Commissioner appointment questioned

Sophie Howe has been appointed Future Generations Commissioner Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Senior opposition politicians in the National Assembly have been criticised for questioning the independence of the person appointed to a top job scrutinising the Welsh Government.

The Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru have highlighted Sophie Howe's ties to the Labour party and questioned her level of expertise for the rôle.

But they've been attacked for criticising an appointment process in which members of their own parties were involved.

Sophie Howe was named as the first Future Generations Commissioner whose rôle is to make sure ministers' actions are made with sustainability and the long-term interests of Wales in mind.

She's currently Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner to the Labour Commissioner, Alun Michael and in the past has been a Labour councillor and a candidate for the party in several elections.

The Tory and Plaid decision to raise these questions now has been described as 'a bit rich' by the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats who says their parties were involved in the interviewing process.

And a Welsh Government source said it amounted to questioning the judgements of members of the panel from their own parties.

The leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies, said he was 'a little surprised' by the appointment, pointing out that Sophie Howe 'has a very strong identity link with the Labour party' and that 'she will have quite a way to go to persuade people that she's impartial.'

When I asked the Opposition leader at his weekly briefing of journalists if she has his support he replied, 'she has to convince a lot of people.'

He repeated his call for appointments to such rôles to be made by the Assembly as a whole rather than the Welsh Government.

Meanwhile at Plaid Cymru's weekly briefing, frontbencher Simon Thomas said that 'it doesn't appear that [Sophie Howe] has any interest in this field.'

A Plaid spokesperson later added:

Both parties have been criticised in turn by their fellow Opposition leader and the Welsh Government.

At her weekly briefing, Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said:

The Lib Dem leader added that she was confident that Sophie Howe would be aware of the criticisms that have been made of her and would want to demonstrate her independence.

I understand the cross-party group's decision was not only unanimous, but that Sophie Howe was given higher scores than any other candidates. The members of the group were:

  • Joyce Watson AM, Labour

  • Janet Howarth AM, Conservative

  • Llyr Gruffydd AM, Plaid Cymru

  • William Powell AM, Liberal Democrat

A Welsh Government note accompanying the announcement states:

A Welsh Government source suggested to me that the criticism would backfire on those making it.

Meanwhile her current boss, the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales, has welcomed the news.