When you think of the many and varied questions put to the First Minister each week , and the amount of homework he puts in around the kitchen table in the wee small hours, it's not often that he is caught out. Today was an exception. All thanks to the shrewd investigative powers of The Party of Wales Assembly Member, Jocelyn Davies.
It seems that way back in 2002 , legislation paved the way for children with serious eye impairments to have a second pair of specs. All well and good but the policy is breaking down in the Hengoed area. Poor Mrs Jones of that district had been refused a second pair for her son thanks to cut backs. On hearing of this calumny ,Jocelyn Davies , used FMQ's as a chance to get to the bottom of the matter. Thoughtfully, and in view of the shortage ,recklessly chewing on her own specs, wanted to know why this was? Alas the FM could offer little help. In fact he didn't have clue. He called for more information on Mrs Jones.
But when it came to party leaders questions, Leanne Woods had marshalled her thoughts on A and E services. Her research had shown that two Labour MP's had expressed concern about Ambulance services in their local areas and she wanted to know the FM's views on this.
FM your colleague, Chris Bryant wrote an open letter to Cwm Taf expressing his concerns about proposals to reduce A and E services in South Wales. He wrote in the Rhondda Leader that those at the top end of either Rhondda Valleys could be facing a one way journey to hospital of significantly more than an hour from when an ambulance was first requested which I regard as excessive and unacceptable.
Leanne Wood wanted to know, bearing in mind the views of Rhondda MP Chris Bryant what would the First Minister regard as excessive and unacceptable ? But what inner reflections , the FM has about the matter , we will never know because the question was simply parried away into the ether with the reply:
He is a member of Parliament representing his views in the consultation process as he properly should
Andrew RT Davies was next up and bursting with enthusiasm about his latest hobby ! Shopping on the High Street! A regular figure on Cowbridge High Street with his shopping basket and tweed plus fours, it is his aim to make every High Street just as popular a destination.
The FM didn't seem to want to be drawn into a cosy chat about shopping and rather wanted to leave it to Edwina Hart to make her recommendations about business rates and multipliers and other such thorny problems. But he did acknowledge that economic conditions were much more difficult today thanks to two main reasons. Some towns do better than others anyway. Look at Cowbridge ! Its doing very well ! At this point RT glowed with pride as if somehow responsible. But the FM conceded , the other problem was footfall. Shops were now under pressure from internet shoppers and to be successful in the future a different mix of businesses would have to be encouraged.
Finally , the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams returned to the subject of the Health service in particular asking what budget had been set for the Ambulance Trust this year? She had spotted that six months into this financial year, no budget had been set for the Ambulance Trust. And she opined that the uncertainty as a result of that means the Welsh Ambulance Trust is unable to meet the Government's own response time. First Minister, she queried ,is this any way to run an ambulance service in the 21st century? He was ready with a rapid response.
If the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats has any suggestion or any evidence that people are being put at risk ,I'm sure ourselves and the Welsh public would like to see that. She also gives the impression somehow that no ambulances are running because there's no budget. In reality, we have met our ambulance response time on almost every occasion in the last year and we continue to work to improve things when those targets have fallen short on occasion.
Its half term next week so our Assembly Members will be skipping home for a little break ready to return refreshed and keen for more FMQ's shortly.