THE MURKY world of Welsh Government communications has come under increasing scrutiny since the refusal to publish a report into the way in which former Communities Secretary Carl Sargeant’s sacking was leaked to at least one journalist, to at least one Labour MP, and to Lee Waters the AM for Llanelli.
The terms for a Welsh Government inquiry into the leak were set by the First Minister himself and some increasingly shifty-appearing equivocations by Carwyn Jones have only served to provoke further questions from a Conservative group in the Assembly which plainly senses that the First Minister’s unwillingness to give a direct and straight answer to some direct and straight questions is doing him political damage.
With Jack Sargeant lately taking up his father’s Assembly seat and saying that he would continue to fight to get to the truth about the circumstances leading to his father’s death, it is unlikely that Mr Jones is going to be able to get away from further scrutiny.
A statement by the First Minister that ‘no unauthorised leaks’ took place regarding Carl Sargeant’s dismissal from the Government left the prospect hanging that an ‘authorised leak’ took place.
A subsequent claim by the First Minister than no leak took place was effectively exposed as factually questionable (at the very least), when Llanelli AM Lee Waters revealed that he had received a text before Carl Sargeant’s sacking which told him the late Alyn and Deeside AM would be dismissed.
The First Minister has rejected the opportunity to confirm that he did not authorise any briefing or sharing of information before his cabinet reshuffle in November.
The actions of the Welsh Government’s so-called ‘Special Advisors’ – SpAds – political operatives paid for by public money have been called into question.
Former Cabinet minister Leighton Andrews, who has been described to The Herald as very likely to have kept meticulous records, alleges that a culture of bullying and back-biting briefing surrounded the First Minister’s office. One SpAd – Huw Price – made the news last week when it emerged that he had engaged in repeated party political activity and political briefing using a Welsh Government email address and Welsh Government IT facilities. A Welsh Conservative press release redacted the name of the journalist who received Mr Price’s enthusiastic briefings and party political spin. The Welsh Government was not so careful and exposed the name of a senior Western Mail reporter as receiving briefings from ‘a government spokesman/Labour Party source’.
The Welsh Government is to introduce new email guidelines following the exposé by the Welsh Conservatives over the First Minister’s use of a personal email address whilst handling government business.
In a letter to Welsh Conservative leader, Andrew RT Davies, Carwyn Jones also confirmed ‘that the majority of Cabinet Secretaries do not use personal e-mail addresses’ with only two members of the cabinet doing so on a ‘few occasions’.
Following pressure from the Welsh Conservatives, the First Minister has asked the Head of Cabinet Division to provide clear guidelines for the Cabinet and Ministers on email communications – and according to Carwyn Jones this will be done as soon as possible.
To date, the First Minister has refused to publish the government emails from his personal account, and the Welsh Conservative leader has again called for the full catalogue of correspondence to be made available. A written question and freedom of information request has also been submitted asking for the information.
Commenting, Andrew RT, said: “The First Minister has been caught out and the fact he admits the use of personal email addresses is not standard practice for his colleagues shows that in the Welsh Government there is one rule for him, and one rule for others.
“Given the inquiries that have finished and are ongoing, we again reiterate our call to Carwyn Jones to make available and publish all government correspondence sent and received on his personal email account.”
In addition, an answer to a further written question from the Conservative Party has suggested that Carwyn Jones is also using a Welsh Government mobile phone to transact personal and party business.
Written questions from Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies asked Mr Jones whether he had ever used a government-issued phone to communicate about Labour Party matters with Ministers, special advisers or Labour Party officials; and whether he had ever conducted government business from a personal phone.
Mr Jones’ response was: “I do not possess a personal mobile phone.”
The Welsh Government’s Ministerial Code states that Ministers must not use the Welsh Government’s resources for party-political purposes.
Mr Jones has claimed to the Assembly that his apparent inability to formulate straight answers is a result of his legal training and ‘lawyerly way’. Quite how that explains his current inability to answer questions without adding to an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion is unclear.
Council ‘kept in the dark’ over police response
PEMBROKESHIRE County Council were ‘kept in the dark’ over the police’s response to a complaint that was sent to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
At its meeting on March 8, 2018, council resolved to submit a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission regarding delays by Dyfed Powys Police in concluding its investigation into alleged irregular grant payments in respect of Pembroke and Pembroke Dock Commercial Property Grant Scheme.
However, there was a five-week delay in that letter being sent and it has only now been brought to the attention of Council because of questions raised by Cllr Mike Stoddart.
The Leader Cllr David Simpson stated he was unaware of the delay and apologised but Cllr Stoddart said they had been ‘kept in the dark’ and denied the right to appeal.
Cllr Stoddart’s questions were submitted to Thursday’s (Oct 11) Full Council meeting. He asked: “Can the leader explain why it took almost five weeks for this resolution to be actioned?
“What response, if any, has the council received from the Independent office for Police Conduct?”
Cllr Simpson said: “I was not aware of this delay until I saw the question. I did not have any idea it took this long for a letter to be written.
“I have spoken with the Chief Executive and we agree that it should never ever have taken five weeks to write a letter from this council to anyone. It will never ever take five weeks again, it shouldn’t have happened and I apologise.
“A formal response was received on May 2, the contents of which have been sent to Cllr Stoddart. In a meeting on April 12, 2018, there was a meeting between the Police and the CPS and a charging decision was to follow.
“Following discussion, the force is still awaiting the charging decision from the CPS and when it is received Pembrokeshire County Council will be made aware.”
Cllr Stoddart responded saying: “This letter from the police was sent on May 2 but it was written on that day and emailed to the council on May 10. It didn’t arrive in time for it to be put to full council.
“Why wasn’t an announcement made the following day to the Annual Council meeting. We should have decided if we were satisfied with the police response and could have appealed but we have been kept in the dark.
“We have been denied the right to appeal, council officers have sat on the report in a deliberate attempt to hide the response and prevent us from making a decision on whether or not we should have appealed.”
Cllr Simpson said they should have had the letter sooner and that they should have had the opportunity to consider appealing.
He was asked what steps would be undertaken to ensure this doesn’t happen again and Cllr Simpson added he wanted openness and transparency and assured that it would never happen again.
Cllr Jacob Williams did attempt to refer the matter to the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee for a look into why there was a five-week delay but this was not allowed by the Chair.
Greens reject Welsh party
THE WALES GREEN PARTY has rejected the opportunity to reconstitute itself as a Welsh Green Party, as opposed to a branch of the Green Party for England.
Members of the party rejected the proposal to strike it out on their own in a poll of members.
Current Green Party of Wales leader Grenville Ham was in favour of disentangling from the party in England.
Rather like other political parties –Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrat – the prefix ‘Welsh’ does not denote any separate legal existence from parties England.
Scotland has a separate Green Party, but the Wales Green Party has decided against independence.
Last weekend, the Green Party of Wales held a vote to decide whether or not it should remain a regional outpost of the Green Party in England.
In a poll of the Party’s membership of 1,500 in Wales, 64.8% decided to remain attached to the current party structure.
That figure appears overwhelming, but is rather less impressive when the turnout for the vote is factored in.
Of 1,500 Green Party members in Wales, only 20% turned out to vote.
A turnout of 300 means that around 194 Green Party members held sway over around 106 of their fellow party members in a vote which 1,200 members could not even be bothered to cast a ballot.
Where this leaves the Green Party as a relevant political entity in Wales is open to question; the argument could be advanced that if 80% of its members did not care enough about the party’s identity in Wales to register a vote either for or against forming a party with a specific Welsh focus, there have to be doubts about its long term commitment to formulating policies which address specifically Welsh issues instead of goals shared with the party in England.
Critics of the vote’s outcome have suggested that its result represents a missed opportunity for the Greens in Wales to address two separate problems which have persistently bedevilled the party in recent years: firstly, the perception that the Green Party has a ‘Lady Bountiful’ attitude to Wales and the Welsh; secondly, it’s failure to make any meaningful electoral progress.
On the upside, at least the Greens held a vote.
Labour’s legislative plans announced
DEPARTING First Minister Carwyn Jones has announced the Welsh Government’s legislative programme for the Assembly’s term following the summer recess.
The programme makes good on the Welsh Government’s policy promise of ending the physical punishment of children in Wales. The measure, which has been opposed by the campaign group ‘Be Reasonable’, is one of a package of members aimed at promoting child welfare.
Commenting on the move, an NSPCC Cymru spokesperson said: “The NSPCC has long campaigned for children in Wales to have the same protection against assault as adults so the Welsh Government’s intention to remove the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ in the coming year is hugely welcome.
“It is a common-sense move which is about fairness and equality for children.
“It is wrong that a legal defence which does not exist in a case of assault against an adult can be used to justify striking a child.
“Closing this loophole will bring Wales in line with dozens of countries around the world and finally give our children equal protection under the law.”
A bill will also be brought forward to establish duties of quality and candour in health and social care. This will place statutory obligations on all health organisations in Wales to be open and transparent and will ensure lessons are learned and improvements made where necessary. A new independent body will be created to give people a stronger voice for their experiences of health and social care services.
The government will bring forward a local government bill, which will include reform of local authority electoral arrangements, including reducing the voting age to include 16 and 17-year-olds.
The way animals are treated is an important reflection of society and over the next 12 months, a bill will be introduced to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses on welfare grounds.
The government will also introduce a bill to make Welsh law more accessible. The Legislation (Wales) Bill will be the first major step towards achieving a clear and well-organised statute book.
First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “The year ahead will be one of the busiest for us in legislative terms since Wales gained primary law-making powers.
“Making our statute book ready for EU exit is a big challenge for the Welsh Government and the National Assembly but we must not let this limit our ambitions. We will keep driving forward progress and delivering for the people of Wales.”
In addition to the Welsh Government’s legislative programme, the National Assembly will be asked to undertake a substantial programme of correcting regulations under the EU (Withdrawal) Act between October and March in preparation for EU exit.
However, Carwyn Jones’ final statement on the Welsh Government’s law-making priorities for the year ahead have been branded “unambitious, last-minute scribblings of a tired administration” by the Welsh Conservatives.
One of the proposals to be brought forward is a ban on wild animals from performing in travelling circuses, something Welsh Conservatives have been calling for in recent years.
Legislation to merge councils is likely to face much contention following fierce opposition from the Welsh Local Government Association over the past few months after being told they will have to merge voluntarily, or have t imposed upon them.
Interim leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Paul Davies AM, said: “After nearly 20 years at the helm, the Welsh Labour Government have been proven to be unimaginative and tired.
The headline bills to be announced today is typical Welsh Labour: tinker at the edges, but do nothing to resolve the fundamental challenges to Welsh society and its economy.
“We have an underperforming health service, a health board in special measures for three years, and an education system that ranks bottom of the UK nations.
“It is time to be more radical with public services – not only to deliver better value for money for taxpayers, but also better outcomes for everyone in all parts of Wales in health, education, and beyond.”
And Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood also expressed her and her party’s disappointment at Labour’s programme.
“I congratulate the First Minister on delivering his eighth and final statement on a future legislative programme.
“However, I am saddened to say this looks like a re-hash of a legislative programme we have seen before. At a time when our democracy, our nation, is in flux, we need ambition, vision and leadership. Values I do not see demonstrated by today’s statement.
“We can agree that Westminster is failing Wales. But this Parliament – the new home of Welsh democracy – was meant to give us the opportunity to do things differently. When they cancelled plans for a tidal lagoon, legislation should have been brought forward for a new nationalised Welsh energy company. We must take our future into our hands, not allow Westminster to tie them behind our back.
“We are leaving an environment that is increasingly inhospitable. Air pollution kills tens of thousands every year and plastic waste litters our coastline and countryside. But a Clean Air Act and bottle return scheme are nowhere to be seen in this statement. There is also no proposed legislation or laws to create a feminist Welsh government a reality as promised.
“Many key decisions have also been kicked into the long-grass. The size of our parliament and who can participate in our democracy, for one.
“There is not a single piece of legislation planned for education, transport, energy, the environment, housing, social care, farming and fisheries.
“This is a legislative programme of old ideas and no ambition. The Welsh Government can do better. The National Assembly can deliver better. Wales needs better.”
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