Wales politics

Welsh Government ministers face political headaches

In-tray and out-tray Image copyright Thinkstock

Many of the ministers in the new Welsh Government face bulging in-trays full of political headaches. We take a look at the challenges ahead.

Education - Kirsty Williams

Subject to her party's approval of the appointment, the sole Liberal Democrat in a team of Labour ministers faces a string of thorny issues. Not least tuition fees, which badly damaged the fortunes of the Lib Dems in the UK Parliament following a broken promise not to increase fees in England.

With little agreement between the parties on the way forward in Wales, all eyes are on the Diamond review into higher education funding due to be published in September. The Labour manifesto only promised a better deal for Welsh students than that on offer in England, but as the new education secretary will Ms Williams have to implement an increase in costs?

She will also have to respond to the international Pisa school test rankings, in which Wales tends to perform poorly. A target to get Wales into the top 20 worldwide was dropped in 2014. The latest statistics are out in November/December. Will it suit Labour to let a Lib Dem minister carry the can if the results are bad?

Health - Vaughan Gething

One of Welsh Labour's rising stars, Mr Gething is promoted from deputy health minister to the senior role after being the public face for the government on issues such as ambulance response times and troubles at the Betsi Cadwaladr health board in north Wales.

With health spending taking up nearly half the Welsh Government's budget and ministers under constant pressure over NHS waiting times, this is one of the toughest jobs in the cabinet.

Mr Gething will also be expected to introduce a new Public Health Bill after previous attempts were scuppered by a row over whether e-cigarettes should be banned in some public places.

Economy - Ken Skates

A promotion for another rising star, who was deputy to the outgoing Economy Minister Edwina Hart. She was a strong supporter of the £1.1bn M4 relief road scheme to build a new motorway south of Newport. But there's opposition within the Labour group in Cardiff Bay, with Plaid Cymru also opposed. Will the project go ahead? Will there be a compromise on a cheaper upgrade to existing roads?

Plans for the South Wales Metro - a £600m project to boost public transport - will need to be implemented by the Clwyd South AM, who also will face calls not to forget the needs of north Wales. He will also lead the Welsh Government's response to the crisis in the steel industry.

And there is the question mark hanging over the Circuit of Wales motorsport project in Ebbw Vale. Just before the election Ms Hart said the Welsh Government would not underwrite a funding contribution from insurance giant Aviva, but there's now a new version of the plan on the table awaiting the minister's verdict.

Finance and Local Government - Mark Drakeford

Health minister in the previous government, Mr Drakeford will have to decide whether to carry on with a planned shake-up of local councils, championed by former Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews, who lost his seat at the election. He wanted to cut the number of authorities from 22 to eight or nine. But the relevant legislation has not been passed and there is little consensus with the other parties on the way forward. Is it worth persevering?

On the finance side, most of the leg-work has been done to ensure that the Welsh Government is ready to take on new tax-collecting responsibilities from April 2018. But there are plans to hand powers of income tax collection and rates to the Welsh Government soon. This would make Mr Drakeford a much more powerful figure than the previous finance minister Jane Hutt.

He will also have to negotiate the annual Welsh Government budget, with the prospect of further cuts to implement and the political need to hold talks with Plaid Cymru to ensure £16bn worth of spending plans get through the Senedd.

More on this story