The Welsh Government will today emphasise its determination to cut the number of local councils. The First Minister will formally respond in the Senedd to the Williams Commission's plan to cut the 22 county and county borough councils by half.
The Local Government Minister will then publish a White Paper on the councils' future. The Government is pressing on despite so far failing to secure the cross-party support it's been seeking. Even the Welsh Labour Party has only just begun a three month consultation before deciding its position.
The Welsh Local Government Association has warned that the costs of reorganisation will be considerable but last week the First Minister made it clear that such objections are not going to stop him demanding that the councils merge into larger local authorities.
We are in the process of conducting our own analysis of what the costs might be. I have seen the Williams commission’s analysis, and I have seen the WLGA’s analysis. It is important that we, as a Government, are able to have that analysis as well. However, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we are seeing unnecessary duplication of effort and cost as a result of the present local government structure that we have, and it must change.
First Minister Carwyn Jones has marked the 15th anniversary of the Assembly getting its first powers by setting out the case for its role continuing to grow. He's argued that "regardless of the result" in the Scottish independence referendum the UK needs to move to a more stable settlement.
The First Minister was making the Welsh Government's formal response to the second report from the Silk Commission. It not only recommended the transfer of more functions to the Assembly but also moving to a "reserved powers" model.
That would allow the Assembly to legislate in any area not explicitly reserved to Westminster, a far cry from the position on July 1, 1999 when the Assembly was given the powers formerly exercised by the Secretary of State for Wales.
Silk puts us on the right path but I believe we need to go further, and today I am setting out the case for broader powers so we can promote our goals for health, for the environment, for the economy and transport, and for our communities, free from uncertainty and confusion about our powers.
Silk is by no means the end of the story, but adopting their recommended approach will set us in the right direction. However, the detailed provisions in the next Wales Bill will need to take into account potentially much wider changes to the UK’s devolution settlement following the Scottish referendum. We will be ready to consider whether these are right for Wales.
The Welsh devolution settlement in its current form is over cautious, over complex and out dated. The direction I have set today offers a better way forward, and we stand ready to work with the UK Government to put in place the reformed constitution Wales needs.
Labour leader Ed Miliband is bringing his entire shadow cabinet to Wales later this morning for a joint meeting with Carwyn Jones and his ministers. Wales' role in next year's Westminster election seems likely to figure large in their discussions.
Labour is anxious to stress its achievements in the one part of the United Kingdom where the party is currently in government but also needs a strategy for fending off Conservative and Liberal Democrat attacks on its record in Wales, especially in health and education.
We have plenty to talk about. The next future Labour Government in Westminster will be grappling with the unbridled chaos that has been unleashed in the NHS in England and the fragmentation of the schools system. First and foremost however, Ed Miliband will need to deal with the cost of living crisis that continues to blight the lives of millions, despite the slow and slight improvement in the UK economy.
Welcoming Ed, and his team to Wales, I look forward to discussing and showcasing some of our policies that have protected our communities from the worst excesses of the Coalition Government. We are delighted, for example, that Rachel Reeves is looking to develop a new offer for young people based on Jobs Growth Wales. Other decisions we have taken in Wales, like the Council Tax Relief scheme and our equitable Tuition Fees policy have shown that even in tough times there are alternatives to the UK Government's austerity measures.
That isn't easy, however, when our budgets have been cut so severely by the Tory-led Government in Westminster. A real terms cut over the lifetime of this Assembly means that we have £1.7 billion less to spend on frontline services. This is on top of the £300 million a year that Wales is losing through the UK's unfair funding system.
The way Wales is funded is one area where Carwyn Jones wants a commitment that a future Labour government at Westminster would offer a better deal. The last Labour Government didn't accept calls to end the system that limits Wales' share of any increase in public spending to its population share.
Carwyn Jones has told AMs that calls to replace the proposed M4 relief motorway with a cheaper option are prejudging the inquiry by the Assembly's Environment Committee. The First Minister said they should also wait for the response from the Economy Minister, Edwina Hart.
Any way of resolving the problem has to be done in a sustainable manner and not have to be revisited after 5 or 6 years.
Both Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats are critical of the £1 billion scheme, as are the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors. They all argue that an upgrade to Newport's southern distributor road could provide a much quicker and more cost-effective solution.
The Chair of the Environment Committee, Alun Ffred Jones, has written to Edwina Hart, asking for an assurance that the alternative road is considered. Plaid Cymru will open an Assembly debate on the issue tomorrow. Plaid can expect the backing of the Liberal Democrats but not the Conservatives.
The UK government has put the tools in place and we are convinced of the need for a new relief road. The southern distributor road has huge obstacles to being developed. The M4 relief road needs to offer the best long term solution.
Welsh Conservatives say the Welsh Government should apologise for its poor performance rather than publish a report full of 'colourful pages and photos.' Opposition Leader Andrew RT Davies said:
On education – on health – on the economy – the evidence is clear; Wales continues to fall behind and Labour ministers have no answers.
Don’t take it us from us – listen to the experts, the independent reports, and the cold hard statistics.
This is the real programme for government update and an urgent focus is desperately needed on our schools, our NHS services, our businesses and our communities.
Today Labour is printing hundreds of colourful pages and photos, yet nowhere will there be an apology and a plan of action.
Welsh Conservatives are the party of low tax and big ideas – with a clear alternative vision to turn Wales around and put communities first.
Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood says Labour is 'allowing Wales to fall behind.' She was speaking after the First Minister published his third annual Programme of Government report.
The Welsh Government’s annual report comes at a time when there is huge concern over the two main public services it is in charge of: health and education. The Labour Government has simply not gotten to grips with either of them. Wales does have the potential to be a successful country, but people need to have confidence in their own NHS and in their schools.
Unemployment in Wales has returned to its usual position, which is below the UK average, but this is the normal position for Wales since devolution began. The real challenge for the economy is in skills and in creating productive and well-paid jobs. Only education can deliver those skills, and regrettably Labour is allowing Wales to fall behind. This country has all the raw materials needed to deliver high quality public services and a strong, sustainable economy. That outcome is not being realised and today’s annual report confirms the need for a change in direction.
Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams has dismissed the Welsh Government's report as 'page after page ... of patting itself on the back.'
On all of the three key areas: education, health and the economy, the Welsh Labour Government continues to routinely let down the people of Wales.
The low level of ambition this Welsh Labour Government has exhibited is staggering. Only today the First Minister decided to sidestep questions about Wales falling behind in the international education tables by showing off that at least Welsh pupils are not taught in ‘sheds’.
Our Welsh NHS is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Important health targets are consistently being missed. Staff morale is being hit by these missed targets and Welsh patients deserve so much better than this.
The myth that is Jobs Growth Wales is the Government’s only answer on the economy. Again, this unambitious scheme does absolutely nothing to properly tackle long term unemployment in Wales. These people need help to get on the employment ladder, but sadly they are not getting the support they need.
Like previous publications, this Annual Report is merely page after page of the Welsh Labour Government patting itself on the back but without any real measurable targets or evidence to show it has made real progress.
The First Minister has told AMs that his government is 'on track' to deliver promises made when elected three years ago. Carwyn Jones published his third annual report detailing progress on his Programme for Government.
He's highlighting job creation for young people as the Welsh Government's 'greatest achievement of the year, saying that its flagship 'Jobs Growth Wales' programme has created 13,223 job opportunities, more than 5,000 of them during the last year.
You can read the annual report by clicking here. Other indicators in the report which the First Minister says show the Welsh Government is improving life in Wales include:
- More than half of adults now hold an A-Level or equivalent qualification
- Steady decline in cancer mortality rates. Biggest improvement in cancer survival amongst UK countries
- 60% of social houses meet standards improving windows, doors, kitchens and bathrooms
- Reaching target of hiring 500 PCSOs
First Minister Carwyn Jones has apologised for the treatment of patients uncovered in the Andrews report on the Princess of Wales hospital in Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot hospital.
They [the patients and their families] deserve an apology from the government and I give it now.
It's not possible for the government to be aware of what's happening on every ward of every hospital but the people of Wales will judge the government by its response.
Mr Jones said that the government's response would be spelt out by the Health Minister, Mark Drakeford, who will address AMs later.
The First Minister said there would be no sackings or resignations at Abertawe Bro Morgannwg Health Board, which the report did not recommend. Rather, its recommendations would be accepted without "cherry-picking"
Expect Carwyn Jones to continue Welsh Labour's political fightback against repeated criticism from UK Government figures at his party's conference in Llandudno today.
The First Minister will become the second senior Labour politician to use the term 'War on Wales' to describe the unprecedented criticism in the UK media and in the House of Commons of Labour's record of running public services here. He's expected to say,
*"Far from a Respect Agenda, we now find ourselves on the frontline in the Tory War on Wales. Day after day we see attack after attack, on the NHS and those who work in it. On our schools, and on our teachers. On the Welsh language, on our economy, on devolution – on Wales itself." *
Conservative members of the Westmisnter coalition government have for a long time drawn attention to the performance of Welsh public services as a way of highlighting what they claim would be the likely effect of a Labour UK Government.
Members of the Shadow Cabinet have sought to ignore those attacks which has led to accusations that Ed Miliband's team have failed to defend their colleagues in Wales. It looks like that's changed now that the level of scrutiny and criticism has reached a new level of intensity in recent months.
Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith first talked of a 'war on Wales' during Welsh Questions in the Commons last week and Carwyn Jones' speech looks set to continue the counter-offensive.
Its aim is to attempt recast the current debate so that the sustained criticism is no longer seen as disinterested scrutiny, but rather as a politically motivated attack and an attack not on Labour, Welsh or otherwise, but on Wales itself.