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The Assembly met at 13:31 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
 
13:31
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Good afternoon. The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
 
1. Questions to the First Minister
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
13:31
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister. Question 1, Lynne Neagle.
 
Welfare Reform
 
13:31
Lynne NeagleBiography
1. What discussions has the First Minister had with the UK Government regarding the impact of welfare reform on Wales? OAQ(4)2698(FM)
 
13:31
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Welsh Ministers have regular contact with UK Ministers on the welfare reform agenda and the impacts for people in Wales. Welsh Government officials work closely with officials from the Department for Work and Pensions on the welfare benefit changes as they are implemented across Wales in order to protect Welsh people from them.
 
13:31
Lynne NeagleBiography
Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled that the UK Government’s bedroom tax amounted to unlawful discrimination following two cases, including one brought by a family from Wales with a disabled child. The UK Government now plans to take this matter to the Supreme Court—a decision that has been met with condemnation and disbelief. Will you raise this matter with the UK Government on behalf of all those affected in Wales by this spiteful policy, and would you agree with me that if this Tory Government had one shred of decency, they would abandon this appeal and stop persecuting disabled children and their families and all vulnerable people?
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Absolutely. I can assure the Member that I have written today to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, calling on him to abandon any appeal and calling on him to ensure that there is no discrimination against those who were part of the court case last week, those who have been the victims of domestic violence, and those, in fact, caring for disabled children. Unfortunately, the UK Government has taken the view that it wants to appeal. It has admitted discrimination against disabled children and yet now it wants to appeal to the Supreme Court. I’m afraid it’s a sign of a Government that is a bad loser with no conscience.
 
13:33
Mark IsherwoodBiography
The Public Policy Institute for Wales report on the impact of welfare reforms on housing, as I’m sure you know, identifies a lack of appropriate homes for tenants to be able to downsize to. Why, given that Homes for All Cymru warned Welsh Government a decade before the removal of the spare-room subsidy of a housing crisis, and the UK Government announced guidance on removing the spare-room subsidy two years before it went, did Welsh Government cut the supply of new social housing by 70 per cent and fail to invest in smaller homes until after the changes had come into effect?
 
13:33
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
He stands there and defends discrimination against disabled children. He fails to condemn his own party for what it has done to the parents of a child who is disabled and others. He fails to explain why it is that those who are victims of domestic violence should be penalised financially by his party, and tries to shift the blame onto us as a Government. It was his party who introduced this policy in the first place, his party who launched their own little private war against disabled children, his party who discriminated against those who are the victims of domestic violence, and his party who must explain to the people of Wales, and the people of Britain, why it is that they now want to put those people through even more pain by appealing to the Supreme Court rather than accepting defeat, as any party with any conscience would do.
 
13:34
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
As part of the efforts to stand up for the people of Wales, has the Welsh Government done any research to measure the impact of these changes on the welfare system and, if so, is that analysis and evidence available at a county or constituency level?
 
13:35
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Of course, the statistics are held by the Department for Work and Pensions, and they don’t actually break down the figures so that we would know what the local position would be or how many people will be impacted after last week’s judgment. But we do know that there are 29,987 people affected in Wales by cuts to this benefit, and we know that this is something that has had a major impact on them. So, as the Member will know, we disagree completely with the fact that they now want to appeal the court judgment last week and that they are continuing to fight this battle against carers of disabled children.
 
13:36
Gwenda ThomasBiography
My supplementary was going to be exactly along the lines of Lynne Neagle’s, and I very much appreciate the robust response of our First Minister this afternoon.
 
13:36
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, I thank the Member for that. It’s a great shame that, on this issue, once again, the Welsh Conservatives simply sit there and say nothing to defend disabled children and their carers and those who are the victims of domestic violence.
 
Economic Support (South Wales Central)
 
13:36
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government economic support for South Wales Central? OAQ(4)2695(FM)
 
13:36
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. We are delivering a range of interventions that support jobs and growth across Wales, investing in infrastructure support for business and skills.
 
13:36
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. One of the key planks, obviously, for South Wales Central is the city deal, for which submissions have been made from Welsh Government and the local authorities. The Chancellor, in his speech to the Cardiff Business Club, indicated that he’d like to see a deal concluded by the March budget. Are you able to update us as to the discussions that are ongoing around this issue, because I’m sure that not just I as an elected Member for South Wales Central, but all residents of South Wales Central would like to see this deal concluded by that deadline that the Chancellor has set?
 
13:37
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
There is no reason why a deal can’t be concluded. We have put £580 million-worth of money—of new money—on the table. The local authorities have made their commitments as well. We now await the response of the UK Treasury so that we can seal the deal.
 
13:37
Jeff CuthbertBiography
This morning, First Minister, I chaired a seminar on apprenticeships in Wales, where attendees were reminded that half the apprenticeships in Wales were delivered with the support of European Social Fund money—it’s critical to boosting the economy in Wales, and delivering on our skills agenda. First Minister, would you agree with me that ESF is currently vital to supporting the Welsh economy, that it’s one of a number of indicators that demonstrate the importance of European Union membership to Wales, and that it can be used effectively to boost skill levels through programmes such as apprenticeships, and working with employers, further education and learners to boost the economy of Wales?
 
13:38
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I very much agree with what the Member has said. He will know, of course, the fact that European money has been used, for example, in Jobs Growth Wales, and we know that it’s made a substantial contribution to the opportunities for young people the length and breadth of this nation. Without that money, it’s right to say that training would not be available and those people would not have the skills and hope that they have now.
 
13:38
Eluned ParrottBiography
First Minister, would you agree with me that one of the key things to ensure that the Welsh economy is secure in the future is to enable our small businesses to grow and become the medium-sized businesses of the future, and that there is, therefore, an opportunity in the redevelopment of the Welsh development bank to bring together both funding and support for small businesses into one place, where small businesses can make use of it?
 
13:39
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, I think there certainly is an attraction in the idea of making sure that there is a one-stop shop. I agree with her on that. And we have worked very closely with organisations supporting small businesses, to make sure that they are supported. We know, for example, that the small business rate relief scheme has had an enormous positive impact on many businesses, particularly, but not exclusively, on those with a rateable value of under £6,000 a year.
 
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
 
13:39
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from the party leaders, and, first this afternoon, the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
 
13:39
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
Diolch, Lywydd. First Minister, last November, I asked you about funding for child and adult mental health services. At that time, I wanted assurances from you that funding for mental health services had not been cut. I received information from the health boards that shows that some health boards have cut both budgets and staff numbers between 2011-12 and 2014-15. Can you tell us, please: was this done with the approval of your Government?
 
13:40
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
No. As I explained to the leader of Plaid Cymru in November, we ring-fenced money for mental health. We put extra money into child and adolescent mental health, as well, and we expect the local health boards to use that money for the purpose intended.
 
13:40
Leanne WoodBiography
Well, First Minister, there have been cuts, and the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010, which was passed by this Assembly, supported by both of our parties, was meant to make sure that mental health services were not easy targets for cost cutting. We know that the audit office, back in 2011, expressed concern, and they said that the arrangements to ring-fence mental health funding have:
 
‘lacked clarity, cannot be easily monitored and may not have been complied with’.
 
Are you concerned, First Minister, that you appear to be in charge of a Government that doesn’t know what its health boards have been doing and whether or not they have been complying with the spirit of your Government’s legislation?
 
13:41
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We know that the health boards have been complying with the spirit of the legislation and the funding. I’ve spoken myself to practitioners who work in CAMHS, and they have been at pains to tell me how much more money is now available to assist them. We know that demand has gone up, and their experience is that the finance is increasing and we see that across the whole of Wales.
 
13:41
Leanne WoodBiography
The investment that you’ve announced for mental health services is about reversing the cuts that you’ve previously made, rather than about investing in and expanding services. First Minister, you have failed to protect mental health services, which means that children are waiting longer for treatment. Just in the same way as there are too many people waiting for some basic diagnostic tests, just in the same way as you’ve missed targets for cancer and waiting times for treatment for some very serious diseases, they are way too long. Will you now accept, First Minister, and are you now prepared to admit that you’ve got it badly wrong on health?
 
13:42
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
First of all, we’ve protected mental health spending and we increased it for child and adolescent mental health services when the demand was there. So, we’ve made sure that it’s properly funded. We see diagnostic waits coming down; we see ambulance response rates improving; we see waiting times dropping; we see delayed transfers of care dropping while they’re going the other way in England. No, we have ensured that health receives more money per head in Wales than is the case in England; more money by far per head on health and social services combined than in England. We see, now, what’s happening in England with social services, and the collapse of social services there, which gives me no particular pleasure to say. But we have done right by those, especially young people, who are suffering from mental health issues, and the extra funding for CAMHS shows that.
 
13:42
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
 
13:43
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. First Minister, new figures from the National House Building Council show the number of new homes registered in Wales fell last year by 2 per cent, compared to a 7 per cent increase across the rest of the UK. Which makes you feel worse, First Minister—being outdone by Scottish nationalists or by English Tories?
 
13:43
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We know that house building has increased by 20 per cent in just about a year in Wales, so we know that house building has increased tremendously. We have Help to Buy—Wales, which has been hugely important in terms of allowing people to buy their first homes, and, of course, we are on target in terms of our house building for those who are renting in the public sector.
 
13:43
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
First Minister, the number of new homes registered last year fell in Wales, compared to increases—substantial increases—across the rest of the UK. We are used, in Wales, to sitting on NHS waiting lists, but could you tell me just how many thousands of Welsh people are on a waiting list for an affordable home?
 
13:44
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I can tell the leader of the Liberal Democrats that there’s been a long-term positive trend in Welsh house building—20 per cent more houses started in 2014-15 than in the previous year. In addition, between July and September of 2015, a total of 1,736 new homes were completed, which is a 17 per cent increase on the same quarter of 2014. We know that Help to Buy—Wales is firmly established. We know that over 6,000 new homes will have been constructed by 2021, which has been widely welcomed by house builders. So, we are on track when it comes to making sure that people have a roof over their heads.
 
13:44
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Really, I guess that will be news to the 90,000 Welsh citizens who are languishing on an affordable housing waiting list. We have a housing crisis, with people in Wales now having to borrow nearly four times their income if they want to buy a house, and many of our citizens can never aspire to that. My party has plans to double the number of affordable homes and introduce a rent-to-buy scheme that would allow people to make monthly payments equivalent to the rent to build up a share in their homes without requiring a deposit. Will you look at these plans and take urgent action to address the aspirations of those 90,000 people who need an affordable home?
 
13:45
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, what the Liberal Democrats have done is they’ve seen that we’re on target to build 10,000 homes, so they’ve come up with a figure to double it, without explaining how they would pay for it—a laudable aim, I grant that, but let’s see how that could be paid for. We have Help to Buy-Wales; it’s not as if nothing has been done to help those in the private sector. We have been looking at schemes of shared equity, of community land trusts, which help to reduce the cost of houses. All of these models are appropriate for the future. What we have not done is to abandon the emphasis on building public housing, as England is doing, forcing people to become owner-occupiers whether they can afford it or not, and whether they like it or not. We appreciate there needs to be a mix in the Welsh housing market and we have seen, as I’ve said, a 20 per cent increase in new home starts in 2014-15, compared, of course, with the previous year.
 
13:46
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
And finally, the leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
 
13:46
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, the Anglesey air link is an important investment that the Welsh Government have made over many years. Considerable sums of money—about £1.5 million a year—are put into that project by the Welsh Government. To say that the last seven or eight months have been chaotic is most probably an understatement, with safety certificates being withdrawn and airlines chartered on an emergency basis. I even heard yesterday how two seven-seater planes had to be chartered to fulfil the route, because there were more than seven people going up to Anglesey on that particular day. You’ve made that investment and, as I’ve said, the last seven months seem to have been chaotic at best. I understand the route is out for tender; can you update us as to exactly what the direction of travel is—excuse the pun—for the Welsh Government in the way you’re managing this significant investment on behalf of the Welsh Government of £1.5 million?
 
13:46
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The airline that was running the service failed to obtain its safety certificate. As a result, the service has been taken over. There’s been no disruption to passengers and, of course, the service will then be re-tendered. It was a matter that was outside of our control. Steps were taken to make sure that the service wasn’t disrupted, and it is a service much appreciated by many, including, I know, himself, because I’ve seen him on the plane.
 
13:47
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
I commend the service. I live very close to the airport, and I can get to Anglesey in 40 minutes. The point I’m making to you is: it’s an investment that you are putting in of £1.5 million, and to say the last seven or eight months has been chaotic, to say the least, is an understatement.
 
We’ll move on to another project that the Welsh Government have invested in recently, the Rhondda Life project, which the Welsh Government put £1.6 million into, but the assets of Rhondda Life were recently sold for £220,000, costing a loss to the taxpayer of in excess of £1 million. Can you indicate what level of support the Welsh Government were putting into that project, which has left many people disillusioned, shall we say, over the regeneration aims of that project, because ultimately so much public money has been lost and there’s a feeling within the Rhondda that the Welsh Government turned their back on the people who put themselves on the line for this particular project?
 
13:48
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, first of all, the leader of the opposition says that there has been chaos with regard to the north-south service; there hasn’t been chaos at all. That’s a lazy statement. The service has operated as normal. As far as passengers are concerned, they have seen no difference whatsoever. It’s far from chaos; things have been running smoothly, despite the difficulties that one airline had.
 
When it comes to Rhondda Life—and the Member for the Rhondda was very agitated and asked the question as to whether the leader of the opposition had actually been there—. Nevertheless, Rhondda Life had to be managed carefully, and it is a project that nevertheless has had an impact on the people who live in that part of the Rhondda.
 
13:48
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
As usual, you’ve missed the complete tone and direction of travel, which is the loss to the Welsh taxpayer of significant sums of money. Just to reassure the current Member for the Rhondda, I’ve not only visited, I’ve also been engaged with the people who do feel they’ve been left high and dry, i.e. the people who put their heart and soul into this project. But I’ve just outlined two very specific projects that the Welsh Government have managed or invested in. In respect of the second project, you’ve lost a considerable sum of Welsh taxpayers’ money; in respect of the first project, there has been chaos at the heart of this. Do you think it’s sensible to charter two seven-seater planes? Do you think it’s sensible the website says no future bookings are being taken? Ultimately, this goes to the competence of the Welsh Government. Last week, you made an apology because your Government had lost tens of millions of pounds in relation to the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales land disposal. Now, we’ve had the apology, I’ve indicated at least two projects on which you’ve lost considerable sums of money. What are you going to be doing and what further action will you be taking as First Minister to hold the people to account who presided over the RIFW proposal? And, ultimately, what confidence can we have that this isn’t just the final chapter, as your communities Minister indicated last week when she addressed this issue?
 
13:50
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
First of all, let’s examine what he wants to do. He wants to cut spending on the economy by 30 per cent. That’s cutting spending on jobs, cutting spending on skills, and cutting spending on supporting projects that have created jobs the length and breadth of Wales. We took over the airport—an airport that his party wanted to abandon to closure. From 2007 to 2013, the airport lost half its passengers under private ownership. It is now bouncing back. If he’d have had his way, that airport would be shut now and British Airways Maintenance Cardiff would have gone with it. So, that’s the limit of ambition we see from the Tories. He talks about competence; let’s just examine what his party has done in London, shall we? NHS reorganisation—£3 billion down the tubes. You’ve wasted over £1 billion firing and rehiring NHS staff. You’ve lost £1 billion on the Royal Mail sale according to Westminster’s Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. You lost £2.3 billion as a result of your sell-off of Eurostar. You lost £1 billion as a result of the sale of Royal Bank of Scotland shares. You’ve lost £100 million in one year on IT projects. Yes, there are issues of course that have to be dealt with regards to RIFW, and they will be dealt with by way of a full response. But when it comes to wasting money, the Tories are top of the class.
 
13:51
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move back to questions—[Interruption.] Order. We now move back to the questions on the paper, and question 3 is from Mohammad Asghar.
 
Educational Outcomes (Equality)
 
13:51
Mohammad AsgharBiography
3. What is the Welsh Government doing to achieve greater equality in pupils' educational outcomes? OAQ(4)2696(FM)
 
13:51
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We are committed to ensuring that all children and young people in Wales, regardless of their background or personal circumstances, reach their full potential in education and achieve the best possible outcomes.
 
13:52
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you, First Minister. Bullying in school is a particular risk for ethnic minority pupils and can seriously impact on their educational attainment levels. An Estyn report in 2014 said that many schools’ awareness and understanding of bullying and their policies and procedures for dealing with it were often found to be weak. What action has the Welsh Government taken to tackle bullying in schools since the Estyn report to promote greater equality in educational attainment?
 
13:52
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We have, of course, move forward with what the Estyn report indicated in 2014. He has particularly mentioned minority ethnic learners. He will be aware that new grant arrangements were put in place in April of last year in order to assist minority ethnic learners, and the education improvement grant allows practitioners at a local level to decide best where and how to target funding to support those learners.
 
13:53
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
First Minister, one of the things that’s been a concern for a number of us since the inception of the Assembly, really, is that children in care can’t reach the standards and outcomes achieved by those outwith the care system. Do you believe that progress has been made in that regard over the past 17 years?
 
13:53
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I do, but there’s more to be done; I understand that. One of the things that I alluded to back in 2011 was the problem that was there in order to ensure that the potential of looked-after children should be supported. Now, of course, we have produced a strategy, on 29 January, regarding helping looked-after children and their ambitions, and also to ensure that they do better at school. This strategy will drive improvements for the future of these children.
 
13:54
Aled RobertsBiography
First Minister, I’m sure that you would agree with me that the pupil deprivation grant is now starting to demonstrate that we can close the attainment gap in terms of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. You have referred to last week’s statement on looked-after children, but one of the figures that is a cause for concern at present is the figure on the attainment of children from Gypsy/Traveller families. Do you as a Government, therefore, have any intention to look at the continuing problem in terms of the attainment of those children, given, of course, that the individual grant for that group has now been introduced by now in terms of a general grant for schools?
 
13:54
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The improvement grant that I just alluded to is of course something that is available for children from Traveller backgrounds. Also, there are resources available to support pupils from that background in schools. That has been available since March 2014. So, resources are available to schools and there is funding available also, of course, to help them to succeed in the long run.
 
Superfast Cymru
 
13:55
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
4. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Superfast Cymru scheme? OAQ(4)2700(FM)[W]
 
13:55
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, £150 million has been invested to date that ensures that 0.5 million homes and businesses across all parts of Wales have access to broadband, and we continue to lead the way on the availability of superfast broadband among the devolved nations.
 
13:56
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
There’s a great deal of frustration in my constituency, as I’m sure is the case in every constituency, from those who haven’t yet been connected via the Superfast Cymru scheme, although, of course, we must acknowledge that there’s over a year of that scheme to go. At the end of the programme, of course, we do expect that 4 per cent of all homes and businesses will still not have been connected. Now, I asked the Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology in September what the Government would be able to do to try to identify those who won’t be connected by the end of the programme in order to try to find alternative ways of connecting them. I was given assurances that steps were being taken, but can the First Minister gives us some assurances as to what exactly is or has happened to identify those places so that nobody has to wait until the end of the Superfast Cymru scheme before realising that they’ve lost out?
 
13:56
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, for those people and those businesses we will have to consider other methods of supplying broadband that don’t use the telephone cables themselves. One means would be to use a satellite and perhaps use—if fourth generation, for example, is available in the area—ways to ensure that broadband is available to them in that manner. But it is true to say that these homes and these people won’t be reached by a system of telephone cables. But there are alternative means that we are considering at present in order to assist them.
 
13:57
William GrahamBiography
First Minister, I’m sure, like me, you’ll welcome the advances made with the SuperConnected Cities scheme in both Newport and Cardiff—a key element, of course, is the connection vouchers providing financial support from the United Kingdom Government. But in terms of areas like rural Monmouthshire, which have poor connection and a village between here and Newport, not nine miles from this building, which also has very poor connection, what initiatives are you going to use to promote some independent companies, such as Spectrum Internet, for their innovative use of technology to connect what are presently notspots?
 
13:58
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, I would expect that the vast majority of settlements and indeed houses and businesses will be connected as a result of Superfast Cymru and that is of course a scheme, as the Member will know, that we’re rolling out towards the middle of next year. Without that scheme, it’s right to say the market would not deliver broadband to large swathes of Wales outside of the M4 corridor and across the A55. So, what I would say to people who are not able to access superfast broadband at this moment in time is that we expect them to be able to do so by the completion of the Superfast Cymru programme.
 
13:58
Peter BlackBiography
First Minister, can I draw your attention to a particular problem in my region, in the village of Jersey Marine. They were promised fast broadband by March 2015. They were then promised it again by July 2015. The latest update is the cabinet has been installed for six months but they still have not got it because there appears to be a problem getting the cables across a railway line, which has been there since 1890. This doesn’t auger well for the planning process of BT or their contractors. One constituent who contacted me says he’s a home-based worker, seriously disadvantaged by poor broadband at only 1 MB and cannot take part in video-conferences nor share virtual desktops. What solution would you propose for people in Jersey Marine who require this superfast broadband and are not able to access is?
 
13:59
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Clearly, it is planned for them to be able to access superfast broadband, but if I could write to the Member with further details, perhaps then we could investigate what the problem has been and also to provide a more secure date in the future for those who have contacted him.
 
13:59
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
First Minister, fast and reliable broadband is crucial to the economy of Brecon and Radnorshire, as is certainty from Openreach as to when those businesses will have the services. Now, in cases like Llanwrthwl, they’ve been dropped down the programme by literally a year. Currently, at the moment, confirmed by Openreach, their website is sending messages saying that the cabinet isn’t currently in the plan to be upgraded as part of the programme, when actually it is in the programme to be upgraded. Surely we could have expected better from the significant amount of taxpayers’ money that has been invested in this scheme on behalf of the Welsh Government. A better service should be expected.
 
14:00
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Again, if I could write to the Member with regard to the particular issue in Llanwrthwl. I will make sure that’s investigated and a full answer provided.
 
14:00
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Question 6, Lindsay Whittle. [Interruption.] I’m sorry, I beg your pardon. I’m in front of myself. Question 5, Jenny Rathbone.
 
Postgraduate Loan Scheme
 
14:00
Jenny RathboneBiography
5. What discussions has the First Minister had with the UK Government about the Welsh Government's ability to implement a postgraduate loan scheme for the next academic year? OAQ(4)2701(FM)
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The Minister for Education and Skills wrote to the Minister of State for Universities and Science to express his concern that the Student Loans Company cannot implement the scheme for Wales for 2016-17 because England is being prioritised. That is wholly unacceptable.
 
14:01
Jenny RathboneBiography
Well, I agree, First Minister, and I’ve had many correspondents very concerned that this is discriminating both against Welsh students and Welsh universities who rely on postgraduate schemes to help us fuel the economy. What discussions has your Government had with the Student Loans Company, which allows them to discriminate so blatantly in favour of one part of the UK over another?
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, they’re doing it despite the fact that Ministers are there to keep control over them. The Student Loans Company is there to serve four nations and four Governments, but it seems that the UK Government on this occasion thinks it’s acting as an English Government and is discriminating, as the Member has rightly said, against those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We are exploring how we might be able to move this forward ourselves. This is another example where, bluntly, those in Whitehall don’t know exactly who they’re meant to be serving.
 
14:02
Angela BurnsBiography
I’m sure, First Minister, you will understand the importance of postgraduate study and how crucial it is that a support system is in place to help those students. However, I was shocked last week to hear the Minister for education’s wholesale dismissal of the higher education sector’s funding concerns—referring to these concerns as ‘special pleadings’. First Minister, would you agree with your education Minister on that one?
 
14:02
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
This question is about postgraduate loans, so let me return to that. I notice that the Conservative Member does nothing to protest against her own Government’s deliberate decision to discriminate against students from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is appalling that the Student Loans Company sees itself as prioritising only England and not the four nations of the UK. It is to the Conservative Party’s shame that, once again, they’ve failed to stand up for Wales.
 
14:03
Simon ThomasBiography
Well, the outcome of this, of course, is that universities in England will be more attractive to graduates who want to undertake research than universities in Wales. That could cost as much as £10 million to Welsh universities, on top of the cuts that you’ve already imposed on HEFCW. You’re very keen to blame the Westminster Government for this and I do share that criticism—this should be available to all—but what are you doing as a Government to ensure that a loans scheme for postgraduate study is available in Wales as soon as possible?
 
14:03
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
May I say to the Member that this does not affect universities in Wales? It impacts students from Wales because students from England will be able to receive the support to come here to Wales to study. So, that is the problem; it is not a matter for universities, but a problem for students. I agree completely that this is not something that is acceptable. We’ve already written and we will continue to protest and say that when you have a body that is supposed to be representing the whole of the United Kingdom, it’s not acceptable if that body is not acting on behalf of the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This problem is not for the company; this is a problem for Ministers in Westminster who do not accept that this is something that impacts the other nations of the United Kingdom and they are prioritising England.
 
14:04
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
It’s now question 6, Lindsay Whittle.
 
Cardiff Airport
 
14:04
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. You certainly keep me on my toes.
 
6. What is the Welsh Government's 10-year strategy for Cardiff Airport? OAQ(4)2691(FM)
 
14:04
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Our focus on Cardiff Airport is that it should become the airport of choice for Wales, commercially successful, and an even more powerful driver of jobs and growth in the wider economy.
 
14:05
Lindsay WhittleBiography
First Minister, thank you for your answer. As a former Mid Glamorgan county councillor from 1977, I’m pleased that the airport, in fact, is back in public ownership. But, last month, a report from the Public Policy Institute for Wales on the airport said that insufficient resources have been committed to marketing, and Visit Wales, recently, have been criticised for spending less than the equivalent bodies in the UK. So, what can the Welsh Government do to attract increased use to Cardiff Airport by visitors from outside of the UK and from within the UK?
 
14:05
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, ‘Look at the figures’ is what I’d say. We know that, for example, compared to January last year, the figures are 42 per cent up. For last month, it was 56 per cent up. The airport is recovering from the six years of neglect it had under its previous private owners. We expect to see more airlines coming to the airport in the future. It shows that, with the commitment that is shown by Government, it is possible to turn an airport around, just as Scotland has done with Prestwick, and, indeed, just as local government does in England, because local government owns Manchester airport and Stanstead airport as well, for that matter. We’re pleased to see that the airport is moving in the right direction; we’re pleased to see that more and more passengers are using the airport and it shows that the decision that we took to buy the airport was, indeed, the right one.
 
14:06
Mick AntoniwBiography
First Minister, the steps taken by the Welsh Government to take on the airport, to save the airport, have not only been a success: it’s seen a massive rise in passenger numbers. Do you not agree with me that it is absolutely shameful that the Welsh Conservative party are doing everything they can to undermine the airport? Had they been in Government, do you agree with me they would’ve abandoned the airport and, by now, the airport would be shut and if that was the consequence, how many jobs would the Tories have thrown away because of their failure to stand up for a Welsh economic lever and institution?
 
14:07
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
They would’ve thrown away 1,700 jobs. That’s what they would’ve done. As I’ve said to them before, when we spoke—[Interruption.]. It hurts, I know, and you like to cry out a lot.
 
14:07
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Order, order.
 
14:07
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The reality of the situation is this: the company that owned the airport in a meeting with me said quite frankly to me that they expected the airport to decline and close. They were not interested in selling it to another private buyer; they were interested in selling it to us as a Government. They were not interested in working with us on route development; they made that clear. We took the airport over, we saved those jobs, the airport is growing, there are more people using the airport. The Welsh Conservatives would’ve seen that runway turned to grass, the airport closed and British Airways Maintenance closed, all because of a narrow, ideological problem that they had with public ownership. We take the view that the airport’s an economic driver, we’re seeing more passengers, more people employed there, and it is right that that airport is in public ownership and prospering—not the disaster it would’ve been if the Tories had been in charge.
 
14:08
William GrahamBiography
I quote from the auditor general’s report, First Minister, that the Welsh Government did not prepare a formal benefits rationalisation plan as part of its business case for purchasing the airport. Can this be one of the reasons why you managed to pay twice the market value? Could you go on to identify these potential benefits from the acquisition and how you will manage them after purchase to ensure that they will be delivered?
 
14:08
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Four-hundred-and-seventy-two million pounds is the contribution to the economy. It’s odd, isn’t is, because when the airport was bought, one Conservative Member, Mohammad Asghar, welcomed it. He welcomed it on Twitter. Then, he was forced to take it down. Apparently, he was being ironic. [Laughter.] But there we are, it shows he follows orders, just like the rest of them.
 
The reality is that the original owners wanted £200 million for the airport—£200 million. We paid £52 million after an independent valuation and we got the airport. That’s why it is prospering; it’s why it’s having investment put into it. It had nothing for years. The infrastructure was crumbling, there were windows cracked and there were airlines that were leaving the airport. In 2007, it had 2.1 million passengers, by 2013, 1.07 million passengers. That was the success of the company that ran the airport under private ownership. Now, we’re seeing huge increases in passengers, because the Welsh Government ensured that the people who worked there and the people who use it would not be let down.
 
14:09
Mike HedgesBiography
First Minister, do you agree with me that the progress made at Cardiff Airport so far has been excellent? And, is it not better for Wales and the Welsh economy to have a successful airport, rather than what the alternative would be—to have lots of new houses being built in Rhoose?
 
14:09
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Absolutely. Well, the Conservatives wouldn’t care about that. As long as there’s no chance of there being any element of public ownership, they’d rather have seen the airport close, which is exactly what would have happened. A major employer in the Vale of Glamorgan would have been lost to the people of the Vale of Glamorgan and to Wales. We know that, when it comes to the Tories, they are best at destroying jobs, not at creating them.
 
Traffic Management in Montgomeryshire
 
14:10
Russell GeorgeBiography
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on traffic management issues in Montgomeryshire? OAQ(4)2692(FM)
 
14:10
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We are progressing a number of schemes to address different traffic management issues. For example, the A483 and A489 Newtown bypass will help immensely to alleviate traffic issues in the Member’s constituency.
 
14:10
Russell GeorgeBiography
Thank you, First Minister. I do have concerns about the traffic management implications surrounding the movement of turbine components for the Tirgwynt and Garreg Lwyd windfarms. I’m concerned that the general travelling public, including tourists, should not be disadvantaged more than is necessary. You have mentioned the Newtown bypass, which, of course, is very welcome, but will not be in place during the construction of these windfarms. Therefore, can I ask you to compel officials to ensure that the movement of these turbine components is not allowed to take place during peak times in connection with the windfarms I’ve mentioned?
 
14:11
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I assure the Member that officials are doing just that, working with the developers to ensure that the movement of large components takes place outside of peak traffic, obviously, to minimise any disruption on the roads.
 
14:11
William PowellBiography
First Minister, as you know, the Dyfi bridge is an absolutely crucial element of traffic management in north-west Montgomeryshire and also forms a key arterial route. In the context of its importance, it’s particularly a matter of pride for us within the Welsh Liberal Democrats that we were able to secure from the Welsh Government a firm commitment to creating a second Dyfi crossing in the next couple of years. In the context of the recent problems, First Minister, that there’ve been with flooding and damage to the existing road, will you join your colleague the Minister for transport in reassuring the local community in Machynlleth and the surrounding area that this project will be expedited, given the many benefits that will flow from its delivery?
 
14:12
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I can assure the Member that the project will be moved forward as quickly as possible. There are many of us who are familiar with the Dyfi bridge—a crucial connection between Powys and Gwynedd and a crucial part of our road network. We know the bridge itself is quite low over the river and it is prone to flooding, and we are moving ahead with the project as quickly as possible.
 
The Dualling of the A465
 
14:12
Christine ChapmanBiography
8. Will the First Minister provide an update on the dualling of the A465 Heads of the Valleys road? OAQ(4)2693(FM)
 
14:12
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We’ve already completed the dualling of sections 1, 3 and 4. Section 2 between Gilwern and Brynmawr is on site; that will be completed by 2018. The final two—section 5, Dowlais to the A470, and section 6, the A470 to Hirwaun—are scheduled for completion by 2020.
 
14:13
Christine ChapmanBiography
First Minister, I was very pleased to get that response to my letter from the economy Minister, confirming the overall dualling project being completed in 2020. Obviously, this has very much been welcomed by my constituents. I do want to press you further today, though, about the proposed junction locations, particularly as they affect Hirwaun and access to the Cynon valley. There was some concern at a public exhibition that the plans on display don’t take account of recent property developments. What guarantees can you give that any plans will take these comments on board, so that the needs of local communities are met and the dualled road seamlessly connects with wider transport networks?
 
14:13
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I can give assurance to my friend the Member for Cynon Valley that there will be full engagement with the public and the stakeholders throughout the design phase of the road itself. It’s important that we are able to inform the design of the road as it moves forward. There will be an opportunity to comment formally on the draft statutory Orders and the environmental proposals when the draft Orders are published. We do anticipate that a public local inquiry will be required in spring of 2017, in front of an independent inspector. I can confirm to her that the location and nature of the junctions along the route are key elements of the design review that’s currently being undertaken.
 
14:14
Nick RamsayBiography
First Minister, it’s good to see work progressing on the dualling of the Clydach gorge section of the A465 between Gilwern and Brynmawr, the section 2 of the road that you referred to. But there have been some issues of concern. I’ve been contacted by a number of constituents with properties along the route that have not been compulsorily purchased, but, nonetheless, have been devalued by the project. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with people finding themselves in this position, and how are you ensuring that all those adversely affected by construction are adequately compensated?
 
14:15
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we take the view that those who are affected will be adequately compensated. It’s right to say, of course, that there may be some people who find themselves a little closer to the road than was previously the case. That’s unavoidable, but it is right that they should be compensated for that loss of amenity, and we believe that that is happening on a fair basis.
 
Flying Start
 
14:15
Mike HedgesBiography
9. Will the First Minister make a statement on Flying Start provision? OAQ(4)2687(FM)
 
14:15
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. Flying Start is one of our top commitments. It improves outcomes for children and their families, and we exceeded our target to double the number of children benefiting from Flying Start a year early, supporting more than 37,000 children across Wales.
 
14:15
Mike HedgesBiography
Well, the success of it in Swansea was highlighted by the education Minister last week when he visited two schools in my constituency, where the headteachers were very keen to point out how very helpful Flying Start was for children pre-nursery, and how the transition into nursery education was so much easier when children had gone through Flying Start. Will the First Minister commit to the continuation of Flying Start—and is that just another example of the Tories for the rich, Labour for the rest?
 
14:16
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Absolutely right. Absolutely right. Well, we only saw that earlier on today and with the court judgment last week. It just goes to prove exactly where the Tories lie in terms of those they want to support. [Interruption.] It is socialism; yes, you’re right. I’m quite happy for him to bring that up; it is. Looking after those who need help most is part of what we stand for as a party. If that’s socialism, we all believe in that. So, tough luck if the leader of the opposition doesn’t actually believe in it. We will continue with Flying Start. As the Member rightly says, it has helped many, many thousands of people, and we as a Government are proud of what it’s achieved.
 
14:16
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Janet Finch-Saunders.
 
14:16
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer, and, to the First Minister, the Welsh Conservatives do fully support the principle of Flying Start. However, the recent Wave 1 report highlighted that the level of awareness for families—awareness of the entitlements—was very much dependent on the information provided to them by their health visitor and, clearly, the relationship between a health visitor and these families is very key here, and it’s very dependent on that. Where there isn’t a health visitor available, many are now missing out on this scheme. How are you working as a Welsh Government to address the failings that have been highlighted in the Wave 1 report?
 
14:17
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, I’m glad to hear what the Member has said about supporting Flying Start, even though this is an area that’s due for a 20 per cent cut, according to her own party. So, there we are. That is something that they will have to resolve themselves, although, as the leader of the opposition put it, they haven’t crunched the numbers yet, which is what he said in the leaders’ debate we had on ‘Sunday Politics Wales’, when I challenged him on where his figures were coming from. There we are.
 
Each local authority’s able to apply a degree of flexibility within the Flying Start programme by offering support through outreach. We know that outreach enables families living outside Flying Start areas to access the support that they need, and, using local knowledge and a robust assessment of priority, local authorities can ensure that those most in need receive this service.
 
14:18
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
And finally, Leanne Wood.
 
14:18
Leanne WoodBiography
Thank you for your answer then on flexibility, First Minister, because I’ve got a constituent in the Rhondda who has to pay £20 a week for her child to attend the local Flying Start scheme because she lives across the road from the catchment area. Now, she fears that the lack of money will force her to stop sending her daughter to that scheme, which would be a real shame because her daughter’s doing very well there. What flexibility is within the scheme to allow my constituent to access a free place for her child?
 
14:18
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, at the moment, of course, the scheme is geographically targeted. Nevertheless, one of the issues that we will deal with over the course of the next few months is whether it should continue to be geographically targeted or targeted in another way. Those are matters, no doubt, that will come out over the course of the next few months between now and May.
 
14:19
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, First Minister.
 
14:19
2. Business Statement and Announcement
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 2, which is the business statement, and I call on the Minister for Finance and Government Business, Jane Hutt.
 
14:19
Jane HuttBiographyThe Minister for Finance and Government Business
Thank you, Llywydd. There’s been one change to the business statement for this week’s business. The Minister for Economy, Science and Transport will be making an oral statement to provide an update on Tata Steel. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement, and found among the agenda papers available to Members electronically.
 
14:19
Angela BurnsBiography
Minister, I’m sure you would agree with me that the importance of consistent and inspirational leadership cannot be underestimated, given that, at the moment, a good school has a good head, and a good head can make such a difference not only to the teachers within the school, but also to the pupils who attend that school. At present, there are over 100—more than 100—vacancies for headships throughout the whole of Wales. That is a shocking number that we are short, and I wondered if you would ask the Minister for Education and Skills to bring forward an urgent statement on this issue, so that we can discuss it and see what we may all do to in fact improve this situation, as it affects the life chances of so many of the young people of Wales.
 
14:20
Jane HuttBiography
Well, clearly, leadership is critical, but we monitor the recruitment of headteacher vacancies very closely and, indeed, in fact, in terms of vacancies, in some areas they occur for many manageable and planned reasons. The issue is important, but, clearly, also, there is a great appetite for leadership in the teaching profession.
 
14:20
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Minister, I was wondering if we could have a statement on a report that was in ‘The Lancet Oncology’ relatively recently about the benefits of proton beam therapy treatment. It said that there were fewer side-effects and that it had good treatment purposes for young people. I ask in relation to the fact that, as you will know, Freya Bevan, a young two-year-old from my constituency in Neath, had to seek treatment in America because of the lack of treatment here. I understand that the health Minister did speak to the family earlier on today and committed to a meeting with them, so I wondered if we could have a statement from the health Minister to that effect, so that other young children may have the possibility of having such treatment in the future.
 
14:21
Jane HuttBiography
Obviously, I understand that this is an issue of great public interest. I would say that I also attended a very important event today in terms of raising awareness about advances and opportunities in terms of cancer treatment, and, of course, the Minister will be responding in due course.
 
14:22
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Minister, on 17 December, during the busiest dispensing week of the year for pharmacies, the Department of Health in England wrote confirming significant cuts in the funding formula for community pharmacy. You’ll be aware that that funding formula affects both England and Wales. Now, I have been warned by people working in the profession that these cuts could lead to up to a quarter of the community pharmacies in Wales closing. Could you arrange for a statement from the Welsh health Minister confirming the Welsh Government’s commitment to the role of community pharmacy and the impact the decision on the funding formula may have on Welsh community pharmacies, and what steps we may be able to take here in Wales to support that very, very important part of the primary healthcare team?
 
14:22
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I think the support for community pharmacy, particularly led by our Minister for Health and Social Services, is very clear and is renowned. Of course, when we have a funding formula that applies to England and Wales, we do what we can within our powers and opportunities to protect and promote community pharmacy, which we know is an important part of our move to a primary care-led preventative health service.
 
14:23
Russell GeorgeBiography
Minister, can I request a statemen