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Politics

Carwyn Jones to step down as row over Sargeant inquiry intensifies

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THE FIRST MINISTER of Wales and leader of the Labour Party in Wales, Carwyn Jones, has announced he is to step down from both roles in the autumn.
Carywn Jones, who succeeded Rhodri Morgan as First Minister in 2009, made the announcement at Labour’s Spring Conference in Llandudno earlier today (Saturday, April 21).
Mr Jones was widely expected to step down during the current Assembly, but the timing of his resignation statement has come as a surprise.
Carwyn Jones has exercised power as First Minister for almost nine years in spite of having either no majority or only the slenderest of majorities in the Welsh Assembly. During his period in office he has been embroiled in a number of controversies; however, the last few months of his time in office have been dogged by a series of scandals surrounding the circumstances of the dismissal and subsequent death of former Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Carl Sargeant.
Mr Sargeant’s dismissal from office was leaked before the official announcement was made, with Llanelli AM Lee Waters revealing that he knew of Mr Sargeant’s sacking before the official announcement. A well-known Welsh journalist was also told of Mr Sargeant’s dismissal before the First Minister met with Mr Sargeant to inform him of it, as were at least two Labour MPs.
Following Mr Sargeant’s sudden death – a few days after his sacking by Mr Jones – a series of awkward questions about due process arose. Mr Sargeant was dismissed without being given the chance to respond to the allegations and the details of the allegations were not made available to him; allegations of leaking of confidential information from sources within the Welsh Government followed; and allegations of a toxic bullying culture at the heart of the Welsh Labour administration, were made.
Although questions regarding those issues focussed on the actions of politically appointed civil servants, those issues cast a long shadow over Carwyn Jones.
Yesterday, solicitors acting for Jack Sargeant, Carl Sargeant’s son who was elected to his late father’s Alyn & Deeside constituency, released a strongly-worded letter which took the Welsh Government to task for continuing delays in setting up an inquiry.
In a subsequent interview, Jack Sargeant’s lawyer – Neil Hudgell – suggested that: ‘[I]t’s been dehumanised within the first minister’s office: there’s some game-playing going on and some deliberate stalling tactics’.
Mr Jones acknowledged the pressure exerted by Carl Sargeant’s death and the subsequent furore about the involvement of civil servants both in bullying and in leaking information.
“There are people I haven’t been fair to in recent times, and that’s my family,” he said.
“In any normal political career you expect to be put through the wringer and have your everything challenged. I don’t think anyone can know what these last few months have been like, other than Lisa and the kids. They have helped me through the darkest of times. I have asked too much of them at times and it’s time for me think about what’s fair to them.”
While no direct allegations of wrongdoing were ever made against Mr Jones personally, the suspicion that something was rotten among civil service political appointees became increasingly hard to dispel. And there have been increasing signs in the First Minister’s responses to questions that he is feeling the pressure, as the Olympian sarcasm he often uses to cross-cut opposition AMs has degenerated to personal attacks on those questioning him.
Evidence of that was the abortive attempt to smear Adam Price in exchanges over the healthcare reorganisation in Hywel Dda.
A Freedom of Information Act request made by The Herald to the Health Board uncovered that civil servants working for the Welsh Government had asked for details of Mr Price’s correspondence from the Health Board and after receiving it had gone back and asked for details other AMs’ and MPs’ correspondence.
That led to an angry exchange in the Senedd last week, when Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire AM Angela Burns, referring to The Herald’s article about our Freedom of Information Act request and the Health Board’s response, questioned the First Minister why she was still waiting for an answer to her own request from the Welsh Government on the same lines. When Adam Price raised the spectre of a ‘smear machine’ staffed by civil servants to assist Labour in making personal attacks on opposition AMs, Mr Jones responded with a personal attack on Adam Price.
The field of candidates to replace Mr Jones is likely to number no more than four, thanks to the nomination procedure for leadership of the Assembly group. Likely runners include Ken Skates, the Economy Secretary, Health Secretary Vaughan Gething, and possibly Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford – likely to be popular with a grass-roots membership significantly more left wing than the party in the Assembly.

Politics

Conservatives crank-up calls for Carwyn to go

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Since you gotta go, you'd better go now: Andrew RT Davies says Wales can't wait for Labour

THE CONSERVATIVES have called for Carwyn Jones’s replacement as Labour leader in Wales to be chosen sooner rather than later.

Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Conservatives in the Assembly, has raised fears of legislative inertia and lack of progress on key projects while uncertainty continues around the identity of Mr Jones’s successor.

Mr Davies has warned that Wales faces a period of ​’​rudderless leadership​’​ in Welsh Government, if the process to select Carwyn Jones’ replacement is allowed to drag on until December.

The Conservatives say that internal wrangling within Welsh Labour over the electoral system used to elect leaders could delay a contest by months, with some Labour members calling for the introduction of ‘one-member-one-vote’.

But Mr Davies is concerned that a ​’​vacuum at the heart of Welsh politics​’​ could have serious consequences for public services in Wales.

He said: “The First Minister’s decision to stand down has created an immediate vacuum at the heart of Welsh politics, and we now face a period of rudderless leadership whilst the Labour Party works out how to elect his replacement.

“They need to get a move on, for the sake of our public services and public confidence in devolution.

“Welsh NHS waiting lists are spiralling, we have a teacher recruitment crisis, and take-home pay is the lowest in any part of the UK.

“It is simply unacceptable for the country to be left in limbo until the end of the year.

“Frankly, the majority of the public are unconcerned by the mechanism used to determine Carwyn’s replacement, but we need to see a new First Minister with a mandate to take Wales forward in the coming weeks – not months.”

Mr Davies’ words were subsequently given more force when the outgoing First Minister refused to commit the Welsh Government to its preferred ‘Black Route’ for the M4 relief road.

Speaking in First Minister’s Questions, Carwyn Jones refused to back the route, despite his government having spent millions of pounds in preparatory work for its development – and having taken that route through to public consultation.

A number of routes have been proposed, but First Minister Carwyn Jones and the Welsh Government’s favoured option has always been the ‘black route’.

In May 2016 Carwyn Jones confirmed that the Welsh Government would not support the alternative – the ‘Blue Route’.

The First Minister said at the time: “One thing I will say is we wouldn’t support the blue route. There are a number of reasons for this.

“First of all, the blue route is dual carriageway, not a six-lane motorway, and that seems to me to defeat the whole object of a new road.”

Yet, when asked to reaffirm his government’s commitment to an M4 Relief Road, the First Minister refused – even claiming that he’d never publicly expressed a preference.

Speaking outside the Chamber, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives – Andrew RT Davies – said: “It looks like the M4 relief road is going to be the first casualty of Labour’s leadership contest.
“Despite spending millions of pounds preparing for the project – and despite having repeatedly backed the black route – the First Minister has now distanced himself from taking a decision.

“This is just the first major decision that will now be parked until a new leader is in place.

“This is why we need to see a swift resolution of the Labour leadership crisis, before the sense of inertia takes hold.

“On the current timetable, the new First Minister is unlikely to be in post before Christmas – just weeks before we leave the European Union, and several months after the public inquiry into the M4 relief road has reported.

“These decisions cannot simply be parked, and the Welsh public can’t be held to ransom because the Labour Party cannot agree on how to elect a new leader.

“That’s why we need to see a new First Minister with a mandate to take Wales forward in the coming weeks – not months.”

Meanwhile, the Conservatives’ shadow spokesperson on local government, Janet Finch-Saunders has drawn attention to the potential for the First Minister’s impending departure to leave other major reforms in limbo.

Ahead of a Conservative debate on local government in the Assembly on Wednesday (April, 25), Ms Finch-Saunders, warned that the uncertainty was having a negative impact on already creaking frontline services.

She said: “Just weeks ago the Welsh Government announced its third major set of proposals to reform local government in just a few years.

“They’ve spent considerable amounts of taxpayer money, and wasted several years discussing disruptive plans which have led to a sustained period of uncertainty for local authorities.

“With the First Minister’s impending resignation you have to wonder where the latest reincarnation of forced mergers is heading – after all, there’s no certainty that the same Local Government Secretary will even be in post under a new leader.

“What is clear is that the vast majority of Welsh councils are firmly against these disruptive and counter-productive plans.

“We all want to see the cost of politics reduced, but councils are already exploring collaboration on a regional level, and we would not back mergers without the consent of local residents and taxpayers.”

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Politics

Voting system overshadows Labour elections

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Carolyn Harris MP: New Deputy Leader

A ROW has erupted following the election of Carolyn Harris MP as the new deputy leader of the Labour Party in Wales.

And the row could have an impact on the election of Carwyn Jones’s successor to the post of leader and First Minister.

In an eerie echo of the way in which the late Rhodri Morgan was defeated for leadership of Labour in Wales ​18 years ago, the membership of the party overwhelmingly backed his widow, Julie Morgan AM, but the votes of the union machine and Labour representatives went Carolyn Harris’ way.

The MP for Swansea East gained 51.5 per cent of the vote, narrowly beating Julie Morgan, Cardiff AM and former MP, to become the Welsh party’s first deputy leader.

Although Julie Morgan won a majority of party members’ votes, Carolyn Harris won amongst affiliated groups and elected representatives.

In the UK Labour Party, the leader and deputy leader are elected under one member one vote (OMOV); however, Labour in Wales has retained the Electoral College, which was widely criticised following the 2010 election for Labour leader that saw Ed Milliband returned as party leader.

There has been disquiet within the Labour Party over the system it uses for elections for some time, and the Welsh Labour Party is part of the way through a review of its Electoral College.

The vote was​ -​

Affiliated groups including trade unions:
Harris – 20.14 per cent
Morgan – 13.19 per cent

Party members:
Harris – 11.6 per cent
Morgan – 21.73 per cent

MPs and AMs:
Harris – 19.75 per cent
Morgan – 13.58 per cent

Overall:
Harris – 51.5 per cent
Morgan – 48.5 per cent

Campaigning in the deputy leadership election centred upon the system used to elect the candidates. Carolyn Harris – backed by the unions –​ ​supported the existing system, while Julie Morgan supporting a change to one-member-one-vote.

The result is likely to strengthen calls for OMOV in Welsh Labour internal elections.

There was no sign of the fight being over after the election, when Julie Morgan tweeted: “The campaign for one member one vote continues.”

Jon Lansman, founder of Momentum and a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee tweeted: ‘The process was a travesty of democracy & insults the people of Wales. The Welsh Exec deliberately chose to limit members say to ⅓, they knew what they were doing. It’s called gerrymandering’.

The timing of Carwyn Jones’ announcement is also thought to be significant, as it would now require a rule change to switch the Electoral College system – perceived as a way of stitching up elections – to a wider vote of party members.

Following Carwyn Jones’ surprise decision to stand down in the autumn, battle lines have been drawn along the method chosen to elect the new leader, with potential candidates with strong links to unions – for example, the former President of the Wales TUC and transparently ambitious Vaughan Gething – altruistically supporting the status quo; while others have called for Labour in Wales to follow the UK party system, widely thought to favour more left wing candidates – for example, Mark Drakeford, who is more popular with rank and file members.

Indeed, as the week has progressed since Carwyn Jones’s announcement, Mark Drakeford has easily racked up more than enough AM nominations to succeed him as leader. The extent of the concern that some AMs have has been the coded call for ‘a more diverse field’, hoping to throw up a ‘Stop Drakeford’ candidate.

Mid and West Regional AM Eluned Morgan is thought to be the favourite of those seeking to prevent a coronation.

Eluned Morgan is a formidable political operator and is likely to have a far wider appeal than the other alternatives to Mark Drakeford, who seem so politically similar that they could have been designed by the same committee. Whether Ms Morgan is willing to place her name forward is open to question. While a further complication is that, as a regional AM, she is not in control of her own destiny and would likely need a safe constituency base for the next Assembly elections.

Signs of support for Ms Morgan are already evident.

An online petition has been launched calling for her name to be included on the ballot for leadership candidates. The petition’s supporters say that ‘For too long women have been overlooked in Welsh politics. Despite the many movements and campaigns to bring about equality, Wales of all the UK nations is unique in that it has never elected a woman leader’.

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Politics

Minister announces affordable housing review

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Rebecca Evans: WG committed to deliver 20,000 affordable homes

HOUSING and Regeneration Minister Rebecca Evans has announced an independent review of affordable housing supply in Wales, with a visit to newly built affordable houses and flats in Pontardawe.

The review will examine whether more can be done to increase the supply of affordable housing in Wales, maximising the resources available, and will be chaired by Lynn Pamment, Cardiff Senior Partner and Government & Public Services Lead at PwC. Lynn has many years’ experience of providing financial advice to public and private sector bodies, including working with housing associations and others in the affordable housing sector.

The review will:

  • examine the scope for increasing match funding to build more affordable homes, to maximise the number of homes created by the Welsh Government’s contribution to social housing
  • review the arrangements governing partnership working between local authorities and housing associations
  • consider the implications of moving to deliver zero carbon homes by 2020, including the role of off-site manufacture and modern methods of construction
  • review the standards governing affordable housing and advise on whether they require updating
  • make recommendations regarding a sustainable rent policy that will both allow long term affordability for tenants and allow viability of existing and new housing developments.

The review will be expected to issue a report and make recommendations to the Minister by the end of April 2019.

Rebecca Evans said: “We have made a clear commitment to deliver 20,000 affordable homes during this term of Government and this development in Pontardawe demonstrates how we are delivering on this.

“I want this review to ensure we are getting the best value for money in our investments and policy, including how we plan for a zero carbon future and the way in which the sector operates.

“We know that many more people in Wales want to access affordable housing.

“The sector in Wales have called on us to look at our policy, and we want to work closely with all stakeholders involved in housing supply to ensure we are building as many homes as possible.

“Lynn Pamment has a great deal of experience in working with the public and private sector on financing projects, and I look forward to reading the results of her review next year.”

Stuart Ropke, Chief Executive of Community Housing Cymru said: “Housing associations in Wales have ambitions to build a minimum of 75,000 affordable homes in Wales over the next twenty years – doubling the current delivery rate. In November 2017 we launched ‘Housing Horizons’, our sector vision to make good housing a basic right for all. This far reaching ambition cannot be achieved without a full analysis of Welsh housing policy and how this is put into practice, so we are delighted the Minister has backed our call for a review.

“Through the review we can establish the most effective policy environment to meet our affordable home delivery ambition and build a solid foundation for current and future generations. If we get this review right, it will be a big step towards solving the housing crisis.”

Matt Dicks, Director of the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru said: “We welcome today’s announcement of a review into housing policy in Wales. It rightly looks at what kind of homes we need in the future and how we can sustain longer-term investment whilst maintaining the affordability of our housing. Over the lifespan of the one-year review we look forward to engaging fully, bringing to life the experiences of housing professionals from across the sector in Wales to provide timely insight and real-life expertise.”

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