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Paul Davies calls for ‘devolution revolution’

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THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has enough powers to do what it needs to do for the people of Wales and should stop pretending it has powers in policy areas outside its remit.
That was the uncompromising message of Conservative leader Paul Davies MS when interviewed by The Herald this week.

Instead of dabbling in international relations and commissioning reports into the potential devolution of powers over the justice system, the Welsh Government should direct its attention at those areas in which its powers can do the most good for Wales, Mr Davies said.

Rather than seeking new powers, Cardiff Bay should look at successive governments’ failures on health policy, education, and Wales’ fragile economy.

When challenged about whether his approach signalled a lack of ambition for Wales’ future, Paul Davies said: “I have plenty of ambition for Wales. The Conservatives are ambitious for Wales. But we have got to get to grips with the issues which affect Wales after twenty years of Labour-led rule in Cardiff.

“The structure of government needs to be overhauled and we must have Ministers who are accountable for their policy areas. Whatever goes wrong with its current policies, whatever mistakes are made, with Labour it’s always someone else’s fault. The Government is never to blame.

“That has to end and that is one of the most important changes that will take place if I am First Minister after May 2021.”

When it came to that sort of radical restructure, we probed further about what Mr Davies had in mind.

“Angela Burns is doing excellent work at the moment with our planned Office for Government Resilience and Efficiency (OGRE). She is working with colleagues to identify where we can get rid of duplication and waste in the current system. There are too many announcements; too many consultations; too much dither and delay before the Welsh Government gets round to doing anything.

“We will drive through an ambitious policy agenda which delivers services people need in good time. The Welsh Labour-led government is spending more time saying its thinking about policy than delivering the improvements Wales needs and its people deserve. To do that, we will cut the chatter and get on with the job.
“Ministers need to make decisions and be accountable for them in the Senedd and to the public.”

We suggested that breaking the cycle of Labour victories in Wales would be tough to achieve, but Paul Davies said there was cause for optimism.

Reflecting on the historically dismal turnout for elections to the Welsh Parliament, he said: “You have to remember that Wales has never elected a majority Labour Government. At the moment, it has a Liberal Democrat in the Cabinet. One of its other Ministers (Dafydd Elis Thomas) sits as an independent. Without those votes, Labour would be in a minority. Labour has been propped up by the Liberal Democrats and by Plaid Cymru in the past.

“Recent polls show an improving position for the Conservatives in Wales.”

Referring to those polls, we pointed out that they still did not show a majority for a Conservative government or even for the Party being the largest in the Senedd after next May’s elections.

“In last December’s General Election, we got an unprecedented share of the vote in Wales. Our job, as Welsh Conservatives is to convince those voters to turnout and vote Conservative for the Senedd. Our analysis shows that if we manage to get 75% of those voters who voted Conservative last December to vote Conservative in May 2021, we will get over the line and be in the best position to form a government.”

The remote possibility of a Plaid/Conservative agreement seems to have vanished. Last week, Adam Price ruled out a coalition with the Conservatives or supporting an effort by the Conservatives to form a government. That seems to leave little arithmetical room for manoeuvre. On the question of where the Conservatives would draw support from if it was the largest party but didn’t have a majority, Paul Davies wouldn’t be drawn.

“We will have to gauge that position if it arises. There are possibilities of drawing support from elsewhere, but I make no bones about it: I am aiming to form a government for Wales.”

In light of the close relationship between the Welsh Government and Wales’ national media, we asked whether Paul Davies thought his message could get through.
He didn’t mince his words in reply.

“The current Government gets an easy ride when it comes to scrutiny by Wales’ national media. Opposition voices are drowned out. It’s only recently that BBC Wales has started allowing opposition parties to respond the Welsh Government’s televised coronavirus broadcasts. That’s vitally important, because we’re not getting much chance to scrutinise the government’s announcements before they are broadcast.”

Mr Davies was, of course, referring to the latest and continuing row over the Welsh Government’s practice of delivering policy announcements in a way that avoids direct scrutiny by opposition parties before they have been spun to broadcast and print media.

“The right place for ministers to make announcements is in the Senedd. Look at the ridiculous position we have at the moment. Ministers can make it to the Welsh Government’s offices. They can get to Cathays Park for television broadcasts. They cannot, however, make the journey to the Senedd – which is where they should be – to answer questions and be held to account!

“It’s ridiculous that Ken Skates (Minister for the Economy and MS for Clwyd South) makes an announcement in Cardiff and then goes back to North Wales but can’t – or won’t – appear before the Senedd.

“Questioning ministers over a digital link is not the same as being able to question them on the floor of the Senedd Chamber. Welsh Government ministers are getting away with ducking scrutiny and Wales’ national media are letting them get away with it.”

We concluded by asking what positive message voters could take away from our interview.

“Make no mistake, what I want to deliver is a devolution revolution. A government which delivers for all of Wales and not just for parts of it. Too often, local concerns are swept aside because of big national strategies. We will be smarter and look at local circumstances. I’ve campaigned to stop Withybush being downgraded and losing services for years. Why are services being taken away? Because Welsh Labour says so. It doesn’t understand that Wales is more than those bits of it which vote Labour.

“We must have better services, delivered more efficiently, and for which Welsh Government ministers are properly accountable. That needs radical change and that is why I call it a devolution revolution. After twenty years of Welsh Labour government, its failed on its core responsibilities: health, education, and the economy – I want to do more and do it better. Devolution hasn’t failed Wales, Welsh Labour has.”

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Politics

Pembrokeshire County Council considering ‘Fire-break’ implications

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FOLLOWING the First Minister’s announcement at lunchtime today (Oct 19) of an all-Wales ‘firebreak’ commencing on Friday, Pembrokeshire County Council is currently assessing the impact this will have on its services.

Council Leader, David Simpson, said: “I can provide assurance that detailed planning arrangements both internally, and externally with our partner agencies, are underway to ensure that we are well placed to meet any challenges which may arise.

“We will be issuing further updates over the coming days.”

Councillor Simpson added: “The First Minister has clearly said the ‘firebreak’ has been put in place due to the increasing level of cases across Wales.

“Although the restrictions do not come into force until Friday we all have to act now – early prevention can make a huge difference.”

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Politics

Two week national ‘Firebreak Lockdown’ announced for Wales from 6pm on Friday

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MARK DRAKEFORD, The First Minister of Wales has announced a two week ‘fire break’ lockdown from Friday October 23 at 18:00 HRS, to last until Monday November 9 at 00:01 HRS

Mr Drakeford said: “This firebreak is the shortest we can make it. It must be sharp and deep in order to have the impact we need it to have on the virus.”

All non essential businesses, including tourism businesses will be told to close.

Businesses have been told that they will be given £1000 each automatically to help with the economic impact of the shutdown.

Mr Drakeford added that children will be the priority and that childcare facilities will open as normal. Primary schools will open after half term.

Secondary schools will be closed for a week after half term to help control the virus.

Universities will offer a mixture of face-to-face learning and learning via video link. Students must stay at their university accommodation during the lockdown.

Responding to the Welsh Government’s announcement of a Wales-wide lockdown, Paul Davies MS, the Leader of the Opposition in the Welsh Parliament, has called the lockdown “not-proportionate” and is calling on the Welsh Government to be “open and transparent” on the evidence to support a lockdown and if the First Minister is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns every month.

Paul Davies MS said: “Sadly, the First Minster has failed to get public support for this second Wales-wide lockdown, failing to be open and transparent about the evidence to justify this lockdown and what his actions will entail for the future.

“The Welsh Government also has to be honest that this road they are taking us down is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns. This is not a two-week break to solve the pandemic, it is likely that we will see regular lockdowns across the rest of the year. The Welsh Government must be clear what actions they are taking during the lockdown to prevent further Wales-wide lockdowns which will have a significant impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.

“However, the main concern is that this national lockdown is not proportionate. The impact on businesses in areas such as Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, who have the lowest rate of Covid-19 cases in Wales, will be severe at a time when they are desperately struggling to recover from the pandemic so far this year.

“The First Minister needs to urgently come to the Welsh Parliament and answer these questions, to face effective scrutiny by elected representatives and not run his government by media.”

Preseli Pembrokeshire MP, Stephen Crabb told The Herald: “The evidence to support an all-Wales lockdown is weak and I am sceptical that this so-called ‘fire-break’ will tackle the situation in those parts of Wales where infection rates have been out of control. The key issue for Welsh Government to address is what will be done differently after the firebreak ends in those parts of Wales where infection rates have spiralled out of control. Otherwise the whole of Wales risks being dragged back into a series of rolling lockdowns.

“As we saw earlier in the year, lockdowns come with huge costs in terms of harm to the economy and to people’s emotional and mental wellbeing. With the Welsh Government asking UK Government to fund this lockdown, I hope that as many businesses as possible get support they need quickly. Pembrokeshire’s hospitality businesses will be hit particularly hard by these latest restrictions and I will be fighting hard again to see that they are protected as the lockdown kicks in.”

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Cardiff and London at loggerheads over who will pay the bill for the Wales-wide lockdown

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THE PLANNED national lockdown for Wales still has many details to finalise before any final announcement of its terms and length.

The major sticking point is money.

During the UK-wide national lockdown from March to July, the Westminster Government picked up the tab for paying Welsh workers’ wages and provided a massive amount of extra funding for business support.

From November 1, the UK government will support eligible businesses by paying two-thirds of each employee’s salary, up to a maximum of £2,100 a month.

Businesses might also be eligible for grant support of up to £3,000 a month to meet other costs.

Devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will receive a total of £1.3bn in increased funding this year to cover similar measures.

Businesses will only be eligible to claim the grant while they are subject to lockdown restrictions.

Council leaders across Wales have expressed their deep concern to Welsh Government ministers about the lack of any detail of what will be done to provide financial support to businesses, particularly those which are not forced to close by lockdown restrictions but close as a knock-on effect of lockdown.

Local authorities, which channelled most business support during the lockdown which began in March, have still not been told by the Welsh Government what help or how much will be available for businesses in that position, let alone how it will be delivered.

The sour relationship between the Welsh Government and Westminster is not likely to help Mark Drakeford’s administration if it looks for fresh funding help from the Treasury to bail it out of the wider economic consequences of a Wales-wide lockdown.

If the Welsh Government tries to go it alone to soften the blow, it faces making significant cuts elsewhere in its budgets.

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