Free school meals for primary pupils in Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru agreement

  • Explainer by national correspondent and Sharp End presenter Rob Osborne

Free school meals will be extended to all primary school pupils under a new Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru agreement, which would see both parties co-operating in the Senedd on issues affecting Wales.

The agreement covers 46 policy areas, including universal free school meals as a step towards "a shared ambition that no child should go hungry".

A commitment to addressing the second homes crisis, expanding free childcare to all two-year-olds, and the long-term reform of the Senedd are among the actions pledged.

Some of the policy proposals include creating a publicly-owned energy company for Wales to encourage community-owned renewable energy projects.

There are also plans for further flood defences, new measures to strengthen the Welsh language, and more support for young people's mental health.

Both parties have also agreed to set about immediately establishing a national care service which is free at the point of need.

The two partners – the Welsh Government and the Plaid Cymru Senedd Group – will work together to jointly develop and oversee the delivery of the policies covered by the agreement over the coming three years.

It has been stressed that the agreement is a 'co-operation', not a coalition, and Plaid Cymru members will not be joining the Welsh Government as ministers or deputy ministers.

Plaid Cymru will appoint a designated lead member for the agreement, and committees made up of Welsh Ministers and Plaid Cymru designated members will be put in place to reach agreement on the issues covered.

The Conservatives have strongly criticised the agreement, saying it will inflict "despair" on Wales and cause "constitutional chaos."

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have said they're "concerned" that the agreement does not include measures to tackle the "crisis" in healthcare provision in Wales.

The agreement has been criticised for not mentioning issues affecting the Welsh NHS. Credit: PA Images

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “This agreement brings the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru together to respond to some of the most pressing issues facing Wales today, such as climate change and the energy and cost-of-living crisis.

“We can achieve more for people in Wales by working together and the agreement is both a response to the external challenges we face and a chance to build on the opportunities in our future. It will also help us secure a stable Senedd over the next three years, capable of delivering radical change and reform.

“These commitments build on our shared values of social solidarity, a sustainable planet and a vibrant democracy.”

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said: “Almost a quarter of a century ago, people in Wales voted for self-government for Wales, with a promise of a new type of politics.

“They placed their trust in a new democracy with an instruction to work differently – inclusively and co-operatively.

“The challenges we face require real ambition to deliver radical ideas. The fallout from leaving the European Union, the legacy of the pandemic, and the UK Government’s determination to erode the Senedd’s powers all increase the need for transformational change.

“Taken together, the bold policy pledges will unite Wales and benefit every generation, from all primary school pupils receiving free school meals to a national care service, free at the point of need.

“I am pleased this pioneering agreement is founded on common ground on a range of issues that will make a long-lasting difference to people’s lives.”

Plaid Cymru decided to oppose the Welsh Government's recent proposal on Covid passes. Credit: PA Images

The agreement is subject to ratification by the Plaid Cymru membership at its annual conference on 27 November, and is due to start on 1 December.

Funding has been put in place as part of the agreement and will be reflected in the draft Budget when it is published in December.

All issues outside the agreement will be handled in the normal course of political engagement, the Welsh Government added.

After May's election, Labour remained the largest party in the Senedd and has since formed the Welsh Government alone.

But it doesn't have a majority of seats in the chamber and so is at risk of failing to get through some of its plans if the other opposition parties join forces to vote against them. 

That reality was shown clearly in last month's vote on Covid passes when Plaid Cymru's decision to oppose the Welsh Government proposal almost saw it being blocked altogether.

Only the failure of a single Conservative MS to vote meant that the motion passed.

The Senedd in Cardiff Bay.

Welsh Conservative shadow minister for the constitution, Darren Millar MS, called the deal "appalling", claiming it "fails to deliver on the priorities of the people of Wales".

"It does nothing to address the crisis in our NHS; nothing to improve our ailing Welsh infrastructure; and nothing to fire up our sluggish economy," he said.

"Yet again, Plaid has betrayed its voters with another deal that cements a failing Labour administration into power for years to come."

He added: "The message to voters is clear; vote Plaid, get Labour, and vote Labour, get Plaid. Only the Welsh Conservatives can deliver the real change that Wales needs."

Jane Dodds MS, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said: “On the surface, there are a number of issues which have been covered in the announcement that were part of our manifesto, including work to tackle Wales’ high child poverty levels through the expansion of free school meals and greater childcare provision. The Welsh Liberal Democrats will work constructively with the Government on issues such as the above and in improving our democracy and fighting for increased powers for Wales.

“But, the Welsh Liberal Democrats will remain an independent opposition party ready to hold Labour and Plaid Cymru to account, particularly in how they intend to reach their goals of net-zero by 2035."