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Trust between AMs and Board plummets

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Smirking: Vaughan Gething (front) as Adam Price protests at cheap shot

LOCAL AMs have expressed strong reservations about the confidentiality and security of their communications with Hywel Dda UHB.

Their concerns have been sparked after bitter recriminations following First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday, January 30 (see our News section), when information regarding communications between the Board and Adam Price AM were used by First Minister Carwyn Jones in a clumsy attempt to smear the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr representative. That information had been provided to the First Minister by the Health Board.

The Herald understands that following communications between the Board and Mr Price’s office on Tuesday afternoon, the Health Board’s Chief Executive, Steve Moore, met with Mr Price at the Senedd building in Cardiff where an explanation was sought for the disclosure of communications information to the Welsh Government.

At that meeting, Mr Moore was confronted with evidence of communications between the AMs office and the Board in which meetings had been requested.

That information either was not provided to the Welsh Government or the First Minister has been caught out playing fast and loose with the truth.

A spokesperson for Shadow Health Secretary Angela Burns told The Herald: ​”​In light of the concerns raised in Tuesday’s First Minister’s Questions Angela has written formally to both the Health Board and the Welsh Government seeking assurances over the use of her communications.

​”​She is very conscious of the confidentiality of patient data and considers there to be a principle at stake in this matter​.”​

Meanwhile, Simon Thomas AM expressed his concerns in questions to the Leader of the Assembly, Julie James AM on Tuesday.

Amid barracking from Labour AMs, who regard the use of information held on others by public bodies with an equanimity they do share when it comes to their own communications, Mr Thomas said that he had serious concerns on joining a proposed cross party group to discuss a transformation agenda with the Health Board: “I have serious concerns now to join any such group, knowing that what I say, and what I e-mail them, will be revealed to the First Minister, and will then be used as political attacks on me in this Chamber.”

The Plaid AM, continued: “Is there a protocol regarding the way health boards deal with Assembly Members looking at serious reconfigurations of hospital services in their area? If such a protocol does not exist, will the Minister—the Cabinet Secretary concerned—ensure that such a protocol is in place, because, without such a protocol in place, I do not feel I can engage with Hywel Dda?”

Mr Thomas’s disquiet echoed that of Elin Jones, the Assembly Presiding Officer and Ceredigion AM, who commented from the chair earlier in the day that she would not want information of communications between the Health Board disclosed or used in such a way.

As it stands, Adam Price and his Westminster colleague Jonathan Edwards are in talks with lawyers regarding the Health Board’s conduct.

Legal advice sought by the Plaid Cymru AM notes that the health board is may have breached Mr Price’s data protection rights, and those of his parliamentary colleague, Jonathan Edwards MP.

Speaking after the exchange, Adam Price AM said: “The First Minister’s actions during today’s questions session bring his office and his Government into disrepute. His comments in the Chamber today are factually incorrect, and the First Minister has therefore misled the Assembly.

“It wasn’t that long ago a Welsh Government Minister was sacked for trying to access information that could have been used for political purposes to discredit political opponents. On the face of today’s exchange it would appear the First Minister and/or his team have tried to do the same thing. This is clearly a breach of both the Civil Service and Ministerial Code.”

Mr Price continued: “The legal advice I have been given notes that Hywel Dda Health Board is potentially in breach of the data protection rights granted to myself, my parliamentary colleague Jonathan Edwards, and our staff members.

“At my request, the Chief Executive of the Health Board came to Assembly to meet with me this evening in which I presented evidence of correspondence between our offices and my requests to meet with him.

“In an endeavour to restore trust I am sure the Health Board will now wish to correct the record.”

Adam Price’s parliamentary colleague, Jonathan Edwards MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr added: “This is the latest reminder that there is something rotten at the core of this Labour Welsh Government.

“Either they are soliciting information from a independent health board for political purposes, or the health board has been compromised in a manner which sees it comfortable referencing correspondence between elected representatives.

“The First Minister’s claims that Adam Price and I ignored Health Board requests for are meeting are manifestly untrue and we have written evidence to prove that.”

The Herald asked the Board whether it had provided details of communications between it and other AMs to the Welsh Government.

At the time of writing, the Board has failed to answer either that enquiry or a request for a statement from its Chief Executive explaining the Board’s role in feeding – possibly selective – information to the Welsh Government.

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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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