TWO Labour AMs reacted with anger yesterday after learning that the coalition document they had been shown at a group meeting was not the final version agreed with Plaid Cymru.
On Tuesday morning, copies of the One Wales document were shown to members of the 26-strong Labour Assembly Group. Because of fears that it would be leaked – especially to the Western Mail – it was distributed in hard copy form and collected back after AMs had read it. The document was overwhelmingly backed by the Labour Group, with only four voting against it.
The opponents are thought to be Vale of Clwyd AM Ann Jones, Clwyd South AM Karen Sinclair, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney AM Huw Lewis, and his wife, Torfaen AM Lynne Neagle.
On Tuesday evening members of the party’s Welsh Executive also ratified the document after seeing the same draft.
Members of the 15-strong Plaid Cymru Group preferred the deal with Labour to the rainbow coalition option with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats by a margin of 10 to five.
The full text of the One Wales document was released to the media on Wednesday afternoon, and discussed by Welsh Labour MPs that evening.
It has now emerged that the document given to journalists as well as Labour AMs on Wednesday included a 10th chapter headed Governance Arrangements that was not in the earlier version approved by the Assembly Labour Group and the party’s Welsh Executive the previous evening.
The Western Mail has had leaked to it emails sent yesterday by Ann Jones and Karen Sinclair to Assembly Business Manager Jane Hutt.
At 11.41am Ms Jones sent her email, stating, “I took the opportunity to read the ‘one World [sic]’ document on the train yesterday. I am frankly disgusted that this document has been changed significantly from the document handed and collected back at group on Tuesday.
“There appears to be a whole new section on Governance arrangements that has been added in this document which the group had no chance to look at and pass comments on.
“I think we need to know why this important section was omitted or was it yet another of the Nationalists [sic] demands before they sanctioned their blessing on this document? Which document did the Nationalists discuss at their group meeting yesterday? Which document have our Welsh Executive discussed and also which document have the MPs discussed?
“I think group are owed an explanation of how we are given one document to discuss and apparently end up with a completely different document some 24 hours later with no group involvement. I will be raising this at group on Tuesday.”
Ms Jones circulated her email to all members of the Labour Group, as well as to the party’s network of support staff.
At 2.16pm, Ms Sinclair sent the following email to Ms Hutt: “Why was section [sic] not given to us to discuss in group? Why was section 10 not given to the Welsh Exec for discussion?” Ms Sinclair’s email was also copied to all Labour AMs and support staff.
Last night Plaid Cymru confirmed that its AMs had seen the full document, including Section 10, at their meeting on Wednesday.
A Welsh Labour spokeswoman said, “The governance section of the document is a standard part of any coalition agreement, and is based on the Scottish model.
“It was being finalised at the time of the Labour Group meeting on Tuesday morning, and at the time of the meeting of the Labour Executive on Tuesday evening.
“Nothing sinister at all should be read into its omission. It is a very straightforward explanation of the governance procedures in the event of a coalition.”
Privately, many members of the Labour Group are furious with Ms Jones and Ms Sinclair, the latter a former Business Manager who was sacked from the Cabinet by Rhodri Morgan.
One said, “The section on governance has nothing to do with policy – it simply relates to the way the two parties will have to work together. There have already been a number of leaks, which is why it is entirely inappropriate for members of the group to be sending emails around like this.”
It is perhaps understandable why those who oppose a deal with Plaid would object to the details of the arrangements set out in the “missing” chapter. If the coalition goes ahead, Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones will as Deputy First Minister have considerably more power than Liberal Democrat leader Mike German held in the Lib-Lab coalition that ran the Assembly between 2000 and 2003.
Mr Jones, for example, will sit on two Cabinet committees, one overseeing Assembly business and the other the body’s finances.
Both powerful committees will have two Labour members and two from Plaid Cymru.
One Wales: Environment
ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners say that encouraging words in the document need to be translated into practical actions.
Julian Rosser, director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, said, “There is lots of encouraging talk about reducing the number of car journeys made, moving freight from roads to rail, making our buildings more energy efficient and supporting an increase in renewable energy generation. To make this real, however, the politicians will have to drop their support for big road schemes, fossil fuel power stations and aviation.
“The new Government will face three main tests on the environment over the next few months:
The agreement commits the new government to reducing emissions of carbon dioxide in ‘areas of devolved competence’. This could too easily become a fudge.
The previous government planned to build a massive motorway, which could cost up to £1bn, to the south of Newport. Plaid Cymru has opposed the road previously – they must continue to do so.
The parties want ‘maximum restrictions on GM crops’. The new government must not follow the UK Government in proposing rules which would allow creeping contamination of the food chain. To protect Welsh agriculture and our environment, GM free must mean GM free.”
One Wales: Culture
The policy initiatives concerning cultural activities have received warm backing from the Arts Council of Wales.
The One Wales document states, “Our arts and culture programme widens access to Wales’ many heritage, cultural and sporting activities so that low income should not be a barrier to participation.
“We will foster local cultural and sporting activity and support two major new centres. Wales’ libraries will be dramatically improved so that they can develop free access to cultural materials for all, fit for the 21st century.”
Specific measures for the Assembly’s new four-year term include:
Continued free access to museums and galleries;
A National English-language Theatre, and exploring the possibility of the creation of a National Gallery for Wales;
Giving Welsh pensioners and children free entry to Assembly-funded heritage sites;
A statutory obligation on local authorities to promote culture and encourage partnership to deliver high-quality cultural experiences for their communities;
Supporting opportunities for Wales’ artistic producers to participate on the international stage;
Considering enshrining the concept of artistic freedom in Welsh law, subject to the Assembly’s new powers;
Supporting the establishment of a Kyffin Williams gallery;
Establishing an all-Wales Collection of People’s History, backed by a permanent curatorial staff with responsibility for the promotion and development of the collection.
Peter Tyndall, chief executive of the Arts Council of Wales, said, “We welcome these very positive proposals for the future of the arts in Wales, in particular the emphasis on giving all the people of Wales the opportunity to access and participate in cultural activities.
“We are especially pleased at the proposals to establish a National English-language Theatre and to create a statutory basis for cultural provision at a local level.
“ACW looks forward to working in partnership with the new Assembly Government to deliver this exciting agenda.”
One Wales: Health
THE One Wales proposals for the future of health services appear to be based on sound socialist common sense and will set the NHS on a distinctly Welsh path.
But with an uncertain few years ahead of us – in terms of NHS funding and widespread change in working practices – there is potential for these policies to create more problems than they are designed to solve.
Perhaps the most contentious health issue is the ongoing public resistance to hospital service reorganisation, particularly in North, West and Mid Wales. The plans already drafted by local health boards for the three regions have been rejected, either in part or wholly, by the public – at the moment there appear to be few alternatives other than the status quo, which has been declared unsustainable.
Plaid and Labour are banking on being able to achieve a way forward by working closely with the public, an approach the local health boards should perhaps have taken at the beginning. But there is a very real danger that the public, satisfied with the current configuration, continue to reject any deviation from that model ad infinitum.
Reconfiguration of the health service is crying out for proper public consultation but it also needs a strong hand to ensure that difficult decisions can be made without causing unrest and discord within communities. The rejection of private finance initiative will ensure that hospitals are not mortgaged off to private consortia in deals which will cost the health service up to 10 times more than the original building. But in rejecting PFI, Plaid and Labour must ensure that there is sufficient money in the capital budget to repair and replace Wales’ health estates.
Likewise the new Government must also ensure that there is sufficient capacity within the NHS to treat all patients and meet the 2009 waiting times targets, if it is to stop using private hospitals.
One Wales: Education
Few people would argue with the document’s statement on education, but can the new Assembly government deliver it?
Labour and Plaid promise to “radically” reduce class sizes for three to seven-year-olds. With 100,000 empty school places predicted across Wales by 2015 this should be possible.
Teachers’ leaders have asked politicians to use falling rolls to cut class sizes, but so far local authorities have announced teacher redundancies and school closures to tackle the problem – these are obviously cheaper. The statement promises extra cash to improve school buildings but hasn’t put a figure on this.
Since 2003 each of the 22 local education authorities has been given an extra £9m to improve buildings by 2010. Only £3.5m of the £198m is unspent and unallocated and the aim to have all buildings fit for purpose by 2010 has been ditched. This is a major financial and organisational issue for the Assembly Government.
The document waters down Plaid’s election manifesto pledge to give every 11 year old a free laptop. Now the coalition wants a more limited scheme for laptops for children, which will be cheaper.
The statement says it will help with student debt and maintain existing levels of fees up to and including 2009-10. Plaid and Labour promise to maintain current levels of funding and say they aim to protect students against the effect of Westminster lifting a cap on fees in 2009.
Welsh students have enjoyed avoiding the £3,000 top-up fees that counterparts in England must pay but it seems they may eventually be introduced. Westminster has set a cap of £3,000 for annual fees in England, but that is likely to be lifted in 2009. There are fears Welsh universities will be left behind – leaving the Assembly to plug a multi-million-pound funding gap – or introduce top-up fees after all.
One Wales: Language
COALITION proposals on the Welsh language have received a cautious welcome from Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, the Welsh Language Society.
The One Wales document confirms that the new Assembly Government will seek to confer official status on both the Welsh and English languages, confer linguistic rights in the provision of services and establish the post of Language Commissioner.
The document also pledges to establish a Welsh- medium education strategy to develop effective provision from nursery to higher education and all stages in between. Local authorities will be required to prepare School Organisation Plans aimed at assessing the demand for Welsh-medium education in their areas.
Attempts will also be made to get official language status for Welsh in European institutions. Support will also be given to the dot.cym campaign which seeks to gain domain name status for Wales on the internet.
Cymdeithas national organiser Dafydd Morgan Lewis said it seemed the coalition had taken on board a great deal of what Cymdeithas had been arguing for. “What has to be remembered, however, is that at present these proposals remain on paper. It is likely there will be a lot of debate and arguing before they are put into practice,” he said.
One Wales: Housing
Housing bodies welcomed the commitment to tackle the affordability question – but said the success of new measures would depend on how much money was invested.
Nick Bennett, chief executive of Community Housing Cymru, the umbrella body for housing associations, said, “Overall we welcome what’s in the document. Before the election we set out our three priorities for the sector: Improving the level of investment in social housing grants; regulating the sector better so there was less inappropriate bureaucracy; and more money for the Supporting People programme aimed at helping vulnerable people.
“The One Wales document carries commitments to two of the three priorities. There is presumably an intention to increase the level of housing grant, because of the target to have 6,500 affordable units over the next four years. There is also a welcome undertaking to increase the funding for Supporting People. I can’t see anything in the document about reducing bureaucracy.
“The fact is there is a crisis in affordable housing caused by a lack of supply. There needs to be a big increase in the social housing grant. The one element of the document I am not happy about is the idea of providing grants for first-time buyers. That is likely to create demand rather than supply.”