Joyce Watson AM’s ‘Politically Speaking’ column
It’s been an eventful few weeks. Earlier this year Assembly member Gareth Bennet – now UKIP leader – made a bizarre video attacking me. It featured a cartoon barmaid wearing a low-cut top with my head superimposed on it (I used to run pubs before becoming a politician, you see – geddit?). He also falsely accused me of wasting public money. I complained to the Assembly watchdog and he was ordered to take down the video. However, the Standards Commissioner ruled that the video was wrong about the money but not sexist. I strongly disagreed with the latter judgement and wrote to the Commissioner, Sir Roderick Evans, telling him so. That was in July. Fast-forward to September and Sir Roderick has now agreed to look again at my case. I await his findings. The whole episode has been unpleasant – the silver lining is the warm support I’ve received from political friends and foes alike, on social media and even strangers at the supermarket till! Common decency in the face of nastiness.
At the Assembly, I was pleased to be appointed to a third scrutiny committee: External Affairs and Additional Legislation (I also sit on the economy and environment). As you would imagine, Brexit is high on the ‘external affairs’ agenda. Last week Sir Emyr Jones Parry, a distinguished former diplomat, now representing the Learned Society of Wales, gave evidence on why Wales needs a strong say in the Brexit process, especially on matters where Welsh interests are distinct from the UK’s. Referring to proposals for a free-trade agreement between the UK and New Zealand, for example, he said:
“(It) may well be very sensible for England, but we would write off much of Welsh agriculture if we follow the same sorts of policies in Wales. So, how do we look after Powys…What’s the future for Powys, post Brexit?” Indeed.
The Welsh Government is using its powers to help farmers in Powys and elsewhere to adapt. On Monday it announced a new £2.15m initiative to help beef and sheep farmers prepare for Brexit. The Red Meat Benchmarking project, part of the Welsh Government’s EU Transition Fund, will support 2,000 farmers to improve their competitiveness in a changing market.
Meanwhile, rail commuters are also preparing for big changes. Next Monday (15 October) signals the start of the new Wales and Borders KeolisAmey-operated franchise. The 15-year contract promises to transform train travel in this country, backed by £5bn of public funding. A number of constituents have contacted me this week for advice – here’s what you need to know on day one:
- For now, the trains, services and timetables will be the same.
- Tickets that have already been bought will still be valid, even if they were bought on Saturday evening. Railcards will still be accepted too.
- Operation of all concessionary fares schemes will transfer to the new franchise. That means free winter travel for bus pass holders on services between Pwllheli and Machynlleth will continue until 31 March 2019.