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Politics

Draft Welsh Budget probed

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Finance Chair Simon Thomas: Committees hold WG to account

COMMITTEES of the National Assembly for Wales have reported on the Welsh Government’s draft budget 2018-19. The Finance Committee has published its findings, alongside reports from six other Assembly Committees.

Concerns have been raised about the progress of transformation of NHS Services by two Assembly Committees.

The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee noted that significant change is needed to transform NHS services and improve outcomes, but it is not clear that the Welsh Government budget is targeted to achieve this. The Committee also highlighted that extra funding is sustaining the current position rather than driving improvements, whilst the Finance Committee agreed there is limited evidence of improvement in financial planning in local health boards.

The Health Committee warned that escalating social care costs coupled with rising demand require urgent attention and a whole-system approach to health and social care. The Finance Committee also recognised that an increase in funding for the Health Service results in a cut in other areas, most notably local government, bodies often responsible for the majority of social care provision.

The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee recommend that the Welsh Government explains how outcomes will be monitored to ensure that the removal of ring-fenced budgets does not lead to vulnerable people falling between gaps in services.

The Finance Committee identified:

  • That despite a recommendation from last year’s budget scrutiny, there has been only limited progress in linking the budget to the goals and ways of working laid out in the Well-being of Future Generations Act
  • Future draft budgets should also demonstrate how the Government’s allocation of funds will meet the priorities outlined in its Programme for Government and national strategy, Prosperity for All

The Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee also raised concerns about the Well-Being of Future Generations Act, warning that the Welsh Government is yet to demonstrate the transformative change promised in the legislation and expressing disappointment at the lack of progress in embedding it in policy. The Committee also warned about the impact of funding reductions on Natural Resources Wales, including a £10m reduction in staff costs.

Concerns have been raised by the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee in their report that the £1b dispute with the UK Government over the rail franchise remains unresolved in this budget. The Committee noted that this money could be used to make a real difference to services that could be provided to rail passengers in Wales.

The Children, Young People and Education Committee has concerns about a lack of transparency in relation to the funding available for schools in Wales, particularly the confusion surrounding the amount of additional funding being provided compared to last year. The Committee calls on the Welsh Government to work closely with local government to ensure that protection for school budgets translates from budget calculations to the chalkface.

The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee raised concerns that scale of the resources needed to deliver the Cymraeg 2050 strategy, which aims for a million Welsh speakers by 2050, has yet to be fully considered. The Committee would like to see greater clarity over the resources that will be needed over the medium and longer term.

Simon Thomas AM, Chair of the Finance Committee, said: “Scrutinising this budget has been a change for all the Committees in the Assembly – the Finance Committee has developed its role into holding the Government to account on its high level and strategic priorities, whilst examining the Government’s intentions with regards to raising revenue and borrowing.

“However, it is good to see that some of the issues coming from the policy committees are resonating with our findings; concerns have been raised around the continued prioritisation of health, often at the expense of local government.

“Additionally, we are still struggling to see the impact of the Future Generations Act, which was raised by the Members of Finance Committee and the Environment Committee.”

Politics

The Reshuffle

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Weak and stable: Theresa May's 'major reshuffle' unravels

THE PRIME MINISTER’s attempt to reshuffle her ministerial team dissolved into a non-event on Monday and Tuesday (Jan 9-10).

The dramatic transformation trailed in largely sympathetic coverage in right wing broadsheets on online news outlets, failed to materialise as the reshuffle started with farce and proceeded to chaos as Monday unfolded.

The opportunity for the reshuffle was generated by the loss of former First Secretary of State Damian Green following a finding he had breached the ministerial code by being less than honest during an investigation into his conduct before he was a government minister.

The Conservative Party chair, Patrick Loughlin was widely supposed to be up for the chop; however, a tweet from Conservative HQ managed to not only pre-empt his departure but announce the appointment of the wrong person to his job, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

Things were complicated by the unexpected departure of the Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, who requires surgery just at a time when discussions regarding the long-running suspension into the Northern Ireland Assembly are moving into a new phase and are being given added urgency by Brexit negotiations.

While Jeremy Hunt was being predicted for a significant promotion from Health Secretary, the continuing crisis within the English NHS was suggested as a significant bar to him succeeding to the senior post previously held by Damian Green. Instead, Mr Green’s Cabinet Office role went to David Lidington but without the title of First Secretary of State.

Mr Hunt remained the centre of the drama by reportedly refusing to leave his post of Health Secretary to take up that of Business Secretary. A lengthy discussion on his role took place, with Mr Hunt emerging still Health Secretary and with responsibility for the government’s social care policy added to his portfolio.

Mr Hunt’s reluctance to move, meant that incumbent Business Secretary Greg Clark, tipped for demotion after some uninspiring performances, stayed in place.

The ramifications of Mr Hunt standing his ground unfolded when Justine Greening dramatically quit the government following a two and a half hour meeting with Theresa May, during which she was offered the post of Work and Pensions Secretary, having only recently taken control of the government’s struggling equalities policy within her former role.

Following her resignation, Justine Greening tweeted pointedly: “Social mobility matters to me & our country more than my ministerial career.”

As Mrs May’s options narrowed, even Andrea Leadsom – managed to retain her post as Leader of the House of Commons.

While other parties piled into attack the reshuffle, the Conservative’s press office managed to ignore the fact that ministers had quit and refused to be moved by claiming the Cabinet was the right team to lead the country. Bearing in mind that a few hours earlier the party’s own leader did not share that view, the statement demonstrates the depths of Theresa May’s humiliation and powerless state. Unable to move ministers she wanted to move and carry out the reorganisation she wanted, instead of new lamps for old around the Cabinet table, it appears that Mrs May has found the limits of her power and there has been much heat but no new light.

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Politics

The party’s over for new UKIP AM

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A week is a long time in politics: New AM shunned by own party

THE IDEA that UKIP is less a political movement than a long running feud has been given more credence by the Assembly group’s refusal to admit new UKIP AM Mandy Jones to their number.

UKIP has shed two AMs since the Welsh Assembly elections. Mark Reckless left to be with but not of the Conservative Party, while Nathan Gill, who left the group after being displaced by current leader Neil Hamilton, now departed to concentrate on the European Parliament after being notable for his poor attendance in Cardiff Bay.

Under the regional list system, Mandy Jones – the third choice UKIP candidate on the North Wales list – succeeded to Nathan Gill’s vacated seat on December 29.

Her succession to the seat was lauded by UKIP’s Assembly leader Neil Hamilton, who said: “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.”

However, having been on the front foot UKIP now seems to have taken two steps forward and one step back.

A press statement released by the part on Tuesday (January 9) said: ‘After discussions with Mandy Jones, AM for North Wales, we have collectively and unanimously decided that she will not be joining the UKIP Group in the National Assembly.

‘Despite being asked by all five members of the Group not to do so, she has chosen to employ individuals in her office who are either members of, or have recently campaigned actively for, other parties, or both. They have been personally and publicly abusive to some of the UKIP AMs and sought deliberately to undermine UKIP Wales. Their behaviour and attitude makes it impossible to work with Mandy Jones on a basis of confidence and trust.

‘The UKIP Wales Group are united in this decision’.

The release repeated UKIP’s pledge to ‘continue to speak against the cosy Cardiff Bay consensus.’

That promise appears likely to be borne out, bearing in mind its inability to form a consensus with those elected under its party colours.

Those Mandy Jones has chosen to appoint to work with her were all members of former UKIP leader Nathan Gill’s staff.

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Politics

WG announces £50m Brexit fund

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Carwyn Jones needs to up his game: Mark Isherwood AM

FIRST MINISTER Carwyn Jones has announced a significant cash boost to help Welsh businesses and public services plan and prepare for Brexit.

The EU Transition Fund – supported by an initial £50m – will be developed in partnership with Welsh businesses, public services and other key organisations, to provide tailored support as the UK prepares to leave the EU.

The fund will provide a combination of financial support and loan funding, and will support the provision of technical, commercial, export-related and sectoral-specific advice for businesses.

In addition, the EU Transition Fund will be designed to help employers retain and continue to attract EU nationals, who make a crucial contribution to Wales. The fund will underline Wales’ welcome to people from other countries who have made Wales their home.

The fund will also provide dedicated development support for Wales’ agricultural industry as it prepares for transition and the future once the UK has left the EU.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “Brexit poses different challenges and opportunities for each and every aspect of Welsh life – from our local businesses and major employers, to our farmers, hospitals and universities.

“The EU Transition Fund will help meet the challenges that lie ahead. Developed in partnership with our businesses and public services, it will provide targeted and innovative support, which will help them survive and, indeed, thrive outside the EU.

“I am making an early announcement about this fund, so we have the greatest opportunity to design this fund with those organisations and businesses it is intended to help.

“My priority is to ensure Wales is in the best possible position to deal with the challenges and opportunities ahead. As a government, we are committed to providing solutions which work for Wales and we will continue to work with partners to make the most of every opportunity.”

The £50m EU Transition Fund is supported by an initial £10m down payment in the 2018-19 final budget. It builds on £5m allocated for Brexit preparedness over 2018-19 and 2019-20 as part of the 2 year Budget agreement with Plaid Cymru.

Responding to the announcement Welsh Conservative Brexit spokesman, Mark Isherwood said: “In the Autumn Budget the Chancellor announced an extra £3bn to help prepare the UK for Brexit and once again, Carwyn Jones and his Welsh Labour Government is playing catch-up.

“This is a small step in the right direction but sadly for Wales, since the referendum, the First Minister and his government has been in a state of paralysis, which has ensured that our country has been a step behind.

“I have long called on the First Minister to end his prophecies of doom and gloom over Brexit and provide the people of Wales with words of confidence, optimism and importantly a plan to lead our nation to success.

“Carwyn Jones urgently needs to up his game and ensure that Wales is sufficiently resourced and prepared to embrace the opportunities and tackle the challenges that lie ahead.”

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