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Posts Tagged ‘welsh assembly government’

The dust is beginning to settle, the politicians are rested and refreshed and this is the week in which decisions will be taken which will have long-term consequences for Welsh politics.

I expect to see some movement by the end of Monday from Carwyn Jones about how he intends to deal the hand he’s been dealt. It’s a strong hand but the fact that he’s one seat short of a majority means it’ll need all his skill and strategy to play it.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts about what’s changed for each of the parties and speculation about what might happen next.

LABOUR

The Assembly group will need extremely strong discipline if it’s to sustain minority government over the next five years. Carwyn Jones has said that there is a range of options open to him from doing deals on a case-by-case basis, to more formal ‘supply and confidence’ arrangements or full coalition.

It’s pointless to speculate which he or his party prefers at this stage because there are so many variables that need to be taken into account. They’ll become clearer over the coming days.

For the party, even at this moment of success, there’s a longer-term question that won’t be answered for some time yet.

Poor electoral performances in 2007, 2009 and 2010 led to a great deal of soul-searching as a number of senior Labour figures suggested something was particularly wrong with Welsh Labour that needed fixing. Nobody’s asking the question now and it was clear during the campaign that the party is re-invigorated with a young and dynamic team now in charge of party operations.

However, it was only a year ago that Labour achieved its worst share of the vote in Wales since 1983. What it must demonstrate over the next few years is that the improvements are real and lasting and not dependent on a Tory bogeyman in Westminster.

CARWYN JONES

Something that’s been overlooked in post-election commentary is how much of a personal victory and validation this is for the Welsh Labour leader.

He already had an overwhelming mandate from his party when he was elected leader, but now he has the strong endorsement of the country. I think this is far more important than we on the outside realise.

There have always been those within his party who’ve grumbled that he’s lazy, too close to Plaid, and just plain lucky. A successful campaign which has shown how much of an asset he’s become to the party; confident performances in TV debates and the ringing endorsements of his UK party leadership has silenced those critics.

CABINET

Who will be in Carwyn Jones’ cabinet? Expect to see election mastermind Leighton Andrews rewarded with a significant role although not necessarily a different one. Pre-election he showed every intention of taking on the problem of education over an extended period. For similar reasons, Edwina Hart could well stay on in health. It’s surely time that long-term ally John Griffiths became a cabinet minister.

Labour’s manifesto hints at the possibility of a smaller cabinet. Certainly it points to a beefed-up role for Carwyn Jones himself, with a First Minister’s Delivery Unit and the FM taking on responsibility for economic development and energy policy. That could mean merging some departments. I should say that one senior Labour figure I discussed this with, dismissed the idea of a smaller cabinet saying,’why would you want more backbenchers?’

PLAID CYMRU

It quickly became clear during the campaign that Labour had taken many of Plaid’s best tunes and was belting them out with gusto. Plenty of internal and external critics are drawing unfavourable comparisons with the SNP’s campaign in Scotland.

There’s bound to be a question over the leadership of Ieuan Wyn Jones. But Plaid may think it needs to work out what went wrong before settling on a new leader.

What messages should it take from the SNP’s stunning victory in Scotland? Should it be more bold about independenceChange its name? But surely another lesson from the Scottish election is that Labour’s strategy of making the Welsh election part of a UK battle between Labour and the Conservatives may have failed in Scotland but worked here in Wales. That could well justify Plaid’s caution over talking about independence although it could be argued that Plaid’s role should now be to lead the debate and shape opinion.

The other question is whether or not it can do all this in government. Ieuan Wyn Jones has apparently told his party that it should go into government at every available opportunity. If he follows through with this policy (and if he’s in a position to do so), can his party do the job of holding an inquest, changing its approach, possibly changing its leader  – at the same time?

CONSERVATIVES

In the short term the Conservatives have a specific task – to choose a new leader who can continue the progress made under Nick Bourne. Who will get the job? Acting leader Paul Davies has to be in with a chance. Darren Millar must be a good bet. Andrew Davies wants it. Don’t rule out Angela Burns or Nick Ramsay standing.

If the Assembly group agrees on one candidate, AMs alone will have be responsible for choosing the next leader. If there’s more than one candidate, I gather the wider party votes, a situation which is thought to favour Andrew Davies.

On Thursday Alun Cairns MP said the election saw the return of two-party politics to Wales. That may be overstating it but, as the now-former leader Nick Bourne said in his interview with me, the campaign certainly was polarised.  In that same interview he speaks about his 12-year task of reinventing the Welsh Conservatives, taking them to the centre-ground of Welsh politics, ground that means more of the ‘Cymrufication’ – who would best take that legacy on?

I also asked him if it was time the party formalised that process by creating a formal Welsh party leader role – Nick Bourne has always been leader of the Conservative Assembly group rather than the party at large. He said that was a decision for the party, as was choosing a leader which is why he wouldn’t endorse any of the candidates. He also refused to speculate on the chance that he might become Lord Bourne.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

Speculation is rife that some sort of deal with the Liberal Democrats is Labour’s preferred option. It’s often coupled with the rather cynical explanation that it would take less to win them over than it would Plaid. But as one senior Lib Dem put it to me, ‘Kirsty’s nobody’s cheap date.’

What’s more, despite everything, Kirsty Williams is in a better position than many predicted. Yes, it was a bad election for her party but there are still five Lib Dem AMs which gives them a foundation from which to rebuild.

I’m told that within the party, the leader is praised for recognising how difficult the election would be and dealing with it as effectively as possible. More importantly, it’s said that she’s trusted by party members to be open about any arrangements she may or may not reach with Labour and not to sign the party up to any deal it could be uncomfortable with.

She’s said that her priority is to promote the priorities the Lib Dems set out during the election, and is open-minded about how that’s achieved

PRESIDING OFFICER

There’s a good deal of confusion over this with even some quite experienced Assembly hands expressing the view that having a Presiding Officer from an opposition party would give Labour a majority of one. It won’t. The Assembly’s standing orders are clear: if the PO comes from the opposition, the Deputy has to come from the government party and vice versa. Their votes are (generally) taken out of the equation thus taking the situation back to stalemate.

The Assembly could decide to suspend the rules so that both PO and DPO come from opposition parties which would have the effect of giving Labour a 2-seat majority. But to do that requires a two thirds majority, i.e. 40 AMs must vote for it. That means Labour would need the support of either the Conservatives or Plaid Cymru to do it. Why would either or those want to make life any easier for Carwyn Jones?

Who’s in the running for both posts? Dafydd Elis-Thomas must still be a consideration, even though all the hints from him and from other Assembly figures suggest he won’t be returning to the Chair. The current Deputy, Labour’s Rosemary Butler is a strong possibility for the top job. The Conservative Angela Burns (if she doesn’t run for her party’s leadership) is thought to be interested. Her colleague David Melding has already said he’s not standing. For the Liberal Democrats, Peter Black has done the job from time to time.

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When he stands up to deliver his budget tomorrow (Wednesday), the Chancellor George Osborne will do so in very bleak circumstances.

The military is engaged in a new conflict which will have to be paid for whilst at home, the latest figures show inflation is rising and borrowing higher than anticipated.

All of which gives Mr Osborne very little room for manouevre, let alone to deliver what David Cameron predicted last week would be ‘the most pro-growth budget in a generation.

Almost certainly it will disappoint Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru. Both parties have made their wishlists known.

Labour says it wants Mr Osborne to reverse the planned VAT increase on fuel and it may get some joy here. It’s expected the Chancellor will ‘do something’ to ease rising fuel prices which could inlcude postponing the VAT increase.

Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru have both called on the Chancellor to reform the way Wales is funded. Fat chance of that happening.

Plaid also wants the Treasury to overturn an earlier decision to prevent the Assembly Government spending unused money at the end of the financial year. Again: fat chance.

Most likely Wales can expect to see no specific spending but rather the knock on effect of increased spending in England on apprenticeships, colleges and schools.

There’s been plenty of speculation  over the last few days, some of which seems better-informed than others. Let me add to it.

A possible merger of national insurance and income tax. There have been a lot of hints about this and there have been many calls for it to happen over the years. It’s thought to be extremely complicated to do and throws up a number of questions such as what happens to pensioners who pay no National Insurance? And what about employer’s contributions? What’s most likely is that Mr Osborne will signal the beginning of the process.

Income tax threshold. Last year the level at which you start paying tax was raised from £6,475 to £7,475. It’s likely to be raised at least to £8,000 in line with the coalition government’s aim of raising it to £10,000. But it’s also likely that the level at which people pay higher rate (40%) tax will be brought DOWN to pay for it.

Corporation tax. There’s some speculation tonight that Mr Osborne has a surprise tax cut planned and that it could be corporation tax which he cuts.

Pensions. At the moment, those whose state pension is below the minimum income guarantee (about £140) are eligible for benefits which bring it up to that level.  Bringing the basic level of pension up to that level would be a way of generating good headlines and stopping those pensioners from feeling like benfits claimants.

Fuel. As I mentioned, there have been very strong hints that the Chancellor will ease the burden on motorists by postponing or reducing the fuel duty increase planned for next month. Watch too for a possible answer to a request from the Wales Office that rural parts of Wales are included in a pilot scheme

Cigarettes and alcohol. You can expect a 17p increase on a packet of 20 cigarettes. Look for 3p per pint on strong lagers but a possible cut in duty on low-strength beer.

Troops. A possible £250 pay rise for 50,000 troops earning less than £21,000.

Online CD selling. A loophold which allows VAT-free CDs, DVDs etc to be imported from the Channel Islands is expected to be closed. That could mean up to £2 extra on such online CDs.

We’ll know soon enough. Remember, if these predictions come true, you read them here. If they don’t: nothing to do with me guv.

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Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones has named six business leaders who’ll advise the Assembly Government on economic development.

They’ll head six ‘sector panels’ in six areas of the economy that the Labour-Plaid Cymru government has already identified as being crucial to the future development of Wales.

It reminded me of Gordon Brown’s effort to bring  outside expertise into his government, a move that didn’t always have the desired effect as strong-minded individuals used to the freedom of being in business struggled to come to terms with being in government.

And there’s always the scope for conflict of interest and specific criticism of the particular businessmen.

Not that Ieuan Wyn Jones is worried. He told me the appointment process has been ‘robust’ and ‘rigorous’ and, more importantly, that ministers haven’t been involved in the process.

And they won’t be making policy, they’ll be advising officials who will in turn advise Mr Jones. Although he said he’d expect that advice to be listened to and acted upon in most cases.

So who are these captains of industry? The full list from the Assembly Government is below.

Politics watchers as well as business people will recognise the name of biotech tycoon Sir Christopher Evans.

You may remember he was caught up in Labour’s ‘cash for honours’ scandal a few years ago after donating £1m to the party.  No charges were ever brought against him.

Today, Ieuan Wyn Jones said we should be ‘celebrating the fact that such a leading figure is working for the Assembly Government.’

 

Biographies on Sector Chairs (source: Welsh Assembly Government:

Gareth Jenkins, Chair of Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Sector Panel

Currently Managing Director of FSG Tool & Die Ltd in South Wales, the UK’s leading design and manufacture Tool making Company. A former President of EEF Western and Chairman of the Wales Council, in addition to his duties as a main board Director of EEF Ltd.

During his thirty eight year career in manufacturing he has always been passionate about the development of young people. In particular as a former apprentice himself he has championed Modern Apprenticeships on behalf of the sector skills council, the Welsh Assembly and the Wales Manufacturing Forum. He has been actively involved in the creation of The Pathways to Apprenticeship, Young Recruits, Work Based Learning and World of Work Initiatives in the Principality.

 

Kevin McCullough, Chair of Energy and Environment Sector Panel

Mr Kevin McCullough is currently Chief Technical Officer at RWE nPower having held other positions within the company, and was formerly the Executive Vice President for Innogy America LLC in Chicago. Previously, Mr McCullough was a board member of the Renewables Advisory Board which assisted in advising the Energy Minister to develop Government policy on renewable energy strategies.

Mr Christopher Nott, Chair of Financial and Professional Services Sector Panel

Mr Christopher Nott is the founder and senior partner of Capital Law LLP and as a solicitor, advises other professional services firms. Mr Nott chairs several private sector companies within the Financial and Professional Services sector, as well as the board of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Mr Thomas Kelly, Chair of ICT Sector Panel

Mr Thomas Kelly has over 30 years of ICT expertise including MBO and private equity experience and has been Managing Director of Logicalis UK since 2004. Mr Kelly is an active member of the advisory committee for the Digital Forum for Wales.

Sir Christopher Evans, Chair of the Life Science Sector Panel

Sir Christopher Evans is regarded as one of Europe’s leading biotechnology entrepreneurs with an impressive record of establishing successful, high-quality science companies such as Excalibur Fund Managers (formerly Merlin Biosciences). Sir Christopher is a long term advisor to governments and numerous Heads of State.

Sir Christopher’s considerable contributions to the biotechnology industry have been honoured with a Knighthood in the 2001 New Year’s Honours List and an OBE in the 1995 New Year’s Honours List.

 

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Sharp End is back after its Christmas break to cast its beady eye over Welsh politics once again. It’s raining outside in Cardiff Bay so we’re all very glad to be warm and dry inside our Assembly office.

What do we have for you tonight? Well the political year has begun with a blazing row between the Assembly Government and the Wales Office over the bid for powers on organ donation. You can read my summary of the row so far here. I can tell you the argument’s not showing any signs of abating – on the contrary it appears to be escalating – and that’s not even taking into account the sensitivity of the idea behind the bid itself.

The chair of the Sports Council for Wales, Laura McAllister, tells us why she doesn’t think sport will become a political football (sorry) and how there are difficult choices to be made now that spending on sport is being cut.

We can’t ignore the looming referendum on strengthening the Assembly’s powers. Lynn Courtney plays her cards right and looks at what it’s all about.

And there’s every chance we’ll have more to talk about too with my guests Cathy Owens, former Assembly government adviser now project director for Amnesty in Wales; Conservative AM Jonathan Morgan and Plaid Cymru AM Dai Lloyd.

Join us at 1035 pm ITV1 Wales.

 

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I haven’t heard such angry words exchanged between the governments in London and Cardiff, although I’m sure they use much stronger language in private.

The words used in Cardiff Bay: ‘Disrespect’, ‘lack of courtesy’, ‘they’re trying to stop Wales discussing this.’

The words from Westminster: ‘Utter rubbish’, ‘reprehensible’, ‘playing politics.’

Let me try to piece together how we got here.

On Monday, as I reported here, the Assembly Government published its last bid for powers (known as a Legislative Competence Order or LCO) which was for the power to make laws on organ donation.

The aim of it is to introduce an opt-out system that presumes patients will donate their organs after death rather than the current opt-in system. I won’t go into the rights and wrongs of the idea. Suffice it to say that it’s sensitive to say the least.

It’s also important to note that there’s  a question about whether or not the power CAN be devolved to Wales; a question which boils down to whether or not organ donation lies within the field of health (which is devolved) or human rights (which isn’t).

Also on Monday, the Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan, met the First Minister Carwyn Jones and his Deputy, Ieuan Wyn Jones. I gather the LCO was discussed, but what was said is a matter of dispute.

That same day, Cheryl Gillan put the LCO forward for scrutiny by parliament. Today marked the start of the corresponding scrutiny process in the Assembly.

The Health Minister, Edwina Hart, came to the Assembly chamber today to make a statement on the bid.

She surprised AMs by saying that she’d had an email from the Wales Office setting out the Attorney General’s concerns, but that she only received it at 2.16pm – she said this just after 3pm.

A government source has since said that she didn’t receive the email until she was actually in the chamber and, if Assembly business had been running to time, it would have arrived in her inbox while she was delivering her statement.

The source said ‘this is a disrespect agenda’, before going on to claim that the UK Government is ‘trying to stop Wales discussing it. They’re trying to block it.’

The minister herself was said to be ‘very disappointed by the lack of courtesy.’

In the chamber, Plaid Cymru AM Dai Lloyd echoed that when he said,

I’m perplexed … perplexed and not a little angry actually, as it seems that such a London misgiving could be applied to any LCO whatsoever.

And the former First Minister Rhodri Morgan added,

It seems to imply that one arm or part of the Westminster government doesn’t know what the other arm is doing, and one arm does want to get on with the job as though this were a normal request and another arm is saying ‘ooh, hang on a minute here, you may be into non-devolved territories.’

The Wales Office insists this LCO has been handled in exactly the same way as any other; if anything it’s gone through more quickly to parliamentary scrutiny.

And ‘Reprehensible’, was the response of a Wales Office source to the accusations from Cardiff Bay.  ‘Some people are playing politics here and that’s regrettable.’

What about the very late timing of the email? ‘A smokescreen. They were made aware of the issues.’

Why weren’t these concerns raised at the Monday meeting? ‘The issues were discussed with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.’

Is Westminster trying to block the LCO? ‘How can putting the LCO forward for parliamentary scrutiny be blocking it?’

Now, as you know, there’s a referendum on March 3rd which could spell the end of this current system of bidding for powers via LCOs and, as Dai Lloyd’s comments show, critics of that system will argue that this spat shows why that system needs changing.

So has the row been engineered by the Assembly Government? Did ministers deliberately table this sensitive bid  close to a referendum and election?

‘Nonsense,’ was the response of the government source.

Something tells me the strong words won’t stop there.

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There may or not be a new way of making laws for the Assembly following the referendum in March, but the current system is still on course to deliver a major change.

As you know, the Assembly must request permission from Parliament to make laws under the much-criticised LCO (Legislative Competence Order) system.

Well today, the last LCO from the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition government has been laid and it could usher in significant change when it comes to organ donation.

Assuming the LCO bid jumps through all its hoops, it could mean people here in Wales would have to opt-out from being organ donors  rather than opting in as they do now.

We’ll get more details when the minister makes a statement tomorrow (Tuesday) but for now here are two immediate responses.

Plaid Cymru AM Dai Lloyd, who was behind the original proposals, said today was a proud day for him and that he believed the change would ‘lead to a great number of lives being saved in Wales.’

He added,

We know from studies and first hand experience that there are a lot of people who would like to be organ donors but who are not registered to do so.  Moving to an opt-out system will ensure that the number of people who donate increases and a number of lives are no longer needlessly lost.

The other reaction comes from Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan. She said,

I am pleased to have been able to put this LCO forward for pre-legislative scrutiny. It is important that this vital and sensitive matter is examined thoroughly both at Westminster and in the Assembly.


There’s a political dimension to this which could come to the fore during the impending referendum campaign.

Dai Lloyd is of course an advocate of much greater powers for Cardiff Bay and he’s pointing to presumed consent as a sign of the sort of difference that devolution can make.

But those who are opposed to devolving further powers could also seize on what is likely to be a significant change delivered under the unloved system.



 

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It’s pretty much the last day of term at the Assembly which some have suggested is the reason why the Welsh Conservatives issued their shadow budget with relatively little fanfare today.

They say they’re not hiding though and certainly the party’s Director of Policy, David Melding, was making himself available to journalists like me who wanted to quiz him.

It’s mostly headline figures,  set out by department, showing what the Tories think needs to be cut off other budgets to pay for their pledge to protect health spending.

Others have noticed that that pledge seems to involve a rather different definition of of protecting a budget than had been used before.

But what else is in this shadow budget? You can see the figures at the bottom of this post.

There are some details: a pay freeze for those in the public sector earning over £21,000, “a further postponement in the trunk road building programme” and the end of the Communities First scheme.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though comes in the highly sensitive (and topical) area of tuition fees.

This shadow budget states that there will be “no further increase to offset student fees (ie frozen at current level).”

I  checked this with David Melding, the party’s policy director and double-checked it with a party spokesman. It is what it seems to be: under a Conservative Assembly government, Welsh students would pay full tuition fees, potentially up to £9,000 a year.

That would reverse the Labour-Plaid Cymru plan to pay the fees of Welsh students over the current £3,290 and seems destined to make life difficult for the Welsh Conservatives in the run-up to next year’s Assembly election.

David Melding told me that producing these figures was necessary to show that protecting the health budget can be achieved and to set out an alternative programme to cuts already being announced by the Assembly Government.

Several people from the other parties have described the shadow budget to me today as an early Christmas present. They can’t believe the Conservatives have played their hand so early.

Plaid sources reckon that the percentage cuts mean that local councils will lose a further £228m; economy and transport will lose £111m and Education £78m.

The Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black called it “ill thought out, lacking in detail and irresponsible.”

However, perhaps the Conservatives in Cardiff Bay should be more worried about the views of other Tories. Before the shadow budget was published, senior party figures outside of the Assembly were saying to me, “They don’t need to do this, why are they?”

Shadow Budget proposed cuts (Assembly govt planned cuts in brackets)

Health and Social Services       NIL (WAG -7.6%)

Social Justice & Local Govt   -12.5%  (WAG -7.4%)

Education, Children, Lifelong learning   – 12% (WAG -8%)

Economy & Transport   – 30% (WAG 21.3%)

Environment, Sustainability & Housing    – 25% (WAG -21%)

Rural Affairs  – 15% (WAG -12.7%)

Heritage  – 20%  (WAG – 13%)

Public Services & Performance  -30% (WAG -24.4%)

Central Services & Admin  -25%  (WAG -19.1%)

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