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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The wisdom of Carwyn Jones

The new First Minister took his first question session yesterday. It was a competent performance but lacking in serious substance. In fact at times I thought some of his answers were quite bland, at other times just bizarre. No doubt he will improve with time.

One example was the way he dealt with questions about the Welsh Government-sponsored Ieuan Air service between Cardiff and Ynys Mon. Asked by Jenny Randerson whether he would review the service he gave an answer that was both banal and obscure:

Jenny Randerson: First Minister, I begin by congratulating you on your appointment. With that, I will get straight down to business. As this is a new dawn with new priorities, will you agree to begin by acting immediately to end the scandalous spending on the north-south air link? While every passenger pays about £40 per ticket, be they the Deputy First Minister and Minister for the Economy and Transport or anyone else, your Government spends £80 per ticket on it in subsidies. That means that the highest ratio of transport subsidy that your Government provides across the piece goes to the most polluting form of transport available. Given the financial situation that we face and that your first act as First Minister was to go to Copenhagen and to promise us that Wales would do the right thing, it is time to act. Will you commit to reviewing that gross waste of money and to diverting that money, perhaps to the north-south rail link instead? Will this be a new dawn of honesty and of putting people first, or will it be more of the same?

The First Minister: First of all, you must consider the number of car journeys that are saved because of that air service. It is not a question of people not travelling. People on Anglesey will either take the car and drive or take the option of air travel, which replaces a number of car journeys.

There are so many holes in that argument that it is difficult to know where to start. It is sufficient to say I think that in addition to the aeroplanes the Welsh Government also subsidise a train service. That is a more environmentally friendly alternative to a car journey.

When I asked him about a key government report into the condition of the Welsh NHS estate, a report that was covered by the Welsh media over Christmas and New Year, he not only seemed unaware of its existence but sought to deflect responsibility for the mess away from his Government. He even demanded examples, when the report and the background papers contain a detailed analysis of all the problems. It almost verged on complacency:

Peter Black: I add my voice to those congratulating you on taking up your new post and on your first question time. I will ask you about the recent report of the Welsh Health Estates, which has identified an increase of up to £500 million in the amount of money needed to address the backlog in repairs for hospitals and other buildings around Wales. The amount includes an increase of £7.6 million in high-risk maintenance to £82.2 million; an increase of £1 million in the cost of complying with the fire code to £12 million; and a bill of £18.9 million to meet the requirements of disability discrimination laws. Will you be addressing this issue in your early days as First Minister, and will you be talking to the Minister for health about how you can target the capital money you have in the budget already at dealing with the worst instances, particularly regarding compliance with the disability discrimination legislation and the fire code?

The First Minister: We would need to see examples of that to assess the situation. A large number of capital projects have been taken forward in recent times, including substantial investment all over Wales—Ysbyty Aneurin Bevan, the Cynon valley community hospital and the new local hospital in Caerphilly, among others. If there is a need to examine the need for capital repairs in the future, that can be looked at by the appropriate authorities—by the local health boards—and then brought to the attention of the Minister for health to see if there is anything that can be done.

Let us hope he will be better prepared next time.
Not the most charismatic politician is he? Come back Rhodri Morgan, all is forgiven...well, maybe not.
The Assembly has got very nice offices in Rhydycar, Merthyr.
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