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Politics

Time for a new relationship with local government

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Asking local government leaders for their ideas: Alun Davies

I LIKE to think that I’m not often lost for words in the Chamber. But during my oral questions session the other week, Plaid’s spokesperson, Sian Gwenllian, asked me a question that momentarily left me like a goldfish gasping for breath.

Sian asked me what would be my style as a minister. I guess that she wanted to know whether I’d be more Leighton or Mark. Whether I would seek to impose a policy or seek a consensus. I have no idea whether my response pleased her or not. But it was a good question and it has led me to think again how I would answer the question.

Over the years successive ministers have tried several different approaches and styles. Local government leaders have been flattered, cajoled, persuaded and been drawn into temptation by a whole feast of ministerial offerings. This is certainly one area of policy where there have been an embarrassment of riches with a whole government full of green papers, white papers, commissions and strategies and speeches and statements.

What all of this earnest activity has in common is that it has all failed to deliver any meaningful reform of either the structures or ways of working in local government. It has failed to deliver change or reform and it has failed to create a consensus on the shape of what any reform may actually look like. Maps have come and gone. Footprints debated and heads nodded. Within a month of my own appointment I was told at the WLGA’s seminar in Cardiff in no uncertain terms to put away the Bill and the policy that I had inherited only a couple of weeks previously.

And no report from the WLGA seminar would be complete without mention of Newport’s Debbie Wilcox who has taken the organisation by the scruff of the neck. Her powerful speech set the tone for the day and impressed all of us with her emphasis on the value and importance of localism within the devolved context.

And it was this speech which first helped me to understand that times are changing.

As well as telling me that the inherited policy of mandated regional working wasn’t a runner I was also told that the current shape and structure of local government is not sustainable. And it is this latter point that has dominated my conversations with local government leaders since November.

In my initial conversations I see a generation of leaders committed to their communities and to local government as a powerful and dynamic shaper of those communities. These are people that understand only too well that the failure to agree on an approach to local government policy reflects poorly on everyone – local government and Welsh Government. Repeating the word ‘no’ during difficult times engenders neither confidence nor conviction.

Since taking office I have tried to spend time talking with people. From the wonderful Guildhall in Swansea to the marvellous civic centre in Newport and a former cell in Caernarfon I have discussed and enjoyed the creative force of leaders with drive and energy and a determination to lead change. And I am left with the absolute belief that local government has the vision and the ambition to transform our communities. And to deliver on this vision they need the powers and the freedoms to chart their own courses.

So what is the role for Welsh Government? Great efforts have been made recently to re-build and re-set the relationship and there is certainly a sense that things have improved significantly. We need to build on these firm foundations. For me it is time that Welsh Government joined the debate over the future of local government with a degree of humility rather than an over-large helping of hubris. Too often in the past the tone from Welsh Government has been hectoring, arrogant and policy expressed in intemperate language with criticism that has been unwarranted and unjustified.

Perhaps it’s time for the Government to say sorry and to start again.

So this brings me to answer Sian’s question.

In resetting the relationship between the Welsh Government and local government we need to root our approach firmly in the values of local democracy. A belief in not only civic pride but in local government and local decision-making rather than the local administration of national priorities. A belief that local government leaders and strong councils are better able to deliver excellent public services and to protect the interests of public service workers than a series of instructions from the Bay.

So I have written to all local government leaders asking them for their ideas for powers that should be provided to local government. What are the freedoms and flexibilities that they need to deliver on their mandates and ambitions? I will publish the answers and will publish a route map to deliver those new powers.

But I cannot travel on this journey alone.

The new powers alone will not provide all the answers to the question of sustainability that were so powerfully put back in November. The leader of a rural authority told me last week of the reductions they were making – hundreds of jobs lost over the last few years. And it is this erosion of the public workforce with its inevitable impact on services provided and the terms of service for those who keep their jobs that worries me most. No-one is a winner today. And no-one that I have met wants more of the same.

So the Welsh Government needs to change its approach and to provide for a new relationship. And that also means a new tone. A tone rooted in the respect for local mandates and the pressures faced by local councillors and public service workers. A tone and an approach which seeks to build together a joint venture to provide local authorities with the new powers they need. And then we need to build together the structures that will enable authorities to deliver on those new powers.

It may well be the case that after nearly two decades of devolved government that our democracy is maturing and that the relationship between a more powerful Welsh parliament and more powerful local authorities will be one where we can learn to govern together as a single Welsh public service and leave the arguments and negative debates in the past.

I certainly hope so.

This article appeared originally on the personal blog of Alun Davies AM and is reproduced with his kind permission.

Alun Davies is the AM for Blaenau Gwent and the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services

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News

Welsh Conservatives pay tribute to murdered MP, Sir David Amess

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THE WELSH CONSERVATIVES have released a statement following the murder of serving Member of Parliament, Sir David Amess on Friday (Oct 15).

Paul Davies MS said: “We are horrified by the death of Sir David Amess.

“Sir David was a much-respected and well-liked MP who cared deeply about serving his constituents, something he had done with distinction for nearly four decades.

“One of the longest-serving Members of Parliament, his contribution to public life was vast and he will be sorely missed by those in Southend and in the Conservative Party.

Paul Davies MS said: “We are horrified by the death of Sir David Amess (Pictured)

“Sadly, this shocking and abhorrent incident once again highlights the dangers that public servants can face, all of whom should be able to conduct such duties helping those they represent in safety.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends. May he rest in peace.”

Stephen Crabb MP took to social media to say: “Love and prayers for the family of Sir David Amess MP this afternoon. Just devastating. Funny, wise, compassionate, and such a good friend to so many of us.

“It was a delight to interview Sir David Amess back in May for a virtual book launch for his autobiography. So much warmth, humanity and love of the job he did so assiduously for almost 40 years. Parliament has lost one of its finest today.”

The MP for Southend West was stabbed at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, in Essex. He was there for one of his regular Friday meetings with his constituents.

Just 15 minutes before the attack, the 69-year-old was standing on the church steps, chatting and laughing with locals.

At around 12:05 PM, Sir David walked into the church alongside two female members of his staff to meet some more constituents.

Local councillor John Lamb said that it was then that the attacker emerged from a small group of waiting constituents and attacked Sir David, stabbing him several times.

“I’m told that when he went in for his surgery there were people waiting to see him, and one of them literally got a knife out and just began stabbing him,” Mr Lamb said.

Police arrived at the scene in Eastwood Road North within minutes where they found the MP with multiple injuries and arrested a man.

“We knew it must be very serious because the paramedics had been working on Sir David for over two and a half hours and they hadn’t got him on the way to hospital,” Mr Lamb told the PA news agency.

At 14:13 an air ambulance arrived at a nearby sports ground to move him to hospital. However, members of his team began to fear the worst as paramedics remained at the scene.

Shortly before 15:00, Essex Police said Sir David had died.

At a press conference later Chief Constable BJ Harrington said officers and paramedics had worked extremely hard to save the MP.

Questions are now being raised about security arrangements for politicians working in their constituencies.

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News

Ambitious Attitude at Choose2Reuse

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LEE WATERS MS has spoken of how impressed he is with Llanelli based Choose2Reuse CIC who are doing their bit for the environment, community and for the local economy.

Llanelli’s Member of the Senedd, who is also Deputy Minister for Climate Change, recently revisited the social enterprise to meet with Tanya Igic and Tony Holmes co-founders of Choose2Reuse at their units in Trostre Industrial Park.

The local MS was keen to learn more about how Choose2Reuse operate and how its work helps the local environment. Mr Waters discussed future plans the founders have for Choose2Reuse.

Although the organisation already have number of clothing banks, they are hoping to place many more of the same with local shops and charitable organisations. They also have a smaller clothing bins/drums to go inside shop premises.

Lee Waters MS commented: “Choose2Reuse are already exporting 100-150 tonnes of recycled goods abroad each month and prevent them from ending up in a landfill site. It is great to know unused goods from our local community are being recycled and helping local and people all across the world”.

Tanya Igic said: “It was great that Lee could come to our Trostre site and see the work we are doing. We have had several constructive conversations and I am excited about what the future holds. We have ambition to develop our projects and I am glad our local MS can see that.”

Waters MS went on the comment: “We all have to do our bit to recycle the products we have. We must learn to either re-use items ourselves or give them to people who will. The Welsh Government has ambitious climate change targets, including reaching net zero Carbon emissions by 2050. Organizations such as Choose2Reuse will greatly help get closer to achieving our aims. “

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Health

New plan to keep Wales open and safe during “challenging” winter ahead

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The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, will today (Friday October 8) publish new plans to help keep Wales open and safe during the difficult autumn and winter months ahead.

The Welsh Government is publishing an updated Coronavirus Control Plan, which outlines the key actions, which could be put in place to control the spread of the virus.

Wales will remain at alert level zero for the next three weeks, following the latest review of the coronavirus regulations. This means all businesses are open and Wales has the lowest level of restrictions.

Speaking ahead of his press conference, First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

“We are facing a challenging winter ahead – coronavirus hasn’t gone away and flu is forecast to return this winter.

“Vaccination is the best defence we have against coronavirus – the more people who are fully vaccinated, the better our chances of controlling the spread of this awful virus.

“We will continue to focus our efforts on increasing take up of the Covid-19 vaccine across the age and priority groups and rolling out the booster vaccine too. We also encourage everyone who is eligible, to have their flu jab this year.

“There is also a range of other measures we can all take to help protect ourselves and our loved ones, such as washing our hands, reducing the number of people we meet and wearing a face covering in indoor public places.

“These measures have helped keep us safe throughout the pandemic and they will also help to protect us from other winter viruses, such as flu and other respiratory infections.”

The latest version of the Coronavirus Control Plan sets out two planning scenarios for the pandemic over the winter – in the first, called Covid Stable, Wales remains at alert level zero through the autumn and winter, with all businesses able to open.

This is thought to be the most likely scenario for the future, as we become used to living with coronavirus and we gradually move out of the pandemic to a position where the virus becomes a seasonal illness.

Under this scenario, if case rates fall, measures could be relaxed further in response, and if they rise, some existing measures could be strengthened to protect people’s health.

The second planning scenario, called Covid Urgent, is designed to deal with any sudden changes to the situation, caused by the emergence of a new, fast-spreading variant or if vaccine immunity levels fall, causing a rise in pandemic pressures, which risk overwhelming the NHS.

In such a scenario, the alert level system and restrictions would be used proportionately, but as a last-resort means, to protect people’s health, control the spread of infections and to protect the NHS.

Help keep Wales safe:

• Get your Covid-19 vaccines, including your booster when invited

• Get tested and self-isolate if you have symptoms

• Outdoors is safer than indoors

• Keep your distance when you can

• Wash your hands regularly

• Wear a face covering in indoor public places

• Keep indoor places well-ventilated

• Work from home whenever possible

• Use a Covid Pass in nightclubs and large events.

Commenting on the First Minister’s announcement Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said:

“Like the First Minister acknowledged, vaccinations have proven to be the key that unlocked society and the economy after severely weakening the link between infection and hospitalisation. To those who have yet to be vaccinated, we urge them to do so and those eligible to get a booster jab.

“However, while we remain at Level 0, new restrictions are coming in as the coercive, ineffective, and anti-business Covid passports will limit our freedoms, fail to limit the spread of coronavirus according to the Welsh Government’s own scientists, and add additional burdens on already stretched businesses.

“There has been a poor communication campaign from the Welsh Government on their introduction, little justification of their effectiveness, a failure to address confusion and fix bugs, and no explanation on how they will police the alternative Covid test system so open to abuse.

“We have passed the peak of infections without further restrictions and passports will do little to stem the problems that has led to the worst-ever A&E waiting times, longest ever NHS treatment backlog, and second slowest ambulance response times built up under Labour mismanagement.

“So instead of further restrictions, we need Labour ministers to bring forward a proper winter pressures plan that introduces the Covid treatment hubs for which Welsh Conservatives have long called for and reverse their damaging decision to bring in Covid passports.”

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