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Labour AM sacked for speaking out about M4

Jenny Rathbone is the Labour Assembly Member for Cardiff Central. Photo: PA, Time Ireland

A Labour Assembly Member says she's been sacked by the First Minister for speaking out about the cost of plans to build a new stretch of M4 motorway.

Jenny Rathbone says she's been dismissed as chair of the All Wales European Programme Monitoring Committee which keeps an eye on the spending of EU funds in Wales.

The Cardiff Central AM says she's disappointed to have been dismissed from a role she says is unrelated to the concerns she went public with.

And she says there's an 'unhealthy culture at the top of the Welsh Government which does not allow for rigorous debate.'

You can read Jenny Rathbone's full statement below:

Following my intervention on the issue of the M4 Relief Road in the media last week, the First Minister has dismissed me from the role of Chair of the All Wales European Programme Monitoring Committee, for speaking out publicly.

In the Labour Group meeting on Tuesday, I reiterated my call for a debate within the Group on this massive spending commitment. I am disappointed that no such debate has yet taken place and there is no commitment by the First Minister to allow this to take place at some future date. I remain confident that my views are shared by the majority of Labour AMs, even if they are not encouraged to express them.

Since appointed in July 2013, I have enormously enjoyed chairing both the European Programme Monitoring Committee 2014-2020 from its inception as well as the European Programme Monitoring Committee 2007-2013 which is winding down as the 2007-2014 projects reach a successful conclusion.

I recognise the right of the First Minister to choose who he wants to carry out the important role as Chair of the European Programme Monitoring Committee. I am however disappointed that he has chosen to sack me for speaking out on a matter that is unrelated to this role.

I believe I have a duty as an elected representative to ensure there is value for money for my constituents in Cardiff Central and the people of Wales as a whole. On this particular road scheme, I cannot remain a silent bystander whilst tens of millions of pounds are wasted on a scheme which is unlikely to see the light of day.

The events of the last 24 hours have confirmed in my mind there is an unhealthy culture at the top of the Welsh Government which does not allow for rigorous debate and reflection on the best use of public funds. Independent thought is not tolerated by AMs and if someone does step out of line, they are ruthlessly dealt with. This is not a good way to make difficult decisions.

– Jenny Rathbone AM

Neither the Welsh Government nor the First Minister have responded to the criticism from Jenny Rathbone.

I'm told that in Tuesday's Assembly Group meeting other Labour AMs as well as ministers had lost patience with the Cardiff Central AM after a string of criticism of government policies and actions.

Three fellow Labour AMs have gone public with their own criticism of Ms Rathbone for her comments:

Jenny Rathbone is not speaking in my name when she claims she is speaking on behalf of the majority of Labour AM’s. I believe that the Welsh Government’s preferred black route warrants full consideration and I accept the view of the Minister that developments of this nature demand extensive preparatory and consultation work on. There can be no doubt that the Welsh economy is suffering as a result of the current configuration of M4 around Newport. Neither do I accept her claim that there is a lack of democracy and discussion within the Labour Group. I have never been pressured into backing any decision. I don’t recognise this as the view of the majority of Labour backbenchers. I have spoken to employers in my region who are behind the Welsh Government’s position on this

– Jeff Cuthbert AM

I don’t recognise this as the view of the majority of backbenchers. I have had numerous conversations with employers in my region and they support the Welsh Governments position on this matter

– Joyce Watson AM

This is a controversial project and its only natural that people raise questions - but there's ways of doing that. I've never been afraid of criticising the Government when I feel it's needed, but that's always been accepted and dealt with constructively. It's simply not right to say there's no room for rigorous debate in the party.

– Lynne Neagle AM

However other Labour members have been more supportive of Jenny Rathbone and critical of the leadership. Former minister Alun Davies tweeted his view:

While the Labour deputy leader of Flintshire council called for the First Minister to resign:

The Welsh Conservatives made fun of the First Minister comparing him to the leader of North Korea but also said that Carwyn Jones had serious questions to answer.

We all saw the celebrations in North Korea over the weekend. Little did we know we have our very own Kim Jong Un, here in Wales. The First Minister has serious questions to answer over Jenny Rathbone’s claims about the culture at the heart of Welsh Government. Clearly the First Minister is being very poorly advised.

– Welsh Conservative spokesperson

Welsh Liberal Democrat Transport spokesperson Eluned Parrott says Labour is in 'complete disarray' over its plans for the M4 which, she says, should be scrapped.

The Labour party is in complete disarray. They long have had a culture of stifling debate and avoiding scrutiny and this has clearly caused resentment. The chances of the Welsh Government ever getting a strong enough majority to force through its plans are slim to none. It’s time the Government accepted this.

In budget negotiations, the Welsh Liberal Democrats used our influence to ensure that no construction of the M4 relief road will start before the next Assembly elections and that a detailed Environmental Impact Study into the project will be commissioned.

Our proposed alternative is less expensive, less likely to damage vast swathes of our environment and academically recommended. It will invest in public transport, not just tarmac, and reduce congestion by taking cars off the road.

It’s for all these reasons that we ensured no final construction contracts would be awarded this side of the Assembly election, meaning the entire project can still be scrapped by the next Welsh Government.

– Eluned Parrott AM, Liberal Democrat

Plaid Cymru said the episode shows that the Labour Welsh Government 'hides from scrutiny and debate.' The party's Simon Thomas said:

Jenny Rathbone has today shone a light on the way the Welsh Government operates. We already knew that this was a government that tried to avoid scrutiny where possible but the Labour AM’s account of top-down decision-making suggests that this is a government that hides from scrutiny and debate.

Labour has a track record of avoiding scrutiny – this Labour Government announced its plans to spend the maximum £1 billion on a new stretch of M4 at the beginning of the summer holiday without debate in the Assembly.

The revelation that the Labour group in the Assembly did not even discuss the plans for the new stretch of M4 is astonishing and shows that the culture at the top within its own party. There is no wonder that the people of Wales are feeling increasingly excluded and ignored by this Labour government.

– Simon Thomas AM, Plaid Cymru