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 without hyperlinks
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 Minister for Natural Resources
[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 are questions to the Minister for Natural Resources, and I call on Christine Chapman to ask the first question. Christine Chapman.
 
Recycling Rates
 
13:31
Christine ChapmanBiography
1. Will the Minister make a statement on recycling rates in Wales? OAQ(4)0409(NR)
 
13:31
Carl SargeantBiographyThe Minister for Natural Resources
I thank the Member for Cynon Valley for her question. I am very proud of Wales’s recycling performance. We are No. 1 in the UK, and fourth in Europe. I thank the people of Wales and local authorities for their fantastic efforts so far.
 
13:31
Christine ChapmanBiography
Thank you, Minister. I welcome the repeated improvement in recycling rates, and I think, as you say, that this is the result of hard work on the part of Welsh Government, local authorities, and communities and citizens across Wales. I want to specifically mention Rhondda Cynon Taf food waste recycling scheme, which has seen the amount of waste collected for recycling doubled over the last six months. Will you join with me in congratulating RCT, and how is the Welsh Government engaging with councils to share innovative practice and new ways of encouraging community involvement?
 
13:32
Carl SargeantBiography
Thank you for your question. Of course, I congratulate Andrew Morgan and RCT on the efforts they’ve delivered in driving up the food waste collections. I visited the principal site for collection. I know that there’s been a community engagement programme operating in RCT, looking at recycling food waste and the wide-ranging recycling services offered by the council. They are leading the way in many ways, and I congratulate the authority and the people who work there.
 
13:32
Russell GeorgeBiography
Minister, you’ll be aware that some local authorities have moved to three-weekly bin collections. I know that there is some anecdotal evidence that this has led to an increase in fly-tipping. But I’d be grateful if you’ve done any analysis on—or what analysis has the Government done on the benefits, and also the adverse effects, of moving to three-weekly collection and in regard to recycling rates?
 
13:33
Carl SargeantBiography
Three-weekly collections is a matter for the local authorities that impose it. But the Member shouldn’t always bring anecdotal data to this Chamber—he should base his detail on fact. The fact is we are the best in the UK at recycling, fourth best in Europe, and we will get better with the use of our clever local authorities, which are working on recycling, but also people delivering across our communities.
 
13:33
Llyr GruffyddBiography
We all welcome, of course, the fact that local authorities are performing far better in terms of recycling waste now, but the way that we measure that—by measuring the number of tonnes that are recycled—isn’t necessarily a sufficiently meaningful reflection of that, because there is now an argument for using the carbon value of that waste as a yardstick. Can I ask you what consideration the Government has given to moving away from measuring tonnage to measuring carbon value, which, I believe, would be a fairer reflection of the contribution that needs to be made?
 
13:34
Carl SargeantBiography
I recognise the Member’s view on that, and I also share, in part—I think there is an opportunity for us to work on tonnage, but also on the carbon exposure that is given from waste. I met with an organisation this morning, actually, to talk about that very thing, and what I’ve asked them to do, and others, including WRAP Cymru, is to look at the opportunities and challenges that we face, in terms of the easy tonnage collection versus carbon capture. So, it’s something that we are working on.
 
13:34
Eluned ParrottBiography
Minister, last year, Cardiff council narrowly avoided a fine for its falling recycling rate thanks to a plan for increasing the recycling that was approved by yourself. Part of that plan was to replace large black bins with smaller black bins. Those bins will now be recycled, having been collected. Would it be acceptable to you, in reviewing Cardiff Council’s recycling rates for next year, if it includes the weight of all those recycled bins?
 
13:35
Carl SargeantBiography
The recycling targets are mine; the way that they do that is a matter for the local authority.
 
The Environment in Urban Wales
 
13:35
John GriffithsBiography
2. Will the Minister make a statement on Welsh Government policy improve the environment in urban Wales? OAQ(4)0412(NR)
 
13:35
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for Newport East for his question. A clean, safe, accessible and attractive urban environment is an essential part of the Wales we want for future generations. To achieve this, the Welsh Government continues to work with a variety of partners to change public attitudes and behaviour through grant funding, education, partnership working and enforcement programmes.
 
13:36
John GriffithsBiography
Thank you for that, Minister. I do believe the doorstep environment is very important to quality of life, to health, to community regeneration, and to valuing a commitment towards our environment. Given all of those benefits, Minister, I wonder if you could assure me that the learning from schemes such as Cynefin will be continued into the future, and particularly perhaps looking at the work of Natural Resources Wales and how that can ensure that those benefits do continue. And I think that’s very significant in the light of the recent auditor general’s report, which I think is very favourable and complimentary towards the work of Natural Resources Wales.
 
13:36
Carl SargeantBiography
Of course. I thank the Member for his question. The Cynefin programme has presented great resilience and opportunities in communities, including the Member’s, and it’s something that we’re looking at at present to see what the good parts of Cynefin are that we can take forward into new operations. I’m grateful for the Member also raising the issue of the operation of NRW. I’m surprised today that the opposition parties haven’t raised that report with me as yet, because the auditor general has produced a great report on the great work that NRW have done. I’m surprised that Darren Millar and his colleagues haven’t made much of it in the press today. But I’m sure there will be plenty more opportunities during this question time to congratulate NRW staff.
 
13:37
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
You’re not supposed to prompt people for questions, Minister. Suzy Davies.
 
13:37
Suzy DaviesBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Minister, every town and city, of course, would like a reputation for safety and cleanliness. Without it, it becomes difficult to attract businesses and shops and, of course, even people to use those city centres. Swansea business improvement district has worked really hard to improve Swansea’s reputation for cleanliness and safety, with a number of activities ranging from removing gum from pavements to introducing wardens to help those who’ve perhaps been overdoing it in enjoyment of their night-time economy, shall we say. In a city where the seagull is king, how can you help the city council meet its own duties to keep the streets rubbish free and ensure that co-operation with other partners doesn’t become over-reliant on those partners?
 
13:38
Carl SargeantBiography
I think we have seen some really positive moves right across Wales in the way they look after the urban environments. In Swansea, the Labour authority of Swansea, may I say, do a fantastic job too. The issue of seagulls is one that many people discuss with me in written form. There are licences around the control of seagulls, but I also recognise the fact that, as residents and local authorities, we must have control over litter and the feeding of the gulls as well, which adds to the problem that we see.
 
13:38
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Minister, what specific measures have you implemented and what has been done via the grant scheme announced by John Griffiths in 2012 to protect and expand habitats for urban wildlife? I particularly read recently about animals such as hedgehogs, which were once common but are now actually under threat.
 
13:39
Carl SargeantBiography
Again, I know the Member and many colleagues in this Chamber have a big interest in wildlife. Many of the investments we have made, including the nature fund, which we made a significant investment in, and many of the 20 recent collaborative landscape programmes under the nature fund, which ran from 2014-15, had key elements aimed at improving the quality of the urban environment. One instance would be the Natural Buzz project in Torfaen, which looks at creating habitats for pollinators, and which is a very successful one.
 
13:39
David ReesBiography
Minister, clearly pollution is one of the major impacts upon the environment in urban areas, and, in Aberavon, we’ve been facing the challenge of air quality for many, many years. But we also now seem to be facing the possibility of water pollution as a result of drilling though for coal-bed methane or for shale gas. The Welsh Government has taken action on fracking, and I appreciate and applaud the action that it’s already taken, but you’ve already indicated that it’s a separate process from test drilling in that sense. If test drilling doesn’t end up achieving anything, then there’s a question as to whether there is a point in test drilling. Will you, therefore, look at a review of the guidance that you give to planning authorities to consider whether test drilling should be allowed, in consideration of the future impact of it?
 
13:40
Carl SargeantBiography
We’ve debated this on many occasions and the Member keeps pushing very hard on this. The notification direction that I’ve issued prevents local authorities from granting permission for unconventional oil and gas development, and this represents a precautionary approach in terms of planning. I’ll continue to do that in this term of Government. As we’ve mentioned before around borehole exploration, there’s a wide-ranging use for exploratory boreholes, and not just for fracking. I think there would be some risk there in terms of operation if we were to have a notification just on boreholes. But I will ask my team to look at that in more detail to see if we can be more helpful for communities across Wales.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
13:41
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to spokespeople’s questions and first this afternoon, the Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesperson, William Powell.
 
13:41
William PowellBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Will the Minister please make a statement on Natural Resources Wales’s remit in terms of providing recreation opportunities in the great outdoors for the people of Wales?
 
13:41
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his question and I also place on record my thanks to the staff and operational members of NRW. The report that was received from the auditor general today just shows that the development of that organisation is proving to be well worthy.
 
In terms of the Member’s question regarding NRW’s role in this, they are, of course, bound by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, which will be coming into force in April of this year, and that will be part of the holistic view of wellbeing for communities, which, of course, will include the countryside and access to countryside, which the Member alludes to.
 
13:42
William PowellBiography
Thank you, Minister, very much for that response. As you know, the Cwmcarn Forest Drive has now been closed to cars since November 2014 to allow the felling of over 150,000 infected larch. There’s been considerable uncertainty amongst the public, both in terms of the long-term future of that particular attraction and also with regard to the rights of way that are still open to walkers and to mountain bikers. The Cwmcarn Forest visitor centre is set, I understand, to record at least a 10 per cent drop in visitors. This is believed, in part, to be down to a misunderstanding as to the current status of the footpath network. I know that my colleague, Jocelyn Davies, has recently written on this topic in the local media. In this regard, also, Rob Southall, chairman of the friends of Cwmcarn Forest Drive, has brought a petition to the Petitions Committee. Given the importance of the forest drive, what more can the Welsh Government do to support NRW in addressing the concerns of the local community and to ensure that it does open again and as soon as possible?
 
13:43
Carl SargeantBiography
I know that NRW are working extremely hard in the area to try and resolve these issues, but biological security for that area and for the rest of Wales is extremely important. I believe that they’re handling the situation very well. Of course, we’d like to see the Cwmcarn Forest Drive open, but it’s a matter of making sure that we can deal with the phytophthora ramorum infection that is under way in that particular region.
 
13:43
William PowellBiography
Minister, thank you very much. This is just another example, I think, of some of the dilemmas facing NRW in terms of resource in fulfilling its remit whilst being allocated ever-diminishing resources for reasons that we know. I understand, also, that the Wales Audit Office will shortly be reporting on issues around this and making an assessment as to NRW’s capacity to address the challenges that it faces as an organisation. In the light of this, and with the passing of the Environment (Wales) Bill just yesterday, what reassurance can you give that the future of the Welsh natural environment is safe in its hands and in yours?
 
13:44
Carl SargeantBiography
Yesterday, we passed unanimously the Environment (Wales) Bill to be an Act, when, hopefully, we receive Royal Assent on that. This is the toolkit for NRW for delivery. I’m confident that the organisation can continue its great work and, as the report from the auditor general states today, they’re doing a good job of it.
 
13:44
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Welsh Conservative spokesperson, Janet Haworth.
 
13:44
Janet HaworthBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, I’m sure you will agree with me that actions speak louder than words—a sentiment that the voters of Wales endorse. Today, I would like to ask you about two actions that the victims of the floods in Wales are keen to hear about. Firstly, how much of the £3 million plus, announced in this Chamber back in early January, has found its way to those people still coping with the aftermath of floods, and how much additional money will you be seeking to make available from the £250 million plus that this Labour Government has hoarded in its reserves?
 
13:45
Carl SargeantBiography
Interesting question. The first part I can answer very quickly. Generally, I can’t agree with most of the things you say. Secondly, on the issue of the £3 million that was allocated and announced by me and the First Minister, we have had the bids in from local authorities, we’ve considered the awards and they have been notified of that. I expect them to be working very quickly. As a matter of interest, I did visit the Member’s constituency a week last Friday to talk with local people about the real issues that were going on and to take away the hot politics that we often see in this Chamber. It was a very useful conversation with them, and many of them were very grateful for the work, again, that volunteers and emergency services provided on that day.
 
13:46
Janet HaworthBiography
Thank you, Minister. Within a month of the floods in Scotland, plans are being formulated to deal with and prevent further flooding. In England, work has begun to bring stakeholders together and to especially engage with farmers to devise water drainage and water catchment plans. Minister, will you report on the work that is waiting to be done here in Wales? I do value the NRW reports that were mentioned earlier, but specifically, when will the NRW reports on the recent events be completed, and when will they be made public? Minister, the Welsh voters are waiting for you to show leadership. Will you be commissioning an independent investigation into forestry plantation and drainage practices on our hard-rock uplands in north Wales as a matter of some urgency? Minister, I am still receiving reports of failures with urban drainage, resulting in sewage flooding into streets and, potentially, homes. Minister, this is a disgrace and requires your urgent attention. Is it going to get your attention? What will you do?
 
13:47
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, I don’t know where the Member’s been for so long because, actually, England and Scotland are just catching up with what we’re doing. We’ve got flood-management plans right across Wales. NRW, local authorities and flood-prevention services are in place. I cannot control the weather, but when we do have adverse weather conditions, such as those we saw on Boxing Day, my teams are out at 7 o’clock in the morning looking after your residents. So, the Member just really needs to realise she’s not in England or Scotland; in Wales, we are doing something much better. If she wants to really look at the floods and the devastation that was caused, look at the news and look what happened in Kendal and northern parts of England. That didn’t happen in Wales, fortunately—a little bit of luck, but also a very good part, on our terms, of planning with our regulators.
 
13:48
Janet HaworthBiography
Thank you, Minister. I have spoken with farming representatives, residents and businesses affected by the recent floods. Yesterday, this Chamber spent many hours debating a Bill that seeks to protect Wales’s historical heritage. Can you then explain why the CEO of Cadw has refused to meet with me to discuss the damage that the floods in the Conwy valley have wreaked upon Gwydir Castle in Llanrwst? Minister, will you help me to get a meeting with the CEO of Cadw, a supposedly independent organisation dedicated to the protection of Welsh buildings?
 
13:49
Carl SargeantBiography
I’ve got a personal view as to why the chief executive might not want to meet with the Member. [Laughter.] However, with the greatest of respect, this is a matter for Ken Skates, who deals with Cadw, and I will ensure that he gets to know about your question that was asked this afternoon.
 
13:49
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd.
 
13:49
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. This is a question for the Deputy Minister, of course. As we know, a number of farmers are still awaiting their basic payments, and in fairness you have told us as Members that if people do get in touch with us we should refer them to you, in exceptional circumstances. But, there’s no doubt that a number of farmers are on the precipice awaiting these payments—in a financial context, of course. So, can I ask you what consideration the Government has given to providing some sort of interest-free loans, or some small pre-payment, in those few cases where there are farmers who won’t receive their payments for some time yet, but are facing real financial difficulties?
 
13:50
Rebecca EvansBiographyThe Deputy Minister for Farming and Food
Thank you for the question. I’ll just provide an update to Members that, as of today, we have paid 80 per cent of our farmers—or part-paid, I should say, 80 per cent of our farmers. So, that’s 12,435. Between those, they have had the value of payment of £102.78 million. So, just to put that on the record. And, again, we are continuing to outperform Governments in England and Scotland on this issue. I met with the banks back in September to discuss interest-free loans for their customers, and I met again with one of the banks late last week, and they did confirm that they had actively been getting in touch with their farmer customers to offer them interest-free loans to the value of 60 per cent of their basic payment scheme payment to tide them over for the period from when they would normally expect to get payments at the start of the window in December. And as you know, it is a seven-month window, but we are aiming to pay farmers as quickly as we possibly can.
 
13:51
Llyr GruffyddBiography
It’s also become apparent, of course, that many farmers are being penalised because of over-declarations. That, of course, has come as a surprise to many. It seems that there are problems in terms of aerial shots and trees casting shadows and elements such as that. That does mean, of course, that some farmers will receive less than they had anticipated. Can I ask you, therefore, how you as a Government will ensure that such errors don’t happen again in future?
 
13:51
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you. You’ll recall that there was quite some discussion some time back, when we introduced the system, about how we would be dealing with the issues of illegible features—trees, and so on. I’ve introduced a simplified appeals process in order for farmers to appeal any decisions that we’ve made that they don’t think are correct in terms of the amount that we’ve deducted for tree canopy cover. I think that’s a fair process, and I would encourage farmers who do dispute the area that we’ve deducted to get in touch with Rural Payments Wales and then we will look through that stage 1 process.
 
13:52
Llyr GruffyddBiography
But the question that I asked was not how farmers can appeal, but how we can ensure that there will be no need for such appeals in the future. I would ask you therefore to consider how that could be achieved.
 
I’ve also raised with you in the past—and the unions and others have raised the same point—the need to provide small grants to farms from the rural development plan. There is a feeling that the Sustainable production grant, for example, is beyond the reach of too many farmers, although it’s appropriate to some, and that we need a far more accessible, lower level scheme. In the environment committee back in October, you and your officials told us that it was difficult to do that because the European Commission set a minimum threshold for the support that could be provided. Since then, I’ve seen a copy of a letter from the European Commission that states that there is no threshold set, and I will read the letter:
 
There are no specific EU rules on minimum and maximum thresholds for investment support. Moreover, in view of the aforementioned justification of the Welsh authorities, the condition at stake does not seem to infringe any relevant EU rules and principles.
 
Given such confirmation that there isn’t any European regulation saying that you can’t introduce a smaller grant scheme, as they have done in Scotland, of course, will you reconsider and take some action to ensure that such a scheme is introduced here in Wales?
 
13:53
Rebecca EvansBiography
Well, we did have quite considerable interest in our sustainable production grant, because we decided that we wanted to make transformational change within the industry, and small stand-alone grants just won’t achieve that. However, we have been clear that we will consider small grants as part of strategic initiatives, and I met with members of the industry just last week in order to do that. Such grants might be along the lines of the electronic reader system that we’ve brought in, and we offered grants through Hybu Cig Cymru for that. So, if we are to offer small grants, they would be as part of wider strategic initiatives to move the industry en masse towards those goals that we all want— profitable, resilient, more sustainable and more professionally managed, and so on. So, there is a place for small grants, but it’s not stand-alone small grants, which just don’t offer value for money.
 
13:54
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move back to questions on the paper and question 3 is Gwyn Price.
 
Cwmcarn Forest Drive
 
13:54
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
3. Will the Minister make a statement on the latest update from Natural Resources Wales to the Welsh Government on Cwmcarn Forest Drive? OAQ(4)0411(NR)
 
13:54
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his question. Natural Resources Wales are making good progress on the felling and extraction of the diseased larch at Cwmcarn and are halfway through the two-year work programme.
 
13:54
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
Thank you for that answer. Minister, I attended a packed public meeting in my constituency for the launch of the Friends of Cwmcarn Forest Drive. Representatives from Natural Resources Wales told the meeting they were pushing at an open door to desire to see Cwmcarn Forest Drive fully accessible. Will the Minister confirm the Government shares this desire and will continue to work with all interested parties to restore one of the jewels in the crown of Wales’s wonderful natural landscape?
 
13:55
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his question, but also his letters that he keeps sending me on this very issue. Responsibility for the management of Cwmcarn scenic forest drive is delegated to Natural Resources Wales. I am aware of the popularity of the drive and its future has not yet been decided by the authority. NRW has always been very clear that they cannot commit to reopening it until the funding to support the work associated with it can be identified. They’re continuing to explore the possibilities and options available to them, but I do continue to hold talks with NRW in order to try to resolve the issue locally.
 
13:56
William GrahamBiography
I’m most grateful for the Minister’s comments this afternoon. He will know that the much praised Natural Resources Wales has an aspiration to reopen the Cwmcarn scenic drive as the previous questioner has suggested. I note that, this year, Natural Resources Wales had great success with Bike Park in Merthyr, and wonder whether that might be one of the things that might be available to drive forward the future development of the Cwmcarn Forest Drive, and, more particularly perhaps, your Government has billed 2016 as a Year of Adventure. Could it be that Cwmcarn Forest Drive forms a key element in this?
 
13:56
Carl SargeantBiography
I’m sure Ken Skates will be delighted to consider the offer of that particular area for the Year of Adventure. I can say that the issue of the extraction of P. ramorum infected timber has made it necessary to close Cwmcarn drive, but it is an ambition for Government and for NRW to look at a future—a positive future—for that particular area.
 
13:57
Jocelyn DaviesBiography
Thank you. Presiding Officer, I declare an interest as a member of the Friends of Cwmcarn Forest Drive group.
 
Minister, I doubt that there’s time in this Assembly term to invite you to walk with me in the forests of Cwmcarn—[Assembly Members: ‘Oh’.] I know you would have jumped at the opportunity of that. [Laughter.] But, I hope that you will appreciate that without the road, much of this mountain will become inaccessible to all but the fittest and most determined rambler. So will you bear in mind, in your discussions with Natural Resources Wales, that people of all ages and physical abilities want to continue to enjoy this valley after the felling of the diseased larch?
 
13:57
Carl SargeantBiography
Of course. I feel like I’m becoming a friend of the Cwmcarn Forest Drive as well with the amount of correspondence and questions that I get from Members of the Chamber, and I don’t mind that because it’s an important venue for constituents and people alike. I’m grateful for the Member’s invitation. The last time we did go on a little stroll, the Member took me over a barbed wire fence, I seem to recall. [Laughter.] So, I will probably decline on this occasion, if I may. But I am grateful, and it’s very topical that the Member’s raised this issue with us today. It is an important part and feature of the landscape of Wales, and it’s something that we need to look at very carefully.
 
Natural Resources Wales (Priorities)
 
13:58
Nick RamsayBiography
4. Will the Minister make a statement on his priorities for Natural Resources Wales for the remainder of this Assembly term? OAQ(4)0406(NR)
 
13:58
Carl SargeantBiography
I have recently discussed my priorities with the NRW board and will be issuing the 2016-17 remit letter to the chair shortly. The new legislative context of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Environment (Wales) Bill—Act as of March 2016—will set the operational principles and purpose for NRW moving forward.
 
13:58
Nick RamsayBiography
Thank you, Minister. Can I ask you about NRW’s consultation process during forestry work? The residents of the village of Cleddon in my constituency are deeply concerned about a barrier that Natural Resources Wales are erecting, blocking off an access route that local people have relied on for decades. There’s been no consultation in advance of this happening, and it has caused great inconvenience and distress to the residents of Cleddon. When you look into this, perhaps you can join me and Jocelyn Davies on a little stroll through the forest to look at these problems. What guidelines are in place to ensure residents are fully involved before these types of changes are made in future?
 
13:59
Carl SargeantBiography
I think the issue around consultation is really important—the Member raises a serious point there. I don’t know about the particular scheme that the Member raises, but I will ask NRW to respond directly to the Member with regard to that.
 
13:59
Peter BlackBiography
Minister, you’ll know the delay in terms of Swansea tidal lagoon is largely down to the UK Government deciding a strike price, but there is also a delay in terms of Natural Resources Wales determining the various licences for that lagoon and it is dragging on a bit. Can you give us an insight as to when you expect Natural Resources Wales to come to a decision on this particular issue?
 
14:00
Carl SargeantBiography
I expect Natural Resources Wales to act appropriately in issuing licences and take full consideration of the impacts of any scheme. As I am aware, the strike price still hasn’t been agreed by the UK Government and therefore NRW still has some space in there to deal with the issues raised by the Member.
 
The Dangers of Sudden Subsidence
 
14:00
Gwenda ThomasBiography
5. What is the Welsh Government doing to raise awareness of the dangers of sudden subsidence? OAQ(4)0398(NR)
 
14:00
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her question. We highlight the issue of subsidence in national planning policy and will continue to work with stakeholders on this issue.
 
14:00
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Thank you for that, Minister. Sudden subsidence leading to sink holes is extremely hazardous. When such a recent incident caused a hole to appear in Cimla Road in my constituency, although it was only 18 inches square on the surface, the void below was 20 ft wide and 20 ft deep and required filling with 64 tonnes of stone and concrete. I must say the multi-agency response was excellent and rapid and I commend everyone who was involved with that. Can you outline what work is being done to map and monitor the risks of sink holes and other forms of subsidence in areas such as the south Wales coalfield where there is a particular danger?
 
14:01
Carl SargeantBiography
Yes. I thank the Member for her question. The geology of Wales and the extensive history of underground mining activity means that it’s not feasible to predict sudden instances of subsidence and we’re not aware of any current responsibilities resting on the Welsh Government for a general awareness of such subsidence risk.
 
I don’t have any plans, currently, to launch a general campaign to educate the public about the dangers associated with it. It’s generally an issue of when they appear. I’m grateful for the Member’s comments about the emergency services and authorities that dealt with the issues very well. I encourage local authorities and other responsible bodies to provide targeted responses to areas of known risk.
 
14:02
Altaf HussainBiography
Minister, there’s a concern in my region over the increasing interest in unconventional gas, in particular underground coal gasification, and the potential this has to lead to sudden subsidence. Your Government has taken a strong line on fracking. Will you now take a similar strong line on coal gasification, because of the danger this poses to the geology in my region?
 
14:02
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, I’m surprised—well, should I be surprised at the split in the party opposite? We’ve got a very strong line on fracking and coal gasification. The Members opposite in Westminster are encouraging activity around fracking and this process. I find the Member’s question very bizarre, but I welcome his comments on the basis that we are trying to protect Wales. And, of course, he’s more than welcome—I’m sure we’ll find him a chair if he really wants one.
 
14:02
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Minister, sink holes have appeared in the gardens of properties in Llystawel in Ystradgynlais caused by the River Tawe breaching the river wall and washing ground away behind that wall. Natural Resources Wales and Welsh Water all agree that, at some point, a historical municipal body built that wall, but nobody’s willing to take responsibility for it now. Will you look sympathetically at the case for repair to the Llystawel river wall to prevent any further damage to properties in that area and to stop a massive breach into the River Tawe?
 
14:03
Carl SargeantBiography
The Member has written to me on this specific issue, Presiding Officer, and I will give that some further consideration.
 
River Bed Management and Flooding
 
14:03
Mark IsherwoodBiography
6. How is the Welsh Government using river bed management to prevent flooding? OAQ(4)0399(NR)
 
14:03
Carl SargeantBiography
River bed management is carried out in line with our whole catchment approach to flood-risk management. River bed management is allowed through permit on a case-by-case basis after assessing its impact on the river as well as the subsequent effect on flood risk for homes and businesses.
 
14:03
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Thank you. Well, after an Anglesey landowner contacted me to say he’d cleared the river bed on his side, but the adjacent farm was refusing to, saying that it was a matter for Natural Resources Wales, I contacted Natural Resources Wales with the warning that this would lead to flooding over winter. They replied that it didn’t appear to pose any flood risk to people or property. Needless to say, during the heavy rain this December, half the field was flooded because of the blockage. My constituent went back to Natural Resources Wales saying that landowners were now going to contribute collectively to fund the clearance, and, instead of getting assistance, it came back saying, ‘You’ll need prior consent, you need to get a form, complete a form, submit a map, blah, blah blah’ rather than working with them to do what they should’ve done in the first place. How, therefore, would you respond to the concern expressed by my constituent on Anglesey—quote—‘no wonder we’re having flooding. It’s down to bad management of rivers’?
 
14:04
Carl SargeantBiography
I think the fact of the matter that the Member raises, saying that NRW said the process that is needed to do this—. Landowners can undertake watercourse maintenance work themselves and I’ve met with many farmers who do do that, providing they have consent from NRW. I don’t think it’s too complicated. The fact is, working together is really important, but we just can’t allow dredging or watercourse management by stealth, because that has an effect elsewhere. That’s why there has to be a management process around it.
 
14:05
Ann JonesBiography
Minister, I know you’ve seen first-hand the devastation of flooded premises and you have accompanied me, several times, to areas in my constituency that suffer from flooding. However, I believe it’s vital that all agencies involved continue to take a balanced and a controlled approach to managing the risks of flooding. Will you, therefore, resist calls to allow landowners uncontrolled freedom to carry out drainage works without regard to the consequences for downstream communities?
 
14:05
Carl SargeantBiography
Of course, and, as I just said to the Member previously, it is about working together with the farming sector and landholders to see how we can make sure that we can have planned drainage for land management. We have no plans to follow the English model in allowing drainage work on ditches of any length without appropriate assessment of flooding. My officials will continue to liaise with NRW on this matter. Our policy will, as ever, be based on actual evidence, rather than a knee-jerk reaction to recent events.
 
14:06
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
I know, Minister, that you haven’t had an opportunity to visit the damage following the floods that happened after Christmas in Arfon, but over 100 homes were flooded, and some directly as a result of fluvial flooding. Of course, many of those families are still away from their homes. When will the NRW report be published on the flooding and the rivers’ role in that flooding, and is NRW co-authoring that report with the local authority and Dŵr Cymru? Thank you.
 
14:07
Carl SargeantBiography
I’ll have to write to the Member with detail in regard to the report date and when that will be released. I have met with NRW recently to discuss this very issue, and I think it is important that we get the lessons learnt from the events that happened in December. I visited Arfon, actually, just before the floods, which is less than helpful in terms of what happened in December, but I am aware of the area, particularly, that was flooded, and my sympathies do go out to the families and businesses affected in your constituency.
 
14:07
Aled RobertsBiography
Minister, you have made it obvious that you’re not willing to review the policy as regards the cleansing of rivers, but, may I ask you—? You are undertaking a review of the situation at Llanrwst, but, to be fair, much of the work that was undertaken around Llanrwst was quite successful. But there are problems in the Conwy valley as a whole. There are flood prevention plans for the River Conwy, but are you willing to reconsider the situation bearing in mind that cobs in the Llanrwst area were overtopped, but there are cobs, in particular in the Tan Lan and Trefriw areas, that are still in existence?
 
14:08
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his question. I think it’s really important that we continue to have an open mind on this. We’ve got a strategic plan that we are working to where we have known risks in terms of flooding. But, like we saw in December, we had rainfalls in Capel Curig of around 1m, which is unprecedented. Planning for that is really difficult. What we’ve got to do is review the issues that presented themselves through December and January and look at what preventative methods we can put in place to mitigate some of those risks. Again, the areas that the Member raises with me are something that I know NRW and my flood team are looking at.
 
The Rural Development Plan
 
14:09
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
7. Will the Minister outline how the rural development plan aims to improve the economy of rural Wales? OAQ(4)0413(NR)
 
14:09
Rebecca EvansBiography
Economic renewal is central to the Welsh Government rural communities rural development programme 2014-20 through the green growth approach. Knowledge and innovation interventions are supported by targeting investment that will benefit jobs and growth in the land-based sector, the food supply chain and other businesses in our rural communities.
 
14:09
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Thank you, Minister, for that answer. I heard what you said to previous questions about grants, in particular small grants, under the rural development plan, but I do believe that, given the distribution of money so far under the rural development scheme, there is scope to open up small grants to farmers in particular, who might well then be able to develop best business practices. Are you able, on your earlier answers, to enlarge on the strategic point that you made? Because you said you were sympathetic to creating strategic avenues of support, and you said about sheep readers and electronic devices such as that. Can you say a time frame when you might be bringing forward such proposals to make these devices available and the support packages out of the rural development plan?
 
14:10
Rebecca EvansBiography
Yes, these proposals will be developed in partnership with the industry. They would come mostly under the co-operative projects that we have as one of the strands of the rural development programme. That’s the co-operation and supply chain development scheme. We’ve already had one expression of interest window opened for that, and, following that, we’ve announced 29 applicants chosen to go forward to the next stage of making that formal approval. Some of those are projects that will fundamentally support farmers across the whole of Wales in a sector-specific way to achieve transformational change en masse. That includes options then for small grants to enable those things to happen.
 
14:10
Elin JonesBiography
Deputy Minister, there are young farmers in my constituency who are eager for you to announce the details of your young entrants scheme. The latest information that they have heard is that such a scheme will not be announced until at least June. That, of course, is after the closing date for the IACS forms for this year, and that creates some very practical problems for some of these young people. Therefore, can you look to announce this scheme and bring it forward for applications sooner rather than later, and do that before May?
 
14:11
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you. Our priority, so far, under the rural development programme for young farmers has been to invest in skills and growth and so on, particularly with the announcement of our Mentro—or Venture—scheme, which is a scheme that we’ve developed in order to help young farmers come into share farming arrangements. So, that’s where our priority has been thus far, and also to develop the work under Farming Connect. So, AgriScot, Agri Academy and so on. That’s been our priority at the start of the rural development programme, which we only had approval for in May of last year. I think that it’s easy to forget that we are only seven months into a seven- to 10-year programme.
 
14:12
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
I declare an interest, that my husband is a partner in a farming business in Brecon and Radnorshire. Minister, all farmers have contributed to the RDP via the pillar transfer, yet, if the first round of the sustainable production grant scheme is anything to go by, very few will actually benefit. What steps can farmers in Brecon and Radnorshire expect you to take to ensure that as many of them as possible have the advantage of participating in the rural development plan in schemes that will not only help them invest in their businesses in terms of new technology, but would you consider, for instance, a scheme similar to that in the south of Ireland that focused on genetic databases and the ability to improve our breeding stock?
 
14:13
Rebecca EvansBiography
I thank you for that question. Of course, since May, we’ve already made more than £200 million-worth of support available, and the vast, vast majority does go to farmers and landowners. The land-based sector has had first priority in the programme. We’ve already opened windows and expressions of interest for Farming Connect, Glastir Advanced, Glastir Commons, Glastir Organic, Glastir Woodland Restoration, Glastir Woodland Creation, the sustainable production grant, the food business investment grant, the rural community development fund, the co-operation and supply chain development scheme, LEADER and the European innovation partnership. The vast majority of those are actually only open to farmers. So, I think that farmers have had many opportunities already under our rural development programme which, as I say, is only seven months in.
 
Conwy Falls Hydroelectric Scheme
 
14:13
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
8. Will the Minister make a statement on the Conwy Falls hydroelectric scheme? OAQ(4)0403(NR)
 
14:13
Carl SargeantBiography
Natural Resources Wales are currently considering the application for the abstraction licence related to this project. I’m unable to comment on planning aspects of this scheme.
 
14:14
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Minister, you will be aware of around 6,000 signatures opposing the Conwy Falls hydroelectric scheme. Concerns raised primarily are as a result of a lack of consultation, failure to engage, and insufficient detail. With works of such magnitude, and in an area of stunning natural beauty, massive tourism appeal, and a site of special scientific interest, it is essential that the views of those affected are considered very much part of this planning process. Non-compliance incidents with regard to hydroelectric licences in Snowdonia national park have more than doubled in the past three years, causing much of this scepticism. How will you ensure that these representations will be heard, considered and accurately reflected so as to reflect all views, both those for and against the scheme?
 
14:14
Carl SargeantBiography
Presiding Officer, as I’ve made very clear in the past, I’m not able to comment on a live planning application. The Member knows that very well.
 
14:15
Julie MorganBiography
The Minister is aware of my enthusiasm for the hydroelectric scheme at Radyr weir, which is at the Taff river. I know I've raised it many times in this Chamber, because I think it is a fantastic scheme and I pay tribute to the local authority for what they've done. But what sort of incentives is he able to offer to community groups or local authorities to harness the power of the abundant water that we've got in Wales, to increase the number of schemes like this one, like Radyr weir, throughout Wales?
 
14:15
Carl SargeantBiography
For all the invitations I've received today, I really am looking forward to the invitation to join Julie Morgan at this scheme shortly. It is a great scheme, and I also pay tribute to the people involved in that locally. We are seeing more investment in hydroelectric schemes; we’ve got an abundance of supply. I was up in the Valleys recently looking at a new scheme being developed there with Brendan Toomey. Again, we can, and we should, use as much of this natural resource as possible. We have a scheme, which we've just launched, in terms of a support mechanism post-Ynni’r Fro in which we are helping communities to be enabled to create schemes like this one in her constituency.
 
14:16
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
I declare an interest, as I live near Conwy falls.
 
Would the Minister agree that Assembly Members should allow the relevant planning committees to take decisions in cases of planning?
 
14:16
Carl SargeantBiography
Of course, this is a matter for the local planning authority or/and Natural Resources Wales. These are important decisions to be made, and I do expect all decisions, without prejudice, to be made fairly. But it is sometimes inappropriate for Members to make inappropriate comments when they have not had the full details presented in front of them that may be, on occasion, in certain circumstances, alluded to.
 
14:17
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you very much, Minister.
 
2. Questions to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
14:17
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 2, which is questions to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, and question 1 is from Janet Haworth.
 
Janet HaworthBiography
What discussions has the Minister had with farming industry representatives to establish schemes which could prevent future flooding incidents?
 
14:17
Lesley GriffithsBiographyThe Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
I don't think that's my question.
 
14:17
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I don't think that's the question that’s on paper.
 
14:17
Janet HaworthBiography
No, sorry.
 
14:17
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Well, no; are you going to ask the question, or shall we move on?
 
14:17
Janet HaworthBiography
Yes, sorry about that.
 
Asylum Seekers
 
14:17
Janet HaworthBiography
1. Will the Minister provide an update on plans to settle asylum seekers in Wales? OAQ(4)0420(CTP)
 
14:17
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Asylum policy and the dispersal of asylum seekers is not devolved to the Welsh Government. However, we welcome asylum seekers within the four dispersal areas in Wales.
 
14:18
Janet HaworthBiography
Minister, you will be aware that people in our regions and constituencies are deeply concerned about the refugee crisis, and our local authorities will be at the forefront of any resettlement plans. So, when will you be able to provide more information about settlement plans?
 
14:18
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I'm assuming that the Member is referring to the Syrian refugee resettlement programme that’s being led by the UK Government, which we are working very closely on with the Minister for Syrian refugees in the UK Government. You will be aware that all 22 local authorities are keen to resettle Syrian refugees. There are four—Ceredigion, Torfaen, Neath Port Talbot, and Caerphilly—which settled approximately 50 Syrian refugees before Christmas, and I know that the other 18 local authorities are at different stages in their considerations.
 
14:19
Joyce WatsonBiography
I've raised these concerns a number of times, Minister, and now Europol estimates that at least 10,000 unaccompanied children have disappeared after arriving in Europe. Many are feared to have fallen into the hands of organised traffickers, and the number in the UK alone this month has doubled. The UK Government has said that Britain will only take in vulnerable children identified in Italy and Greece who have a family connection in the UK—so, no children from Calais—and Wales is, of course, bound by that decision. But can you update us, Minister, on the Syrian resettlement programme here in Wales, and can you provide an update on what we as a country are doing to take in and identify and protect child refugees?
 
14:19
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I thank Joyce Watson for that question. You heard my answer to Janet Haworth regarding where the local authorities are in relation to the Syrian refugee resettlement programme. Next week we’ll be having the second taskforce looking at the Syrian refugee programme, which I’ll be chairing. On Monday I’m having a telephone conversation with Richard Harrington, who’s the UK Government Minister, to see what the UK Government are doing in relation to the vast numbers of unaccompanied children that you’ve just referred to. You’ll be aware that the UK Government had said no unaccompanied children would be in the first tranche of refugees coming into the country, but once I have that update from the Minister I’ll be very happy to update Members.
 
14:20
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
In relation to your response to Janet Haworth, will you join with me in congratulating Ceredigion council, wisely and strongly led by Elen ap Gwynne, for the way that a welcome and accommodation was provided to Syrian refugees before Christmas?
 
14:21
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, certainly I will. I mentioned there are four local authorities—Ceredigion, Torfaen, Neath Port Talbot and Caerphilly—who have absolutely led the way. I think in relation specifically to Ceredigion, they haven’t had any refugees or asylum seekers in the area before, so they’d gone to a great deal of hard work and commitment to ensure that when those refugees arrive—because you’ll appreciate, just before Christmas is not the best time, perhaps, looking at public services closing down over Christmas. So I think certainly those four local authorities, including Ceredigion, have certainly led the way.
 
14:21
Eluned ParrottBiography
Minister, I’ve had representations from a number of constituents who would wish to offer a home to an unaccompanied child should the UK Government do what it ought to and accept more of those vulnerable young people into our country. I wonder if the Welsh Government had considered establishing a register for those people so that some of the pre-checks and the paperwork could perhaps be done in advance.
 
14:22
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Several individuals from across Wales have written to me offering accommodation, and what I have done is put them in touch with their relevant local authority, because I think it’s something that they can discuss. I know the UK Government have looked at what could be done in regard to this matter, but I think that, because of the refugees that are coming in, maybe placement in an individual’s home is not the best place for them. But I think that it’s something where certainly local authorities are keen to accumulate that information, and again, I will ask the Minister for an update when I have my telephone conversation with him on Monday.
 
14:22
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Question 2, Janet Finch-Saunders.
 
Will Members try and keep up?
 
Community Asset Transfers
 
14:22
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
2. Will the Minister make a statement on community asset transfers? OAQ(4)0417(CTP)
 
14:22
Lesley GriffithsBiography
On 7 December, I published a written statement on protecting community assets. This provided an update on the responses to the consultation, which closed on 11 September. Welsh Government continues to support work in this area. Legislative action on community assets will need to be considered by a future Government.
 
14:23
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Thank you, Minister. So often we hear in this Chamber the comparison stories of the success of the UK Government. Well, here’s another one. The community right to bid in England has increased year on year, with more than 2,600 now listed across the country, to include pubs. One hundred and fifty—yes, 150—assets have now been transferred into community ownership. Minister, your Government simply refuses to adopt this model, and yet the figures stack up so positively. Can you tell the Chamber how many assets have been transferred to community ownership under this Welsh Labour Government?
 
14:23
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I don’t have that figure to hand, but what I am very pleased about is that, following the consultation, it was very apparent that the majority of respondents to that consultation want a Wales-specific approach. I’ll certainly have a look at what has been done in England, particularly in relation to the Localism Act 2011, but certainly my officials are working very hard now with really good stakeholder engagement out there to find that alternative approach in Wales.
 
14:24
Ann JonesBiography
Minister, you refer to the consultation document on your proposals for community asset transfer, which have been widely welcomed. I think it’s important to ensure that we keep important local services and facilities and we continue those facilities, and also to create jobs and skills within our local communities for local people. Do you agree with me, then, that we need to listen to all those who supported your consultation?
 
You’ve referred to the excellent consultation responses we’ve had back, but they want to see a specific Welsh community asset transfer project and scheme, and that’s what we should be working towards.
 
14:25
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, absolutely; I think the consultation did find very popular support, as I said, in establishing a Wales-specific approach. The majority of respondents also felt that decisions should be taken at a local level, and, if there are any lists to be kept, that they should be kept at a local level, informed by local context. So, I do absolutely remain of the view that we should have an approach that is tailored to what’s best for Wales. I am having further work done on this, as I said, but it will be an issue, if we do need legislation, for the next Government.
 
14:25
Aled RobertsBiography
Minister, there are a number of proposals at present in north Wales to transfer community assets, including some libraries. One of the problems that have become apparent is that the councils aren’t willing to release the bibliographies that are kept centrally. So, will you have some discussions with your fellow Minister Ken Skates, to see whether it would be possible for you to look at this, because it’s a fundamental barrier at present to these proposals going ahead?
 
14:26
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, absolutely. I was not aware of that, but I’ll be very happy to have a discussion with Ken Skates around that, because if that is a barrier to libraries being taken into community ownership, then, clearly, it’s something I’m sure that could be easily got over. But I’m very happy to have that discussion and I’ll write to the Member with the outcome.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
14:26
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from the party spokespeople. First this afternoon, the Welsh Conservatives’ spokesperson, Mohammad Asghar.
 
14:26
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you, Madam Presiding Officer. Minister, I welcome the decision to award Disability Wales funding to allow it to continue its work promoting the rights, independence and equality of disabled people following its initial loss of core funding. However, Disability Wales’s income will still be substantially reduced. Now that responsibility for Disability Wales rests with your department, will you work closely with the organisation during its strategic review to ensure it has a sustainable future here in Wales?
 
14:27
Lesley GriffithsBiography
As the Member pointed out, the organisation failed in its bid for funding; it was a competitive process in which they didn’t succeed in getting that funding. I do fund them, and I’m working very closely with the organisation to see whether we can find a way forward. I’m not quite sure how you can say that there’ll be a loss of core funding, because that sum of money hasn’t been reached yet, but I’m very happy to continue working with them. I met with many of them from the organisation last week at an event to celebrate some training courses that many of their members had undertaken.
 
14:28
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you, Minister, but still the funding is reduced. The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee has made more than 30 recommendations to tackle discrimination against transgender people. These include a root-and-branch review of NHS treatment of transgender people, more training of school staff to better support gender-variant young people and training for police officers on transphobic hate crimes. Will the Minister consider these recommendations and make a statement to this Assembly on what measures she will take to promote transgender equality in Wales?
 
14:28
Lesley GriffithsBiography
That’s something I have been focusing on over the past 12 months, and I’ve had several meetings again with members of the transgender community. I think we have taken forward a considerable piece of work. I’ll be very happy to look at any recommendations that come forward.
 
14:28
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you, Minister. The UK Government has launched an Educate Against Hate website as part of a renewed drive to tackle extremism in our schools. Minister, will you join me in welcoming this initiative, and what discussions have you had with ministerial colleagues about introducing measures to tackle possible extremism in our schools in Wales?
 
14:29
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Again, this is an area that’s been a focus right across Government. I recently had a meeting with my colleagues Huw Lewis, the Minister for Education and Skills, and Leighton Andrews, the Minister for Public Services to see exactly what more we can do with our students in schools across Wales.
 
14:29
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the acting Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Lindsay Whittle.
 
14:29
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Minister, many young people find access to better and higher-paid jobs becomes a lot easier when they have internships or voluntary work experience that they can point to. Often, in a competitive job market, this can mean the difference between getting and losing out on a job. Many of our young people from poorer backgrounds simply don’t have the means or opportunities to be able to do these things. How can we, please, level the playing field, by providing more access to voluntary work and internships for younger people from poorer backgrounds?
 
14:30
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I think you raise a very important point there, because, often, I’m sure Members around the Chamber will have been contacted to see if we can help with work experience et cetera, and, often, it’s the parents who contact us because they know us et cetera. So, I think you do raise a point that young people from more deprived backgrounds, perhaps, haven’t got those contacts. It’s certainly something that I’ve discussed with officials to see what more we can do, within some of our current programmes, for instance, to see if there’s an aspect of it where we can give work experience to pupils from Communities First areas. That’s one area I have been focusing on.
 
14:30
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Thank you for your answer, Minister. I appreciate we’re in the early stages of the budget process at the moment, but has the Welsh Government made any assessment of the impact of cuts to further education on female learners, and those groups furthest from study, and, as a consequence, furthest from the workplace?
 
14:31
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I’m sure that has been looked at within our equality impact assessments, but I can’t give you the specifics on that in the Chamber.
 
14:31
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Thank you, Minister. Minister, what is the Welsh Government doing to enable and encourage females to access apprenticeships in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, please?
 
14:31
Lesley GriffithsBiography
That’s a piece of work that has been ongoing for many years, and, certainly, when I was Deputy Minister for Skills, Innovation and Science, that was something that we were encouraging. And I’ve had discussions with my colleague Julie James, the Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology, to see what more we can be doing. Again, it’s a piece of work I’ve been looking at with the Equality and Human Rights Commission—it’s something I’ve discussed with them—and I know there will be an announcement, hopefully this term, regarding apprenticeships.
 
14:31
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Okay. Thank you.
 
14:31
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Welsh Liberal Democrats spokesperson, Peter Black.
 
14:32
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, the ‘South Wales Evening Post’ reports today that they’ve been told by the Welsh Government that the capital money left over from the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales will not be spent, or any announcement made on that, until after the Assembly elections. That is contrary to what you told the committee on 21 January. Could you provide some clarification on this, please?
 
14:32
Lesley GriffithsBiography
You’ll be aware that we’ve now had the, sort of, final report—there’s been several ongoing investigations into RIFW. But it does mean we are now in a position to release some significant funds, which will benefit communities across Wales. We’re currently in discussions. That funding has now been released, but it could be, unfortunately, due to timing, after the election in May.
 
14:32
Peter BlackBiography
Well, thank you for that clarification of your earlier statement to committee, Minister. I’m very disappointed, if that is the case. As you’ll know, there’s a particularly good scheme in Mumbles, around the Mumbles pier, which is desperately in need of that money, and has been on hold since this whole RIFW saga took off. Can I ask whether you could have a look at that Mumbles project particularly to see whether you can assist it to get off the ground more quickly, rather than them having to wait yet more months before they have any idea when they’ll be able to start?
 
14:33
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I know my officials have been in regular contact with representatives from the Mumbles pier project, throughout the period from when RIFW was suspended, and I know the director of housing and regeneration visited the project himself, and has seen the merits of it. So, I will ask officials to continue having those discussions.
 
14:33
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you, Minister. That will be very helpful. It is disappointing the way this money has, effectively, been put to one side, and has not been able to be spent. You will know, of course, that a number of your officials were actually involved with the RIFW board, and also with this whole saga around this expense with this money, and the sale of land. And, of course, the report was very critical of the advice that was given to the RIFW board by external consultants, but also, I assume, by Welsh Government officials, who were involved with this as well. What action is the Welsh Government taking against officials who provided that advice, which proved to be so wrong-headed?
 
14:34
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, you’ll be aware this project was introduced back in 2010. The report has now come forward to the Welsh Government, and I’ve committed to giving a response before the end of this term. So, the Public Accounts Committee report is something we are considering very carefully, and I’m sure the questions you ask will be answered in our response.
 
Communities First
 
14:34
Mohammad AsgharBiography
3. What systems are in place to monitor the effectiveness of the Communities First programme? OAQ(4)0411(CTP)
 
14:34
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. The Aspireview performance management system, based on results-based accountability, provides reports on Communities First outputs and outcomes. This allows performance monitoring, comparison and feedback on local and national levels against the programme’s outcomes framework. Increasingly positive outcomes have been reported. Performance data for 2014-15 were published on our website.
 
14:35
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you for the detailed reply, Minister. The Communities First programme was set up to narrow the economic, skills and health gaps between the most deprived and more affluent areas. However, in 2013-14, Swansea city council underspent its Communities First budget by £550,000. Last year, Swansea underspent by over £200,000, and now, this year, most probably, there’ll be more than £160,000 underspent in Swansea. Will the Minister advise as to how much money has been returned to the Welsh Government by local authorities not spending their Communities First funding, and how this spending is monitored to ensure that value for money is achieved rather than wasted?
 
14:36
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Not all Communities First lead delivery bodies are local authorities. A number of them are third sector organisations. So, I can’t specifically give you those figures now. One of your colleagues has put in a written Assembly question asking exactly the same, and once that question is answered to her, I will make sure that you get the same answer also.
 
14:36
Jenny RathboneBiography
My concern is whether or not we’re really reaching the families who most need the services of Communities First. How do we know that programmes aren’t simply dealing with the people who actually turn up rather than those who most need it, who need that outreach? So, what work is done with the statistics you collect to ensure that these are meaningful figures, and that we are worrying more about the people we’re not seeing than the people we are seeing?
 
14:36
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I think you raise a very important point. Obviously, Communities First is a universal programme. It’s not means-tested—it’s available to absolutely everybody in that area, but it’s really important that we reach the people who need it the most. And, certainly, my experience of Communities First is that the outreach workers—the people who go out in the communities—are reaching those families. Certainly, if you think that the programme has been our flagship tackling poverty programme for 17 years, the work that those people have done in the communities, building up the trust and confidence, with individuals in the community, has led them to be able to ensure that we are indeed reaching out to people who really need our support.
 
Equality in Employment
 
14:37
Julie MorganBiography
4. What progress has been made by the Welsh Government in promoting equality in employment in Wales? OAQ(4)0421(CTP)
 
14:37
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. Good progress has been made on all our programme for government and strategic equality plan actions to promote equality in employment in Wales. These include tackling inequality in the devolved public sector, addressing pay and employment differences and encouraging inclusive workplaces.
 
14:37
Julie MorganBiography
I thank the Minister for that response. Is there anything the Welsh Government could do to incentivise private companies to take on people with a hearing loss? I’m sure that the Minister is aware that people with a hearing loss are four times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population, and often people do hide the fact that they’ve got a hearing loss when they try to get jobs.
 
14:38
Lesley GriffithsBiography
You raise a very important point about the private sector, because, obviously, Welsh Government doesn’t have all the levers to be able to support disabled people or people with a hearing loss into employment. I attended an event by Action on Hearing Loss in June last year, which was about supporting people with sensory loss, and one of the main issues that came up was the lack of employment opportunities for these people. I invited Action on Hearing Loss to give a presentation at the disability equality forum, which I chair, back in November, and, again, we had a look at what the barriers to jobs were facing people with hearing loss and what we could do to support them. You’ll be aware that the main source of support for people with hearing loss to get into employment is the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pension’s Access to Work programme, and my officials work very closely with DWP officials through regular liaison channels to raise concerns in order to try and improve matters for disabled people in Wales.
 
14:39
William GrahamBiography
Minister, I’d like to ask what discussions you’ve had with ministerial colleagues regarding the proposed reduction in the higher education budget. You will know that this will have a serious impact on part-time education courses and that these are excellent in promoting both women and mature students to gain better qualifications, therefore better jobs, and leads to true equality in the employment workplace.
 
14:39
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I haven’t had a specific meeting with the Minister for Education and Skills on that point, but I know that is something he will have considered, looking at his budget.
 
14:40
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Minister, I don’t know if you read yesterday’s ‘Western Mail’, but I’d be interested in your response to the recent survey highlighted there, which shows that there’s a significant gap between the levels of pay received by Black and Asian workers compared with those received by other workers.
 
14:40
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I didn’t read it specifically in the ‘Western Mail’, but I have been made aware of that research. I think it’s something that is of concern and I’ve asked officials to look at it and provide me with a briefing on that.
 
Credit Unions
 
14:40
Mark IsherwoodBiography
5. What support is there for credit unions in Wales? OAQ(4)0415(CTP)
 
14:40
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. Presiding Officer, I declare that I’m a member of the North Wales Credit Union. Almost £1.9 million has been committed to support credit unions until March 2017. This project allows them to support financially excluded people who may not be able to access mainstream financial products. The funding has enabled more than 18,000 loans to be made to individuals, totalling £14.5 million.
 
14:40
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Thank you. At last Saturday’s annual general meeting of the North Wales Credit Union, we heard that there are 52 million loan transactions annually in the UK and it is estimated that in over 35 million of them, people would save by using a credit union, yet only 2 per cent of people in Wales currently use credit unions. Given that the key issue facing credit unions in Wales and England is financial sustainability and that currently Welsh Government funding is due to end in 2017, how do you respond to the concern expressed by the Association of British Credit Unions Limited—which represents 12 of the 20 Welsh credit unions and works with credit unions in Wales to develop a collaborative strategy—that we need the next Welsh Government to provide capacity building support for that transition beyond 2017?
 
14:41
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I think we have provided that capacity support and certainly—. You mentioned the North Wales Credit Union—I think they have done some fantastic work around building capacity. If you think about the work that they’ve done with the private sector too—Airbus, I think, Mark, was one of the first private sector companies to come on board, and it was the North Wales Credit Union that did that.
 
But I think the most important point you raise there is that so few people access credit unions and don’t see it as a first port of call, for instance, if they are looking for a loan. I think I take every opportunity, as I’m sure we all do, to raise the profile of credit unions and try and make more people aware and get more members also. I have to say that, across Government, I’ve had very good support from ministerial colleagues within their portfolios to try and ensure that particularly the public sector do payroll schemes for credit unions.
 
14:42
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
It’s important that our children get the saving habit early. Will the Minister comment on the role of credit unions in this important work that will provide lifelong benefits for our young people?
 
14:42
Lesley GriffithsBiography
You raise a very important point and I’ve been to some very good junior savers programmes and schemes in Wales. I visited Cadoxton Primary School, where there was specifically a very good scheme set up, with a queue of very young people—I would say, probably years 1 and 2, so four, five and six years of age—queuing with their coins to put their weekly savings into the credit union. So, I think that it’s really important that if we start those good financial habits early in life, hopefully they will go through with them.