Welsh Labour Spring Conference: Brexit, austerity, and social partnerships

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Held amidst the stifling political uncertainty of a postponed Brexit and the divisive talk of a people’s vote, the recent Welsh Labour Party Conference was quietly fraught with discordance, meaning it is no surprise that there weren’t too many headline grabbing policy announcements.  

The focus of party leader Jeremy Corbyn was to differentiate Wales by insisting that ‘Welsh Government is doing its best’ despite widespread austerity and extraordinary levels of political volatility within the UK, and  he took the opportunity to sympathise with fellow party members regarding the severity and impact of central government cuts. Corbyn maintained that a UK wide approach is needed to remedy Welsh funding issues: ‘The answer is an end to austerity and the answer is a Labour Government for the whole of the UK which will properly fund Wales’.

Corbyn’s closing remarks focused on climate change, stating that a Labour Government would reverse the decision of the Tidal Lagoon and strive to instigate a ‘green industrial revolution’ that would bring clean energy and a host of new jobs nationwide.

Mark Drakeford, speaking at conference for the first time as First Minister, stated his regret for the challenges facing Wales’s youth in the form of Brexit and widespread austerity and avoided mentioning a potential second referendum entirely. Instead, Drakeford took the opportunity to hammer home the importance of the proposed Social Partnership Bill for Wales, which aims to put ethical standards of employment at the core of Welsh Government economic and social policy and public service delivery.  Specifically, this would be done by enforcing standards (such as living wage and employment contracts) through government supply chains.

Drakeford sees the proposed Social Partnership Bill as an opportunity to bring the strength of a statutory foundation – building on the Equality Act of the last Labour Government – to demand the highest standards of training, education and skills within Wales. The Bill would also look to reassert the importance and centrality of workers as ‘the country’s greatest asset’.

Although Drakeford did not comment at length on housing, he stated that Welsh Government would set Councils to building council houses, providing affordable housing for the people.  Drakeford also raised the renewable energy agenda stating that he regretted the decision on the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, and stressed that he wished for Wales to be at the forefront of renewable technology.

There was little else to report in terms of infrastructure and regeneration announcements - so now we turn our attention and wait with bated breath for the key infrastructure  announcement that everybody has been waiting for – the verdict on the M4 relief road.

To keep up with politics, planning and the built environment in Wales, please follow us on Twitter @Grasshopper_UK or get in touch.

Plaid Cymru Spring Conference: Looking Towards the 2021 Election?

While a large number of Plaid members made the trip to Bangor’s Pontio Arts Centre this weekend for the Party’s Spring Conference, many also ventured to Cardiff to watch Wales begin their Euro 2020 qualification campaign (with a win against Independent Slovakia). YesCymru and Welsh Football Fans for Independence banners could be seen throughout the capital as the ‘Red Wall’ made the short trip from St Mary’s Street to the Cardiff City Stadium.

At the same time, Adam Price AM was busy giving his first Spring Conference Speech as leader of Plaid Cymru, as the Party look towards the next Assembly election in 2021. Price made clear that his Party would be seeking a referendum on independence if Wales loses out on the £2.5bn in EU structural funds that would be due in the funding round post-Brexit. Reaffirming the Party’s support for a second referendum on exiting the EU, the Plaid Cymru leader said Wales could join the EU as an independent member state.

In light of the recent discussions and publications with regards to climate change, energy and Wales’ renewable future, Llyr Gruffydd AM, the Party’s allocated spokesman on environment, energy, rural affairs and planning, was quick to criticise the lack of action being taken by the Welsh Government.

Gruffydd claimed that Plaid Cymru would establish a publicly owned non-profit energy company, and that the Party has created a policy development group to look again at the challenges of climate change. Additionally, a cut to VAT for the construction industry was highlighted as a commitment if the Party is elected to govern.

Speaking on planning, Gruffydd warned that the system is working against communities, with thousands of homes being built on the basis of “faulty” estimates from the Government.

Other headlines from the weekend included Plaid’s commitment, if in Government, to training 1000 more doctors and 5000 more nurses, call for the devolution of air passenger duty and a cut to VAT for tourism, to raise spending on education from 4% to 6% of GDP and the introduction of a Welsh Language Act to restore the national language.

While it will remain to be seen whether Plaid can now challenge Labour’s longstanding hegemony in Wales, recent times have seen them undoubtedly garnering support under the leadership of Adam Price. With Price ruling out a coalition with either of the other two main parties, it will be interesting to see how the Welsh National Party approach the first election under their new leader.

Please follow us on Twitter @Grasshopper_UK or visit www.grasshopper-comms.co.uk to keep up with the Spring Party Conference news and all things planning and the built environment in Wales.

Spring Statement 2019: Housing, Energy and Brexit

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On Wednesday 13 March, two weeks before the UK is due to leave the EU, Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced the UK Government’s 2019 Spring Statement.

With Brexit continuing to steal the headlines, it was a slim Budget, but it did include commitments of relevance to the housing sector.

The Chancellor announced a new £3billion affordable homes scheme, which could help to deliver around 30,000 affordable houses across the UK.

Additionally, a new homes standard will be introduced to assist with ending fossil fuel heating systems in new houses by 2025. This announcement comes as the Institute of Welsh Affairs published their finalised Re-Energising Wales programme, which seeks to make Wales powered by 100% renewable energy by 2035.

The statement, which proved to be a “low-key mini budget” to avoid more difficulties for the Government as it attempts to finalise the EU withdrawal agreement, came up against strong criticism from Welsh politicians. Rebecca Evans AM, Welsh Minister for Finance, said that the Government is “paralysed” by Brexit and described the statement as a “do-nothing” budget, and Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards referred to it as a non-event.

The Welsh Conservatives, however, welcomed the Chancellors statement, adding that Hammond reinforced the UK Government’s commitment to Wales.

Follow us on Twitter @Grasshopper_UK or visit us at http://www.grasshopper-comms.co.uk/ for any updates on planning, policy and the built environment sector.

Welsh Government consults on proposals to set national milestones for Wales

In 2016, Welsh Government set 46 national indicators to track progress in achieving the 7 well-being goals in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The new national milestones will set out its expectation of this progress and it is consulting on:

·         the criteria for choosing national milestones

·         the national indicators against which it will set national milestones

·         changes to the existing national indicators

Welsh Government is asking: How do we assist Welsh Ministers in measuring a nation’s progress?  And is gathering views on a refined number of national indicators, including:

·         Percentage of adults with qualifications at the different levels of National Qualifications Framework;

·         Gross disposable household income per head;

·         Percentage of people who can speak Welsh; and

·         Percentage who feel able to influence decisions affecting their local area.

These indicators, along with others listed in the report, will inform the creation of national milestones for Wales, allowing Ministers to understand and monitor progress in achieving the goals of the Well-being Act.

Of particular interest to those of us operating in the built environment and construction sector is National Indicator 23: Percentage who feel able to influence decisions affecting their local area.

With public consultation now a statutory requirement of the planning process in Wales for major developments, and involvement and collaboration two of the five ways of working in the Well-being Act, this indicator reaffirms the importance of community and stakeholder involvement in the development and delivery of infrastructure, housing and other major projects across Wales - to ensure that local stakeholders’ have been effectively consulted and their comments taken on board.

The next step following the consultation period will be to establish the national milestones. While these are not yet finalised, what is apparent is the acknowledgement that change is necessary across all sectors and industries in order to achieve the goals outlined in the Well-being Act.

To find out more and participate in the consultation, go to: https://beta.gov.wales/measuring-our-nations-progress. The deadline for comments is 19 April 2019.

Follow us on Twitter @Grasshopper_UK or visit us at http://www.grasshopper-comms.co.uk/ for any updates on planning, policy and the built environment sector.

Lewis Clark, Account Executive.

Delivery of infrastructure projects fit for Future Generations of Wales

The Transporting Our Future Generations Report (https://www.ceca.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Transport-Our-Future-Generations-Report_Final.pdf) by the Civil Engineers Contractors Association (CECA) Wales in conjunction with The Future Generations Commissioners Office was published last week (5 February).

The Report highlights the need for both the public and private sector to work differently in the development and delivery of infrastructure projects – now and for future generations.

While the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is well-defined for the public sector, it has left many in the private sector wondering how it affects them and, in particular, its involvement in public sector development projects.

The Report considers how the private sector can support the public sector in delivering on the 7-wellbeing goals and the 5-ways of working in the Act and sets out a 5-Point Action Plan, which is summarised below:

1.       Public Procurement: base procurement on the principles of the Act rather than the initial price alone. It argues that we must re-model the public and private sector relationship on the basis of the 5-ways of working as set out in the Act.

2.       Strategic Vision: develop greater clarity on what we need infrastructure to do for us as a nation based on the 7-wellbeing goals and the 5-ways of working.

3.       Funding: move to minimum 3-year funding programmes for public sector infrastructure clients to enable longer term planning and greater certainty for supply chain.

4.       Justifying Investment: base investment decisions on the 7-wellbeing goals and the 5-ways of working rather than solely on economic criteria.

5.       Cultural Change: develop and implement an education or awareness campaign across the sector to promote the wellbeing goals, the way of working and emerging best practices in the infrastructure.

The Report presents the need for a different approach to the infrastructure development process and sets out an ambitious Action Plan that promotes a more collaborative working relationship between the public and private sector in the delivery of infrastructure projects across Wales.

It will be interesting to see how this is achieved with the multiple levels of governance in Wales and pressures on the private sector, especially in a time of economic uncertainty.

To keep up to date with policy, infrastructure and planning, follow us on Twitter @Grasshopper_UK or visit our webpage: http://www.grasshopper-comms.co.uk/

Lewis Clark, Account Executive.