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Politics

End of the line for Right to Buy?

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Carl Sargeant: Social housing ‘under considerable pressure’

NEW LEGISLATION which will abolish one of the most controversial policies of the 1980s was introduced in the National Assembly this week.

The Right to Buy legislation was introduced by Margaret Thatcher in 1980, though individual councils could sell properties to tenants prior to this.

While some credited the policy, which was one of the bedrocks of the Thatcher administrations, with raising money for public finances, and giving people their only opportunity to own a home, it was also criticised for creating a shortage of affordable rented property and artificially inflating the housing market. It led to the sale of 139,000 Local Authority-owned houses in Wales – around 45% of the available stock – since 1980.

In enacting this Bill, Wales will follow from Scotland, who banned Right to Buy in 2016.

The Bill will provide for the Right to Buy, the Preserved Right to Buy and the Right to Acquire for tenants of local authorities and registered social landlords to be abolished after a period of at least one year following Royal Assent.

In introducing the Bill, the Welsh Government aims to protect the Welsh stock of social housing from further reduction, ensuring it is available to provide safe, secure and affordable housing for people who are unable to take advantage of the housing market to buy or rent a home.

To encourage the development of new social housing, the Bill, if passed by the Assembly, will provide that the Right to Buy and Right to Acquire will end for new homes two months after Royal Assent. This will help encourage social landlords to build new homes in the knowledge that they will not be at risk of being sold after only a relatively short period.

The Bill complements other actions being taken by the Welsh Government to increase the supply of housing.

Ahead of the Bill’s introduction, Communities Secretary Carl Sargeant said: “Our social housing is a valuable resource, but it is under considerable pressure. The size of the stock has declined significantly since 1980 when the Right to Buy was introduced. The number of sales is equivalent to 45% of the social housing stock in 1981. This has resulted in people in housing need, many of whom are vulnerable, waiting longer to access a home they can afford.

“The Bill supports the Welsh Government’s wider aims of a more prosperous and fairer Wales, helping to tackle poverty by protecting our stock of social housing from further reduction.

“I recognise the proposal affects existing tenants and we will ensure tenants are made aware of the effect of the Bill in good time before abolition takes place. The Bill will require the Welsh Government to publish information, which social landlords in turn must provide to every affected tenant, within two months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent.

“We have set an ambitious target of creating 20,000 affordable homes in this term of government. Alongside social housing this will include schemes such as Help to Buy and Rent to Own to enable people on modest incomes to own their own homes. We are supporting low cost home ownership and we are expanding the social housing stock. Abolishing the Right to Buy will complement these other actions we are taking in order to support people in housing need.”

Councillor Dyfed Edwards, the Welsh Local Government Association spokesperson for Housing, said: “At a time of acute shortages of social rented homes, and with many thousands of people currently on housing waiting lists, the proposal from the Welsh Government to abolish right to buy is a welcome step in tackling a growing problem in Wales. It is essential that people’s access is improved to good quality social rented housing in order to enhance people’s lives, and also to revitalise local communities”

The plans were backed by Plaid Cymru. A party spokesperson said: “We welcome the proposed move to scrap it altogether and regret that the Labour Welsh Government has taken so long to abolish this most Thatcherite of policies.”

However, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Welsh Conservatives were less enthusiastic about the proposal.

Party Housing Spokesman, David Melding AM , said: “The Welsh Government’s bid to end the right of social housing tenants to buy their homes begins its journey through the National Assembly for Wales today.

“Labour’s decision to revoke the Right to Buy in Wales will undermine social mobility, depriving thousands of families of an opportunity to get on the housing ladder for the first time.

“It’s easy for Welsh Government ministers to lecture, but this legislation will simply serve to deny hardworking families an opportunity to own their own homes.

“There is a severe shortage of affordable housing in Wales because Labour hasn’t built enough affordable homes, and not because council tenants have had a chance to buy theirs.

“The Right to Buy Scheme doesn’t deplete the housing stock, it empowers people to take a stake in the home in which they already live.”

News

Eluned Morgan announces bid to become Wales’ first female First Minister

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ELUNED MORGAN has officially declared her candidacy to succeed Vaughan Gething as Wales’ First Minister. The current health secretary is aiming to become the next Welsh Labour leader, presenting a unified front with Huw Irranca-Davies as her prospective deputy.

Morgan’s bid is grounded on a “joint unity ticket” with Irranca-Davies, signalling a move towards consolidating party unity after a period of internal strife that culminated in Gething’s resignation. Addressing a press conference, Morgan emphasised the need for Welsh Labour to learn from recent acrimonious events, which saw Gething ousted following a spate of resignations.

The announcement was made a press conference (Image M Tierney/Herald)

As it stands, the likelihood of a contest appears slim, with no other Senedd politicians expected to enter the race. Should this remain unchanged by the 12:00 BST deadline on Wednesday, Morgan will automatically ascend as the new Welsh Labour leader. Her success would mark a historic moment, as she would become Wales’ first female First Minister.

During her press conference, Morgan underscored the lessons Welsh Labour must heed from the turmoil leading to Gething’s resignation. She introduced Irranca-Davies as her “right-hand man,” aiming to fortify their leadership. Notably, former First Minister Mark Drakeford lent his support, lauding Morgan as a “great campaigning leader.”

Morgan’s campaign has already garnered significant backing, with 15 of the 30 Welsh Labour Senedd members publicly endorsing her. This tally includes key figures like former minister Julie James, former counsel general Mick Antoniw, and Neath MS Jeremy Miles, all of whom were instrumental in Gething’s resignation.

Morgan and Irranca-Davies presented a united front at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, pledging to restore public confidence in Welsh Labour. They eschewed party factionalism, aligning themselves with the broader Welsh Labour radical tradition that has shaped the party and the country since devolution.

Morgan said her bid is grounded on a “joint unity ticket” (Image M Tierney/Herald)

Morgan highlighted the importance of a female leader, stating, “It is high time Wales had a female leader.” Addressing the practicality of their leadership arrangement, she pointed out the necessity for shared leadership during crises, positioning Irranca-Davies as a key partner.

Drakeford’s endorsement adds weight to Morgan’s candidacy. He praised her potential as a “great campaigning leader,” poised to advance Welsh Labour’s message across Wales and work synergistically with the UK Labour government. Drakeford’s previous neutrality in leadership contests makes his current endorsement particularly notable.

The concept of a “joint” ticket is unprecedented in Welsh Labour leadership contests. Morgan’s strategy includes a promise to appoint Irranca-Davies as deputy, showcasing an effort to unify the party. This role, although existing in coalition arrangements, has not been a feature within the Labour party itself, marking a formalisation of leadership coverage during the First Minister’s absence.

The announcement has elicited varied reactions. Welsh Conservative Senedd leader Andrew RT Davies criticised Morgan’s tenure as health secretary, pointing to poor NHS waiting times. Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth accused Labour of prioritising party management over policy innovation, suggesting that continued Labour leadership would perpetuate existing issues in Wales’ economic, health, and educational sectors.

As the deadline approaches, all eyes are on whether any late challengers will emerge. Should Morgan remain unopposed, her leadership will mark a significant shift for Welsh Labour, potentially ushering in a new era with her at the helm as Wales’ first female First Minister. With backing from key party figures and a clear strategy for unity and leadership, Morgan stands poised to steer Welsh Labour through the coming months and into the next electoral cycle.

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News

Plaid Cymru expels Senedd politician following inappropriate conduct

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PLAID CYMRU has expelled a Member of the Senedd who was found to have inappropriately touched and sworn at two women while drunk during a party night out.

Rhys ab Owen, who represents South Wales Central, was previously banned from the Welsh Parliament for six weeks – the longest sanction ever handed out in the Senedd.

The party announced that Mr ab Owen’s membership had been terminated following an internal disciplinary process. In response, Mr ab Owen stated he would respect the decision and has previously issued an unreserved apology for his actions.

An investigation conducted by Standards Commissioner Douglas Bain revealed that Mr ab Owen had inappropriately touched the two women during a night out with Plaid Cymru staff and other Members of the Senedd in June 2021. Mr Bain noted that Mr ab Owen showed “no remorse” for the incidents.

Elected in 2021, Mr ab Owen later admitted to the Senedd that he had behaved badly and apologised for his conduct.

In a statement, a Plaid Cymru spokesperson said: “Following the publication of the Senedd standards report, there has been an internal disciplinary process within Plaid Cymru. As a result, his party membership has been terminated, and he will not be eligible to re-apply for a period of at least two years.”

Mr ab Owen had already been suspended from the party’s Senedd group in November 2022, which led to him sitting as an independent. He had also been suspended from the party itself since the findings of Mr Bain’s investigation became known.

Had Mr ab Owen been an MP, his punishment would have triggered a recall petition and potentially a by-election. However, no such system currently exists in the Senedd, though the parliament’s standards committee is considering introducing one when the institution expands from 60 to 96 politicians in 2026.

Mr ab Owen commented: “Today’s decision is the culmination of a long process which I hope will now bring the matter to a close. It is a decision I will respect so that my family and I can look to the future. As I have done throughout, I will continue to work with and for my constituency. I am proud to do so and remain fully committed to serving the people of South Wales Central. My wife and children are my priority above all else and I thank them for their enduring love and support.”

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Education

Teacher shortage ‘threatens Welsh speaker target’

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SENEDD members warned a shortage of teachers could undermine a target to reach a million Welsh speakers and double daily use of the language by 2050.

Eluned Morgan, standing in for Jeremy Miles, who resigned as economy and Welsh language secretary that day, gave a statement on the Welsh education bill on July 16.

She said the bill, which was introduced in the Senedd this week, will give every child in Wales a fair chance of becoming Welsh speakers.

Baroness Morgan told the debating chamber or Siambr that the bill would put the vision of a million Welsh speakers on a statutory footing.

But opposition parties warned the success of the bill will hinge on the teaching workforce.

Tom Giffard raised concerns about the recruitment and retention of Welsh-language teachers, questioning if the workforce is adequately prepared to meet the challenge.

The Conservatives’ shadow Welsh language secretary said teachers who teach through the medium of Welsh are, on average, older than their counterparts in classrooms.

Mr Giffard warned the bill will add to the workload of teachers who are already grappling with a new curriculum and additional learning needs reforms.

He supported moving away from the “blunt instrument” of “fluent” or “non-fluent” to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

But he cautioned against “lowering the bar” to count people towards the target of a million Welsh speakers set out in the Cymraeg 2050 strategy.

Plaid Cymru’s Heledd Fychan agreed the workforce will be pivotal to the success of the bill.

“If we don’t have the numbers in schools, then we won’t be able to achieve that ambition,” she said. “We do need to see definite targets in terms of increasing the number able to teach through the medium of Welsh because we aren’t hitting the targets as they currently stand.”

Ms Fychan, who represents South Wales Central, also raised concerns about dual-stream schools being seen as the solution.

She said: “Only a small number of schools operate according to this model and I’m not aware of comprehensive research that demonstrates this model works in Wales.”

Arguing the best way for a child to learn is to be immersed in Welsh-medium education, she said most children continue to be denied the chance to become confident Welsh speakers

Mike Hedges, whose daughter teaches in a Welsh-medium school on Ynys Mon, hailed a “huge improvement” in the teaching of Welsh in English-medium primary schools.

“I think there really has been a huge change,” said the Labour backbencher. “When I visit English-medium schools in Swansea, like I did on Monday, I hear Welsh spoken, see it on classroom walls and see Welsh on notice boards.”

Mr Hedges, who represents Swansea East, said this has been made possible by a one-year Welsh-language sabbatical course for primary school teachers.

Rhys ab Owen, who sits as an independent, called for a secondary school in south Cardiff to ensure Welsh-medium education is available in one of Wales’ most deprived communities.

The South Wales Central MS also raised concerns about unequal access to Welsh-medium education for disabled children and young people.

Cefin Campbell was involved in development of the bill as part of Plaid Cymru’s now-collapsed cooperation agreement with the Welsh Government.

Mr Campbell, who established the first of Wales’ 22 Menter Iaith, which provide community support for learning the language, said: “What concerns me a great deal … is the deficiencies in terms of a bilingual workforce.”

The Plaid Cymru MS for Mid and West Wales raised concerns about low numbers of students studying A-level Welsh.

Baroness Morgan recognised the workforce challenges, saying the Welsh Government is seeking to attract more people to train to become teachers.

The health secretary, who was previously responsible for the language, said incentives are offered to get more teachers to train through the medium of Welsh.

She stressed the census will determine progress against the target of a million Welsh speakers, raising concerns that people “tick that they don’t speak Welsh when they do”.

Baroness Morgan, who attended the first Welsh-medium school in Cardiff, pointed to “huge” progress and “transformational” change over the past 50 years.

She told the chamber: “When I was going to school, people would throw stones at our bus because they didn’t want a Welsh school in their area. That’s the reality of the situation.”

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