From the Senedd


By Leanne Wood, AM.

The Plaid leadership election has attracted a great deal of media interest. Receiving somewhat less attention is the serious business of holding the minority Labour Government to account.

The lethargy that has characterised Carwyn Jones’ administration since the Assembly elections in May is unforgivable in these precarious economic times.   Plaid Cymru accepts that the Assembly needs enhanced powers, particularly fiscal powers, to make the much needed major structural changes to our ailing economy. That said, much more could be done now.

The Welsh Government could be bringing forward capital projects to rejuvenate the economy. A big push on sensitively planned affordable housing would help the struggling construction industry as well as serving the desperate need for affordable homes.

Barely a single shovel has broken the ground since last May. Ieuan said recently that Carwyn Jones' strategy is to sit back and blame the Westminster coalition while the economy deteriorates. It seemed to irk. We're still waiting for him to prove Ieuan wrong.

One issue on which the First Minister agrees with Plaid Cymru is regarding the deeply unfair changes to the benefit system which are being steamrollered through Westminster. 

There is common ground - these changes are ideological and will only hit the most vulnerable in society. People like Anthony Harris from Cwmcarn who has been registered blind since 1976.  Mr Harris contacted the office of Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales East, Jocelyn Davies, after his benefits for disability were stopped at the end of last year.  His assessors ATOS, who are rewarded for the numbers of people they pass as fit for work, concluded Mr Harris could return for work.  He now faces losing his home because of his reduced income.  

Carwyn is happy to speak out against the Con/Dems taking a wrecking ball to the welfare system (unlike many of his Labour counterparts in Westminster it has to be said), but is he prepared to do anything about it? 

I asked in plenary this week for the Welsh Government to set aside a relatively small amount of finance to fund some welfare rights advisers so that disabled people like Mr Harris can be assisted in fighting their harsh treatment.  This modest outlay would be likely to recoup a significant amount of money by reducing the pressure welfare reform is having on the housing and health budgets of the Welsh Government. 

Carwyn was not amenable to this idea saying that it was important for the Westminster Coalition to recognise its responsibilities. I would accept that, but there are too many people in desperate situations who are need of urgent help now. They are not getting it. How is the Welsh government standing up for them?

This week's session of the public procurement task and finish group took evidence from Professor Kevin Morgan. He outlined his research into food procurement and gave us some useful examples from EU countries who manage to skew their public procurement contracts to small local firms or co-operatives. He gave us much hope that similar things could be done in Wales with a bit of creativity. Locking money into local economies is key to the regeneration of communities and the substantial amount of money spent by government has a key role to play.

The Education Minister demonstrated that ignoring the question is a trait that runs deep within the Labour administration. On quizzing him about the divisive banding system the Minister insisted that this banding system is not a league table. It looks like a league table and seems to have had a similar demoralising effect on some schools and teachers and the old league tables did.  I asked the minister to consider postponing the banding of primary schools on the grounds of fairness since nearly 40% of them will be ineligible for ranking as they are too small.  Despite asking specifically for a straight answer, unsurprisingly, I didn’t get one.

Meanwhile, the campaign for the leadership of Plaid Cymru carries on.  The first hustings was held this week in Pontypridd and there will be many more over the coming weeks.  Details for these events can be found elsewhere on the Plaid Cymru website.