What's achievable for Carwyn Jones's new Welsh Government

Carwyn Jones

We are beginning to get a picture of what Carwyn Jones feels is achievable at the assembly without an overall majority, and with just one realistic partner in Plaid Cymru.

A number of early decisions have been made. The proposed ban on e-cigs in some public places will be dropped when the public health legislation, which collapsed spectacularly at the end of the last assembly term, is re-introduced.

The plan to cut the number of councils from 22 to eight or nine has also been dropped.

The question is whether wider proposals to re-organise local authorities has effectively been kicked into the long grass?

Labour's manifesto commits to "stronger, larger local authorities" but held back on a specific number.


Steve Thomas from the Welsh Local Government Association told me "consensus is in short supply" both at the assembly and within local government.

Even before the proposal for eight or nine was abandoned, many council leaders gave the strong impression they didn't think that re-organisation was going to happen.

It must now appear further away than ever for them.

The new Finance and Local Government Secretary Mark Drakeford will cut a different, more conciliatory figure, than the former Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews but the question is whether consensus can ever be found on such a complicated subject.

In his statement on the new cabinet to AMs this week, Carwyn Jones described Mark Drakeford's job as "a pivotal and challenging role as we move, both as a government and as a National Assembly-or parliament, as we will call ourselves, no doubt in time, into the era of devolved revenue raising".

That doesn't sound to me like council re-organisation is high on the agenda.

Image caption Building an M4 relief road south of Newport remains a priority for Carwyn Jones

One matter that the first minister seems determined to see through as a legacy project is the £1bn "black route" M4 relief road around Newport.

His tone is markedly stronger on this than many other subjects.

He insists that traffic problems at the Brynglas tunnels are not going to disappear and the cheaper "blue-route" alternative would prove so unpopular with the thousands of homes nearby that you could "kiss goodbye to winning elections in Newport for a generation."

My sense is that he wants this fight, but it will be a fight for another day, and the public inquiry which is due to begin in the autumn and last a year will allow him to delay matters.

Mr Jones told AMs on Tuesday: "I think that public inquiry needs to be as broad as possible.


"It needs to be a public local inquiry, and I believe that that inquiry would need to look at a wide range of issues including alternative proposals."

This could open the door to some kind of alternative but what's more likely is that the first minister is hoping the inquiry will boost his attempts to get political support for the "black route".

The appointment of Kirsty Williams as education secretary was the stand-out feature of the new cabinet.

I'm told that although members of the Labour group at the assembly were keen to know whether she'd be bound by cabinet responsibility at their meeting this week, there was broad agreement about her appointment.

A Labour AM told me that once it became apparent that Plaid will be combative in opposition, it was obvious that Carwyn Jones needed to increase his numbers to 30 to give him protection against votes of no confidence.

But it's not all about numbers in the assembly.

Kirsty Williams is, after all, now the woman running the Welsh education system, and it's clear Carwyn Jones believes she will be effective in a role that is never far from the headlines.