I welcome today’s Smith Commission report which I believe is another giant step towards the long held Liberal Democrat vision of a Federal United Kingdom and Home Rule.
While Scotland’s future devolution settlement is clear, the same can not be said for Wales – that needs to change as Wales must not be left behind.
First and foremost, Wales must speak with one voice if we are to be heard. All parties had representatives on the Silk Commission, therefore all parties should at the very least subscribe to the main thrust of the Commission’s proposals. So far, only the Liberal Democrats have done so in Westminster.
The Smith Commission’s report is wide-ranging and many of the proposals would also be appropriate for Wales. Momentum for devolution is moving faster now than it has for years. We must take this opportunity to ensure Wales gets the powers it needs to help build a stronger economy and fairer society.
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Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams says the Wales Audit Office report predicting that the Welsh health service could end the year up to £131m in the red is 'of grave concern.' She added:
This is a serious amount of money and I am deeply concerned that towards the end of the financial year, when budgets will be extremely tight, vital services will have to close putting patient care and safety at risk.
We saw this happen last year and some LHBs didn’t even manage to meet their financial targets. I fear that towards the end of this financial year, patients across Wales will start to really feel the consequences of Labour’s mismanagement of our NHS.
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Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised the Health Minister's announcement of a comprehensive review of the Welsh Ambulance Service. Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams said:
This will be the ninth review in six years. I have no confidence that the Health Minister will be able to ensure that the people of Wales will have an ambulance service that meets the needs of the population.
The Ambulance service is doing a very difficult job and that is exacerbated by the incompetence of Labour’s poor handling of our health service.
It is shameful that our Ambulance Trust has had to wait eight months before it was given a final budget. People across Wales, in all walks of life, will know that organisations, however big or small, cannot work to the best of their potential if they do not have a set budget. It beggars belief that the only people who don’t understand this is the Welsh Labour Government. Once again the Welsh Labour Government is getting the basics wrong.
The Welsh Government should hold a 'national audit' of every school in Wales to check for asbestos according to the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams. Her call follows the closure of Cwmcarn High School after signs of asbestos were discovered. Kirsty Williams said,
I do not want to cause undue alarm, however when a school of 900 pupils has had to close because asbestos was found in airborne particles, I think that people across Wales have a right to know if asbestos is a danger in their local school. Britain imported hundreds of thousands of tons of asbestos in the last century and we do not know the extent of its use in our schools nor how secure it is in school buildings.
The matter will also be raised in the National Assembly this afternoon after Islwyn AM Gwyn Price was given leave to ask an urgent question.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats say they won't support Labour's spending plans unless it finds more money for schools. As part of its draft budget the Welsh Government says it will spend nearly £5m more on the Pupil Deprivation Grant which came as a result of a deal with the Lib Dems last year.
But the Lib Dems say that's not enough. Finance spokesman Peter Black said:
In its current form, the Welsh Liberal Democrats cannot support the draft budget as we don’t believe it goes far enough to tackle the problem of making sure that children from deprived backgrounds get the fair start in life they deserve.
We are pleased that the government has honoured its commitment to continue the pupil premium funding for this and future years at the existing level of £450 per pupil. This reflects the agreement negotiated with the Labour government by the Welsh Liberal Democrats last year.
However, the link between poor educational outcomes and deprivation is still too evident and we need to see year on year progress to extend the pupil premium.
In short, the budget should go further to ensure that children’s achievement at school should reflect their ability not their background.
Further analysis will be needed of the draft budget and the Welsh Liberal Democrats will continue to press the case for a budget that will serve the needs of the people of Wales
The Welsh Government needs the votes of another party to pass its budget. Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams has already held preliminary talks with the Finance Minister Jane Hutt. She's said that there's no spare money in the draft plans. That means more talks before the final budget vote in December.
Welsh Liberal Democrats say they'd want more money spent on schools before they'd back Labour's budget. The spending plans are published later but the Welsh Government doesn't have a majority in the Senedd and needs the votes of another party to get its budget through.
There are more details of the Lib Dem demands here. I asked the party's Welsh leader Kirsty Williams if she's holding out for a continuation of the deal she struck last year or an increase in the amount of money ploughed into schools.
The Welsh Liberal Democrat leader says 'it wouldn't be right' for the parties in the Assembly to take political advantage of the serious illness of Llanelli AM Keith Davies. Kirsty Williams said she understands that Plaid Cymru has made a temporary 'pairing' agreement with the Welsh Government.
Mr Davies' absence leaves Labour without a majority, but the Lib Dem leader said the pairing arrangement is 'appropriate' and that it would be wrong for the other parties to take advantage of the situation.
She also said that she'd sent a text to the First Minister Carwyn Jones when she'd heard about Mr Davies' illness asking him to pass on the best wishes and prayers of her and and her party.
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