Blwyddyn Newydd Dda
2024 promises to be a challenging year
Change of Welsh Labour Leader
Mark Drakeford has stuck to his promise that he would only serve for 5 years. He will cease to be First Minister in mid-March once Welsh Labour members have elected our new leader. Mark will be a hard act to follow, having led Wales through the unprecedented crisis caused by Covid. I thank him for his dedication.
I am supporting Jeremy Miles, currently our Education Minister. Jeremy has demonstrated the leadership and wisdom to lead Wales and Welsh Labour through the challenging years ahead.
Welsh Government Budget 2024-25
Cuts are inevitable as Welsh Government is getting £1.3bn less from the Treasury block grant, which makes up 80% of our income.
Senedd Committees will spend the next month scrutinising the proposals to
- Protect the most vulnerable (see the latest Committee report: Calling Time on Child Poverty)
- Protect front line health, education and social services
- Reduce bureaucracy (e.g., amalgamating 25 different grants for schools into 4 should reduce head teachers’ workload and maximise impact for pupils)
An extra £450m allotted for Health spending – to reflect the unprecedented post-Covid demand – will still leave health boards with difficult decisions to protect core services.
Transport gets extra too, to cover inflated costs for new trains and electrifying the Central Valleys lines. All other budgets are reduced, including spending on non-devolved areas, e.g., police community support officers.
Wales needs a fairer, more progressive Council Tax
Finance & Local Government Minister, Rebecca Evans has launched a consultation on a fairer council tax. The current regressive system is 20 years old, and households living in lower value properties are paying proportionately more than the better off.
Expansion of mortgage help
The Help to Stay scheme is being revised to offer partial repayment of an existing mortgage balance via a low-cost equity loan to reduce mortgage repayments to what people can afford where people may be facing re-possession proceedings.
Improving school attendance
New school attendance guidance is aimed at reversing the increased absences since the pandemic. The low attendance levels in Year 11 – the GCSE year – are particularly concerning. The guidance emphasises the adjustments needed to support learners with complex needs. Eventually I hope exclusion will become a rare, almost never event.
Basic Income Pilot for Care Leavers
With a 97% take up of the Universal Basic Income pilot amongst Care Leavers, the preliminary results sound very encouraging.
It is not possible to do further pilots until, and unless, Welfare Benefits are devolved to Wales as the UK Government has insisted on deducting BIP from UC or other benefits Care Leavers may be entitled to.
Wales can’t afford to be subsidising UK Treasury responsibilities.
Banning single-use vapes
On 15th November, I introduced a bill that proposes banning the sale of vapes on the high street.
Single use vapes do the opposite of at least three of the goals of the Future Generations Act. The epidemic of use amongst children and young people provides a strong argument for restricting vapes and e-cigarettes to prescription only as an aide for people who want to quit smoking.
Ideally we should be working towards a UK-wide ban. A UK wide consultation on tackling youth vaping closed on December 6th. It remains to be seen whether the UK Government will act on this urgent issue.
The Future of Devolution
The discussion at the Cardiff Centre for Student Life event on November 11th attended by up to 200 people focussed more on justice and policing than devolved welfare benefits. Speakers included Gordon Brown (by video) and Professor Jim Gallagher who was the lead civil servant on devolution in the Labour Government of 1997.Both argued that further devolution was urgently needed so decisions are taken as close as possible to the people they affect.
Certainly the farce of HS2 being designated an England and Wales project underlines the impossibility of continuing with the current over-centralised system controlled by Whitehall.
Wales in the World
Gaza, Israel and West Bank
Without a ceasefire, up to half a million people could die in Gaza of starvation and hypothermia after nearly three months of death and destruction. On December 20th I attended a meeting in the Senedd with NHS health workers to hear about the breaches of the rules of war to protect civilians and those providing healthcare in Gaza. Most hospitals have been destroyed and operations are often carried out without anaesthetics.
The thoughtful and measured Senedd debate on the crisis in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank on 8th November seems like a very long time ago. The motion condemning Hamas terrorism and backing the UN call for an immediate ceasefire was adopted by a substantial majority. Despite a range of opinion expressed, all Senedd Members continue to seek a durable peace in the region.
I condemn the attacks on Jo Stevens’ office. Such tokenistic gestures are dangerous not least because they might encourage other attacks on our most vulnerable communities. They make no useful contribution to the resolution of this ghastly conflict.
I joined the celebration of Hannukah in the Senedd on December 13th.
Armenian Genocide Memorial
On November 5th Jess Morden MP and I joined members of the Welsh Armenian community to remember the 1918-1919 Genocide. This year was particularly sad as it follows the expulsion of up to one million Armenians from Nagorno Karabakh this autumn.
I attended the Forget Me Not Chorus’ Christmas concert on December 18th. Congratulations to Kate Woolveridge, who got an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List for her outstanding work using singing to support people with dementia and their families.
U-Can Lord Mayor’s Charity
I attended the U-Can Concert at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on December 19th. U-Can is the Mayor of Cardiff’s chosen charity, an exceptional creative arts charity for blind and partially-sighted children and young people, many of whom go on to have a career in music and acting.