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.
WG consults on new planning process
THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has published proposals to change the way major infrastructure projects are consented.
A new approach is needed because more consenting powers are due to be devolved on April 1, 2019. The Welsh Government is also taking the opportunity to combine a number of existing processes into a single streamlined “one-stop shop” consenting process.
Two stages are being proposed:
- An interim solution requiring changes to existing processes; and
- A long-term solution requiring primary legislation to establish an entirely new form of consent.
The proposals only apply to areas where consenting is devolved.
So for example, in future, projects like the proposed M4 relief road around Newport and the 200 Megawatt (MW) Swansea Bay tidal lagoon would need to be consented through the new process, whereas the 2,700MW Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station would not, because consenting for generating stations with a capacity of over 350MW would remain with the UK Government.
Wales currently has three tiers of consenting processes for most infrastructure projects (there are some exceptions):
Smaller projects are decided by local planning authorities;
Larger projects, where consenting is devolved, are decided by the Welsh Government through the Developments of National Significance (DNS) process; and
Larger projects, where consenting is not devolved, are decided by the UK Government through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) process.
Consents by local planning authorities and the Welsh Government are given under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA) – this is often known as planning permission.
NSIPs require a different kind of consent called a Development Consent Order (DCO), which is given under the Planning Act 2008. DCOs can include consents on a range of associated matters – these are often called secondary consents.
The Wales Act 2017 devolves further consenting powers which are due to come into force on 1 April 2019:
Energy generating stations with a capacity of up to and including 350MW onshore and in Welsh waters (which is an inshore area out to approximately 12 nautical miles from Welsh shores). This doesn’t include onshore wind which is already devolved with no upper limit; and
Overhead electric lines of up to and including 132 Kilovolts (KV) that are associated with a devolved energy generating project.
In addition, the Wales Act has already devolved consenting for Harbour Revision and Empowerment Orders, which are made under the Harbours Act 1964, for most Welsh ports. These new powers came into force on April 1.
WHY A NEW PROCESS IS NEEDED
The way in which the Wales Act devolves the new powers creates some anomalies which need to be resolved to ensure an efficient and effective approach to consenting.
The consenting powers for energy generating stations and overhead electric lines mentioned above are currently consented by the UK Government through the DCO process.
In devolving these powers, the Wales Act takes consenting for these projects out of the DCO process and places consenting for devolved generating stations in Welsh waters back into the former Electricity Act 1989 process. On land, the consenting of devolved generating stations and associated overhead electric lines is placed into the TCPA process, instead of the Electricity Act. The TCPA has previously not been used to consent this scale of generation project.
For a number of reasons set out in the consultation document, this is seen as a backward step.
In addition, the Welsh Government favours taking a more integrated and streamlined approach to infrastructure consenting. It wants to establish a one- stop shop approach for major devolved projects, similar to the UK Government’s DCO process. This, it argues, would provide more consistent and transparent decision-making, and more certainty for communities and developers alike.
The alternative would be to continue with a number of different processes each with their own requirements, established under separate legislation (including the TCPA, Electricity Act and Harbours Act mentioned above).
The one-stop shop approach also allows a number of secondary consents to be included in the main consent, rather than having to be applied for separately.
Some associated changes to the compulsory purchase process are also proposed.
The Welsh Government says an interim solution is necessary because there isn’t enough time to set up an entirely new process before April 1, 2019.
The interim solution involves amending secondary legislation to include the newly devolved onshore energy generating stations and electric lines within the existing DNS process.
Offshore energy generating stations will be consented under the Electricity Act, with a new fee structure based on full cost recovery. Harbour Revision and Empowerment Orders will continue to be made under the Harbours Act.
Offshore energy generating stations and Harbour Revision and Empowerment Orders can’t be brought into the DNS process because the TCPA, under which the DNS process was established, only extends to the low water mark.
The interim solution is due to come into force on April 1, 2019 and will remain in place until the new process is established. The consultation document suggests this will be after 2020.
The long-term solution is to establish a new one-stop shop consenting process that is bespoke to Wales.
The consent would be called Welsh Infrastructure Consent (WIC) and projects captured by it would be called Welsh Infrastructure Projects (WIPs). The Assembly would need to pass primary legislation to establish the new process.
The WIC would consolidate existing consents under the TCPA, Electricity Act, Harbours Act, and a number of other consents made under highways legislation, into one single type of consent. The WIC would also include a wide range of secondary consents, including Compulsory Purchase Orders, Marine Licences and Environmental Permits.
The consenting process would be accompanied by thresholds and policies against which the individual projects can be assessed. Key policies would include Planning Policy Wales, the National Development Framework and the Wales National Marine Plan. The fee structure would be based on full cost recovery.
The WIC process would be designed to be flexible to capture projects of varying types and sizes. It would take a “proportional approach”, enabling certain types of decisions to be made more quickly, and others, which are more complex, to receive greater scrutiny.
This includes introducing a category of optional WIPs that the developer could choose to submit either via the WIC process or to the local planning authority. In the case of offshore projects, where there is no local planning authority, the alternative route for optional WIPs would be via the marine licencing process.
The WIC process would also require developers to engage with local communities before submitting their applications and provide greater opportunity for the public to participate during the examination process. There would also be a specific role for local planning authorities in documenting impact in their areas.
However, the consultation does not address the transfer of regional infrastructure projects away from elected councils and into the hands of unelected so-called ‘City Deal’ boards or their rural counterpart in Mid Wales. The complication of creating a national structure without accounting for looming changes in the delivery of infrastructure services is – as it stands – both unresolved and a likely source of future confusion.
‘Sort finances before service changes’
ONE of west Wales’ Labour Constituency Parties has called for the Health Board not to proceed with its plans for major health service change until its long-standing financial crisis has been resolved.
On Friday, May 25, Ceredigion Constituency Labour Party passed a motion calling on the Board to think again.
In the last financial year the health board overspent its £760m budget by £70m, or 9%, and the board itself describes its regular overspends as ’growing year on year’.
Ceredigion Labour Party points out that although the changes in service provision which are being proposed may provide better patient care, they cannot also be expected to deliver savings if standards of care are intended to be maintained.
Dinah Mulholland, spokesperson for CCLP, said: ”We welcome all attempts to improve local health services. But acceptable proposals must be based on sound financial projections and dependable financial commitments.
“For instance, all three of the board’s alternative proposals for the delivery of clinical services involve the building of a new major urgent and planned care hospital `between Narberth and St Clears’, to replace other hospitals that would be closed or downgraded. Yet the Welsh Government has offered no commitment to provide capital funding for this scheme.
“We are calling for a `Stop and Fix’ approach because unless the financial arrangements are stabilised we see a very real threat that at some point during the next few years progress with major changes in service provision could be overtaken and overwhelmed by a sudden financial collapse.
“And if the board is preoccupied with delivering major changes in service provision it will be paying less attention to managing its ongoing financial problems.
“We would welcome a commitment from Hywel Dda not to proceed with any major reconfiguration of clinical services until it has secured resources to remedy the chronic and ingrained underfunding of health services in mid and west Wales. This proposed reconfiguration cannot and should not be expected to solve Hywel Dda’s long-standing problem with underfunding.”
Last week (May 23) the Welsh Health Secretary announced an annual increase of £27m in Hywel Dda’s revenue funding, but CCLP describes this as “sticking plaster” as it represents only 39% of the deficit in the last financial year.
The Health Secretary has said that this new funding puts Hywel Dda on a “fair funding basis”, but CCLP points out that if the board’s funding has only just become “fair” this raises additional questions about how much the local NHS budget has been “short-changed” in every year since the National Assembly began.
A review by the Welsh Government, as part of the Targeted Intervention support provided to Hywel Dda Health Board, found that two factors, demographics and scale, generated excess costs that were unavoidable to the Board.
The review, undertaken by Deloitte LLP, confirms the view held by many people in Ceredigion and mid and west Wales that Hywel Dda faces a unique set of healthcare challenges.
Hywel Dda is consulting the public on three alternative proposals for providing clinical care, closing and/or downgrading Withybush Hospital, Prince Philip hospital in Llanelli and Glangwili hospital in Carmarthen. In all three proposals community care would be strengthened so that more people can be treated and supported closer to home. In all versions Bronglais hospital in Aberystwyth would remain as a District General Hospital.
The 12-week public consultation began on 19 April and will end on 12 July. Ceredigion CLP is also critical of the board’s plans for obtaining the views of the public, which it points out do not include any meetings with platform speakers open to the general public. CCLP says this is unacceptable.
WG to miss climate change targets
THE WELSH GOVERNMENT will miss its own targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, says a National Assembly committee.
The Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee examines the issue in its first ever climate change annual report.
In its Climate Change Strategy published in 2010 the Welsh Government set out its target of reducing greenhouse gases in Wales by three per cent year-on-year, and at least a 40% reduction by 2020.
The Committee was given three reasons for the failure – the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, the economic make-up of Wales and weather patterns.
But the Committee concluded that these variables should have been taken into account when the policies were developed and targets set.
The Welsh Government is being advised on its new approach, framed by the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, by the UK Committee on Climate Change, which has recommended it set new, lower targets in the short term.
The Assembly committee believes this is regrettable but necessary given the lack of progress by the Welsh Government.
Members also learned that the level of engagement in the Welsh Government’s Cabinet on climate change was insufficient, with a lack of joint-working across different departments.
Even though the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme may be a reason for missing emissions targets, the Committee notes there is still no sign of a new scheme to take its place after the UK leaves the EU. The Committee concludes there needs to be a greater sense of urgency on addressing this matter.
“The Welsh Government’s targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Wales were ambitious, but attainable,” said Mike Hedges AM, Chair of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee.
“That the Government will miss these targets by some margin is deeply disappointing, and the Committee is not convinced by some of the reasoning behind the failure.
“We believe there needs to be a much more co-ordinated approach across government departments if Wales is to truly become a greener, more sustainable nation.
“In the short term we accept the view of the Committee on Climate Change that the Welsh Government revise down its targets.
“We have made a number of recommendations in our report around agriculture, forestry, housing and transport which we believe will ensure ministers will deliver on their climate change commitments and obligations.”
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