The Welsh Conservatives Conference took place at the weekend. A number of announcements were made, including a promise from David Cameron to submit to questions and answers every year at the Welsh Assembly, if he becomes Prime Minister.
Shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan said that under a Tory government Welsh Office ministers would attend three question and answer sessions annually in Cardiff Bay. This would be additional to the statutory obligation to attend Assembly plenary sessions after the Queen's Speech.
Mrs Gillan added that more meetings of the House of Commons' Welsh Grand Committee should be held in Wales, and commented:
"To deliver the best for Wales there needs to be an open and continuing dialogue, not an annual arrangement."
One of her colleagues, Shadow Welsh Minister David Jones, announced that a Conservative government would set up a new committee of Welsh and English MPs (the latter being from constituencies close to or on the border) to monitor the impact of devolution in Wales and England. The committee would report to the Secretary of State for Wales.
Nick Bourne, Conservative leader in the Welsh Assembly, called for businesses with a rateable value of £10,000 or less to be taken out of business rates altogether, and tapered relief for businesses worth up to £15,000. Shadow Assembly Local Government Minister Darren Millar said that every pensioner household in Wales should receive a 30 per cent reduction in their council tax bills.
Nick Bourne (right), who leads the Conservatives in the Assembly, received a rather tepid response from First Minister Rhodri Morgan about business:
"Will the First Minister outline his policies to support Welsh businesses? OAQ(3)1593(FM)
The First Minister: Flexible Support for Business is the key policy for delivering support for businesses as part of our 'One Wales’ commitment. It transforms the way in which we help and support businesses by providing a single access point, enhanced relationship management and a single investment fund."
The multi-tasking William Graham is European Affairs spokesman, chief whip and group chairman. He asked about public services:
"Will the Minister make a statement on the delivery of public services in South Wales East? OAQ(3)0541(FPS)
Andrew Davies: As I said in reply to Mick Bates, in every part of Wales we are working to ensure that we have public services that are high-performing, efficient, ambitious and innovative, which put the citizen at the centre of all that they do, represent excellent value for money and work together well."
(Andrew Davies is Minister for Finance and Public Service Delivery).
Mark Isherwood is Shadow Minister for Social Justice, Equality and Housing.
"What consideration does the Minister give to small business rate relief when allocating funding to the social justice and local government portfolio budget? OAQ(3)0531(FPS)
Andrew Davies: The Assembly Government’s budget for 2009-10 provides for the small business rate relief scheme, as announced previously by the Minister for Social Justice and Local Government."
These answers aren't exactly verbose, are they?
English-born Darren Millar is Shadow Minister for Environment and Planning. He asked about special needs education:
"Will the Minister make a statement on resources for pupils with special educational needs? OAQ(3)0714(CEL)
Jane Hutt: The Welsh Assembly Government provides support within the revenue support grant to local authorities to meet the needs of all pupils with SEN. Total expenditure on SEN by LEAs is budgeted to be £321 million for 2008-09, with further specific funding of £13.7 million having been allocated."
Jane Hutt is Minister for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills. The vogue for immensely long job titles is unappealing, and the Conservatives would do well to quash it.
Nick Bourne also asked a question about rural education:
"Will the Minister make a statement on the provision of education in rural Wales? OAQ(3)0708(CEL)
Jane Hutt: The Welsh Assembly Government believes that pupils in rural areas deserve access to as wide a range of educational opportunities as that provided for other children. The distribution of funding for education takes account of the extra costs of delivery in rural areas."
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