Trwy barhau i ddefnyddio'r wefan, rydych yn cytuno i osod nifer fechan o gwcis. Polisi cwcis

Desktop
Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
 
 
You are in :
Nôl i'r rhestr dogfennau Gweld y dudalen hon heb lincs
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
 
13:30
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Good afternoon. The Assembly is now in session.
 
Questions to the Minister for Natural Resources
Wild Animals in Circuses
 
13:30
Christine ChapmanBiography
1. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government’s position regarding the use of wild animals in circuses? OAQ(4)0229(NR)
 
13:30
Rebecca EvansBiographyThe Deputy Minister for Farming and Food
The Welsh Government believes that there is no place for wild animals in circuses. We remain willing to work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to introduce an England and Wales ban on the use of exotic wild animals in circuses.
 
13:30
Christine ChapmanBiography
I know that this is a cause that you have previously been passionate about, so I am pleased to hear that. I understand that there are concerns over the delays in the UK Government bringing forward legislation to ban the use of wild animals in circuses that would cover Wales, and that temporary regulations, which have been introduced, do not apply here. What discussions is the Welsh Government having to ensure that a ban on wild animals is brought in by the UK Government before the next general election, and if it fails to do so, what measures can be introduced to specifically cover Wales?
 
13:31
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you for that question. The previous Minister wrote to Lord de Mauley back in July 2013, confirming that the Welsh Government was keen to work with DEFRA to bring forward joint parliamentary legislation to ban the use of wild animals in circuses in both England and Wales. Three months ago, I wrote to Lord de Mauley myself, soon after coming into post really, to say that I was keen to have some progress on this. As I say, that was three months ago, but I did receive a reply today, so I think that perhaps your question has helpfully speeded that along. He has indicated that he is prepared to meet to discuss how things can be taken forward further, so I would be happy to provide an update to Members following that meeting.
 
With regard to what we can do here insofar as regulations are concerned, I can ask my officials to explore whether we can come to a section 83 agreement under the Government of Wales Act 2006, to try to see if we can make those regulations currently in place in England applicable to Wales. However, we should mention that there are no circuses with wild animals based in Wales, although they do occasionally visit.
 
13:32
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Thank you for that update, Deputy Minister. The majority of local authorities in Wales have actually banned circuses using wild animals on public land in their local council area. So, when you are looking at the options that Welsh Government has in taking action here, would you also ask your officials to approach the number of Welsh councils that have not yet passed such regulations and ask them to do so, as it would effectively implement a ban, certainly on publicly owned land here in Wales?
 
13:33
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you for that contribution. I would be more than happy to do so.
 
13:33
Jocelyn DaviesBiography
Of course, Minister, as a backbencher, you were promoting a private Members’ Bill on this very topic, and I entirely agree with that proposal. I think that if you are looking at regulations, it would be very nice, now that you have got a ministerial position, that you actually bring that legislation to us.
 
13:33
Rebecca EvansBiography
I did not notice a question there, but with regard to regulations, the time that it would take to bring regulations through the Assembly would be quite lengthy and I do have other priorities now within my portfolio, such as bringing forward the dog breeding regulations and the micro-chipping regulations, which is why I think that the section 83 agreement might be the most speedy and simple way in order to bring those regulations into force in Wales.
 
Recycling Rates
 
13:34
Sandy MewiesBiography
2. Will the Minister provide an update on recycling rates in Wales? OAQ(4)0224(NR)
 
13:34
Carl SargeantBiographyThe Minister for Natural Resources
I thank the Member for Delyn for her question. The percentage of local authority municipal waste, excluding abandoned vehicles, that was re-used, recycled or composted has continued to increase since 2000-01, reaching 54.3% in 2013-14. In 2012, the construction and demolition sector recycled 87% and the industrial and commercial sector recycled 58%.
 
13:34
Sandy MewiesBiography
I am particularly pleased, of course, that Flintshire, in which both of our constituencies lie, is one of those local authorities continuing to increase its rate of recycling and composting. However, improvements in many areas are slowing down, and in some areas there has been a disappointing drop in the recycling rate. Minister, have you been able to identify the reasons for that, and what actions can you take to ensure that improvements are made across the board?
 
13:34
Carl SargeantBiography
The Member is right to recognise the success rates by local authorities across Wales. We now have the fourth best recycling rate in the whole of Europe, which is something that we should be incredibly proud of. However, there are still some local authorities struggling with the principle of diversion and recycling targets, and it is something that my team works with local authorities to deliver on. We are using the collaborative change programme, which is about funding and support mechanisms for local authorities. However, there is a blueprint on recycling and waste management that we subscribe to, and we hope local authorities will adopt that principle. It will be the game changer if we could get it established across the whole of the UK—the whole of Wales, sorry.
 
13:35
Russell GeorgeBiography
Minister, you may be aware that Machynlleth recycling centre is closing soon, and there are fears in the local community that this will add to reduced rates of recycling and also fly-tipping. Is there anything the Welsh Government can do to allay these fears?
 
13:36
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, of course. If I was a local constituent, I would go straight to my councillor, and the Member, of course, is a member of Powys County Council. The issue is that he is a member of the council making these decisions on the principle of recycling; that is a matter for the local authority and all councillors who sit on that local authority.
 
13:36
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
We know that tens of thousands of tonnes of materials that are recycled are currently exported. May I ask you what efforts the Welsh Government is making to ensure that there is yet more capacity within Wales in order to recycle more, so that we get the economic benefit from that?
 
13:36
Carl SargeantBiography
Of course; the Member is right to raise this very issue. I have asked my team for an update in terms of the end of life of all recyclates, and how best we can benefit from that. There is a great opportunity for local authorities to recycle and to gain income from that waste stream. It is something that, again, the blueprint encourages local authorities to do, and something that I am very keen to enhance.
 
13:37
Eluned ParrottBiography
Recycling rates, obviously, are on an upward trend, and that is good news. However, the recent fall in Cardiff, I think, shows that we cannot be complacent—on the figures, or on the public’s ability to understand 22 different recycling systems across Wales. What preparatory work has been done regarding the merging and the simplifying of those systems, ahead of any council mergers, which will inevitably lead to further changes in household recycling collections?
 
13:37
Carl SargeantBiography
As I said in a previous debate on recycling, I do not think that we should have the issue of merger being a factor that will complicate these issues. There are already targets in place for local authorities to deliver on, and they are very successful. As for Cardiff, I have spoken to the authority. There were some circumstances that were beyond its control with regard to the way the targets were missed, unfortunately, last year, but it is something that it is committed to working with me on. Again, we all need to take ownership of the recycling agenda, and that includes Government, local authorities, and the people in the communities that we all represent.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
13:38
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
First this afternoon, we have Plaid Cymru—Llyr Gruffydd.
 
13:38
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Minister, the First Minister, in his oral statement on the legislative programme back in July of this year, when mentioning the Planning (Wales) Bill, said that the Government wants communities to be able to influence how places grow and change. Do you not appreciate that, actually, there may be a danger that the proposals are moving to a more top-down structure, where you have local development plans that are beholden to strategic development plans, on a regional level, which, in turn, will be beholden to the national development framework, and that, actually, there is a danger that that community voice will be diminished?
 
13:39
Carl SargeantBiography
Of course, I am grateful for the Member’s question today. However, that is not the case, and is not what is happening within the planning Bill structure. Local development plans will absolutely be at the heart of communities, and the involvement that currently exists. The principle of strategic development plans, which will again be owned by local authorities across the strategic development area, will still relate to the local development plans that are created at the local level that the Member has concerns about. However, the democratic process is indeed very important to me, as well as to the communities that he represents, and that is something that we will continue to do, including in the planning Bill and the new framework powers that we will bring forward with that.
 
13:39
Llyr GruffyddBiography
The panels that will be responsible for the strategic development plans, as outlined, will be made up of a third of elected members who would be representatives from various sectors. Would you consider adopting a model similar to the Scottish model, where anyone who is not democratically accountable—in other words, local councillors would form the strategic panel, but they would be allowed to co-opt non-voting members from other sectors?
 
13:40
Carl SargeantBiography
Yes.
 
13:40
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Thank you very much; that is positive. Again, in relation to the strategic development panels, is there not a danger, do you think, given that the latest betting, apparently, is for six local authorities in Wales, that those local planning authorities would be, in essence, more regional in their nature and that creating strategic development plans would be largely redundant by the time that we get there?
 
13:40
Carl SargeantBiography
Indeed. The Bill is futureproof, we believe, in terms of legislation profile. We understand that any mergers or changes to the boundaries of local authorities will have no effect in terms of the way the planning Bill operates. In fact, the Member is absolutely right to suggest that larger local authorities will not need to have a strategic development plan, as they will, in essence, be a larger region in themselves, and therefore they will have created an LDP local to the region that they represent.
 
13:41
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I call the opposition spokesperson—Antoinette Sandbach.
 
13:41
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Minister, this week you wrote to us regarding Ynni’r Fro, your community energy programme. According to the figures released in your letter, over £1 million of the current spend of just over £3 million had been spent on technical development officer support. Do you think that that has achieved value for money for the programme?
 
13:41
Carl SargeantBiography
We make no apology for helping communities to help themselves on the issue of energy need. We think that this is a long-term project, starting to develop effectively and, of course, we will continue to work across the whole of Wales. There are 53 schemes in many of the constituencies that are represented by many Members in this Chamber and I am sure that it is welcome by most.
 
13:42
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Minister, of course, it was a long-term programme due to finish in March of next year. Only one community scheme has actually been built and that community scheme at Penllergaer in Swansea is being forced to be turned off regularly by Natural Resources Wales because of the impact that it is having on migratory salmon. It has been described by an insider as an ecological, financial and political disaster. Why, Minister, did your technical development officers, on which you have spent over £1 million, not pick up the problems of migratory salmon and the impact that they might have on a project that is now likely not to generate the electricity that you believed that it would?
 
13:42
Carl SargeantBiography
I cannot help but recognise that the Member is not too fond of this scheme. The fact of the matter is that many communities are. There are 53 schemes in the pipeline that are due to be enabled. The Member does raise the very important issue that, to date, there is one scheme that has been enabled, but there are many more in the pipeline, so you cannot attribute that funding to just one scheme; there are many more in the pipeline that will deliver for the communities across Wales.
 
The Member is right; when we are making an assessment of the use of an energy source, we should consider the issues of migratory salmon and other elements that should be considered in the business plan. I am not aware of that particular issue that the Member refers to, but the Member, with other colleagues in her party, appears with these ‘insiders’; please ask them to come to see me because I am more than happy to have a conversation with them.
 
13:43
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Minister, I am sure that if you ask your officials to look into the project or if you speak to NRW, you will find out that what I am suggesting to you is, in fact, correct and true.
 
In 2012, your predecessor, John Griffiths, suggested that 22 Ynni’r Fro-supported schemes were meant to have been completed by March 2015. Only three schemes are scheduled to be completed by March 2015. In your list of 50 projects, provided yesterday, with completion dates spanning between now and 2018, you indicated that some of these specific schemes may not see completion. How many, Minister, do you anticipate will not see completion and can you really stand there and say to the taxpayers of Wales that this scheme has provided value for money in these circumstances?
 
13:44
Carl SargeantBiography
Absolutely. There is generation happening; we are looking to the other schemes to complete. The Member clearly has a downer on community energy projects and that is a real disappointment because, actually, most of our communities across Wales will benefit from this programme and the investment of long-term energy opportunities for our communities. It is a shame that the Member does not also agree with us.
 
13:45
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesperson, William Powell.
 
13:45
William PowellBiography
Diolch yn fawr, Lywydd. Will the Deputy Minister make a statement on her recent visit to John Owen’s upland farm in Conwy?
 
13:45
Rebecca EvansBiography
I would be delighted to. I had a visit to the farm in Conwy just last Thursday. It was really productive. It was organised by the National Farmers’ Union. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the challenges facing upland hill farmers particularly. The Member will be aware that I am very limited in terms of what I can say with regard to that, because of the judicial review that is currently going on. However, the meeting was very productive.
 
13:45
William PowellBiography
I am very grateful to the Deputy Minister for that response. I am sure that Mr Owen, in his role as chairman of NFU Cymru’s less favoured area board, did indeed take the opportunity to explain the constraints that he faces in his farming, and also the consequences of your predecessor’s decision in terms of ending dedicated support to the uplands. However, without wishing to become something of a broken record, I think it is worth emphasising that EU rural development plan regulations do still allow the enactment of a differential strategy to support farmers who face those challenges. In that context, Deputy Minister, and given the fresh insights that you have gained during that visit, will you please give fresh impetus to efforts to address that, not through pillar 1, but through the RDP, so that these difficulties are alleviated for those farmers that face them?
 
13:46
Rebecca EvansBiography
As a result of that productive meeting that we had in John Owen’s farm recently, I did arrange for my officials to have a round table discussion with the NFU to look specifically at what we can do under the RDP to help hill farmers in particular. I did, however, ask them to consider ideas that are not based on headage payments or area-based schemes, because part of the purpose behind our approach to reform of the common agricultural policy is to make a system that is fair and targets support at where it is most needed. Headage payments and area-based schemes do tend to be quite blunt instruments in terms of often giving extra money to people who are doing very well, and perhaps taking money out of the pot, then, that could be used for more constructive schemes that might be looked at, for example, sustainable production grants or making improvements to the supply chain, and so on. That meeting will take place shortly.
 
13:47
William PowellBiography
Thank you again, Deputy Minister, for that response. Another aspect that you have repeatedly emphasised as being important is seeking innovation in agriculture through the RDP. Last week saw the launch, under the interim chairmanship of Andrew R.T. Davies, of the cross-party group on shooting and conservation. As you will be aware, shooting currently accounts for some 2,900 jobs in Wales and contributes around £75 million to our gross value added. In that context, Deputy Minister, and with the stated intent that exists to develop further this sector, particularly in the Welsh uplands, what targets do you have to promote shooting and related conservation activities over the remainder of this Assembly term?
 
13:48
Rebecca EvansBiography
Well, the Minister for Natural Resources has overall responsibility for conservation, and he has obviously heard what you said. I am familiar with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation’s report, which I think you referred to in the figures that you have quoted to me. I have received a copy of that report and I have read it.
 
I should say from the outset, really, that I am sensitive to the fact that there are a variety of views on this particular issue insofar as shooting sports are concerned, but, of course, any applications for funding from any group will be considered equally. I know that the British Association for Shooting and Conservation does have a productive relationship with Government in terms of the advice and information that it gives to us in responding to consultations, and so forth.
 
13:49
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move back to questions on the paper, and question 3 is from Gwenda Thomas.
 
Opencast Mining
 
13:49
Gwenda ThomasBiography
3. Will the Minister outline what measures are in place to ensure that open cast mining companies reinstate the land at completion of operations? OAQ(4)0220(NR)
 
13:49
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for Neath for her question. National planning policy on securing restoration is contained in ‘Minerals Planning Policy Wales’ and ‘Minerals Technical Advice Note 2: Coal’. These documents describe the measures available.
 
13:49
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Thank you for that response, Minister. There has been a hole in the ground of some description in the upper Amman Valley since 1948. Following application after application, and extension after extension after extension, we have reached the point where the current hole may be the final hole. There is now an application for the restoration of this site, which, as you are aware, Minister, I have asked to be called in. Many of my constituents have lived alongside, and have supported, the coaling operations throughout this time. Unfortunately, over recent years, the relationship between the operator, the landowner and the surrounding communities appears to have become unstuck. Minister, what discussions have you had with the opencast industry to persuade the operators to live up to their responsibility to be good neighbours, both during coaling and at the end of operations, and, specifically, to meet residents’ expectation of the restoration of former sites?
 
13:50
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her question, and, if I may, Presiding Officer, without prejudice to any planning application before me or that has been made in the past, make some general comments with regard to opencast, I think that the Member is absolutely right that communities should be at the heart of the consideration of these determinations, recognising that many communities have been blighted by the landscape where the conditions of application have not been met, or, indeed, restoration has not occurred. I have recently received research on the issue across Wales on sites. I have met with the Coal Authority recently to ask it to provide me with some more details at the planning stages of understanding how this could operate better. However, it is something that I am aware of, and I know the Member and others in this Chamber make regular representation on this.
 
13:51
William GrahamBiography
The Minister will know that Celtic Energy, based in Caerphilly, has proposed restoration strategies for its particular opencast developments, which include replacing forestry plantations, reflecting the traditional use of the land, reinstating watercourses and improved public access. Are these exemplars that the Minister would endorse in all applications of this kind?
 
13:52
Carl SargeantBiography
Again, if I may, I will just say this the once, Presiding Officer: this does not prejudice me in making any decisions I may make in the future regarding any application. The issue for me is ensuring that communities fully understand what the consequences are of coal extraction and how that will be completed at the end of the programme, regardless of the developer or regardless of area.
 
13:52
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Minister, now that the court cases involving the directors of Celtic Energy and Oak Regeneration have been dismissed, I am wondering whether you can discuss the ramifications of these outcomes in this Chamber. If you read Mr Justice Hickinbottom’s ruling on 18 February, you will see that it contains many worrying details of this alleged conspiracy. Setting aside the rights and wrongs of this case, how can your Government make sure that this does not happen again? You mention the report on the restoration of opencast sites, and I have sent you a lengthy response as to my suggestions. Minister, when will you be acting on this? I disagree that they are friendly neighbours. These opencast sites are a blight on our communities and we need to make sure that they are restored and that we do not have these holes appearing in other parts of Wales.
 
13:53
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, of course, I will make the Chamber aware of my response to the document that we commissioned in terms of restoration. It is an important activity that does take place, but it has to be within the remit of being affordable at all stages, including extraction and restoration. That is something that I am keen on and my officials are giving me further advice on.
 
13:53
David ReesBiography
Minister, I agree with Bethan Jenkins on the fact that there are some serious questions around restoration, particularly in the pit in Margam, the Parc Slip pit, which is also a big hole, which is now filling up with water and therefore could pose a danger to local residents. What are you doing about helping local authorities? Whereas Celtic Energy may have said something about Caerphilly, it actually got rid of the problem by selling off that site to Oak Regeneration, and Oak Regeneration is now claiming that it has no money for restoration work and it is going to end up with a problem on that site. What are you going to do to help local authorities tackle the restoration issues, and, in future, are you going to ensure that bonds are in place to ensure that this situation does not arise anywhere else in Wales?
 
13:54
Carl SargeantBiography
I think the Member raises an important issue around the bond process and how we can establish cash upfront, effectively, to give communities reassurance on the restoration profile of development. This is something that I am giving serious consideration to, but, again, I refer to my previous comments on specific applications, current or past.
 
Sewin Stocks
 
13:54
Elin JonesBiography
4. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to protect and increase sewin stocks in our rivers? OAQ(4)0233(NR)
 
13:54
Carl SargeantBiography
Thank you for your question. Welsh Government provides funding to Natural Resources Wales to fulfil its statutory role to maintain, improve and develop fisheries.
 
13:55
Elin JonesBiography
Minister, traditionally, sewin has been a crucially important fish in the Teifi river, in my constituency and the constituencies of others in this Chamber, and part of the success of fishing clubs along that river. In 2002, 5,000 sewin were caught on the Teifi, but only 1,500 in 2013. In that period, the percentage of catch and release has increased significantly among the fishing clubs. Local fishermen have written a report on some of the reasons behind this population decline, including the impact of fishing with nets on the Teifi on the numbers of sewin. I will send you a copy of the report, but I ask you specifically to work with Natural Resources Wales in order to develop a proactive programme on our rivers, such as the Teifi, to increase the sewin stock for the future.
 
13:55
Carl SargeantBiography
I share the concern of the Member about ensuring that we have a healthy population and improving in delivering fisheries wherever they are across Wales. It is something that I will be speaking further about with Natural Resources Wales to see how we can enhance our river stocks and, of course, protect species where they need to be protected.
 
13:56
Paul DaviesBiography
Minister, last month, a release of water from Llys y Frân reservoir in my constituency was arranged for the eastern Cleddau river. I understand that it was the first time that the fisheries water bank has been used to help fish stocks in the Cleddau. In light of this release, what projected outcome does the Welsh Government anticipate seeing in relation to sewin stocks in the eastern Cleddau, and, indeed, in rivers across Wales?
 
13:56
Carl SargeantBiography
I do not have any detail in response to the Member’s question today, but I will write to the Member with any further details I may have.
 
EIDCymru
 
13:56
Aled RobertsBiography
5. Will the Minister provide an update on the outcome of the EIDCymru consultation? OAQ(4)0228(NR)
 
13:57
Rebecca EvansBiography
I have issued a written statement today detailing the outcome of the EIDCymru and slaughter derogation consultation. This includes details of the timetable for implementation of EIDCymru.
 
13:57
Aled RobertsBiography
I am sure that farmers will be very grateful for this morning’s statement. May I ask you whether there are any concerns about the delay of around a year? This regime will not be implemented until January 2016. So, are there any concerns about those delays, particularly in terms of cross-border issues, where many farmers in north Wales go to market in England, and vice versa? The system has been in operation for some years now in England. May I also ask you whether you are willing to give some sort of pledge today that the ‘Working Smarter’ recommendations will be implemented for this new system, because many are concerned that, because the electronic systems are not entirely reliable, there is a great deal of paperwork that farmers will have to complete?
 
13:58
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you for those questions. As you will know, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs introduced the animal reporting and movement service, ARAMS, system for sheep movement in England. Actually, it has been useful that it went ahead before us because we have been able to learn significant lessons from its experience: in particular, that we need to have adequate time for user acceptance and user testing of the system. My officials are working closely with colleagues in AFFA and DEFRA and the Scottish Government to ensure that links are established to capture those cross-border movements. England and Wales are seeking similar outcomes, but we are developing, as you say, our independent systems. However, officials are working closely with DEFRA and its contractor SouthWestern to ensure that the systems can exchange the relevant data in recognition of those important cross-border issues. With regard to the timetable, it is a priority of mine to deliver on EIDCymru for a number of reasons, not least because it is a European Commission requirement on us to do so and, as you said, it was recommendation 37 in Gareth Williams’s ‘Working Smarter’ report as well. Also, as we seek to open up new markets, improved traceability of our produce is going to become increasingly important in future. We have a livestock identification advisory stakeholder group, and it is its role, really, to advise Government on the pace as we move forward. However, it is a priority of mine to do so.
 
With regard to IT compatibility, the Welsh Government will be providing the necessary codes to all flock management system companies, when we have them, to try to ensure that there is a smooth move to the new system.
 
13:59
Russell GeorgeBiography
Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your previous answer. In light of there being a new European Commissioner responsible for agriculture, has the Welsh Government considered readdressing the issue of tolerance levels for EIDCymru with the European Commission?
 
14:00
Rebecca EvansBiography
The situation currently is that no tolerance will apply in Wales. If I were to allow tolerance, I would be putting the Welsh Government and our individual farming businesses at risk, because the European Commission has made its views on this up to now very clear.
 
Looking ahead, the establishment of EIDCymru will help strengthen our management information systems, and where there are problems and issues, we can certainly use them as a body of evidence to take to the European Commission for discussion and negotiation on the way forward. I have already asked the farming industry in Wales to share its experiences with me, so that we are able to have that body of evidence to take to our discussions with the European Commission. However, when I have the meeting with the new Commissioner, it could be something that we discuss.
 
14:01
Simon ThomasBiography
I welcome the statement this morning. We have been waiting since May for this, of course. One thing that is not in the statement, however, is any decision as regards the reporting period. You will know, in the consultation, that people were very concerned about the fact that you are changing the reporting period from three days to one day, namely 24 hours. Have you made a decision about that period as part of EIDCymru?
 
14:01
Rebecca EvansBiography
The decision on that has not yet been made, but I will be making that decision in consultation with the advisory group, to which I previously referred.
 
Energy Production
 
14:01
Mark IsherwoodBiography
6. Will the Minister outline the Welsh Government’s planning policy in relation to energy production? OAQ(4)0225(NR)
 
14:01
Carl SargeantBiography
Planning policies relating to energy production can be found in ‘Planning Policy Wales’, ‘Minerals Planning Policy Wales’ and the associated technical advice notes.
 
14:01
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Thanks. While ‘Planning Policy Wales’ does not contain specific policies relating to solar farms, it does include general planning about the encouragement of renewable energy sources and the protection of the highest quality agricultural land. However, as you will be aware, Deeside solar park was approved, despite the loss of 109 ha of best and most versatile agricultural land and the proximity of alternative brownfield land. Now, the proposed Trench Farm solar farm planning application near Wrexham would cover 54 acres of heritage greenbelt land, affecting trees, wildlife and woodland walks. How, therefore, do you respond to the statement by the UK environment Secretary, Liz Truss, that the benefits of solar farms do not outweigh the destruction of agricultural land?
 
14:02
Carl SargeantBiography
Actually, planning policy is to do with Wales and not England, and we have our own planning Minister. That is called ‘devolution’. I have tried to meet the relevant Minister with regard to interests that we may have, but, to date, she has not been able to meet with us.
 
Let me just say that, in regard to the specific application, it is a matter for the local planning authority or Planning Inspectorate Wales. It is not a matter for me at this point.
 
14:03
Mick AntoniwBiography
Minister, would you agree with me that not only should resources underground be subject to planning in Wales but that the issue of licences to extract should also be a matter that is devolved to Welsh authority?
 
14:03
Carl SargeantBiography
I would subscribe to the issue that the Member raises, as it is an important one. The Silk commission, obviously, is in consideration around energy consents and that may be, of course, something for further debate with the First Minister and the relevant parties in Westminster.
 
14:03
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
On the continent, in those countries where renewable energy is successful and popular, community schemes form a very high percentage of suppliers. Why, then, does the Welsh Government not make it a planning condition for all renewable energy schemes that they benefit the local community?
 
14:03
Carl SargeantBiography
The issue is microgeneration and support for communities, and schemes such as the Ynni’r Fro scheme are popular with most, apart from one Member on the opposite bench. The fact is that we are very positive in investing Welsh Government funds in communities. Of course, what we do not want to do is be too prescriptive on planning applications, ensuring that community ownership is the key to the development of local communities.
 
14:04
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Minister, I recently met with a company in my constituency keen to diversify its business and use a by-product to create energy via biomass. Utility companies have said that there is no capacity to export that energy into the grid, because holding capacity is pending planning applications in other parts of the county—applications that I believe are unlikely to succeed, because they are not in line with local or national planning policy, yet they could take years to resolve. What discussions can you have with relevant utility companies and Westminster Government officials to improve this system so that viable projects are not held up because of unviable planning applications?
 
14:05
Carl SargeantBiography
The Member raises an important point. I would be very interested in the detail of the scheme she refers to. If she could drop a line to me with that detail, I will take a look at that for her.
 
14:05
David ReesBiography
Minister, the Westminster Government is rushing towards shale gas extraction as though it were something that was going to save the day where energy is concerned. I believe that there is a great deal of work to be done before establishing fracking as a safe process, particularly when applied to the south Wales Valleys. Your predecessor also stated that any application should be on the basis of strong evidence, and so will the Welsh Government be introducing planning guidance for any fracking applications, and will you also introduce a moratorium until reliable evidence has been provided?
 
14:05
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, we are taking a precautionary approach to this whole process and, again, as previously by my colleague, we take all applications on merit, as appropriate. The reality of this issue is that the UK Government is responsible for the policy on unconventional gas exploitation, and it is its responsibility to grant petroleum exploration and development licences that allow for the exploration of the resource. As Mick Antoniw raised earlier, this is about whether we have the powers to make those decisions or whether, as is, the UK Government has those decision-making powers.
 
Welsh Wildlife
 
14:06
Mick AntoniwBiography
7. Will the Minister make a statement on the protection of Welsh wildlife? OAQ(4)0223(NR)
 
14:06
Carl SargeantBiography
Thank you for the Member’s question. I will be launching my vision and action plan for biodiversity, the nature recovery plan for Wales, next year, following the current consultation, which closes on 3 December.
 
14:06
Mick AntoniwBiography
Minister, you will be aware of the Scottish Parliament’s species champions initiative, whereby individual Members of the Scottish Parliament adopt or develop an affinity with certain species. For example, Minister, you might see yourself as the red kite soaring majestically above us, the Tory spokesman might identify with the red squirrel, itself with an invasive species threatening it, and perhaps the Lib Dems’ spokesperson, a hedgehog, which is also becoming an endangered species. [Laughter.] The initiative seems to me to be one that has captured the public imagination. Do you think that there is room for an initiative such as this in Wales?
 
14:07
Carl SargeantBiography
The Member is very kind in his assumption of my being a red kite. The issue is one of merit. I will give that further consideration in the development of the nature recovery plan, but we are looking more at the principle of habitats, as opposed to species. The Member makes a very valid point, and we will look at it carefully.
 
14:07
Darren MillarBiography
Minister, there have been a number of sightings over the years of big cats in the Welsh countryside. [Laughter.] I wonder what research the Welsh Government may have commissioned on the subject of big cats, and the threat that they might pose to native wildlife species.
 
14:08
Carl SargeantBiography
None. [Laughter.]
 
14:08
Jocelyn DaviesBiography
Well, I believe in the big cat.
 
Minister, the recent DEFRA-commissioned study into snares estimates that, depending on the time of year, up to 50,000 fox snares are set in Wales alone. The legislation governing the use of snares is some 30 years old, and I am sure that you share my concerns about the welfare of wild animals and the frequent examples we see of domestic pets being injured by them. Will you undertake to review this legislation, or do you currently think it adequate?
 
14:08
Carl SargeantBiography
I think that the Member is right to raise this issue. It is about the protection of wildlife species, and where snares are misused or ill placed, that is inappropriate and is something that I will give consideration to with my Deputy Minister.
 
Tackling Fuel Poverty
 
14:09
Mark IsherwoodBiography
8. Will the Minister outline the Welsh Government’s priorities in tackling fuel poverty? OAQ(4)0226(NR)
 
14:09
Carl SargeantBiography
The Welsh Government is committed to tackling fuel poverty, and we are doing this through our energy efficiency programmes, which include Nest and Arbed.
 
14:09
Mark IsherwoodBiography
How will you engage—and I hope you will—with the Bevan Foundation regarding its comments to the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee two weeks ago:
 
‘that fuel poverty should have a higher profile in the tackling poverty action plan, because it is a fundamental human need to have a warm home….One of the things that we have flagged up in that is the relatively small impact of the Nest programme against the scale of the problem….Our suggestion is that fuel poverty should be brought more centre stage’?
 
14:09
Carl SargeantBiography
I am grateful for the Member’s view and for that of the third party, but let me outline that the Welsh Government’s fuel poverty strategy was published in 2010. It sets out key actions that we will be taking to tackle fuel poverty, which include improving the energy efficiency of homes and low-income households. Since publishing the strategy, we have significantly increased our investment, and Nest and Arbed are two very successful schemes running through Wales, with over 9,000 homes across Wales being invested in as part of our energy efficiency programme.
 
14:10
Mike HedgesBiography
Will the Minister join me in recognising the important work being done by Communities First in supporting residents to get the best deal on fuel?
 
14:10
Carl SargeantBiography
Elements like Communities First, in helping local residents to secure energy through the best deal collectively, is something that we would welcome. Again, departments across Government are working together to ensure that we can roll this best practice out across Wales.
 
14:10
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Minister, you have referred to Nest as a very successful project. How do you respond, therefore, to the estimate in the Bevan report on poverty that it will take 78 years for Nest to reach each and every home suffering from fuel poverty in Wales?
 
14:11
Carl SargeantBiography
I am disappointed by the fact that it will take so long with regard to achieving success. However, what you can be assured of is that this Labour Welsh Government will ensure that we tackle the issues around poverty in our most deprived areas first, working with communities for communities, not as they are doing in London: changing or moving the goalposts in terms of measuring poverty as a whole.
 
14:11
Mick AntoniwBiography
Can the Minister confirm his support for an energy price freeze as a vital first step in tackling fuel poverty? Does he agree with me that, despite the rubbishing of this policy by Plaid last week, their support for our amendment has at least shown them to be more progressive than their Westminster counterparts?
 
14:11
Carl SargeantBiography
I am grateful for the Member’s question, of course. As the Labour administration in Westminster, London and across the UK has said, if it comes into power in the next general election, there will be a fuel price freeze, which is something that we subscribed to in a vote only the other week, although unfortunately not supported by the Conservative group opposite.
 
Emergency Communications (Animal Health Incidents)
 
14:12
William PowellBiography
9. Will the Minister make a statement on emergency communications procedures for animal health incidents? OAQ(4)0232(NR)
 
14:12
Rebecca EvansBiography
Communications procedures are explained in the ‘Welsh Government Contingency Plan for Exotic Animal Diseases 2014’, which was updated and re-published last month. This includes updating the Welsh Government website, issuing ministerial statements and press notices, and using social media.
 
14:12
William PowellBiography
Thank you, Deputy Minister, for that response. Also, thank you for the meeting that you gave to me and to the other spokespeople just last week on the current avian flu outbreak in Yorkshire and its potential implications for us here in Wales. It is abundantly clear that a coherent communications strategy is, of course, essential when we are dealing with incidents of this kind. We saw that as long ago as 2001, during the original foot-and-mouth disease incident, and then subsequently also how important that is. In the context of this, Deputy Minister, to what extent do you think it necessary to further integrate the communications systems that exist with local authorities in Wales into Welsh Government, to have a more seamless approach, particularly given the potential turbulence that could result from local government reorganisation?
 
14:13
Rebecca EvansBiography
Well, that question, I suppose, relates back to the contingency plan and the way in which local authorities are integral to that. I think that local authorities, when there is an outbreak of animal disease, are integral in terms of providing advice on the ground, but I think that more important, almost, are the roles of individual veterinarians in terms of advising the farmers they work with, and the wildlife groups and so forth. I will certainly bear this in mind and give it some further consideration.
 
14:14
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Deputy Minister, thank you for updating us on the updating of the website, ministerial statements et cetera, but what efforts are made by the Government to rehearse these communications? When a major incident occurs—and I cast my mind back to the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak—obviously there was a plethora of organisations involved, from the police to local authorities, from central Government here to voluntary organisations and unions, all of which came together. That is a huge organisational project, leave alone the routes of communication required to pull everyone together. So, what type of rehearsals are undertaken by Government to see that these procedures work in practice, rather than waiting for the actual events to happen on the ground, which none of us wants to see again in Wales?
 
14:14
Rebecca EvansBiography
We do have tests, or rehearsals, on a Wales basis but also on a UK basis, because we know that animal diseases do not respect boundaries, if you like. The next large-scale rehearsal is due towards the end of next year.
 
Renewable Community Energy Projects
 
14:15
Julie MorganBiography
10. What plans does the Minister have to develop renewable community energy projects in Wales? OAQ(4)0230(NR)
 
14:15
Carl SargeantBiography
The Welsh Government is committed to the development of community-led renewable energy projects after the current Ynni’r Fro scheme ends in March 2015.
 
14:15
Julie MorganBiography
I thank the Minister for that response. I am sure the Minister is aware of the radical changes they have made in Germany to their energy production, with a huge increase in renewables from 6% in 2000 to 20% in 2011 and the aim of getting to 35% by 2020. Does he agree that if Wales is to develop renewables in that sort of way, it is a long-term process and it is very important that we sow the seeds now, working with local communities?
 
14:15
Carl SargeantBiography
Indeed. The Member raises a very important issue. I am very keen to learn from the experiences of our European partners in developing schemes in order to develop them with communities in Wales. The Member is also right to say that this is about the catalyst to change. The Ynni’r Fro scheme is that very scheme where we are investing in our communities, learning lots from the difficulties and challenges faced in planning and the demographics of such a change. However, it is about being positive and having the opportunity to make those changes with communities for communities.
 
14:16
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Thank you, Minister. Well, of course, the projects in Germany require connection to a smart network. One of the barriers, not just to communities but to individuals taking up renewable energy schemes, is the connection costs that they are required to pay, and particularly the connection costs if you are to measure your contribution in electricity generation. Minister, what discussions have you had to look at those costs and to see how much of a barrier that is proving to be to take-up? In fact, do you have any evidence from Ynni’r Fro itself that that is proving a barrier to take-up?
 
14:16
Carl SargeantBiography
I have tasked my team to start looking at energy generation in terms of opportunities and new projects that could be brought forward. This is something that I will update the Chamber on when I have further details, Presiding Officer.
 
14:17
Mick AntoniwBiography
In my constituency, in Treforest, there is a hydro project that is reaching the middle stages of development, and one of the complications is, of course, the degree of real expertise in finance and corporate matters that these trusts often need in order to become a reality. What level of support of that type is available to these projects?
 
14:17
Carl SargeantBiography
The Treforest group can access the full support of specialist technical development officers through the Welsh Government’s Ynni’r Fro scheme. The development officer will be able to explain to the group the whole process of developing a hydro project of this kind. It will also be given help to access preparatory grant funding of up to £30,000, should it wish to pursue that programme and be a valid programme in which to invest.
 
14:17
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister. I call Russell George on a point of order.
 
14:18
Russell GeorgeBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. In his answer to my question in relation to question 2, the Minister suggested that a local resident of Machynlleth could contact me as their local county councillor. I am not a county councillor for Machynlleth and it is wrong to suggest that a resident could contact me to make representations on their behalf in this regard. Neither am I a member of the council's executive or Cabinet, which make decisions on council matters.
 
I am grateful to you for allowing me to point out the Minister’s error and to put this on the record.
 
14:18
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I am sorry; do not expand it too much. That was not a point of order. That was a point of information and I am sure the Minister heard what you said.
 
Questions to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
The Impact of Welfare Reform in Torfaen
 
14:18
Lynne NeagleBiography
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the impact of welfare reform in Torfaen? OAQ(4)0260(CTP)
 
14:18
Lesley GriffithsBiographyThe Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
We estimate the UK Government’s welfare reforms will reduce annual benefit and tax credit entitlements in Torfaen by £30 million in 2015-16. Although losses will vary depending on individual circumstances, the average annual loss per working-age adult in Torfaen is estimated to be £540.
 
14:19
Lynne NeagleBiography
Thanks, Minister, for those very sobering figures. You will recall that, during the welfare reform debate yesterday, I raised the situation where the local authority in Torfaen is spending £352,000 annually on discretionary housing payments, yet only receives a grant of £244,000 from the Department for Work and Pensions. Now, I understand that the shortfall is currently met by a mixture of funding from Welsh Government and is topped up by the local authority, and, as we know, local authorities are under huge pressures because of UK Government funding cuts. Will you commit to working closely with Torfaen and other authorities facing this kind of shortfall? Will you also make it clear to the Treasury that it is unacceptable for councils like Torfaen to be short-changed in this way, particularly as there are some authorities that are failing to spend their full allocation?
 
14:20
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, certainly, I will. I do have concerns regarding the inconsistencies in the discretionary housing payment system. My officials are working very closely with the UK Government and Welsh local authorities to agree a discretionary housing payment framework. That would really help things along because it would give applicants as fair and consistent a decision as possible, because some elements of it are very unfair. It will make decisions that are designed to improve outcomes for people and it will help those who are making an effort to help themselves in the first place. So, absolutely, I give you that commitment.
 
14:20
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Minister, the UK Government has made nearly £8 million available to local authorities in Wales in discretionary housing payments, including £244,000 to Torfaen alone to help people affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy. Given that almost two thirds of councils in the United Kingdom spent less than they were allocated in DHP last year, what action has the Minister taken to ensure that councils in Wales are making full and effective use of this funding?
 
14:21
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Clearly, the funding they have given is not enough and what they really need to do is get rid of the bedroom tax.
 
14:21
Jocelyn DaviesBiography
I could not agree more, Minister. We are only about a third of the way into the UK Government’s austerity measures. So, there is much more pain to come. Those least culpable for the financial crisis are being punished the most. The Supporting People programme clearly demonstrates its value by helping the most vulnerable to not become homeless. Of course, that also saves money. In Torfaen, the council can demonstrate that it made a saving of £1,940 to health and social care for just one service user because of the help from the Supporting People team. Will you reconsider the £10 million budget cut that you proposed to this scheme?
 
14:22
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Clearly, as a Welsh Government, we have had to make some very difficult decisions. Within my portfolio, I probably have the four biggest spending programmes, of which Supporting People is one. Decisions taken in previous years have helped cushion the effect of the cut this year for the Supporting People programme. I am having discussions; I was at a mother and baby hostel in Cardiff yesterday morning and it was obviously something that they wanted to discuss with me. We need to help them all we can to manage the cut in the programme and for it not to affect the front-line service. Clearly, local authorities are having to make difficult decisions too.
 
Equality Issues and Poverty
 
14:22
Joyce WatsonBiography
2. Will the Minister make a statement on the link between equality issues and poverty? OAQ(4)0258(CTP)
 
14:23
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Certain groups are more at risk of living in poverty, including disabled people, women, certain ethnic minority groups, lone parents, and young people not in employment, education and training. Our tackling poverty action plan and strategic equality plan include commitments to improve outcomes for those individuals with protected characteristics.
 
14:23
Joyce WatsonBiography
I thank you for that answer, Minister, but recent analysis by the Equality and Human Rights Commission does confirm what we suspect—that Tory-led tax and benefit changes have hit some groups much harder than others. Families with disabled members have lost the most. Women have lost more than men, and ethnic minority groups for various reasons have been disproportionately hit too. In short, the more you earn, the less you have lost, while more low-income families, women and minority groups have been tipped into poverty. Minister, as the universal credit roll-out creeps on, what more can our Welsh Government do to counter the UK Government’s sustained economic attack on those people? How is it working to identify and support those disproportionately hit by these discriminatory austerity policies?
 
14:24
Lesley GriffithsBiography
As we set out yesterday in the debate we had on welfare reform in Plenary, despite the challenges we are all facing, you can be absolutely assured that, as a Government, we will continue to mitigate the impact of the UK Government’s changes where we can by using the levers we do have available. I highlighted yesterday advice services. We have put an extra £2 million into advice services. We cannot plug all the gaps. I think that I made that very clear yesterday. We have also undertaken some research, which Members will be aware of. With a few exceptions, the reforms we have assessed tend to adversely affect more females than males, for instance, and we know that non-working lone-parent households, again most of whom are female, are among those households that have seen the largest income losses from the reforms.
 
14:25
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Minister, the social mobility commission annual report recently revealed that 26% of children who receive free school meals will go on to get five good GCSEs in Wales, compared with 38% in England. Given that every child should have equal access to study, what is the Welsh Government doing to stop poverty being a barrier to achieving good qualifications in Wales?
 
14:25
Lesley GriffithsBiography
We do a great deal of work in our most deprived communities, particularly where there are children involved. You will be aware that the child poverty strategy is currently out to consultation. Within that, we have to look at new areas of poverty that, perhaps, we had not thought about back in 2011—food poverty being one and in-work poverty being another. However, we know that free school meals are a very important aspect of tackling child poverty.
 
14:26
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Minister, you will know that Lansbury Park, or the St James ward, has today been recognised as the most deprived ward in Wales—ironically, it is a ward in the constituency of your predecessor, the local Member for Caerphilly. In your press response, you mention ‘stubborn poverty’ and that there are programmes in place, such as Communities First and Flying Start. These are all good programmes, but you will know that there is a high percentage of the unemployed, those with disabilities, single parents and the elderly there, many on low incomes. What is your Government doing to target those wards during the austerity cuts, and how will you obtain well-paid jobs, which are the real answer to inequality and poverty?
 
14:26
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I agree that we have to make sure that we provide jobs, apprenticeships and other training opportunities for people to enable them to come out of poverty. Tackling poverty is a priority for this Welsh Government, and all Ministers have to demonstrate how their policies and schemes are helping towards that. So, clearly, I will be working very closely with not just the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport but all ministerial colleagues to ensure that jobs and growth are very high on the agenda, as they are.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
14:27
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
First this afternoon is the opposition spokesperson, Mark Isherwood.
 
14:27
Mark IsherwoodBiography
On the day that the Welsh index of multiple deprivation, looking at income, employment, education and health, has identified high pockets of deprivation in north Wales’s coastal towns, parts of Wrexham, the south Wales Valleys, Cardiff and Newport, why do you believe that Alan Milburn’s ‘State of the Nation 2014: Social Mobility and Child Poverty in Great Britain’ report said that, in the UK,
 
‘Wales has the second highest child poverty rate and the second lowest working age employment rate’?
 
14:27
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I do not know why Alan Milburn’s report said that. What I do know is that we had the Welsh index of multiple deprivation for 2014 published today, and what I need to do is consider that in detail and consider what factors are underlying the performance in our communities—both the positive performance and the weaker performance.
 
14:28
Mark IsherwoodBiography
I think that it is very concerning if you have not read Alan Milburn’s report, as it is critical and falls within your direct brief. It also says that,
 
‘Almost three quarters of children eligible for free school meals do not achieve five good GCSEs, higher than any English region and all but six English local authorities’.
 
Why do you think that that is, Minister?
 
14:28
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I did not say that I had not read it; I said that I did not know why he had said that. I think that I have answered that question in my answer to Mohammad Asghar.
 
14:28
Mark IsherwoodBiography
The report also said that,
 
‘There are fewer professional jobs in Wales than anywhere but the North East and Northern Ireland’.
 
Successive UK Governments and their policies apply to every part of the UK, but only Wales has its devolved Welsh Government. Why have 15 and a half years of Labour-led Welsh Government left Wales so far behind the rest of the United Kingdom?
 
14:29
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I do not agree with what the Member has said. Certainly, in north-east Wales, we have seen some extremely well-paid jobs, we have seen companies coming in and we have the enterprise zone in Deeside, which is bringing in excellent manufacturing jobs.
 
14:29
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Peter Black.
 
14:29
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, in your letter to me, dated 19 November, you stated that the objective of a £649,000 advertising campaign engaged by your predecessor was to increase the membership of credit unions by 25% over and above the predicted growth rates. Can you tell me what the predicted growth rates were, please, and can you say what percentage of the 2,819 new members of credit unions since June 2014 can be directly attributed to this marketing campaign?
 
14:29
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I cannot say directly which ones can be attributed to the marketing campaign. I think that it is very important that we continue with the marketing campaign. I want to see the number of members in credit unions increase, along with the junior members also.
 
14:30
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister. I understood that the marketing campaign had come to an end. If you indicated there that you are going to be spending more money, we need to see what value that money is going to get. In assessing the success or otherwise of your advertising campaign, can you state what the target cost per acquisition was, and how that compares with the actual cost per acquisition of £240 per member? Also, how many of these new members were tier 1 and how many were tier 2 members?
 
14:30
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I do not have that information to hand, but I would be very happy to write to the Member with that.
 
14:30
Peter BlackBiography
Okay; thank you, Minister. In your letter, you point out that the actual membership of credit unions has fallen by 2,219 since the end of June 2014, which is a total loss of 5,038 members. You attribute this to the closure of dormant accounts, which is, in fact, a standard exercise carried out by credit unions on a regular basis. Given that this £649,000 expenditure has led to a drop in credit union membership, do you accept that it could have been spent more effectively by using it to improve the sustainability of Welsh credit unions?
 
14:31
Lesley GriffithsBiography
That is something that I certainly need to look at. I did query that drop in membership, and I was told that there was a significantly higher number of dormant accounts closed in that period. When I write to the Member, I will add that information in.
 
14:31
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhodri Glyn Thomas.
 
14:31
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Minister, it seems that the Conservative Party believes that if you read Alan Milburn’s report, you could transform the state of the Welsh economy and tackle the problems of poverty. However, the truth is that we need to create our solutions here in Wales. You have a department with funding of £737 million to tackle poverty. Do you think that the Welsh Government is doing enough in this area?
 
14:32
Lesley GriffithsBiography
We are certainly doing a substantial amount. Can you ever do enough? ‘Probably not’ is the answer to that. However, in terms of the money that we are spending, as I mentioned in the previous answer to Jocelyn Davies, I have the four big preventative spending programmes in my budget now, with Supporting People having come in to the portfolio. I think that it is very important that that money is targeted at our most deprived communities. Clearly, going forward, we need to continue to monitor and evaluate the programmes.
 
14:32
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
I refer in particular to two areas where you can make a difference. There is an increase of almost 50% in people who are recognised as being homeless, but these people are not prioritised as being part of the ‘priority need’ category. Have you considered getting rid of the ‘priority need’ category in order to tackle homelessness in Wales?
 
14:33
Lesley GriffithsBiography
No. What is a priority for me going forward is the implementation of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 this year, which has a focus on preventing homelessness, and also the renting homes Bill, which I will be introducing early in the new year into the Assembly, will help us to address the issues of homelessness.
 
14:33
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
I referred earlier, with your fellow Minister, to the fact that the Bevan report, which calls on us to think again about poverty, states that the NEST project, which your fellow Minister thought was a very successful project, will take 78 years to reach all households in fuel poverty. Do you think that that kind of increase is acceptable, or do you think that it must be ensured that that project is much more effective than it is at the moment?
 
14:34
Lesley GriffithsBiography
As the Minister for Natural Resources stated, it is very disappointing when you are faced with that very stark figure of 78 years. I think that it is really important that we continue to have our focus on tackling poverty. For instance, I am having an evaluation of the Communities First programme, which will report to me in the new year. It is important that I look at that evaluation, that we look at where the good practice is, and at the performance of the Communities First clusters, which I am sure would be the first to say that they could do better in some areas; they need to strive to do so. I think that it is about making sure that all of our programmes that are specifically for tackling poverty work together and target those—. There are definitely stubborn areas of poverty that we need to focus on.
 
Poverty in Mid Wales
 
14:34
Russell GeorgeBiography
3. Will the Minister make a statement on tackling poverty in mid Wales? OAQ(4)0257(CTP)
 
14:34
Lesley GriffithsBiography
We are committed to tackling poverty and improving the lives of all low-income families, including those in mid Wales. The tackling poverty action plan includes commitments to tackle rural poverty. Initiatives such as the Supporting People programme are providing substantial funding to support vulnerable people in mid Wales.
 
14:35
Russell GeorgeBiography
Thank you for your answer, Minister. You will be aware that there are no Communities First clusters in Powys, even though the Welsh index of multiple deprivation notes that Powys is the most deprived local authority for access to services. What is the Welsh Government doing to support densely populated communities in Powys that do not qualify for support under Communities First?
 
14:35
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Clearly, the issues facing people living in rural communities will be different to those facing people living in more populated areas. One of the issues in Powys is that you do have a very dispersed population. While we do not have Communities First, we have other programmes, such as Flying Start, for instance, and I know that I am coming to do a visit with you next week in a Flying Start setting, in your constituency. So, there is a great deal of work going on outside of Communities First in your area.
 
14:36
Simon ThomasBiography
If you remember last year, Minister, with the first cuts to local government, one of the first things that some authorities set about cutting, especially in mid Wales—Powys, for example—were advisory services, such as Citizens Advice. That decision was changed as a result of local campaigning, and I am pleased about that, because there is very strong evidence that information, such as provided by Citizens Advice, strengthens the local economy rather than weakens it. However, what will you as the Government do, going forward, with further cuts to local government funding, to ensure that these advisory services—which are so important to the local economy—are maintained?
 
14:36
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, advice services are certainly very important to local communities. I mentioned in an earlier answer to Joyce Watson that what we had done is put an extra £2 million in this year for advice services. I know that Welsh Citizens Advice is one of the organisations that has benefitted from that.
 
14:37
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Minister, a guide to analysing deprivation in rural areas, which was published alongside the figures for the multiple deprivation index today, stated that analysis of the underlying indicators, by settlement type, shows that there are significant numbers of deprived people living in rural areas. You have acknowledged that there are no Communities First programmes in Powys. You said that Flying Start is available—and it is—but you also said that that was just one of a number of programmes that were assisting people living in deprived communities within Powys. Could you name the others, and could you give us an assessment of their effectiveness in addressing deprivation in rural Wales?
 
14:38
Lesley GriffithsBiography
There is also the provision of Families First, and Powys’s grant allocation for this year’s delivery of Families First programme is over £1.1 million. That funding will ensure that vulnerable families, holistically, are reached, and will provide them with the necessary support in your constituency.
 
The Digital Inclusion Strategy
 
14:38
Suzy DaviesBiography
4. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government’s digital inclusion strategy? OAQ(4)0263 (CTP)
 
14:38
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Digital inclusion remains a priority, as more services move online. Our revised digital inclusion delivery plan, which was published in the summer, highlights good progress, including supporting over 52,000 individuals through Communities 2.0. However, I recognise that more still needs to be done by partners across all sectors to help to tackle this important issue.
 
14:38
Suzy DaviesBiography
Although I remain disappointed in your Government’s performance on stimulating demand for superfast broadband, I do welcome your work on improving digital inclusion in Wales. However, with many people still unable to get online, what discussions have you had with public service providers following the short debate on the Keep me Posted campaign, about the importance of maintaining free postal communication for people who cannot get online?
 
14:39
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, I have had discussions. I met with Royal Mail, and I know that officials have taken those discussions forward too. I do welcome your praise for our digital inclusion project. I think that Communities 2.0 is a fantastic project, which, as I say, has reached 52,000 people. I have done a couple of visits already in this portfolio, where I have met people who have never touched a computer before in their life, and they are really now engaged with online activity.
 
Affordable Housing
 
14:39
William GrahamBiography
5. Will the Minister outline discussions held with housing developers on the provision of affordable housing? OAQ(4)0265(CTP)
 
14:39
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Meetings of the house builder engagement programme are held on a quarterly basis. I am attending the next meeting, which is to be held next Monday. This will inform what action Government can take to increase house-building activity, including the provision of affordable housing.
 
14:40
William GrahamBiography
Thank you very much for you answer, Minister. Developers have raised with me the question of the design quality requirement standards. A revision of these standards would provide opportunities for an increase in the provision of affordable houses and have a better impact upon meeting demand for affordable houses. Are you minded to look again at the design quality requirement standards?
 
14:40
Lesley GriffithsBiography
No, I am not.
 
14:40
Jocelyn DaviesBiography
Minister, will you consider extending your Houses into Homes scheme beyond property speculators, developers and landlords perhaps to first-time buyers, so that older empty properties needing refurbishment can be brought back into use by people who actually want to live in them?
 
14:40
Lesley GriffithsBiography
It is certainly something that I could look at, yes. I am looking at all of our house schemes, if you like, within the portfolio. So, it is certainly something that I can look at and I will write to the Member.
 
14:41
Aled RobertsBiography
It seems that there was a report this morning showing that house prices are rising again in Wales, demonstrating that there is increased pressure on the Government regarding the provision of affordable housing. There is an inconsistency in the way that local councils use section 106 of the Planning Act. Have you undertaken any kind of study of why that is happening and are you putting any pressure on those local authorities that fail to make use of that section of the Act?
 
14:41
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I have not had any specific discussions on that issue coming into the portfolio, but, again, it is something that I can certainly have a look at, to see if there is anything that we can do to put pressure on local authorities, if that indeed is the case.
 
Welsh-medium Provision in Flying Start
 
14:41
Suzy DaviesBiography
6. Will the Minister provide an update on the latest monitoring data on Welsh-medium provision in Flying Start? OAQ(4)0255(CTP)
 
14:42
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Welsh-language provision is an integral part of Flying Start. Over 1,100 childcare places are available to be delivered through the medium of Welsh in Flying Start settings in 2014-15. Of these places, 228 requests for Welsh-medium provision were specifically made between April and August this year, and 227 were met.
 
14:42
Suzy DaviesBiography
As you say, Flying Start is expanding and some communities will be using this service for the first time, so I am hoping that work will be done to develop demand there, because Welsh-language skills can only ever be an advantage in Wales and early exposure and familiarity with the language help children to prepare to embrace that advantage. How are you going to ensure that Flying Start childcare providers are encouraged to use whatever Welsh they have with the children, bearing in mind that so many of them will have received compulsory Welsh-language education as part of their own schooling?
 
14:42
Lesley GriffithsBiography
It is certainly something that we do encourage. A couple of weeks ago, I visited two very different Flying Start settings. One was in Milford Haven, where they were singing Welsh songs, so it was happening organically, if you like. I then went on to open a Flying Start setting in Aberporth, which has Welsh-medium provision. So, I think that that is happening out there, but we will continue to encourage it.
 
14:43
Mike HedgesBiography
May I also stress the importance of Welsh-medium Flying Start? I know of the many difficulties that we had in Swansea in getting it for a number of people, including my own grandchild. May I ask that the Government works towards making sure that Flying Start, through the medium of Welsh, can be offered to all parents of children living in Flying Start areas who want it?
 
14:43
Lesley GriffithsBiography
As I mentioned in my original answer to Suzy Davies, there have been 228 requests in the first five months of this year and 227 were met; 99% of all such requests have been met, which I am sure that you will agree is an improvement on previous figures.
 
14:44
Eluned ParrottBiography
Minister, in response to a written question, your predecessor, Jeff Cuthbert, said that ‘most’ documents are already bilingual or available in Welsh and English. Do you think that it is acceptable that that is ‘most’, as of August, and by what kind of date do you anticipate that you will be able to deliver all documents around Flying Start in both languages?
 
14:44
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I would hope that we will be able to do that in the very short term, but I will ask my officials to give me an update and write to the Member.
 
Communities First
 
14:44
William GrahamBiography
7. Will the Minister outline how many communities identified for the initial Communities First funding programme have been lifted out of deprivation? OAQ(4)0254(CTP)
 
14:44
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I have seen how Communities First is helping to change lives for the better and lift people out of deprivation. An evaluation of the early stages of the refocused programme is under way. It will evidence how it is delivering against strategic objectives and will be available in the new year.
 
14:45
William GrahamBiography
Thank you very much, Minister, for your answer. As has previously been said today, the St James ward in Caerphilly has now been identified as the most deprived ward in Wales, although I acknowledge that, overall, for wards within south-east Wales, including the initial Communities First programme, there has been an overall decrease in the rates of limiting long-term illness and employment-related benefits. However, how is this programme really achieving improvement in deprivation for these communities?
 
14:45
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I am obviously aware of the publication of the Welsh index of multiple deprivation today. Of course, it is a relative measure and there will always be more deprived areas announced within the index. I think that the most important thing to look at is the performance of the Communities First clusters—and, as I mentioned before, I think that is both the postitive performance and the weaker performance—and to make sure that best practice is shared. I am sure that all of the clusters would say that they can and must do better. However, I do think that Communities First is delivering in our most deprived communities.
 
14:46
John GriffithsBiography
Minister, I think that it is increasingly important that Communities First areas become a focus for the delivery of public services for a variety of organisations. I wonder whether you will ensure, as far as the Newport East cluster is concerned, that you as the Minister and colleagues across Government, as well as Newport City Council, the voluntary sector and the community itself are increasingly the focus for that service delivery, collaboration and co-operation?
 
14:46
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, absolutely. If we are going to tackle poverty, the Government cannot do it on its own and it is really important that we work in partnership. Another thing that is really important is to make sure that our programmes are aligned. Clearly, that has started with Communities First and Flying Start, but that partnership working with all our partners is so important.
 
14:47
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Minister, you will have seen the Joseph Rowntree Foundation research this week, which demonstrated that there are more young people in poverty because of unstable contracts. This comes at the same time as research from Community Housing Cymru that it is doing a great deal of additional work on financial inclusion in light of the fact that it is not being provided elsewhere. What work and what projects is Communities First doing in terms of financial inclusion?
 
14:47
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Communities First works very closely with local authorities in relation to the financial inclusion strategy. Obviously, the Chamber will be debating Stage 1 of your Bill this afternoon.
 
Faith Communities