadline: significant changes at the border will take place and government must be ready.
Campaigners Thank Local MP, Ben Lake, for Championing Community Energy
Today campaign group, Power for People, thanked local MP, Ben Lake, for holding a debate last night in the House of Commons to promote community renewable energy by creating a ‘Right to Local Supply’ in law.
Central to the debate was a proposed new law, known as the Local Electricity Bill, that Mr Lake is co-sponsoring and which is supported by 212 MPs. The Bill aims to help rebuild local economies whilst increasing clean energy generation.
If made law, the Bill would empower community-owned local energy companies to sell locally generated renewable electricity directly to local households and businesses.
Currently customers can only purchase electricity from nationally licensed utilities. The Bill’s supporters say this means money people use to pay their energy bills is not helping to rebuild local economies and local clean energy infrastructure.
Responding to the debate, Energy Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, said, “It is certainly something that I as the Energy Minister will be willing to engage with and have a discussion about … I think that with a co-operative spirit, we can get very far.”
Campaigning group, Power for People, are calling for MPs and the government to make the Bill law and are leading a supportive coalition of organisations including Community Energy Wales, Community Energy England, Community Energy Scotland, WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the RSPB. 62 local authorities have also pledged their support.
Ben Lake, MP for Ceredigion, said, “A Right to Local Supply will empower and enable new community energy companies to sell energy that they generate directly to local people which will accelerate our transition to clean energy and help strengthen local economies. The Local Electricity Bill would enshrine this in law and I will do all I can to ensure it succeeds.”
Power for People’s Director, Steve Shaw, said, “We thank Ben Lake for holding a debate on the Local Electricity Bill in the House of Commons. If made law, the Bill would unleash the huge potential for new community-owned clean energy infrastructure and for this to boost local economies, jobs, services, and facilities in communities across Ceredigion, Wales and the rest of the UK.”
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