FOR those with an interest in Welsh Government business we have put together a brief outline of the main questions to the First minister and the answers he gave at the Plenary on Tuesday (Jan 09).
Hefin David MS and Russell George MS raised the issue of GPs in Wales. The First Minister suggested that the future of primary care will be a more mixed economy, more salaried staff, greater reliance on the wider primary care team.
Hefin David asked the First Minister if he could outline what the Welsh Government plans to do to encourage GPs to continue working within the Welsh NHS
The First Minister said that in the last year, there was a rise in the number of GPs employed in the Welsh NHS, both on a head-count basis and on a full-time equivalent basis, just as there was a rise in the number of trainee GPs, just as there was a rise in the number of practice staff.
Mabon ap Gwynfor MS also asked questions on GPS saying: “As GP surgeries close and the lack of availability of GPs becomes more and more common, we are seeing a number of private medical companies starting to provide GP services out with the NHS within our communities, with people paying between £40 and £70 for appointments because no GP is available to serve them. In these surgeries, they get half an hour or more with the GP, and they get fast-track referrals and other benefits. The upshot of this is that we have a two-tier society being introduced once again, under a Labour Government. Is this the Labour vision for health services in Wales?
The First Minister did not agree with Mabon ap Gwynfor and said that what the MS said about health services here in Wales was not true. He said that more people work for the public NHS in Wales than at any time in the history of the health service.
Ken Skates MS was concerned with the sharing of ‘misinformation’ online and asked the First minister to make a statement on the threat to Welsh democracy posed by the sharing of misinformation online.
The First Minister said that online misinformation is a deeply harmful but contemporary feature of all democratic societies. He said: “We work with groups within Wales and across the UK to combat the misinformation itself, to help informed citizens to identify misinformation and to provide authenticated sources of information on which individuals can rely.”
Ken Skates MS said that he was sent a link by a constituent to a news item on an American platform purporting to be a news provider, which claimed that the Welsh Government was using 14-year-old schoolgirls to attract military-age men from countries where there are no rape laws, including Africa and the middle east.
The First Minister said that he was aware of the story to which Ken Skates refereed, and said it was both utterly untrue and utterly irresponsible to make such claims.
Mark Isherwood MS highlighted government spending of £1.6 million on a communications campaign running alongside the implementation of its default 20 mph policy as well as spending over £500,000 of taxpayers’ money on a public engagement strategy, including over £61,000 on social media advertising, to burnish its own green credentials, at a time when it’s making widespread cuts to public services. He asked the First Minister how he could justify the spending.
The First Minister responded saying: “We spent £0.5 million to try to save the planet, and the Conservative Party want to take issue with it.” The First Minister asked: “How can it be that a serious political party thinks that they can make a point about spending £0.5 million to contribute to that being a misuse of public money? I do not regret a single penny of it, and neither should you.”
Andrew R.T. Davies MS asked the First Minister about the enforcement of the 20mph law and the grey area around prosecution for those confused and genuinely confused.
The First Minister stated that where people genuinely do not understand that the law has been broken, then they will engage in education with those people, and they will only take enforcement action when they are sure that that is needed to keep roads and communities safe and where the evidence is of wilfully breaking the law. He clarified what he had said , which was: “Where people are genuinely confused, then the system will seek to engage and to educate them. Where people claim to be confused but there is no evidence that confusion lies at the root of their behaviour, then they cannot expect that enforcement action will not be taken.”
Andrew R.T. Davies MS said that it was ‘as clear as mud’. He asked the First Minister what conversation he’d had with the Crown Prosecution Service and the police to distinguish between the ‘genuinely confused’ and the ‘confused’, so that ultimately police officers and enforcement services will not be prosecuting people who are on the wrong side of this law through no fault of their own.
The First Minister said that police would enforce the policy in the way he described and that the first resort is to make sure that people have understood the rules, and, where people needed to have their understanding extended, then that is what the system would do. He said: “Where people drive dangerously, where people deliberately and knowingly break the law, then the police will take enforcement action, and I would expect the leader of the opposition to endorse that position and to support the police in their actions.”
Andrew Davies MS called for the scrapping of ‘this piece of legislation’ and a move back to the 30 mph that we had in Wales 17 September.
Rhun Ap Iorwerth questioned the First Minister on money and specifically a pledge from Labour’s Keir Starmer for more money for Wales from Westminster. He asked what made the First Minister think that either of his potential successors will be able to.
The First Minister said that the position of this party has always been that fair funding needs to come to Wales, that the Barnett formula is well past its effective date, and that funding based on need would see a different flow of funding here into Wales.
Laura Anne Jones MS asked for an update on the Government’s position on gender self-identification. The First Minister pointed out that gender recognition is a reserved matter. He said: “Our commitments on gender recognition and supporting trans individuals remain as detailed in our LGBTQ+ action plan, and outlined in our programme for government and the co-operation agreement.”
Laura Anne Jones MS pointed out that there was a difference in stance between Welsh labour and UK Labour on gender self-identification and asked who was right.
The First Minister responded by saying: “I’ve set out our policy. It is set out; it is our policy as is set out in our LGBTQ action plan, and that is to recognise the rights of trans people here in Wales, a group of people who are more ostracised and unprotected than almost any other group, and where hate crime against trans people in Wales increased by 11 per cent in the last year. I make no apologies at all for making sure that our actions as a Government are designed to recognise the rights of those people, and to make sure those rights are respected.”
Tom Giffard MS wanted to know about the Welsh Government’s strategy for improving educational outcomes. He pointed out that Wales ranks below England, below Scotland and below Northern Ireland in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment rankings, in every subject assessed.
The First Minister said that a sustained investment in twenty-first century facilities, a new Curriculum for Wales, and a continuous focus on the quality of teaching in the classroom are amongst the measures being taken to improve educational outcomes in Wales.
Peredur Owen Griffiths MS wanted to know what the Government was doing to address poverty in South Wales East.
The First Minister responded by saying that Welsh Government continues to utilise all the levers available to us to support those living in poverty in South Wales East and across Wales. Our draft budget prioritises help for those households that are hardest hit and leaves money in the pocket of those who need it most.
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