By continuing to use our site, you are agreeing for us to set a small number of cookies. Cookie policy

Desktop
Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
 
 
You are in :
Back to list View this page with hyperlinks
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
13:30 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Good afternoon. The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
1. Questions to the Minister for Finance and Government Business
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
13:30 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Finance and Government Business, and question 1 is from Julie Morgan.
The European Union Referendum
13:30 - Julie Morgan
1. What discussions has the Minister had with her counterparts in the devolved countries about the funding implications of withdrawal from the EU? OAQ(4)0684(FIN)
Altaf Hussain
4. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact that the EU referendum will have on Welsh Government funding? OAQ(4)0678(FIN)
Jenny Rathbone
10. What are the implications for structural funds in Wales if the UK decides to leave the EU in the forthcoming referendum? OAQ(4)0685(FIN)
13:30 - Jane Hutt
Presiding Officer, I understand you have given permission for questions 1, 4 and 10 to be grouped.
On Monday, I attended the joint ministerial council on Europe in London, where we discussed the UK Government’s EU referendum and the damaging impact an exit would have on the economy and security of regions across the UK.
13:30 - Julie Morgan
I thank the Minister for that response. One of the major concerns expressed to me in Cardiff about possible withdrawal from the EU is the huge impact this will have on university research, which, of course, adds a huge amount of value to the Welsh economy. I know Cardiff University, for example, receives funding from the EU Horizon 2020 fund, in particular. So, does the Minister share the concerns over what will happen to university research funding, and does she know whether this is shared by the other devolved bodies?
13:31 - Jane Hutt
I thank Julie Morgan for that question. I totally share the concerns, and, in addition to specific EU funds allocated, worth £500 million annually, to Wales, of course, as you say, funding streams like Horizon 2020 do provide Wales with very important opportunities for research and innovation. I am attending a Horizon 2020 event tomorrow, to celebrate the success of Welsh businesses and universities, including Cardiff, securing £30 million of Horizon 2020 funds so far, to support innovative and scientific breakthroughs and to develop world-class products and services.
13:32 - Altaf Hussain
Minister, the EU referendum is one of the biggest decisions the people of Wales will have to make this century. It is therefore vital that they are equipped with the facts about the impact of their decision. Will you ensure that your department, in the run-up to the referendum, publishes clear information about the impact of remaining in the EU, as well as the impact of leaving, and avoid relying on political rhetoric about the dangers of leaving or remaining in the EU? Thank you.
13:32 - Jane Hutt
Can I thank the Member very much for that question? I think one of the most important points, as a pro-business Welsh Government, is that we strongly believe that leaving the EU would leave Wales worse off. By being in the EU, Wales currently has a seven-year guarantee of EU funds—from 2014 to 2020—together with income support payments to farmers, worth over £500 million annually in Wales, and it is clear that this information has to be shared. On Monday—again, to put on the record—I visited Cardiff University’s School of Engineering to announce £15 million of EU funds for the Flex-E flexible integrated systems project. That is a collaboration, involving not just Welsh universities—Cardiff University, Swansea University, the University of South Wales, Aberystwyth University, and Bangor University—but businesses as well, engaging with industry, developing world-class research that can meet modern-day and low-carbon energy opportunities.
But, of course, the facts are that, for example, the EU projects that have benefited include Cardiff-based TrakCel’s €420,000 investment from Horizon 2020, which I’ve just mentioned is a key source of funding particularly for our universities and business. I think we’ve got to recognise that the Welsh Government, in supporting continued membership of the EU, believes that a UK exit would leave Wales worse off and that the economic and social impact on businesses, people’s jobs, our prosperity and on our security would be absolutely devastating.
13:34 - Jenny Rathbone
I recently visited the Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre, which has had millions of pounds from the European Union, and it’s causing great anxiety amongst their European partners as to how this multimillion-pound, huge, worldwide, significant project is going to go forward were Britain to leave the EU. So, obviously, the quicker we get the referendum over and done with, the better.
I just want to reflect on a slightly different aspect of the success of the European Union, which is that it is 100 years nearly since the battle of the Somme, when a million people died for reasons that we cannot any longer remember and it is now 70 years since we’ve had no substantial war in Europe. I would have thought that this was one of the most important aspects of being part of the European Union. I just wondered if you could tell us what the Welsh Government’s intentions are in the way we’re going to celebrate Europe Day this year to highlight this point.
13:35 - Jane Hutt
I’m very grateful to Jenny Rathbone for widening this discussion to important, wider impacts and devastation in terms of leaving the EU, not just in terms of the impact on single market business, universities and on our people and communities, but on the wider understanding of what it means to have been part of Europe and part of the European Union. Of course, Europe Day does provide us with that opportunity to widely recognise that cultural, as well as historical—. I think the exhibition, promoted by our Llywydd, in terms of recognising the role of our relatives across the Senedd in the two world wars—the great wars—and our impact and our relationship with Europe, of course, also recognises that those exchanges that we create with young people are so important in terms of their wider understanding.
13:36 - Rhodri Glyn Thomas
Minister, Wales has huge potential in terms of developing marine energy, and not just in the context of the current scheme in Swansea, as there are proposed schemes in Newport, in the Vale and in Colwyn Bay. Can you confirm that it would be much more difficult to develop these projects outside of the European Union than it would be within the European Union?
13:37 - Jane Hutt
I certainly can confirm that, Rhodri Glyn Thomas. Of course, again, promoting marine energy, I was in Brussels only very recently, talking about the opportunities. Also, of course, we can benefit from the funding available, including £12 million for renewable energy through Deep Green in Anglesey and Wave Hub off the coast of Pembrokeshire as one example of where that links to marine energy. So, this is something where Wales would lose out, and clearly I’m very pleased that, as to the Swansea bay tidal lagoon proposition, on which we hope we will see some response from the UK Government, but I haven’t heard the whole of the budget in terms of my questions, the European Investment Bank sees that as the sort of project that they would like to support.
The Health and Social Services Portfolio
13:38 - Simon Thomas
2. What discussions has the Minister had regarding the budget allocation to the health and social services portfolio? OAQ(4)0676(FIN)[W]
13:38 - Jane Hutt
I consulted widely in developing the budget ‘Fairer, Better Wales—Investing for the Future’, which was passed last week.
13:38 - Simon Thomas
Thank you, Minister. What provision has been made in your budget for changes by health boards? This afternoon, I presented a petition jointly with Paul Davies, with over 20,000 signatures, on restoring paediatric services to Withybush General Hospital in Pembrokeshire. Having discussed this with the chief executive of Hywel Dda Local Health Board, I have been made aware that they are keeping these services under review and are considering how they can improve the services as they are so important to the accident and emergency department within the hospital too. So, what will you do, in discussion with health boards, if they want to restore services that have been moved elsewhere?
13:39 - Jane Hutt
Clearly, the final budget for next year, for 2016-17, provides for additional investment in healthcare of over £300 million—£260 million revenue and £53 million capital. The additional funding does mean that the budget is now the largest it’s ever been and will account for 48 per cent of the funding allocated to Welsh Government departments for the next financial year. Of course, if you look at that in terms of spend per head, it’s an additional £262 per head on health. But that does enable our health boards to respond to the needs of their local communities and their health populations. And, of course, it does also mean that we can invest, particularly in terms of capital, in those all-important resources, which I know you have been raising, such as the need for investment in diagnostics, linear accelerator infrastructure and cath lab replacement.
13:40 - Darren Millar
Minister, I listened to your answer very carefully. You did nothing to acknowledge that yours is the only Government that will ever be ending a term where NHS spending is lower in real terms than when you started. That is the reality of the matter. It’s an absolutely shameful record that has caused crippling problems in our health service, which are manifesting across the length and breadth of the country. Can you tell us, do you regret the record-breaking cuts that your Government has imposed on the Welsh NHS and the impact that that has had on patients and hard-working staff?
13:41 - Jane Hutt
Well, I’m very surprised, Darren Millar, that you’re not prepared to look at and take account of the official figures published by your UK Government, which show that spending per head on health is higher in Wales and has increased faster than in any other part of the UK. Don’t you want the public to know that in your constituency? [Interruption.] Again, the Conservative UK Government shows that the amount of money—[Interruption.]
13:41 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Darren Millar.
13:41 - Jane Hutt
[Continues.]—that the Welsh Government spends per head on health in Wales was 1 per cent higher than in England in 2014-15, grew faster in Wales in that year than in any other of the UK countries, and spending per head on health and social services combined is £172—7 per cent per head higher than in England. And I think it is important, again, to acknowledge the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report on health services in the UK, which said last month that—the report shows how the health services operate in the four countries in the UK and acknowledged the deeply established and widely shared commitment of the NHS in Wales to continuously improve the quality of care it provides.
13:42 - Aled Roberts
In January, Minister, your health Minister said that there was no additional funding available for health boards. Betsi Cadwaladr health board has now believes that there is an overspend of £20 million. Can you confirm whether the Government has agreed a three-year plan with Betsi Cadwaladr health board at this point, and, if they haven’t, are you content with financial management within the health board, given the fact that they refuse to refer patients to hospitals in England, such as Gobowen, because of a lack of money?
13:42 - Jane Hutt
Well, it is important, Aled Roberts, that we recognise the additional allocations that I have made during this financial year to assist health boards. In September last year, I announced an additional funding package of £58.8 million to support the NHS in Wales, and funding of £45 million to drive up a number of initiatives within the service, targeted at improving performance in the service in 2015-16, and, of course, I announced an additional £45 million from reserves to address winter pressures on 8 February this year, all of which will assist health boards like Betsi Cadwaladr in meeting their needs and demands.
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
13:43 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to questions from the party spokespeople and, first this afternoon, the Welsh Conservative spokesperson, Nick Ramsay.
13:43 - Nick Ramsay
Diolch. Minister, I’m sure you will join me in welcoming today’s budget, the halving of the Severn bridge tolls when they return to public ownership in a few years’ time and also, of course, the city deal funding, which was announced yesterday—a great example of a UK Conservative Government delivering for Wales and working in co-ordination with the Welsh Government. Minister, we have long called for a Barnett floor to address the problem of the fairness of funding to Wales. We know that the Chancellor and the Treasury have agreed to that now. What discussions have you had with his officials regarding the implementation of that floor?
13:44 - Jane Hutt
Well, I also am very glad that the UK Government listened to my call in terms of—. I wanted to scrap, of course, the tolls on the Severn bridge. They’ve heeded my call and cut them, which of course I welcome. They’re not quite far enough, but that is a step in the right direction. I was also very pleased indeed to take part in the announcement—which was UK Government, Welsh Government and 10 local authorities coming together in partnership—to welcome the Cardiff capital region city deal. But your question is very important in terms of the long-term, robust underpinning of our finances in Wales. In terms of the funding floor and the Barnett formula, I very much welcome, I would have to say at this point, the Finance Committee’s report on future funding for Wales. In fact, I have written to the Chair of the Finance Committee—I hope she has received my letter—to say that I accept every one of your recommendations because they do reflect the challenges we are under. In terms of the floor itself, yes, of course, we have worked hard to secure that floor, but it has to be a funding floor—and you recognised this cross-party, as the Finance Committee—for the future, not just for this spending review.
13:45 - Nick Ramsay
Yes, Minister, I quite agree with you that a floor is vital, as is early implementation of that floor, but also the mechanics of how you set it. I agree with you that it shouldn’t be reset; it maybe should be reviewed over years to come, but it shouldn’t be reset.
You mentioned the Finance Committee report, which, sadly, we have not had time to debate because of the lateness of its launch. You’ve seen the recommendations. One of those is for an independent body to determine the amount of funding that Wales gets in the future, particularly with regard to deductions to compensate for devolved taxation. Do you agree with the need for an independent body, and, again, what discussions have you had with the Treasury about how that body might be formed?
13:46 - Jane Hutt
Well, again, I welcome and have accepted that recommendation, and I think it’s important that I put that on record as your finance Minister, in response to the Finance Committee’s very helpful report on future funding for Wales. In fact, I wrote to the chief secretary today, Greg Hands, who I also met yesterday afternoon, to share with him your report and to say that I agreed with all the recommendations and that I hoped that he would too, because it’s critical that the UK Government comes on board. Particularly, I mentioned the fact that we did, as I also raised with him, very much welcome your recommendation in terms of having an independent review process built in. As has been done with the Scottish fiscal framework, we expect the same independent arbitration and the same degree of independence to apply to the Welsh fiscal framework.
13:47 - Nick Ramsay
Minister, this is the last time I will question you before this Assembly dissolves in a couple of weeks’ time, so can I take this opportunity to thank you and your officials for your close co-operation with me over the last couple of years on the finance brief? That has been most helpful to me and, I know, to the Finance Committee as well.
Minister, you fully recognise the principle of fairness in terms of funding for Wales and reviewing the Barnett formula. I have made many pleas over the last—however long it’s been—couple of years for fairness of funding within Wales. We have the public services Minister here today as well, and he will know full well that I have called for reassessment of a local government funding formula that delivers for Wales. Will you agree to look at this in the next Assembly, or your successors, and will you agree with me that it’s not fair that rural authorities within Wales don’t get that funding that they need to cope with issues such as sparsity and delivering public services over a large area? I know you’ve refused to do this in the past, but, for the sake of rural Wales, please will you look at this again?
13:48 - Jane Hutt
I very much would like to thank Nick Ramsay for his kind words and to exchange those courtesies in terms of having the opportunity to work with you as well as to be scrutinised by you as the finance spokesperson for the opposition. I think it has served us well that we have worked on this cross-party basis, following on from the Holtham commission recommendations through to the Silk commission, and then on the way we have taken forward our calls for fairer funding in Wales. I would say that I would also accept and support your recommendation in terms of the Barnett formula and strengthening not just the commitment to the funding floor, but that we should look for the necessity of a needs-based formula. We very much strongly believe that in terms of the Barnett formula.
But, of course, in terms of the wider issues, I am sure you will take the opportunity to raise these questions with the Minister for Public Services, in relation to local government. Of course, also, the Minister has himself instigated his own independent review of finances for local government and, indeed, so has Welsh local government. So, it’s clearly very much open for discussion and debate.
13:49 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to the Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Peter Black.
13:49 - Peter Black
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, can I also echo Nick Ramsay’s words in thanking you for the work that you have done with the Finance Committee and with me as the Welsh Liberal Democrat finance spokesperson over the last five years? I think we’ve worked very well together in partnership on delivering good benefits for Wales and for parts of Wales. I think that the work we’ve done as a Finance Committee and with you has actually helped to advance the devolution process as well. So, thank you for that.
Minister, you’ve referred to the ‘Future Funding for Wales’ report of the Finance Committee, which, as Nick Ramsay said, we’ll not have time to debate in this Chamber. Recommendation 6 of that report says that,
‘as a minimum, there must be a principled decision taken on how the block grant will be reduced before taxes are devolved.’
I wonder if you could give us an update on the talks between the Welsh Government and the Treasury in terms of getting that mechanism in place, as it has already been put in place in Scotland.
13:50 - Jane Hutt
Well, I would also like to thank Peter Black for his contribution and also for the ways in which we’ve worked together, and his responses to my requests as well as my responses to his, in terms of taking the important public finances for Wales forward on a fairer basis. I believe that will have an impact in terms of our record of this Assembly session.
I would say that, in terms of recommendation 6, this is critically important. This is a recommendation that there should be that principled decision taken on how the block grant will be reduced before taxes are devolved. There are a number of approaches to how the Welsh block grant could be reduced in exchange for the tax revenue that will flow to Wales following tax devolution. It would be grossly unfair if some of the suggested ways in which that could have been done with the Scottish Government would be applied to Wales, so we have to make sure that that doesn’t happen. We have said, and the First Minister has said, that we feel that we should follow the route that the discussions have taken with the Scottish Government and the Treasury of the UK Government to secure a fiscal framework that suits Wales in advance of fiscal devolution.
I would like to take the opportunity to say that I am disappointed that the Chief Secretary has not agreed to a meeting since I met with him in December, despite repeated requests. And I hope this Assembly today, across parties, will support me in urging that meeting before dissolution.
13:52 - Peter Black
Thank you for that answer, Minister. Recommendation 7 starts with a marvellous piece of understatement, I think, when it says:
‘The Committee firmly believes the relationship between the UK Government and Welsh Government needs to improve.’
Would the Minister—? You’ve already referred to the failure of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to meet with you, and I understand also there have been issues around the quadrilaterals between finance Ministers not taking place as frequently as you would have liked. Can I ask, when you met with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury yesterday, whether he gave you any indication that this was likely to change and that he would now engage more vigorously with the Welsh Government in terms of putting these fiscal frameworks into place?
13:53 - Jane Hutt
Well, clearly, we had a very cordial exchange yesterday, as we welcomed the groundbreaking city deal for the Cardiff capital region. As I said to him, as I wrote to him today, yesterday’s signing—this is in my letter to him today—of the Cardiff capital region city deal is an excellent demonstration of what can be achieved when Welsh Government and UK Government work together. This needs to be reflected in our continuing to make progress with the fiscal framework for Wales. So, again, on the record today, that is what I’ve called for, in acknowledgement that we can work together comprehensively and coherently.
13:53 - Peter Black
Again, thank you for that answer, Minister. The taxes that are due to be devolved to us are due to come in 2018. Scotland effectively had their deal done almost at the last minute, although it is quite a reasonable deal for them. But I was just wondering, what’s the timetable now in terms of getting the deal together with the Treasury so that we can meet the deadline of 2018 and actually start implementing our own tax regime from that time?
13:54 - Jane Hutt
We need to get on with this now—the clock is ticking. With the support, I’m sure, of the Assembly today, I anticipate that those negotiations will now proceed at speed.
13:54 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Alun Ffred Jones.
13:54 - Alun Ffred Jones
Thank you very much. As this is the final chance I’ll have to question you, Minister, may I thank you for your willing co-operation? I’m going to ask a number of easy questions now that are based on the committee’s report.
Do you agree with the committee’s recommendation that changes to the statement of funding policy between the UK Government and the devolved administrations should be agreed and that they should be recorded transparently?
13:55 - Jane Hutt
I certainly do agree. We would very much welcome a more transparent approach by the UK Government to funding devolved government. I do want to repeat again, in response to your question, Alun Ffred Jones, that we should have an independent body to assess allocation, better scrutiny and an improved dispute mechanism.
13:55 - Alun Ffred Jones
Thank you very much. Do you also agree with recommendation 5 that the process to distribute the block grant should be on a statutory basis, and it shouldn’t be at the discretion of the Minister?
13:55 - Jane Hutt
I do agree with that and I think that the fact that we are still calling on the UK Government to outline the details of a long-term funding floor that addresses the issue of funding actually does fall very much in line with accepting that recommendation. Can I also say how thankful I am to Alun Ffred Jones for his courtesy in engagement, and robust scrutiny, over the time in which I’ve been finance Minister and he’s been finance spokesperson for Plaid Cymru?
13:56 - Alun Ffred Jones
Thank you very much. I understand that George Osborne has announced today that he will proceed with a tax on sugary drinks—a tax originally proposed here by Plaid Cymru and which, of course, was derided, somewhat unfortunately, by the First Minister, Carwyn Jones. Do you welcome this announcement by George Osborne today?
13:56 - Jane Hutt
Not only did I respond, if you recall, Alun Ffred Jones, but I actually responded to the debate that you put forward and welcomed and indeed, as you’ll recall, supported the—[Interruption.] The Welsh Government supported that debate. But, also, I do want to say that it’s very important that we recognise that work is being done by the Bevan Foundation, looking at all the opportunities for new taxes that we need to consider and at the evidence base, obviously recognising that in terms of some of those taxes, such as the sugar tax, or around the issue of sugar, we’d have to look at this in terms of a UK basis and I know that this is welcome news that this might be taken forward.
13:57 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move back to questions on the paper and question 3 is Rhodri Glyn Thomas.
Supporting National Institutions
13:57 - Rhodri Glyn Thomas
3. What additional funding will the Minister provide to support national institutions in Wales in order to secure their future? OAQ(4)0680(FIN)[R]
13:57 - Jane Hutt
The 2016-17 funding allocations for Welsh Government sponsored bodies, including our national institutions, were included in the final budget on 8 March.
13:57 - Rhodri Glyn Thomas
I should declare an interest because my period as chair of the National Library of Wales starts on 6 April, but this question relates to national institutions in general in Wales. It appears to me that, over the past five years, when mentioning support from the public purse for institutions, we have been talking continuously about the cuts that have been coming from Westminster. I greatly hope that that won’t be happening for the next 10 years, but that we acknowledge the financial restrictions that we’re facing and that the Welsh Government works with national institutions in Wales to make the best use possible of the public funding that’s available, to ensure that there are partnerships and collaborations between these institutions to secure their future. Because these institutions are vitally important to the future of Wales.
13:58 - Jane Hutt
Can I also declare an interest that my husband is a trustee of the National Library of Wales?
13:58 - Rhodri Glyn Thomas
Yes, I know that. [Laughter.]
13:58 - Jane Hutt
I think it’s important in terms of a response to your question that free entry to the national library and National Museum Wales is a key plank of our programme for government commitments, also recognising the valuable contribution that those bodies make to much wider strategic priorities, including tackling issues relating to poverty and increasing engagement from people in disadvantaged communities, and that we see, as indeed the Deputy Minister for Culture and Sport and Tourism sees, that the sponsored bodies in his portfolio really can attract further investment from other sources in order to supplement their grant-in-aid budgets.
13:59 - Angela Burns
Minister, while I appreciate Rhodri Glyn Thomas’s concerns for the national institutions, I’d be interested to know what you might be able to do to creatively encourage a trickle-down of funding to some of the smaller institutions throughout Wales. We do not want to be left in a situation where we have a large tree surrounded by weak saplings. A great many of these smaller organisations, such as Tenby and Narberth museums—and there are many throughout Wales—are much more able to engage effectively with their local communities because they really understand them, and really, really chime with them. The concern that I and a number of other people have is that, because times are slightly tighter, all the funding is going to the big organisations, and the smaller ones are being gently starved.
Jane Hutt
Well, I wouldn’t say that was the case, and, of course, in terms of the loan contribution of our Heritage Lottery Fund and other sources, those can assist those smaller, very important bodies and institutions, as you say, Angela Burns. But we are still facing the fact—indeed, even with this budget today—that we have suffered six years of austerity, six years of cuts to our Welsh Government budget. But I’m very proud of the fact that we were able to ameliorate and alleviate the cuts to local government substantively in my final budget for the next financial year, and, of course, that will also help our local authorities support those important local cultural bodies.
14:01 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Question 4 was grouped with a question earlier. We now move to question 5, which is Keith Davies.
European Structural Funds
14:01 - Keith Davies
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the impact of European structural funds on the Llanelli constituency? OAQ(4)0677(FIN)[W]
14:01 - Jane Hutt
EU funds have supported key multimillion-pound developments to help boost jobs and growth in Llanelli, including The Works cultural and arts centre, the Llanelly House community heritage centre, and many town-centre improvements.
14:01 - Keith Davies
Thank you. I can see the significant difference that European funding has made within the constituency. European funding has funded a major regeneration project in the town centre, in the East Gate quarter, which includes the Ffwrnes Theatre, and has supported a number of local businesses and communities, and we also have the Millennium Coastal Park, of course. Would you agree with me that it is of benefit to the Llanelli constituency for the UK to continue to be a member state of the European Union?
14:02 - Jane Hutt
Well, of course, Keith Davies, and I thank you for the question, we are strongly supporting the UK’s continuing membership of the EU—vital to our economy, jobs and security, and our town centres, like Llanelli, seeing the regeneration of those town centres. I was particularly pleased to visit the grade I listed Llanelly House—£7 million of restoration, supported by £2.5 million of EU funds. It’s now, as you of course know, the premier heritage visitor attraction in Llanelli. And also the EU-backed Theatr y Ffwrnes, The Works—creating a new multicultural and arts centre in Llanelli—those would not have happened without EU funding. And across the whole of Carmarthenshire—back to the facts and figures—EU projects since 2007 have helped 13,600 people gain qualifications and over 4,000 people into work, created over 1,800 jobs and over 500 enterprises.
14:03 - William Powell
I’m very grateful that my friend Keith Davies has raised this important issue. Carmarthenshire and Llanelli have indeed, Minister, as you’ve outlined, benefited very significantly from European investments, both through the rural development programme and the rural hinterland but also through the structural funds. Particularly, I would ask you to consider the benefits of the Bwcabus system, which has provided socialisation and support for people in the rural hinterlands, giving them access to Llanelli and further afield. Minister, do you agree with me, and indeed with the respected Conservative Member of the European Parliament Dr Kay Swinburne, that it would be a catastrophe if we were to lose our membership of the European Union in the referendum on 23 June?
14:04 - Jane Hutt
I did meet with Kay Swinburne and indeed Derek Vaughan when I was in Brussels only a couple of weeks ago, and we were just sharing very much those sentiments, clearly, together. I think it is important that you draw attention to the importance of Bwcabus. I was pleased to go to the event that took stock of how Bwcabus had made a contribution to communities, enabling people to access work, training, and leisure opportunities in a rural community. But I think also it is very important to look at business as well, and, in Carmarthenshire, for example, just looking at the leading independent food wholesaler, Castell Howell, it’s setting to benefit from accredited work-based learning programmes through the EU-backed growing workforces through learning and development, GWLAD, led by the University of Wales Trinity St David.
European Funding Impact (Torfaen)
14:05 - Lynne Neagle
6. Will the Minister make a statement on the impact of European funding on Torfaen? OAQ(4)0682(FIN)
14:05 - Jane Hutt
Since 2007, EU projects delivering in Torfaen, such as Bridges into Work and new business start-ups, have created 1,380 jobs, 430 enterprises, supported over 15,700 people to gain qualifications and 3,675 people into work.
14:05 - Lynne Neagle
Thank you, Minister, and thank you for highlighting the excellent record that European funding has for creating jobs and ensuring prosperity in my constituency. As you know, Wales is a net beneficiary of EU funding, and the Valleys have benefited from strategic regeneration and projects to get people into work. Yet, we know that the Prime Minister has said he cannot confirm that funding would be replaced if we were to leave the European Union. In this Apprenticeship Week, an area where only last year we saw £144 million-worth of Welsh Government and EU funding in south Wales, would you agree with me that these funding opportunities are absolutely vital to ensure prosperity in our communities? And will you restate your commitment to fighting to continue to keep us in the EU?
14:06 - Jane Hutt
I certainly thank the Member for Torfaen for her question. In fact, I thank all Members for raising these questions today so that we have an opportunity before the end of this Assembly session to put on record our concerns at the risk that we face if we were to leave the European Union. And I think, particularly in Apprenticeship Week, if we look at the EU-backed Bridges into Work project—of course, the Member, Lynne Neagle, was at the event where we took stock of the impact on people’s lives of that project in terms of the next one for enhancing skills and job prospects—and recognise that for every apprenticeship that we funded—and, of course, over the past five years that apprenticeship has been backed by European funding—and also to recognise that this is not just about apprenticeships, it’s about traineeships, the Wales business fund, STEM Cymru and active inclusion.
14:07 - William Graham
Though I would agree with much of what the questioner has said, what I ask the Minister today is to say when she thinks that the Valleys will no longer need to qualify for these handouts from the European Union.
14:07 - Jane Hutt
Clearly, the fact that we have today some of the best figures as far as our labour markets statistics are concerned shows that Wales is making great progress, as a result of a Welsh Labour Government, of course, and membership of the European Union. If you look at today’s labour market figures, they show a sharp decline in the rate of unemployment in Wales, and employment rates at a historic record high. And the fact that the labour market in Wales continues to outperform the UK as a whole, and that the Welsh economy is going from strength to strength, I think shows the way we are heading in terms of our economic recovery. And the city deal, of course, is yet another bit of good news that I know you will share.
Capital Spending Budgets
14:08 - Bethan Jenkins
7. Will the Minister make a statement on future capital spending budgets? OAQ(4)0674(FIN)
14:08 - Jane Hutt
Gan adeiladu ar y £4 biliwn ychwanegol o fuddsoddiad newydd yng Nghymru a ddenwyd drwy’r cynllun buddsoddi yn seilwaith Cymru, byddwn yn parhau i ddefnyddio’r cynllun fel y cyfrwng allweddol i gyflawni ein penderfyniadau buddsoddi cyfalaf strategol.
14:08 - Bethan Jenkins
Minister, I wanted to ask whether you’d had any time to think about Plaid Cymru’s proposals with regard to helping out the steel industry, notwithstanding the issues at the moment in Port Talbot where people will be finding out about the potential job losses. We’ve come up with the idea of potentially looking into funding the power plant there. I noticed that you answered my question last week, and then we had two statements on Horizon 2020 and the European fund for strategic investment, yet nothing in those statements mentioned the steel industry or anything to do with any European funding from your meetings there last week. Can you please give us an update, because we’re at a crucial time now with regard to the job prospects of the people in Port Talbot, and I’d like to see the Welsh Government act—if not now, then when?
14:09 - Jane Hutt
Of course, the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport is providing regular updates in terms of the impact of her taskforce, and indeed this, of course, was a topic that I discussed with the European Commission when I attended the meetings in Brussels only a couple of weeks ago. We’re also, of course, in discussions with the UK Government with regard to the potential for enhanced capital allowances, and continuing to press the case for accessing funding through the European globalisation adjustment fund. And also, of course, in terms of my responsibilities, again, and linked to the EU, we have the ReAct project; that’s £10 million of EU funds—£16.7 million altogether—approved last April. And that is offering immediate support for people facing redundancy at Tata Steel. Of course, this is also crucial in terms of the work that I’m doing to support procurement in those opportunities.
14:10 - Paul Davies
Minister, in her statement last year, your colleague the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport made it clear that the dualling of the A40 in Pembrokeshire could provide positive returns in the longer term. In light of that statement, could you outline what up-to-date discussions you’ve had regarding the future allocations towards the possibility of dualling the A40 in Pembrokeshire?
14:10 - Jane Hutt
As you know, the Minister did provide an update on the improvement study for the A40. Of course, that was commissioned to look at potential improvement options for the A40. There is a strong case, of course, as you know, in terms of the conclusions that the dualling of the A40 would provide positive returns in the longer term. It is also recognised as an important regional, national and international link with access to not just Fishguard and Milford Haven but the Haven Waterway enterprise zone. The A40 is part of the national transport finance plan and the Wales infrastructure investment plan.
14:11 - Kirsty Williams
Minister, in the budget, you announced capital investment in the Brecon and Monmouth canal. This is a very important piece of infrastructure, vital to the local tourism economy. Could you give us an update on the nature of that project and the benefits you believe it will bring to the economy in that part of the world?
14:11 - Jane Hutt
I very much welcome the fact that I was able to provide this money. It was a proposal that, of course, came to the Minister for Natural Resources—something that we would like to have done if we had the resources available. The money has just been allocated. I’m sure the Minister will be able to update you on progress.
The Communities and Tackling Poverty Portfolio
14:12 - Alun Ffred Jones
8. Will the Minister make a statement on the impact of the budget allocation to the communities and tackling poverty portfolio? OAQ(4)0681(FIN)[W]
14:12 - Jane Hutt
The communities and tackling poverty budget for 2016-17 has been agreed at £707 million.
14:12 - Alun Ffred Jones
Thank you very much. Within the tackling poverty portfolio, the funding for Flying Start and Communities First has been maintained, which is to be welcomed, but the only scheme that’s operational in every community, which is Families First, has been cut. Why cut the only scheme that is available in every area?
14:12 - Jane Hutt
Clearly, we have had a tough call in terms of this budget for 2016, and we’ve had to make decisions based on evidence of beneficial impacts. You say, and that is right, that we’ve protected funding for Flying Start. That does mean that we can continue to provide support to 36,000 children. But, clearly, local authorities have also been very much protected in terms of the allocations that we’ve made, not just in terms of the better-than-expected revenue support grant, but also the £21 million for social services. I know that there are ways in which local authorities are supporting particularly important schemes of that kind.
14:13 - Mark Isherwood
Bodies from the Williams commission through to the Auditor General for Wales and a coalition of 130 organisations in Wales have called for services to be delivered differently, not just because of austerity but because this enables and reables individuals and communities. Yet you’ve cut the third sector supporting communities and people budget by 10 per cent. How do you therefore respond to concern that, at a time when engagement of the third sector is most needed, such cuts to ground level support will disable their ability to support the more holistic user-led and cost-effective support and services that the third sector delivers. They describe this as being ‘devastatingly compromised’.
14:14 - Jane Hutt
I always find it very strange that Mark Isherwood comes up with these pleas about cuts. Of course, the cuts that are being made are the cuts by your UK Conservative Government—cuts that I had to face in terms of the most—. Six years—six years—of being finance Minister with cuts year after year—needless austerity cuts by your UK Government. And, yes, it is about priorities and the priorities that we have set do mean that we have protected Flying Start, do mean that we’re protecting the Supporting People programme, do mean that we’re continuing to protect universal benefits, but also mean that we’ve put more money into the intermediate care fund, and, of course, we’re putting £3 million into Warm Homes, which, I know, in terms of Arbed, is tackling fuel poverty, which you would support.
Public Sector Procurement
14:15 - Peter Black
9. Will the Minister make a statement on the percentage of public sector procurement that is retained in Wales? OAQ(4)0671(FIN)
14:15 - Jane Hutt
Suppliers in Wales now win 55 per cent of Welsh public sector procurement expenditure and the proportion of contracts awarded through Sell2Wales to Welsh business is at almost 70 per cent.
14:15 - Peter Black
Thank you for that answer, Minister. Clearly, that is an improvement, but we still have a long way to go if we’re going to make the most of the Welsh pound. Can I ask you what action is being planned for future years in terms of trying to improve that percentage of procurement retained in Wales, particularly around local authorities and health boards?
14:15 - Jane Hutt
Well, a key focus, of course, of our procurement policy is that public contracts in Wales are open and accessible to all suppliers, directly or through the supply chain. The national procurement service is particularly keen to work with organisations in terms of this round of expenditure analysis for Wales, which, I hope, will see an uplift. But we are driving up adoption of the procurement service, and I think that Welsh Government using Sell2Wales does ensure lower value opportunities and that’s a key way forward in terms of smaller suppliers and third sector firms.
14:16 - Janet Finch-Saunders
Minister, the ‘A Picture of Public Services 2015’ report by the Auditor General for Wales identified several common barriers affecting the access to public sector procurement, especially for small, local enterprises, in particular the amount of bureaucracy in local authority procurement that makes it absolutely impossible for smaller providers to compete. Minister, how can we address these barriers in the next Assembly term, so that we can all keep the Welsh pound going around in our own constituencies across Wales?
14:17 - Jane Hutt
Of course, all local authorities have signed up to our Welsh procurement policy statement. And, the adoption of tools like the supplier qualification information database and the joint bidding guidance do lower barriers for Welsh business to access our contracts, but also we have invested in the home-grown project to ensure that we can improve the ability, consistency and professionalism of those in the procurement sector, particularly in local government.
14:17 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
2. Questions to the Minister for Public Services
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
14:17 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to item 2, which is questions to the Minister for Public Services. Question 1 [OAQ(4)0684(PS)] is withdrawn. Question 2, John Griffiths.
The Armed Forces Community
14:17 - John Griffiths
2. Will the Minister make a statement on the performance of the package of support for the armed forces community in Wales? OAQ(4)0683(PS)
14:17 - Leighton Andrews
Llywydd, we’re committed to supporting both serving members and ex-members of the armed forces in Wales. Our package of support sets out how the Welsh Government supports armed forces veterans in Wales.
14:17 - John Griffiths
Minister, I recently visited the Raglan barracks in Newport to see the training provided by the military preparation college, providing training for a variety of careers. Also, of course, I was pleased to host the launch of the Royal British Legion manifesto for the Assembly elections, which you also attended, as did many other Members here today. Would you agree with me that there is a strong relationship between Welsh Government and the armed forces community in Wales, but that we do need to continue to develop that relationship to ensure that the particular needs of the armed forces community are fully understood and addressed?
14:18 - Leighton Andrews
My colleague the Member for Newport East is absolutely right and I very much welcome the action he took in sponsoring the reception by the Royal British Legion when they launched their manifesto for the Assembly elections just a few weeks back. I think it’s fair to say that our armed forces package of support is almost unique in the United Kingdom. We’ve been highly successful in Wales in improving the take-up of the defence discount card; we’ve implemented unique national services such as the Veterans’ NHS Wales service; and, of course, we continue to maintain full entitlements in our council tax reduction scheme for the next financial year for serving members of the armed forces and ex-service personnel and their families. I agree with my colleague the Member for Newport East that we must continue to ensure that this package of support is developed in the future.
14:19 - Mohammad Asghar
Minister, leaving the military, often, after a long period of service presents former service personnel with many challenges. It often means having to relocate, move home, find new employment and undergo a change of lifestyle. Veterans can sometimes struggle to obtain information about the services available to them when returning to civilian life. What consideration has been given to the establishment of a network of one-stop shops for veterans, as they have in Scotland, to ensure that they are fully aware of the advice and support available to them there?
14:20 - Leighton Andrews
Llywydd, in the first instance, of course, it is for the Ministry of Defence to ensure that resettlement services for members of the armed forces are adequate, but I think we can be proud of the fact that, in Wales, we have established the community covenant across all 22 local authorities with armed forces champions in place in those local authorities. We have worked with the Ministry of Defence, with representatives of the armed forces communities and the charities that support them to ensure that the relevant information on discharge is available to members of the armed forces.
14:21 - Darren Millar
Minister, will you join me in thanking the UK Government for their investment in the wonderful Change Step programme, which has been supported by your Government in the past and engages very effectively with the Veterans’ NHS Wales service? The UK Government, of course, has announced that £500,000 package. It comes just a couple of weeks after an announcement that funding would not continue for that organisation, and this will be very welcome news, indeed, for veterans and their families across Wales.
14:21 - Leighton Andrews
I do want to pay tribute to the work that Change Step has done, and I’ve seen it, indeed, in my own constituency of the Rhondda very recently, when I met with veterans and members of Change Step to discuss the services that they provide and the needs that they have. So, I very much do want to join the Member in congratulating Change Step on the work that it does.
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
14:21 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to questions by party spokespeople. First this afternoon is the Welsh Conservatives’ spokesperson, Janet Finch-Saunders.
14:21 - Janet Finch-Saunders
Thank you. Minister, your statement yesterday regarding consultation on the draft Local Government (Wales) Bill notes that there is still no clear consensus on the future local government structure. Having previously told those working across local government to ‘grow up’ over your dramatic merger proposals, how do you envisage working productively with a new Welsh Government and local government after this Assembly term?
14:22 - Leighton Andrews
Can I say to the Conservative Member that my remarks at committee were, of course, directed to some of the representatives of the Welsh Local Government Association who had previously given evidence to the committee and made what I thought were unhelpful and unfortunate remarks?
14:22 - Janet Finch-Saunders
Thank you, Minister. Having previously described the concerns of the Wales Audit Office relating to the draft Local Government (Wales) Bill affecting audit independence as ‘absurd’, how do you now respond to the findings of the Auditor General for Wales that section 143 of the Bill falls foul of both section 108 and Part 2 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, as is detailed in his comprehensive letter to the chairman of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee?
14:23 - Leighton Andrews
I don’t agree with the auditor general.
14:23 - Janet Finch-Saunders
Thank you. Finally, Minister, as these are my last questions of this Assembly term, could I just thank you for responding to my questions as the spokesperson most courteously and with some humour? [Laughter.] Minister, the reports of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee into the draft Local Government (Wales) Bill urges further consideration, in conjunction with the WLGA, as to how the cost of merges may be met without significant cuts to front-line services. Wouldn’t you agree with me that the next Welsh Government must commit to working with the WLGA on this matter? After all, they are the ones that truly reflect the members for whom they serve.
14:24 - Leighton Andrews
Can I start by saying that I have thoroughly enjoyed crossing swords with the Member in this Chamber and in committee over the last 18 months as we’ve held the respective portfolio responsibilities? In respect to the WLGA, I always listen to what they have to say. [Laughter.]
14:24 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Oh, I beg your pardon. [Laughter.] That did sound like one of your preambles then, Minister. [Laughter.] I do beg your pardon. We now move to Plaid Cymru’s spokesman, Simon Thomas.
14:24 - Simon Thomas
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, nevertheless, you do leave office with 22 principal local authorities still in place, three national park authorities, over 730 town and community councils still in place, 22 new statutory public service boards, four education consortia and a myriad of regional partnerships and delivery bodies still active in delivering public services. If this is public service reform, what would neglect have looked like? [Laughter.]
14:25 - Leighton Andrews
Well, I was very grateful to the Member and his colleagues when they helped us get the Local Government (Wales) Bill through, just a few months ago. Indeed, I thought at the time they were a rather cheap date. [Assembly Members: ‘Oh.’]
14:25 - Simon Thomas
You may regret that in a few weeks. [Laughter.] We will use the legislation when we’re in Government to deliver our agenda for public service reform, and let’s see what sort of date you are then. Turning to dates, let me ask a similar question—perhaps in a different way, but perhaps I’ll get a different answer— to that which the Conservative spokesperson asked you. You, in the past, have suggested that the WLGA should not be funded by central Government and should fund itself, because it is, after all, representing another layer of government, and, often, in opposition to yourself. Do you see that you’ll need to bring an end to central Government funding for the WLGA in order for them to become a true partner in delivering public service reform?
14:26 - Leighton Andrews
I’m not sure that we need to curtail all support for the WLGA, but what I do think, at the end of the day, is the WLGA’s role is principally to represent the interests of local government in Wales. Now, it’s fair to say that local government in Wales gets a very high percentage of its income from the Welsh Government already. So, for us then to fund the WLGA on top of that might be seen to be asking a bit much, I think, of this Government’s generosity.
14:26 - Simon Thomas
Well, one of the things that the WLGA is using its funds, partly from you, to do at the moment, of course, is to establish a commission on local government finance, chaired by Professor Travers, who is well known in local government finance circles in that respect. I understand that that will report, actually, on 24 March. We won’t be sitting as an Assembly; however, you’ll still be a Government Minister. So, can you give an indication to the Assembly today, as it’s our last day, of how you might want to respond to that report, and whether you agree with me that the reform of funding for local government finance is something that has to go hand in hand with the reform of the delivery bodies?
14:27 - Leighton Andrews
Firstly, can I say that I don’t agree that the reform of local government finance has to go hand in hand with the reorganisation of local government? In fact, I think it’s probably preferable that we proceed with one agenda before addressing the longer term agenda of local government finance reform. However, he will be aware that I have also appointed a finance futures panel to look at some of those long-term issues. I’ve had a thorough briefing from Professor Tony Travers on the work of the independent commission. I welcome the work that has been done there and I look forward to the publication of their final report, which I think will be important and will make a significant contribution to wider debate in Wales about the future of local government finance reform. Since this is our last question time, can I pay tribute to the Member who has followed me from portfolio to portfolio, it feels, in this Chamber? It was only within a few weeks of him coming into this Chamber that he changed his party’s policy on tuition fees and now I find him changing his party’s policy on local government, but it’s always been enjoyable to work with him.
14:28 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to the Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Peter Black.
14:28 - Peter Black
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Can I also add my thanks to the Minister for our engagements in the past and my appreciation of the work that we have done together to try to improve local government and the various responsibilities that he has under his portfolio? Just following on from Simon Thomas’s question in relation to local government finance, the Minister has referred to the finance futures panel, which he set up, and I’ve also had a briefing on the WLGA commission, which I understand is to report on Thursday, 26 March. Minister, in setting up your finance futures panel, what principles have you asked them to consider in terms of looking at how local government should be funded in the future?
14:29 - Leighton Andrews
I wouldn’t go on a date with him, because Thursday isn’t 26 March, it’s 24 March, as it happens. But, leaving that aside, these are important issues. The report of the independent commission, established by the WLGA, I very much look forward to reading in full. Professor Tony Travers came to my finance futures panel to give evidence there. We all know, I think, of his reputation in this area, over decades, and he has made a very significant contribution to public life and public thinking around issues of local government finance, and I am sure that we will all read with interest what he has to say. And can I reciprocate to the Member and say that I have thoroughly enjoyed our sparring across this Chamber over the years, and can I say to him—if it’s not too presumptive—I look forward to it continuing?
14:30 - Peter Black
Well, thank you for that, Minister. I also look forward to it continuing after 5 May as well. Minister, you’ve outlined again how you understand the WLGA panel—Tony Travers’s panel—is going to work, but you haven’t actually given me much detail in terms of what your finance futures panel is actually looking at. What are the main principles that you believe should be built into any future local government finance system? Clearly, there is a need to improve services and outcomes, and maybe to drive economic growth. Are those the key drivers, or are there other drivers you want to consider as well?
14:31 - Leighton Andrews
Well, I think we need to consider equity, we need to consider factors like deprivation, we need to consider all of those issues that have been raised by Members in this Chamber, including, of course, sparsity. But I think we are at a time when, increasingly, local government is going to need to become more sustainable of itself, and therefore its ability to raise finance is going to become a more critical question. And, therefore, I wouldn’t want the finance futures panel at this stage to rule out anything in its considerations. It will look across the piece; it will certainly take on board what has been said in the independent commission report, when that is published. But, from my point of view, I would rather we took our time to explore all options and to get this right than rushed into a reform of local government finance that proved to be less than optimal.
14:32 - Peter Black
Thank you for that answer. I think that’s absolutely right, and I think we saw the consequences when the Conservative Government rushed into reforming, with the creation of the community charge or the poll tax. Minister, you’ve already talked about giving local government more responsibility and empowering them, and you’ve also, of course, abolished a lot of direct grants to local government, although I think there are still about 50 left, which need to be looked at for the future. Would you be considering giving local government more freedom to impose their own taxes and devise taxes locally, as part of this? Is that part of your approach—a more sort of diverse approach, giving local councils the ability to do different things in different areas?
14:32 - Leighton Andrews
I think it’s far too early to say what the finance futures panel would be willing to recommend. But, clearly, it needs to look across the piece at international evidence, and we know local government, and, indeed, regional governments in other parts of the world, have in their hands a number of different levers that they can use to raise finance. It’s right that we give consideration to all of those, and, at this stage, I wouldn’t want to rule things out, but I think it’s unlikely that—there is one area that I probably would want to rule out, and I think it’s unlikely that the concept of local income tax would find favour with this Government.
14:33 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Question 3 [OAQ(4)0685(PS)] is withdrawn.
Public Engagement (Public Services)
14:33 - Joyce Watson
4. Will the Minister make a statement on the function of public engagement in designing public services? OAQ(4)0691(PS)
14:33 - Leighton Andrews
The Welsh Government encourages public participation in policy making and in the design and delivery of public services. Both the draft Local Government (Wales) Bill and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 promote the importance of engagement in designing public services.
14:34 - Joyce Watson
I thank you for that answer, Minister. With today’s budget, George Osborne looks set to cut £4 billion of public spend, and the hole does get deeper, and the Tories will keep digging, of course, and that will be the fiscal context and challenge for the next Welsh Government, and also knocking on to public services. So, consulting the public on spending priorities and service design will really be important. Will you, therefore, reiterate to public bodies, Minister, the need for user-friendly, widely publicised, and easily available consultation, and, in the name of saving finance, would you ask them to include information about upcoming consultations in literature that the councils already send round to every house in their given area?
14:34 - Leighton Andrews
Can I start by saying my colleague the Member for Mid and West Wales is right to remind the Chamber of the devastating cuts to public finances imposed by the Conservative Government at Westminster—the cuts they’ve imposed on the Welsh budget of around £1.3 billion and economic policies, of course, which are simply not delivering, as we know, at a UK level or indeed delivering for the people of Wales?
In respect of the clarity that councils need to give to their residents about proposals that are being developed for local spending or local council tax, when I announced the local government settlement, I reminded councillors in my letter to them of the importance of engaging with their local communities in formulating budget proposals and in making budget decisions. Some councils do that very comprehensively indeed, but in the draft Local Government (Wales) Bill, of course, we will be placing a new duty on local authorities to consult their communities and partner organisations in the setting of spending priorities for each financial year before budgets are agreed by the council.
14:36 - Suzy Davies
Of course, Minister, many local authorities and public bodies now carry out their consultations almost exclusively online and not through the medium of leaflets, as Joyce Watson seems to think still goes on. While that does make it more accessible for some people, it doesn’t really help the digitally excluded and in particular children and young people. I think it would be fair to say that many web pages aren’t designed, when they should be, to be accessible by young children and young people. I recall that we share the same view on our commitment as an Assembly to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child trickling down to public bodies that deliver Government policy and I wonder therefore what steps you’ve taken, let’s say in the last six months, to talk to public bodies and local authorities about complying with what we believe are UNCRC obligations.
14:37 - Leighton Andrews
Let’s start by saying that it’s not a question of trickling down to local government. Local authorities are autonomous institutions in their own right: they have public duties, including duties in respect of children, and they have duties in respect of young people more widely. I’m pleased that some councils, of course, have established youth councils locally, which play an important role in decision taking in their areas. This was an issue that we explored in the White Paper, ‘Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People’, which I published last year.
14:37 - Jocelyn Davies
Minister, something often raised with me is the jargon used by organisations being off-putting. So, what is the Welsh Government doing to make sure that plain language is used during public consultations?
14:37 - Leighton Andrews
Can I start, before anything else, by just saying how much I’ve enjoyed working with the Member over the last 13 or so years? Although, on the first occasion that I met her, she did use very direct language, in fact—I think it was before I was elected to the Assembly. She called me a ‘wannabe’. But since then our relationship has changed and it was only a few years later that she was drawing everybody’s attention to my perennially sunny disposition. So, can I say it’s been great fun working with her and I very much want to place on record my thanks to her for the work that she did in enabling this Assembly to pass the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, which was obviously a groundbreaking piece of legislation?
We are very keen that local government, and indeed ourselves as a Government, use clear language that cannot be guilty of misinterpretation. She will know that I try to speak bluntly; I encourage everyone else to do the same.
14:38 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I think you succeed actually, Minister. [Laughter.] Kirsty Williams.
14:39 - Kirsty Williams
Minister, you will be aware of my frustrations with my own local authority, Powys County Council, and how it engages with its local population. Already in this past week, we’ve seen Powys County Council change the start date for a consultation on the future of a high school three times in the space of one week. You will also be very familiar with the school organisation code—a document that you wrote whilst you were the education Minister. What can you do, as Minister for Public Services, to ensure that Powys County Council treats its local population with respect and carries out consultations under the auspices of the code that you wrote in a correct manner, which allows for proper engagement by the public? Would you agree with me that the simple fact that they’ve had to change the date three times in a week before that consultation starts just shows what a shambles they currently are?
14:39 - Leighton Andrews
Well, I think the Member has made her point very forcefully about the current schools consultation that is going on in Powys. I think she will have heard what the First Minister said yesterday. It’s not for Ministers to comment on proposals that might come near the Government at some stage for some aspects. I will say to her that my e-mail inbox—as I’m sure the inbox of many other Ministers—has received, I would say, dozens, genuinely, of e-mails from concerned people in Powys. I have certainly ensured that those e-mails are passed on to the Minister for Education and Skills. In respect of the school organisation code, all local authorities know what their obligations are under that school organisation code. It is a matter, of course, for my colleague the Minister for Education and Skills, but I would certainly expect all local authorities to implement that code effectively and properly.
Local Authority Functions
14:40 - Bethan Jenkins
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the outsourcing of local authority functions? OAQ(4)0679(PS)
14:40 - Leighton Andrews
I believe that public servants and those acting in the public interest are best placed to deliver public services. Alternative delivery models have a role to play as an alternative to services being withdrawn or outsourced into the for-private-profit sector.
14:41 - Bethan Jenkins
Thank you, Minister. I do welcome the explanations that you’ve given as a Government with regard to community asset transfer, and the explanations that have been provided, though my personal worry is that local authorities don’t seem to be picking up on this advice very well. For example, I went to meet the Bryn Bowls Club in Aberavon last week, which had only been told in January that they must take over the running of the building and the green by April this year. They simply didn’t have the capacity, and don’t believe they have the capacity, to go through with looking at community asset transfer in the short time that they were afforded by the council. This is just one example of a community group that I’ve talked to; there are many, many more. What advice could you give in these last few weeks of your tenure to help local authorities give people the correct advice, so that they can go about running their own services if that is the reality on the ground at the moment?
14:42 - Leighton Andrews
Well, it’s certainly the case that, if asset transfers are to be successful, then local authorities need to engage with communities that might be taking over those assets at an early stage for them to formulate effective plans. It would be helpful if they were properly engaged in the development of business plans. We’ve been consulting on the action plan in respect of alternative delivery models, and we will be publishing that very shortly. There will be clarity within that, but we would expect local authorities to give proper consideration to the process of transferring assets. Certainly, issues such as capacity will be issues they need to consider.
14:42 - Gwenda Thomas
My questions have been touched on earlier, but I would ask—following what Bethan Jenkins has said, Minister—that, where local authorities do propose to change their services to an alternative model, or whatever, it is of key importance that they do consult with citizens, and that citizens, furthermore, are at the centre of the services. Do you agree with me that the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 also requires that, and that it is, indeed, in the spirit of that Act?
14:43 - Leighton Andrews
Well, can I say that I completely agree with my colleague, the Member for Neath, and that’s one of the reasons why I, like everybody else in this Chamber, will miss her after this Assembly has come to an end? She’s right, of course, to draw attention to the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, which she piloted through this Assembly. The guidance that we are developing in respect of alternative delivery models is, I believe, very much within the spirit of that Act.
14:43 - William Graham
Minister, I’m sure you will join with me on the collaboration that has taken place for the Cardiff city deal: a tremendous collaboration, not only between Governments, but also the 10 local authorities. For it to go forward and to be successful in the future, there has to be a real private-public partnership. How do you envisage that happening?
14:44 - Leighton Andrews
Well, Llywydd, I think I’d better declare an interest at this point, in that my wife is chairing the transition board for the Cardiff capital region, and I know was interviewed on the matter of the city deal yesterday. I think it is important that there is an effective governance structure within the city deal that ensures that the views of business are properly taken into account. I know that will be one of the factors that will be weighing very heavily with the Welsh Government as we look to the implementation of the city deal in due course. Can I also pay tribute to the Member? We will all miss him and his flowery decorations in the future.
14:45 - Aled Roberts
Minister, as services are outsourced, has the Government made any investigation into the tendency within local authorities to group services together so that local employers miss out? There is evidence, for example, in leisure services in Wrexham, where a relatively large company from England has taken those services over, and mention was made on the BBC this morning about concerns in Gwynedd that local employers are losing out. Has there been any analysis of this tendency by the Welsh Government?
14:45 - Leighton Andrews
Well, clearly, we would like local authorities to give effective consideration to community engagement in situations where they have decided to outsource provision. The point that the Member makes about the bundling of services can often act against the interests of local communities, and sometimes against the interests of the workforce, and one of the other factors, of course, that we have spelt out in the action plan on alternative delivery models is that we would expect trade union recognition to be part of any plan. We would expect, of course, that there would be a system of accountability back to the local authority as well, but I think the point the Member makes is well made.
Carmarthenshire County Council
14:46 - Simon Thomas
6. Will the Minister make a statement on the Wales Audit Office report on Carmarthenshire County Council? OAQ(4)0682(PS)[W]
14:46 - Leighton Andrews
I have noted the Wales Audit Office’s corporate assessment report 2015 on Carmarthenshire County Council. This is a matter for the council to respond to.
14:46 - Simon Thomas
Thank you, Minister, for that response. But as you may know, as you have noted the report, the report states that Carmarthenshire council is now
‘outlining ambition in terms of its vision as well as leadership along with more robust and transparent governance’
and does ensure, therefore, that there are better outcomes for its citizens. That’s happening, of course, in terms of political change within Carmarthenshire County Council leadership. Will we see political change that’s just as effective in changing this Government?
14:47 - Leighton Andrews
We will be taking our agenda to the people of Wales in the next few weeks, and I’m very confident that what we have to say will be well received by the people of Wales as we campaign together for Wales in this party. In respect of Carmarthenshire, which is where his question started, I welcome what has been said in that report. I had a useful meeting with the leader of that council just recently.
14:47 - Angela Burns
Minister, the overall assessment is a positive one for Carmarthenshire County Council, and one of the reasons that has come across for it is its ability to tailor its internal structures that enable it to deliver the most effective solutions and services for the people of Carmarthenshire. However, Minister, by enforcing the mergers proposed by you, all councils will struggle to deliver the services the people they serve need, because the granular knowledge that’s required to provide such services will become lost as a consequence of overcentralisation. What consideration have you given to this issue, and why are you risking the delivery of effective services to the people of Wales simply for the sake of ideology?
14:48 - Leighton Andrews
I think I have to disagree with the Member fairly fundamentally. What we are proposing is a fundamental reform of local government. We cannot continue with a flawed system of local government that was created by her party in the mid-1990s, a system that has resulted in several local authorities being in special measures over education, and others being in special measures over social services. We will put our proposals before the people of Wales. We’ve invited them to respond to our consultation, I’ve published now the results of that consultation, and it will be for the next Government to take the reform of local government forward. But as far as I can see, there is only one party in this Chamber that remains wedded to the flawed 1990s model imposed by the Conservatives.
14:49 - William Powell
Minister, I too applaud the auditor general’s overall assessment of Carmarthenshire County Council, and I quote,
‘demonstrating ambition in its vision, with collective leadership and more robust and transparent governance’.
However, in terms of recent decisions that have been taken with respect to the listed provisions market in Llandeilo, there have been major concerns expressed to me by many local residents, both members of the business community and private citizens, that they have been effectively excluded from decisions around the future of that very important potential regeneration project. I would ask you, Minister, to express a view as to the importance of local buy-in and involvement with such projects and also, in adjacent Llandovery, the site of the Pantycelyn school, which unfortunately closed for the last time earlier this year.
14:50 - Leighton Andrews
Well, I think I’ve already said in this Chamber that we regard effective consultation and engagement with local people as being critical when councils are taking major decisions. We’ve reiterated that in guidance to local authorities. It will be a feature of the action plan on alternative delivery models, and I very much hope that councils will hear what we have to say.
14:50 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Question 7 [OAQ(4)0686(PS)] has been withdrawn. Question 8, Llyr Gruffydd.
Local Government Reorganisation
14:51 - Llyr Gruffydd
8. Will the Minister make a statement on local government reorganisation? OAQ(4)0693(PS)[W]
Nick Ramsay
12. Will the Minister outline his vision for the future of local government in Wales? OAQ(4)0687(PS)
14:51 - Leighton Andrews
Llywydd, I think you’ve agreed that questions 8 and 12 can be taken together. Our plans to reform local government in Wales were set out in the draft Local Government (Wales) Bill, which was published for consultation in November. Consultation closed on 15 February.
14:51 - Llyr Gruffydd
As you have mentioned, changes are in the pipeline in terms of local authorities and county councils. But there is a job of work to be done in terms of looking at town and community councils in Wales. Would you agree with me therefore that, while local authorities are being reorganised, there is now an opportunity to get to grips with that other layer of government that does make an important contribution but could make an even greater contribution?
14:51 - Leighton Andrews
Yes, indeed, and that’s why, in our local government White Paper last year, ‘Power to Local People’, we went into some detail about the future role of town and community councils. We said that there should be a review of the structure of town and community councils across Wales. We recognised in that White Paper that the provision of town and community councils across Wales is rather patchy. They vary in size, of course. They vary in terms of their capabilities and responsibilities. Within the draft local government Bill, we have made provision for a general power of competence for some of the larger community councils, and I hope that that is something to which they will respond well as we develop that policy.
14:52 - Nick Ramsay
I’m sure the Minister has anticipated what I’m going to ask in this question. We had the announcement yesterday, and we got the statement later, on the city deal. Minister, do you agree that this is a great example of the way that the strengths of our current local government structure can be enhanced and built upon and the way that 10 distinct authorities working together can actually deliver massive economic benefits for their region and for the Welsh economy? Wouldn’t it be better to build on those strengths rather than simply discard it all on the bonfire of history?
14:53 - Leighton Andrews
Well, I welcome the fact that they’ve come together to agree on the proposals for the city deal. Of course, if there were fewer local authorities, that process might have taken place a lot more quickly.
14:53 - Janet Finch-Saunders
Minister, the report of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee on the draft Local Government (Wales) Bill calls for an exploration of the impact of council tax harmonisation, with a view to providing robust cost estimates alongside the publication of the final Bill. Residents in Conwy would face potential increases of another 11 per cent on band D council tax bills should mergers result in upward harmonisation. As this is considered a matter of urgency to be addressed, will you be doing just this before this Assembly term ends and before we go into dissolution?
14:54 - Leighton Andrews
Well, the Member continues to pre-judge the outcomes of any future merger programme and their impact on council tax levels. I do not pre-judge those at all.
Local Authority Governance
14:54 - Suzy Davies
9. Will the Minister make a statement on the future of local authority governance in the Swansea bay area? OAQ(4)0681(PS)
14:54 - Leighton Andrews
Our proposals are set out in the draft Local Government (Wales) Bill.
14:54 - Suzy Davies
Thank you for that answer, Minister. With a bid for Swansea city deal now in hand, this would appear to be a perfect opportunity to reconsider the local governance model for the area, especially as merger prospects are still just prospects. What discussions have you therefore had with the economy Minister and the city region board about how a directly elected mayor could work to the advantage of my region, should the city deal go through?
14:54 - Leighton Andrews
I’ve had several discussions with my colleague, the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, but I don’t think either of us has ever pursued the option of a directly elected mayor for the Swansea bay region.
14:55 - Peter Black
Minister, the issues raised by Suzy Davies are relevant in relation to the city region deal in terms of how that deal is going to be held to account and will become a transparent process that can be properly scrutinised. Do you know what mechanisms are likely to be available to local government to actually scrutinise their part of that deal and to ensure that it’s being delivered as envisaged, if it is approved?
14:55 - Leighton Andrews
Well, the city deal arrangements are not, in fact, within my portfolio, but let me say I think we would expect, and I’m sure it would be the expectation of others who are party to any city deal, that there was effective governance within those arrangements.
Rural Communities
14:55 - Russell George
10. Will the Minister make a statement on the provision of public services in rural communities? OAQ(4)0688(PS)
14:55 - Leighton Andrews
Llywydd, we want sustainable first-class services delivered in the most efficient and effective way in line with the needs and preferences of local communities. Our strategic agenda for public service reform was set out in ‘Devolution, Democracy and Delivery: Improving public services for people in Wales’.
14:56 - Russell George
Thank you for your answer, Minister. The loss of provision of public toilets in rural communities is something that exercises my constituents, especially in those areas that have a thriving tourism industry. I do welcome the Public Health (Wales) Bill, which will require local authorities to draw up strategies for public toilets, but there is a concern about the financial viability of providing these facilities and whether the measures will be enough to halt the decline in the number of public toilets in practice. But, can I ask you what measures you are taking to ensure that there is adequate provision of public toilets specifically in rural parts of Wales?
14:56 - Leighton Andrews
Well, if his Government in London hadn’t cut the Welsh budget by £1.3 billion, we would all have more pennies to spend, Llywydd. I think that the remarks he has made in respect of the Public Health (Wales) Bill will have been heard by the health Minister, and clearly we are moving to Stage 4 on that Bill later this afternoon.
Improvements to Public Services
14:57 - Christine Chapman
11. How is the Welsh Government working with local authorities to deliver improvements to public services? OAQ(4)0689(PS)
14:57 - Leighton Andrews
We have a number of mechanisms to work with local authorities and the wider public service to support them to deliver improved outcomes for the people of Wales. The effective services group and public service leadership panel are two examples.
14:57 - Christine Chapman
Thank you, Minister. Well, it’s been good to see the repeated collaboration between Welsh local authorities and the Welsh Government. Infrastructure and support for services such as social care have been improved tremendously, and there was another example yesterday with the signing of the Cardiff city deal. Only today, in Rhondda Cynon Taf council, we have heard that the home-to-school transport changes will not now take place, which is to be welcomed. Do you agree with me that this way of working, exemplified by such collaborations as the twenty-first century schools programme, stands in stark contrast to the efforts of the UK Government to undercut and underfund local authorities in England?
14:58 - Leighton Andrews
Well, can I thank my colleague, the Member for Cynon Valley? Let me say that, over the years, she has brought considerable experience of local government to this Chamber and, again, I know that she is someone who will be missed when she stands down from the Assembly at the end of this session. I’m very pleased that she’s drawn attention to the decision by the leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council today not to proceed with the proposals for home-to-school charges. This is very good news for parents and, indeed, grandparents in Rhondda Cynon Taf, let me say, and I know it’ll be widely welcomed. Certainly in Wales, we have tried to protect local government and the finance available to it. Indeed, the leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council said that the better than expected settlement from this Government was one of the reasons why they did not have to go ahead with those proposed home-to-school charges.
14:59 - Mark Isherwood
The auditor general has stated that local authorities need to consider alternative models of delivery, but many councils, he said, are too slow in reviewing alternative methods of delivery and are missing out on opportunities to reduce expenditure. What action have you, therefore, taken subsequent to the Wales Audit Office report in December on delivering less with leisure services, which found that some councils were still too slow to realise opportunities to reduce expenditure? Eighteen of the 22 councils had seen reductions to their recreation and sport services gross revenue budgets, but four councils increased expenditure in this period, with the largest rises in Caerphilly and Flintshire?
14:59 - Leighton Andrews
Well, Llywydd, I’ve already explained to the Chamber that we’ve been consulting, of course, on the action plan on alternative delivery models, and we will publish the final action plan shortly.
15:00 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Question 12 was answered earlier. Question 13 [OAQ(4)0680(PS)] has been withdrawn. So, question 14—Rhun ap Iorwerth.
The Possible Devolution of Policing
15:00 - Rhun ap Iorwerth
14. What preparations have been made for the possible devolution of policing? OAQ(4)0694(PS)[W]
15:00 - Leighton Andrews
Our draft Wales Bill, published on 7 March, contained a number of proposals for devolution of responsibility for the criminal justice system including policing.
15:00 - Rhun ap Iorwerth
The Minister will be aware, of course, that there is a great deal of confusion within his own party about the direction that we should be travelling in in terms of the devolution of policing. With the party here, it appears that it wants to devolve policing, but the leaders in London don’t want to move in that direction. Perhaps he should arrange a date with the leaders of his own party to try and persuade them. But does the Minister agree that it is now important to have consensus within, as well across, the parties, so that we can move forward with the devolution of policing?
15:01 - Leighton Andrews
I do think the Member needs to keep up, in fact, because the Labour general election manifesto last year made it absolutely clear that we supported the devolution of policing, and that was confirmed, of course, by the First Minister in the publication of the Wales Bill and, indeed, the shadow Home Secretary confirmed that as well last week. So, I would urge the Member—and I’m delighted in his interest in Labour Party politics—to keep his interest more up to date.
15:01 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
3. Statement: City Deals
We now move to item 3, which is a statement by the Minister for Finance and Government Business on city deals, and I call on the Minister for finance—Jane Hutt.
15:01 - Jane Hutt
Llywydd, I would like to take this opportunity to update Members on the Cardiff capital region city deal. The city deal was signed yesterday by the leaders of the 10 Cardiff capital region local authorities and representatives of the Welsh and UK Governments. This is the first Welsh city deal to be agreed, but also amongst the largest investment deals agreed to date. Over its lifetime, we expect the deal to build on the acknowledged strengths of the city region, delivering up to 25,000 new jobs and leveraging an additional £4 billion of private sector investment. This is a vote of confidence in Wales and in the region.
City deals are an important opportunity to put local ideas and local decision making at the heart of local economic growth. Representatives of all of the authorities involved have worked hard with business and further and higher education institutions. Together, they have built an agreement which will provide the powers and resources to unlock significant economic growth in a region that is home to around half of Wales’s population. It is testament to how much can be achieved in partnership across boundaries when we have a shared objective and vision—working together to improve the lives of people in all our communities, maximising opportunity for all and ensuring that we secure sustainable economic growth for future generations.
The Cardiff capital region city deal differs in several significant ways from those signed between the UK Government and local authorities in England. That reflects the distinctive Welsh context. It also reflects the policies and priorities of the Welsh Government, in particular our established agenda for public service improvement. The deal was born out of a shared belief that 10 local authorities, working together, can deliver more than one authority working on its own. By working across city regions, we can deliver benefits and economic growth that cannot be achieved otherwise. The Welsh and UK Governments will each be investing more than £0.5 billion in this deal. That is a very visible statement of support for the proposals in the agreement. The local authorities are also investing in their shared vision, with a total of £120 million.
In total, the Cardiff capital region investment fund, which is at the heart of the deal, is worth more than £1.2 billion over the next 20 years. The ambitious south-east Wales metro scheme will be the key initial priority for the investment fund. More than £700 million will be invested in the next phase of the metro, with full involvement of the Cardiff capital region in co-design of the wider metro scheme, and in the procurement of a delivery organisation. The remaining element of the investment fund—another £500 million—will be used to take forward a wide range of projects and schemes that support economic growth across the Cardiff capital region. Decisions on the prioritisation of these schemes will be taken by the new capital region joint cabinet. Schemes taken forward are likely to include further transport schemes, building on the next phase of the metro, investment to unlock housing and employment sites and development of research and innovation facilities.
Throughout this administration, we have been clear about the contribution that the right infrastructure projects and skills investment can make to economic growth. The Cardiff capital region city deal reflects this approach. It includes important new initiatives in the region to increase skill levels, support people into work and give businesses support to innovate and grow. It gives a stronger regional voice to the local authorities and provides a basis for them to shape policies that respond to local needs and work closely with businesses. The city deal reflects our local government reform agenda and is based on closer collaboration backed with stronger governance arrangements. The governance arrangements provide assurance that the authorities can deliver these ambitious plans and be held accountable for their success. Under the agreement, governance arrangements will be reviewed to consider whether they are fit for purpose to deliver the deal.
The deal includes establishment of a new, non-statutory, regional transport authority to co-ordinate transport planning and investment in partnership with the Welsh Government. It also includes a commitment between the Welsh Government and the Cardiff capital region to a new partnership approach to strategic planning to ensure the delivery of sustainable communities through the use and reuse of property and sites. A Cardiff capital region business organisation will be established to ensure that there is a strong, clear, single voice for business to work with local authority leaders. And, as part of the deal, the Welsh Government will also be exploring with the Cardiff capital region the scope to provide additional flexibility in a number of areas, including in relation to business rates, responsibility over funding streams—within a simplified but stronger performance framework—and pooled funding.
We’ve always been clear that a successful city deal for the Cardiff capital region can and should help to unlock deals for other areas. I’ve consistently stressed to the UK Government the importance of a city deal for the Swansea bay region, especially in light of the recently announced Tata job losses, and it’s pleasing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated that a deal would be progressed in his budget speech today. The Welsh Government will be supporting the Swansea deal and, just as we listened to the Cardiff capital region, where it was clear that the metro was at the heart of the deal, we’re discussing with the Swansea bay region how best we can support their ambitions. We look forward to continuing to work with the UK Government and Swansea bay to develop the region’s proposition further.
We will also be continuing to work closely with the north Wales local authorities and the North Wales Economic Ambition Board to consider how city deals can best support their ambitions, including maximising the relationship with the Northern Powerhouse. Again, I was pleased to see the Chancellor’s mention of a growth deal for north Wales in his budget speech.
15:07 - Nick Ramsay
Minister, can I thank you for your statement today? The announcement of the £1.2 billion city deal agreement is indeed amazing news for the Welsh economy, made possible by a number of stakeholders. I see that Councillor Peter Fox, the leader of Monmouthshire, is on there; Craig Williams, MP for Cardiff North; and other MPs in Cardiff have been responsible for this as well. So, it’s a great team effort—and the First Minister, obviously. This is a great example of the strengths of the current local government structure. As I asked the public services Minister earlier, can we now look at retaining that structure and improving it as a way to bolster future city deals as well as this?
Turning to the city deal itself and the Cardiff capital region investment fund that you mentioned, you say that the metro is at the heart of the scheme. When can we expect to see movement—pardon the pun—on the metro? We’ve had a lot of talk. We know that the Valleys lines franchise is going to be renewed in a couple of years’ time. So, clearly, the metro concept needs to be fully developed by then in terms of the purchase of rolling stock et cetera.
In terms of the other £0.5 billion that you mention and the capital region joint cabinet, how is that cabinet going to be composed? Could we have some more clarity on that? More importantly, how is it going to be monitored? It’s clearly got a very important task ahead of it. What guidance are you going to give to that cabinet in terms of the further transport schemes that you mention? Are these public transport schemes or are they road developments? We know that there’s been confusion over the exact cost of the new M4 black route. Are there any other uncertainties in terms of costings that could see costs spiral related to this programme? So, we need those costings.
This is, as you say, Minister, the first deal. What sort of timescale are you planning—albeit in the initial stages—for future schemes such as the Swansea deal and, of course, north Wales? I agree with you that north Wales needs a deal as well. There is a perception that they have been left out of previous schemes. What initial thoughts have been given to this, and indeed to the way that different city regions may in the future work together? Because there surely will be a lot of best practice that will be developed and we need to make sure that that is made the most of.
15:10 - Jane Hutt
Thank you, Nick Ramsay. I would go back to when, in fact, it was Danny Alexander who announced the city deal for Glasgow way back, and I wrote to him immediately and said, ‘What about a city deal for Wales?’ and here we are, fortunately, having all played our part to reach this point. I think it is important to recognise that the metro is at the heart of the city deal. Clearly, in terms of the planned investment in the south-east Wales metro, it stands at £734 million, including £125 million of funding from the UK Government and £106 million from the European Union, the ERDF, as well. Of course, that is moving forward now. We’ve got the green light; we’ve got the commitment out to procurement and progress will be made. Of course, Ministers have already made statements about the metro in terms of plans and potential.
It is important that we look at the governance arrangements. Strong governance has been the central part of all the city deals; we have to be assured that authorities can deliver their plans to be held accountable for their success. Authorities do, under the agreement, agree to review their governance arrangements, and also, it’s important to clarify that they’re establishing a joint cabinet to provide leadership and accountability for the deal. So, part of that joint cabinet will now enable them to delegate budgets and responsibilities for delivering this ambitious deal. Of course, this is a real step forward, but, of course, alongside that come opportunities as well, and you mentioned transport and other schemes that might emerge. Of course, as I’ve said, there will be a new regional transport authority and that’s, again, authorities working together to plan once for the whole region and pooling their resources to deliver their priorities. The regional transport authority will, of course, be working with us to procure the south-east Wales metro and to consider further transport projects in the future.
Now, of course, you mentioned Swansea and north Wales, which we have been seeking support for and I think that we now have the Chancellor saying that he is going to progress with negotiations in terms of a very impressive Swansea city deal proposal that was put forward, and particularly important in light of the Tata job losses. In north Wales, I have had many meetings with the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, and recognise again that we have helped to bring together not only all the local authorities in north Wales, but also the Northern Powerhouse, which, of course, they are keen to progress, as well, in terms of possible growth development for north Wales.
15:13 - Alun Davies
I think, like others on all sides of the Chamber, Minister, I’d like to welcome both the deal signed yesterday and the statement you’ve made this afternoon. I’m approaching the city deal from the point of view of the Heads of the Valleys and from Blaenau Gwent. We’re very concerned—we very much welcome being a part of the Cardiff region city deal—but we’re very much concerned that the regional deal is balanced across the whole of the region to ensure that the Heads of the Valleys region benefits from that and that we do see investment in the Heads of the Valleys region.
I welcome very much the statements that have already been made by Ministers on the metro and I understand the timescale for the delivery of the metro, but I wonder, Minister, if you could outline to us a timescale of how you see the city deal coming together to deliver for the whole of the region, and, at the same time, how you foresee the city deal being able to drive economic growth, the delivery of investment and the creation of jobs in Blaenau Gwent and other parts of the Heads of the Valleys region.
15:14 - Jane Hutt
I thank Alun Davies for his welcome of this groundbreaking city deal and recognise that, yesterday, I greeted the leader of Blaenau Gwent council, Councillor Steve Thomas. Again, all of the leaders coming together: it’s very important that Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council in the Heads of the Valleys, alongside, of course, colleagues from Merthyr, Monmouthshire, Bridgend and Rhondda Cynon Taf, are all signed up to this deal. It is important that we recognise that this deal is the biggest per-capita city deal so far—bigger than Glasgow and all the six main English cities. It is over a 20-year period that the deal is being delivered, driving economic growth in the region. Of course, the south-east Wales metro is at the heart of that, which will very clearly benefit Blaenau Gwent. I was very pleased to recently visit again the area where we invested—multimillion investment—in the works in Ebbw Vale, in the stations and the links and that connectivity.
I think we must also recognise that the city deal is not just about transport. Of course, it’s about connecting the region. It’s about support for innovation and improving the digital network. It’s about support for developing a skilled workforce and tackling unemployment—particularly important in terms of Blaenau Gwent and the Heads of the Valleys. I think the Cardiff capital region skills and employment board that’s going to be created will ensure that the skills and employment that are needed will, of course, cover the whole of the city deal region. It will be about co-designing those developments and, of course, that will include co-designing with the Department for Work and Pensions. But, of course, it’s also going to enable us to have a single voice for business, working with local authorities across the whole of the region. So, it’s a real step change for a local authority such as Blaenau Gwent to oversee delivery and to speak and contribute as part of one single regional voice.
15:16 - Rhun ap Iorwerth
Firstly, from a Cardiff and south-east Wales perspective, obviously the deal announced yesterday is welcome. The public money, £1.2 billion, is the headline, clearly, but it’s more than that, it’s about what can be achieved from that to trigger further investment and what can be achieved through the pooling of efforts across the public sector.
As with anything, of course, we have to sound a note of caution on a number of issues. In other parts of Wales, including the north, there is concern that this investment is happening at the expense of others and, coming on top of the £1 billion black route M4, there is understandably, I hope you’d agree, a feeling, not only in the north, but in mid Wales, the west and in Swansea of, ‘Hold on, this might all be very well for Cardiff and the south-east, but where’s the equivalent for us?’
These are important questions, not only in terms of economic development, in practical terms of job creation, improving transport connectivity and so on, but there’s also a very important political dimension that I think we ignore at our peril. Welsh Government must, of course, work for the whole of Wales and any perception, no doubt strengthened by the announcement yesterday—however good that news may be for one part of Wales—is bad for devolution, potentially, and bad for what should be a common endeavour to all of us, which is to join up Wales and have that joint national venture to create a fairer and more prosperous Wales.
So, my first question is: how does the Government respond to the city deal with a deal for the whole of Wales—north and west as well as south and east? My second question, very much along the same lines as that from the Member for Blaenau Gwent, is: what assurances can the Government give that the city deal won’t just suck the life out of the rest of the south-east Wales region and that it will be a mechanism for spreading prosperity out of Cardiff to areas such as the Valleys? The third question, on a point of transparency: you say in your statement that the metro is the main priority at this point in time—I think it was 30 June last year when the Government announced a package of around £600 million to be spent on phase 2 of the metro, so it would appear that much of what was announced yesterday has already been announced and put into the public domain—could you explain what additional public funding Welsh Government is proposing to put into the city deal that hasn’t already been announced?
15:18 - Jane Hutt
I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth for his welcome for the Cardiff capital region city deal, but also the fact that he raises very important points in terms of the impacts and implications for the rest of Wales. We’ve been very clear in terms of negotiations with the UK Government and Treasury that a successful city deal for Cardiff capital region will demonstrate our credibility, but it must help unlock deals for other areas, for the rest of Wales. We’ve stressed to the UK Government the importance of a Swansea city deal for the region, as I said, especially in light of the recent Tata job losses. And also, as I’ve said, we’re working very closely with the north Wales region, with the north-east Wales economic ambition board, and ensuring that we learn from the Cardiff city region deal in order to then spread those opportunities and those ambitions and aspirations that other parts of Wales will develop. I think it’s important to say that we did want to see the metro—I’ve already said this more than once this afternoon—as the integral, key part of the deal, and that we are now able to take this forward.
As I’ve said, in terms of the investment from Welsh Government of £503 million investment; the UK Government—£500 million; local authorities—£120 million—. You know, this is about over-the-Barnett additional funding that we’re levering in, front-loaded over the first seven years of the deal. It is important that we recognise that this is going to give us that green light. But it’s crucial, as you say, following on from Alun Davies’s point, that this has to be about spreading prosperity across the whole of the region. I think the leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf council, Andrew Morgan, made this point very clearly yesterday. Clearly, we also—you know that I am also leading the Wales TUC Better Jobs, Closer to Home project as well, which is working on how we can build and develop jobs in the Valleys communities. This will be boosted, of course, by the city deal.
15:21 - Peter Black
Can I thank you for the statement, Minister, and welcome the investment that this city deal represents in this area and in Wales, indeed? I am pleased that this deal has now finally been signed, and we look forward to the £1.2 billion being invested in the Cardiff city region over the next 20 years. However, I do concur with the Plaid Cymru spokesperson’s concerns around the overconcentration of resources and investment in the Cardiff region area. I think that it’s imperative that the Swansea deal is dealt with and approved as soon as possible, just to provide some balance, and also that a deal for north Wales is put together to ensure that there is proper investment there, particularly in infrastructure up in north Wales, but also in the north Wales economy as well, to show that this sort of public sector investment is not just concentrated in this region. Cardiff already gets a disproportionate amount of public sector investment compared to the rest of Wales. We need to demonstrate too, outside the Cardiff area, that we can deal with this evenly and we can ensure that other parts of Wales benefit from these deals as well.
Minister, a couple of questions arising from your statement: you set out some of the governance arrangements in the statement, particularly, I think, around the joint executive or board to manage the city deal. Can I ask you what scrutiny arrangements are in place to oversee that particular board, particularly in terms of accountability and transparency? I think the danger with all these regional collaborations is that you create a regional body to deliver them, but nobody is asking questions, certainly not in public, about how they’re delivering and digging up underneath the surface to find out exactly what the issues are around that delivery. I think it’s crucial that if this deal is to be successful, and other deals are to be successful, that there are proper scrutiny arrangements in place. You’ll recall that the communities and local government committee did a report on regional working in which they highlighted the weaknesses around scrutiny particularly. I think this could also apply to this deal as well, unless that is addressed very early on.
Can you give us some indication, in terms of the Swansea deal, which is under negotiation, of the sort of timescale we are looking at before an announcement is going to be available on that? I know it’s very early days, and maybe the time it’s taken to approve the Cardiff deal is indicative, but some indication of when the Swansea region can expect an announcement on their deal would be useful and helpful.
Finally, in relation to the Cardiff capital region deal itself, my understanding is that this money—this huge and public sector investment—does come with some strings in terms of delivery and outcomes. I’m just wondering what are the waymarkers, if you like, over the next 20 years that will identify whether it is delivering as envisaged. How will that be set out and made public? How will that be scrutinised? In particular, in terms of those waymarkers, what are the consequences if they’re not met? Thank you.
15:24 - Jane Hutt
I thank Peter Black for his welcome for the city deal for Cardiff capital region, but also for his questions. I think that, on the issue of accountability, transparency and engagement strategically across not only the 10 local authorities, but with the Welsh Government and the UK Government, the Cardiff capital region will work—and it’s in the agreement—with the UK Government and the Welsh Government to develop an agreed implementation, monitoring and evaluation plan in advance of implementation. That’s going to set out the proposed approach to delivery and evaluate the impact of delivery. Also, of course, this is not the only city deal in the UK. It’s going to comply with the existing statutory framework that not only exists in Wales to deliver the city deal, but also provide the confidence and assurance to both the UK and Welsh Governments—and that the local authorities are making decisions that are going to drive economic growth across the capital region. That will be assessed through gateways to assess the impact, and, as I said, in terms of monitoring implementation. It’s going to be a comprehensive agreement drawn up between the authorities, binding and committing each local authority and ensuring that those commitments are very clear, in terms of reviewing city deal governance as well. So, you know, there is a very, very clear set of expectations and standards, also building on previous city deals that the Department for Communities and Local Government has developed.
I think it’s a step change, of course, as you would acknowledge, in the level of collaboration between local authorities that they have come together to ensure that they do deliver on this opportunity. I think, in terms of Swansea, I will say that I have—at every point, in every letter, in every statement, and in every meeting—said that the Swansea city deal has to be considered alongside it, albeit it’s the next step. The credibility we’ve got now in Wales, from a city deal being approved, I think, will now be reflected in approval for Swansea.
15:27 - Mike Hedges
It will probably surprise no-one that I am raising the application for a city deal for the Swansea bay region. The deal is being led by high-tech entrepreneur Sir Terry Matthews, the region's board chairman. The bid focuses on energy, health, wellbeing and economic acceleration, by harnessing the transformational power of digital networks and the asset base of Swansea bay. The 20-year project has been dubbed ‘the internet coast bid’ and could create a public sector pot of £500 million. This, it is hoped, would attract significantly more private sector cash, boost the region's productivity and profile, and support some 39,000 high-paid jobs. Sir Terry Matthews has said that:
‘In my letter to the Chancellor I have described the widest possible regional public sector commitment to this city deal bid as a leap of faith that has immense value.’
I believe that a city deal is incredibly important to Swansea and the Swansea bay region. Will the Minister give her full support to that deal, as she has earlier in the discussion? And more importantly, can I request regular updates on progress made in securing a city deal for the Swansea city region, because we want it as soon as possible?
15:28 - Jane Hutt
Yes, I will give you that full assurance, Mike Hedges, Member for Swansea East. It is very much led by the private sector—the Swansea bay city deal proposal—and Sir Terry Matthews I have met. I have seen the proposal. I have met with the leader of the Swansea council more than once and not just his partners in the private sector but, importantly, the other local authorities in the Swansea bay region. This has to be a regional deal between those authorities and the private sector—very innovative and very imaginative. It wouldn’t have got the recognition from the Chancellor today if it wasn’t going to progress, but you have my assurances on this point.
15:28 - Julie Morgan
I’m very pleased to welcome this statement today. I think it is a great boost for Cardiff and for the Valleys and for the capital region. I would like, particularly, to congratulate the Minister for her hard work on this project, helping to ensure the co-operation of all the different layers of government, which we know is not easy to do. I’d also particularly like to congratulate Councillor Phil Bale, the leader of the Cardiff council, who has made determined efforts to reach out to the other 10 local authorities to bring them together and to succeed in this very exciting deal. So, I welcome the £1.2 billion. And, as the Minister has said, it’s the biggest per capita city deal ever agreed. It’s bigger than the Glasgow city deal. I’m sure that she will agree with me that it is really important that we get the balance right between the very exciting metro project and the other, more direct, job-creation parts of the city deal, such as projects that will lead to skilled jobs, such as the compound semi-conductor cluster, led by IQE in Cardiff University. And I’m sure she would agree that this would create a lot of high-tech, skilled jobs, and could become the first compound semi-conductor hub of its kind in the world.
We’ve had some mention of the governance arrangements for the city region. I am very relieved there is no proposal for an elected mayor, and I think that a cabinet—a new capital region joint cabinet—is a good way of moving forward in this way. And I also welcome the transport authority.
Just a couple of questions to the Minister. In her statement, she said that it would help unlock housing and employment sites. I wondered how this would fit in with the local development plan process. For example, in Cardiff, we have just, finally, agreed the local development plan after many years of discussion, which has designated places for housing, and has designated employment sites. How will that work in the broader city region? Does she see, possibly, a development plan for the whole region? Could she comment on that, please?
15:31 - Jane Hutt
Thank you. I also want to thank Julie Morgan for consistently giving her support, raising these issues, not only with me as lead Minister, but also supporting her local authority, supporting the leader—Councillor Phil Bale—in taking this forward. I have to say that the trio that sort of led the region—Councillor Phil Bale, Councillor Peter Fox and Councillor Andrew Morgan—presented a pretty good representation, I think, of the interests of the region, and very powerfully made their case on behalf of all 10 authorities, backed, of course, by their chief executives. That consistent support has been very important to securing this deal.
I think it is important to look beyond the metro as well, to all of the other aspects of the city deal, not just in terms of skills development, housing development and regeneration, and this, of course, is where there will be an opportunity to ensure that this can dovetail alongside the LDP developments. But, if you look at the opportunity we’ve got—and of course the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty will recognise this—it’s a partnership between the Cardiff capital region and the Welsh Government to look strategically at housing and regeneration, but also to look at a whole range of opportunities that relate to the integrated public-private housing offer, energy, renewable-energy-led regeneration in housing programmes, and also in terms of supporting enterprise and business growth.
So, I think developing a skilled workforce and tackling unemployment is going to be driven—again, we’ve got the regional transport authority, we’ve got, now, the regional skills and employment board, and they will all help to make sure that this develops together and is integrated. But it is important that we see a real opportunity for investing in innovation and the digital network. And, in fact, the aspiration is for the region to extend the arc of innovation that runs along the M4 corridor into the Cardiff capital region.
15:33 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you very much.
4. Stage 4 of the Public Health (Wales) Bill
We now move to item 4, which is the Stage 4 of the Public Health (Wales) Bill. And I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services to move the motion—Mark Drakeford.
Motion NDM6015 Mark Drakeford
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales in accordance with Standing Order 26.47:
Approves the Public Health (Wales) Bill.
Motion moved.
15:33 - Mark Drakeford
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. Thank you for the opportunity to introduce this Stage 4 debate, the final stage of the Public Health (Wales) Bill, before the Assembly today. The Bill has undergone a lengthy journey to get to this point, from a Green Paper led by my predecessor, Lesley Griffiths, to a White Paper, and through a detailed scrutiny process here in the Assembly. Today marks the end of that journey.
I’d like to start by thanking the chairs and members of the Health and Social Care Committee, the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, and the Finance Committee for their thorough scrutiny work on the Bill. Their work has been crucial in forming the Bill that is before us today. Likewise, I would like to thank the broad range of stakeholders for their assistance throughout this process across each of the broad range of issues dealt with within this Bill.
The result of all that work and all that effort has been a high level of consensus for most of the practical measures that the Bill contains—measures that I believe have been strengthened by that process of scrutiny. This is a Bill that, as a result of all of that, now offers protections for children from the evils of tobacco; protections for those who undergo special procedures against the harms of infection and for children and young people against the potential harms of intimate body piercing; protections for older people in particular from the public health damage that comes when there are insufficient toilets for use by the public; protections for the whole community and especially for the most disadvantaged, which come from maximising the contribution of our community pharmacies and from ensuring that health is taken into account in decision making through health impact assessments.
Against all that background of agreement, Llywydd, there’s been only one aspect of the Bill that has been controversial throughout. The background to it has been the great progress that we have made over many decades in de-normalising smoking, particularly for children and young people growing up in the smoke-free environments that we have succeeded in creating.
The proposals in relation to the use of nicotine inhaling devices in public places were always designed to maintain and sustain that position. That is why, having considered carefully the report of the Health and Social Care Committee, amendments were brought forward at Stages 2 and 3 to create a more precise, explicit and focused regime. This regime is founded on the principle of protecting children in Wales by limiting the restrictions on NIDs to places where children are most likely to be present and therefore where the risks of re-normalising smoking are greatest. The balance that we’ve always sought is one that allows the potential benefits of these devices for smoking cessation to be preserved while acting to prevent the potential harm they could cause. If this Bill is passed today, anyone wishing to give up smoking will be able to substitute a conventional cigarette with an e-cigarette anywhere and everywhere a conventional cigarette can be used.
I’m grateful to those Members who have been willing to listen to the arguments on this issue and for their constructive engagement with them. As a result, Llywydd, I’m pleased to present today a Bill that has been improved and strengthened in many material respects, but which also retains its core original ambitions. Across its broad range of provisions, it makes important contributions to public health in Wales, which I ask this Assembly to support. It puts in place important protections for the public; it delivers real improvements in the facilities and services available for people in Wales; it protects the health and wellbeing of children; and it helps prevent avoidable harm. I commend the Bill to the Assembly.
15:38 - Darren Millar
Given that this is one of the last pieces of debate in the Assembly, I want to put on record, before the end of the day, my thanks to the health Minister and his predecessors for the way in which they’ve engaged with me and my party over the duration of the fourth Assembly. I hope that we’ve provided appropriate challenge at times and managed to secure consensus on other occasions too in trying to move the health agenda forward here in Wales. I’m very proud of what has been achieved on a cross-party basis, for example, particularly on mental health, in the Assembly over the years.
But, of course, the subject matter today is the public health Bill that is before us. As the Minister has quite rightly said, there’s an awful lot in this Bill on which there is consensus across the benches in the Senedd in terms of many of the provisions that are in the Bill around pharmaceutical services, public conveniences, the special procedures and the harms that can be caused by those, smoking restrictions, the need for tobacco retailer registers, et cetera, et cetera. But there is this one element of the Bill on which the Minister and I will never be able to agree at present, and that is the restrictions that the Minister is seeking to impose upon the use of e-cigarettes in some public places. For that reason, I regret, Minister, that we will, as a Welsh Conservative group, today be voting against the Bill before us; not because we do not feel that there are merits in the other parts of the Bill that we want to realise, but simply because, regrettably, these other elements of the Bill have not been separated from the Bill as a whole. We feel that it would have been much better to bring forward two Bills, one that dealt with the e-cigarettes in isolation, and another that dealt with the other aspects of public health that this particular piece of legislation seeks to address.
Of course, there were other amendments that we tabled during the course of the Stage 2 and Stage 3 proceedings on this piece of legislation that we would have liked the Government to have been able to support. We weren’t able to persuade you to agree with those amendments, but we would be able to support all of these other parts of the Bill if they were brought forward in a separate piece of legislation. The fact is that they’re not, and that’s why we’re going to be voting against.
As I said at the outset, I do not feel that a war on e-cigarettes is the right approach. It’s very clear that many people are deriving significant health benefits as a result of making the switch to e-cigarettes, and anything that gets a mixed message out to those individuals who are considering making the switch, I think, is something that would be detrimental to public health as a whole here in Wales. Of course, we don’t want to encourage young people to take up the use of e-cigarettes, of course we don’t want young people to take up smoking either, but I think that the evidence at the moment just isn’t there to support these sorts of measures going forward, and for that reason, I’m afraid, we’ll be voting against. But I do want to thank the Minister for the way that he has listened, and the way that we have been able to engage on the other parts of the Bill before us.
15:42 - Elin Jones
Like others, I am very grateful to everyone who took the time to give evidence to the committee on these issues during Stage 1. The evidence of those witnesses has been very influential in terms of how we, as members of the committee, have come to our conclusions about different aspects of the Bill before us. Important steps are taken in the legislation before us today. It extends the prohibition for tobacco smoking to new areas, and there is the process for licensing and regulating businesses that undertake tattooing and special procedures, and also, as a result of the amendments passed at Stage 3 last week, there’s the requirement that health impact assessments be undertaken in relation to new developments.
A matter that has divided opinion in committee before now, and today too in the Assembly, is the prohibition on the use of nicotine inhaling devices in specific public places. I said from the beginning of this process of scrutinising this legislation that we should be separating this part of the legislation out from the remainder of the steps contained within the legislation, and it would have been a very good thing this afternoon if that separation had taken place, just as outlined by Darren Millar.
The legislation before us today lists a restricted list of public places where these NIDs will be prohibited, and in passing the legislation this afternoon, the use of NIDs will be legal and possible in many locations where cigarette smoking would not be allowed.
But this legislation is a very small step towards improving significantly public health, and there are a great many further steps that are for the next Assembly to take. As it happens, today George Osborne has announced his intention to introduce the pop tax in his budget, and it will be a matter for the next Government, and for the next Assembly, to make the case with the Treasury as to whether the pop tax should be a policy for Wales and this Assembly, creating a revenue line for the Welsh treasury rather than George Osborne’s Treasury. But that’s an argument for the fifth Assembly. For today, the legislation before us is the Public Health (Wales) Bill, to be approved or not later on this afternoon.
15:45 - Kirsty Williams
Could I begin by thanking the Minister for his opening comments this afternoon and to echo them in regard to the thanks that are due to all those that have worked so hard during the passage of this legislation to date—all those civil servants within the Minister’s own department and those outside of the Assembly? But, in particular, I’d like to thank David Rees, the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, and super-sub Lynne Neagle, who chaired a crucial meeting that deliberated the Bill. It was not an easy thing to do, to be able to bring the committee together to be able to agree a report, and David and Lynne showed great skill in being able to facilitate that over very many hours of deliberation.
I think, Presiding Officer, it is right that the Government has taken time in its legislative programme to focus on the issue of public health. There is much to do, but I also recognise that legislation only has some role to play in that. There is much we need to do outside the context of legislation that we must do if we are to have a new approach to public health delivery here in Wales.
Personally, my party would like to see a much greater role for local government in the field of public health. The way in which they design and deliver services on the ground can make a massive difference to the health of our nation. I think that is a challenge for the incoming Government, to look to see what we can do to have a new renaissance in public health. It’s difficult for Governments to do that. The pressure is always on delivery in the here and now and it’s difficult to invest a significant resource in programmes that hopefully will deliver change much further down the line, long after that particular Minister or administration has left the field of play, so to speak.
I think we need particularly to focus our efforts on many of our poorer communities. At the beginning of this term of the National Assembly, the Government did set itself the target of narrowing the health gap between those of our poorest citizens and those of our more well-off citizens. The Government has made progress with regard to that in terms of education, but, when it comes to the health inequalities that we see within our nation, they are deeply embedded. I’m sure the Minister would be the first to admit we haven’t made the progress that he would have liked to over the last five years. Therefore, we need to look again at what we can do within those specific communities and within specific areas of Wales to empower those people to take more control over their health and to address the behaviours that lead them to make and choose unhealthy lifestyles.
I am particularly a fan of the scheme introduced in Philadelphia, working in some of the most deprived communities in America, with a focus on schools, young people and access to good, healthy, fresh food at affordable prices within communities, which allows people to get to those shops, and what we can do to do something similar here in Wales.
There is much in the Bill that I agree with, but of course the issue of nicotine inhaling devices—vaping—for me, unfortunately, is a show stopper in this regard. As I said in the debate last week, a public health Bill should contain measures that increase the health and wellbeing of a nation and its population. I truly am of the opinion that the approach taken on vaping will not enhance public health in Wales. Actually, it will endanger potential public health gains. [Interruption.] Of course.
15:49 - Rhun ap Iorwerth
The Minister said that people will be able to vape everywhere that they can smoke conventional cigarettes. Would you agree that the Minister has completely missed the point in that we have to make it tactically advantageous for people to choose an option that is not without its problems entirely but is healthier as an alternative to smoking tobacco?
15:50 - Kirsty Williams
I would agree, Rhun, that not only have we not created a positive advantage for people to seek a harm-reduction method—and that is what e-cigarettes are: they are a harm-reduction method; we use harm-reduction methods in many other aspects of health, but we haven’t done it in this case. The issue is not only that, but that we will positively put people off taking that choice, because we will, if we pass this legislation today, equate smoking with vaping, as exactly the same thing, and the evidence shows that that puts people off.
Now, earlier today, one Minister described Plaid Cymru as a ‘cheap date’. Now, I don’t know whether the deal to pass this legislation is cheap or not, but I do believe it will not enhance public health measures, and my group will not support the legislation as drafted.
15:50 - Jocelyn Davies
Well, I can assure you, Kirsty, I’m not a cheap night out. I won’t be voting in favour—. If any of you were considering asking me, that is. [Laughter.] I’m not in favour of voting for this Bill today. Throughout the scrutiny process, I’ve made my reasons quite clear and although I’ve listened to the Minister’s arguments—initially for treating vaping devices identically to cigarettes and then, following his slight climb-down, for significantly restricting their use—I have remained unconvinced by his reasoning.
Last week, he wouldn’t take an intervention from me when he cited evidence that nicotine inhaling devices have been found to be the least effective method in helping people stop smoking. Now, I am aware of the meta analysis study he is referencing there, and I’m also aware that the usefulness of that study has been publicly and comprehensively debunked. Now I don’t know if the Minister or any of you here ever listen to the ‘More or Less’ Radio 4 programme, presented by Tim Harford, but they pointed out that, when drawing on the studies for that paper, no effort was made to distinguish between those who were using nicotine inhaling devices to give up and those who were using them to cut down on their smoking but were not attempting to stop completely. So, included in the figures used by the Government are people not trying to give up tobacco. They might be using that device while they’re travelling, while they’re in the car, while they’re with other people, at home, but they are not trying to give up tobacco. Without making that distinction, the study cannot be relied upon to make sweeping statements about the effectiveness of devices.
It was, of course, the Minister’s own choice to cite that particular study, but I have to say it added nothing to the knowledge on this subject, other than that the Government evidence is poor, and that’s because the body of evidence is still growing. Until much more work is done, we can’t come to any concrete conclusions. Last week, the Minister also dismissed the position of those who oppose his ban as believing that e-cigarettes are entirely benign—and I’m quoting from him there. Now, I have said many times—and we’ve just heard from Kirsty—that I wouldn’t encourage anybody to think that drawing chemicals into your lungs could possibly be considered a wholly healthy choice, and I’ve said that every single time I’ve spoken on this subject. But it’s been disappointing to watch the Government being so dismissive of the amount of evidence produced by numerous organisations and the powerful personal testimonies of those who have successfully given up smoking using nicotine inhaling devices.
There probably is cause for the Government to legislate on this matter—the advertising, for example, or the regulation—but the time to do so is after a thoughtful consultation process and not rushed through in a Bill about other things—other things, incidentally, that I’d also like to support, but putting those things at risk, again, is the Minister’s own choice. It was his choice to put it in this Bill. I think the Minister has made few friends with this Bill. I have received many passionate e-mails from individuals who are opposed to it, compared to the three identical template e-mails from those who were in favour, and I’m saddened to see the Welsh Government pass a Bill that’s so out of touch, I think, with public opinion. I hope those Members who are considering supporting you are persuaded now that this is a matter better left until there’s evidence available to make a judgment.
15:54 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services to reply to the debate—Mark Drakeford.
15:54 - Mark Drakeford
Diolch yn fawr, Lywydd. Well, this Bill is certainly not the end of the story as far as public health in Wales is concerned, neither legislatively nor fiscally, nor practically. There are many things that a future Government will want to do to continue to address the very real public health challenges that our population, just as other populations, too, face. But it is a Bill that is full of very practical and significant measures that will make a real difference here in Wales. It is a Bill that has been improved and strengthened by the efforts of Members across this Chamber. It has health impact assessments on the face of the Bill for the first time. It extends restrictions on smoking where children are present into non-enclosed public places. It has a strengthened national perspective as far as toilets for use by the public are concerned. It protects the interests of dispensing doctors where pharmaceutical needs assessments are concerned. It has a new, precise, focused regime in relation to nicotine inhaling devices.
All of those things are changes to the Bill as introduced by the Government. All of them are there because of arguments that Members across this Chamber have deployed, drawing on the expert advice that has been available throughout the passage of this Bill.
It’s now for Members to choose. It’s not my choice, as Jocelyn Davies has suggested. The Bill in front of the Assembly this afternoon is the Bill that has won support in vote after vote across the floor. It is the Bill that is here because a majority of Members in this place have supported it. Some people believe that all the gains and all the protections that are there for all those different categories of our population are outweighed by one single aspect of it. I do not agree. I think Members here should think about that choice, as I’m sure they will, and, when they think it through, they will conclude that everything that this Bill delivers for children, for older people, for our disadvantaged communities, for people across Wales, is not to be set aside because of one aspect that some people here take a different view on, and on which other people, equally seriously and with equal weight of evidence on their side, take a different view. Thank you, Llywydd.
15:57 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Objections. Therefore I will defer all voting on this item until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
5. Motion to Appoint the National Assembly for Wales Commissioner for Standards
15:57 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to item 5, which is a motion to appoint a Standards Commissioner, and I call on John Griffiths, the Chair of the Standards of Conduct Committee to move the motion—John Griffiths.
Motion NDM6010 John Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Acting under section 1(2) of the National Assembly for Wales Commissioner for Standards Measure 2009, appoints Sir Roderick Evans as National Assembly for Wales Commissioner for Standards under that Measure, for a term of six years starting on 1 December 2016.
Motion moved.
15:58 - John Griffiths
Diolch, Lywydd. I would like to begin by thanking Gerard Elias for his work as the Assembly’s first statutory commissioner for standards. He has developed the role and provided clear and impartial advice on a wide range of standards issues to the standards committee, Assembly Members and the public more generally. He has taken the lead in updating and codifying our standards procedures, and making sure that they are fit for purpose.
The post of commissioner is a key position with important powers of investigation of complaints against Assembly Members. It gives the public increased confidence in their elected representatives, and requires someone of stature and, above all, independence. It is therefore a pleasure to put forward the nomination of Sir Roderick Evans for the post of commissioner for standards. The process of selecting Sir Roderick has been open and transparent. I chaired the selection panel of Claire Clancy, Chief Executive and Clerk of the Assembly, Gerard Elias and Eric Gregory as independent assessor. We received a wide range of high-quality applications, and the panel unanimously recommended the appointment of Sir Roderick Evans.
Subsequently, Sir Roderick attended a standards committee meeting to present to the committee and answer Members’ questions. The committee welcomed the open and frank answers, and were impressed by his vision and understanding. The committee unanimously confirmed the decision of the appointments panel, and recommended his appointment to the full Assembly.
Llywydd, Sir Roderick is a retired High Court judge and, in addition to a distinguished legal career, is also a fellow of Aberystwyth, Swansea and Bangor universities, a fellow of the Learned Society of Wales and was welcomed into the Gorsedd of the Bards in 2002. I am confident that Sir Roderick has the right mix of skills, experience and commitment to take the office of commissioner forward and uphold the standards established. Therefore, I recommend that Sir Roderick Evans be appointed to the post of commissioner for standards for a period of six years, commencing on 1 December 2016.
16:00 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I have no other speakers in the debate, so the proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There are no objections. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair.
16:01 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
We now have a series of motions to amend Standing Orders. In accordance with Standing Order 12.24, I propose that the following three motions under items 6, 7 and 8 are grouped for debate, unless any Member objects.
6., 7. & 8. Motion to Amend Standing Order 26 in relation to Acts of the Assembly, Motion to Amend Standing Order 26A in relation to Private Acts of the Assembly and Standing Order 26B in relation to Hybrid Acts of the Assembly, and Motion to Amend Standing Orders 18 and 30A in relation to Miscellaneous Changes
I call on Aled Roberts to move the motions.
Motion NDM6013 Rosemary Butler
To propose that the National Assembly, in accordance with Standing Order 33.2:
1. Considers the Report of the Business Committee ‘Amending Standing Orders: Standing Order 26—Acts of the Assembly’ laid in the Table Office on 9 March 2016; and
2. Approves the proposal to revise Standing Order 26, as set out in Annex B of the Report of the Business Committee.
Motion NDM6014 Rosemary Butler
To propose that the National Assembly, in accordance with Standing Order 33.2:
1. Considers the Report of the Business Committee ‘Amending Standing Orders: Standing Order 26A—Private Bills—and Standing Order 26B—Hybrid Bills’ laid in the Table Office on 9 March 2016; and
2. Approves the proposal to revise Standing Order 26A and introduce a new Standing Order 26B, as set out in Annexes B and D of the Business Committee’s report.
Motion NDM6012 Rosemary Butler
To propose that the National Assembly, in accordance with Standing Order 33.2:
1. Considers the Report of the Business Committee ‘Amending Standing Orders: Standing Order 18—Public Accounts and Oversight of the Wales Audit Office—and Standing Order 30A—Consent in Relation to Statutory Instruments made by UK Ministers’ laid in the Table Office on 9 March 2016; and
2. Approves the proposal to revise Standing Orders 18 and 30A, as set out in Annex B of the Report of the Business Committee.
Motion moved.
16:01 - Aled Roberts
Formally move.
16:01 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have no speakers, so the proposal is to agree the motion under item 6. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
16:01 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion under item 7. Does any Member object? Then the motion under item 7 is agreed.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
16:01 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion under item 8. Does any Member object? The motion under item 8 is therefore agreed.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
9. Debate on the Public Accounts Committee's Report on its Inquiry into the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales
16:02 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 9 is a debate on the Public Accounts Committee’s report on its inquiry into the regeneration investment fund for Wales. I call on the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee to move the motion—Darren Millar.
Motion NDM6006 Darren Millar
The National Assembly for Wales:
Notes the Report of the Public Accounts Committee—Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales, which was laid in the Table Office on 26 January 2016.
Motion moved.
16:02 - Darren Millar
Thank you very much indeed, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can I put on record at the start of this debate my thanks to the clerks, Members and witnesses who gave evidence to the RIFW inquiry and also put on record my thanks to the Wales Audit Office for their support and advice throughout it?
The Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry into the regeneration investment fund for Wales has been one of the most significant and deeply concerning inquiries undertaken by the committee. The fact that one of the largest sales of publicly owned land in Wales should have generated tens of millions of pounds more for the taxpayer is inexcusable. RIFW was established as an arm’s-length body by the Welsh Government to dispose of land around Wales and to then use the money in conjunction with European funding to reinvest in areas in need of regeneration, but the committee found that RIFW was poorly managed, poorly overseen by the Welsh Government and that, because of a change in the direction of RIFW from one of regeneration to land and property asset disposals, some RIFW board members felt that they lacked the necessary knowledge and experience to fulfil their roles.
We also learned that the board was not presented with key information regarding the value of the land in its portfolio or of expressions of interest in its assets from potential buyers by its advisers. Fifteen plots of land originally planned to be sold separately were instead sold to a single buyer for their book price and not their market value, which also should have taken into account the potential use of the land in the future. This decision resulted in Welsh taxpayers missing out on tens of millions of pounds-worth of funding.
While the committee found the concept of RIFW to be innovative, we concluded that it was very poorly executed due to fundamental flaws in Welsh Government oversight and governance arrangements and very poorly served by those appointed and trusted to provide the RIFW board with professional advice and expertise. As a result, the public have faced a double whammy in that not only have they lost out on the potential proceeds from land sales, but the promised regeneration projects that RIFW was established to fund have also failed to materialise.
Throughout our deliberations, the committee carefully considered the trade-off between the need to secure value for money and the wider strategic goals of the Welsh Government. We also analysed whether the Welsh Government sufficiently considered the various options available to achieve its policy objectives and whether the risks involved were sufficiently assessed and mitigated. Our inquiry considered whether a portfolio sale of publicly owned development assets by private treaty, without proper marketing and unsupported by an independent valuation, was appropriate for the sale of public assets and was ever likely to result in a good deal for the taxpayer.
Most shockingly, we found that subsequent sales of this land by the purchaser demonstrate convincingly that the sale did not represent value for money for Welsh taxpayers. Instead, it appears that tens of millions of pounds could, and indeed, should have been generated for investment in regeneration projects across Wales. For example, one site alone, Lisvane near Cardiff, ‘the jewel in the crown’, as it was described, should have been disposed of by a properly marketed, open and competitive sales process, but unfortunately, the committee believed it was utterly incomprehensible that this was sold at an agricultural land value of £1.825 million, even with some overage or clawback mechanisms in place, when its potential open-market value for residential housing is at least £39 million. Another site in Abergele in my own constituency was sold by RIFW for just £100,000, and it was later sold on for £1.9 million.
Our inquiry was detailed and it was wide-ranging. It exposed numerous flaws in Welsh Government processes and procedures in accountability and line management arrangements, and in fundamental issues such as record keeping and data retention. It’s regrettable that many of the flaws that we identified are consistent with issues that the committee has considered time and time again during our previous inquiries. We believe that there’s much work still to be undertaken to improve the robustness of Welsh Government processes, specifically in relation to the monitoring and oversight arrangements of its arm’s-length bodies.
Our report made 18 recommendations in all, which, in summary, focused on asking the Welsh Government to strengthen monitoring and oversight arrangements of its arm’s-length bodies, and in particular, to ensure that any concerns are swiftly identified and escalated internally; to put measures in place to ensure that board members have the appropriate expertise and capacity to fulfil their duties and receive adequate and appropriate induction training; and to ensure that robust overage arrangements—these clawback arrangements—are considered whenever it disposes of public assets that have possible future development potential.
I’m very pleased to report that the Welsh Government accepted all 17 of the committee recommendations that we made specifically to the Welsh Government, which is very encouraging indeed, given the gravity of the committee’s overall conclusions. In response to our report, I also want to welcome the First Minister’s statement and apology to the National Assembly and, indeed, to the people of Wales, which he made in Plenary on 26 January.
There’s been, of course, another development just this week, in the Welsh Government’s initiation of legal action against the fund’s investment manager, Lambert Smith Hampton, in direct response to one of our recommendations in the report. The Welsh Government’s commitment, also, to keep under review whether further legal steps may be necessary is, indeed, also welcome.
Central to this inquiry and our recommendations are the lessons that the Welsh Government can learn from the RIFW initiative. It’s absolutely vital that the Welsh Government and future Welsh Governments recognise all of these in order to secure the necessary improvements to arm’s-length operations and the maintenance of good governance in the future. This, we hope, as a committee, will ensure that the risk of such losses occurring to the public purse in the future will never be repeated again.
16:09 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Mike Hedges. I beg your pardon; he is not in the Chamber. Nick Ramsay.
16:09 - Nick Ramsay
Unexpectedly soon. Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Darren Millar has outlined the tragedy of this whole situation very well. I think part of that tragedy, for me, is that there are a number of different parts of Wales that have been affected by this sorry affair.
When the former Welsh Development Agency land at Wonastow just outside Monmouth in my constituency was put forward for new housing, there was enough of an outcry. When, subsequently, it emerged that the land had been sold off at a fraction of its market value, along with other RIFW sites across Wales, there was a reaction bordering on disbelief. We had a situation where the land that had been included for housing in response to the Welsh Government inspector’s own requirement for more housing stock in Monmouthshire had itself been made available by the Welsh Government to the developers at a fraction of the market value. You couldn’t make it up. Well, maybe the Welsh Government could make it up, actually.
Needless to say, the legacy of this is that it has seriously undermined the trust of many of my constituents in the Welsh Government’s ability to handle these large financial issues. Let’s face it: ownership, management of land, and sale of land, is a key responsibility of government and must be a key responsibility of this Welsh Government. If we can’t get this right, what can we get right? It’s that simple a question.
These are systemic failures over some period of time. I’ve looked through the report with interest. It’s an excellent report. Recommendation 1 says that the Welsh Government must demonstrate that it has made appropriate changes so that governance oversight and accountability are robust, not only in relation to RIFW, but in relation to all other activities as well. I think that is a pretty sensible and straightforward recommendation, which I’m sure we would all agree with. So, I really hope that that will be enforced by the Welsh Government.
This is absolutely essential. This is about regaining public confidence. The Government mustn’t just do finance; it must demonstrate that it can do finance, and it must demonstrate that it can do that in all areas. We’ve got tax devolution coming fast down the line 2018. Confidence in the fiscal arrangements is absolutely key, or there’s going to be chaos. Even if the requirements are in place, if the public don’t have confidence in that, then it’s just not going to work. Yes, the board needs to have people with expertise. I think, again, that goes as read. I’m deeply concerned that many of the people didn’t feel that they did have the relevant expertise during this whole affair. Yes, it must have capacity. These things go as read.
As the report says, the Welsh Government oversight of this was fatally flawed from the outset, it appears. There are cultural and behavioural problems that need to be addressed. I urge the Welsh Government to act on this report swiftly and effectively. It is absolutely vital that confidence is restored after this whole sorry saga. We simply cannot afford for this to happen again.
16:12 - Alun Ffred Jones
This chapter has been very damaging for the Government and for people’s perception of this place. There is a perception that the Government isn’t careful of its money, doesn’t manage it properly and isn’t too concerned about getting best value, and that is a very unfortunate perception indeed. It’s difficult to think what was going through the minds of board members, the companies advising them or the civil servants who were in attendance as these assets were sold at such a low price, and it’s difficult to believe that no Minister was aware of anything that was happening within this company, which had been established to carry out the Government’s own regeneration policy and strategy. Nobody has taken responsibility for this fiasco.
There is nothing that summarises the whole picture more succinctly than the decision taken by the board at one meeting to adopt a strategy of selling these lands and to market them individually, and then, at that very same meeting, more or less accepting a proposal for this land to be sold as a single portfolio. They had adopted a particular strategy at the beginning of the meeting, and then they went in a totally different direction later on in that same meeting. Now, if that were to happen in a community council, I suppose you could accept it and chuckle, but this was a very serious issue and, as we have heard, had very serious repercussions for taxpayers, who are the real owners of this land.
I still can’t understand how the first offer that came to hand was accepted without advertising or assessing the true value of these lands, which had real development potential, or how and why weren’t sensible overages agreed for those lands with development value. I have to admit that I wasn’t familiar with the term ‘overage’ until I became part of this inquiry, but having understood what it actually means, then it’s quite a straightforward issue, of course, in terms of placing overage on lands that have development potential. But the truth is, as we understand it, the overages on two of these plots are relatively low and they are time restricted, whilst there are other plots that have been sold without any overage that have been sold for substantial sums. So, as I say, I tend to believe in the cock-up theory rather than the conspiracy theory, but this whole issue does leave a very nasty taste in one’s mouth.
16:16 - Jenny Rathbone
It was a great idea to invest in urban regeneration at the height of the bankers’ blow-out, which nearly brought down the economy, and was obviously causing a huge amount of difficulty for businesses in Wales, and the need to create new businesses. But I feel very sad for the people who were appointed to serve on the RIFW board, because they were a bit like lambs to the slaughter. We had two civil servants who thought they were there to promote the regeneration of the Welsh economy. They knew nothing about disposing of property and land speculation, and it’s inexplicable to me and to others who were on this inquiry as to why the Welsh Government didn’t simply dispose of its own land assets and then hand the money over to RIFW rather than leaving it to a small bunch of people who knew nothing about it.
Councillor Chris Holley, who represented the Welsh Local Government Association, told us:
‘I knew about regeneration, but to sell land to develop greenfield and brownfield sites is not something that we were there for’.
Even Richard Anning, who did know a bit about property dealing, said:
‘If I had been asked to be involved in a portfolio sale that meant bringing forward land potentially for development over a 12-year period outside the lifetime of the limited liability partnership, then I wouldn’t have taken it forward.’
So, if board members had been clear from the start what the role entailed, it’s likely that most of them would have declined to be members at all.
There was one board member who obviously did know about land deals, and that was Jonathon Geen, a commercial lawyer. But shortly after he took over the post, he had to declare that he was joining the poachers rather than the gamekeepers, and he quite rightly took no further part in the RIFW board’s work. But rather than allowing him to recuse himself, a technical term for not taking part in decisions, it’s a pity he wasn’t asked to stand down and be replaced by somebody else who had some expertise. But instead, they limped on with four individuals who, between them, really didn’t know enough about what they were doing, and the one who did, wasn’t really being heard.
It’s most unfortunate that the Welsh Government wasn’t really tracking what was going on. Having set up this arm’s-length company, it was both out of sight and out of mind. At the outset, the Government had appointed an adviser, Chris Munday, who was responsible for establishing the RIFW governance arrangements and choosing which assets were going to be sold. But, unfortunately, this Welsh Government observer was not reporting back to Welsh Government, neither Ministers nor even to his own line manager, and he told us his role on the RIFW board was to manage the transfer of the assets from Welsh Government to RIFW and he was, therefore, only reporting back on that basis.
Yet the Welsh Government’s observer’s attendance at board meetings created the impression of tacit Welsh Government approval for the terms of the sale in the minds of both the board members and their advisers. The appearance is generally given that everyone took their eye off the ball and that the Welsh Government was never involved in the decision not to sell these assets one by one but as a package deal, because had it been one by one, then we surely would not have had the very, very poor outcome that we’ve now got.
The decision to depart from the plan to sell the land assets separately was a decision that should have been taken by Welsh Government Ministers, and it wasn’t. Particularly disappointing was the inclusion of the Lisvane site in this package deal. You don’t have to be a property expert to realise that this was the jewel in the crown for anyone who knew anything about Cardiff and how it was expanding. It was absolutely obvious that this was, in some not-too-distant future, going to be needed to be used for building housing. It simply was completely unsatisfactory to sell it for a pittance as agricultural land for £1.8 million—its true value being about £39 million.
This so-called overage clause, which doesn’t even properly define the expenses that the purchase is going to be able to deduct, is only valid for five years, and that five years runs out in March 2017. Some overage is better than none, but it means that if we are now having a referral for state aid to the European Commission, who knows whether that overage is ever going to be realised? I suppose the only positive thing I can say in mitigation is that the Welsh Government does seem to have learned the lessons of this report, and the purchase of Cardiff Airport was handled very differently.
16:21 - Aled Roberts
I have to say that I’m quite disappointed that we are discussing a report of this kind on the last day of the fourth Assembly. But I have to say that this report and the evidence was an eye-opener, to some extent. As someone who has been a member of a community council for 30 years, I don’t think that I would read some of this evidence about a community council. The scheme was a very progressive one. It should have worked. I don’t think that anyone is critical of the Welsh Government for the way that the idea was arrived at in the first instance, but everything after that is the subject of a great deal of criticism, if truth be told. As our Chair has said, by now, of course, we know that the Government is taking legal action against some of the experts who advised the Government. But what is surprising is the fact that the Government had thought that it was possible for four people who were appointed as members of the board to be able to discuss this kind of investment, without pay and within four days of the year. That was the expectation, in terms of the time that they put in. So, I share Jenny Rathbone’s opinion that we have to think that these people have been let down, to some extent. This board, at times, was operating with far fewer than even those four people.
I think that the main weakness in this whole saga, to some extent, is the fact that the Welsh Government has a civil servant who nobody knew exactly what his role was. When we asked Mr Munday himself, even he wasn’t clear about what his role was. The board members didn’t know what the situation was. The companies themselves didn’t know either. I think it’s worth saying that Mr Munday had said that he admitted that he hadn’t reported back, for example, to his managers or to Ministers. One has to ask why the Ministers themselves weren’t asking questions about what was being agreed. The Government by now, of course, has admitted that there were fundamental weaknesses. They gave evidence in October to the committee, saying that they, by then, were admitting that the status of the individual wasn’t clear. But, despite that, there was no guidance from the Government about what the situation was. Also, there was a lack, once again—and we have this time and again in terms of this committee’s inquiries—of records about meetings that took place within the Welsh Government. That’s not acceptable.
The report itself includes a whole host of statements about the conflicts of interest, about differences of opinion within organisations, and also the fact that there was complete confusion about responsibilities. As I said, there was a lack of information presented by companies that were paid for doing that when decisions were being made. I think, too, when you read the report—and to those of you who weren’t present in the committee meetings, it’s worth reading it—I think that it speaks volumes that one member of the board had tried to insure himself and all other members of the board because the Welsh Government had refused to take out insurance to cover them in terms of their responsibilities.
I think that we should, in one way, welcome the fact that the Welsh Government has accepted all of the recommendations. I don’t share the hope of Jenny Rathbone that, to some extent, the Government has learned lessons. Time will tell. Unfortunately, we’ve had too many reports before this committee for us to come to the conclusion that lessons have been learned in the past. But what I would hope is that the Minister could tell us this afternoon whether those lessons have now been learned, and if they have, what steps have been put in place for the fifth Assembly, so that we, or some of us, will not be here in five years’ time, again talking about exactly the same report?
16:26 - Andrew R.T. Davies
I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate today. I deputised for Mohammad Asghar on this particular inquiry on the Public Accounts Committee, and I do declare that two parcels of land are in my elected area—whether that’s an interest or not, but we did declare it at the start of the inquiry.
The point I’d like to make here is that made in the words of the Chairman in his opening remarks, when he said how things seemed incomprehensible—how the whole thing unfolded from what was a genuinely sincere attempt to unlock Welsh Government assets for regeneration and put that cash to good effect across the length and breadth of Wales to make sure that communities that are desperate to have that regeneration could actually benefit and actually create economic activity and prosperity. But, regrettably, because of the incomprehensible way that the issue unfolded about selling the land, obviously huge opportunities were missed over the intervening time, and the RIFW scheme almost fell by the wayside because of the way that the whole thing had been managed. It is incomprehensible to think that land that had been acquired by the Land Authority for Wales and the Welsh Development Agency, which were charged strategically to acquire land for future development, whether that be residential land or whether that be industrial land, would not have a greater value at some point than agricultural value. I speak about the piece in my own region, in particular in Lisvane, which was, as has been spoken about by other Members, the jewel in the crown—130-odd acres of prime land to the north of the city, which at various times over the last 20 years had been identified as suitable for development in one shape or form or the other. So, it wasn’t rocket science to work out that that particular parcel of land, and indeed many of the other parcels of land, came into public ownership because of the remit of what the Land Authority for Wales, and indeed the Welsh Development Agency at that time, had to do, which was acquire land to develop in the economic interests of the country.
I, too, like many other Members who have spoken in this debate, am still unsure as to exactly what role Chris Munday fulfilled. The one thing that came over time and time again was the complete lack of communication back and forth between the RIFW board and the Government, and it was almost as if people were cast adrift once the initial decisions and discussions had been taken. That clearly is a model of how not to run a system like this ever again, and if nothing else ever comes of this inquiry, I do hope that the Minister’s response will give comfort to Members in this place, and the wider public, that the Government has learned lessons, and importantly, the civil service has learned lessons in the way that it manages its staff and holds itself accountable to Ministers, and then Ministers hold themselves accountable to this place and to the people of Wales, who obviously put that confidence in them to govern.
It is vital that, when looking at this, we don’t get caught up in the timespan, which was thrown at us time and time again: ‘Well, it was a different era; land values were different, and there was a crisis set of economic indicators with the collapse of the banks and everything.’ There was clear evidence presented to us by the Savills report, for example, which showed many open market sales of properties of this type achieving considerably in excess of some of the values that had been attributed to these lots of land. So, that is a red herring, I would suggest, that has been put forward—that it was the economic situation at the time, and we had to respond to it.
I thought the most damning evidence that we heard was from the director general, when he candidly admitted that the mindset within Government at the time was, ‘Well, if there was to be a 20, 30, 40, 50 per cent write-down on these assets, so be it.’ The key requirement at that time, or the mindset at that time, was to actually get cash flowing through the system, irrespective of whether they had to have a fire-storm sale of these public assets. I think that really was quite revealing as to the mindset that was governing the situation and governing the sale of this land.
Now, we know that the Welsh taxpayer and indeed the RIFW concept have been the losers in all this debacle that we inquired into via the Public Accounts Committee. So, there is a great onus on you, Minister, today and I do hope that you will rise to that challenge and give us the assurances that we do require here, because the RIFW concept was a sound concept about getting that money into communities that required the regeneration. It was the oversight and execution of valuable assets—public assets—that really fell down on this particular episode, and no-one can feel comfortable about the way that this whole sorry tale unfolded. Regrettably, it is the Welsh taxpayer who has lost out to the tune of not millions, but tens of millions of pounds. I look forward to your response to this debate this afternoon.
16:31 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, Lesley Griffiths.
16:31 - Lesley Griffiths
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I’d like to begin by saying I share the frustration of Members who’ve spoken in this debate. I think it’s a frustration that runs through the Public Accounts Committee report regarding the failure of the regeneration investment fund for Wales to deliver the benefits originally intended.
When the then One Wales coalition Government established RIFW in 2010, it was much needed. Securing funds from the European JESSICA programme and investing in regeneration through recyclable loans was undoubtedly a worthwhile aim at a time of real economic turmoil. I also share the frustration of the Chamber that the fund was unable to bring forward a range of projects as planned, contributing jobs and growth in communities all over Wales. It is also a source of real frustration that we were not in a position to demonstrate to the committee that maximum value had been obtained from the public resources invested in the fund. The way that RIFW was managed fell well below the standards we would expect as a Government. The First Minister apologised for this and I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that apology today.
Whilst the RIFW concept was a good one, its delivery was flawed. We must learn from this important experience and ensure that nothing like this can occur again. The Government’s response to the committee’s report makes clear the range of actions we’ve already implemented, or have in hand, to improve our oversight of arm’s-length bodies. The committee acknowledged the review of RIFW’s governance undertaken by the current administration as early as 2013. We must get this right because, all across Government, individuals are contributing their time and expertise to support the development of policies and the delivery of services. I know from my own portfolio how important the contribution of outside experts can be. We value the contribution that board members and working group participants make. The work we have in hand will ensure we have governance structures in place that will allow the contribution of independent experts to the work of Government to strengthen and grow.
As Minister with responsibility in this area now, I have, like my predecessors, also been anxious to take whatever steps I could to safeguard the funds tied up in RIFW whilst the WAO investigation was under way. Huw Lewis commissioned two reviews into the fund in the spring of 2013 and Carl Sargeant took firm steps to bring the fund under direct ministerial control in October 2013. Members will be aware that, on 26 January, I announced that the £16.5 million remaining in the fund would be withdrawn and made available to fund regeneration projects.
The committee heard evidence about significant profits arising from land originally sold by RIFW being sold on for housing development. There were worrying deficiencies in the arrangements made for RIFW to share in the proceeds of these sales. However, I can reassure Members that we remain focused on maximising the proceeds of the public purse arising from the onward sale of two of the most important of RIFW’s land assets.
The PAC report highlights the central role played by the fund’s commercial advisors in carrying out the functions of RIFW. We share a number of the committee’s concerns regarding how these functions were exercised. In light of those concerns, the lengthy investigation by the audit office and our own examination of these matters, we have initiated a legal process against the fund’s investment managers, Lambert Smith Hampton. We are keeping under review whether further legal steps may be necessary. Members will understand that I’m unable to comment any further on these matters at this stage.
I am pleased the committee was also able to acknowledge the steps that have been taken during the current term of Government to address the concerns identified in this case. We’ve already acted to make improvements as a result of the review. The committee has acknowledged the action taken to improve our oversight of matters relating to RIFW, the guidance we provide to officials and board members, as well as our internal arrangements for transferring projects between departments. Moving forward, it is vital the Welsh Government continues to learn lessons from the RIFW experience and takes every opportunity to improve policies and practice. All 17 of the committee’s recommendations have been accepted, relating to Welsh Government. This work now needs to continue, both with regard to our sponsorship of arm’s-length bodies more generally and the broader challenges surrounding the identification, oversight and management of major projects.
The history of RIFW has been lengthy and complicated and, following my announcement in January, the resources previously tied up in the fund can now deliver some of the public benefits they were originally intended to support. We have begun a legal process against the investment manager and we’ll continue to review the further legal steps that may be necessary to recover value to ensure a fair and reasonable return for the public purse. I thank the committee for their consideration of this matter, and I’m pleased to support the motion.
16:36 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
And Darren Millar to reply.
16:36 - Darren Millar
Thank you very much indeed, Deputy Presiding Officer. I think this has been an interesting debate, just to listen to individuals who were on the committee and also those who were not members of the committee as well, in terms of their views. That, of course, started with Nick Ramsay who was just referring to the reputational damage to the Welsh Government from these sales, because it does reflect not just on the Welsh Government, but on the National Assembly as a whole, actually, when these sorts of things go wrong. You referred, Nick, to Wonastow in your own constituency—a site that was sold by RIFW for £1.14 million and subsequently resold by South Wales Land Developments for £12 million. These are significant sums of money and, at a time when public finances are pressed and under pressure, that’s money that could have been invested elsewhere in the public sector. So, rebuilding trust, I think, is very important, and that’s why the Welsh Government’s response, which has been very positive, to the recommendations must be followed through and delivered upon.
Alun Ffred Jones referred to the ministerial reporting arrangements in terms of how there was a lack of reporting, frankly, to Ministers by Welsh Government officials. Of course, when Ministers carry the can for the actions of officials, it’s incredibly important that they are informed, particularly of significant land disposals like this. This is not the appointment of a cleaner somewhere, this is the disposal of tens of millions of pounds-worth of assets—the jewels in the crown of the Welsh Government’s land holdings. To not have feedback going directly to Ministers about people who are acting on their behalf—and that’s what this board was doing; it was making decisions on behalf of Welsh Ministers—frankly, is absolutely astonishing. I do think, as well, that that was complicated even further, those reporting arrangements, by the fact that there was transition between the One Wales Government, which, of course, initiated the RIFW scheme or project, as it were, and then coming into a new Welsh Government, post the elections back in 2011. And, of course, RIFW has passed from portfolio to portfolio after a number of ministerial appointments. We found, as a committee, that that added to the confusion, added to the reporting-back mechanisms and, frankly, the observer who was appointed to liaise with the board really didn’t know who he should have been reporting to, because there was just no clear instruction to Mr Munday about that.
Jenny Rathbone started her contribution by referring to the fact that she had some sympathy with the board members, and I think those words are echoed in our report, because it was quite clear that they were appointed for a completely different purpose than land disposals. They didn’t have the suite of skills that were required to be able to deliver land disposals at a price that was appropriate, and neither were they able to receive the advice that they should have received—it was inadequate—when they wanted to make decisions on the disposal of that land.
The size of the board here is something that we need to consider too. When you have an arm’s-length organisation that has so few board members and one recuses himself or herself from the decision-making process, that leaves a huge capacity gap in a very small board. These things should have been thought out properly before the board was established to make sure that, because it was such a small pool of people who were involved in land asset disposals of this size and scale, frankly, it should have been recognised upfront. And the observer to that board should have been reporting back on the inadequate capacity of the board to able to deliver on the job. It was a massive disappointment to us that, frankly, he was giving the impression of being a non-executive director on that board—that’s what he was described as: a non-voting member on the board—but he was giving advice and giving the ‘approval’, as it were—and I use quotation marks there—of the Welsh Government for everything that went on.
You also referred, Jenny, to the overage clauses and the inadequacy of those in terms of the length of time that they applied to. Again, the Welsh Government didn’t learn from the experience that had been accumulated over many years by some of the land experts in the WDA and the land development authority, where it was very clear that a five-year term of overage is hardly ever used. Frankly, they’re up to 20 years more typically. So, these things should have rang alarm bells within the Welsh Government and they didn’t, and as a result of that, taxpayers are already losing out, because not only is it a fact that the overage clauses were inadequate, but insufficient sites had overage on them in the first place. We were told during the inquiry that, I think, up to five more sites at least should have had overage clauses put on them because of the development potential that could have been gleaned.
Aled, of course, focused not just on the Welsh Government observer that we’ve already discussed, but also on the record keeping of the Welsh Government, which we found to be wholly inadequate in terms of RIFW. We were told that the Welsh Government deleted diaries after 12 months and couldn’t recover them, so they didn’t know where people were or what meetings were being held with officials. It’s frankly disgusting. When you’re supposed to be able to hold people to account for the actions that they take, it is appalling that diaries are not kept and that we were unable to trace who was at which meeting, or even any record of those meetings. Even formal meetings weren’t properly recorded, and minutes were not properly taken. For informal meetings, there were no notes at all. Again, I make the point: this is not about the appointment of a cleaner; this is about the disposal of tens of millions of pounds-worth of public assets. The record keeping should have been better and, of course, the Welsh Government has accepted that and is taking action to address it.
Andrew R.T. Davies referred to the fact that there was a sound concept behind RIFW, and he’s absolutely right: you know, there were public spending restraint, the Welsh Government wanted to release some money for investment in these regeneration projects, and this was one way of doing it. Frankly, a great idea, wonderful that people were thinking outside the box, but you have to be able to deliver on these ideas, and it was quite clear that they were not the right people giving the advice to Ministers at the time to be able to get it right. And that fire-sale mentality was the one that clearly was prevailing when the original asset disposal plan was ditched in favour of this whole portfolio sale.
I’m very grateful, Minister, for your positive response to the recommendations, and the further apology to not just the Chamber, but also the Welsh public for what went wrong. People will listen very carefully to that, and obviously want to see whichever administration is formed after 5 May following up on all of these recommendations to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I will say this, though: one thing that we do note in the report is that the action that was taken once these things were brought to the attention of Ministers—the action taken by people like Carl Sargeant, Huw Lewis and others—was appropriate in terms of the brakes being put on and the responsibilities being rolled back into Ministers’ hands from RIFW, and I think that is absolutely right.
But I will end on this note. These findings in this report are echoed in many other reports that have been published by the Public Accounts Committee over the past five years. There are echoes in it in relation to our work on the All Wales Ethnic Minority Association, echoes in relation to our grants management work, and even echoes in particular in terms of the board arrangements in our work on the Betsi Cadwaladr university health board. There’s something fundamentally wrong if lessons are not learnt when report after report after report is being published picking up on some of the same themes. There’s further work to be done, of course, in the next Assembly, and I very much expect the work that we’ve already started as a Public Accounts Committee on the Wales life sciences investment fund to be picked up by our successor committee. That work too, I think, already is beginning to expose some similar problems. So, I think it’s very important that all the people in this Chamber—all Assembly Members—and whoever succeeds us following the next elections continue to focus on getting these things right once and for all. Thank you.
16:46 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
10. Debate on the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee's Report on its Inquiry into the BBC Charter Review
16:46 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 10 is the debate on the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee’s report on its inquiry into the BBC Charter review. I call the Chair of the committee to move the motion—Christine Chapman.
Motion NDM6009 Christine Chapman
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Notes the report of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee on the inquiry into the BBC Charter Review, which was laid in the Table Office on 2 March 2016; and
2. Agrees that the BBC, if it accepts the committee’s recommendation, should lay before the Assembly annual reports and audited statements of accounts.
Motion moved.
16:46 - Christine Chapman
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. The BBC’s royal charter is the constitutional basis for the BBC. It sets out the BBC’s public purposes, guarantees its independence, and outlines the duties of the trust and executive. The current charter expires in December 2016 and, in advance of this, the UK Government has started a review process prior to the agreement of a new charter for the next 10 years. Our inquiry looked at the implications of the charter review for Wales, including the future provision of services by the BBC and its governance and accountability arrangements. We also considered the future arrangements for S4C. We issued an open call for views and held a number of oral evidence sessions, and I would like to record our thanks to all those who contributed to our inquiry. I would also like to place on record my thanks—and I know my committee members will say the same—. A big thank you to our committee clerking team and the Members’ Research Service for their contribution to helping us put this report together.
Our report includes a number of recommendations. I will not cover them all today, as time is limited. Also, given the limited time between the publication of our report and the dissolution of the Assembly, it’s not been possible to receive a formal response from the Welsh Government, but I therefore look forward to the Minister’s contribution today.
The BBC holds an important position in Welsh life. Audiences in Wales consume a greater proportion of BBC services than the other nations and regions of the UK and are particularly dependent on the BBC for news and current affairs. Because of this, the BBC has a responsibility to ensure that its output reflects the diversity of Welsh life and culture, and it’s here that the committee believes that the BBC has fallen short of its obligations. The significant decline in the BBC’s investment in English-language programming for Wales over the last 10 years has meant fewer hours of Wales-specific programming. Further, the programming schedule has not adequately captured and explored the lives and experiences of Welsh communities and the changing political landscape post devolution. As a means of addressing this, we believe that there is a need to strengthen the BBC’s statement of public purposes to ensure that the BBC reflects, represents, and serves the needs of the UK, its nations, regions and communities.
In our report, we comment on the Welsh Government’s call for an independent review of public service broadcasting in Wales. While we don’t disagree with this, we consider that such a review is unlikely in the time available before the renewal of the charter. More broadly, we believe that the Welsh Government should invest in greater capacity to support its work on media policy, particularly given the cultural and economic significance of the media sector to Wales. As such, we recommend that the Government establish an independent media forum for Wales, drawing on expertise from across the media sectors and academia.
We believe that the overall structure and culture of the BBC is focused too greatly in London at the expense of the nations and regions of the UK. In Wales, this London bias has contributed to a lack of representation and portrayal of Welsh life and culture, particularly on the BBC’s wider network services. We believe that the introduction of specific and measurable targets for portrayal would assist in this area.
We also commented on the BBC’s commissioning arrangements, which remain heavily centralised. We heard that the main decision making about the commissioning of programmes continues to take place in London, despite production being increasingly devolved. So, we recommend the decentralising of the BBC’s network commissioning arrangements in Wales, and believe this would help to increase diversity in the portrayal of Wales on BBC programmes.
Regarding the funding, we are deeply concerned about the implications of funding reductions for BBC Wales on the range and quality of the BBC’s future output for Wales. The Welsh Government has called for the BBC to invest an additional £30 million into the services it provides for Wales and we do support this call and agree that this investment is crucial to the continuation of high-quality content for Wales.
On governance and accountability, we believe that there should be a direct line of accountability from the BBC to the Assembly for the BBC’s output in Wales. And, to this end, we have recommended that the BBC lay annual reports and accounts before the Assembly about its provision of services specifically for Wales. The second point in the motion for this debate is intended to enable the BBC to lay such reports and accounts.
We also believe that the Assembly should strengthen its own arrangements for holding the BBC and other media organisations to account for the services they provide in Wales and the money spent in doing so. We’ve therefore recommended that the fifth Assembly should establish a committee on communications. This would reflect the importance of broadcasting and the media to Welsh life and the economy.
In conclusion, then, I do commend this report to the Assembly and I look forward to the debate. Thank you.
16:52 - Suzy Davies
First, can I thank the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee for their inquiry and their commendably succinct report, which is very helpful to a non-member like me, I must admit?
Notwithstanding the BBC’s investment in production in Wales, there is still a big question about the visibility of Wales on the screens of the UK as a whole, and on not just the screens, of course, but all media platforms, and I think the committee heard that this is down to money in no small part, with sport, news and current affairs eating up most of BBC Wales’s budget. The leftovers of £5 million or so wouldn’t really commission you much quality drama or comedy.
I’m sure, though, that ‘Here Be Dragons’, for example, didn’t cost that much. Please let’s hear more of that back on Radio 4, and why not see if there’s a wider audience for it? For, if we in Wales can love the residents of Stoneybridge and Craggy Island, and enjoy going out for an ‘English’ as much as anyone else, then I’m sure that the cut-throat rivalry on the Snowdon Mountain Railway has appeal beyond the Friday night listener of Radio Wales. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s because you’ll have been listening to ‘The News Quiz’ or ‘The Now Show’, like most of us. And that encapsulates the challenge—to get more of Wales onto the national network.
You can see it with current affairs. The day that BBC Wales broke the news on the RIFW report, network news was talking about snow in the USA. When the worsening recent A&E statistics in England were reported on Radio 4, there was no mention of the even worse statistics in the other nations of the UK. And that matters not just because people living in England need to understand more about their devolved neighbours in order to understand the UK as it is today, but because Radio 4 listeners in Wales can draw conclusions and make political decisions based on information that is incomplete at best and irrelevant at worst.
We may complain that a dominant BBC Wales hasn’t succeeded in getting the message across to a Welsh audience about what’s devolved and what isn’t, but the finger can be wagged much more firmly at the BBC at UK level, which has absolutely failed to help anyone in the UK understand devolution, including those of us in Wales.
Some of us—or some here, I should say—will see these as reasons to devolve broadcasting. But I say ‘no’ to that. These are reasons for the BBC, at UK level, to get its act together. And, while I am persuaded that a separate service licence for each of the nations will help BBC Wales do better on reflecting Wales back to the people of Wales, it runs the same risk as devolved broadcasting would, which is letting the BBC at UK level completely off the hook on its duty—and it is its duty—to reflect the nations and regions across the network.
So, in supporting the idea of separate service licences, what do we do about governance to ensure that the Tristrams don’t use them as excuses to sideline Wales? Clementi has now recommended that Ofcom assume the regulatory oversight of the BBC, and, with its discrete Welsh advisory committee, that may be appropriate. But the plans for the unitary board running the day-to-day operations do worry me, especially from the perspective of visible independence. I think I’ve still got that concern, even with Clementi’s idea of a majority of non-executive directors being part of that unitary board.
First, there is the question of the level of Welsh representation on that board. Will one non-executive from Wales have any more force than one Wales trustee in the current circumstances? Although, I hope the Assembly does agree with me that Wales has been very fortunate to have someone of the calibre of Elan Closs Stephens in that role latterly.
Secondly, how would that representative be chosen? When we talk about the arts or broadcasting, my heart sinks at the words ‘Government appointment’, just as it does, I’m afraid, at the prospect of a Government forum. It doesn’t rise much higher at the words ‘joint Government appointment’ either. Personally, I think this may be a chance for an Assembly appointment, an indisputably independent choice, to whatever the representative board looks like at some point.
16:56 - Alun Davies
Will you take an intervention on that, Suzy?
16:56 - Suzy Davies
I’m a bit short of time, but, yes, okay.
16:56 - Alun Davies
Thank you for that. I accept very much the point you make that we differentiate between this place and the Government, and I agree with you on that. Do you therefore not see a role for this place in holding the BBC to account—not the devolution of broadcasting but the devolution of accountability?
16:57 - Suzy Davies
Oh, completely, and I’m just coming up to that now.
All public service broadcasters, not just the BBC—all public service broadcasters—should be accountable to this place on their public service broadcast performance on devolved matters, as well as to Parliament. But there’s an argument as well that the accountability should extend to Ofcom in Wales for its oversight of broadcasting here and the Welsh representative for the BBC at UK level—whatever that ends up looking like—so that we can see what influence they have been able to exert over their respective national bodies on this issue of representation of nations and regions.
Thirdly, and finally, whatever joint accountability looks like, whatever we do in this Assembly in terms of accountability, we must have influence on what the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is looking at when they’re looking at the BBC. There’s no point us sitting here producing reports that sit on shelves. They’ve got to have strength and weight when it comes to holding DCMS to account. Thank you.
16:58 - Alun Davies
I, too, would like to begin my remarks by thanking the staff of the committee and the witnesses who came to give evidence. I felt that we have an excellent report here from the committee and that’s due to the work that was done by the committee secretariat, but also because we were able to debate and discuss these matters with a wide range of witnesses who were very free with their time and, as ever, with their opinions. I think that is something for which all of us across the Chamber are very grateful.
Broadcasting is an issue that we’ve debated a number of times, probably more often than any other non-devolved issue, which gives some indication of its salience to Wales in terms of politics and the culture of broadcasting and its importance in our society. I hope that we’ve also seen a fair degree of consensus across the different sides of the Chamber on some of the difficulties facing us as a country and how we resolve those difficulties.
We’re in a curious situation at the moment. Suzy Davies indicated her concerns about the independence of the BBC under any new arrangements and a unitary board. I share very much that concern about the independence of the BBC. The role of any public service broadcaster is to irritate politicians. It is to hold politicians to account, to stand up for the citizen, not simply be a champion of the consumer. That is an absolutely essential differential in what the BBC has to do and has done throughout its history.
I believe we have a Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in London who doesn’t understand the basics of an open political culture. Some of what he said in terms of the BBC has shown an utter disregard for the independence of our cultural integrity and our cultural expressions as a country, and that is something that we have to be very aware of at this time.
At the same time, we’ve probably seen an attack on S4C that is unprecedented in any western liberal democracy in terms of taking away its independence and its funding, bullying S4C in a way that no democratic Government should behave, over the last few years. I think that is also something that we should regret very greatly.
Can I say that does not mean, of course, that we in this place should simply be cheerleaders for the BBC and simply support the BBC in an unquestioned and unqualified way? They have to earn the support of people here and elsewhere, and they have to deliver on their public service obligations to us and for us. The Chair of the committee outlined the decline in hours produced by Wales, from Wales and for Wales over the last few years. It has been an utter tragedy that we’ve seen both the range of programming and the genres that are produced in Wales decline, the number of hours broadcast decline and the place on the schedule decline over the years. It is a failure of accountability of governance that that has been allowed to happen without the intervention of any democratic institution, either this place or Parliament. It is a failure of public accountability that that has happened over a number of years and without challenge.
It is also incumbent on the BBC to ensure that we are able, as a nation, to speak amongst ourselves, to have an outlet for our cultural integrity and our cultural needs, but also, as a British nation, that we are represented on the UK network in a fair and, I believe, deserved way. That has not happened. We’ve heard the numbers of programmes broadcast about Wales, portraying Wales. We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of hours produced here in Wales, and that is to be welcomed, but, at the same time, the BBC has a very real responsibility to ensure that a child growing up in Tredegar sees his or her life portrayed on the screen of his or her public broadcaster in the same way as a child growing up in London is all too used to.
At the same time, the BBC has a very real duty to inform. We’ve seen significant coverage of the US primaries—I enjoy it, I appreciate it and I value it. We’ve seen overwhelming coverage of the European Union referendum, but no coverage of elections taking place here or in Scotland. That is a failure of BBC news management, it is a failure of BBC senior executives and it is a failure of the BBC culture that that is happening without a check or a balance to take place. So, yes, we want to see the BBC protected, yes, we want to see its independence protected, and yes, we want to see its funding protected, but we want to see the BBC performing for us as well. That level of accountability to this place and to Parliament is something that cannot wait much longer. Thank you very much.
17:03 - Bethan Jenkins
Thank you to the Chair for bringing this debate forward and to the clerks for drafting the debate. I am pleased we’re discussing this here today, because I remember calling, prior to this investigation, for a committee of the Assembly—I don’t think I minded which one—to look into the BBC charter renewal process, because I think what happens is, and we discussed this at length on committee, that we land upon these types of issues without actually building them into the system. I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault at the moment, but, in future, that’s why I’m passionate about having a communications committee, so that these things are looked at proactively, and not reactively. I think from the industry and from those who did take part in the consultation process, we saw that that was a clear frustration on their behalf: that they saw that the Assembly was not putting our principled stance about the future of broadcasting and the media in Wales forward enough, and we were waiting for events to overtake us, much like what happened with the BBC being given the responsibility for the pensions issue or for the cuts to S4C. We’ve been behind the agenda quite often.
I think that’s also to do with the fact that we don’t have broadcasting devolved to Wales. I hear what Alun Davies says in terms of the fact that the UK Government doesn’t hear what we have to say, that it doesn’t understand our cultural expressions in Wales. Well, if that is the case, then, should we not have devolution of broadcasting here to Wales? Surely, we as politicians here in the National Assembly understand what Wales needs more than those Ministers who do not prioritise this issue and certainly do not prioritise S4C, given that the Tories had to break their own manifesto before they eventually put funding back in place for S4C.
The issues have been said already with regard to how Wales is portrayed in the media. But, what was most important for me—and I teased that out in questioning during the process of our deliberations in committee—was how we measure what happens then in terms of portrayal. It’s all well and good for BBC officials to come to a committee in the future and say, ‘Oh, well, yes, we’ve got a few new programmes.’ But what does that mean, then, in terms of how Wales is portrayed better in the future? For example, how many programmes will they deliver on women in science? How many new programmes will they deliver on the landscapes of Wales? How many new programmes will they deliver on growing up in the Valleys in the 1980s? Perhaps I could be in that programme; I don’t know. These are the types of programmes that are not just non-news and non-sport. You know—comedy. Where is the Welsh comedy? There are talented Welsh comedians in Wales, and they are never utilised for our programming because of the cuts that have been put forward from central Government to the BBC. They are crying out for being able to write those scripts, to employ those Welsh actors, to give this economy the boost that it needs.
The other reason why we need to have a communications committee is that it is not just about the BBC. I hosted an event with the NUJ last week, which is concerned about changes to Trinity Mirror and Media Wales, about the takeover of the South Wales Evening Post and how that may lead to the dissipation of services in that particular area. Will they centralise offices, as they have done in places like Neath, Merthyr and further afield? So, we need that committee to really hone in on that industry, because they have been getting away with doing things without that level of scrutiny.
With regard to the independent media forum, I’m not against it, but I will say that if we are to create an independent media forum for Wales, it has to be well resourced and it has to deliver. Sadly, the Minister did convene a broadcasting committee and it took the Institute of Welsh Affairs to freedom-of-information-request the Welsh Government for anybody to have access to know what the broadcasting committee did. Now, we don’t want to be in a situation like that if a new forum is established. We need to make sure that it is doing its work, that it has access to resources, and that it can monitor what’s happening here in Wales. I simply do not want to create something so that it will be a talking shop.
With regard to the £30 million in additional funds for the BBC, well, a briefing document that we had from the IWA last week says that this could deliver an extra hour a night of non-news, non-sport television, either factual or comedy. So, again, that could go a long, long way to making more programmes here in Wales. I don’t think I have got time to answer Suzy Davies’s issue on the separate licence service, but I think the BBC bosses from Wales certainly said that that would help them, not hinder them, in relation to bringing forward more work and more progress for the BBC here in Wales.
17:08 - Peter Black
Can I again welcome the report and thank the clerks and everyone associated with producing it? I think that recommendation 9, which Bethan Jenkins referred to, about the Fifth Assembly resolving to establish a committee on communications, is particularly important. Although broadcasting falls between two stools, if you like, and is not a devolved responsibility, it is an issue that very much exercises our minds in terms of how we are portrayed and how Wales is portrayed, and also in terms of the economic impact of broadcasting as well in Wales, and the responsibilities there. Although it does fall between those two stools, I think it’s very important that, not only does the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government take an active interest in it, but that there is also some level of accountability for all the public service broadcasters to us in terms of how they deliver within Wales, and that there is greater scrutiny of what they do. I don’t think that scrutiny is happening in Westminster, certainly not in relation to Wales, though of course there will be wider scrutiny of broadcasting there. So, I very much support that recommendation as part of that. I think it’s the case that whenever we’ve had an inquiry into broadcasting here—and I think we’ve had maybe three or four in the time that I’ve been here—we’ve always added value, I think, in terms of the recommendations, and we’ve helped not just the BBC and ITV, particularly, but also informed the debate at the UK level. I think that a committee here would continue to add value to that.
I just want to concentrate on a couple of recommendations in the report, in particular the recommendation that the BBC puts in place arrangements to decentralise commissioning to ensure that network commissioners for the nations and regions are based in those nations and regions. A number of Members have referred already to the failure of the BBC to reflect Wales in its drama productions, in its comedy, and in some of its factual programmes. There are, of course, factual programmes that do reflect Wales—I’ve seen ‘Countryfile’ and Michael Portillo’s ‘Great British Railway Journeys’ actually come into Wales and do that. But I think that, in the way the BBC is set up at the moment, the commissioning is all centralised in England, and people do tend to commission in their own image. Because they’re based in England, they think in English terms. They don’t think in terms of Wales when they’re commissioning programmes. I think that’s actually crucial in terms of why we’re not delivering, or why the BBC is not delivering what we expect of it.
I think also, in terms of casting, if you want to take part in a production being delivered in Wales, you have to go to London or Manchester to do the auditions and to be cast for it. I think that in itself says a great deal about the way the BBC is particularly centralised. I know that when we discussed this in committee, Alun Davies and other Members were particularly keen on a federal structure for the BBC to reflect the way that the UK is moving. I think that devolving or decentralising commissioning and casting would be part of that, but also the way that they deliver programming as well.
Radio, I think, is particularly important. I know Suzy Davies referred to Radio 4 when she was talking. Since they moved ‘Good Morning Wales’ to half past six, I’ve retuned my radio to Radio 4, and I get the ‘Today’ programme, and I’m absolutely shocked at the way they just talk about issues around education as if they apply to the whole of the UK. Radio 4 is, I think, particularly bad on this, but also we talked about Radio 2. Radio 2 has over 1 million listeners in Wales and yet the news we get is England-based news. There should be a Welsh opt-out for that news, to actually reflect to the people listening some relevance when they hear the news on Radio 2.
We had the King report in 2008, which very much addressed these issues. I think the BBC is slipping back on this, and I think they do need to address some of the recommendations in that report again, and refresh the way they are delivering on it.
I just wanted to make a quick reference to the Clementi review. I’m generally supportive of the idea of having a unitary board with Ofcom as the regulator. I think that’s a reasonable structure. What I am concerned about is that the majority of non-executive directors are being recommended to be appointed by the UK Government, effectively turning the BBC into a state broadcaster. I find that very disturbing indeed. The BBC needs to maintain its independence, and it needs to be representative of the UK as a whole. I very much support the suggestion that the Welsh Assembly, as opposed to the Welsh Government, should be involved in appointing a Welsh representative, but I do think that the BBC’s independence has to be preserved, and I think the idea that the UK Government should be appointing non-executive directors to the main broadcaster, turning into a state broadcasting corporation, I think is very disturbing indeed, and one that I would certainly oppose.
A number of Members have referred to the £30 million. The Institute of Welsh Affairs have very generously given us an idea of how we should spend that £30 million. It’s not for us to spend it; it’s not for the IWA; it has to be for the BBC, how it’s spent, because that’s the whole point of being independent. But they need that money and they need it now to actually reflect the way that we’d like to see them develop.
17:13 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Ken Skates.
17:13 - Kenneth Skates
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can I thank Members for their contributions during this very timely debate today? I’m pleased that the committee report reflects cross-party agreement on the majority of issues under consideration. The Welsh Government is therefore pleased to support this motion today.
The Welsh Government has been involved in the charter review process from the outset, and last October we provided a detailed response to the UK Government’s Green Paper consultation, which we provided to the committee and also published online. Our priorities for charter renewal include ensuring that there is sufficient funding for BBC Cymru Wales for news and non-news programming in English and in Welsh and also for S4C. We have also called for an urgent review of the BBC’s public purposes in Wales, particularly in respect of its delivery to Welsh audiences and also its portrayal of Wales, which Members have touched on this afternoon. This review should form the basis, we believe, of a new charter contract for Wales. My meeting over the phone this morning with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was a further opportunity to outline the Welsh Government’s priorities for charter renewal. I will be responding in writing to the committee’s report before the end of this Assembly term.
There is only one recommendation specifically for the Welsh Government and that is to create an independent media forum for Wales. The Welsh Government is open-minded about this and does keep it under continual review. The Welsh Government’s broadcasting advisory panel was created in 2012 for a fixed period, advising the First Minister on the governance and regulation of public service broadcasting and the need to protect and maintain Welsh cultural, linguistic, economic and democratic interests. The panel’s advice has already added significant value to our ongoing robust dialogue with Ofcom and the UK Government on broadcasting matters, including Ofcom’s PSB review and charter review. We welcome the fact that the committee has considered the revised memorandum of understanding, which covers this and future charter reviews, and I will also be responding in writing on this.
Although we support the motion today, the reference to the memorandum in the motion requires some clarification. The committee has been asked to comment on a draft memorandum, which already stipulates that the BBC will lay accounts and report before the Assembly, as a result of extensive dialogue between Welsh Government, the UK Government and the BBC. All parties stand ready to sign this memorandum. It is not dependent on a recommendation from the committee, although I welcome the committee’s endorsement of the memorandum we have developed.
We welcomed the decision not to impose the cut originally proposed in last November’s spending review on S4C and to maintain funding for the next financial year at the same level as in the current financial year. We are also pleased that the BBC Trust announced last month that the channel’s funding, provided by the licence fee, is to remain at the same level in 2017-18 as the forthcoming financial year.
We also welcomed the recent announcement that the UK Government intends to carry out a comprehensive review of S4C, which we have continually pushed for and which was originally promised back in 2010. However, we believe that the review should take place in parallel with the BBC charter review, rather than after its completion, and should also be part of a broader, more fundamental review of the public service broadcasting needs of Wales. I’ve informed the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that the Welsh Government expects to be fully involved in the review of S4C, including the development of the terms of reference.
It is encouraging to see recommendations in Sir David Clementi’s recent report that would strengthen the BBC’s accountability to all of the nations and regions of the UK, including Wales. The report acknowledged and acts upon a number of points that we raised in our response to the charter review consultation, in particular the recommendation that the devolved nations should be specifically represented on a new BBC unitary board. It is vital that Wales and the other devolved nations are appropriately represented and that any changes to the governance or regulatory arrangements of the BBC fully reflect the reality of devolved Government in the UK. The three nations have had trustees on every iteration of the BBC’s board structure since 1952. We would strongly oppose any move to end this geographic representation.
We also welcome the principle of a service licence for Wales, which reflects our own call for a compact for Wales in the new charter. A service licence must clearly define what Wales and what the BBC have a duty to deliver in the next charter period—both to audiences in Wales and about Wales to audiences across the UK and indeed the rest of the world.
Deputy Presiding Officer, the Welsh Government will continue to be fully involved in the charter review process, both in the run-up to the White Paper being published and thereafter. We will ensure that the interests of the Welsh people are recognised and addressed as the draft charter is then developed. I’m sure that this Assembly will do the same once the memorandum of understanding is in place and the BBC provides its report and accounts for your scrutiny on an annual basis.
17:19 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
And Christine Chapman to reply to the debate.
17:19 - Christine Chapman
Thank you. First of all, can I thank all Members and the Deputy Minister who have contributed today to this very important debate? I think it is fair to say that there’s been a lot of consensus on this and passion for this particular report. Just to highlight some of the themes, Suzy Davies made a very powerful case about ensuring the absolute necessity and duty to ensure increased visibility of Wales and the portrayal of Wales within the network. I think that was a very, very important point.
Alun Davies, amongst other, very important, significant points you made, I really liked the part about the child in Tredegar; I think that’s a very, very important point about portrayal, but also the importance of S4C. Again, we debated this at length. But I think as well it is about accountability to this place. During the time I’ve been here in the Assembly, this message has grown stronger.
Bethan Jenkins, you talked on a number of points, but particularly about the measureable targets and portrayal. I think that is really important. It is quite difficult, sometimes, to pin these things down, but I think we do need to look for measurable targets to make sure that the portrayal of Wales is improving. Of course, you did remind us, Bethan, about the number of times that the Assembly has debated this, and I think it does give us a sense of the frustration, I think, that all of us have felt in this respect.
Peter Black talked about economic necessity. We know, for example, that commissioning, if we get it right, could actually help the economy. It can ensure that Welsh companies are working and that they are part of this as well. I thought the point you made about, sometimes, the skewed view we get of Wales—. If you do listen to, say, the ‘Today’ programme, it’s usually something quirky or something a bit controversial and, actually, it’s not really acceptable.
Obviously, with the Deputy Minister, we know, because of the timing it is quite difficult and we haven’t had a written response, but I really value the positive response you have made to our report and we look forward to the written response, now, in due course. But, I think, for me, there’s the fact that you have emphasised that the Welsh Government will continue to be involved in the charter process and that you will continue to press Wales’s influence to make sure we get this right. I think, generally, though, as a committee, we felt that there were some important points we needed to make in the context of the review, and I was particularly taken—although all the evidence was excellent—with Dr John Geraint, who was absolutely right in his evidence, when, reflecting on the lack of Welsh representation on television when he was growing up, he said it was absolutely outrageous that we still need to have these discussions, identifying how this could make some Welsh citizens feel second-class in their own country. So, we are not there yet. After all these years, there still is a lot more work to be done.
I really think that the report has been good, but there are certainly challenges now for the BBC to really step up to the plate on this. We need to ensure the authentic reflection and validation of Welsh life in all its diversity—men, women, rural, urban, north, south, east and west; we really need to get that right. I think this is important for us as individuals and citizens, but also for Wales as a nation. The committee was clear that this is a challenge the BBC must take up. In the fifth Assembly, I hope that you will return to these matters and I hope, when the Assembly does, it can report clear progress. Thank you.
17:23 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
11. Debate on the Environment and Sustainability Committee's Report: ‘A Smarter Energy Future for Wales’
17:23 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 11 is a debate on the Environment and Sustainability Committee report: ‘A Smarter Energy Future for Wales’. I call the Chair of the committee to move the motion—Alun Ffred Jones.
Motion NDM6007 Alun Ffred Jones
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Notes the report of the Environment and Sustainability Committee on ‘A Smarter Energy Future for Wales’, which was laid in the Table Office on 8 March 2016.
Motion moved.
17:24 - Alun Ffred Jones
Thank you very much. I’m very pleased to put forward this debate this afternoon. The inquiry has been a very interesting and educational one for me, and I’m very grateful for the contribution of the experts and the witnesses, and my fellow Members, of course. The visit to southern Germany, to Baden-Württemberg, was an inspiration to all of us, and I’m sure we’ll hear about that a little more later on.
We must make the transition to a smarter energy future. We cannot rely on business as usual. That is our major finding, I believe. Wales has a legally binding emissions-reduction target, but we can only meet that target if we transform the way we use and produce energy in Wales in a fundamental way. We want to reduce fuel poverty, and people in Wales deserve cleaner, cheaper energy. The move to smarter energy will lead to lower bills and increased energy security in the long term.
The transformation starts with clear leadership, and a stable policy direction will allow long-term investment decisions to be made. Local energy production and supply has to be a goal of all future Welsh Governments. We are not placing the blame on the Welsh Government here; we must all play a part in this. That’s why we’re recommending that the national carbon emissions targets are duties placed on local authorities. We need all of the elements: local government, the United Kingdom Government, energy providers, the grid, Ofgem, the construction industry and the private rented sector to come together to achieve this transformation. We are confident that they can do that, and that they will do that when they see that it is in their interests.
We can meet all of our energy needs from renewable sources, and we need to focus on developing small-scale community projects. And those who run some of these, and those who plan them have told us that what they need is a big friend to help them navigate the challenges of funding and planning. We are going to hear some of the voices of these witnesses—witnesses who gave very valuable evidence to us—on a video now, I hope.
A DVD was shown. The transcription in quotation marks below is a transcription of the oral contributions on the DVD. The presentation can be accessed by following this link:
DVD presentation.
Tom Latter: ‘Community groups have a huge opportunity to influence the local authorities and to lobby Welsh Government as well. They have the opportunity to bring like-minded people together.’
Neil Lewis: ‘With renewable energy, we can have this role—that we can own our own energy-generation company, keep the profit locally, develop it locally with local investment, and also use it locally. That would be the holy grail for us, that we could have an energy local model, like in Scotland, where we could sell the energy to our neighbours at good rates, and then, when the money comes back in as a profit, we can target fuel poverty and also low-carbon projects within our county.’
Dawn Davies: ‘I think there’s a lack of capacity within communities, some communities, at least, to understand what the possibilities are, and then, if people do realise and start to want to take action, there’s still not necessarily enough of the right support out there to help communities to develop the capacity to take forward projects.’
Grant Paisley: ‘Clearer strategies, priorities and policy frameworks in Wales that guide regulations at local authority and Natural Resource Wales levels, while supporting local ownership and development. We’ll continue to be left behind and taken advantage of by the multinational developers, not delivering local benefits for using local resources.’
Neil Lewis: ‘As for the smart energy network, I think you have to show them a direct benefit of lower bills, and we’ll get there slowly. I think there’s a strong correlation between producing your own energy and then knowing how to use it effectively and efficiently. I think that’s the first stage, really: produce our own energy, offer advice, peer groups that can be trained to offer advice—neighbours talking to neighbours, that sort of thing—and then the advantages of LEDs, electric cars, smart grids, energy monitors, you know, peak load management, all those things. I think that will come into the normal vernacular one day, but I think we’re a long way off that at the moment, though, obviously, people in the industry realise the potential that it has.’
Menna Jones: The best way to get communities to take part is by giving them the opportunity to see the successes of other communities. We’re working on a project in north-west Wales now to create a cluster with local organisations—five of us are working together. Some of those projects have got their hydro working. I saw a list the other day of all the steps they had gone through. Say, for example, there are 20 key development steps you need to take before you get the turbine to turn—I think we are, perhaps, at step 3 and they’ve arrived at step 20, even though it feels as if we’ve done a lot of work already. But if I see another community has been successful, and if other communities see that Antur Waunfawr, two years later, has been successful, I think it’s a real boost to see how possible it is to achieve it.
Silas Jones: ‘Most people are engaged with their pocket and how much things are costing them. So, if we can persuade people that, if we can develop a smart energy grid in Wales, we are going to produce more money in the local economy and we’re going to be keeping the money in the local economy, then I think people will come on board.’
Tom Latter: ‘Our main motivating factor was the issue of the need to get away from fossil fuel generation and also to be aware of bringing money back into the community.’
Neil Lewis: ‘Well, I’d love to say there aren’t many obstacles to community renewable energy schemes, but that’s not the truth. The truth is that there are many obstacles and it’s incredibly complex. I suppose if you start from basics, communities very rarely own land and they very rarely have any spare money, so that’s a bad starting point when you’re trying to develop a multimillion pound business. However, with the support of Welsh Government, through Ynni’r Fro, we’ve been able to do the early feasibility work. Trying to work with local authorities—obviously that’s been a bit of a challenge in itself, but there’s been some co-operation. The main obstacles, I suppose, have been the permission system. The planning system doesn’t give any credit to community-owned renewable energy schemes; it just judges it on its merit. Obviously, capacity of developing these schemes; it’s a highly complex issue, lots of time required, a lot of head space needed to put into this, when you’re trying to bring up families and all the rest of it. But I think my main gripe would be the permission system—not just the planning system, but also Natural Resources Wales when it comes to hydro schemes.’
Dawn Davies: ‘Well, I think some countries have set targets for community energy projects, and, you know, there’s got to be—. If Wales did that, there would have to be a concerted effort, with everybody joining together to meet those targets, because I know targets can be turned against you at times, can’t they? But, I think, you know, Germany, Scotland even, something closer to home, I think they’ve met their community energy targets, so I think—. And there are probably other countries as well that we can learn from, but, certainly, seeing the amazing amount of electricity that’s being produced by community-owned projects and renewables in other countries, you know, I think Wales is the right size country to, kind of, follow suit.’
Tom Latter: ‘I think the Welsh Government’s aware of what has happened in Germany, which is really amazing, and there are hundreds of community-owned energy co-operatives, which are developing renewable projects there. And it would be great if we could do something like that in Wales, and I’d see no reason why not. We have huge potential for renewable generation and we can supply not only our own communities, but export to England as well.’
Menna Jones: What I would say is: imagine if we could have those kinds of targets in terms of community energy provision in Wales, so that we have that vision; if we then have all of these community plans fitting together, and we have the same success in terms of, say, hydro schemes or ground source—whatever they are—we could have the same focus and success with community energy.
17:33 - Alun Ffred Jones
Well, those were some of the voices that were part of our inquiry. Can I just refer to some of the main areas that we believe action should be taken on? We believe that there should be an umbrella energy company so that Wales can compete with the big six. There is an example already in Wales, of course: the not-for-profit utility company Dŵr Cymru. We heard evidence from local authorities who do produce and sell their energy to their residents. The Robin Hood Energy company in Nottingham has the ability to set tariffs for individual streets and they target fuel poverty by charging their residents 6p per kilowatt hour instead of the 16p that is the national average.
In terms of energy efficiency and housing, we can’t afford to wait to increase the energy efficiency of all our buildings in Wales and we cannot continue to build inefficient homes that will need retrofitting in just a few years’ time. If you consider Cardiff, where we are expecting 40,000 homes to be built in the next few years, then we cannot waste any more time, I don’t think. You can’t allow those to be built in the old manner because it is an inefficient way of looking to the future. I think that the construction industry is ready and willing to meet the near-zero-energy performance standards we are advocating. All that’s needed is a clear policy commitment.
In terms of supply and distribution of electricity, at present we accept that it’s a one-way system with two major distributors, which are the grid and the local networks. And, in the future, there’ll be more capacity needed to cope with the two-way delivery of energy. More importantly, Wales needs a voice and representation in Ofgem so that we have greater control over local distribution networks and the grid.
Then, of course, in terms of finance, the most important thing, I believe, is to create a stable policy environment. You only need to look at the uncertainty created by the UK Government’s decisions in terms of feed-in tariffs to know that policy certainty is vital to attract investment. Of course, we need to be creative in this regard, and use European funding and the funding from the rural development programme and also local people’s investment. You will remember that a company in Arfon, my constituency, raised £400,000 in investments and they were mostly local.
We’ve seen the success of zero-interest loans to improve the energy efficiency of homes in Germany, and we should follow their example too. There are a number of other ideas mentioned in the report. So, that’s this debate opened and I look forward to hearing the contributions that some of the Members will make and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. Thank you.
17:36 - Jenny Rathbone
I was very pleased to visit Radyr Weir and see the work that’s going on to install two turbines using Archimedes screws. That is going to provide enough electricity for 550 homes. What’s not to like about that?
I feel that all local authorities need to be inspecting the natural resources that are all around them, and doing much more to provide for their local communities. This is, after all, what local authorities used to do; they used to be municipal energy providers and they need to go back to doing that, not least because their future income from the rate support grant, given the UK Government’s proposals for English local authorities, is obviously quite uncertain. So, this would give local authorities a secure source of income as well as cheaper electricity for their communities.
I think one of the most important things that the next Welsh Government needs to do is to upgrade the part L regulations in relation to building controls. It was really disappointing when the new Conservative Government tore up the nearly-zero-carbon regulations that were due to come in this year for goodness knows what reason, other than the fact that they didn’t have the Lib Dems sitting on their backs any longer to stop them doing it. So, I think that is absolutely crucial for the next Welsh Government, because we know that the construction industry is ready to do it, because they thought they were going to have to do it anyway until recently.
I think we do, however, need to also look at the new powers that we will need to square the circle on this one. I was very pleased to hear the First Minister speaking about the importance of the new Wales Bill including the distribution, transmission and storage of energy regulations that the Welsh Government will need to have. At the moment, the energy market is completely dominated by large, foreign-owned distributors; all orchestrated by a private monopoly known as the National Grid. This is completely antiquated and not energy efficient, because by sending energy back up the line somewhere outside Wales and then having it sent back down again, you lose a lot of energy along the way.
So, I think the vision that was described in the video by many people that would enable people to produce their own electricity, supply it to their neighbours and then reinvest the surplus value in their local communities: what’s not to like about that? That is the huge difference between community energy projects and foreign-owned energy companies, which, while they may be necessary for really big projects like the Swansea basin project, at the end of the day, the money from community projects stays in Wales.
I think the other reason that we really need to get on with this is that it looks increasingly unlikely that the Hinkley Point nuclear power station will be built at all, because the two predecessors are massively behind schedule, massively over budget, and the French Government is even demanding that they’re going to have to rebuild the one in France. So, I think the idea that this one at Hinkley Point is suddenly going to come along and provide a very large chunk of our energy sometime in the near future is extremely unlikely.
I hope that the Welsh Government will see that this is a massive opportunity for Wales, which we have been slow to take up until now, but we can see from our visit to Germany that it only took two women in a small village of 2,000 people to develop a business with 150,000 customers. What’s not to like about that? That is the sort of dynamism and entrepreneurism that we need in Wales. I do hope that we will seize the opportunity from this report.
17:41 - Janet Haworth
Smarter energy has been a fairly constant theme running throughout the work of the environment committee. Today we have before us the culmination of their evidence gathering in this report. The considerations contained here are inevitably visionary, aspirational and ambitious, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Smarter energy is at the forefront of energy production, so expect to find references to technical ideas, which we hope will take Wales to the frontiers of innovation. Only through a diverse energy mix can Wales realise its duty, our duty as a Government, to ensure safe, clean, secure and affordable energy as we strive to reduce our dependency on polluting technologies.
The Welsh Conservatives have included in our manifesto the requirement for annual monitoring of carbon emissions so that important decisions are informed by a sound evidence base. Even if we don’t like the results year on year, it is very important, I think, that we have them. Such a strategy will need to include some of the ideas contained in the pages of this report.
Retrofitting solutions for our older properties could make a significant impact, ensuring that planning committees throughout Wales consult and consider important environmental matters in relation to development decisions. Public buildings and publicly funded projects could be required to become models of good practice and test beds for trialling some innovation. Publicly funded fleets of vehicles could be required to be electrically powered. Local authorities know the routes, they know the mileage, they know how fast they go, they know how much fuel they use, they know where charging points would need to be, so it seems to me obvious that we could begin with a pilot with a local authority of electrically powered vehicles.
That leads me nicely to transport. Fully integrated public transport systems: it is an idea whose time has come. It offers great opportunities for reducing carbon emissions. If we can only develop an efficient integrated transport system that is reliable and pleasant to use, why would we get our cars out of the garage?
Hydropower is also a proven technology. I, as a North Wales Assembly Member, can speak very proudly of the Electric Mountain in Llanberis. If you haven’t been there to visit it, I advise you to go; it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s now over 30 years old and, not only did it offer Carol Vorderman her engineering work experience, it became a model for hydropower schemes throughout the world—some of them led by engineers from the Llanberis project.
Storage of heat and power continues to elude us, as does the provision of a Wales-wide broadband connectivity. The waves of change are a fact of life, fellow Members, and whether we are swept away or we ride them towards a new future will depend, to some extent, on how we meet these challenges that are set out in this committee report.
Finally, I would just like to say I’ve already offered my thanks to the environment committee members and staff for the support that they’ve offered me as a new Member. Joining this Assembly of Members who have been here for four years or more left me feeling like a first year trembling at the gates of the big school. I would like to thank you all for making me welcome and not giving me too much of a hard time. Thank you.
17:45 - Llyr Gruffydd
Now as we know, of course, there’s a huge debate raging in the UK around energy at the moment, and it isn’t just a debate about fossil fuels or renewable energy, dirty energy over clean energy, old over new, it’s also a debate around centralised and decentralised energy. Of course, the UK Government holds all of the cards, or at least the significant cards. London decides on consenting large energy projects in Wales. London decides on grid infrastructure and, of course, they too hold all the financial incentives. But it is a debate that we have to win, because more of the same isn’t going to transform the Welsh economy. More of the same means the technology isn’t ours, the intellectual property isn’t ours, the investment capital isn’t ours. More of the same means others, quite frankly, exploiting our resources, repeating the mistakes and injustices of the past in coal, in slate, in water, et cetera.
That’s why I believe that one of the priorities of the next Government must be to fill the vacuum that exists at a municipal level in terms of energy in Wales. It’s about who owns it, who runs it, and how you can introduce more community ownership of energy to create a new engagement of people around the wider issues of energy policy, resilience, natural resources, climate change, social enterprise and economic development. It’s about growing indigenous jobs, capacity, knowledge, structures and new ways of working from our communities upwards. Community energy, of course, can be a spark that ignites that whole process, that transforms that mindset, which can then develop into other realms, as it has already done, of course, in a very small number of communities in Wales, but as it also must do in communities all across our country.
The days of the old hub-and-spoke model of energy should be numbered. We have to move away from the outdated model of large, centralised energy generation that’s then rather ineffectively and inefficiently transported across the country along an ageing, expensive, creaking, near-capacity national grid. New energy means more local energy generation, generated closer to where it’s consumed, and interconnected through a spider web of smart local grids that are more efficient, more resilient, less intrusive and, of course, less expensive.
As someone once said, new energy must do to old energy what the mobile phone has done to the telephone box. And, do you know, that isn’t a pipe dream? It’s already happening in other countries. In fact, we’re behind the curve here in Wales. One of the most inspirational experiences of my five years as an Assembly Member here was our committee visit to Freiburg. Germany has gone from having its big four energy companies to having more than 1 million entities feeding into its power grid: individual homes, schools, communities, small and large businesses seeing it as their business to generate their own energy and, of course, seeing the economic, social and environmental benefits of doing so—the triple bottom line of sustainable development.
And Uruguay too—maybe a future visit; maybe. With a population similar to Wales, Uruguay has managed, in under 10 years, to ensure that 95 per cent of its electricity now comes from renewables, slashing its carbon footprint and lowering electricity costs at the same time. They’ve demonstrated that, with determined leadership, it’s possible to make significant progress towards a decarbonised economy in a relatively short period of time.
So, when we talk about devolution of energy, it’s not just a constitutional argument. It isn’t something that should only exercise the minds of a few academics and politicians. It’s an argument about the kind of future we want for our country. It’s an economic argument, it’s an environmental argument, it’s an argument about the kind of communities that we want to live in and the kind of future that we want for Wales. Now, I’m clear about which energy route I want Wales to take, and we’ve been clear about the level of ambition Plaid Cymru has for an energy future based on renewables. This report captures much of that and issues a clear challenge to the next Welsh Government. We have to be decisive, we have to be determined and we have to demand a smarter energy future for Wales.
17:49 - John Griffiths
I very much welcome this committee report, Dirprwy Lywydd, and I think we’ve already heard enough to show that there is massive potential in moving to this future energy vision for Wales. It’s been done successfully elsewhere and, of course, it’s not just Germany, we’ve got more local examples, as was mentioned earlier, in terms of Scotland, as to how you can empower communities to enable them to develop apace through renewable energy schemes that they can own and deliver. I think some of the ideas in this report are very useful indeed, in looking at how you can practically make this progress.
The idea of this umbrella not-for-profit energy service company working with local authorities—and, indeed, wider groupings like city regions and, at a lower level still, communities—I think has much to commend it. It’s about offering that energy supply locally, which we’ve heard about from other parts of the world. Listening to the contributions via the screen here in the Chamber, it’s clear that some of the nitty-gritty issues, as it were, are very much still about planning and how consents are arrived at: the processes involved, the difficulties of those processes. That, to me, does point to the need for much more hand holding, as it’s often described. Again, that’s something that the committee report has highlighted.
Certainly, in my experience, local communities and groups, understandably, think of the challenges involved in taking local renewable energy schemes forward and very much welcome that hand holding, that advice in terms of funding and wider project development. Of course, loans from Community Energy Wales and others are absolutely crucial. I’ve met with Welsh Government officials recently, and we’ve talked about the potential, locally, in Newport, in terms of working with the local authority, housing associations and communities directly. It was about energy efficiency, the LED lighting, which, I think, is probably seen as some of the low-hanging fruit, but also about renewables on buildings, biomass, heat pumps and so on, and solar schemes.
And it was about zero-interest finance and invest-to-save schemes, and also, of course, self-use for those taking forward these projects, as well as selling it locally to others, and dealing with what’s left of the feed-in tariff schemes after some of the changes that have made them less attractive. So, I think, you know, there is a framework there that understands what’s possible and what’s deliverable, and the challenge is to provide that hand holding in an effective way that really does make these schemes, which very many community groups, as well as local authorities and housing associations, want to deliver upon. And it’s clear what the benefits are. We really can see very strong community development on the back of these renewable energy schemes, of building of community capacity, the obvious environmental gains, meeting the challenges of climate change, and a lot of local jobs and training opportunities being developed, which helps the social economy and feeds into wider economic development.
Some big ideas are around that could help all of this. One of them, of course, is tidal lagoons, which, as well as being large-scale projects meeting some of these environmental challenges, economic development and training opportunities in their own right, would also, through the community benefit potential, perhaps empower some of these local schemes. So, you could have big, wide-ranging tidal lagoon schemes then providing income that would enable some of these local community schemes, and that would very much be a win-win situation, and, I think, to echo the words of Jenny Rathbone, what’s not to like about that?
17:53 - William Powell
I’m very pleased indeed to be contributing to this important debate this afternoon concluding what has been, as Llyr Gruffydd said, an inspirational inquiry by our committee. One of the standout calls made in our report is that 100 per cent of domestic energy must be met from renewable sources. Wales has enormous potential for the development of renewable energy, in turn, helping, as we’ve heard before, to cut emissions, to reduce fossil fuel use, to create meaningful jobs, and also to export opportunities. My own party’s policy is to set a target to deliver 100 per cent of Wales’s electricity needs from renewable sources by 2025. The example set by the Energiewende in Germany is indeed a compelling one, and I feel it is one that can be achieved. Much of what was learned in Germany during our visit can be applied here, but only if we are sufficiently ambitious. What was clear after our visit to Baden-Württemberg was that the debate in Germany appears not to centre on whether these targets can be met, or if they should be met, but how they can be met. That is crucial. Unfortunately, the debate has not reached that point in this country just yet, but it is remarkable, in the Baden- Württemberg context, that just last weekend the Green Prime Minister, Winfried Kretschmann, was re-elected with over 30 per cent of the vote locally, incidentally also seeing the state’s liberal party, the FDP, surge to over 8 per cent. These things are not unpopular if we have the courage.
The report also emphasises the need to prioritise the development of local and community energy. Again, we’ve heard some excellent examples in this Chamber already this afternoon. Central to the development of community energy is that we need to have prioritisation for grid access. That is absolutely crucial. As things currently stand, grid connections can be, as we’ve heard, prohibitively expensive for small-scale community energy projects. In many parts of Wales, the current grid capacity is severely constrained, but industrial energy customers are also affected by being denied the ability to grow due to that inadequacy of the grid. So, we have a double whammy for the rural community: no new income from renewable energy, but also the loss of potential new jobs.
Energy efficiency is another key area featured in the committee’s report, and I believe this belongs at the very heart of a zero-carbon economy. Improving the energy efficiency of our homes and buildings could cut energy bills, make energy more sustainable, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and, at the same time, boost the economy in a sector with huge potential for future growth and to drive innovation. Again, my party backs ambitious statutory targets, and we would strive for a 50 per cent reduction in energy used for heating and electricity by 2030. I’m fully behind the sentiment of our committee report, that improving energy efficiency and the housing stock in Wales is, and I quote, ‘the responsible thing to do’.
I would go further, however, and say that not to make this happen would frankly be irresponsible, and we need to be taking action, and we need to be doing so from today.
The final area of the report that I would like to highlight is the need for planning policy to prioritise local and community renewable energy projects. Gaining support and buy-in from local authorities can often be a barrier and an area of difficulty for community energy projects. I’ve spoken previously in this Chamber and elsewhere of the potential benefits of having targets for community energy generation. We heard that in the video that the Chair showed earlier. I think the duty being imposed on public bodies by the future generations Act in Wales will inevitably result, if properly enforced, in local authorities being more mindful of the need to promote green energy for our sake and for the sake of that vital battle against climate change.
I think it’s also appropriate for me in this final contribution for this Assembly on the environment front to thank the Chair and Members of the committee for their work, and especially to thank our clerking team and especially the inspirational special adviser Alan Simpson, who gave us such direction and focus in our inquiry.
17:58 - Jeff Cuthbert
I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate today. As a member of the committee that produced this report, this is a subject area in which I take a great deal of interest. Energy and sustainability are two issues that cut across the whole constitutional settlement in Wales, including the argument for devolution of further powers and the pioneering role of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.
I would like to focus my contribution today on the particular issue of skills and the role of European funding in green technology, touching on two issues that are likely to dominate debates about the future of the Welsh economy and energy policy in the months and years ahead. The report notes that policy certainty from all areas of Government is required so that investors can identify the best long-term opportunities in renewable energy. This, in turn, will allow industry and training providers to work together in order to create jobs and skills development programmes that best suit local, regional and national labour markets. This is a golden opportunity for the Welsh Government, given that the UK Government has firmly rowed back from the renewable energy agenda—so much for its former commitment to being the greenest Government ever.
I know that Wales’s further education colleges and training providers are ready and waiting to work with industry in order to meet the skills gap that we have. There is huge potential out there. The right renewables policy programme will go a long way to realising this long term.
Another key component in terms of driving forward the smarter energy agenda would be the role of European funding. This will come not only in terms of skills and job opportunities but also in terms of existing Welsh Government schemes like Arbed, along with similar initiatives that may be developed in the future. Many of our European neighbours have led the way when it comes to community renewable energy schemes. We’ve already heard of the Energiewende in Germany, and Wales can learn a lot from best practice elsewhere in the European Union. Our continued membership of the EU is crucial in this regard, and I am concerned that David Cameron has not been able to confirm that any structural funds that Wales would lose out on if Britain were to leave the EU would be made up by the UK Government.
Deputy Llywydd, this is, of course, my final speech in this place. It would be remiss of me if I did not use this opportunity to pay tribute to a few people. I would like to thank my support staff that have worked with me during the fourth Assembly. They are Mavis Williams, Alex Still, Michelle Lewis and Jamie Pritchard. Their support and friendship remains extremely important to me. I would like to thank the First Minister for making me part of his Government during this Assembly. That is a memory that I will treasure for the rest of my life. There are many people from my three and a half years in Government that I should thank, but in particular I must thank my two private secretaries, Helen Palmer and Imelda Francombe. For me, there can be no greater honour and privilege than representing the people that I live amongst. I intend to do my very best to continue to advance their interests, although of course it will be in a different capacity. Finally, can I thank you, Deputy Llywydd, and the Llywydd for your patience and understanding?
18:02 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sergeant.
18:02 - Carl Sargeant
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Again, I welcome the committee report and we should all strive to bring about a Wales where low-carbon energy is a key driver in a vibrant economy, creating good-quality jobs and communities driving forward the energy agenda and benefiting from local generation of energy. I’m very grateful for the report, and I think the incoming Government will have to give lots of consideration to this very valuable piece of work done by the committee.
During the transition to a low-carbon economy, we must maintain a diverse energy mix in Wales that delivers an affordable, secure supply to protect the most vulnerable in society at a cost that does not threaten industry and jobs. Wales generates energy from nuclear, fossil fuel and renewable sources, employing a significant number of local people. With the prospects of further investments in large-scale projects, including Wylfa Newydd and Swansea bay tidal lagoon, Wales should derive significant prosperity from this low-carbon transition.
Industry has repeatedly called for clarity, stability over energy policy and a realistic pace for transition. Over the last five years, we have established the necessary legislative framework and policy objectives. The wellbeing of future generations Act ensures that all our actions deliver social, economic, cultural and environmental benefits. We must continue to drive forward action on energy that delivers on the wellbeing goals.
The environment Bill requires statutory climate change targets and carbon budgeting, and the public service boards will have an important role in translating these into local action involving energy efficiency and generation. Energy must be a fundamental consideration within local development plans. The changes to the consenting regime through the UK energy and Wales Bills and the development of a national significance regime will allow decisions on renewable energy projects to be based on the needs of the people here in Wales. Energy policy and regulation are not devolved. We must continue working with the UK Government, the grid operators and Ofgem to secure transformation in the market.
The new energy efficiency strategy sets out a clear direction for Wales, and building standards are vital in improving energy performance. We must raise standards in a way that balances the need to reduce energy consumption with meeting the housing need. We have developed a pipeline of public sector energy projects worth around £400 million. The invest-to-save green growth finance package has committed £13 million of new funding, building on the more than £20 million previously committed by this Government. We must ensure that power networks are fit for the energy transformation that’s under way already. We need to see more local ownership of generation and energy infrastructure, creating decent jobs and keeping costs down.
We need to be clear about the challenges of local ownership, including the need for regulatory change and the capacity needed to manage assets effectively, and many Members raised those very important issues in the Chamber today. Energy storage—and I know Jenny Rathbone is very keen on this issue—will be valuable in areas with significant grid constraints and will play an increasingly important role in the energy system. Technology is moving very quickly, and I think there will be some solutions to that—an affordable solution to that—very quickly.
We are supporting innovations such as storage through our smart living programme and the Welsh Government local energy service. The service provides a higher level of grant than in Scotland or in England for the earliest stages of project development, and our loan fund is more flexible than the Community And Renewable Energy Scheme, supporting project delivery as well as construction. Our recent loan of £1.2 million to Awel Aman Tawe community wind project will bring another 4.7 MW of generation into local ownership.
Deputy Presiding Officer, we can transform the way Wales thinks about energy by continuing to work with partners to develop a clear pathway. I welcome the committee’s report and it will continue to help us to deliver transition. As I said earlier, the next Government will have to review this report and take very seriously the recommendations and consider it in a fuller way, as they move on into the next journey of this Government. Thank you very much indeed.
18:06 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
And Alun Ffred Jones to reply to the debate.
18:06 - Alun Ffred Jones
Thank you very much. I only have a few minutes, but in the contributions this afternoon, you heard just how enthusiastic Members were, and on a cross-party basis. I do thank them for their valuable contributions. I am duty-bound, also, of course, to thank the clerks and the researchers for their professional, thorough approach in drawing up this report, and I’m also very grateful to Alan Simpson, our expert adviser, for his enthusiasm. As I said, this was teamwork, and therefore I’m very grateful to my fellow committee members.
In terms of the themes that have emerged, I do think, as William Powell said, that planning policy in Wales needs to play a central role if we are to have any hope of achieving the targets in our own environment Bill to reduce carbon emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050. I think we do have to prioritise local and community renewable energy projects, and those projects should be given permitted development rights. That could mean that we channel funding towards hydro, biomass, solar and wind energy projects in future, rather than major energy projects, although they, of course, will play a role. We have seen successes in terms of this energy transformation in the Energiewende in Germany, and that visit was truly an inspiring one. There, communities are transformed. They have a real sense of ownership when it comes to energy production, and they benefit from lower energy bills as a result of the energy infrastructure in their community. Wales, too, can have a smarter, cheaper energy future if we have the drive and leadership to make it happen, and that is the challenge for the next Government. Thank you very much.
18:08 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
12. Welsh Liberal Democrats Debate: The National Health Service
The following amendment has been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Elin Jones.
18:09 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 12 is the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ debate on the NHS, and I call on Kirsty Williams to move the motion.
Motion NDM6011 Aled Roberts
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Recognises the challenges facing the primary care sector in Wales, with increasing pressure on resources and an ageing population with more complex care needs;
2. Notes that the percentage of NHS funding spent on general practice has fallen from 10.27 per cent in 2005-2006 to 7.9 per cent in 2015-2016;
3. Notes that Wales has the second lowest GP coverage in the UK with 23 per cent of GPs aged over 50 and difficulties in training enough GPs to fulfil future workforce requirements; and
4. Calls on the next Welsh Government to:
a) introduce an access to GPs scheme to fund innovative ways of providing primary care services to improve access to GPs for patients;
b) improve the availability of specialist mental health training for health professionals;
c) review the capacity of the general practice workforce to meet the needs of patients;
d) improve public education on appropriate health services;
e) review the administration requirements on GPs; and
f) improve the promotion of general practice as a profession.
Motion moved.
18:09 - Kirsty Williams
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I formally move the motion on the order paper this afternoon, and, in doing so, could I beg the indulgence of the Chamber? As this is the last minority party debate, can I thank colleagues across the Chamber for their engagement in the minority party debate process throughout the last five years? It’s an important part of the workings of the National Assembly that there is dedicated time for opposition parties to be able to bring forward debates of this nature, and I think some of the best debates we’ve had over the last five years have been on the basis of ideas and challenge that have been brought forward through this mechanism. Can I also use this opportunity to thank the Minister for the way in which he has engaged with my group, and me, since he took up the portfolio of health and social services?
Deputy Presiding Officer, there are many disadvantages to being the leader of the smallest party, one of which is that you have to pull your weight and you have to serve your time on a committee, unlike other opposition party leaders. The advantage to that, however, is that you get to choose which committee you want to be on yourself, and there was no hesitation at the beginning of these five years which committee I wanted to be on. As those people who have known and followed my time here in the Assembly will know, my greatest policy love is that of the NHS and social services, and it’s been a great joy to me to be able to participate in that agenda over the last five years and to engage with the health Minister.
What I have learnt in my time in this Chamber is that, if we’re to have a successful NHS that really meets the needs of people and is sustainable going forward, then we need great primary care. It is the bedrock of everything else the NHS is based on, and the bedrock of that primary care team, of course, is the GP—the general practitioner. It is those clinicians who, day in, day out, see thousands of Welsh patients the length and breadth of this country. They act as gatekeepers to secondary and tertiary care. They are, as I said, the building blocks on which a successful NHS is built. But what we do know is that, because of the ageing population of the GP workforce, because of demographic changes, it is increasingly difficult to, firstly, attract people into training to become a GP in the first place and, secondly, to recruit and retain GPs. Now, is this a unique Welsh problem? No, it is not. These issues exist across the UK, but we do need to develop Welsh solutions to address these problems. We will be supporting the Plaid Cymru amendment to the motion today that recognises the need to train, recruit and retain GP staff.
But we also know that that is a precious resource and we need to use that precious resource wisely, Deputy Presiding Officer. We need to ensure that, when a GP sits down with a patient, they do so because it is only that particular skill set that can meet the needs of the patient before them. So, what my party believes is that, yes, we need to recruit, train and retain GPs here, but we also have to diversify the primary care workforce and ensure that GPs are routinely working alongside other healthcare professionals that help ensure that, if people do need to see a GP, they can do so promptly, in a timely fashion, and that there are other options available to patients that might better suit their needs and free up GP time to enable them to help the people only they can help.
Yesterday, I was stung by the accusation by the First Minister that you could not trust a Welsh Liberal Democrat survey. The reality is that, back in November last year, I did write to 650 GP surgeries the length and breadth of this country. If I could find an address for them, then they were written to. We asked them about some of the problems that they were experiencing in day-to-day practice. There was a 21 per cent response rate, not just one or two, but a sizeable—even for an academic like Professor Drakeford, I’m sure he’d regard a 21 per cent response rate as respectable. What that survey said is that many of those GPs were acutely aware that they were not able to offer timely appointments to their patients, they did not feel that the initiatives pursued by the Welsh Labour Government in respect of broadening opening hours had been a success and that what they did want was the opportunity to expand their primary healthcare teams, to be able to recruit perhaps a salaried GP or to work as a cluster to be able to recruit a permanent locum to enable them to plan for holidays and training and sickness on a much more secure footing, to be able to employ practice nurses, clinical pharmacists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, counsellors and those skilled in helping people with mental health, and even social work input because of the nature of the clients that they were seeing. We want to be able to ensure that they have the opportunity to do that by directly allowing GP clusters to bid to a new fund so that, if they are able to demonstrate how that will improve access to their services, we would look to help them expand their primary healthcare team.
If we can get this right, this means that pressure on our out-of-hours services and on our secondary care services will be greatly reduced. We know that sometimes people, in desperation, go to the part of the NHS where the lights are always on, and that happens to be an A&E department. You know that, if you turn up, you will be seen by someone. In the absence of a timely GP appointment, that’s what many people, in a default position, do. They don’t do it recklessly or with abandon, but they are desperate, often, to get some medical attention and medical help and they feel they have no other choice.
Speakers later on in this debate will talk about the particular challenges of primary care in north Wales and in rural areas, but I’d be very interested to hear, in this final minority party debate of this session, other parties’ ideas about how we can ensure that we have the GP workforce and the primary care teams that we need to sustain our NHS into the future.
18:16 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have selected the amendment to the motion. I call on Elin Jones to move amendment 1, tabled in her name.
Gwelliant 1—Elin Jones
Add as new point at end of motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to increase training places for GPs, and to ensure that training rotas for GPs cover rural and deprived areas in order to increase the prospects of GPs practicing in those areas.
Amendment 1 moved.
18:16 - Elin Jones
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and I thank the Welsh Liberal Democrats for tabling this final debate on the important issue of primary care. We will be supporting the motion today and I move the amendment in the name of Plaid Cymru.
I agree entirely that there is currently a crisis in terms of the shortage of GPs in a number of areas of Wales. I do accept that there isn’t as much of a crisis in all areas, but certainly in the area that I represent, there is very grave concern at the moment among those GP surgeries that there is a sufficient number of GPs coming through the system and working in our surgeries. Therefore, Plaid Cymru has put in place an ambition to train and recruit 1,000 additional doctors over a period of 10 years, following the election of the next Welsh Government.
The lowest rate of doctors per capita in the UK is in Wales at present and that is among the lowest in the EU. Only in Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia is the per captia number of doctors lower than it is in Wales. It’s an important step for us to start this work of increasing the number of doctors we have by training more of those doctors here in Wales. We train fewer doctors per capita than in any other nation within the UK. There are 1,750 medical students in training in Wales, which is 4.3 per cent of the UK’s medical student population, and we know that, in Wales, the population is 4.8 per cent of the UK population. But, if we compare this with Scotland, then the situation in Wales appears to be even worse in terms of the number of doctors that we train: 12.6 per cent of trainee doctors are in Scotland as compared with 8.3 per cent of the population living in Scotland. Therefore, they are training  more than their share of doctors in Scotland, where we are training less than our share here in Wales.
I believe that it’s now time for the medical schools in Cardiff and Swansea to have an ambitious quota of intake from Wales—those meeting the necessary academic standards, of course. All evidence seems to demonstrate—and we have heard on the health committee of evidence from Australia and the United States—that if you recruit your medical students from the catchment of your medical school, then they are far more likely to remain working in the health service in those particular areas or regions or, in our context, within our nation. There is sufficient demand from prospective students for places in our medical schools. In 2014, in Cardiff, there were 2,900 applications for 309 places. In the medical school in Swansea, there were 800 applications for 70 places to study medicine. So, there is sufficient room for improvement because there is plenty of demand out there. Plaid Cymru is certainly of the view that we do need to start to develop the provision of medical education at Bangor University in order to develop national capacity.
We also need to attract junior doctors to train in areas where it’s difficult to fill those training posts. To do that, I do think we need to create a scheme of golden hellos in terms of ensuring that there is a financial incentive to encourage prospective doctors to actually take up those vacant training places in a number of areas and in a number of different specialisms, including GPs.
I do accept the fact that the person who opened the debate and, I’m sure, many others who will contribute to the debate, would say that the workforce in the primary care sector is far wider than simply the medical staff. I wholly accept that. I have chosen today to concentrate on the medical aspect, but I do fully acknowledge that one way of reducing pressure on GPs is to enhance the range of support available in the primary care sector and to increase the activity around those GPs. Therefore, this afternoon, I’m very pleased to be able to support the motion and the amendment to it.
18:21 - William Powell
I represent a deeply rural region. Rural areas create, of course, their own challenges in terms of GP access, GP recruitment and GP retention. So, my contribution will focus principally on these issues.
Turning to the Plaid Cymru amendment, we do fully agree that the Welsh Government needs to increase training places for GPs and to ensure that training rotas for GPs cover rural and deprived areas. So, as Kirsty Williams has indicated, we will be giving our support to that amendment.
We all know that mid and west Wales is a great place to live. Indeed, you may have seen recently in the media that an English GP recently moved over 200 miles to be near ospreys—not the rugby team, but the birds of prey at the Cors Dyfi nature reserve near Machynlleth—providing a very valuable additional resource there for that community. But mid and west Wales is also a fantastic place for a GP to work. For example, in Powys, the lack of a district general hospital also has positives. It means that GPs have to work innovatively and creatively to keep people out of the DGHs wherever possible. But, if trainees never come to train in rural areas, they will never experience how great it is, potentially, to practice in them.
It is clear that the Welsh Government’s opening hours policy has not worked. In response to our survey, much maligned in some quarters, a group of GPs stated that they were not aware of the policy and did not have the staff to extend opening hours, while one commented that there had been—and I quote—‘very poor uptake in rural areas and the enhanced scheme has been pulled from many practices, because it was poor value for money’. That is why we believe our GP access scheme is fundamentally better. GPs know better than politicians how best to run their surgeries, so, our policy would have GP practices deciding how they wanted to spend the money allocated to them with the NHS overseeing applications. GPs will improve access in that way, because they know the way that would be most effective for their particular area. For example, the work of GPs, the district nurses and the social care teams in south Powys in the virtual ward project is positively keeping people at home, out of hospital and actually saving the NHS valuable resource.
Professor Longley, in his mid Wales healthcare study, called for, and I quote again,
‘closer working between practices, the development of the concept of a “rural GP”, an expansion of salaried GPs, and a fresh look at how to generate additional paid opportunities for GPs.’
I’d be very grateful if the Minister could update us on the latest progress in that particular area.
Before leaving that topic, I should like to pay tribute to respected Ceredigion GP, Dr William Roberts, who has contributed so much to that concept, and, indeed, to the bringing about of the healthcare study. I think he and his colleagues are much to be thanked in that respect.
I now want to turn briefly, maybe not surprisingly, to the issue of Europe. Wales relies heavily on the EU in terms of its NHS workforce. That includes, of course, GPs, and I, for one, am deeply concerned about the potential impact of leaving the European Union that could be had on recruitment and retention of our GPs. Has the Minister had any discussions at this stage with Welsh health boards about the potential impact of Brexit, especially with the potential unpicking that would doubtless follow of the much-valued mutual recognition of professional qualifications? There is there an issue that I think we do need to address.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to a local GP in my own area, in Haygarth practice, Dr Pete Howard. He does a fantastic job standing up for mid Wales GPs on the various groups and bodies that he represents. He is a busy GP, but he, and others like him, has a direct input into policy making—I think that’s really important—as a member of the Welsh Borders GP medical secretary, also as member of the GPC Wales and having served for a time on the LMC conference agenda committee. It’s people like that, with strong voices, who understand the reality of delivering GP services in a rural area that we need to hear from, and I’m very grateful to him and others like him for the service that they give to their patients. Diolch yn fawr.
18:26 - Gwenda Thomas
I’d like to make a short contribution on the first point of this motion. It is important that we recognise the challenges facing the primary care sector, not least because we are an ageing society and that some of us have complex care needs. Neither must we lose sight of the fact that more of us are living longer and are enjoying a healthy third and even fourth age. Much of this extended life expectancy, in my view, is down to our national health and social care services and the dedication of the workforce of these services. Thanks are also due to our voluntary sector and our independent sector too.
I know you will agree with me, Minister, that a preventative primary and community care-led NHS that is integrated with social care has to be maintained, as 90 per cent of first contacts by patients and carers with the NHS take place in primary care. The recent budget commitment to an integrated service model has reaffirmed the importance of the intermediate care fund, which supports older people to maintain their independence and remain in their own homes. The integrated family support service has long been available across all parts of Wales and involves primary care in the focus on families where children are at risk of being taken into care because of parental alcohol or substance misuse. You once said, Minister, and I quote,
‘The better primary and community care services are, the more integrated they are with each other, with secondary care and with services such as social care, housing, leisure and transport, and with the third and independent sectors, the better the health and wellbeing of the people of Wales.’
Minister, it was a pleasure for me to work with you as your deputy, and I know we shared a view that we had to move away from the old medical model of care to a social one, promoting independence, not dependence.
That is why I was pleased to welcome you to Gwauncaegurwen to the newly established Aman Tawe practice, where you launched the primary care workforce planning scheme for Wales. That practice now has GPs, advanced nurse practitioners, a clinical pharmacist, a strengthened group of healthcare assistants and a paramedic. In my view, this kind of general practice model—but extending, perhaps, to include social workers and voluntary sector agencies—would certainly help to meet some challenges and better support an ageing population as our needs grow more complex. It could also mean that primary care can identify carers within our communities and help to ensure that a multi-agency network is in place to meet their needs. Indeed, valuing all informal carers, in my view, is an important element of sustaining our NHS and our social care into the future.
18:29 - Aled Roberts
In following Gwenda Thomas, as one of the sons of the north Wales coalfield, may I wish you well in your period after retiring from here and also thank you for your work as Deputy Minister?
If I could just refer the Minister, of course, to the concern among patients in north Wales and residents of north Wales about the situation there. It’s important that we do not add to that concern, but of course figures have been published by the local medical committee in north Wales over the past month that suggest that 44 per cent of male GPs in north Wales will attain retirement age over the ensuing five years. Of course, there is also a pattern in north Wales at present where a specific number of general practitioners become part-time GPs. I’ve encountered that as a topic during the discussions that I’ve had with the local health committee. I don’t need to repeat some of the headlines that have appeared in north Wales, and I think that, considering there are five surgeries at present that are under notice by the GPs, which includes one that is very local to me in Pen-y-maes in the Gwersyllt area, a question does arise as regards how much discussion has taken place between the health board and the Government regarding the pattern that is being followed at present, where employed doctors are appointed. I am willing to consider the model that is bring proposed in the Rhuddlan area at present, for example, where a large number of people are employed within that practice, and I’m not totally certain that that model is sustainable across the whole of north Wales if more and more GPs are facing the same situation, because I am aware, from the point of view of the Pen-y-maes surgery in the Gwersyllt area, that the same model is being considered, and that a business case has been requested by the health board.
So, may I ask you specifically whether those plans are being discussed on a national level, and whether you are comfortable with the fact that the north Wales health board, considering that there is an overspend of approximately £20 million—? Is the model that they are proposing sustainable over, perhaps, more than five surgeries at present? Also, considering the words of Elin Jones, there is of course pressure in some areas. I’m not certain at present that I support this suggestion, but there is mention of having a deanery for north Wales, or a medical school at Bangor University. May I ask you whether steps have been taken by the Betsi Cadwaladr health board to develop links with the University of Liverpool, because complaints are made that medical students from Cardiff University aren’t as happy, perhaps, as they were in the past to travel up to north Wales?
So, I think we all accept that there are great challenges. There are challenges from the point of view of the workforce, and as a resident of north Wales I believe that we are very keen to take the opportunity. I think there’s an opportunity from the point of view of the health service here in Wales, where there’s pressure from Jeremy Hunt in England, that if we create sustainable models for our country, there is an opportunity for us to attract doctors from across the border, and also ensure that we have links continuing with Europe in order to see doctors and other medical staff coming over to north Wales at present, and ensure that we have a first-rate service for the region in the future.
18:34 - Darren Millar
I’m very pleased to take part in this important debate on the future of primary care in Wales. I think that there are many very good points that have already been made in this debate, but one thing that we haven’t touched on is out-of-hours services, which of course are an important feature of the landscape of primary care services here in Wales, and which are operating very well in some parts of the country, but not so well in others. I know that one of the problems that my own constituents often encounter in the north is that many of the shifts on the GP out-of-hours rotas in north Wales are not always actually filled by a GP, which means that my constituents are not always getting the level of service that they ought to. That is a significant concern, particularly when there are pressures already on emergency departments and in other parts of the unscheduled care system. I think that if we can relieve that pressure by investing a little bit more in our primary care services in order to bolster them, then that’s something I certainly would be an advocate of.
Another thing that hasn’t been touched upon, of course, is the importance of a high-quality primary care estate. There’s been lots of talk about the need to diversify the workforce and make sure that there’s access to, perhaps, diagnostic tests more regularly in the primary care system, and access to therapists, whether they be talking therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists or, indeed, some of the other allied health professionals, such as community nurses et cetera. But there hasn’t been a discussion on the needs of the primary care estate in order to accommodate that, and we know that very often in many communities across Wales, there are communities that are served by premises that are, frankly, not fit for purpose for a twenty-first century health service. And whilst there’s been some very welcome investment over the years in some parts of Wales, that has not extended to every community. You know, it’s very much the luck of the draw, really, for many people as to whether they’ve got a facility that suits the purpose of a modern primary care system. I’ve been very fortunate over the past few years: there’s been investment in a brand new health centre—the Gwrych Medical Centre in Abergele, which has been a phenomenal success. You can always tell when something works because it’s very rare that I ever receive a concern or a complaint from any member of the public in relation to the services that are provided by that centre, and that’s in stark contrast to some of the other unsuitable practices there are in north Wales, where they just don’t have the facilities to be able to accommodate all of the people in the workforce that they want to be able to.
There’s also investment under way, of course, in Colwyn Bay, in my constituency, in a brand-new facility for that town—again, very welcome indeed. I’m looking forward to that coming on-stream later this year, as are my constituents.
I think also we mustn’t underestimate the ability of the primary care workforce to take on more responsibilities that are currently traditionally delivered in secondary care. I know that there’s been some innovation through the use of GPs in the delivery of minor injuries services in some parts of Wales, and I think that that’s something that perhaps could be regularised more through the GP cluster networks that now exist across the country, because I really do think that they give an opportunity to enhance some of those services—. I’ll happily take an intervention.
18:37 - Kirsty Williams
The GP clusters are a very important step forward, but would you agree with me, Darren, that for them to be a success they really do need for their local health boards to engage with them properly and recognise their important role? Where that happens, services are developing all of the time, but where those clusters don’t feel they have a good relationship and are not being listened to by the LHBs, that’s when we’re not realising their potential.
18:38 - Darren Millar
Absolutely there needs to be positive engagement, and one of the problems in north Wales over the past couple of years—and I think this has been one of the reasons it’s been difficult to recruit—is because there’s been a perceived lack of co-ordination and communication between the health board and local GPs. That has just soured the relationship, frankly, and made it very difficult to recruit into certain parts of the region.
So, I think, you know, bearing in mind the primary care estate and the need to invest in that estate, I would ask you, Minister, in your response, whether you can talk about what you’re doing to make sure we’ve got an adequate estate, and what you’re doing to ensure that out-of-hours services are consistent across the country, and that we don’t have these gaps on rotas that currently exist.
18:39 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
And I call the Minister for Health and Social Services, Mark Drakeford.
18:39 - Mark Drakeford
Diolch yn fawr, Ddirprwy Lywydd. I’m very glad to have the chance to discuss primary care here on the floor of the Assembly on this, the last day of this Assembly term, because to quote the recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report, the Government’s ambition in Wales is to put primary care front and centre as a force for dynamic system change. It is the bedrock, as Kirsty Williams said in opening the debate, of our NHS. Gwenda Thomas reminded us that 90 per cent of all contacts with the health service happen in primary care. Kirsty referred to thousands of appointments. Actually, probably 19 million appointments happened in primary care in Wales last year, not including any appointments for anybody under the age of 16, and not including all those appointments that happen with practice nurses and other primary care staff. It genuinely is something that operates on an industrial scale.
I think the last two years have been a very important period for the development of a distinctive primary care agenda here in Wales. We now have the first ever national primary care plan, a workforce strategy launched at the Amman Tawe practice, and to sit alongside it are a powerful emerging set of 64 primary care clusters across Wales, which do indeed need to mature into proper, respectful relationships with their local health boards right across Wales, and a prudent healthcare action plan, which provides the overarching context in which the primary care of the future is to be shaped.
The Government side this afternoon will support the Liberal Democrats’ motion and the Plaid Cymru amendment, not because we agree with every dot and comma in them, but because their general thrust and constructive intent are part of a really important effort to create consensus around this essential agenda.
We’ve heard a lot about challenges and those challenges are real, but neither are they unique to Wales nor to this particular point in time. Recruiting staff from outside the United Kingdom has always been part of the NHS, made more difficult during the last five years by existing policies of a Westminster Government and threatened, as Bill Powell said, in an entirely new way by those who campaign to take our nation out of the European Union.
Twenty-three per cent of our GP workforce in Wales is aged 55 or over; 22 per cent of the same workforce is over 55 in England. Our GP coverage is somewhere between 6.5 and 6.6 GPs for every 10,000 in the population, which is identical to the coverage in England. It’s not quite as high as that in Scotland, but while there are things to learn from the Scottish experience, it’s also true that the rate of direct management of practices by the Scottish health service is almost twice the rate of direct management practices here in Wales.
We know that we have to work closely with those GPs working in Wales already to make the most of their skills and their commitment. That’s why we’ve already taken action to retain the GPs that we have and to support returners: supporting those who wish to work part-time to do so; offering new ways to make a contribution through specialisation or mentoring the new generation of GPs; talking to doctors in advance of retirement about those opportunities; action on the GP performers’ list; a streamlined application process and a new legislative framework from 1 March—all making it easier for GPs, based in other UK countries, to work here in Wales.
At the same time, we have to create and recruit a new generation of GPs. We are working closely with our medical training courses in Swansea and Cardiff to widen access to medicine to students from all parts of Wales. Answering the point that was made about rotations and rotas, I’m absolutely clear with the deanery here in Wales that students in north Wales can rotate into the north-west of Wales, if that makes the training package more attractive to them and allows them to spend part of their time here with us in Wales.
We want to persuade more medical students to become GPs. We want to persuade more GPs to make their careers here in Wales. Whether you’re an existing GP or a new GP, we’ve taken radical actions to reduce the level of routine administration required of our general practitioner workforce.
Changes to the quality outcomes framework mean that since 2014-15, 40 per cent of the total QOF points have been removed from recording bureaucratic outcomes and have been invested instead in the three-year cluster development programme—a programme that is unique to Wales and has a strong focus on strengthening GP-led multidisciplinary team working and strengthening collaborative working with both community and social services.
Dirprwy Lywydd, in the few minutes I’ve got left, I want to focus on the emerging future of primary care here in Wales—a future that has general practitioners at its centre, but that relies as well on making full use of the wider contributions to be gathered from other clinical professionals in multidisciplinary primary care teams. In this financial year, £6 million has been made directly available to our primary care clusters. Not a fund, but direct funding. I intend to extend that fund again into the next financial year.
It’s been hugely encouraging to see the imagination and creativity with which clusters have used that money to recruit new individuals to new roles that provide services directly to patients: the outstanding GP programme at BCU—five GPs have been employed using that money, all appointed and all in post since January of this year; the respiratory physiotherapists employed in Aneurin Bevan health board; the clinical pharmacists now employed right across Wales; the 20 extra primary care nurses and 40 extra healthcare support workers in Aneurin Bevan; the physician associates in Powys. I entirely agree that, in parts of rural Wales, we have some of the most innovative and creative primary care to be found anywhere in the United Kingdom and the mid Wales collaborative is a very important part of making sure that we gather that learning and show how being a rural practitioner has huge advantages to someone wanting to practice in that sort of location. And not simply those examples, but the OTs, the social workers, the third sector services, the advanced practice paramedics, and all the other people who we’ve managed to recruit into primary care in Wales.
Dirprwy Lywydd, the elements in this motion and its amendment are part of the picture, but not the whole picture. We have to go on investing in primary care facilities: in Colwyn Bay, in Flint, in Blaenau Ffestiniog, in Llangollen, to take just the examples from north Wales; in Buckley in Carl Sargeant’s constituency, enormous investment; in Caia Park as well—right across north Wales and right across Wales. When we put all the pieces together, then we can see a successful and sustainable future for our GPs, our practice nurses and all who work alongside them in primary care in Wales.
18:47 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call Eluned Parrott to reply to the debate.
18:47 - Eluned Parrott
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd. It’s a privilege to close the last opposition debate of this Assembly term. I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed today.
Health has been a key subject for debate in this fourth Assembly and it is no surprise. It’s the one public service we feel most emotionally attached to as a society. It’s the one we feel is most uniquely British—dare I say ‘Welsh’, given its heritage? It’s a system that we are immensely proud of and rightly so. It’s compassion in action. Words can’t do justice to the dedication and the skill of the staff and I think we should be always mindful of that as we head into an election where health is likely to be a central issue.
But we have to recognise that the reason that health is so contentious politically is that the system is under extreme and increasing pressure. With the improvements in health care that have given us longer life spans, which we should all rejoice in of course, comes the challenge of caring for an ageing population and the resource implications that has. There are difficult questions to face now and in the future.
That was why my party wanted to bring forward a cross-party and non-party commission on healthcare in Wales, to help us come to some agreed shared principles for the future. I hope that that opportunity will be taken up in the future and won’t be lost for ever. Our motion today though focuses on primary care, where that pressure on services is being felt very keenly. In opening, Kirsty Williams set out the reasons why we feel a number of actions are necessary to help dissipate the intense pressure we are seeing in primary care.
A crucial aspect of this, I think, is a properly funded, access to GPs scheme to help patients get timely help. It’s an issue the length and breadth of Wales, in rural communities and in the inner cities too. It’s something that people are deeply, deeply concerned about. No, not every patient does need to see a GP. We have also called for improvements to the information for patients to make sure that a greater proportion of them are choosing well.
For example, the NHS Direct phone line could help signpost people effectively, but I was surprised that this helpline is not free at the point of service. In fact, there is a service charge on top of your network rate to access it and it isn’t unusual for patients to have to wait 15 minutes or more for that call to be answered, let alone dealt with. The quality of advice it provides also needs to be assessed, not only in terms of safety, which is of course the most important issue, but also in terms of the effectiveness of the signposting. I have had constituents telling me that they have phoned for first aid advice for children’s bumps and grazes and been told to take them to the A&E department, only to be told off by the triage nurse in A&E for having done so. These are things that need to be looked at and assessed in an honest and realistic way, to make sure that those signposting services are providing what we need from them.
Another area that Kirsty Williams discussed was making sure we are prepared for future workforce needs. In that regard, we will support the Plaid Cymru amendment today on training, and I do thank Elin Jones for her contribution and her support. Elin spoke of an ambition to recruit more doctors to Wales, and I think that we would all agree with that ambition and would like to see it happen. But, boosting capacity in our higher education sector to make that happen isn’t going to happen overnight. I used to recruit students to Cardiff University, to those very courses, for a living. Yes, I could fill the places, perhaps five times over, with well-qualified, enthusiastic, diligent people, who would make wonderful doctors at some point in the future. But that doesn’t mean to say that I could fit them into the existing buildings to actually get their training. We have to think long term about the investment in that HE capacity. Scotland, which was mentioned, has five medical schools—well-established medical schools—in long-standing universities. We actually have only one university offering the A100 full medical degree. We have to be realistic that it takes time and it takes investment to develop the skills and the necessary capacity to boost the Swansea University Medical School to the status where it can offer the A100 degree, as well as BSc courses and graduate entry, but also to think about other options too. Creating a new medical school in Wales is a difficult and expensive thing. That’s not to say it is not a journey we should go down, but it is something that we need to consider very carefully.
But there is also a real need, I would say, for additional training for healthcare professionals already in practice, particularly in the field of mental health. If we are serious about wanting to see a nation where people with mental ill health are treated with true equality, we need to invest in training, not only to inform, but also to challenge attitudes. We should never—never—hear of patients being told that their distress is merely attention seeking, or have their pain dismissed as a cry for help. Sadly, it still does happen in our health service today. We recognise, of course, that progress is being made, but we would very much welcome more training being delivered for those who are at the coalface on a daily basis.
William Powell, in his contribution, talked about rural challenges, but also the benefits of some of the rural practices and the working arrangements that they have come to, to work in partnership and offer, by virtue of necessity, a holistic family practice solution. He also talked about how an EU exit could precipitate a crisis in our workforce. Gwenda Thomas paid tribute to the staff and the volunteers, and to how all of the services worked together to provide a healthcare service for the future. Perhaps, in return, I can pay tribute to you, Gwenda. You are a clever and gifted politician who is underestimated at our peril—so genuine and caring that disagreeing with you is almost as unthinkable as insulting your own grandmother. I have to say that you will be very much missed from this Chamber.
Aled Roberts, in his contribution, talked about north Wales and how there are challenges in getting people to go into training and also into practice in parts of north Wales. He talked in terms of a deanery solution for north Wales, and whether there are any discussions ongoing with universities over the border in England to help us improve our capacity in the short term, while we think about the longer term challenges. Darren talked about the importance of not only the staff being there, but having a facility to work out of that is fit for purpose and fit for the services that we want to see in the future. Clearly, if we want to see a wide variety of different healthcare professionals located in our GPs’ practices, they have to be in accessible facilities, and that is something that we must consider in the grand scheme.
Finally, turning to the Minister’s contribution, can I thank you, Minister, for your positivity towards this motion today and the spirit in which it was intended, and for your support? You outlined very clearly that, with 19 million appointments in primary care, not including children’s appointments, there is a huge task. It is a huge operation to make sure that that works and it’s not surprising that this is, sometimes, where the pressure begins to show in our health service. Minister, you spoke about your future vision in primary care: a world in which inter-disciplinary teams are going to deliver a holistic service for patients that is going to give them the experience they need, a joined-up experience, from the beginning right through from the cradle to grave, if you like. Minister, we share that vision with you. We want to see a future where our NHS works effectively with social care and with other agencies. The question is now, as we move forward: will we have that commission in the new Assembly to talk about these subjects without quite so much political football kicking?
18:55 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion without amendment. Does any Member object? No. The motion without amendment is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
13. Short Debate: Carmarthen 1966 and 2016: 50 Years That Have Changed Wales
18:55 - Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 13 is the short debate, and I call on Simon Thomas to speak on the topic he has chosen.
18:56 - Simon Thomas
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and I do feel I should be like my grandmother and say, ‘Thank you all for coming.’ [Laughter.] I just hope I don’t have to speed date every one of you over the next 10 minutes or so.
Deputy Presiding Officer, I have allowed Bill Powell a minute of this debate, with your permission. I’m not going to take too much of the Assembly’s time, but I would like to say that it’s an honour to have the opportunity to open this final debate of this Assembly—our first full legislative Senedd. It has also been a real honour to serve as an Assembly Member in this Assembly and I thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, as well as the Presiding Officer for steering our proceedings so skilfully over the past five years. I thank both of you. This is the first time, of course, in our history that we’ve had a Welsh Senedd elected by democrat franchise to legislate, and this is the first time that we’ve had a real Government with broad powers to legislate and for us to have the opportunity to scrutinise it.
My intention today is to look back at the journey that brought us to this point to see what we can learn from history and how we can arm ourselves for future challenges.
I think most would agree that Gwynfor Evans’s major success 50 years ago, in winning the old Carmarthen seat in a by-election, was the tipping point between Welsh nationalism as a pressure and cultural group and Welsh nationalism as a political force that could truly change people’s lives. The seed of our Assembly was planted in the soil of Carmarthen then. Here I have the pamphlet introduced by Gwynfor Evans to the electorate in Carmarthen and it has been a talisman of sorts during this election. Gwynfor Evans came from third place in March 1966 to win the by-election in June of the same year. And Welsh politics would never be the same again, and neither would Scottish politics be the same, or the politics of the whole of the UK. Winnie Ewing walked through the door opened by Gwynfor to win the Hamilton by-election the following year and, ever since then, Plaid Cymru and the SNP’s voice has been vociferous, making the case for self-government across Britain.
Those two by-elections change the course of my life too. Without them and without the Plaid Cymru and SNP representation at Westminster in the 1970s, the first devolution referendum would not have been held on 1 March 1979. In preparation for that day, I made my own badge, a ‘Vote Yes’ badge, which I wore to school alongside my daffodil. The response to my actions during that day proved two things to me: first of all that I could be extremely stubborn and, secondly, that I am a Welsh nationalist at heart.
I soon had the opportunity to see Gwynfor Evans for the very first time at a public meeting in Aberdare to discuss the Conservative Government’s decision to renege on its pledge to establish a Welsh-language television channel. The meeting was held in the girls’ school, which was perhaps part of the attraction for me. But I remember standing—because one had to stand—for an hour or more as Gwynfor addressed the audience in Welsh on the history and heritage of Wales. I hardly understood a tenth of it, I have to say. In truth, he spoke about everything other than broadcasting as an art form and an industry. But, having said that, his threat to go on hunger strike electrified the audience and gave his gentle tone a real political edge and engendered in me an urge to go into politics.
The reversal of the Government’s decision and the establishment of S4C was Gwynfor’s greatest single achievement in my view and it’s fitting that S4C’s headquarters are now to move to Carmarthen.
The tide turned that morning in September 1997, of course, when the result from Carmarthen was a game changer in securing a ‘yes’ vote for the establishment of this Assembly. The seed planted in 1966 had germinated and the soil of Carmarthen nourished its growth, although perhaps Gwynfor the historian would have focused more on the fact that it was Pura Wallia, the old Welsh principality, that ultimately delivered that vote.
So, Deputy Presiding Officer, I think this is how we came together as an Assembly, on the shoulders of giants—not just Gwynfor, of course, but it is a particular privilege for me as a regional Assembly Member, and Carmarthen West and South Pembs candidate, to remember him.
This next election sees many who came here first in 1999 departing. Not all are nationalists by any means but all have served in a national cause. Our nation is more confident, more assertive and more clear-sighted than before because of their service. But we need to be, because the challenges that remain are serious and grave.
Gwynfor always fought for Welsh sovereignty, not to hoard it but to share it: firstly, with the people of Wales themselves, and, secondly, to pool it with other nations. Whether it be as a British confederation or as dominion status within the Commonwealth, he sought to fight for Wales the right relationship with other nations so Wales could be internationalist and outward looking.
Today, I believe that common international pool of sovereignty is the European Union. Yes, we in Plaid Cymru want Wales to be a member state. But, first of all, we want to fight to keep the UK in the EU. Sharing power for common goals is immensely empowering. It doesn’t rob us of our rights and freedoms; it makes us stronger and richer by sharing them with others.
Fifty years ago, Governments were entranced by the white heat of technology. Nobody stopped to ask whether the price we paid for a world of resource exploitation and free movement of capital would be a potentially irreversible and catastrophic acceleration of climate change. But last month saw a century of global temperature records smashed by a ‘stunning’ margin, in the words of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Anthropomorphic climate change is real, here to stay, and must be dealt with, but the ‘Sustainable Development and Climate Change Annual Report’, published only yesterday, shows that we still have a long way to go.
I do look back over five years and wonder if I did enough to raise this and urge more action. The Government can examine its own conscience. In the same way, many will point to us and ask us what we’ve done in this Assembly. Is Wales richer, more environmentally sustainable? Are we a happier nation? Or have we simply managed a decline we had no control over in the least bad way? All this feeds in to the final challenge to our new democracy, that of lack of faith in politics itself.
Fifty years ago, a man could stand in a by-election and say a Welsh parliament would never have drowned Tryweryn. Thirty years ago, the same man could threaten to starve himself and change a Government policy. Today, politics is more complex, more convoluted—some would say more unaccountable. Intricate relationships between states, economies and the environment demand hard work and long slog to compromise and accommodation.
But, for some, these seem like betrayal, especially if political parties are not honest and continue to offer the certainties of the past. So, simple, even simplistic, solutions to our ongoing problems are offered. A precipitous exit from the EU and a vague promise to end immigration is offered as a solution for no jobs, for cheap jobs, for poor public services, for motorway traffic, for lack of housing, for poor schools and for crime. A cure for all ills. A true snake oil. The only antidote to such snake oil is truth and hard slog: a determination to show that devolution can deliver for our citizens, and how working together with our European partners can protect them from the excesses of global capitalism.
I do ask myself: have we done the best we could with the tools the people of Wales gave us when they voted in 2011 to wrestle parliamentary sovereignty from London and rest it here? I enjoy legislation, and I’ve enjoyed the last five years, but our foremost tool is not law, it is government.
I don’t believe we’ve had a perfect start as a legislature, but then we’ve had to learn on the job and we’ve lacked the numbers, the space, and the information on occasion to do the job as thoroughly as I would have liked. But I feel we’ve made a decent start. We’ve used our first legislative parliament to pay proper respect to both the citizens of Wales today and those who fought so hard and committed so much to create a parliament where we could meet. Now it is over to the Government to answer for their successes or failures at the judgment that we all respect and will all accept: the Welsh general election and the Welsh ballot box. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
The Presiding Officer took the Chair.
19:05 - William Powell
I would like to thank Simon Thomas very much for bringing forward this special debate and for having spoken so eloquently. My first political memory was coming home from school in October 1974 and seeing the image of the Guildhall in Carmarthen, with the final election of Gwynfor Evans to Westminster. Maybe I was a little precocious in my interest, but it’s been great, over the last five years, to have been the first Liberal since Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris to represent Carmarthenshire, and I’m very grateful for that opportunity.
As Simon said, this place is built on the shoulders of giants, and some of them were members of Plaid Cymru, and some of them were members of other parties. Two names that come to my mind are Emlyn Hooson and my great, late friend, Richard Livsey. It’s been an enormous privilege to be here today, and Carmarthenshire is, as Lady Megan Lloyd George said, more a continent than a county, and I hope to have played my part in representing that county, and I hope to have the opportunity to continue to do so. Diolch yn fawr.
19:06 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call on the First Minister to reply to the debate—First Minister.
19:06 - Carwyn Jones
Thank you, Llywydd.
May I thank Simon Thomas and William Powell for speaking in this debate, a debate that has been very wide ranging as regards the nature of the topic of the debate? Simon Thomas began in 1966. I don’t think either of us remembers that by-election—before I was born—but it was a very historic event in the political history of Wales.
Could I thank Simon Thomas and William Powell for their contributions? Simon mentioned the 1966 by-election. Part of my family lived in the Carmarthen constituency, in Upper Brynamman, and Gwynfor Evans was their MP on two occasions. My grandfather was a very strong fan of Gwynfor Evans, and somebody who certainly was very much a supporter of his. It didn’t rub off on me, as you can see. I did hear Gwynfor Evans speak and I read ‘Wales Can Win’, but the reaction I had was the exact opposite to the reaction that Simon Thomas had. That is the nature of politics.
But, I think it’s right to say that, whilst we recognise, of course, what was a political earthquake in 1966, other parties as well have offered their contribution over the years to the process of devolution, including, of course, my own. It’s fair to say that there were two strands in my own party from my own party’s inception. There was a strand that saw an over-expression of nationality as a threat, as something that created barriers between people and, ultimately, of course, in the post-war settlement, would cause the welfare state that had been created to fragment to the detriment of working people. Of course, there was another strand in my party that recognised those difficulties and did not want to see the benefits of our membership of the UK removed from us but who saw that a political expression of Welshness was important in terms of it being given a dimension. We think, of course, of S.O. Davies, the Member for Merthyr Tydfil for many years, who stood as an independent Labour member when he was, I think, 82 years old, and won in 1970. We think of Cledwyn Hughes, of Jim Griffiths, of course, and many in my party—Megan Lloyd George, of course, somebody who was instrumental in the Parliament for Wales campaign—who saw that recognising that Wales should have its own political structure did not conflict with Wales’s membership of the UK or, ultimately, in this present day, of the EU.
Simon Thomas has mentioned, of course, that Gwynfor Evans was somebody who was seen as a giant in his day. He is literally that now; when I drive through Talybont, I can see him in front of me, on the wall there. He’s somebody who, if you drive on the A487, appears before you as you head north towards Machynlleth.
In May, there are five of us on these benches who wish to return who were members of the original Labour group that came here—28 of us—in 1999. The Assembly that we entered on that day was a very different body to the one that it has become. We spent much of our time moving money around. We spent much of our time debating regulations that were wholly uncontroversial. I can see Members smiling at me who were here then who will remember the days that we spent talking about the potatoes originating in Egypt Order, the undersized whiting Order. We dealt at one point with the importation of chilli powder from—I think it was Morocco or Tunisia. These were not matters that were likely to excite the people of Wales, even though they were important matters, nor were they particularly controversial. The reason, of course, why we debated so much of this legislation is because we did not have the legislative powers that we have now.
We went, of course, through the process of legislative competence Orders, a process that none of us would wish to see reintroduced, but they were a stepping stone to the primary powers that we had in 2011. But what’s remarkable is that, in 1997, devolution was supported by the people of Wales by a wafer-thin majority. I well remember the last opinion poll before the referendum showed a ‘yes’ lead of 10 per cent. That had narrowed to under 1 per cent on the day of the referendum. There are many of us who remember that evening. It’s right to say that it is said that Carmarthenshire swayed the result, but Carmarthenshire simply declared last. In fact, the whole of Wales delivered the result that saw a ‘yes’ vote within this Assembly.
It is also correct to say that, in 1997, there were many on the Conservative benches who were opposed to the idea of devolution and of an Assembly itself. I think it’s correct to acknowledge that there are many—not all; some have left this place now—who are not only comfortable with the idea of devolution and an Assembly but who have certainly supported not just the concept of devolution but it’s extension over the years, and that in itself is a remarkable change.
And then we saw the referendum in 2011. In 1997, it was highly questionable as to whether a referendum with the kind of powers we have now would have seen the people of Wales supporting those powers, but we saw in 2011 an overwhelming vote in favour of this institution having primary powers. I remember, on the day of the referendum, being out knocking doors in Bridgend and at 7 o’clock you couldn’t get people out—it was dark and people were saying, ‘You’re going to win anyway.’ People just assumed it was quite a natural thing to do that we should acquire the same kind of primary powers that existed already in Scotland and Northern Ireland. That’s a measure of how far devolution has come, that people saw that development as entirely natural.
We know now that, if we look at opinion polls, those who wish to see devolution end number about 10 to 12 or maybe 13 per cent of the entire electorate. Not so long ago, that figure was closer to 40 per cent and, again, that shows how this institution has embedded itself, to my mind, in the lives of the people of Wales. We all look forward now to the election in May. Simon Thomas, in an almost Revelations-style presentation to us there, talked about the judgment of the people. We look forward to it on these benches. The last five years have gone by incredibly quickly. But, certainly, we look forward—all of us here—to that election in May and, on 6 May, I’m sure that all of us in this Chamber, bleary-eyed, will await the judgment of the people of Wales. Diolch yn fawr.
19:12 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you very much. It has been agreed that voting time would be immediately after the short debate, so I intend to move straight into the votes.
14. Voting Time
The only vote we have is on Stage 4 of the Public Health (Wales) Bill. I call for a vote on the motion tabled in the name of Mark Drakeford. Open the vote. Close the vote. Twenty six for, no abstentions, 26 against. Therefore, I have to cast my vote against.
Motion not agreed: For 26, Against 26, Abstain 0.
As required by Standing Order 6.20, the Presiding Officer exercised her casting vote by voting against the motion.
Result of the vote on motion NDM6015.
15. Closing Statements and Removal of the Mace
19:13 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
That concludes the Assembly’s formal business, not only for today but for the fourth Assembly. We now enter a period of recess, followed by dissolution in advance of the Assembly elections on 5 May.
For many of us, this will be the last time we sit in this Chamber as Members. Being a Member of the Assembly at any time is an honour like no other. However, I think we have been particularly privileged to have been Members during this fourth Assembly.
It is easy to forget that it was only two months before the last election that the Assembly gained primary law-making powers, and I believe this Assembly has made very good use of those powers and come of age as a legislature and a parliament for Wales.
I’d like to take this opportunity to express my thanks as Presiding Officer and on behalf of all Members to our Chief Executive and Clerk and to all our staff for their dedication and for the professional and expert support they have given us as Members. I wish everyone the very best for the future, whatever that might hold for you. Thank you all.
I now invite the mace bearer to remove the mace and the clerk to receive it in the Cwrt—. I beg your pardon. The most important part of the day. I beg your pardon. I now call on Gwenda Thomas. [Applause.]
19:15 - Gwenda Thomas
Well, thank you for that.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. It is a great pleasure to rise from the Labour backbench. I believe—well, I hope—that I have thanked you and your deputy and your predecessors each time that I have spoken in this place over the past 17 years. Well, this is a different type of thank you. This is the very last one from me and this is the biggest thank you of all. It is a thank you to you and your deputy for everything that you have done to build this institution. It’s a thank you to all the Commission employees and everybody working within the Commission and for this Assembly. It is a thank you to the clerks, to the interpreters and translators, the caterers, the cleaning staff, the security team, the support staff and thank you to the police too. In fact, it is a thank you to everybody who has helped us as Members.
Perhaps we could be compared to swans, gliding gracefully on the surface of the water whilst paddling furiously underneath the surface. But, of course, this could be an exaggeration of our grace, with the one exception of the ever sartorially elegant William Graham. As one of those who has had the privilege of spending a period in Government, I would also like to thank the staff of Welsh Government and everybody on the fifth floor, and a heartfelt thank you to the ministerial drivers: you will not find a more patient, decent and courteous group of knights of the road.
That day in 1999 when I first took my seat as the Labour Assembly Member for Neath seems, at one and the same time, a lifetime ago, but just a blink away. I remember so clearly the first official opening. I remember my granddaughter, Charlotte—because we had our families with us on that occasion, if you remember—she was then three years old, being in a state of considerable excitement about the royal visit. She took great pleasure in watching the Queen arrive, as she put it, in a horse and cart. [Laughter.]
‘Oh!’, she said in Welsh, ‘here comes the Queen in a horse and cart.’
The road to that moment, and to this, has been circuitous, rough and sometimes potholed. There were 575 years between our last parliament and the referendum in 1979, another 30 years of waiting before the creation of the Assembly and a dozen more before law-making powers finally came to this place. That phrase—‘this place’—we have borrowed it from the Houses of Parliament, and charmingly understated though it is, I sometimes think it misses the most significant, the most fundamental feature of this Senedd.
It’s not ‘this place’, but rather ‘our place’.
Not ‘this place’, but rather ‘our place’.
After six centuries, we have a voice—sometimes united, sometimes fractious, but always our voice. It speaks for Wales and answers to Wales.
Putting all party politics aside, all of us here are part of the great adventure that is the building of our nation. It has been an honour and a pleasure to do my bit. I hope the social services and wellbeing Act will stand as an example of consensual law making for future Assemblies.
And on that note I will, if you will permit me, share with you one last thought: we are all politicians, and Welsh politicians at that—debate and indeed argument are in our blood. But we are at our best, I think, when we are working together. We achieve most when we find consensus. Gerald of Wales was right: if we could be inseparable, we would be insuperable.
The old question goes:
‘I ti heddiw, i bwy yfory?’
Today is thine, whose tomorrow?
I hope, and I trust, that the answer is ‘All of ours’. Seventeen years have taught me that, so long as we remember that what unites us is more important than that what divides us, we will succeed. If we can do this, then, as sure as there is new grass growing on our mountains on this beautiful spring day, Wales will have a great future ahead of her.
Thank you, everyone. All the best, farewell, and goodbye. [Applause.]
19:21 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Diolch, Gwenda. Now I call William Graham.
19:21 - William Graham
Thank you, Presiding Officer, for calling me for the last time. May I commence by thanking you, Presiding Officer, and your excellent deputy, for the ways in which you’ve guided the affairs of the Assembly in your usual forthright but elegant style, with which you have accomplished so much for both the National Assembly and for women in Wales? Looking across the Chamber, I see at least three other Members who joined me in doing our best to persuade you to stand, those years ago, as Deputy Presiding Officer. May I say how much our confidence has been rewarded and our hopes fulfilled? We are grateful to you for your unfailing courtesy, even when faced with considerable provocation. [Laughter.] On behalf of the Welsh group, may I wish you and Derek every happiness in your retirement? Though I am presently the chairman of our pension trust, make sure you bash the pension fund. [Laughter.]
In terms of selection, I do recall one other rather hot Sunday afternoon, some five years ago, when another subject of my encouragement apparently could not hear my mobile phone calls above the noise of his tractor. However, all proved to be well when energy expended ensured his selection as our group leader and he has endowed my party with renewed vitality and definite policy intention and has proved to me to be an effective and loyal friend.
I would join with Gwenda in thanking our exceptional committee Chairs, the informative researchers and truly indispensable support staff for us all. When I last gave this speech, I mentioned to you the Latin tag ‘morituri te salutent’—those about to die salute you, which is supposedly what the gladiators said when they went into the arenas of Rome for the final time. Fortunately, our election system is not quite so final.
In the birthplace of democracy in Greece, Aristotle once wrote
‘there is really no other occupation in which human virtue approaches more closely the august function of the gods…no nobler motive for entering public life than the resolution not to be ruled by wicked men’.
Though, by their nature, these remarks tend to look back over the last 17 years, with some successes and some failures, I would remark that in the course of the Assembly no other business manager has yet lost so many motions or so many amendments. [Laughter.] Though noting that under great oaks little acorns seldom grow, I truly believe that our transformation into a Welsh Parliament will enable greater expression of political life for all our people, regardless of their political persuasion. In the current migrant crisis in eastern Europe, I trust that the new Assembly—the new Parliament—will still find time to speak out for the friendless and the dispossessed, and that it will continue to endeavour to maintain and create jobs for craftsmen of whatever gender in a tolerant and free society.
I cannot express how much of a privilege it has been to be a Member of this Assembly, and I take from it continued friendship across the parties, which must remain a noted feature of Welsh politics. No-one will presume that the Assembly is in any way an example of complete perfection, but it can be a genuine and sincere effort to remedy, where possible, and to bring together all those strains, so many and varied, that help to improve the lives of all the citizens of Wales. In debates, Members have spoken with the utmost conviction and with great persuasiveness. Many, however, live too intimately with their ideals, but that they are persuaded of their reality, though in truth practicality may be quite impossible. It is the lot of politicians to seek to improve the life of every individual in our charge, and this may be an impossible dream, but it’s a dream we can live by, and a dream we live by is more real than the reality we ignore.
As previously, I’ll leave you with my paraphrase of Shakespeare’s words, supposedly spoken by the Welsh King of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales—France intended also—Henry of Monmouth:
This story shall the good man teach his son from this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered, we few, we happy few, we band of Members, and gentlemen and gentlewomen in Wales now a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, that fought with us upon election day. [Applause.]
19:26 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you very much, William. And now I call Jocelyn Davies.
19:26 - Jocelyn Davies
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Well, on behalf of the Plaid Cymru group I’d like to start by thanking everyone who has been part of the work of the Assembly over the last five years, and of course all those who work within this building, without whom we certainly could not function. I want to thank you, Presiding Officer, and your fabulous deputy, for the way you’ve ruled over us here and how you’ve represented us to the outside world. You’ve both been absolutely superb ambassadors.
Of course, we shouldn’t forget all those outside of this institution who contribute to all of our work, and I’m very grateful as well to all you Assembly Members.
Now, this Assembly term began following the endorsement of the Welsh people in that 2011 referendum, and so this has been the first term of a proper Welsh Parliament able to make its own laws without asking permission from Westminster. Even though they aren’t here, I’d like to pay a tribute to both Rhodri Morgan, for agreeing to have that referendum, and to Ieuan Wyn Jones, for proposing it as an essential part of the ‘One Wales’ agreement, and of course, to Jane Hutt, for working with me to make that possible.
It has been an honour to have been part of the growth of this institution from those early days of a corporate body dealing with those potatoes-originating-from-Egypt regulations to now, when we can, if we choose, create distinctive Welsh legislation that will shape the future of our nation. We’ve certainly come a long way, and there have been a lot of machinations on that journey, and I’ve been involved in most of those—I have to say, particularly the successful machinations; but I’ll keep those stories, perhaps, for another time. I know there wasn’t a proper record kept, I don’t think, of the order in which we took the oath in 1999, but I was in fact the first Assembly Member to be sworn in by Claire Clancy in this, our first term of our proper Parliament. So, I’m guessing that makes me the mother of this house, and of course, mothers should never have favourites, so I hope right now you’re all thinking that you’re my favourites, and I hope that you all feel that I’ve treated you well. I’ll certainly miss you all, and I’ll miss coming here every week, and those 8 a.m. breakfasts with the early birds, and of course I’ll desperately miss my Plaid Cymru colleagues, and I know they’ll miss my mother’s bakestones almost as much as they’ll miss me.
Many of you, I have to say, have said some lovely things about my contribution here, and if only I’d known that before I decided to leave, things could have been so different. But looking forward to the next Assembly, we should remind ourselves of the principles that this institution was founded upon. We must remain inclusive and transparent. We must listen, and we must ensure that all decision making is accessible and open to those whom it will affect. We campaigned for a parliament, and some of us campaigned for many years for that, and now it’s time for us to prove that the Assembly is mature enough to deliver meaningful benefits and to govern well. I look forward to seeing a new generation of politicians stepping forward and bringing with them new ideas and a new enthusiasm for the people of Wales. And that’s me done. [Applause.]
19:30 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I now call on Peter Black.
19:30 - Peter Black
I feel like a bit of an impostor doing this because I have no intention of voluntarily standing down. [Laughter.] But, as usual, I’ve been drafted in at the last minute to stand in, and I wanted to start by giving my thanks to you, Presiding Officer, and all your staff, and to all the Commission staff. I’ve worked as a commissioner as well as an Assembly Member for many years, and I have to say that the quality of the staff here is absolutely exceptional. They’re hardworking, dedicated and committed, and they deliver a really good service for all of us, and I think that needs to be acknowledged. [Applause.] Of course, you lot always blame me for the ICT failures—[Laughter.]—but I just blame the system; it’s nobody’s fault, really. But, you know, we’ve done our best and I think the service that the Commission has delivered has been exceptional as well, and it has kept the place together, organisationally, behind the scenes. It’s been very much like a lot of activity under water as people have been trying to stay afloat, and it’s worked very well indeed. Of course, when you come back, you’ll have a completely different Chamber to come back to as well, but that’s for the next time, and I hope to be here to enjoy that.
It has, of course, been an enormous privilege to be an Assembly Member, to serve in this Assembly, as in the previous three Assemblies. This is a serious job in an increasingly influential Chamber. We’ve passed laws for the first time, and I’ve been absolutely privileged to be part of that process, and also to bring my own private Members’ Bill through as well. Only two private Members’ Bills have actually made it to the statute book—mine and Kirsty Williams’s—and I think they will make a big difference, and I think that the legislation that we’ve passed in this Chamber will make a big difference. I haven’t always agreed with all of it, but I really think—. [Interruption.] I was talking about the private Members’ Bills this time; Ann Jones’s legislation was, of course, a legislative competence Order and a Measure in the previous Assembly. [Interruption.] I should acknowledge Ann Jones’s contribution as well—you can never silence Ann when she has something to say, of course. [Laughter.]
This Assembly started off with me and the Lib Dem Two, and having to stand up in front of you—standing up on my knees, if you like—and asking you to let Aled Roberts into this Chamber. Aled, of course, has now gone off to north Wales for a very urgent appointment and left me to do this—that’s all the thanks I get for that. [Laughter.] But, of course, we’ve had a group of five here since then. It’s been the smallest group, but I think we’ve also exercised huge influence as the smallest group as well. We’ve worked with the Welsh Government on legislation, on budgets and delivered a lot of the Welsh Liberal Democrat policies. I feel very proud that I’ve been able to contribute as part of that. As well as doing a serious job, I’ve actually felt that I’ve made a difference being in this Chamber, and I think everybody in this Chamber has made a difference in their own way to the way that Wales is being governed, and I think that’s very important.
There are many friends and colleagues who will not be re-standing, and I’ll miss them when I’m back in the Chamber next time. [Laughter.] But I look forward to working with those who will come back next time and also meeting new friends and colleagues, because we’re a small Chamber and whatever our political differences, we work together well, we’re friends in many ways outside this Chamber, and we’re able to work for the best interests of Wales. Because, at the end of the day, politicians, as I think one of the previous speakers has said, are there to deliver the best they can for the people who elect them, and we’re here not for ourselves but to actually improve the lives of those we represent. And I think that will continue on to the next Chamber, and I think this Assembly will continue to grow in strength.
So, thank you, Presiding Officer, for giving me this opportunity, for bullying me into doing this—[Laughter.]—and I look forward to seeing you all in the next Assembly. [Applause.]
19:34 - Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I now invite the mace bearer to remove the mace and for the clerk to receive it in the Cwrt. I invite you all to stand.
The meeting ended at 19:35.
The mace was removed from the Chamber.
Back to List View this page with hyperlinks

Partners & Help