Wales politics

Labour AM sacked as committee chair after M4 spending criticism

Jenny Rathbone
Image caption Jenny Rathbone said she was 'astonished and appalled' over the spending on the relief road

A Labour AM who criticised the Welsh government spending nearly £20m on M4 relief road plans has been sacked as a committee chair by the first minister.

Jenny Rathbone said an "unhealthy culture" at the top of the government stopped AMs from speaking out.

Last week, she said she was "appalled" by the money was being spent preparing for the proposed road around Newport.

On Tuesday, she said Carwyn Jones had dismissed her as chair of the committee overseeing use of EU funds in Wales.

'Ruthlessly dealt with'

In a statement, she said: "The events of the last 24 hours have confirmed in my mind there is an unhealthy culture at the top of the Welsh government which does not allow for rigorous debate and reflection on the best use of public funds.

"Independent thought is not tolerated by AMs and if someone does step out of line, they are ruthlessly dealt with.

"This is not a good way to make difficult decisions."

She said her scepticism about the government's policy towards the relief road was shared by most Labour AMs.

"I recognise the right of the first minister to choose who he wants to carry out the important role as Chair of the European Programme Monitoring Committee," she added.

"I am however disappointed that he has chosen to sack me for speaking out on a matter that is unrelated to this role."

Image caption Blaenau Gwent AM Alun Davies said Ms Rathbone had been 'very effective' as the committee's chair

Ms Rathbone received immediate support from fellow Labour backbencher Alun Davies.

Commenting on Twitter he said: "Very disappointed to hear the news about Jenny Rathbone.

"She was a very effective chair.

"Labour AMs should be free to debate these matters."

But two other Labour AMs distanced themselves from Ms Rathbone's comments.

Jeff Cuthbert said she was "not speaking in my name when she claims she is speaking on behalf of the majority of Labour AMs".

"I believe that the Welsh government's preferred black route [for an M4 relief road] warrants full consideration and I accept the view of the minister that developments of this nature demand extensive preparatory and consultation work on."

Joyce Watson added: "I don't recognise this as the view of the majority of backbenchers."

'Resentment'

A Welsh Conservative spokesman said Mr Jones had "serious questions to answer over Jenny Rathbone's claims about the culture at the heart of Welsh government".

"Clearly the first minister is being very poorly advised."

Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas AM said Ms Rathbone had "shone a light on the way the Welsh government operates".

"We already knew that this was a government that tried to avoid scrutiny where possible, but the Labour AM's account of top-down decision-making suggests that this is a government that hides from scrutiny and debate."

Liberal Democrat AM Eluned Parrott accused Labour of being in "complete disarray".

"They long have had a culture of stifling debate and avoiding scrutiny and this has clearly caused resentment."

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