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Assembly criticised on timing of council tax move.

THE Welsh Government confused political and legislative processes and "lost sight" of the National Assembly's role in its handling of new council tax benefit (CTB) regulations, an Assembly committee has concluded.

A critical report from the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee published yesterday found communication between Westminster and Cardiff Bay to be "disappointing" and it had "serious concerns" about the handling of the introduction of new regulations to the Assembly. It recommended the committee is consulted earlier in the process where legislation or regulations are up against time constraints.

The debacle meant Assembly Members had to be recalled for a session during recess - for only the third time in the Senedd's history - after AMs refused to suspend the chamber's rules to wave through new regulations for CTB.

AMs criticised then-Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant's handling of the debacle, saying he had presented new, complex regulations to them just an hour before they were expected to vote to put them in place, and refused a government request to suspend normal rules of the Senedd to allow a vote.

Mr Sargeant had blamed delays from Westminster in obtaining figures necessary to draft new Welsh regulations after CTB was devolved to Welsh council level, complete with a 10% cut in the money available.

It was feared that - if the regulations were not passed - CTB may not be in place for up to 330,000 households that receive the benefit when the new financial year began in April.

The Assembly later voted in favour of revised regulations in a special session on December 19 following scrutiny from the committee, and the insertion of a "sunset clause" to revisit the regulations next year.

The Welsh Government also made a U-turn on previous assertions it could not afford to make up the PS22m shortfall in funding created by the cut in CTB, and pledged to meet existing provision for households.

"The committee has serious concerns about the handling of these regulations," David Melding, chair of the committee, said.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: "We thank the committee for its time in producing this report.

We will study it carefully and respond in due course."
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 22, 2013
Words:358
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