THE NATIONAL Assembly for Wales held a minute silence at the Senedd on Tuesday (Nov 14) in memory of former Assembly Member Carl Sargeant, who died last week.
The Llywydd, Elin Jones AM, opened Plenary by saying: “His death has shaken us to our core, and his absence from our midst pains us today. But our loss pales in comparison to that felt by his community, his friends, his staff, and especially his family.”
After a minute’s silence, Elin Jones invited party leaders and Assembly Members to speak.
A MAN OF MANY TALENTS
First up was an ashen-looking Carwyn Jones, who expressed the wish to speak of his deceased former Cabinet colleague as ‘a politician, as a colleague, and as a friend’.
The First Minister highlighted Mr Sargeant’s contribution to the Assembly: “He took more legislation through here than any other Minister. And he had a knack of turning difficult pieces of legislation into something worthwhile.
Mr Jones continued to observe that Mr Sargeant was: “A man of many talents. In all the years I knew him, we never had a cross word.
“He was ever-present in the Cabinet, and with good reason. I appointed him because he was good at legislation, he was good with people.
“Well-liked and committed, jovial but determined, firm but fun, and he will be missed by his family, by those in this Chamber, and by the nation.”
Andrew RT Davies was notably warm in his tribute: “Very often, politicians are lucky if they get one piece of legislation through in their lifetime; Carl put four pieces of legislation through. For a man to come from the factory floor and wake up each morning to put a collar and tie on and put the cufflinks in, and have that as a legacy—each piece of legislation will have a massive impact on the outcomes here in Wales about improving people’s lives.
“You speak as you find, but I have to say he is one of the most genuine men that I’ve had the privilege to meet.”
BETHAN JENKINS ‘DEVASTATED’
That warmth was noticeably absent from Leanne Wood’s brief speech. The Plaid leader described Mr Sargeant’s loss as a blow, but who left the warmth to her absent colleague Bethan Jenkins, whose words she read out.
Ms Jenkins, absent through injury, said: “’Carl Sargeant was a friend of mine from across the political divide. Despite many people telling me that I should not have friends from different parties, I’ve always been of the belief that we are human first.
“All I know was that whenever I needed support or someone to speak to about anything, Carl was at the other end of the phone. We joked after I would raise questions in Plenary with him that even though we clashed politically he still respected me, and vice versa.
“I can say for the record that I am devastated. My support rock in that place has gone. Gorwedd mewn hedd, Carl.”
After pointedly remarking on the way with which Carl Sargeant was dealt, Neil Hamilton said: “Carl and I were diametrically opposed politically, and we cheerfully hurled verbal bricks at each other across the Chamber, but he was a civilised and decent man, and big enough to recognise an opponent’s sincerity, and he didn’t allow political differences to preclude cordial relations outside the Chamber.
“I didn’t know him very well, but I liked him for his avuncular geniality, his friendliness and his authenticity—above all for his authenticity. He was a genuine man of the people, never lost touch with his roots.”
HUMOUR AND ACHIEVEMENT
Following the party leaders’ tributes, there was a succession of earnest, heartfelt, and occasionally emotional contributions from Mr Sargeant’s fellow AMs.
Many of their reminiscences were tinged with humour, describing a man who never failed to see the funny side of things but who was a committed and dedicated public servant.
Lesley Griffiths’ deeply personal tribute mentioned Mr Sargeant’s sense of mischief: “One of Carl’s most important jobs was to ensure our shared drawer always had a good supply of sweets. One day, he brought some new ones in and told me just to try one, but I in my usual style grabbed a handful, only to find on eating them they were hot chilli sweets. He could barely contain his gleefulness at my discomfort.”
That humour was made more poignant by her recollection that: “Carl was one of the most generous people I have ever met, particularly with his time, and he loved socialising with his family and friends. Behind his burly and jovial exterior was a beautiful, sensitive and vulnerable soul. He always told people how special and unique they were, because he cared how people felt. He was kind to people, and being kind to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.”
Her North Walian Cabinet colleague Ken Skates observed: “I think if there is to be a legacy, a lasting legacy, to Carl, it should be that we should all show a little more love and care for one another, that we should be kinder and more respectful to one another, not just in here but across our society, to change our culture for the better.”
ASSURANCE OF FAIR PLAY
Alun Davies, the newly-appointed Cabinet Secretary for Local Government, appeared on the verge of tears throughout an emotional address.
Describing Mr Sargeant as ‘a very, very decent and honourable, authentic friend and a mate of mine’, he continued: “You’d never have guessed that he had the achievements behind him that he had. But he cared deeply and all of us who worked alongside him know how deeply held his convictions were, and how deeply he cared about what he was doing and how deeply he believed in fair play and social justice.”
Mr Davies concluded his remarks by addressing them directly to Mr Sargeant’s family, present in the public gallery: “We’ll always make sure that Carl has fair play.”
Paul Davies said: “Every time I was with him, we would laugh. But he was a serious and committed politician who cared about his constituents, and he got people. He understood people. After all, politics is about people and Carl definitely got that.”
Joyce Watson remembered his contribution to clamping down on domestic violence and said: “In all the coverage of the loss of our friend Carl, one word and one word alone keeps getting repeated, and that is the word ‘authentic’. Everything about Carl rang true. It was obvious to everyone who met him that Carl was in politics for the right reasons. Intellectually, instinctively, head and heart, he understood and he cared deeply about the people and places he represented.”
GREATLY ADMIRED, GREATLY MISSED
Rebecca Evans, who worked in Mr Sargeant’s office when he was first elected to the Assembly, remembered a working atmosphere filled with humour and music, but recounted that: “ Behind the jokes and behind the laughter was a deep seriousness about making life better for his constituents and a driving passion for social justice.”
Former Finance Minister Jane Hutt said that Carl Sargeant was: “Loved and respected by us all here today, a man and a Minister who served Wales so well, greatly admired and greatly missed.”
Simon Thomas recalled Mr Sargeant’s generosity with his time and the pains he took to attend to small details. After covering Carl Sargeant’s frequently remarked upon talents at karaoke and on the dancefloor, the Mid and West AM observed that although humour was part of his success as a legislator: “He was very serious about what he was achieving, and his ability to have passed the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is, I think, one of the crowning achievements of any legislature, and he took it through here and did that work for and on behalf of all of us.”
Nick Ramsay remarked: “We know that politics can be a cold business, but, in contrast, friendships go to the heart of what it is to be human, and Carl was one of the most human souls I’ve ever met. He was unique—a one-off. He was friendly, warm, engaging, and supportive. He was always supportive when you needed help. He was a sensitive man, and he had turned his hands to most things in his full life.”
Dafydd Elis Thomas, former Presiding Officer and recently appointed to the culture portfolio, told AMs: “I want to celebrate and thank him for what he did for the environment of Wales, and in particular for the designated landscapes, because he understood, as someone who was a proper north Walian, who loved both the industrial areas, and the rural areas and the national parks, and the areas of outstanding natural beauty, that it was important that these areas should learn to live together and share their delight.”
‘A CHAMPION OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS’
Darren Millar said: “Remembrance Sunday has just passed, and it reminded me not just of the sacrifice of the fallen, but also of what a fantastic champion the armed forces community and veterans across Wales had in Carl Sargeant, holding that portfolio, representing their views around the Cabinet table, and across the country.
“And, of course, he wasn’t just a friend to the armed forces, he was a tremendous friend of faith communities as well, across Wales. I know how greatly faith communities, faith groups—of all religions—appreciated his work and engagement through the faith communities’ forum.”
Mr Sargeant’s achievements and legacy were summed up by Rhianon Passmore, past chair of the Welsh Labour’s Women’s Committee & Policy Forum, who said: “There are many Members of this National Assembly for Wales who loved and respected Carl.
“As a proud feminist, I want it stated on the record that no other Assembly Member, in the two decades of Welsh devolution, has been as passionate to champion the progress of women’s and children’s rights and causes through legislation than Carl Sargeant. As Minister for social justice, he became known as champion of equality and women’s rights.”
A book of condolence has been opened for visitors to the Senedd.
North Wales Commissioner to stand down
PLAID CYMRU Leader Adam Price has paid tribute to North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones who has announced he is standing down at the next election.Mr Jones of Plaid Cymru is the region’s second-ever police and crime commissioner and has been PCC since 2016, and the next election had originally been due to take place last May but the vote was put back a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Arfon Jones said: “The main reason I have decided not to seek re-election is that I will have been working for more than 46 years by the time of the next election.“As a result of the pandemic, the term of office was extended for a year. I started thinking about this last May but I didn’t talk to anybody else about it until three months ago.
“I have achieved a lot in the past five years and it is going to be more difficult to make a difference next time because of the pandemic, Brexit and the fact that the term of office has been curtailed to three years.”
Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price MS said: “We are indebted to Arfon Jones for his tremendous contribution as the Police and Crime Commissioner for north Wales.“From launching Checkpoint Cymru – a project to address the underlying causes of offending; commissioning over £2 million worth of services to support victims of crime; leading the charge in tackling domestic violence and to more recently keeping our communities safe during the Coronavirus pandemic, Arfon’s considerable achievements in office are a testament to his commitment to the constituents he serves.
“On behalf of Plaid Cymru, I would like to thank Arfon Jones for his contribution to Welsh public life and send him our warmest wishes for the future.Plaid Cymru Chair Alun Ffred Jones added: “From safeguarding the most vulnerable in our society, protecting our communities and preventing offending and reoffending, Arfon Jones’s tireless work has helped make North Wales a safer place.
“A true public servant, he will be remembered for representing the people of north Wales with determination and for fighting to ensure that the voices of victims of crime are heard within the justice system.
“On behalf of Plaid Cymru, I wish him all the best for the future.”Mr Jones succeeded Winston Roddick in the Police and Crime Commissioner role and had a 12,000 majority over Labour’s David Taylor in the last Police and Crime Commissioner elections in 2016.The elections for the role of Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales are scheduled for Thursday, May 6, the same day as voters head to the polls in elections to the Welsh Parliament.
Taskforce returns empty homes to use
MORE than 500 applications have been received to bring empty homes back in to use through Welsh Government’s £10 million Valleys Taskforce Empty Homes Grant Scheme, Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport Lee Waters has announced.
Phase One of the initiative was launched a year ago by the Deputy Minister, and Chair of the Valleys Taskforce, after a successful roll-out across Rhondda Cynon Taf.The scheme is open to homeowners across the extended Valleys Taskforce, which runs from Carmarthenshire in West Wales to Torfaen in East Wales. Its boundaries were also extended last year to include the Gwendraeth and Amman Valleys.
Phase Two of the scheme, launched in July 2020, will ensure even greater numbers of local businesses are used to bring empty homes back to life and incentivise applicants to use more energy-efficient measures within their renovations. Not only will this help to reduce carbon emissions it will also result in lower energy bills for future residents.
While the scheme will see some applicants going on to live in their refurbished properties, other properties will be brought in to use for social housing by Registered Social Landlords, helping to increase the supply of affordable housing.Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport Lee Waters said: “A year ago, I announced that following the success of a Rhondda Cynon Taf scheme, we were opening a £10 million Welsh Government Empty Homes Grant scheme across the whole of the Valleys Taskforce areas.“It is heartening to see that scheme progressing well, with over 500 applications already received and I hope many more to come.
Of course, this year has been challenging for everyone but despite the pandemic causing a delay on the scheme for many months, and the floods that impacted many Valleys areas, we have seen great progress.
Local authorities have worked hard to roll out this scheme in their areas and provide the necessary match funding to make this success and I would like to put on record my thanks for their hard work.“With strengthened criteria, which we developed collaboratively with local authorities and other stakeholders, this scheme has not only brought empty properties back in to use but has also supported the foundations of our local economies by providing work for small local businesses in the construction sector.
The retrofitting element also means it is supporting our decarbonisation agenda while also reducing energy bills for the future.“I look forward to seeing the full results of this Valleys Taskforce scheme and will work closely with the Minister for Housing and Local Government to use our learning to influence and develop a future empty homes schemes for the whole of Wales.”Mike Roberts, from Carmarthenshire, applied to Phase One of the scheme. He said: “My house had been empty for more than two years and desperately needed to be restored to a decent standard.“The Empty Homes Grant Scheme was a great help and allowed me to carry out essential works all at once.
“There was a formal process and a range of forms to complete but my grant was approved and the work has been done. I am delighted.”To be eligible for the Valleys Taskforce Empty Homes Scheme, homes need to have been empty for at least 6 months. Applicants to the scheme are also restricted to one grant per person and in cases where repair work exceeds £20,000, will have the option to apply for the Welsh Government’s Houses into Homes scheme.
Call to replace the Lords
OVERHAULING Parliament’s London-dominated second chamber would help empower the UK’s nations and regions, writes Willie Sullivan a senior director at the Electoral Reform Society.
It’s been a year since Boris Johnson’s victory in the 2019 general election, an election won with a commitment to ‘level up’ those communities left behind.
Since then, our politics has been shaken by a pandemic that has put pressure on the already strained constitutional settlement that holds the nations and regions of the UK together.
We’ve seen attention turned to local and regional government as well as the devolved administrations. We’ve seen clearly how the over-centralising nature of Westminster can hamper and undermine public trust. The video of Andy Burnham first hearing news of Greater Manchester’s Covid funding settlement at a live press conference will go down as a low point in Britain’s patchwork devolution framework.
This is all set to the backdrop of declining faith in our politics. At the same time as the PM was returning to Number 10 last winter, polling for the Electoral Reform Society showed that just 16% of the public believe politics is working well in the UK – and only 2% feel they have a significant influence over decision-making.
For a government publicly committed to a levelling up agenda, this democratic malaise must serve as a warning: it will take more than economic investment or shiny new infrastructure to remedy the feeling of powerlessness that many feel outside of Westminster.
Tackling that will require some long-overdue reform. The calls for a clear framework for devolution in the UK have become impossible to ignore in recent months. Even areas of England with mayors felt sidelined this year, but the picture was even worse elsewhere – with zero guarantees that local people would be consulted on changes that would affect their lives immeasurably.
There’s a good way to start empowering the UK’s nations and regions: overhauling Parliament’s unelected second chamber.
Abolishing the outdated and unaccountable House of Lords offers a chance to rebalance politics away from Westminster – and create a representative Senate of the Nations and Regions.
Recent Electoral Reform Society analysis found that nearly a quarter of peers are based in London, compared to just 13% of the UK public. Over half – 56% of peers – live in the capital, or the east and south-east of England, while peers in the east and west Midlands make up just 6% between them – leaving many areas in which the Conservatives won seats in the so-called ‘red wall’ woefully underrepresented.
It should be said, this is only peers we know about: more than 300 refuse to state even the country they live in (some live overseas), and hundreds more do not even provide a direct email address for people to get in touch and stand up for their areas.
All this undermines the government’s stated intention to ‘level up’ the regions, when we have a chamber that is skewed towards one patch of England.
Reforming this London-dominated second chamber is a rare issue that is highly popular across all parties. 71% of the UK public back an overhaul of the House of Lords, research showed this year. The issue cuts across Britain’s divides, with an overhaul backed by a majority of those who voted Conservative or Labour in the 2019 general election, and those who voted Leave or Remain in the EU referendum.
As well as levelling up representation – with peers elected using a fair, proportional voting system – a genuinely accountable second chamber could establish a guaranteed voice for the regions of the UK, to speak as one, to scrutinise legislation and our constitutional settlement with clear communities in mind. The UK remains one of the most centralised countries in Europe – and the archaic, power-hoarding set-up in Westminster has a big role to play in why this is.
The pandemic has shown just how important it is for those outside the capital to be truly heard. There are many reasons why voters had more confidence in their governments’ Covid responses more in Wales and Scotland, but having a stake – being genuinely ‘in it together’ makes a big difference.
This is a challenge to all parties, from Boris Johnson as he tries to plot a path for recovery for the UK, to Keir Starmer as he begins to outline his own view of devolution.
One thing’s clear: the London-dominated House of Lords is undermining the voice of local communities. A Senate of the Nations and Regions could be the gamechanger we need.
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