Wales politics

What is in new First Minister Mark Drakeford's inbox?

Mark Drakeford Image copyright Wales News Service
Image caption Mark Drakeford (centre) defeated Vaughan Gething and Eluned Morgan to become Welsh Labour leader

After AMs nominated Mark Drakeford to be Wales' new first minister on Wednesday, Mark Drakeford just needs his appointment confirmed by the Queen before he can be sworn into office by a senior judge.

He can then turn his attention to some urgent matters.

Expect him to appoint his new cabinet and junior ministers over the next few days, possibly as early as Thursday.

Of the many pressing issues facing Mr Drakeford, the complicated and fast moving saga of Brexit will continue to take up much of the political bandwidth, as it does throughout the rest of the UK.

He has pledged to "speak up for the sort of Brexit that meets the needs of people here in Wales", but can expect to come under increasing pressure to back a further referendum if Westminster remains in deadlock as the clock keeps ticking.

Image caption Carwyn Jones made his final appearance as first minister in the assembly on Tuesday

Another saga, closer to home, has been handed on to Mr Drakeford by Carwyn Jones - the question of whether to build an M4 relief road south of Newport.

Mr Drakeford is currently waiting to see the legal and technical advice being prepared for ministers.

If he decides the scheme is the right way to tackle congestion, he will then face the likely prospect of a judicial review of a decision one Labour politician has warned could cost as much as £1.7bn.

Being Wales' first minister is a more powerful role than it once was, with the Welsh Government having more room for manoeuvre thanks to increased powers devolved from Westminster.

Mr Drakeford will be able to vary income tax rates from next April, with 10p in each of the tax bands going to the Welsh Government.

Image caption The issue of the M4 relief road should be resolved, one way or another, under the new first minister

Labour's 2016 assembly manifesto ruled out income tax rises.

As finance minister, Mr Drakeford said in October he would not "move away" from that commitment unless "compelled to do so".

That leaves open the possibility of tax increases should government income take a big hit, a distinct possibility as Brexit uncertainty continues.

There is also a likely battle over post-Brexit EU aid ahead, with UK ministers so far refusing to confirm the Welsh Government will control a new fund to boost poorer areas.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said the Shared Prosperity Fund needs the "right structure and the right processes" across "the whole of the UK" to ensure money is spent "as effectively as possible".

Carwyn Jones had warned replacing EU aid with a Westminster-run system would betray devolution.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Acquiring income tax powers is a major milestone for the Welsh Government

As always, expect the NHS and social care to loom large, with budget pressures increasing and Wales' population ageing.

Mr Drakeford is sympathetic to suggestions a new tax or levy could fund social care.

But the system would need to ensure people who have not paid in who move across the Welsh border do not unfairly benefit and undermine such a scheme.

Education has come under Liberal Democrat cabinet secretary Kirsty Williams since 2016, and we are told that will remain the case.

But as first minister you are, of course, ultimately responsible for everything your government does.

The new first minister will be lucky if he does not face more stories comparing pupils' performance in global tests unfavourably with elsewhere in the UK.

There is also a new student finance system bedding in and preparations for a new school curriculum under way.

Image caption All trains on the Wales and Borders rail franchise are due to be replaced at a cost of £800m

Then there are the trains.

The early days of Wales' new rail franchise have proved far from smooth.

Transport for Wales (TfW) is offering passengers improvements to services in the future, but the major problems that occurred in November are unlikely to be the last.

Assembly members, and the general public, will hold the first minister ultimately responsible for the successes and failures of the new transport regime.

Mr Drakeford previously got his fingers burnt when, as health minister, he sought a partial e-cigarette ban in 2016, and Plaid Cymru withdrew its support from his plan.

His Labour leadership manifesto included radical plans to banish smoking from town and city centres as well as outdoor areas of cafes and restaurants.

He can expect a big fight on that.

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