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.
Minister announces affordable housing review
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.”
Liberal Democrat Conference review
THE WELSH LIBERAL DEMOCRATS gathered at The Village Hotel, Cardiff over the weekend, vowing to foster ‘a fair, free and liberal Wales’ and to campaign to bring about a Ratification Referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal.
While the party has had a punishing time in the most recent round of elections, retaining only a single AM in the 2016 National Assembly Election and losing their final Welsh MP in Theresa May’s snap General Election, the prevailing mood at this weekend’s conference was upbeat.
A PARTY ON THE WAY BACK?
There was an appeal for traditional, Welsh Liberal values by Party President, Cllr William Powell, Mid and West Wales AM between 2011 – 16. Cllr Powell also paid an emotional tribute to his friend, party stalwart and former Preseli Parliamentary Candidate Nick Tregoning, leading to a short silence and round of applause. The former Swansea Council Cabinet Member and Presiding Officer, who died recently, represented the best in the Welsh Liberal tradition, and ‘thought and fought more for others than for himself.’
A keynote speech by new Welsh Lib Dem leader, Jane Dodds, who was elected in November last year, replacing Mark Williams, former Ceredigion MP, was particularly well received. Not shying away from the party’s recent challenges, Ms Dodds said: “There’s no denying we’ve had a difficult few years. While the wounds of the last few years are still visible, we are still fighting.”
Ms Dodds emphasised that the party’s top priorities must be to battle homelessness and poverty, as ‘The nasty party in Westminster doggedly pursues deeper cuts in public finances, vulnerable people scraping by to survive, without access to public services, with no hope for their future”
Turning to the Party’s signature policy on Brexit, the new leader continued: “We have to be clear in our opposition to the UK government’s disastrous handling of the biggest decision our country has faced in a generation… Whether we like it or not, Wales voted to leave the EU. But – and it’s a big but – it was not on the basis that we would leave under any circumstances.”
Concluding, she said: “We need to make sure we have the ideas in place that address the needs of communities and people living in Wales, and we have to translate these ideas into winning votes. Not power for the sake of power, but power so we can change people’s lives for the better, putting us back at the heart of Welsh politics, where we belong.”
A FREE AND FAIR WALES
Ms Dodds also presented a motion calling for the creation of ‘a fair, free and liberal Wales’, emphasising that the party’s mission for the immediate future should be to develop new policies to work towards this goal.
“We need to make sure we have an economy and a society which offers opportunities to all…A Wales of hope and optimism.”
Cardiff Councillor Rhys Taylor was amongst those to speak in favour of the motion, stating: “We know what we stand for, but we’re not always very clear about articulating that. It’s an aspirational vision for Wales and our society.’
Veteran Ynys Mon Councillor and former Cabinet Member, Aled Morris Jones, also spoke in favour of the motion, saying: “Never has there been a time when there has been a greater need for liberalism. We must stand up for moderation because it is under threat, both here and across the world.”
Summating the motion, Party President William Powell said: “It is ambitious, it will need a lot of work and I sense that people in this room and in our local parties are up for that. It is central to rebuilding our party and to our resurgence.”
The motion was supported unanimously.
Party Members and supporters also had the opportunity to quiz Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams AM, and to debate motions on plans to bury radioactive waste off the coast of Wales. There was also a passionate appeal for legal clarity over access to waterways for water sports enthusiasts from Welsh Paralympian and first time conference speaker, Frances Bateman.
BREXIT, SYRIA, EQUALITY DEBATED
The weekend also included an expert panel discussion on Brexit with Ms Dodds, Ms Williams, Liberal Democrat Federal President, Baroness Sal Brinton and former MEP Peter Price, chaired by Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire Lib Dem activist and Newbie Hilton Marlton. During the session, members agreed to keep battling Brexit, working across party lines with all Remain supporters, which was confirmed by an explicit #ExitFromBrexit motion on the Sunday morning.
Baroness Sal Brinton also gave a keynote speech, in which she criticised Theresa May for not giving MPs a vote on military action against Syria, saying that to do so was “further diminishing the standing of Britain in the world”. And she was optimistic about the party’s future prospects, saying: “I know the future of the Welsh party is in good hands.’
The second day of the conference also included a motion on the Welsh Government’s new plans to reform local government in Wales. Although the motion agreed with the principle of cutting the number of councils in Wales, it suggested the final number should be 14 or 15 – and emphasised the importance of respecting localism and democratic structures to reflect that.
Members also backed a motion calling for schools in Wales to introduce gender-neutral uniforms. Presenting the motion, Cllr Rhys Taylor of Cardiff said: “We should not dictate to young people what they should wear outside religious codes.” He added more support and training should be offered to teachers in supporting LGBT pupils.
Amy Gaskin of Swansea University’s branch of the party also spoke in support of the motion, saying: “There’s increasing evidence that male and female brains just don’t exist. It’s more of a mosaic”.
“What right do we have to tell kids they should wear trousers or a skirt, or a tie or no tie?” she asked.
Sunday also saw Baroness Christine Humphreys of Llanrwst, North Wales AM from 1999 until 2001, appointed as the party’s new Deputy Leader. She was the only nominee.
Closing the conference, Welsh Party President William Powell said: “We’ve got a rich vein of new talent emerging in the party.”
Saying he felt a sense of “optimism and positivism, Mr Powell called for: “A kinder, gentler and more inclusive values-based politics – that is what Jane (Dodds) and our wider leadership want to introduce.”
What’s in a name?
QUITE a lot, actually, as Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns found out last week. The announcement that the Second Severn Crossing would henceforth be known as the Prince of Wales Bridge in honour of HRH Prince Charles was met with a somewhat equivocal response from the population of Wales.
The name change, agreed by the Queen and Theresa May, was timed to mark Prince Charles’s 70th birthday, and the 60th anniversary of his investiture as Prince of Wales.
At the time of going to print, around 30,000 people had signed a petition calling for the name change to be scrapped. Plaid Cymru, as might perhaps be expected, were among the more vociferous objectors, with leader Leanne Wood asking whether or not this was a late April Fool prank.
Mr Cairns invoked the Conservative Party’s secret weapon – the ‘silent majority’ – which he suggested gave the name change their full, if silent, backing.
Speaking to the BBC, he implied that a small group of republicans were behind the opposition: “We knew that public opinion would be broad,” he remarked. “Of course there will be some republicans who dislike it, but I think that they should at least have respect for the Prince of Wales because of the work he does in the community.
“I know some republicans who strongly support the charities that he stands for – the Prince’s Trust, Prime Cymru , Business in the Community – and the fantastic work that they do. And I would hope that they would at least look at the work of those charities and recognise that this is a fitting title – for that work if nothing else.”
While the work carried out by groups such as the Prince’s Trust is indeed laudable, it would surely have made more sense to call it The Prince’s Trust Bridge, or indeed the Prime Cymru Crossing, if the name change was meant to celebrate Prince Charles’ charitable works.
The Welsh Labour Government was conspicuously silent on the matter, and it emerged shortly afterwards that Mr Cairns had informed them of the plans some time previously. They raised no objections. This led Plaid Cymru AM Adam Price to accuse the Welsh Government of taking its eye off the ball.
“It’s rare in Wales for tens of thousands of people to sign a petition on an issue like this, with such an emotional and defiant reaction,” he added.
“Of course it’s not just about the name of the bridge, but the symbolism, and the way the decision was made.
“Attention will rightly turn to the Labour Welsh Government and the first minister in the coming weeks, as they failed to raise objections or to recommend that the public’s views were sought.
“We potentially have a position where Labour politicians, as well as Plaid Cymru, will be disappointed in their own first minister, and will be left scratching their heads about why some kind of wider consultation wasn’t proposed.
“Serious questions need to be asked of why the Labour Government took its eye off the ball and, given the strong public reaction, we should now at the very least expect the Welsh Government to make formal representations to the UK government in favour of public consultation.”
This was the cue for UKIP AM Gareth Bennett to enter the fray, with an insightful analysis of the situation, and a solution which would satisfy all concerned: “Rather than getting into a row about a name, Welsh Labour and their bedfellows in Plaid Cymru should be working to build bridges with the Government in Westminster to secure the Brexit that the people of Wales voted for,” he insisted.
“Coupled with their bogus legislation on a supposed ‘power grab’, the people of Wales will see this for what it is; a cynical attempt by Plaid and Welsh Labour to claim they’ve been hard done by yet again.
“The people of Wales voted by a clear majority for Brexit, far more than the very few who cling on to a vain hope of a ‘Welsh Republic’. It’s time the establishment in Cardiff Bay and London got on with the day job and stopped their pointless virtue signalling.”
This statement, while proving conclusively that no topic cannot be linked – at least in the mind of a UKIP AM – to Brexit, did little to indicate the party’s stance on the matter.
The comments sections of any article concerning the subject were an education, in the loosest sense of the word. Responses ranged from calling those in support of the change gutless appeasers, to others suggesting that Welsh Nationalist outbursts like this were the reason that Wales can’t have nice things.
Enter Rod Liddle.
In his column for the Times, the former Today Programme editor wrote: ‘The Welsh, or some of them, are moaning that a motorway bridge linking their rain-sodden valleys with the First World is to be renamed the Prince of Wales Bridge. In honour of the venal, grasping, deranged (if Tom Bower’s new biography is accurate) heir to the throne. That Plaid Cymru woman who is always on Question Time has been leading the protests. They would prefer it to be called something indecipherable with no real vowels, such as Ysgythysgymlngwchgwch Bryggy. Let them have their way. As long as it allows people to get out of the place pronto, should we worry about what it‘s called?’
This 100 word snippet has so far led to at least 19 complaints to Ofcom – or one for every five words – and in fairness it is difficult to see how Mr Liddle could have managed to insult or denigrate more aspects of Welsh life and culture in such a short article.
Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts, told Radio Cymru’s Post Cyntaf: “The two things in particular which incensed me were his attempts to belittle the Welsh language, and to compare poverty in Wales with England’s wealth as a first world nation as something amusing.
“We have to ask when we should put up with this and whether or not the Sunday Times cares about readers here in Wales.”
Carmarthen Mayor and veteran journalist Alun Lenny said: “As a supposedly highly-experienced journalist Rod Liddle has let himself down badly by writing such puerile stuff. His sneering comments about ‘rain sodden’ Wales not belonging to the First World and his attempt to get a cheap laugh at the expense of the Welsh language is the basest racial stereotyping.
“At a time when anti-Semitism dominates the political agenda, it’s deeply disappointing that the Sunday Times allowed such a nasty and offensive little article to be published. You must not be nasty to the Jews, but it seems we Welsh are fair game.”
Moving forward, in the somewhat unlikely event that the massed discontent surrounding the name change in Wales has any effect on the UK Government and Royal Family, several suggestions for a new name have been floated.
Pont Arthur – thus referencing the Prince of Wales’ middle name and a national hero – was one suggestion. Given that the tolls are due to be abolished this year, the Rebecca and her Daughters Bridge has a certain ring to it.
If a royal reference was a requisite, Carmarthen East AM Adam Price provided one: “If we must name this bridge after a prince let it be Owain, surviving son of the last real Prince of Wales (pre-Glyndwr) who, arrested at age eight, spent his entire adult life in a wooden cage in Bristol Castle so the Welsh would know their place. If only we knew our own history,” he remarked.
Aberaeron’s Lib Dem County Councillor perhaps hit the nail on the head. “Can’t decide which comes first in my train of thought – offence? certainly, Anger? most definitely, or should indifference top my list? Because in Wales, it will always be the Severn Bridge – and a mighty fine name that is!”
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