David Jones and Andrew RT Davies with the Prime Minister in April 2013

Taxing times for the Tories

Differences of opinion have resurfaced between Welsh Conservative Assembly Members and between their leader and the Welsh Secretary

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First Minister's hand-written apology to Opposition leader

Carwyn Jones says he's sent a hand-written note of apology to the Opposition Leader after their angry exchanges in the Senedd last week. The First Minister had questioned Andrew RT Davies' absence from a meeting between Welsh political leaders and Prince Charles.

He apologised in the chamber after Mr Davies said he'd been ill himself and caring for his mother-in-law following a stroke. But Carwyn Jones told his monthly press conference that he followed up that apology with a personal note which the Conservative leader had 'graciously accepted.'

Tory blames 'selfish unions' and council incompetence

Conservative Assembly leader Andrew RT Davies has blamed incompetence by Cardiff's Labour council leaders for today's traffic gridlock in parts of the city after the public sector strike closed a major route.

He called it the 'selfish motives of a small cabal of trade union leaders'.

The Butetown Tunnels were closed for safety reasons after the workers who monitor CCTV cameras walked out.

The resulting traffic jam blocked the dual carriageway linking Cardiff Bay with the M4 motorway. Other roads became clogged as drivers sought alternative routes.

We have known about these strikes for some time and yet the council were unable to make arrangements to prevent the capital’s roads descending into chaos once again. The knock-on effect of the closure of the Butetown Tunnels has been enormous. Commuters from all walks of life and all professions have been hit by the ensuing gridlock, along with businesses across the city. It is difficult to find an explanation other than incompetence as to why a contingency plan was not put in place.

People are perfectly entitled to withdraw their labour, but trade unions need to think long and hard about the impact that these strikes have on people’s everyday lives. Many families have also been forced to take annual leave because their children’s schools are on strike, and some households will miss their fortnightly rubbish collections. Once again, hardworking families face mayhem as the result of the selfish motives of a cabal of trade union leaders.

– Leader of the Opposition Andrew RT Davies AM

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First Minister urged to end 'dithering' over minister inquiry

by Adrian Masters

The First Minister has been accused of 'dithering' over a decision over an inquiry into claims one of his cabinet members breached the ministerial code. Environment minister Alun Davies was accused of putting pressure on Natural Resources Wales, to back plans for a racetrack near Ebbw Vale.

You can read the background to the story by clicking here. First Minister Carwyn Jones ordered an inquiry by the Welsh Government's top civil servant which he received last week. Opposition Leader, Andrew RT Davies says he should announce his decision immediately.

This is extraordinary dithering from Carwyn Jones.

Another week has passed with no decision on the serious allegations against one of Carwyn Jones' ministers.

These are not the actions of a First Minister keen to deal swiftly with a potentially serious breach of the ministerial code and draw a line under this distraction from improving public services.

The First Minister received the report last week but is too weak to make a tough decision based on the facts.

He implied this alleged conflict of interest would be resolved within two weeks, but his dithering is about to enter a fourth week.

The First Minister has shown utter contempt for the National Assembly by failing to come forward to explain his indecision.

This distraction has gone on long enough - Labour's weak leader must act.

– Andrew RT Davies AM, Welsh Conservative Leader

I understand the Welsh Conservatives have also tabled an urgent question on the matter. The Presiding Officer is considering whether or not to accept that. If not, you can expect it to feature heavily in First Minister's Questions.

Conservative call for anti-extremism summit

Opposition Leader Andrew RT has used an Urgent Question in the Assembly to call for a summit of Welsh ministers and Muslim community leaders to try to find ways of tackling extremism. It follows revelations that two Cardiff men appeared in an Iraqi Islamist recruitment video.

Deputy Communities minister, Jeff Cuthbert, said he couldn't commit to holding a summit but said he would consider one as part of ongoing efforts to work with communities.

Welsh Tories face tax split troubles again

by Adrian Masters

There could be further embarrassment for the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd chamber this afternoon. The group had agreed to abstain on a Plaid Cymru amendment opposing UK Government plans for income tax devolution.

Click here for more details and here for further background on the difficulties this issue has caused the party. But I understand some of the still-disgruntled of four AMs (or five depending on who you include!) could vote against the amendment.

To the outside world it may seem a minute distinction but with an already tense atmosphere within the group it could once again make its split painfully public on an occasion when both Welsh Secretary David Jones and Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies will be in the Senedd chamber at the same time.

Conservatives "to abstain" in Assembly Queen's Speech vote

by Nick Powell

Welsh Secretary David Jones will today exercise his right to sit and speak (though not vote) in the Assembly for its debate on the Queen's Speech, including changes to devolution that involve giving income tax raising powers to the Welsh Government, subject to approval in a referendum.

They'll be limited by the so-called "lockstep", which requires any changes to affect all bands of income tax. It's an issue that's split the Welsh Conservatives. Four Tory AMs were sacked as shadow ministers for abstaining in a vote, although party policy in Cardiff Bay is against the lockstep.

They argued that Conservative AMs shouldn't oppose what the Welsh Secretary is doing at Westminster, even when he's out of line with what they've decided. There will be another vote today, when all Conservatives are due to abstain, rather than embarrass the Welsh Secretary when he's in the Senedd.

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Welsh Tories welcome Scottish tax plans

by Adrian Masters

The Welsh Conservative leader has welcomed his party's income tax proposals for Scotland, describing them as a 'game changer.' Andrew RT Davies says the announcement supported arguments that he and colleagues in the Assembly have been making about tax powers for Wales.

He wouldn't be drawn on whether or not the UK Government's income tax proposals for Wales should be changed as a consequence, saying that was a matter for MPs and Peers. But he said the Scottish plans were 'significant' and that he'd spoken to Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson about them.

The proposed income tax devolution set out in the Wales Bill has led to a row between Mr Davies and the Welsh Secretary David Jones and a split amongst Welsh Conservatives which led to four Assembly front benchers being sacked.

First Minister should talk to Ann Clwyd not criticise her says Opposition Leader

The Welsh Conservative Leader says the First Minister should hold talks with NHS campaigner Ann Clwyd rather than criticising her. Carwyn Jones dismissed the call from Andrew RT Davies because he said Ms Clwyd had produced 'no evidence' to support her concerns.

“Instead of condemning Ann Clwyd for speaking out, Carwyn Jones and Welsh Labour should be listening carefully and acting on her fears.

Each and every time Mrs Clwyd has raised concerns – they have been proved correct.

I have asked the First Minister if he will work with me to facilitate joint discussions with Ann Clwyd – and, despite his response - I will continue to work towards this aim.

Case after case. Fault after fault. The deeply ingrained problems within Labour’s NHS are clear for all to see. 28,000 people – or a town the size of Pontypridd – had been waiting more than eight weeks for diagnostic services at the end of January. The First Minister’s shocking refusal to acknowledge this is a matter of great regret. Welsh communities deserve to see these problems being appropriately dealt with and cross-party discussions with Ann Clwyd can help achieve this.

– Andrew RT Davies AM, Leader of the Opposition

Delay new exams say Welsh Conservatives

by Nick Powell

The Welsh Conservatives have called for a delay in the introduction of Wales-only GCSEs after some schools reported unexpectedly poor results from the January English GCSE exams.

The Leader of the Opposition, Andrew RT Davies, accused the First Minister of ignoring educational expertise and failing to trust teachers. He said the Welsh Government has ignored calls from the WJEC exam board to delay the introduction of new GCSE courses, currently scheduled for September.

Labour is ploughing on with plans for new Wales-only qualifications in the face of opposition from educational experts and organisations playing a critical role in the implementation of the new GCSEs. The massive decline in GCSE performance in the January 2014 results raises many concerns about new Wales-only qualifications and whether the Welsh Government needs to separate the roles of regulator and awarding body. A child only has one shot at their education and the grades achieved in exams will remain on someone’s CV for life.

– Leader of the Opposition Andrew RT Davies AM

Earlier the Education Minister, Huw Lewis, said that of the 102 schools that entered more than 20 pupils in January, only 36 had reported an unexpectedly poor performance. But his Conservative shadow rejected his claim that she was opposing the policy of introducing more rigour into exams.

It is critical that qualifications are robust and internationally-recognised as high calibre. Rushing in new GCSEs without sufficient forethought risks dumbing down our education system. The Welsh Government should not be so arrogant as to ignore the advice of educational experts and plough on with such a major departure from previous qualifications. It’s disappointing that Labour Ministers have been so reluctant to make information about the GCSE English Language qualification publicly available, which has increased uncertainty further.

– Shadow Education Minister Angela Burns AM
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