Insights, infrastructure and insults: The fifth national assembly for Wales kicks off
Julie Nicholas, policy and public affairs manager at CIH Cymru takes a look at the recent antics in the Senedd as she spends her final few weeks in our Cardiff office.
It is a month of beginnings and endings for me at CIH Cymru. I leave my CIH post to go back into frontline services shortly. I join Monmouthshire Housing in a few weeks as their ‘new homes manager’, trading capital political affairs for rural living, as I begin working with people moving into their new homes in glorious Gwent (I know I am biased but I was born, raised and live there!). Yet one of my last jobs at CIH is keeping members updated on the new Welsh Government and Senedd goings on.
Well the good news is that we finally have a first minister!
Yesterday Carwyn Jones was reinstated to lead Welsh Government into the next assembly term, following the shenanigans of last week when both he and Leanne Wood were nominated for the position, leading to a nail biting role call of Assembly Members in alphabetical order, that saw lone liberal democrat Kirsty Williams decide the outcome; a 29-29 tie.
A week of negotiations between the two largest parties followed, and Plaid Cymru withdrew its nomination, leaving Jones to reclaim First Minister, immediately followed by the Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru leaders opening speeches - hinting at what was agreed and what is to come.
Jones referred to a ‘compact’ made between the two parties, with the establishment of three new ‘liaison committees’; finance, legislation and constitution, with representatives from Labour and Plaid Cymru and civil service staff. There was also an announcement that they would campaign together on the EU referendum (in not out).
Shared priorities going forward following the two party negotiations included:
- Childcare: an announcement of an intention to provide 30 hours of free childcare for working parents
- Apprenticeships and skills: a commitment to 100k new all-age apprenticeships
- Infrastructure: the creation of a national commission and a Welsh development bank
- Health: a new treatment fund to end the ‘postcode lottery’ and a commitment to train additional GP and primary health care professionals
The First Minister ended with a declaration that Wales does not want for ambition, brilliance or excitement and that the business of the assembly would be conducted with good governance, delivery and respect.
Leanne Wood began formidably with a pronouncement that she stood by the antics of the first plenary session, and a chastisement of the perceived smears against her party - denying allegations of deals; there was ‘no deal’ with the Conservatives or UKIP she said. As Plaid Cymru becomes the official party of opposition in the Senedd, she expressed disappointment that the twin party discussion did not include some big subjects including the new M4 routes around Newport, however Wood stated her intention to lead an opposition that will be clear in its goals and priorities, will be constructive and will play only one card; the ‘Wales card’.
Andrew RT Davies took the floor for the Conservatives next, requesting that the First Minister prioritise a statement on Labours’ intentions to map out Local Government reform and on the M4 relief road going forward. Davies also requested clarification on the arrangements between Labour and Plaid Cymru on how the three new committees will impact on government policy.
Neil Hamilton the newly elected UKIP group leader spoke next, and called the leaders of both the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru ‘concubines’ in Carwyn Jones ‘hareem’, accusing them of ‘dodgy deals’ and inciting immediate criticism both inside and outside the Senedd for the sexist tone of language used towards the two female leaders. Like the three previous leaders, Hamilton also made reference to ensuring the current steel crisis was a political priority.
So what does it mean for Welsh housing? Well, for starters it looks as though we will be waiting longer than we originally thought for the Bill to end the right to buy and right to acquire in Wales, as the First Minister announced that no legislation will be introduced in the first 100 days of the assembly, due to a review of the law-making process.
It will certainly be interesting to see where the housing portfolio will sit in the new cabinet; I am not convinced housing will remain either with Lesley Griffiths or within the tackling poverty agenda - with the likelihood of a 20 thousand new affordable homes target (present in both Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labours assembly manifestos), a new infrastructure Ministry and a 100,000 new apprenticeships target - I wouldn’t be surprised to see the housing portfolio move across to a new infrastructure Ministry, perhaps it will even be reunited with planning, as it was under previous housing Minister Carl Sargeant, perhaps we will see it under the remit of one of the fourth assembly’s rising stars; Julie James, Vaughan Gethin or Ken Skates.
So, just as I am leaving policy and public affairs work in Wales to return to frontline housing services, it seems as though the mantra I’ve been using for four years may finally be realised in the Senedd.
Housing IS infrastructure. The end.
Yesterday (19.05.2016) the First Minister announced his new Welsh cabinet.
Ken Skates became Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure
The housing portfolio remains in a slightly renamed brief, Communities and Children, with Carl Sargeant as Cabinet Secretary. CIH Cymru welcomes back Carl Sargeant to housing and hopes to see an ambitious new target for affordable homes, increased capital funding to realise this target, and to continue the collaborative approach to developing joined-up housing policy and legislation, all under the system stewardship of Welsh Government throughout the next assembly term.