The full policy programme of the Welsh Labour government's co-operation deal with Plaid Cymru has been published this afternoon.

The agreement, titled "Radical Action in Testing Times", lays out a raft of policies to tackle the Welsh housing crisis, the climate crisis and climbing levels of child poverty – policies which First Minister Mark Drakeford says are grounded in the two parties’ “shared values” of “social solidarity, a sustainable planet and a vibrant democracy”.

Despite this, the deal does not represent a formal coalition, and Plaid Cymru will not have ministers in government. Welsh Labour will remain the minority party of government, but the collaborative nature of its legislation means it will enjoy the support of Plaid’s members in the Senedd Siambr.

The National Wales: Adam Price and First Minister Mark Drakeford this afternoon following the announcement. (Source: Huw Evans Agency)Adam Price and First Minister Mark Drakeford this afternoon following the announcement. (Source: Huw Evans Agency)

The First Minister said this afternoon that Labour does not have “a monopoly on good ideas”, adding: “We can achieve more for people in Wales by working together, and the co-operation agreement is both a response to the external challenges we face and a chance to build on the opportunities in our future.”

Adam Price, leader of Plaid Cymru, said: “The challenges we face require real ambition to deliver radical ideas.

“The fallout from leaving the European Union, the legacy of the pandemic and the UK Government’s determination to erode the Senedd’s powers all increase the need for transformational change.

“Taken together, the bold policy pledges will unite Wales and benefit every generation, from all primary school pupils receiving free school meals to a national care service, free at the point of need.

“I am pleased this pioneering co-operation agreement is founded on common ground on a range of issues that will make a long-lasting difference to people’s lives.”

The National Wales: Plaid leader Adam Price said the Agreement was based in "common ground" between the two parties (Source: Huw Evans Agency)Plaid leader Adam Price said the Agreement was based in "common ground" between the two parties (Source: Huw Evans Agency)

 

POLICIES

The parties’ proposals largely centre on the Welsh housing crisis, tackling environmental breakdown and Welsh language and culture.

They pledge to take “immediate and radical action” against the problem of second home ownership in Welsh-speaking Wales, including a cap on second and holiday home ownership, measures to bring more properties into common ownership, a “statutory licensing scheme” for holiday lets, and increased taxes for second homes.

READ MORE: Could empty homes solve Wales' housing crisis?

They also intend to “explore” the prospect of local authority mortgages, in which councils partner with a mortgage lender to offer first-time buyers the chance to buy property with a significantly reduced deposit.

The deal also says the government will publish a White Paper on enshrining the right to adequate housing in law, and the role that rent controls could play in making the private rental market “affordable”. It adds that it will enact the Renting Homes Act - initially passed in 2016, amended in February last year, but yet to come into effect.

The National Wales: The Renting Homes (Amendment) Act, which increases the notice period for "no fault evictions" to 6 months, was introduced by Housing Minister Julie James last year (Source: Huw Evans Agency)The Renting Homes (Amendment) Act, which increases the notice period for "no fault evictions" to 6 months, was introduced by Housing Minister Julie James last year (Source: Huw Evans Agency)

Property website Rightmove reported this summer that house prices in Wales were rising faster than any other country of the UK, thought at least in part to be down to a pandemic-driven growth in the “staycation” market, as holidaymakers and retirees look to buy or let homes in Welsh beauty spots.

In villages like Cwm yr Eglwys, Pembrokeshire, the majority of homeowners are from outside the area.

House prices in Cardiff, meanwhile, have risen twice as fast as wages in the past 15 years. The average rent price in the capital is £1,525 per month, while the monthly take-home pay of a worker on the National Living Wage sits at around £1,200.

READ MORE: 

Conwy: ‘Second homes crisis spiralling out of control’

Ynys Môn - holiday home tax hike a “blunt instrument” without closing “loophole”

Research from thinktank The Bevan Foundation found this year that 95% of homes for rent in Wales are above Local Housing Allowance levels - rendering them unaffordable for those on Universal Credit.

Last week a large protest was held on the steps of the Senedd by Welsh language society Cymedithas yr Iaith, calling for a number of policies that have now been adopted by the Plaid/Labour co-operation deal – including the cap on second homes.

The National Wales: Hundreds gathered to protest the Welsh housing crisis earlier this month (Source: Rebecca Wilks)Hundreds gathered to protest the Welsh housing crisis earlier this month (Source: Rebecca Wilks)

Community and tenant union ACORN Cardiff, meanwhile, directly lobbied both parties on the issue of rent controls, and homelessness charity Shelter Cymru has campaigned for years on the right to adequate housing.

This weekend Mabli Siriol, chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, told The National she found news of the cooperation deal “encouraging”, adding: “We welcome the intention of both parties to work together on these issues and look forward to seeing action.

“Diolch to everyone who has played a part in campaigning for these key policies over recent years - this is your work paying off."

 

Harriet Protheroe-Soltani, ACORN Cardiff campaigner and National Coordinating Group member for Momentum, the progressive wing of the UK Labour party, commented this afternoon: “Whilst this is a step forward in the right direction, it’s a baby step.

“Tenants’ rights activists were hopeful this would be the deal that would bring us much-awaited -and much-needed – rent controls.

“Instead it’s a white paper looking into rent controls – Quite different!

“I hope this paper becomes a reality and saves the thousands of people who are desperately waiting for the Welsh Government to take action.”

The National Wales: "Wales is not for sale", the slogan at the centre of campaigning against second home ownership in Wales (Source: Rebecca Wilks)"Wales is not for sale", the slogan at the centre of campaigning against second home ownership in Wales (Source: Rebecca Wilks)

A spokesperson for Shelter Cymru said: “It is brilliant to see such a strong intention to tackle the roots of our national housing emergency at the heart of the Welsh Labour-Plaid Cymru cooperation agreement.

“Action to curb numbers of second and holiday homes, to bring skyrocketing private rents under control, to reform council tax, improve building safety, and bring more homes into common ownership, are so important for the people of Wales.

“Let’s all aim for a future in which homelessness happens only rarely and briefly and isn’t repeated.”

The Plaid Cymru manifesto pledges to form publicly owned construction and energy companies appear confirmed in the Agreement, with the government looking to establish “Ynni Cymru” – the energy firm – over the next two years.

READ MORE: Time to explore publicly-owned energy company for Wales, minister says

Similarly, an implementation plan for the party’s National Care Service election promise will be developed by the close of 2023.

Welsh Labour had previously planned to “consult on a potential Wales-only solution” if the Westminster government failed to bring about a fully funded scheme by 2024.

Other big news in the Agreement included plans to make Welsh history mandatory on school curriculums, to explore the creation of a "shadow" broadcasting authority for Wales, and to expand provision of free school meals to all primary school-age children.

READ MORE: Welsh and Scottish governments demand role in new Ofcom chair

On the broadcasting pledge, the National Communications Council said: “Devolving broadcasting will be of great advantage to Wales and to the Welsh.

"The pandemic has proved that our national stories and priorities are not always reflected in the media’s agendas - there is no doubt that Wales is not reflected in its entirety on the Welsh media let alone on any British platform.

“Using words and phrases such as ‘research into possibilities’, ‘tackling concerns’ and ‘supporting’ although positive, are not enough.

"This whole aim needs more ambition and strong leadership – and quickly, as the current situation has and continues to damage Wales’ identity and its devolved Senedd.”

Nonetheless, the Council called the move a "small but important step on a long journey".

 

 

Last year research by the Child Poverty Action Group found that more than half of impoverished children in Wales are unable to access to free school meals, due to the scheme’s eligibility criteria: Most Welsh children living in poverty come from working families who earn above the income threshold for free school meals.

Wales, unlike other UK countries, does not offer universal free school meals for infant school children, meaning that its free school meals offering is considered the most limited in the UK.

READ MORE: Warning from poverty charities in Wales over school uniform costs

A previous Plaid Cymru motion to expand FSM provision, inspired by grassroots campaigning, was voted down twice by Welsh Labour in the Senedd, owing to concerns about costs.

The National Wales: Previous votes on expanding free school meal provision in Wales caused significant controversy. (Source: Senedd)Previous votes on expanding free school meal provision in Wales caused significant controversy. (Source: Senedd)

Adam Johannes, a leading Welsh campaigner for universal free school meals and a member of The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, told The National: "Tonight 700 million children in the world will go to bed hungry, today's amazing announcement should help ensure that not one of them is in Wales.

“Free school meals need to be rolled out as quickly as practically feasible to all families on universal credit and the youngest infants most vulnerable to poverty.

“Low-income families can't wait – the cost-of-living crisis is exploding.”

Johannes stressed that meals provided to children must be hot, nutritious, and, ideally, sourced from local producers.

READ MORE: Free school meals is an odd hill for Welsh Labour to die on

Locally-produced food has its own mention in the Agreement, with Plaid and Labour pledging to develop a “community food strategy” to encourage the production and supply of locally-sourced food.

The deal covers pledges on agricultural policy, including a “transition period” for farmers’ financial support as the controversial Sustainable Farming Scheme is implemented.

There also appears to be a direct response to criticism of the Welsh Government’s tree planting scheme, as the Agreement promises to “explore ways of drawing investment for woodland creation that secures local ownership and control,” and offers “support for active landowners and farmers”.

The National has previously reported on fears that Welsh farmland was being sold off wholesale to international companies looking to undertake “carbon offsetting” projects.

Campaigner for sustainable Welsh agriculture, Siwan Clarke, said the announcements today mark a positive step, but emphasised the need for caution.

"They're gesturing at the right things - but is any of it going to happen in practice?" Clarke said.

Only time will tell.

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