The below a summary of this week’s First Minister Questions session from Cardiff Bay via our partnership with SeneddHome.com.
First Minister Questions takes place every Tuesday when the Assembly is sitting and can be watched live via Senedd.tv
For those who have never ventured onto the Senedd site, you can view the session the below was taken from here, that displays a video of the meeting (along with creation of your own clips!) plus by clicking the ‘meeting information and papers’ link you are able to view all the supporting documentation, along with a link to the full transcript.
Wrexham did not get a direct mention this week.
20 mph speed limits on all urban roads in Wales
David J Rowlands AM asked for an update on Welsh Government plans to introduce a 20 mile per hour speed limit on all urban roads in Wales.
The First Minister replied “it is the policy of the Welsh Government to extend 20 mph speed limits in residential areas across Wales. An implementation group has been established to take this policy forward during the rest of this Assembly term.”
David Rowlands AM continued, “The proposal begs the question of what constitutes an urban area. If we look at most of the Rhondda, one could say that Blaenrhondda to Tonyrefail, or Maerdy to Porth, or even Pontypridd, could be said to constitute an urban area, given the fact that these are linear conurbations. Is it suggested that one should travel from Blaenrhondda to Pontypridd at 20 mph?
“And where, First Minister, these blanket speed restrictions have been applied, such as north-east Somerset and Bath, deaths and serious injuries have actually gone up. Manchester city has suspended its roll-out of 20 mph zones, and the Department for Transport has stated that 20 mph zones had proved ineffective. Considering north-east Somerset spent £870,000 on its roll-out of zones, how much does the First Minister estimate it will cost for such a roll-out in Wales, and to what effect?”
The First Minister replied: “I don’t agree with the Member in his scepticism about the effectiveness of 20 mph zones. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the evidence demonstrates that they improve road safety and that they have a part to play in improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions, and they also, crucially, reduce what’s called ‘community severance’ , the fact that communities can’t act together because they have traffic speeding through them in a way that blocks people off from one another.
“Now, we will be able to draw on the experience here in Cardiff, where the city council has had, I think, a very ambitious and progressive programme of expanding 20 mph zones, initially in the inner city area but then to the rest of the city as well. It has a series of criteria that it uses to answer the question that David Rowlands asked me—how you decide where a 20 mph zone should be implemented. We will be able to use their experience, as well as experience elsewhere.”
“The purpose of having an implementation group is to be able to make sure that we can answer some of the questions that inevitably arise about how you go about implementation, how you deal with the costs of implementation and how you make sure that we can realise the very real rewards that this policy will bring about. And it is popular with the public as well.
“In Cardiff, where some councillors were sceptical to begin with about 20 mph zones, now the pressure is on from everybody wanting their part of Cardiff to be moved up the programme, because they know that the public appreciate the benefits that the policy brings.”
Welsh Government business support comes under fire again
Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), asked when a report into Welsh Government support to Cwmbran-based Kukd.com – which moved jobs abroad despite promising 100 jobs – would be published as there’s been a long delay? The First Minister told him the report was awaiting final clearances necessary before publication.
It didn’t end there, with Paul Davies AM raising concerns about a separate support scheme, this time the £100million Welsh Life Science Investment Fund.
“Since 2016, the fund has been managed by a management company run by Arix Bioscience, which has made nine investments so far. However, it’s been reported that six of those investments have been made to companies where Neil Woodford is a shareholder. It is also worrying that Mr Woodford is a major shareholder in Arix Bioscience….First Minister, do you agree it’s unacceptable for people to be shareholders in the company that gives out taxpayers’ money and in the companies that benefit?”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM
The First Minister ” If they are general, smeary concerns linking names of individuals, previous things that have happened and things that are nothing to do with the fund, then I don’t think there’s anything in what he has said today that I can see is specific enough to be investigated. If he has specific concerns, of course we are open to hearing those, and, of course, they would be investigated. The general conduct of the fund has always been scrutinised independently by the organisations that we have here in Wales and at a UK level, and the FCA has never raised a concern about the conduct of the fund.”
The First Minister commented ‘…the Member complains about openness and transparency and then proceeds to quote a document that was published in the public domain as open and transparent as you can be’.
First Minister rejects “being asleep at the wheel” over Bridgend Ford
Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) referred to recent information that a task force set up in October 2017 to deal with concerns over the Bridgend Ford engine plant met 10 times in the first ten months, then met only once over the previous eleven months. Also, in the First Minister’s list of engagements (presumably including his previous role as Finance Minister), there was only one meeting listed with Ford for 2018.
The First Minister said the number of meetings in the first 10 months reflected the task force’s remit – they had a specific thing to do and did it so didn’t have to meet as often. He also said he’s had direct contact with Ford officials in Europe and the US.
Moving on to what can be done with the Bridgend plant, Adam Price cited the closure of the Ford plant in Blanquefort in France, which resulted in the French Government putting together a package of support which Ford rejected on commercial grounds. Would the Welsh Government consider part or temporary nationalisation if Ford “proved obstructive”?
While not expecting Ford to be obstructive and standing by the workforce, the First Minister decided to play the man not the ball:
“….when I speak to those Ford workers, I will give them an assurance that it is their careers that are most important to us in all of this and that, unlike the Member opposite, we are more interested in securing their careers than in advancing his own.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)
Letting schools mark their own homework
Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) said the Education Minister’s decision to remove the emphasis on GCSE targets when evaluating school performances would potentially “give schools more scope to deteriorate” without parents holding them to account. The Welsh Government was treating league tables as “a dirty phrase” and people were increasingly falling back on PISA results – which Wales doesn’t particularly perform well in – to draw comparisons.
“Is it not the case that, under Lib Dem leadership, education in Wales has deteriorated further? It is harder and harder for anyone to call it to account because you won’t publish the information to allow them to do so. Is it not a risk that things will deteriorate even further because Kirsty Williams is letting schools mark their own homework?”
– Mark Reckless AM
The First Minister said the new regime was about placing trust in teaching professionals and letting them decide how to make the greatest difference to their pupils. He went on to say Mark Reckless “betrayed himself” by effectively advocating the marketisation of education, even going so far as to play the Thatcher card and linking her to Reckless’s views.
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