Now that the Assembly has broken up for the summer, it’s an opportunity to look back at some of the key issues that I’ve raised in the Senedd this term.
Good Food for All
I’m passionate about good, healthy food and I have spoken on numerous of occasions about the need to include locally grown fruit and veg into our diets. Cardiff is a sustainable food City and there is some wonderful work going on to encourage more people to grow their own and make sure good food is being served in our schools and hospitals.
We have much diet-related disease across Wales, and too much of the “food” that we are sold is poisoning us on the altar of profits. We need to become a healthier nation by developing more of our own food industry. We are after all blessed with lots of agricultural land. I put it to the First Minister that he should consider a tax on fat, sugar and salt and use the money to subsidise the cost of fruit and vegetables. It would save more lives than there are people killed on the roads.
Some local authorities and schools are taking the lead on promoting healthy food, but we need more than pockets of good practice. I spoke about the Good Food for All report published by the Institute for Welsh Affairs in the Senedd. The author, Professor Kevin Morgan of Cardiff University asks us to consider three things to start delivering a Good Food Nation: first, using the Government’s buying powers to ensure that we get good food from local markets. The second is to deliver good food across the public sector, not just in nursing homes and hospitals but in our staff canteens. The third, and most important in my view, is getting Food for Life in all our schools. If Oldham can do it, why can’t Wales?
The Public Accounts Committee recently finished an inquiry into the use of supply teachers in schools. I’ve followed that up with some research on the local situation in Cardiff. I’ve found out that some employment agencies pay supply teachers significantly less than the rate for the job even for a recently-qualified teacher in post. Sometimes, supply teachers are used not just to cover unexpected absence, but to cover maternity leave. I contacted six agencies used by Cardiff schools. Only two, Capita and Hays categorically affirm they pay the rate for the job after 12 weeks in post. But the other four: Academics, Apollo, Bay Resourcing and New Directions admit they use the “Swedish derogation” loophole to get round the EU Agency Workers Regulation to enable them to continue paying supply teachers less than they are entitled to; all argued that schools have tight budgets.
I wrote an article on it in the Western Mail last week. These are all worrying issues which I spoke about in the Senedd. I know the Minister for Education is concerned; but School Governors need to start asking some searching questions of their Heads to make sure your school is not short-changing your pupils, as this practice is bound to have an impact on the quality of teaching and learning.
The UK government plans to cut in-work benefits. This is likely to have a devastating impact on people in low-paid jobs, who rely on working families tax credit and child tax credits to supplement their inadequate wages. In the Assembly, I asked the Finance Minister how the Welsh Government is going to address the cost of childcare so that parents can keep their jobs in the absence of tax credits. This is something high on the Welsh Labour Government’s agenda and mine.
Helping Young People into Work
Lots of work has been done by the Welsh Labour Government on getting young people into apprenticeships. Nevertheless, the Enterprise and Business Committee’s report; Assisting Young People into Work revealed that the scale of the task that Wales faces in helping our young people into work is immense. Many 19 to 24-year-olds are not in education, training or work (NEETs).
In the debate on the report I spoke about some of the bright, articulate young people I’ve met who know where they want to go but need help getting there. Some of them don’t have the support that young people normally get from their parents. Ongoing support is vital to ensure that they make good career choices and have the resilience they need to lose heart when people say no to them. Jobs Growth Wales has done a good job, helping people as has Communities Forst in Llanedeyrn and Adamsdown. We know is that the best guarantee of ensuring that we’re not passing deprivation from one generation to the next is to make sure parents are in work, but the UK Government is making it really hard for them.
In Wales we have a huge coastline, and a large amount of wind that we can tap into. We also have communities who are interested in generating their own energy.
I’m a member of the Environment and Sustainability Committee, which recently visited Germany to see first hand the German “energy revolution” that’s underway. Some of the lessons that we learnt was the importance of a stable feed-in tariff (the UK Government keeps changing it) and the right of communities to sell, as well as produce, their own energy. In Germany these two factors have led to a blossoming of renewable energy providing a solid income for many communities. The Committee launched an enquiry into Smarter Energy for Wales at the Royal Welsh Show(include link). How can we break through the dominance of the Big Six, and monopoly of the electricity network by National Grid. I raised this with the First Minister, and hope the Committee enquiry provides us with the answers for the next few years.
My Statement of Opinion denouncing the UK government’s decision to quietly drop the obligation to make all new homes carbon neutral from 2016 has attracted support from other parties. Architects at Cardiff University have designed a house as a power station; it generates more power than it uses. This needs developing into homes fit for the 21st century.