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What does 2018 have in store for Welsh Politics?

Our Energy Account Manager, Robyn Evans looks back on the most talked about issues of 2017 and forward to what will dominate the agenda in 2018.

It has been a tumultuous year for Welsh and UK politics, bringing the uncertainty of Brexit, an unexpected General Election, and a Welsh Government Cabinet reshuffle.

As if this wasn’t enough to keep the NDW team busy, we have also taken on the challenge of using data to improve our monitoring services. As the political year draws to a close, we thought it would be interesting to use data to determine what AMs discussed most over 2017. So, with the help of Big Lemon Creative, we set up a programme to analyse 2.5 million words over 68 plenary sessions to chart the top ten talked-about topics this year (find out what made the list here). The results also give some indication of what to expect in 2018.

Legislation

There is no surprise that this year’s most talked-about topic is health, which makes up almost half of the Welsh Government’s Draft Budget 2018-19. AMs passed high-profile legislation in the form of the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017, a slightly modified version of the original 2016 Public Health Bill, and the Trade Union (Wales) Act 2017, which both became law late in 2017. Focus for 2018 will turn to the divisive Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill which aims to tackle harmful drinking, and the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill which sets out new powers for the Ombudsman to accept oral complaints and undertake own-initiative investigations.

Children, care, education and authorities followed health in the top five areas of discussion. The Additional Learning Needs and Educational Tribunal (Wales) Bill passed late this year and should receive Royal Assent early in the new year. There is likely to be some movement on the proposals set out in the 2017 Legislative Programme for a long-awaited Local Government Bill, a Childcare Bill, and a bill to end the physical chastisement of children, which newly-appointed Minister for Children and Social Care (Huw Irranca-Davies) has strongly endorsed.

Tax was a hot topic this year, scoring ninth-place on our list, as the first Welsh taxes in 800 years were signed into law. The Land Transaction Tax and Anti-avoidance of Devolved Taxes (Wales) Act 2017 and the Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Act 2017 will be introduced on 1st April 2018, replacing Stamp Duty Land Tax and Landfill Tax, respectively.

Looking ahead, the Welsh Government will be consulting on a shortlist of four possible taxes to raise revenue and discourage harmful behavior. These include a disposable plastic tax; a vacant land tax to prevent land banking; a levy to support social care; and a tourism tax to generate revenue for investment in tourism infrastructure. The latter has attracted significant criticism from the Welsh Conservatives. Welsh Ministers will decide which new tax they want to propose to the UK Treasury early in 2018.

Housing policy has been in the spotlight this year and we anticipate increased attention as the Abolition of the Right to Buy and Associated Rights (Wales) Bill is set to receive Royal Assent. There will be movement on the Regulation of Registered Social Landlords (Wales) Bill, which along with the Abolition of the Right to Buy, will contribute to the Welsh Government’s target of building 20,000 new social housing units in the Fifth Assembly. Minister for Housing and Regeneration (Rebecca Evans) will also be responding to a consultation on proposals for a Letting Agency Fees Bill.

Brexit is notably absent from the top ten list (it was the fourteenth most talked-about area), but there’s no doubt it will dominate the political agenda in 2018. First Minister (Carwyn Jones) has confirmed that the Welsh Government has progressed a draft Continuity Bill which aims to enshrine all EU regulations in Welsh law. However, Mr Jones has stated his preference for changes to be made to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which he still thinks amounts to a “power grab”.

The Welsh Government has also indicated plans for a Welsh Language Bill which would reform the making and enforcement of Welsh Language Standards by replacing the Welsh Language Commissioner with a Welsh Language Commission. In June, then-Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language (Alun Davies) published a White Paper, ‘Striking the right balance: proposals for a Welsh Language Bill’. The consultation responses are currently under review.

Economy

Economic policy was the sixth most mentioned area in 2017, and Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure (Ken Skates)’ long-awaited Economic Action Plan was published in the last week of the Autumn Assembly term. The plan replaces the previous nine priority sectors with three broader priority sectors, covering specific areas such as advanced manufacturing, and the four foundation sectors of tourism, food, retail, and care. Such sectors are not often included in economic documents, but Mr Skates is keen to use societal challenges, such as childcare demands and an ageing population to maximise economic benefits. Expect further discussion and cross-government working on this in the future.

It has been confirmed that the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales will be established initially as an independent, non-statutory, advisory body to Welsh Ministers, with the purpose of making recommendations on Wales’ longer term strategic and environment infrastructure needs. The Commission will be fully established by summer 2018.

It has been close to a year since the UK Government-commissioned Hendry Review recommended rapid approval of the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. There has been recent suggestion that UK Ministers have “gone cold” on the project, concluding that it does not represent value for money for taxpayers. There has been widespread cross-party support for the lagoon, which shows no signs of quietening in the coming months.

A dispute between the Welsh and UK Governments; the cancellation of rail electrification between Cardiff and Swansea; and Arriva’s withdrawal from the Wales and Borders franchise bidding process made headlines late this year. If all remains on track, powers to award the new franchise will be laid in Parliament early next year, with the Welsh Government awarding the contract between March and June, and the franchise commencing in October 2018.

Elsewhere…

Earlier this month, the National Assembly announced the publication of an independent report from the expert panel on Assembly electoral reform, which calls for an increase in the number of AMs to between 80 and 90, from the current 60. The report also recommends that 16 and 17-year-olds should be able to vote in Assembly elections. Welsh Labour said it would report on proposals following its 2019 conference.

After the death of former Welsh minister Carl Sargeant and the events that followed, Carwyn Jones is facing four inquiries: a coroner’s inquest; a QC-led inquiry into his handling of the sacking; an independent adviser’s inquiry into bullying allegations; and an investigation by the Permanent Secretary (Shan Morgan) into allegations that Carl Sargeant’s sacking was leaked to the press before he was informed.

Carl Sargeant’s son, Jack Sargeant, has confirmed that he has been short-listed by Labour to fight the Alyn and Deeside by-election taking place on 6th February 2018.

The National Assembly for Wales returns from the Christmas recess on Monday 8th January 2018.

newsdirect wales is a political monitoring company. We do clever things with data, watch all proceedings of the National Assembly for Wales live and check hundreds of online sources to keep our clients in the know about the developments that affect them. We’d like to help you too. Give us a call on 029 2009 0693 to find out more.

Photocredit: Unsplash: / Nordwood Themes

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