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From the Senedd

20/01/2022

By Dafydd Elis-Thomas, AM for Dwyfor-Meirionnydd.

Since I am Chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee as well as being Plaid spokesperson on the environment, I questioned the First Minister regarding the Welsh Government’s priorities as regards action on fuel poverty, emphasising that this issue needs to be a priority as it meets social as well as environmental needs. I received a rather brief reply from the First Minister, stating that he will ensure that fuel poverty will be a Government priority. I look forward to seeing whether or not this promise will be kept, and, more importantly, acted upon. Since May, I have raised this vital issue time and time again in the Senedd, and I shall continue to raise it as necessary. Fuel poverty affects Wales more than other parts of the United Kingdom, and it is a problem which adversely affects people’s quality of life. I have frequently mentioned the importance of creating green jobs as a response to the fuel poverty situation and the condition of housing stock in Wales. One of the weaknesses amongst all parties is the fact that we have not realised that green jobs are of more value for the future than jobs which are not green. When we talk of economic stimulus in an economic crisis, it is important for this stimulus to be sustainable – that is, the jobs created must not cost us more in future because they are not sustainable jobs. As we plan within the United Kingdom and the European Union how to cope with the present crisis in the Welsh economy, it’s important that we have a clear commitment to the green economy.

The leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, took the opportunity during First Minister’s Questions to ask about the seriousness of the Peacocks situation, requesting confirmation that the Welsh Government will do everything in its power to ensure a stable future for the company. Ieuan made the point that over 1,000 jobs are in peril, and that the Government needs to defend the company and jobs. Following the publication of the latest figures on the Welsh economy on Wednesday, the governments of Britain and Wales need to act swiftly and decisively to regenerate the economy.

On Tuesday afternoon, I contributed to the Government debate on Planning Policy for Economic Development. I welcome the consultation, and I was glad of the opportunity to contribute to the consultation generally. This work derives from the importance of seeking to make the planning system in Wales more flexible, and more effective. I am also proud of the exceptional contribution of the former Deputy First Minister to this work, because it is a direct result of ‘Economic Renewal’, a paper published by the Welsh Government in 2010, in the halcyon days of the One Wales Government.

In our weekly ‘minority party’ debate, the subject in question in the Chamber on Wednesday afternoon was the Welsh National Health Service budget. Yesterday’s debate highlighted the obvious tensions between the Health Boards and the Health Minister, with our Health Spokesperson, Elin Jones AM, emphasising the Minister’s accountability for the Welsh NHS to the National Assembly and thus to the people of Wales. With the changes during the winter in Dwyfor Meirionnydd we are in weekly, sometimes daily, contact with the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, regarding the accessibility and location of the Welsh NHS, with priority given to ensuring a robust and clear relationship between the Health Board and social services across the north. We also had a most valuable contribution by Alun Ffred Jones AM on the development of clinical education within the University Health Board in relation to higher and further education in the north which will be a means of addressing the serious problems of recruitment of qualified staff in the Welsh NHS.

The highlight of the week for me was an hour’s meeting of the Task and Finish Group, part of the Environment and Sustainability Committee which I chair, on the subject of our current investigation into the reform of the European Union (EU) Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Our remit as a group, under the chairmanship of Julie James AM for Swansea West, is to consider the proposals of the European Commission (EC) for the reform of the policy in Wales, and to make recommendations to the Welsh Government on the negotiation priorities for the joint ministerial meetings between the governments of the United Kingdom (UK) and the EU Council of Ministers, and particularly Alun Davies AM, the Deputy Minister responsible for Fisheries and Welsh European Programmes.

We all as constituency or regional AMs represent the extensive coastline of Wales, with Llŷr Huws Gruffydd and Antoinette Sandbach in the north, William Powel in mid and west, and the constituencies of David Rees and the chair in south Wales west, and my own constituency interest extending from Caernarfon Bay to the middle of Cardigan Bay. Of necessity, therefore, we meet regularly with fishermen and aquaculture businesses and their representatives, in addition to the skilled oceanographers and marine conservation scientists in our coastal universities, particularly at Menai Bridge, and the chief marine conservation body, the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW). But on Wednesday, it was the turn of the European Commission to explain their policy, with the comparatively new chief of DG MARE with responsibility for fisheries issues meeting us through audioconference facilities from Brussels. She is Lowri Evans, to my knowledge the highest-ranking multilingual Welsh officer in the EC, who, of course, received her primary and secondary education in Llŷn before graduating in commerce from Liverpool University, and becoming a chartered accountant with Deloitte Haskins and Sells, joining the EC in 1983. Her experience in DG Competition before becoming maritime head will be invaluable when negotiating the transformation of fisheries.

She had clear and optimistic messages for us, stating plainly that her Commissioner, Maria Damanaki of Greece, understood exactly the circumstances of similarly placed fishermen and maritime businesses in Wales. It will be our task as a group to promote this over the next few months.