Living with Covid
Masks are no longer required in classrooms and venues such as cinemas, theatres, and gyms. The Welsh Government continues to follow the evidence and is likely to drop mask requirements at the end of March if the public health situation improves. Masks will still be required in health and care settings, on public transports and in shops.
LGBT+ History Month
The tragic homophobic murder of Dr Gary Jenkins in Bute Park highlights the continuing need to campaign against all aspects of hate crime throughout society. This month we celebrated the contribution of our LGBT+ community to Wales’s rich cultural heritage.
Cost of Living
In response to an urgent question on the cost of living on 2nd February I commended Welsh Government for its work promoting the take-up of benefits people are entitled to. I asked what could be done to get the UK Government to adopt the windfall taxes and other strategies to help vulnerable citizens with energy bills adopted by nearly all other Western European countries.
Jane Hutt said that she and Julie James had already written to the UK Minister responsible highlighting these issues and to make it clear that the Senedd is united in wanting the UK Government to use the levers it must support people who are falling deeper into poverty.
Draft Budget 2022-23
In a debate on next year’s draft budget, I acknowledged the improvements that Welsh Government has made in using the Well-being of Future Generations Act to frame the shape of its budget. On behalf of the Equality and Social Justice Committee, I welcomed the Welsh Government’s new Equality Evidence and Data Unit which will improve all stakeholders’ knowledge of gender, race and disability in effective policy making. I emphasised the impact the Welsh Government’s Single Advice Fund; it has improved benefits uptake and injected more money into the Welsh economy, as has the increased investment in the Discretionary Assistance Fund administered by local authorities. I want to see further progress on investing in preventative spend in the ever-increasing health budget.
The Future Generations Commissioner has requested a large increase in her budget. There is a lack of clarity on how the budgets of the four Commissioners are arrived at.
In a debate on Feb 9th, I spoke about the need to change the culture in the police force. People displaying persistent, obsessive behaviours may pose a serious risk to people who look to the law to protect them. The criminal justice system needs to be available to prevent these stalking incidents escalating into serious harm.
Covid and Education
During a Conservative-led debate on the impact of Covid on education, I highlighted that Welsh Government is spending more money than the other UK nations on helping children recover from extended lockdowns. I welcomed the way schools have used extra money to include play and youth workers as well as counsellors in school teams.
The expansion of free school meals to all primary pupils poses considerable challenges for how we maximise the amount of money spent on fresh food ingredients grown and reared in Wales. On Feb 4th I discussed this with FUW leaders during a visit to a farm in Pentyrch.
I asked the Finance and Local Government Minister what is being done to help local authorities break down their procurement needs, so that contracts can be let in bite-sized chunks. This would enable new entrants to become suppliers of fresh food.
Rebecca Evans reassured me that Welsh Government is working with a range of stakeholders to understand the opportunities offered from the policy pledges in the Co-operation Agreement. The Government is working with Caerphilly Council, Castell Howell, and other wholesalers on increasing the supply of Welsh food to the public sector. Caerphilly Council has set up a food group on behalf of the WLGA to plan the next round of food contracts, due in 2023. Monmouthshire Council is mapping local grower and supplier capability, to understand what additional funding is needed to increase their capacity to supply the whole of Gwent.
A new Senedd Cross Party Group on School Food heard about the numbers of schools in Scotland who have Food for Life served Here accreditation at its inaugural meeting.
Obesity is due to overtake smoking as the number one cause of early death. I once again pointed out the UK Government’s failure to have clear, traffic-light labelling on all food products contributes to the ongoing adulteration of food with salt, sugar, and fat to increase profitability. I asked the Public Health Minister for an update into the rollout of diabetes-preventing weight management programmes.
Lynne Neagle reassured me that trials of the all-Wales diabetes prevention programme are being delivered in all health boards.
During a statement on a new Health and Social Care Regional Integration Fund, I asked how it fitted with plans for every community to have a self-managed neighbourhood nursing team, to keep people out of hospital who don’t need to be there. I also asked how community hubs are planned to be linked to the Fund.
Eluned Morgan reported that a Lead Nurse is part of the primary and community strategic programme; compatible e-scheduling systems will be rolled out in every health board by early May. She added that where community hubs are going to be developed and how they’re going to be financed is still being worked on.
On February 2nd I received a petition on endometriosis care on the steps of the Senedd. This was featured on ITV Wales(https://www.itv.com/news/wales/2022-02-02/endometriosis-care-in-crisis-thousands-call-for-improvements-to-services).
On February 1st, I asked the Welsh Government for an update on how health boards are tackling the backlog of women who need diagnosis and treatment for endometriosis, so that they are not driven to pay for private consultations.
Lesley Griffiths said that the Women’s Health Implementation Group had been allocated £1 million a year to set up a network of pelvic health and well-being co-ordinators in each health board. A network of specialist endometriosis nurses in each health board will improve awareness of endometriosis and swifter diagnosis. Eluned Morgan is working with health boards to ensure the backlog is cleared quickly.
Additional Learning Needs
I asked the Education Minister what plans there are to co-locate all special schools on mainstream school sites in the future so that people with ALN can benefit from the additional resources, and inclusion where possible, in mainstream schools.
Jeremy Miles said that he is keen to use the expansion of the Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme to achieve that.
Gypsy & Traveller sites
On February 15th I asked the First Ministers about what Welsh Government intends to do to ensure all local authorities are carrying out their statutory responsibilities to assess and provide residential and transit sites for Gypsy & Traveller communities. This is now urgent as the UK Government’s Police Bill will criminalise anyone who stops at an unauthorised site.
The First Minister expressed his disappointment that progress has not been made in all parts of Wales. He said that the results of the delayed Gypsy/Traveller accommodation assessments will be published later this month. He said that monitor the compliance of local authorities will now take place every year.
Saving Cowbridge Girls School
On 16th February a debate was prompted by a petition to save the historic Cowbridge Girls School from demolition. The preservation of this building is important as one of only 5 examples left of girls’ schools that were purpose built in the 1890s. The work of the pioneering architect, Robert Williams, has been preserved in London and Egypt but not apparently in Wales.
I highlighted the deficiencies in the planning system that do not line up with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and do not allow local authorities to refuse permission to demolish to create a hideous modern building in its place. I drew attention to the similar issue re the Roath Park Hotel, the last Victorian pub on City Road.
Dawn Bowden, the Minister responsible for heritage said that Cadw’s decision not to list the building had already been taken; the outcome now lies with the Planning Committee of Vale of Glamorgan Council meeting at the end of March.
I have written to the Vale of Glamorgan Council along with a cross party group of MS colleagues asking them to save the building from demolition.
1st March, 2022