Joyce Watson AM’s column for the Brecon & Radnor Express
I am delighted to join the roster of this publication’s columnists. I look forward to using this regular spot to keep readers updated on goings on at the Assembly, especially the work that might not grab headlines but nevertheless impacts on day-to-day life in Wales.
By way of introduction, I represent the Assembly region of Mid and West Wales for Labour. The region is made up of five counties: Powys, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and the north-west area of Gwynedd, Dwyfor Meirionnydd. So as well as clocking up a lot of miles, I necessarily have to take a wide view when it comes to decision-making. For example, I need to ask myself not only how a health policy will affect people living in Knighton – but in Narberth, Newtown and Nefyn too.
As a backbencher, my main job is to represent constituents and ask questions of Welsh Government. I am a member of three committees – external affairs, environment and economy – that scrutinise government policy and legislation. I am the Labour representative on the Assembly Commission, responsible for the Assembly’s staff and equalities policies, and chair of the cross-party groups concerned with the construction industry and human trafficking.
This week I have tabled a question to the First Minister on the shameful failure of the UK government to fulfil its pledge to resettle 3,000 unaccompanied children from the wars in the Middle East and North Africa. Since the scheme was launched two years ago only 20 children have been allowed into the UK. It is an issue that I have campaigned on alongside the Hay & Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees group. We are supporting the campaign spearheaded by Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs to go further and put pressure on Theresa May to give safe passage to 10,000 child refugees over the next 10 years. The figure would match the number of child refugees who fled Nazi persecution and were taken in by British communities 80 years ago. We must show the same humanity now.
Broadband is a topic that is often on the agenda. The minister with responsibility for the roll-out of Superfast Cymru, Julie James, cited in a recent debate Brecon Beacons National Park’s old advertising slogan: ‘Come to Brecon Beacons and be disconnected’. These days it looks like a bad joke! But the fact is 92 per cent of premises in Wales can now access a superfast service, compared to barely half five years ago. This still leaves around 8 percent of premises stuck on old data, mostly in remote rural communities. So last month the Welsh Government announced details of the new superfast broadband contract. The plan is to extend 30Mbps+ capable networks to every property in Wales and to focus on 100Mbps+ full fibre connectivity going forward. So only those visitors to the Brecon Beacons who choose to unplug will be disconnected.
Brexit looms large in every policy discussion and budget line, inevitably. On environment committee, we are looking at how best to support agriculture and protect our natural resources post-Brexit. The challenge is to integrate farming and environmental objectives for the benefit of biodiversity, rural communities and all the people of Wales. The Welsh Government consultation, ‘Brexit and Our Land: The Future of Welsh Farming,’ closed last week. While the responses are processed and digested, Assembly members will continue to debate how to support farmers after Brexit. Cards on the table, though, I will also continue to campaign for a Peoples’ Vote before that happens.
At a local level, I’d like to congratulate everyone involved with Brecknock Wildlife Trust’s Wild Communities Project. Over the past three years staff and more than 70 volunteers have delivered a wonderful project that has benefitted people and wildlife in Ystradgynlais and the Upper Tawe Valley. I hope the seeds they have sown will grow for years to come.