Call for helpers
On Friday 2nd December I will be hosting a Christmas card stuffing (into envelopes) party at my constituency office. I have had some excellent submissions from local primary schools for my Christmas card competition. We will be welcoming volunteers between 10am and 12pm, and then again from 2-3pm. If you are able to come along to help, please let me know!
There is no more money!
The UK Government’s Autumn Statement on 17th November confirms the UK is entering a deep recession. Stagflation beckons as the UK Government opts for a further bout of austerity despite inflation the highest for 40 years and food prices up 17% in the last year.!
While Wales will get an £1.2bn extra over the next two years as a consequential of some increase in UK Government budgets for schools and the NHS in England; it does not begin to compensate for bigger public sector energy and wage bills.
The Finance Minister will present the Welsh Budget for 2023-24 in January but it is already clear that very difficult decisions lie ahead for all public bodies.
Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure
Wales now generates about half its energy needs from renewables but households remain locked into energy bills determined by OFGEM based on the latest price of gas.
I used a debate on a Renewable Energy report by the Climate Change Committee, which was released on 19th October, to flag the threat to the viability of heating swimming pools from fossil fuels. I gave examples of UK pools heated by solar panels and heat pumps, This is key to making a refurbished Pentwyn Pool sustainable for future generations to learn to swim.
The Minister for Climate Change made a Statement about improving the energy efficiency of homes on Nov 8th but it falls well short of the strategy required to decarbonize all our homes. I remain astonished that people renew the tiles on their roofs without installing solar panels on the south, east and west facing aspects. This requires a concerted education campaign by Welsh Government. I asked the Minister for Climate Change about the need to offer all citizens free advice on how to decarbonize their homes and reduce energy costs.
Julie James said that people can get advice from the Welsh energy advisory service via Nest on 0808 808 2244. Please provide me with feedback if you make that call.
Also on Nov 8th (with COP27 in mind) Julie James made a statement on the role of green hydrogen and carbon capture technology to decarbonize our transport, construction and manufacturing industries. I asked what progress is being made in developing low-carbon concrete.
The Climate Change Minister said government-funded research on developing low carbon concrete and steel is being done by a number of Welsh universities.
I welcomed the proposed Welsh state owned energy company announced on October 25th to ensure that Wales benefits from our burgeoning renewable energy sector and not just the mainly foreign state owned renewable energy companies who are hoping to build wind and tidal arrays in Wales.
I asked the Deputy Minister for Climate Change about engaging schools in the work he is doing with local authorities to encourage people to cycle and walk short journeys. I said pupils need to be able to access a loan scheme to buy a bike similar to what many employers offer.
Lee Waters praised the work done by Cardiff Council to connect all schools to an active travel network.
I look forward to seeing Cardiff’s proposals which are being evaluated by the Welsh Government.
Cardiff Bus Station
I visited the building site in Central Square along with Cardiff Council Leader, Huw Thomas, and others. There remains quite a lot of work outstanding to complete the fit-out so Transport for Wales can open the long awaited bus station in 2023.
Reducing Food Miles
In a debate on sustainability on November 9th, I highlighted the potential for using food grown in Wales to support the government’s ambitious goal of universal FSM for all primary pupils . New horticulture businesses are emerging who are making a living without subsidy, relevant to the both the work I am doing on scrutinizing the Agriculture Bill and the Social Partnership and Public Procurement Bill. The main challenges to further expansion is a) land and b) training for growers.
Early Years Childcare
On 8th November, I raised concerns expressed by Cardiff Council that the Phase 2 expansion of Flying Start childcare for 2 year olds is without the holistic midwifery, health visiting and parenting support for families in the Phase 1 expansion. What equality impact assessment had been done on this departure from the core Flying Start offer as these additional children will not have had the support others get from birth.
The Minister for Social Justice responded that children identified as needing extra support will get it.
I am unclear how that extra support will be funded.
On November 15th, I asked the Minister responsible for childcare whether any consideration had been given to offering free childcare for NHS workers as the cost of childcare is a major contributing factor to parents dropping out of the workforce for several years.
Based on a bit of mystery shopping, I also highlighted the difficulties for parents to navigate what is available where in Cardiff if websites are inaccurate.
Julie Morgan said there is no special childcare provision for the NHS other than that all students, including healthcare workers, can now benefit from the free childcare offer for 3 year olds.
She said that Welsh Government can help parents find the right childcare by calling 02920 351 380.
In a debate on a proposed Outdoor Education (Wales) Bill, I questioned how effectively schools are using their pupil development grants as some schools have cancelled school trips because of the cost.
Future Education & Colleges
On November 23rd I asked the Education Minister what support colleges can expect from the Welsh Government, given that they were excluded from the extra money the UK Government announced for schools on Nov 17th.
Jeremy Miles said that his officials are working closely with the education sector on the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and opportunities to reduce costs. The £400m budget for 2022-23 has been supplemented by an additional £1.3 million plus £2.5 million towards increased costs. Further funding for innovation will be coming soon.
Community Mental Health
On November 24th, I led a debate on community mental health inspired by MIND Cymru’s Together Through Tough Times’ report https://www.mind.org.uk/media/9426/togther-through-tough-times-main-report_en.pdf.
I highlighted the 3 things for community resilience a) reducing the stigma of speaking about mental illness; b) the importance of community hubs where people can go to combat loneliness and get help – a strength in Cardiff; c) the pivotal role of the voluntary and community sector. I highlighted the communities of faith who are spearheading the effort to feed the hungry this winter and for the last several years. See my full speech here: http://www.senedd.tv/Meeting/Clip/2c4f999a-4950-46fb-a886-9774c6d70636?inPoint=02:32:40&outPoint=03:56:46
Impact of Cost of Living
On November 16th I highlighted the impact of the cost of living on student mental health ( latest NUS survey) as well as cutting down on food and heating.
Launch of Enforcement Conduct Board in Senedd
I was very pleased to host the launch of the Enforcement Conduct Board, a non statutory body established by the industry and debt advice agencies to ensure that bailiffs comply with the law and people are treated with dignity despite falling into debt. I look forward to work with its Chair and staff as we double down on creditors who employ bailiffs who break the law in the way they deal with debtors. Anyone with debts they can’t pay should get the FREE advice offered by Cardiff’s Hubs. www.enforcementconductboard.org/
Wales TUC leads campaign for Fair Funding
I attended a rally outside the UK Government’s Wales Office on Central Square on November 15th, with the Betty Campbell statue as our witness.
I have attended RMT, UCU and the CWU strike pickets and we now face strike by RCN nurses on 15th & 20th December. Whilst the RCN will continue to keep emergency services working, we clearly face very challenging situations across all public services as many other unions are balloting their members for strike action.
Gordon Brown gave an inspirational speech without notes on the 100th anniversary of Labour being the biggest party in Wales on our historic achievements and the challenges that lie ahead. Whilst Welsh Labour is recognized as the most consistently successful political party in the democratic world, there is no room for complacency or timidity as we face momentous challenges this winter.
See www.llafur100.com/ for the timeline of our political history.
Justice for Gypsies and Travelers
I welcomed the Local Government and Housing Committee’s report https://senedd.wales/media/lktpwocm/cr-ld15300-e.pdf on the inadequacy of gypsy sites across Wales. With few exceptions, local authorities have ignored their obligations under the Housing Act to assess and provide sufficient sites for Gypsies and Travelers. The UK’s Police and Criminal Justice Act 2022 now criminalizes travelers who stops at unauthorized sites and the police have powers to seize their homes. Whilst we heard that the police in Wales will only use that power as a last resort, I called for the Minister of Social Justice to work with the Ministers for Finance and Local Government to ensure that all local authorities use the money the Welsh Government has allocated for adequate permanent and temporary sites across Wales and for the Senedd to ensure this happens.
The Cost of War – Lest We Forget
On November 11th, I placed a wreath on the poppy train from Cardiff Central to Paddington, with the 40th Anniversary of the Falklands war much in mind. I also attended the Memorial Service in Cathays Park on Nov 13th.