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Watching with Minister

Betsan Powys | 13:45 UK time, Tuesday, 13 November 2007

It's probably not my job to issue a rallying cry but I'll go for it anyway. If you think it's not my place, you'll be quick enough to tell me after all.

Last Thursday we were huddled around the television screens giving the Finance Committee our undivided attention. Just as families were huddled around the flickering sets back in the 1950s glued to the coronation or to Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, we were hanging on the committee's every word. We weren't Watching with Mother mind you. We were hoping to watch Andrew Davies and his Special Advisers getting it in the neck. And waiting. And waiting.

Did the Minister get it in the neck? Did he heck! Did the Moneypot Men (doesn't really work given one is a woman but I'm trying ...) squirm in their seats, forced to reveal the truth behind one budget line and opaque column after the other under intense and unforgiving scrutiny?

What do you think?

Had there been sharp exchanges, had there been incisive questions that pinned them down, you would have known about it. You would have watched them on Wales Today and Newyddion that night. You would have appreciated that the new committee system, where Government policy must be properly scrutinised, is not only up but hitting the ground running.

But there was nothing. Television packages will survive without them; a healthy national assembly surely can't.

There were some decent questions about presentation of the figures, about a real-term cut in the education budget, about cross-border contracts. One of the most pointed questions came from Lynne Neagle, AM for Torfaen. At least she's got the idea that the whole point of the Ministers being there these days is that they answer the question and that if they don't, you ask it again until they do, or until it's clear they won't.

But intense scrutiny? Pull the other one.

If there was ever any danger of getting Andrew Davies on the hook, the committee spectacularly let him off it time and again.

Alun number one - Cairns - did his best to get things going from the Chair. Yes, I know he's a Tory and he would, wouldn't he but at least he's a politician who seems to recognise the difference between opposition, pure and simple and decent scrutiny. The man's got a job to do and it's in his interest to do it well. But where were Alun numbers two - Davies - and three - Ffred Jones? Just not in the mood to help him out? Or still trying to work out how far Labour and Plaid backbenchers can push it in committee?

There are rumours of a training seminar. I thought only the BBC did things like that but apparently not. I don't know if it's entitled "How to Give Good Scrutiny" but I hope it's soon and that it works.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 04:13 PM on 13 Nov 2007,
  • Kerensky wrote:

You will never have any scrutiny of ministers from the Labour and Plaid members of their government's budget. Their task is to act as blockers to make life easier for the minister. Only Alun Cairns and other opposition members have any interest in any form of scrutiny. Today it was sad seeing Alun Ffred Jones who after all is a former Council leader argue as if the only solution to an awful local government settlement was more staff reductions. With Gwynedd destined for one of the lowest increases in the whole of Wales life is going to get a little harder for Plaid in its heartland. With 20 independents already standing because of the proposed school closures next year's council election could be really interesting in Gwynedd.

  • 2.
  • At 10:23 PM on 13 Nov 2007,
  • an new admirer wrote:

just wanted to say what a great post Betsan, and good to see that our journalists are prepared to raise some awkward issues.

if our politicians want us to engage with devolution they have to start treating the institutions with respect, there needed to be some decent scrutiny from day one not just now we have legislative powers and also with that some way of genuinely holding from Ministers from both parties to account, they are spending our money and they need to be reminded from time to time.

Here's hoping things may change

  • 3.
  • At 10:51 AM on 14 Nov 2007,
  • Richard Harris wrote:

Aggghh Betsan...can you sort out the "posting" on this site? I give up!

  • 4.
  • At 04:25 PM on 14 Nov 2007,
  • David Heath wrote:

Having spoken to members of the Committee, they feel that this was Finance Minister's chance to make his case. The detailed scrutiny / blood on the floor will come when he returns to committee.

By the way, the Budget Scrutiny doesn't stop at Finance Committee's door. Ieuan Wyn took an absolute pasting at the hands of Alun Cairns, Huw Lewis and even from Kirsty Williams in Enterprise Committee this morning.


So we all noticed!

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