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The Assembly met at 13:32 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
 
13:32
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.
 
13:32
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister. Question 1 is Jenny Rathbone.
 
Keep Sunday Special Campaign
 
13:32
Jenny RathboneBiography
1. What is the Welsh Government doing to support the Keep Sunday Special campaign? OAQ(4)2712(FM)
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Sunday trading is not a devolved matter and we are currently awaiting further details on the UK Government’s proposals. But it’s hugely important, of course, that the interests of those who work on a Sunday are protected and that the privileges that they enjoy now continue in the future.
 
13:32
Jenny RathboneBiography
It’s obviously very disappointing to those who’ve been campaigning to keep Sunday special, particularly in relation to the 130,000 or so shop workers in Wales, who had thought that the UK Government had pledged not to tamper with the Sunday trading laws, but they’re now doing it through the backdoor, through the enterprise Bill. What can the Welsh Government do to protect the family life of shop workers in Wales?
 
13:33
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We take the view that this is an issue that should be devolved. We have argued for this to be devolved. We look forward to a response from the UK Government with regard to that. I can say that, should these powers be devolved, we will consult with the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, with local authorities, with businesses, with shop workers and the public, and we would listen to what they say and act accordingly.
 
13:33
William GrahamBiography
Noting what you said, First Minister, you’ll acknowledge that the majority of local authorities in the United Kingdom would rather like to have these powers so they could interpret them in the best way locally. Would you support such a move?
 
13:33
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I believe that these powers should be devolved to the people of Wales. It’s a matter then for this institution to decide where those powers should go, in the same way as is true of Scotland and Northern Ireland. I fail to see why Wales should be treated differently.
 
NHS Waiting Times (South Wales Central)
 
13:34
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government action to address NHS waiting times in South Wales Central? OAQ(4)2711(FM)
 
13:34
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We have set up the planned care programme, led by clinicians, to help develop sustainable services in NHS Wales. To assist this, we have invested an additional £45 million in 2015-16, to assist local health boards to deliver the improvements in waiting times set out in their integrated medium-term plans.
 
13:34
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Thank you, First Minister, for that answer. We know, under your First Minister’s tenure, that waiting times have doubled here in Wales. In South Wales Central, there is a particular issue around orthopaedic waiting times, and the BBC stats recently showed considerable waits for hips for example—a 197-day wait in Wales, as opposed to 75 days in England. What comfort can you give to my constituents in South Wales Central as to what action the Government will be taking to actually drive down waiting times so that when they do present at hospital the consultant is in the position to give them a time that they can count on to have the procedure?
 
13:35
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, let’s look at A&E, for example. The number of people spending more than 12 hours in A&E departments in Wales has fallen—a 23 per cent drop—in December 2015, compared with the previous month. We know, however, that the number of people waiting for the same amount of time in England in A&E has doubled to 124,000 people in two years. We know that delayed transfers of care are increasing in England. We know that diagnostic waiting times are dropping in Wales. We know that people are waiting less time for operations and we know that, unlike in England, we don’t have the chaos—the Cameron’s chaos of a junior doctors strike.
 
13:35
Mick AntoniwBiography
First Minister, we know that one of the contributors to waiting lists is the impact upon adult social care, which the Tories would separate from the NHS. In England, the example is that there’s been a 15 per cent cut in spending on adult social care, and a 100 per cent increase in bedblocking, increasing from 50,000 a month, to 100,000 a month. The Tories would decimate adult social care. Do you agree that the Welsh Government’s position of supporting adult social care as part and parcel of NHS treatment contributes to better treatment and better outcomes for all?
 
13:36
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, it’s the tendency of the Tories in England to suggest that, somehow, there is no connection between health and social care. [Interruption.]
 
13:36
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Excuse me; we’re only on question 2. Can you just calm down, please, and listen to the First Minister reply? And that’s you in particular, Darren Millar, so you needn’t cheer. First Minister.
 
13:36
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The Tories have a tendency to suggest that, somehow, there is no connection between health and social care, and so they have cut social care to the bone in England, they have offloaded the responsibility for providing social care to the local authorities, so the poorest authorities will have the greatest problem in providing social care. We in Wales spend more, per head, on health and social services than England does—seven per cent more—and we will continue to look after those who need care the most.
 
13:37
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
That’s an interesting answer to that question, First Minister, because, when Plaid Cymru talks about integrating health and social care services, Labour accuses us of wanting to abolish the NHS, which is a blatant lie.
 
Now, First Minister, in some parts of South Wales Central, obtaining a GP appointment can be a long and drawn-out process. The issue is particularly acute in the northernmost parts of the Rhondda, where the Royal College of General Practitioners tell us that half of all GPs are nearing retirement. For Members who are not aware, the Rhondda is in South Wales Central. Now, access to a GP has not been helped by the removal of the out-of-hours service in the Rhondda and Cynon. Now, when primary care is weak, there is an inevitable knock-on effect on hospitals, by increasing the demand on waiting times and services. First Minister, you have previously admitted that you took your eye off the ball when it comes to education; do you now admit that you’ve taken your eye off the ball with health and doctor recruitment too?
 
13:38
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, the leader of Plaid Cymru seems to think we’re already into leaders’ questions. I’m sure that she’s aware we’re still on question 2. The overall GP numbers in Wales have increased by 10.5 per cent between 2004 and 2015. There are now over 2,000 GPs serving communities across Wales. We know, of course, that this is a global market when it comes to attracting doctors, and that’s why we launched the targeted campaign called Make your Future Part of our Future, explaining why Wales, for example, is a great place to be a junior doctor. Where there are retirements, local health boards have plans in place. Where practices have decided to close their doors, salaried GPs have been put in place instead, and we’ve seen that, for example, in Betsi Cadwaladr. In fairness, I don’t accuse Plaid Cymru of trying to dismantle the NHS—I know that they want to see an improved public health service, as we do. We don’t agree with them in terms of the structure they want to impose, but, nevertheless, we’re in the same position in that regard. But we have more and more—we have 2,000—more GPs since 2004 and they are serving our communities well.
 
13:39
Eluned ParrottBiography
First Minister, there is a big discrepancy between the referral-to-diagnostic-testing time for cancer patients on the urgent route and those on the non-urgent route. I wonder what additional support the Welsh Government could put in place for primary care to make sure that, when GPs are making this decision between urgent and non-urgent referrals, they are confident that they’re making both safe and appropriate decisions?
 
13:40
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I don’t see this as a particular issue in South Wales Central, but nevertheless it’s right to say that more GPs are referring people at an early stage, quite naturally, if they suspect that cancer might be present. For the vast majority of people, of course, that isn’t the case, but the referral is made anyway. That diagnosis then is made usually within 22 days, although for some cancers it can be more difficult to try and identify what the problem is. Pancreatic cancer is a particular issue, as we know, because the symptoms can be so general and can mimic the symptoms of other illnesses. But we know, of course, that we outperform England when it comes to the 31-day target, or the 31-day timetable, for urgent cancer, and the 62-day timetable for non-urgent cancers, and we intend to make sure that that continues to be the case in the future.
 
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
 
13:41
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from the party leaders, and first this afternoon is the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
 
13:41
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, at the last National Assembly elections, my party said that we would provide more money for schools by targeting additional moneys at pupils who need it most. Today’s budget means that the pupil premium will be worth £1,150 per pupil in April, thanks to the Welsh Liberal Democrats. And the recent Estyn report said that that is making a material difference to those children. To quality for this support, First Minister, parents must register for free school meals. What work will your Government undertake to ensure that every child who needs this support will receive this help?
 
13:41
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I’m not aware of this being a particular issue. It’s important, of course, that schools are able to communicate with parents so that parents are aware of the support that is available to them, and local education authorities, of course, have a responsibility to do the same thing.
 
13:41
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
First Minister, it is an issue; some families believe that there is a stigma in making an application for free school meals, and they should be assured that it is not only in their interest but in the pupil’s school’s interest to make that application. It will make a material difference to their children’s school budget. But the budget this afternoon will also deliver additional funding for the health service, and as with schools funding, that will only be worth while if it makes a material difference to the outcome for people. What impact will you expect for patients in Wales, and what fresh and new ideas do you have to make sure that the additional resources going into the NHS make a genuine difference to patients’ experiences?
 
13:42
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
First of all, can I recognise what she said about free school meals and suggest a way forward? I know there are some schools in Wales who have pioneered plastic cards that are pre-loaded with money for some pupils, but which, of course, can be used without money pre-loaded for those on free school meals. No-one knows the difference; that’s the important thing. When I was in school, those on free school meals had a different coloured dinner ticket, as we called them. Those days thankfully, hopefully, are largely gone, but that’s one way, of course, of removing that stigma, which the leader of the Liberal Democrats is quite right to say still exists.
 
When it comes to health, of course, we want to see delivery—we want to see diagnostic waiting times continuing to go down, A&E waits continuing to go down, waiting times for operations continuing to go down, to see the timetables that we’ve put in place for cancer treatments improving and to see ambulance response times continuing to improve as well. It is important, of course, that, as more money goes in, so people can see the outputs being delivered at the end.
 
13:43
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
One of the parts of the NHS that we know really does frustrate people, and a problem that you promised action on in this Government, is accessing their GP when they want it. For many people, a three-week wait for a GP appointment is not uncommon. Will you look at Welsh Liberal Democrat plans to invest in a properly funded access-to-GP scheme that would incentivise GPs to broaden the primary healthcare team so that they only see people who they need to see? And would you accept that spending money on expensive locum cover to provide support when a GP retires is not an efficient use of NHS money?
 
13:44
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
First of all, there’s difference between a locum and a salaried GP. The reality is that most GPs now are looking at the salaried model more favourably than the contractor model. They want the flexibility, as they don’t want to be tied down to one practice for the rest of their working lives, and they’re not interested in buying into a practice. And more and more GPs want to have the flexibility of being salaried. That’s not the same as being a locum—you don’t have to buy in as a partner into a practice in order to be seen as a proper GP. So, in terms of access to GPs, it does vary, that’s true. There are some GP surgeries in Wales where appointments can be made and a doctor seen that day; I know it, because I see it in my own area. There are others who are not as efficient. There is a challenge there, and we have improved, of course, the situation with regard to people being able to access GPs at evenings and at weekends, but there is a challenge there for some GP practices to catch up with the best practice of others. There is no reason in the future why there should be that level of discrepancy. We are talking about independent contractors, but that discussion will continue to make sure that what has been delivered so far in terms of access at evenings and at weekends continues in the future.
 
13:45
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
 
13:45
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. First Minister, the budget is laid for debate this afternoon and, flowing from that budget, the draft local government settlement has been laid also for consideration. I see on the forward outlook that the date for that to come to the Assembly to be voted on is 8 March. Are you confident that that draft settlement that has been made available to local authorities the length and breadth of Wales will be the settlement we will be voting on here on 8 March, or do you see that there will be changes to mitigate the devastating impact of some of those cuts to rural authorities?
 
13:45
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Despite the Tory cuts that have been imposed on us over the last five years, we are confident that the local government settlement will be fair in that context.
 
13:46
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
So, I take it from that that it will be the settlement that we will be voting on on 8 March and that there will be no leveller or stabiliser put in for local authorities, such as Powys, such as Ceredigion, such as Pembrokeshire or Monmouthshire, which do face draconian cutbacks in their services—up to 4 per cent for Powys.
 
Another thing you’ve got in your budget, First Minister, is higher education. A 32 per cent cut to higher education here in Wales is being made by your Government if this budget passes. That will put a dramatic amount of pressure on part-time courses, on access to higher education, and, above all, on research in universities. We know that there is less money around, but what will your Government be doing to assist universities, making sure that there is access to universities for students from deprived backgrounds, that there is support for university-based research, and that there is support for part-time courses, given that you have chosen to cut 32 per cent out of the support to higher education?
 
13:47
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The leader of the opposition is trying to prejudge the budget statement, and I’m not going to be tempted into that. He’ll have to wait and see what’s announced in the draft final budget. I have to say to him that he has declared that he wishes to see local government cut by 12 per cent. He’s declared it. There’s no getting away from it; it’s there in writing in the document that his party produced as an alternative draft budget, and he has not changed his position since then. When he was asked this question on the radio, he said, ‘We haven’t crunched the numbers yet.’ Well, it’s up to him. It’s not his question session—I understand that—but there will come a time when the people of Wales will want to know what cuts his party proposes to make to local government. He can’t run from that question forever. At the moment, it’s 12 per cent. That’s the cut he wants. That’s an equivalent of a 38 per cent increase in council tax.
 
The second thing he mentioned was higher education. He wants to triple tuition fees for students—to impose a tax on students along the same lines as in England. We’ve seen the cuts in higher education in England. We are not going to sell our students down the river, and we are not going to put our students in a position where they leave college with enormous levels of debt. That’s exactly what his party and he want to do.
 
13:48
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
You’ve offered no answers whatsoever, First Minister. You refer back to a budget that was offered before the electorate in 2011. I accept that you won that election; you formed the Government. We are now in 2016. If our budget had come forward, there would not have been £1 billion-worth of cuts to the Welsh NHS, which you are rapidly trying to back-pedal on. I welcome a sinner that repenteth and who’s coming over to us—coming over to our line on protecting the health budget. Well done to you, First Minister. But I’ve asked you legitimate questions today on the budget that will be before us later. In that budget you have also got an increase in your central services budget of £7.5 million, yet you’re taking £32 million out of HE. That is a fact; that is there in black and white. So, why do you need £7.5 million in the central services budget as an increase for you being a Government, yet you’re prepared to take 32 per cent out of HE, and not prepared to invest in local service delivery by rural authorities?
 
13:49
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
As I said to him, the budget statement will come later, and there’ll be an opportunity to ask questions at the appropriate time. It wouldn’t be right for the statement to be prejudged. I have to say to him that he keeps on saying that the figures I referred to are old. Fine. Where are the up-to-date figures? There aren’t any. There aren’t any. So, again, I remind people: a 12 per cent cut in local government, a 12 per cent cut in education, a 30 per cent cut in the economy and transport, huge cuts in housing, huge cuts in central services.
 
He talks about £1 billion cut from the health service. It’s not true, because we know, of course, that we spend more on health than England does per head. So, we know that’s clearly untrue, and he never says, if he had spent another £1 billion, where it would’ve come from, because in the cloud-cuckoo-land that exists over in that part of the Chamber, money grows on trees. There’s no question of making difficult decisions, there’s no question of having to make cuts in order to pay for priorities, money grows on trees—£1 billion could be found at the drop of a hat. The reality is that the people of Wales need to have a prudent and realistic Government and not one—as the opposition would be—that is away with the fairies.
 
13:50
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the leader of the Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
 
13:50
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
Diolch, Lywydd. A fortnight ago, First Minister, I asked you to reverse your plans to make savage cuts to the funding of our universities. You declined and you essentially told universities to put up with those cuts. Now, you further rejected claims that there would be job losses as a result of those cuts to the university sector. Can you confirm now, this afternoon, that there won’t be a last-minute u-turn on university funding when your budget is presented later on?
 
13:51
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
That will become clear when the budget is presented.
 
13:51
Leanne WoodBiography
Well, that’s an interesting answer, First Minister, and I’m not quite sure whether or not this means that you continue to be in denial about the impact of your proposals, so perhaps some evidence from Cardiff University might be helpful to you. They said, and I quote:
 
‘In 2015-16, HEFCW has prioritised direct funding to universities to help sustain undergraduate medicine and dentistry. 2015-16 already saw a 50% reduction in HEFCW funding to this provision; further erosion or loss of this funding will put at risk the education of doctors and dentists within Wales for Wales. These subjects cost more than £15,000 per student per year and clearly cannot be delivered from the Residual Fee of £6,230 alone. At a time when the Health budget is being increased, reducing investment in the next generation of doctors and dentists would be contradictory.’
 
Cardiff University, therefore, believes that there will be far-reaching consequences of your cuts to the higher education sector. Do you accept that?
 
13:52
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
No, and Cardiff University is not the only university in Wales. It also has £300 million of the reserves. Now, I don’t think it’s unreasonable, when a sector has £1.3 billion in reserves in total, that they have to manage what will be small decreases in their budgets. Cardiff alone has £300 million. So, yes, it is challenging. It was challenging for further education last year; it’s been challenging across Government. But it’s not asking too much for higher education, with their income having expanded significantly since 2012, to be able to manage what is, in the context of things, quite a small budget cut.
 
13:53
Leanne WoodBiography
First Minister, Cardiff University is not the only university in Wales and not all universities have the same levels of reserves as Cardiff University might have. I reiterate to you today, First Minister: drop those planned cuts, support Welsh education, support a secure future for our NHS service. You are consistently refusing to give us a vision for higher education in this country. Why? Because you don’t have one, do you? The only thing that we have had confirmed is that you want to make a £41 million cut, which is a 32 per cent cut, to Welsh universities. Why are you meting out Tory cuts to a sector that this country relies upon for its future prosperity as well as its future health professionals?
 
13:54
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, unless the leader of Plaid Cymru has a crystal ball, she has no way of knowing what’s going to be in the budget statement—
 
13:54
Leanne WoodBiography
Well, you were meant to answer the question about it.
 
13:54
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Order, order. [Interruption.] Order, order. First Minister.
 
13:54
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, the shouting in that regard gives it away, doesn’t it? The statement is later. That’s when you get the answers, okay. The statement is later, and there will be a debate and you’ll get the chance to ask those questions then. The reality is, from your point of view, I can tell you there are many in the university sector who disagree with the tuition fee grant and with your proposals, which is to make sure that people who stay in Wales get their fees paid, which is what you’ve always said in the past—[Interruption.]—Oh, it’s not. So, it’s not Plaid Cymru policy; well, we’ll wait and see what—. I am accused of not having a vision for universities. Now, we don’t know what on earth Plaid Cymru’s policy actually is. The budget statement will make it absolutely clear. If you had not ruled yourself out of the budget discussions at the very beginning, you might have had a say in things.
 
13:55
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you. Leaders’ questions are now finished, and we move back to questions on the paper. Question 3 is Lindsay Whittle.
 
Funding for Hospices
 
13:55
Lindsay WhittleBiography
3. What is the current Welsh Government policy on funding for hospices in Wales? OAQ(4)2709(FM)
 
13:55
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We continue to support the development of end-of-life and specialist palliative care services, including hospices in Wales. That includes £3 million-worth of funding to support the new St David’s hospice in Newport.
 
13:55
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Thank you for your answer, First Minister. Could you please explain why, over the past five years, Welsh Government funding for hospices in Wales has fallen from 24 per cent of their running costs to just 19 per cent? Now, surely, despite any stress on budgets, and I know it is tough, such a vital service as that provided by hospices must be safeguarded and not threatened, and I would urge you to reconsider that. It would be extremely costly for the NHS if any of the charities went into liquidation due to lack of funding, as most of the service delivery would need to be picked up through our core NHS services.
 
13:56
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The fact that we’re funding the hospice in Newport is a sign of our commitment. We are the only country in the UK to provide 24/7 support and advice to health professionals caring for people approaching the end of their lives. Since 2008, we’ve invested £6.4 million annually in end-of-life and specialist palliative care services in Wales. An additional £1 million was announced in 2015-16 to support the delivery of the end-of-life care plan in addition to that funding, and over £900,000 of that new money will be used to expand hospice-at-home provision across Wales. The remaining money will be used to fund end-of-life care initiatives, such as advanced care planning and public awareness-raising events.
 
13:57
Altaf HussainBiography
First Minister, on the same day that Marie Curie launched its daffodil appeal, we are debating a draft budget that will see £0.3 million removed from hospice support. Hospices are essential, as you said—part of Wales’s end-of-life-care. The focus of modern hospice care is on helping people to live well until they die. We need to ensure that, regardless of where you live in Wales, you’ll be able to access hospice care. Therefore, First Minister, will you ensure that hospices receive sustainable funding?
 
13:57
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, which is why I referred to the point I made earlier on—that we have ensured that funding remains, we have put extra money into care, and we haven’t cut funding for social care as the Member’s party has done in England. Social care has been absolutely hammered in England. We know that the responsibility has been passed on to local authorities, which are ill placed to fund that social care. We will not do that in Wales and we will continue to fund social care at the level people expect.
 
Businesses that Export
 
13:58
Gwenda ThomasBiography
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the development of businesses that export? OAQ(4)2702(FM)
 
13:58
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. Increasing exports from Wales is a key priority for the Welsh Government. We offer a range of measures to support Welsh exporters at each stage of their export journey, including free one-to-one advice, help to find new customers, and help to access overseas markets.
 
13:58
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Thank you for that, First Minister. I note that the Exporting is GREAT tool comes to Wales this month and will assist companies in developing their exports to Europe and the rest of the world. Do you agree with me, First Minister, that, if we leave the European Union, trading with this economic bloc will be made far more difficult?
 
13:59
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
There is no question about it. We’ve all seen the difficulties that the Prime Minister has had in negotiating a new settlement thus far. I support his position, that he wants us to stay in the EU. No-one else in his party seems to, or they’re not being very vocal about it, but I support his position. The reality is that, if we don’t get access to the European market that is tariff-free and open, Welsh business will suffer. The idea that if the UK left the EU the EU would fall over itself to put forward a favourable deal for the UK is madness, frankly. It just isn’t going to happen. Why on earth would the European Union want to do that for a UK that had just left the European Union? So, from my point of view, certainty is important for business. The Prime Minister made the point that the Scottish referendum created uncertainty in Scotland; it did. The same thing is happening with this referendum. The fact there is going to be a referendum is creating uncertainty in the UK. It needs to be resolved, although June is not, clearly, my preferred date, nor of others in the Chamber, either, but the reality is that if you have access to a market of 500 million, if you can sell to those people, anything you do to interfere with that access is bound to be bad for manufacturers, for tourism and for farmers.
 
14:00
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I had occasion to have a chat with you last week, Andrew R.T. Davies. Please, don’t keep muttering. If you want to speak, I will call you. Mark Isherwood.
 
14:00
Mark IsherwoodBiography
The latest Welsh Government published figures for exports to the third quarter of 2015 show that, in the year to the third quarter of 2015, six of the 12 UK nations and regions saw an increase in exports, but Wales had the second largest fall at 8.6 per cent, rising to 16.8 per cent for trade and exports to other EU countries. How, therefore, do you respond to the statement in the CBI business manifesto for the 2016 Assembly election that the Welsh Government should develop enhanced export support for medium-sized businesses?
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, the reduction is down to petroleum, which is a significant amount of exports for us. Whenever there is a slowdown in the refineries, or the loss of a refinery, it does affect our export figures. We’ve seen that in the past. But the UK is not performing particularly well. We’ve already seen George Osborne get his excuses in already, saying, ‘Well, if things go badly, it’s all the fault of China, and all the fault of the world economy’. Well, the reality is this: we export nearly half of what we manufacture and produce to the European Union. To lose access to that market is a disaster for business and for our economy. The converse is that the European Union only exports 10 per cent of what it produces to the UK. We are far more reliant on our export market in the EU than the other way around. It’s important that we remember, as we look to the referendum that will take place now this year, that what is at stake here is hundreds and thousands of jobs in Wales. The decision should be taken based on a dose of economic reality and not on some of kind of wild-eyed nationalism.
 
14:02
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
I’d like to highlight the relationship between procurement policy and exports. The First Minister will be aware that I have been calling for steps to be taken to increase the percentage of public contracts in Wales awarded to Welsh companies, and that a Plaid Cymru government would legislate to move in that direction. Does the First Minister agree that promoting Welsh companies by ensuring that more public contracts are awarded is a means of ensuring that those companies can then grow stronger and can develop in their ability to export, and that the Welsh economy, in that way, would have double the benefit?
 
14:02
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, that has happened, of course. A great number of companies now have the opportunity to bid for contracts. Many more Welsh companies are able to win those contracts, compared to what was available in the past. What I can’t agree on is legislating on this. It’s not lawful to set legal targets with regard to how much business should be given to local companies. That’s completely against European law. What’s important is ensuring that we continue to encourage companies, so that they are in a situation to take advantage of the contracts when they arise.
 
14:03
Peter BlackBiography
First Minister, my region faces potential economic devastation with the loss of many hundreds of jobs at Tata Steel. Of course, membership of the European Community is actually absolutely crucial in terms of trying to regenerate that particular area. Can you confirm what work your Government is doing with Europe to try to mitigate those losses and to try to develop new export-led industries in the Port Talbot area?
 
14:03
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We’ve been in correspondence with the European Commission, putting forward our view, very strongly, that there need to be stronger tariff barriers against imports from outside. We are in the process of putting together a financial package, which of itself will not be enough. It will need to be supported by a bigger financial package from the UK Government, and that process is ongoing.
 
Pancreatic Cancer
 
14:04
Mohammad AsgharBiography
5. What support is the Welsh Government giving to help pancreatic cancer patients in Wales? OAQ(4)2707(FM)
 
14:04
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
As part of the cancer delivery plan, the cancer implementation group is taking forward a number of pieces of work, which will improve the recognition of symptoms for cancers such as pancreatic cancer and, once symptoms are identified, enable rapid access to testing, diagnosis and treatment.
 
14:04
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you for that reply, First Minister. Pancreatic cancer has the worst survival rate of the 21 most common cancers in Wales. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has said that the cancer drug Abraxane should not be funded by the NHS in England due to the cost. Will the First Minister assure pancreatic cancer sufferers in Wales that this life-extending drug will continue to be available on the NHS in Wales?
 
14:05
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. It was recently agreed, for example, that we will continue discussions with the manufacturer to explore the options for continued access to Abraxane within NHS Wales. Abraxane will continue to be available in Wales in the interim.
 
Mental Health Services
 
14:05
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on mental health services in north Wales? OAQ(4)2714(FM)
 
14:05
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. On 29 January, the Deputy Minister published the improvement framework for Betsi Cadwaladr. That sets out our expectations for improvement in each of the areas identified under special measures, including mental health.
 
14:05
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Thank you. Support and access to services for under 18-year-olds experiencing severe mental health problems is seen as almost inaccessible in my own constituency of Aberconwy, with young sufferers having to wait for up to two years to access CAMHS. Such a delay at such a very vulnerable time in the life of our youngsters is quite unacceptable, First Minister, and although there has been a recent review into CAMHS, it has certainly not made a ha’penny worth of difference to my sufferers in Aberconwy, or made any change. Indeed, Conwy County Borough Council cannot even access figures for those requiring treatment and intervention by CAMHS. Minister, this is a huge failing on the part of your Government, and you are letting our most vulnerable youngsters down at a time when they are really troubled. What are you doing to address this, please?
 
14:06
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we’ve provided CAMHS with an 18 per cent increase in funding, as the Member will know—£7.6 million. The service change and development programme is being developed by Professor Dame Sue Bailey, and there will be the recruitment of an additional 130 members of staff, who will improve services and reduce waiting times over time.
 
14:07
Bethan JenkinsBiography
First Minister, someone from outside my constituency approached me to help them with a case because they knew that I’d done a lot of work on mental health. This woman had been waiting four years and had told her GP that she had considered committing suicide. It was only when I as an Assembly Member raised this with the GP locally that anything actually happened in terms of providing assistance to her. That could have led to a media story, where she could have done what no-one in this room would have wanted her to have done. What sort of work are you doing with GPs, not to ask them to undertake training, but to require them to take training, so that there won’t be further tragedies in Wales when people don’t actually get the treatment that they need in good time?
 
14:07
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
In relation to the north, additional funding in the north will be used to ensure that psychological treatment is available more quickly, and also early intervention with regard to ensuring that psychosis is dealt with, and, of course, to fund an emergency service for children and young people, especially in the emergency departments in the hospitals. So that funding—I’m talking about Betsi Cadwaladr, but I would expect this to be available across Wales—will ensure that services are available more quickly than perhaps was the case in the past. Of course, there will be more staff available to give that advice and assistance when it’s required.
 
14:08
Aled RobertsBiography
First Minister, you’ve referred to early intervention. Your education Minister has acknowledged the importance of educational psychologists in ensuring that the training course in Cardiff will remain in place. We’re also moving towards the implementation of new legislation in terms of SEN. Can I ask you therefore—? There are problems in north Wales in terms of inconsistencies between local authorities in terms of the fact that a quota is provided to schools in terms of the amount of hours that educational psychologists can work in every school. I’ve looked into that, and there’s been no review since 2004 into this situation in Wales, when responsibility was passed to the local education authorities. Would you be willing to look at this, and review it anew, so that we can consider this as part of the new legislation?
 
14:09
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Fe wnaf i ysgrifennu at yr Aelod ynglŷn â hynny. Mae’n bwysig dros ben, wrth gwrs, fod yna gysondeb, yn enwedig yn y system addysg. Byddaf yn gwneud yn siŵr fy mod yn ysgrifennu at yr Aelod gan nodi safbwynt y Llywodraeth ar hyn o bryd.
 
Stroke Delivery Plan
 
14:09
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the progress the NHS has made towards the Welsh Government's stroke delivery plan? OAQ(4)2708(FM)
 
14:10
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The stroke annual report published last month demonstrates the progress made in delivering the plan. That does includes increased awareness raising, appropriate interventions, improved hospital care and improved discharge and rehabilitation services. These actions have helped to improve survival rates following a stroke and to reduce longer term disabilities.
 
14:10
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. The recent publication of the third all-Wales annual report on stroke shows that 1,000 fewer people are dying from stroke every year than 10 years ago. What does this tell us about the continued dedication of NHS staff and the role they play in delivering this service?
 
14:10
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It tells us a huge amount, and I thank the Member for the question. We have an excellent track record of participating in the national stroke audits run by the Royal College of Physicians. We have a system of intelligent targets, so that data are readily accessible to clinicians, who can then make improvements to stroke services at a local level. Our paramedics, of course, are highly skilled in the rapid identification of stroke patients, and of course our nursing staff have been working very hard to make sure that those who present at hospital who’ve had strokes are offered treatment as rapidly as possible, because we know that that has a huge impact on their ability not just to survive, but to avoid long-term disability.
 
14:11
Darren MillarBiography
It is indeed very welcome that there have been improvements in stroke outcomes in Wales, but unfortunately we’re still at the bottom of the UK league table, even though we’ve made that progress. What additional support are you going to be able to provide to Welsh health boards so that they can get up to at least the UK average, if not beyond that, over the next few years?
 
14:11
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we’re working with the voluntary sector particularly, that’s important, to help those who have been victims of stroke, but also, of course, to help to improve early diagnosis. We have, for example, what’s called the FAST process—the face, arms, speech test—which enables call takers in ambulance control to identify people who may have had a stroke early so that paramedics can get to them early, and then of course to ensure that they get to clinicians—clinicians having used, of course, the information that they’ve received through the audit process. It’s also true to say that our multidisciplinary teams of stroke clinicians and stroke service managers have led the way in planning improvements to services, and that’s why we see, of course, outcomes improving.
 
14:12
Simon ThomasBiography
I welcome the fact that progress has been made in Wales generally speaking on this issue, although there has been some retrograde steps over the past 12 months in the Hywel Dda health board. We would all want to see people surviving and overcoming stroke, but in doing that, of course, people have greater care needs in the months following a stroke and much of that burden falls on social services, as much, perhaps, as it does on the health service. So, what are you doing to ensure that we have better reports after six months than we currently have in terms of the way in which people deal with the impacts of a stroke?
 
14:13
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, the first things is to ensure that the diagnosis happens quickly, that paramedics can go to the person very quickly, and that they are taken to specialist unit in relation to stroke, to ensure that they receive the appropriate treatment as quickly as possible.
 
But, of course, one of the things that affects people following stroke is that it affects the way that they look at their own lives—somebody’s sprits can be affected. It’s very important that having that psychological and social help will help them on that pathway to recover. So, working with families, working with the third sector—I’ve talked about that already—to ensure that there is a comprehensive, holistic system around the person, to allow them to get better.
 
The medical treatment is important, but that’s the first step. What’s important is that we work with the third sector and with families to ensure that that improvement continues.
 
Solar Farms
 
14:14
Nick RamsayBiography
8. Will the First Minister provide an update on the support available to communities affected by the development of solar farms? OAQ(4)2705(FM)
 
14:14
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
These are matters, of course, for the local planning authority, but of course we would encourage any developer to consider best practice around community involvement, around supply chain opportunities and benefit arrangements, so that communities can benefit most.
 
14:14
Nick RamsayBiography
Thank you, First Minister. Construction work on a 38,000-panel solar farm has started just outside the village of Llanvapley in my constituency. The developer, Conergy, has had minimal discussions with the community to date to discuss community benefits, and have proven extremely difficult to contact and communicate with. What support is the Welsh Government able to offer communities across Wales during the negotiation period for community benefits, to ensure that they are not short changed and receive the full entitlement of benefit they are owed under the register of community and economic benefits?
 
14:15
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It would be much easier for us as a Government to be able to facilitate this if the community infrastructure levy was devolved. It’s not. The difficulty, as the Member will be aware, is that section 106 is the current procedure for ensuring community benefits, but it bumps up against the CILT. As a result of that, it puts limits on what we can do to encourage community benefit. My view is, and the Government’s view is, that CILT is a planning levy and should be devolved. That’s not the view of the UK Government. It’s unfortunate, because it means we can’t have a comprehensive approach to developing a policy on community benefits through section 106 and through a CILT replacement, which we would like.
 
14:15
William PowellBiography
First Minister, last summer saw the opening of the first Welsh local authority owned and run solar farm in Wrexham. Much of the groundwork was done under the leadership of my friend and colleague Aled Roberts. The farm has nearly 9,000 solar panels—over 43 acres—and has the effect of reducing Wrexham’s carbon footprint by 1,300 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. As with the not-for-profit Robin Hood energy company, which has been rolled out in Nottinghamshire, I would argue that both facilities show the opportunity that renewable energy offers communities and local authorities, working in partnership. First Minister, do you agree with me that we should work towards a greater roll-out of such partnerships between local communities and principal local authorities? What can the Welsh Government do, concretely, to facility this?
 
14:16
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, I do. The Member makes it sound as if his colleague Aled Roberts was physically digging the holes for the new facility. [Laughter.] That would be something that would go beyond the normal duties of an Assembly Member, and would be something I’d commend to other Members if that was to be the case.
 
But, the Member’s right. We have Ynni’r Fro, which is important in terms of helping community energy schemes, because we know that they have great potential, not just to contribute to renewable energy, not just to contribute to a reduction in our carbon footprint, but to put money into local economies as well. So, through schemes such as Ynni’r Fro, and if we were to get the CILT devolved as well, we would then have a full range of options to promote those kinds of schemes further.
 
14:17
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, First Minister.
 
Urgent Question: The Trade Union Bill
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
14:17
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I have agreed an urgent question under Standing Order 12.66. I call on Mick Antoniw to ask the question.
 
14:17
Mick AntoniwBiography
What discussions has the First Minister had with the UK Government regarding the Trade Union Bill, in light of the letter from the UK Minister of State for Skills on progressing the Bill in Wales? EAQ(4)2717(FM)[R]
 
14:17
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
This is a Bill that is a direct political attack on trade unions and those who are represented in the workplace by them. It will come as no surprise to Members that we are opposed to the Trade Union Bill. When it comes to the devolved areas, we have made it clear to the UK Government that we take the view that, in devolved public services, matters to do with trade union membership are a matter for this Government and not the UK Government.
 
14:18
Mick AntoniwBiography
Thank you, First Minister. The letter raises very serious, important, constitutional issues that I believe you need to give serious consideration to. If I might read the relevant piece of the letter that has been disclosed, it says:
 
‘We have sought legal advice from First Treasury Counsel who has confirmed that we have a strong case that these provisions are reserved in relation to Scotland, but a very weak case in relation to Wales.’
 
They are confirming the Welsh advice, the legal advice from the Wales TUC and just about every other body, and totally contradict the position adopted even by the leader of the Welsh Conservatives. My concern, First Minister, is this: for any Government Minister to proceed with this legislation in Westminster—on the basis that they seek to apply it to Wales in the knowledge of that legal advice and opinion—would be an abuse of ministerial office. It would be a matter, if disclosed, that would be a resignation issue for any Minister to raise. And, it is also a devastating blow to the protocols agreed between the Welsh Government and the UK Government in respect of the devolution settlement. It blows it out of the water. Can I ask, First Minister, because of the seriousness of these issues, that you will raise this matter directly with the Prime Minister, because the danger is that the constitutional settlement between us is not only off the road, it is at serious risk of meltdown and has serious consequences for the future relationship of Wales and the United Kingdom?
 
14:19
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I’d agree with much of what the Member has said. What is absolutely clear, and it’s worth quoting this again that, when it comes to the Trade Union Bill, the UK Government sought advice from the First Treasury Counsel, who has, and I quote, confirmed that the UK Government
 
‘have a strong case that these provisions are reserved in relation to Scotland, but a very weak case in relation to Wales.’
 
That undermines the position they’ve taken constantly. I had a letter on 2 October from the Prime Minister. It does pre-date this leaked letter, but that letter says, ‘In regard to devolved responsibilities, as the Minister of State for Skills set out in his correspondence to you on 15 July, the Bill relates to employment rights, duties and industrial relations, all of which are clearly reserved matters.’ There are two questions here: had the Prime Minister seen this advice before he sent this letter, in which case, the letter is misleading; or, had he not seen the advice, in which case, why was he reckless enough to put forward a position that is clearly shaky? I think the people of Wales deserve answers in that regard. But, ultimately, of course, we should remember that this is a piece of legislation that directly affects the position of working people in Wales. It is a direct political attack on the trade unions and it’s quite clear, once again, that what we see in Whitehall is Cameron’s chaos.
 
14:21
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Obviously, the new strapline from the Labour front bench is ‘Cameron’s chaos’, because we’ve heard that in First Minister’s questions. [Interruption.]
 
14:21
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Order. Order.
 
14:21
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
You can quickly turn that into ‘Carwyn’s chaos’. When we look week in, week out, we can see that straight away.
 
14:21
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Too late.
 
14:21
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Can we stick to the urgent question?
 
14:21
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
The issue for the First Minister is that there is a difference of opinion here. There was a manifesto commitment—a clear manifesto commitment—on behalf of the Conservatives, which was voted on, and the Government in Westminster is a majority Conservative Government. There are strongly held views within this Chamber and within the Government, and I think those views need to be respected and understood, and the dialogue needs to be had. How is the First Minister going to take forward those views and those discussions with the Westminster Government, who do have a manifesto commitment to legislate in this area, and clearly mapped out how they would effect that legislation when they brought it forward? It’s not the case that there was one line in the manifesto; it clearly mapped out how the Government, if elected, would legislate in this area. So, what we need to do is make sure that we can get that communication working at both ends of the M4 to get a clear understanding of how this can progress.
 
14:22
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
There is communication, and the line of the UK Government is, ‘We’re going to ignore everything and move ahead anyway.’ That’s their idea of dialogue. If you want an example of negotiation with the UK Government, it’s, ‘This is what we’re doing, tough luck.’ That’s what negotiation means to the UK Government. Look, the reality is that the UK Government was not elected on the basis that it would change terms and conditions in devolved public services. If you can show me that in your manifesto, I’d be interested to see it. And that was put in the manifesto despite the fact that it was known that the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Act 2014 had extended the powers of this Assembly. If it’s bad drafting by your party, you have to explain that. Your party did not win the support of the people of Wales in May, in Wales. It’s true to say that you have the support across the UK, but the reality is that you do not have support to change terms and conditions in devolved public services in Wales. People have not supported that, we will not support that, the advice given to your own party doesn’t support that, and yet your Ministers keep on peddling this myth that, somehow, they are on good ground when they claim that this isn’t devolved. The legal advice, through this leaked letter, makes it crystal clear that the advice given to the UK Government is that they have a very weak case in suggesting that this is not devolved, and we will continue to do all that we can to make sure that this Bill is defeated and that the clauses that refer to devolved public services are removed in time by this institution, elected by the people of Wales. But, isn’t it incredible that we have—I think there’s a word for it—chutzpah that is displayed by the UK Government, where they claim that this is a clearly reserved matter, when the legal advice they themselves have received is exactly the opposite? What more have they been hiding from us?
 
14:24
Bethan JenkinsBiography
I look forward to all the Conservative Party Members rushing to buy their first copy of the ‘Socialist Worker’, where this letter was leaked to. [Laughter.] But, on a serious level, obviously, following on from what Mick Antoniw has said, this being implemented in Wales would rely on Wales not adopting a reserved-powers model. However, the UK Government admits it cannot politically offer something to Wales that it doesn’t offer to Scotland. What is your assessment of the concession being talked about in the leaked letter, and how do you intend to take reserved powers forward in light of this letter and in light of the Supreme Court judgment?
 
14:25
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, it’s right to say that the current Wales Bill would remove the ability of this Assembly to legislate on the Trade Union Bill. That’s why, of course, in that respect and in many, many other respects it rolls back devolution; that’s something, of course, that all parties, in fairness, in this Chamber have been reluctant to accept. It is concerning that they can only see Wales through the prism of Scotland—that, somehow, you can’t give something to Wales unless it’s also on offer to Scotland; it doesn’t play the other way round. It does show you how anti-Wales this UK Government is. They can’t actually do something for Wales without looking through the prism of Scotland, and this letter lays bare what their position is with regard to Wales. The devolution settlement—[Interruption.] I’m sorry? The devolution settlement in Wales happens, as a result of the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Act 2014, to be broader than the devolution settlement in Scotland in this regard, and that is one of the reasons why we have the Wales Bill as it is, because they are desperate to roll back the powers of this Assembly elected by the people of Wales. If it was only the case, just for once—just for once—that the Conservatives in this Chamber took the side of Wales rather than their colleagues, then that would be a step forward.
 
14:26
Peter BlackBiography
First Minister, I agree with most of what Mick Antoniw said as well, and I think it’s quite clear in the letter and the legal advice that the Government is talking about introducing a statutory obligation for UK Ministers to consult with Welsh Ministers in terms of certain clauses of this Bill, but it doesn’t actually say whether or not you would have a veto on those particular clauses. It’s actually on the bottom of the page headed ‘E-balloting’, if you’re looking for that particular clause. First Minister, can I ask whether it is your intention now, in the light of this legal advice, to go back to the UK Government and say to them that if they are proceeding with this Bill as it is currently drafted—and I personally don’t think it would get through the House of Lords as it currently is—that a statutory obligation to consult is not sufficient, and that there should be a statutory right for the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government to veto particular clauses in respect of Wales?
 
14:27
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Look, our position as a Government is: we don’t want to see the Trade Union Bill at all, but given the fact—. You know, it’s right to say that the UK Government has a mandate to take it forward through the UK Parliament; what it does not have is a mandate to change the terms and conditions of those working in devolved public services in Wales that are within the remit of the Welsh Government. There is no mandate for that. Consultation is not enough. We take the view that devolved public services are just that—that they fall within the remit of the Welsh Government—and that the UK Government has no role in that regard. That’s what the people of Wales have voted for twice, in 1997 and in 2011. And so, once again, we know their position is weak. The Minister will be liaising with the UK Government using this letter, obviously, as supporting evidence to say, ‘Look, your own legal advice shows that you’re in a very weak position; our view is this is devolved; respect devolution in Wales.’
 
14:28
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
I’m sure I should declare an interest as I voted against key sections of this Bill in the second house in the Parliament at Westminster, and I hope I’ll have an opportunity to do that again. This is what I wanted to ask the First Minister, and I wanted to disagree with the leader of the opposition: this isn’t a matter of a difference of opinion; this is a matter of lawyers within the Government in Westminster and possibly the UK Parliament who don’t understand devolution, unlike this place where the lawyers of the National Assembly Commission and the lawyers of the Welsh Government are as one in terms of our understanding of the situation. When the leader of the opposition states that this is a manifesto pledge, what right does the UK Government have to try and implement law that is not in itself within the law, with the pretence that it’s contained within a manifesto? First Minister, I would encourage you not to discuss the issue with the Prime Minister. Let’s go to an election in this place and let’s come back with a mandate to develop a constitutional settlement that will keep us out of difficulties such as this.
 
14:29
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I’m sure that the people of Wales will hear that message in terms of the stance of the Conservatives in England, and will come to their own conclusion, although I’m sure that we’re of a different mind in terms of that conclusion. But the point that the Member makes is a serious one, and a fair one, which is that this isn’t a matter of your opinion on the Bill itself, but of your opinion on the constitutional settlement following the agricultural wages Bill. This matter could have been about anything; the subject isn’t important. We’re taking the stance here that this is something for the people of Wales and for the National Assembly for Wales to decide upon, and it’s not for decision by the UK Government. It’s the opinion of the Conservatives here that it is something not for the people of Wales to decide upon but for the UK Government to decide—their counterparts in London. I’m sure that that isn’t the opinion of the other parties in this Chamber.
 
14:31
2. Business Statement and Announcement
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the business statement and I call on the Minister for Finance and Government Business, Jane Hutt.
 
14:31
Jane HuttBiographyThe Minister for Finance and Government Business
Llywydd, there have been no changes to the business statement for this week’s business. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement found among the agenda papers available to Members electronically.
 
14:31
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Leader of the house, could we have a statement from the education Minister about the new rules governing term-time absence? I understand the Welsh Government recently upgraded their advice to local authorities and to schools on this particular matter, but I do have a constituent, Heather Wards, who sends her children to Birchgrove Primary School, who’s found herself falling foul of the rules and is facing a £60 fine for taking her children out of school in term time. I do believe that a greater understanding of the rules and flexibility within the system would greatly enhance relations at all schools across Wales, because this has been an area that has caused deep concerns amongst teachers and parents, and, in particular, the ability of parents to allow their children to have family experiences during term time that I think are an important part of the family environment. So, if we could have a statement alluding to what the new updated guidance is that the Welsh Government have given to local authorities and to schools, I think that would greatly enhance parents’ and teachers’ understanding of what schools are working to.
 
14:32
Jane HuttBiography
Andrew R.T. Davies is aware, as he said, of the new guidance by the Minister for Education and Skills, and, of course, he will take every opportunity to clarify the substance of that new guidance.
 
14:32
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Could we have a statement from the Government and the education Minister on the task and finish on music that was announced recently? We received a statement via e-mail but no oral statement from the Minister, and this is in the same week that Swansea council has decided not to provide music education, or music tutoring, free of charge, along with Neath Port Talbot. I do think that, if new advice has been issued from the Welsh Government, councils need to look at that, and, if cuts are made without consideration given to that advice, then we need an oral statement from the Minister here in the Senedd.
 
14:33
Jane HuttBiography
Well, these are matters for local authorities and local education authorities, and, of course, the Minister will, again, make clear any advice that he has delivered in terms of music education in schools.
 
14:33
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Minister, I wonder if you could arrange for a written statement to be made by the responsible Minister with regard to guidance to local authorities around road closures for specific events. There seems to be a myriad of policies employed by local authorities across Wales, with most of them making sure that if an event is a charitable event, no costs are associated with road closures. That would be very helpful to the Bracken Trust in my constituency—a place that I know you know well—who hold fundraising events around the lake in Llandrindod Wells, and who have been told that they will now have to pay £660 for a road closure licence. Is it not the case, Minister, that under the terms of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, councils don’t have to pay expensive advertising for road closure; they can use the provisions of that legislation, even after all those years, to close roads for such events without incurring a charge to the charitable organisation?
 
14:34
Jane HuttBiography
Of course, as Kirsty Williams is well aware, road closures, as she says, are very challenging for these one-off events and, indeed, for some of the major events that we support and fund in Wales, as well as those local events, which, of course, can be charitable events. This is something, in terms of local authority and, indeed, Welsh Government in terms of trunk roads, where I’m sure the Minister will want to clarify powers and responsibilities accordingly.
 
14:35
William GrahamBiography
Business Minister, I wonder whether I might ask you to ask your colleague Lesley Griffiths for a statement regarding the reduction in support for the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, in terms of their grant. At the moment, all those organisations affiliated with them are able to obtain a Disclosure and Barring Service check service free of charge. In future, these will have to be paid for by those individual organisations. I’m sure the Minister will join with me in praising those organisations that do so much with children, young people, and vulnerable adults, but where the DBS check is absolutely vital.
 
14:35
Jane HuttBiography
Yes, DBS checks are vital, and the WCVA has played a long and important role in terms of the third sector. I’m aware that the Minister is considering these issues.
 
14:36
Eluned ParrottBiography
Minister, I wonder whether, further to Aled Roberts’s question on the subject of accessibility of educational psychologists’ reports, I could request a slightly broader statement from the Minister for education. I’ve been told that schools in the Vale of Glamorgan operate a quota system for educational psychologists’ reports, and one school reported to me that, with 450 pupils, they have two such slots per year. That means that there are children with suspected autistic spectrum disorders not being assessed in any given year. I find this very concerning, and I wondered whether I could request a statement on how the numbers of places per school are decided and how the Welsh Government ensures that the provision is adequate in all schools and all communities. And, also, there are some concerns among parents who have chosen to pay for private educational psychologists’ reports that the local authority will then not put in place appropriate measures to ensure that that child is able to embed themselves properly in the learning place, and I wonder whether you could provide a statement in that regard.
 
14:37
Jane HuttBiography
The Minister, I’m sure, will want to clarify that point. I think it is worth just looking at the Education Act 1996, which places a duty on local authorities to provide suitable education for all pupils, including those who have special educational needs. And, indeed, until legislation changes, all local authorities must adhere to existing statutory responsibilities regarding SEN, and, of course, that also includes access to educational psychologists, which is crucial in terms of assessing needs. But, clearly, this is a point that will be considered.
 
14:38
Darren MillarBiography
Can I ask, Minister, for a statement from the Minister for Education and Skills? I’m a bit concerned about news from my constituency in relation to restrictions now on work placements in Conwy county. Apparently, this is a result of cuts to the Careers Wales budget, which have resulted in the removal of their health and safety checks and vetting on work experience placements. Now, clearly, work experience is a very valuable resource for our young people as it gives them a taste of life outside of school. Can we have a statement on this as soon as possible in order that we can get this system moving again, so that our young people can get the work experience they deserve?
 
14:38
Jane HuttBiography
Well, clearly, this is information that you’ve gleaned presumably from constituents. But it does relate to policies and decisions, I understand, from Conwy council. I think it’s important to start with that authority, in terms of any changes, before we see this as a matter that could affect others across Wales. Because, of course, as you say, work placements are very important.
 
14:39
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister. We now move to items 3 and 4, and that’s the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 (Amendment of Schedule 6) Order 2016, and the Welsh Language Standards (No. 2) Regulations 2016. In accordance with Standing Order 12.24, I propose the following two items are discussed together. Does anyone object? No objections.
 
14:39
3. & 4. The Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 (Amendment of Schedule 6) Order 2016 and the Welsh Language Standards (No. 2) Regulations 2016
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I call on the First Minister to move the motions—Carwyn Jones.
 
Motion NDM5950 Jane Hutt
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
 
Approves that the draft The Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 (Amendment of Schedule 6) Order 2016 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 18 December 2015.
 
Motion NDM5949 Jane Hutt
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
 
Approves that the draft The Welsh Language Standards (No. 2) Regulations 2016 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 18 December 2015.
 
Motions moved.
 
14:39
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I move the motions. It’s a great pleasure to open this debate on the Welsh Language Standards (No. 2) Regulations 2016 and the Order to amend Schedule 6 to the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011. First of all, I turn to the Order to amend Schedule 6 to the Welsh language Measure. Schedule 6 to the Measure names those bodies that will be required to adhere to standards.
 
However, Schedule 6 has become dated since the Measure was passed in 2011 as some bodies that were named no longer exist, some have changed their names or have merged, and new bodies have been formed. Also, after holding standards inquiries, the commissioner has requested that we prepare standards for some bodies that were not named in the original Schedule 6. What the Order before you today seeks to do is to update Schedule 6. It ensures that the commissioner can impose standards on all bodies that are named in the regulations No. 2.
 
Turning to the Welsh Language Standards (No. 2) Regulations 2016, the regulations allow the commissioner to impose standards on 32 bodies. These are national bodies that provide important services to the public and employ a great many people in Wales. We’re talking here about bodies such as S4C, National Museum Wales, Natural Resources Wales, Estyn, the National Library of Wales and the Wales Millennium Centre. The vast majority of the bodies named in these regulations have language schemes already and are, therefore, experienced in providing Welsh-language services and being accountable for that. These standards build on what they already do.
 
Imposing standards on bodies is but one piece of the jigsaw, of course. We must work together to encourage more Welsh speakers to be confident enough to use Welsh-language services, ensuring that they too receive services of the same quality as those provided in English. So, I will bring more regulations to your attention before the end of this Assembly term in March—next month, of course. Those regulations will introduce standards to the education sector, to the police, emergency services and tribunals.
 
My intention is to table standards for the health sector during the next Assembly to achieve the commissioner’s vision of bringing the primary care sector under the same standards framework as the other health bodies. Detailed policy work will be required before the relevant regulations are tabled. My intention, therefore, is to consult on these regulations in the next Assembly. So, I move.
 
14:42
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I call the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, David Melding.
 
14:42
David MeldingBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I intend to confine my remarks to the Order before us, which we considered at our meeting on 11 January. Just for the record, the regulations had a clear report. The Order seeks to amend Schedule 6 to the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011. Schedule 6 sets out the categories of organisations that are liable to comply with Welsh language standards. We reported on the merits of the instrument because of a lack of clarity about why organisations are being added to Schedule 6. In order to be added to Schedule 6, the organisations must come within a category specified in Schedule 5 to the Measure. Neither the Order itself nor the original explanatory memorandum explained which of the categories in Schedule 5 applies to each of the organisations that the Order intends to add to Schedule 6. The absence of this information makes it harder to determine whether the relevant powers have been properly exercised. We also believe it is important to consult organisations that are to be included in legislation. This is an important area of public policy where transparency is paramount. We note that the Welsh Government’s response, which provided the information I have just referred to, committed to adding it to a revised explanatory memorandum. I welcome the Welsh Government’s decision and its actions in laying an amended explanatory memorandum so quickly after our meeting. Thank you.
 
14:44
Suzy DaviesBiography
We are minded to support the Order today, but I would like the First Minister to further clarify the position on the issue raised by CLAC before we do. Some of the organisations to be included on the Schedule 6 list under the Order are new inclusions rather than replacements for organisations that have been merged or subject to name change. Those new organisations have not been consulted on their inclusion in this Order. In response to the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee report, the Government responded by saying that, on this occasion, there was no need for consultation, as there was a process of requiring an organisation to comply with standards, that process provided a number of opportunities for an organisation to engage in the process and raise any concerns that it may have, and supplemented that by saying that the Measure itself also states that no organisation shall be required to comply with standards until certain requirements have been met.
 
That response, however, does presume that the organisation should be on the Schedule 6 list and therefore subject to standards in the first place. Now, after the CLAC report on these draft regulations, Government has provided the evidence, as we’ve heard, but I wonder if you would confirm, First Minister, that the new organisations included in the Order did have an opportunity to make a case that they shouldn’t be in the new Schedule 6 list at any point, although I would say that the information that was provided to CLAC in the end was pretty compelling.
 
I also notice, turning to the regulations now, that the list of organisations in the Order includes some of those that replace existing names, and some of those are organisations that were established for the whole of the UK. There are now more of them within Schedule 6 than there were before, although they don’t seem to be included in Schedule 6 for the purposes of the regulations before us today. Now, of course, those UK bodies that are mentioned operate within Wales and we should expect standards to apply to their operations within Wales, where they are reasonable and proportionate. But it does get more difficult to assess what is reasonable and proportionate when standards are applied to an organisation that doesn’t operate solely in Wales than to one that does.
 
For all the organisations listed in the draft regulations, bar two, all the standards listed in the regulations will apply. I have to say, I found it really quite difficult to conclude that the application of all the standards in regulation 2 to the whole of such an organisation is reasonable and proportionate. I simply can’t come to the conclusion.
 
In terms of the rights exercisable by the public, all the front-facing provisions, I think probably the case for reasonableness and proportionality are made. Regardless of whether an organisation functions primarily elsewhere, if potentially 3 million members of the public have the right to communicate in Welsh, then I think, as an organisation, you really need to be ready for that. If your staff numbers in Wales are high, as, for example, with the BBC, then, regardless of the numbers in the organisation as a whole, I suspect it is appropriate for all the standards in these regulations to apply.
 
However, there are a couple of named organisations, which are the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Ofcom—being the two I spotted in particular—their staff in Wales is actually pretty small, and, in those circumstances, I wonder what happens if a particular role happens to be, at the moment, the specialism of one individual who has no or limited Welsh language skills. I also ask: is it reasonable and proportionate for some policy team in London to consider everything envisaged in this Order? Is it reasonable and proportionate for certain information to be uploaded bilingually to the internal communications system of a UK-wide system? The reason I’m raising these is not because we’re going to be voting against these regulations, it’s just to raise a question about whether we might be looking at a distinct jurisdiction question here that wasn’t actually covered off in the Measure.
 
While the investigation reports may be available online, I don’t think that the explanatory memorandum has really helped us assess the reasonableness and proportionality all the standards referred to for all the bodies. There’s no policy committee that’s looked at this. As I say, I’m not confident I can come to a conclusion. It’s just one reason why I’m firm in my view that an independent Welsh language commissioner should be accountable to this Assembly rather than the Government.
 
14:48
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
Hear, hear.
 
14:49
Suzy DaviesBiography
I thank you for that. Nevertheless, these organisations listed in these regulations are already listed in Schedule 6 and have been used to much of what’s required by these regulations already. So, to be able to support these regulations, I’ve come to the conclusion that a right of appeal should be sufficient to protect them against overenthusiastic use of compliance notices, and, for these organisations, we will support the regulations today. It might be a different situation if those organisations included, via the Order, in any future Schedule 6, are subject to compliance notices, and I’m sure that’ll come back before us in the fifth Assembly. Thank you.
 
14:49
Keith DaviesBiography
I’d also like to welcome these regulations before us today. As a Welsh speaker and chair of the cross-party group on the Welsh language, it’s important that the people of Wales have as many opportunities as possible to use the Welsh language. The system of standards does ensure that we can communicate with the public bodies listed through the medium of Welsh. Although there’s been some bad news from the last census in terms of the number of Welsh speakers, I see a clear commitment from some institutions within the public sector. I’d like to particularly name Carmarthenshire County Council, which has committed through a cross-party agreement to administer mainly through the medium of Welsh in time.
 
However, these regulations today don’t cover local government. They refer to a number of different bodies that make up a network of public sector organisations in Wales. But I do have concerns—the same as expressed by Suzy Davies earlier. Some of these organisations work across England and Wales, or across the UK. It’s only fair that there is a responsibility on those organisations that work in Wales to provide a basic level of service for Welsh speakers. I’d like to ask the First Minister what discussions the Welsh Language Commissioner’s had with the organisations that these standards will impinge upon.
 
I’m also concerned that there isn’t a greater duty placed on Wales-only organisations to administer internally more through the medium of Welsh. The regulations make reference to a number of bodies that could do more to promote the use of the Welsh language. The commissioner should look to adapt the impact of the standards on the bodies listed in the future. Staff in the public sector in Wales should have reasonable opportunities to use their Welsh-language skills in the workplace. To conclude, I’d like to applaud these regulations as a step in the right direction towards a Wales where one has a real choice to use the Welsh language in relationships with the public sector.
 
14:51
Simon ThomasBiography
Plaid Cymru will support the Order and the regulations today, and thanks the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee for the scrutiny work that they put in, particularly on the Order, which has provided more information from Government that explains the process. I think there is a lesson to be learned for the future here in terms of how new bodies are included in that process.
 
In welcoming these standards today, I would like to echo many of the things that have already been said, particularly by Keith Davies. We do need to see those standards implemented now to promote the use of the Welsh language by these bodies, but also internally within some of these organisations. It’s important also to note that most of these bodies were already captured under the current Welsh language Act and are well used to implementing language schemes by now.
 
What is worth noting, perhaps, is that’s been five years since the original Welsh language Measure was passed by this place. I think it’s almost five years to the day, even, and we’re only now seeing the second set of regulations being introduced. I think we do need to speed up that process one way or another. I accept the points that have been made in terms of consultation and including people in that process, but I think that there is a process here that Welsh speakers also expect to see being implemented in order to give them the rights that underpinned the Welsh language Measure in the first place—to provide rights by placing specific duties on public bodies and substantial bodies in receipt of public funds.
 
There are some questions I would like to ask the First Minister that emerge from the passing of these regulations today. First of all, as there are significant cuts again in the budget to the budget of the Welsh Language Commissioner, could the First Minister explain how he can have confidence that the commissioner will have sufficient resources now to achieve her duties, particularly in implementing these standards and in policing these standards? Can the First Minister also explain why standards in relation to holding meetings related to the wellbeing of individuals, which were part of the first cycle of standards, have been omitted from this second round? I understand that these are different bodies—they are not local authorities and public bodies of that kind—but there are organisations here—the children’s commissioner, the older people’s commissioner, and a few others—that you would expect to be holding meetings related to the wellbeing of individuals, and so you would expect to see a standard on the use of the Welsh language in that context.
 
The First Minister, in moving the legislation today, has talked of the future and what he hopes to do in the next Assembly. Can the First Minister therefore confirm what the timetable is for the telecommunications sector specifically, as this is seen as being crucially important now in terms of the use of the Welsh language by Welsh-speakers in this modern age?
 
There was no consultation on these regulations; the committee Chair has already made that point. To be honest, I think what’s more important as we move forward is to raise awareness now of the standards. These bodies should be aware of legislation in Wales, if truth be told, but how exactly this is to be implemented is a matter for awareness raising, and I’m still not sure, as these rights and duties are to come into force at the end of March this year, how the Welsh Government is going to raise that awareness—jointly, of course, with the Welsh Language Commissioner.
 
The final question that I want to ask, before, perhaps, concluding on this issue in this Assembly—and we are bound to return to some of these issues in the next Assembly, when there will, hopefully, be an opportunity to legislate anew on the issue. But what we do have at present in terms of a Welsh language Measure and Welsh language standards are based on a legislative competence Order and that long-winded process, which introduced some limitations to us, specifically—and it is relevant to the regulations that we have before us—in terms of how much public money per year an organisation receives before deciding whether it was within the remit of the Welsh language Measure and whether standards would therefore apply to that body.
 
The Welsh language and economic development task and finish group, commissioned by the Government, has recommended specifically that this false threshold, in a way, should be removed, and that it should be much clearer to businesses and bodies in receipt of grants from the Welsh Government in demonstrating that they can provide bilingual services and therefore demonstrating that they are working bilingually in Wales. For me, there is also a lesson here for us, as an Assembly, in passing these regulations today. That lesson is that we in the next Assembly must be far more aware of the fact that bodies in receipt of public funding have a duty to provide bilingual services in Wales.
 
14:57
Aled RobertsBiography
I’m sure that the majority of questions have already been asked by the previous speakers, but may I also endorse what Simon Thomas said? I think that we are slightly disappointed. Although we will be supporting the Order and the regulations, we are disappointed that there has been so much delay in relation to all of these regulations being published. I now understand what the Minister has said: that there are now sectors that will have a further period of consultation in the next Assembly. However, I think that there is an interest in the telecommunications sector specifically and the fact that there is a great deal of silence with regard to that situation.
 
Also, considering that these new standards will be implemented on 30 March, and bearing in mind that the commissioner’s funding has been cut, will there be a specific budget, either by the Welsh Government or by the commissioner, to raise awareness of the rights of Welsh speakers specifically under these new standards?
 
Also, I would just endorse what Suzy Davies and others have said, including Keith Davies, about the fact that a number of groups, apparently, have contacted us as individuals. I think that there are four bodies listed in these regulations that have their headquarters in England but do operate on a Welsh level. I think that they are concerned about how proportionate the consideration of these regulations will be. I understand that there will be a process where a plan is published, where there will be a period of consultation, that there are some processes for appeal and, ultimately, of course, the commissioner will issue fines to those bodies that don’t meet the standards. However, I do think that we need to know exactly what kind of consideration is being given in terms of proportionality.
 
Finally, I did raise on the last occasion the fact that an increasing number of services in Wales are now being outsourced from local government in particular, and just to ensure that the First Minister is aware that all of those bodies, and those new bodies, come under these new regulations, in considering the fact, of course, that a great number of those have accepted outsourcing contracts from local government, where, as far as I’m aware, there’s no mention of their responsibilities in terms of language standards.
 
15:00
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
The First Minister to reply.
 
15:00
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
May I first of all deal with the comments made by Suzy Davies? My opinion is: if a body operates in Wales, there is a duty on it to ensure that services are available in the Welsh language. It doesn’t matter where its headquarters are. It’s important that it does provide a Welsh language service for the people of Wales. I think that’s entirely reasonable and it’s something that they are familiar with, bearing in mind the 1993 Act.
 
There were several questions from Simon Thomas, and I hope to answer all of them. In terms of the budget, the commissioner has received additional funding to help with the process of establishing these standards. That’s something that we have considered to ensure that those resources are available over this period. The commissioner, of course, is responsible for deciding which bodies come under the auspices of her inquiry. So, it’s a matter for the commissioner to decide who is included in those investigations. The Government’s role is to prepare the regulations themselves.
 
In terms of telecommunications, of course, this is something that is going to be considered under the next set and the sets after that. The third full set will come before the Assembly during the next Assembly term. The preparatory work is being done with regard to that already. In terms of the way in which the public should know which services are available, we will continue to promote opportunities to use the Welsh language to ensure that people do know that there are services are available through the medium of Welsh for them. It’s one thing, of course, to ensure that the service is available. It’s something else, with wider implications, to ensure that people have the confidence to use that service in the first place. That’s part of everything else that we do through schemes such as Bwrw Mlaen and planning that encourages people to use the language in a way that they would consider to be a formal manner. But also, there is a duty on the bodies themselves to ensure that people know that the service is available through the medium of Welsh.
 
With regard to the point that Aled Roberts made in terms of what happens if services are provided by a third party, perhaps through a contract, may I say—? If a body provides services that come under the standards, that body will have to comply with the standards that have been placed on it, and that is true if it is the one providing the service, or if that service is provided on its behalf by a third party through a contract or other arrangements. So, there is no escape from the duties that are placed on them under the regulations themselves, if a local authority or any other public body decides that a third party is to offer any service in the community.
 
I believe that I’ve covered everything there. Several people have spoken about the time that it has taken for us to reach this point. Of course, we’ve had to establish the office the commissioner, and we’ve had to establish the tribunal. It’s true to say that there will be work to do in future in terms of improving the Measure itself, bearing in mind that the Measure was created in a different legislative period as compared to now. It’s important that there is consultation with bodies. Another point that was made by Suzy Davies was around the opportunity for these bodies—the 32—to make comments with regard to their situations, remembering the fact, of course, that there was no formal consultation. Well, those 32 bodies did respond to the commissioner’s standards inquiry. There will be another opportunity for them to state their opinions when the commissioner will consult on the compliance notice before imposing standards on them. And of course, there is a process, as Members have already spoken about, of appeal. Of course, the regulations themselves aren’t unfamiliar to them, bearing in mind that they have been built on the basis of the first set of regulations. So, they will be familiar with the duties that they will have to implement, having seen what’s happened not just in the 1993 Act, but also in the first regulations that were made a few months ago. So, I move the regulations Schedule 6 to the Measure, before the Assembly.
 
15:05
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
The proposal is to agree the motion under item 3. Does anyone object? There are no objections, therefore the motion under item 3 is agreed.
 
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
 
15:05
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
The next proposal is to agree the motion under item 4. Does any Member object? No objections, therefore the motion under item 4 has been agreed.
 
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
 
15:05
5. The Housing Act 1985 (Amendment of Schedule 2A) (Serious Offences) (Wales) Order 2016
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 5, which is the Housing Act 1985 (Amendment of Schedule 2A) (Serious Offences) (Wales) Order, and I call on the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty to move the motion—Lesley Griffiths.
 
Motion NDM5948 Jane Hutt
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
 
Approves that the draft The Housing Act 1985 (Amendment of Schedule 2A) (Serious Offences) (Wales) Order 2016 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 17 November 2015.
 
Motion moved.
 
15:05
Lesley GriffithsBiographyThe Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I’m pleased to bring forward this motion on the Housing Act 1985 (Amendment of Schedule 2A) (Serious Offences) (Wales) Order 2016. Section 84A of the Housing Act 1985 provides for the possession of a dwelling that is the subject of a secure tenancy on the grounds of serious anti-social behaviour. Ground 7(a) of Part I of Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988 provides an equivalent ground for possession in respect of assured tenancies. Both grounds for possession on the basis of serious anti-social behaviour refer to a conviction for a serious offence. The serious offences are listed in Schedule 2A to the 1985 Act.
 
The amendments made by this Order are important. They would allow a landlord to seek possession on the basis a tenant had committed the offence of slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour or the offence of human trafficking, providing the other criteria for seeking possession under this ground have been met. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 consolidates and simplifies existing slavery and trafficking offences into one piece of legislation to provide clarity and focus when prosecuting those involved in slavery and trafficking. The Act contains a package of legal reforms that are designed to improve the response of law enforcement, and to ensure survivors receive the best protection and support available. Part 1 of the Modern Slavery Act consolidates and clarifies the existing offences of slavery and human trafficking whilst increasing the maximum penalty for such offences. In light of the introduction of these offences, an update is required to the list of serious offences that constitute grounds for possession of a dwelling house on the basis of serious anti-social behaviour. I would welcome Members’ support to give effect to this Order. Thank you.
 
15:07
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I have no speakers, so we move straight to the vote. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There are no objections. Therefore, it is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
 
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
 
15:07
Minister’s Statement regarding Her Majesty the Queen’s and the Duke of Cornwall’s Consent
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Now I’m going to ask the Deputy Minister to make a statement on the Queen’s and the Duke of Cornwall’s consent. Ken Skates.
 
15:08
Kenneth SkatesBiographyThe Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism
Thank you. I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Cornwall to acquaint the Assembly that, having been informed of the purport of the Historic Environment (Wales) Bill, both have given their consent to this Bill.
 
15:08
6. Stage 4 Debate on the Historic Environment (Wales) Bill
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 6, which is Stage 4 of the historic environment Bill. I call on the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism to move the motion—Ken Skates.
 
Motion NDM5955 Kenneth Skates
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales in accordance with Standing Order 26.47:
 
Approves the Historic Environment (Wales) Bill.
 
Motion moved.
 
15:08
Kenneth SkatesBiographyThe Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am today seeking your approval for the Historic Environment (Wales) Bill. A number of its measures will put Wales ahead of the other UK nations in caring for the historic environment. I’m grateful for the active support of stakeholders and the wider public. In particular, the Bill has benefitted from the expertise of members of the external reference group.
 
As a result, the Bill that I introduced in May last year was based on solid evidence and a clear understanding of the sector’s needs and the challenges it faces. It has also been refined and strengthened during its passage through the Assembly, and for this I am grateful to the Chairs and Members of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee and the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, and also the Finance Committee, for their thorough consideration. I’d also like to thank the Assembly Commission officials and, of course, my officials for their hard work on the development and passage of the Bill. The heritage spokespeople of the opposition parties have also willingly participated, often in frank discussions about the Bill and its provisions. I have listened carefully to the arguments during scrutiny and have introduced Government amendments, or supported amendments tabled by other Members, where I’ve felt that they will bring improvements. As a result, Wales will be the first nation in the United Kingdom to have a statutory national list of historic place names, which will raise public awareness of the value and the importance of this unique part of our heritage.
 
Another first for Wales will be statutory historic environment records. All good management decisions need to be based on authoritative and detailed information. These records and the list of historic place names will help our key public bodies in making informed decisions about change that will affect our historic environment.
 
The Bill also provides new powers for authorities to take urgent action when buildings fall into disrepair. I know that many Members share my concern about the loss of landmark historic buildings. When I recognised that the Assembly wanted the Bill to go even further, I was pleased to support Peter Black’s amendment to allow the development of a system of preservation notices. This will provide an important opportunity to establish a legal framework for action following consultation.
 
I appreciate that the Bill will not resolve all of the complex challenges facing the historic environment. Much of what is required also involves resources and partnership, which cannot be dealt with directly through legislation. However, my objective throughout has been to provide greater accountability and more effective and proportionate protection, where necessary and when based on sound evidence.
 
During the debate, we also heard passionate expressions about the need for us to find new uses for buildings such as, of course, chapels that might not be of national importance but form a much-loved part of our local communities. More protection is not always the answer, and might have unwelcome consequences. So, instead, we need to develop new ways for public bodies to work with communities and the private and third sectors to find viable futures for these buildings—buildings that continue to be a vital part of Wales’s economy and society.
 
An example is a new forum to take forward the strategic action plan for historic places of worship in Wales. Legislation can provide a basis for such unified action and I look forward to this legislation enabling and encouraging a concerted effort to enhance the value we place on our heritage in Wales.
 
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair.
 
15:12
Suzy DaviesBiography
Deputy Minister, I hope you won’t mind me beginning by offering my thanks to the policy and legislation Commission staff who’ve helped opposition Members work with this Bill. It’s been a difficult Bill to try and amend, as I think we mentioned at Stage 3. But, I did want to place that on the record.
 
I also thank you, of course, Deputy Minister, again for the open-door approach that you’ve taken to the development of this Bill. It didn’t work quite as well for us as Conservatives between Stages 2 and 3, and I’m certain even now that differences around the issue of the extent, for example, of local land charges could actually have been ironed out if we’d had a chance to speak together on that.
 
I appreciate, of course, that part of your motivation on the open-door policy is because you need the numbers. But, it is nevertheless to be commended to other Ministers as best practice and I hope that will continue in the next Assembly.
 
As for the numbers, I suspect you will have achieved that. But, I regret that it will not be with the support of the Welsh Conservatives, I’m afraid. As you know, we’ve offered our support throughout the development of this legislation, even though we have rightly held you to account on the format of this Bill. It remains virtually impenetrable to the general public and is a source of frustration to those of us who are perhaps are a bit more familiar with working with statutes. We also had reservations about the advisory group, for example. But, I think we could have gone with all that.
 
But, you did lose us on the burden of proof issue. You know how close the vote was and you knew it was a red line issue for us. I don’t want to revisit it today, but I still think you got it wrong on the balance of protection for our precious heritage and the protection for the principle of innocent until proven guilty. In my view, there’s no polishing out this spot to see the good intentions beneath. It’s tarnished the Bill and I think it will tarnish the law.
 
15:14
Bethan JenkinsBiography
First of all, I’d like to continue in the vein that Suzy started with regard to thanking the Commission team, especially the legislative team who helped me draft amendments. It was a very tricky Bill in that sense, because we were having to look at different pieces of legislation. I think therein lies my point. In this regard, the Welsh Government has had five years for a consolidation Bill. We had expert advice from planning people coming to the Assembly, to committee, saying that it will need to be consolidated down the line anyway, and I’ve also had e-mails requesting meetings on some of the ideas I put forward in amendments with regard to potential grants for people to be able to update their buildings, because they’ve already acknowledged to me that that was not addressed fully in this Bill. So, is it not tragic, therefore, that we’re here discussing putting some sort of stamp on this Bill when there are still many, many issues that haven’t been addressed? A list, yes, of Welsh names is to be welcomed, but we could have enhanced that. How can we give that protection, when it is but a list? We need to put things in place that will make sure that it’s monitored effectively.
 
Suzy is kinder than me, I think. She says that the Minister had an open-door policy, but I think I probably wasn’t the right shape for the door, because my amendments didn’t seem to hold any weight with the Minister, even though much of what we were doing was about greater accountability—[Interruption.] It was about greater accountability, it was about trying to make sure that this place saw much of what was happening within the sector. Other AMs may not have looked into it as much as I have, but the exemptions are something very important to me. I found out that there are many denominations that are simply not part of the current Cadw structures, and therefore I wanted to put that review forward so that we can at least hold them to account for the review processes that they have in place, which other people have to carry forward. The same goes for other amendments that I put forward—just basically trying to call for reviews and monitoring in this place. I don’t think that they were radical; I don’t think that they were contentious. So, I think that, while we will not be opposing this Bill, Plaid Cymru will be abstaining. I think it is a missed opportunity for a radical change in the sector. If you want to put a press release out saying, ‘We’ve completed all our laws this term’; well, I’d rather have effective and well-developed laws as opposed to just having a piece of paper. I will tell you that we will be back here—even if it’s not me, there will be Assembly Members back here looking at this issue again because it was not prioritised within Welsh Government as it should have been, and you should have fought for that, Minister.
 
15:17
Peter BlackBiography
Clearly, our historical heritage is full of doors of very different shapes. I was pleased to have the co-operation of the Minister in terms of not just some of the amendments I put forward, but also, like other Members, I’d like to thank him and his Bill team, and of course the Commission team, for working so hard on this Bill, which, I think, was a difficult Bill simply because it didn’t seek to consolidate the law—I think that Suzy Davies and others have made that point. Because of that, working with the various clauses was particularly difficult. I think there were clauses within sub-clauses within sub-clauses in many instances, and it is very difficult, I think, to actually get a picture, looking at the Bill, of what exactly we have done.
 
However, I am very pleased that we have got at least one concession from the Minister in terms of the neglect of empty buildings. The Minister helped me to redraft some amendments of my own in terms of taking owners to task if empty buildings are deliberately neglected. I think that we now have a regulation-making power, and I just urge the Minister to give some assurance that he’ll be looking—and hopefully his successors will be looking—at using that regulation power to the maximum effect, to ensure that not only are local authorities issuing preservation notices, but they do have powers to fine owners when they don’t comply with those notices and there is a clear case of deliberate neglect. I think that’s absolutely crucial, because I think one of the biggest problems we have—and all over Wales there are examples of this—is of buildings that are listed as being of historic interest that have been allowed to fall into disrepair—deliberately so in many cases—until eventually they burn down and end up as a ruin and, in some cases, just a cleared piece of ground. I think that we need to do a lot more to try to help local authorities and owners to find uses for those properties, and I think that may well be something that needs to be visited again in the next Assembly. But, certainly, I believe that that power is there, which the Minister could use if necessary.
 
Minister, I’m very pleased that the advisory panel—although I’m still not entirely convinced of the need for an advisory panel—will now report annually, which I think is another good amendment as part of this, and also, of course, that there is a duty to consult on heritage partnerships as well.
 
The one regret I have—and this is something that I want to revisit in a future Assembly—is in terms of buildings of special local interest. I think we had quite an interesting discussion around those amendments at Stage 3, particularly buildings like the Vulcan and other buildings like that which didn’t merit a historic listing, but clearly form part of the social fabric of a community. I think we do need to look at how we can do more to preserve those sorts of buildings. I think as the Minister himself said, there isn’t enough land in St Fagans to rebuild all those buildings there, as the Vulcan is being, but I think we do need to ensure that something is done to try to preserve those, and I hope that we can revisit that. But on balance, I think this is a better Bill now at Stage 4 than it was when it was first introduced, and for that reason, Deputy Presiding Officer, we will be supporting it.
 
15:20
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
And the Minister to reply.
 
15:21
Kenneth SkatesBiographyThe Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I’m very grateful indeed to the Members for their comments. To Suzy Davies, I’m very grateful for your constructive advice throughout the process. We have not always agreed, but I’ve always respected your views and I am sorry that the Welsh Conservatives will not be able to support the Bill. Full consideration was given to the right to a fair trial during the development of the Bill’s provisions, and I am confident that the provisions will have a legitimate aim and provide a justified and proportionate means of achieving that aim, whilst not preventing a fair trial.
 
Bethan Jenkins, I can assure you that the door was the right size, and my door, like my mind, was always open to you. [Interruption.] Shape; sorry. I apologise. My mind was always open to your views and suggestions, but some suggestions, such as the tax on property owners of listed buildings, I’m afraid would not have been fair or appropriate, and I am sorry that Plaid Cymru will be abstaining, as there are provisions that will undoubtedly lead to better protection of our heritage in Wales, and I’m very sad that your party will not be able to support those provisions.
 
Peter Black, I’m very grateful indeed for the support and the invaluable advice that you’ve been able to offer throughout the process of designing this legislation. You probably won’t wish to hear this, but I think that your contributions have been as helpful as many of the Members’ contributions on my own benches, and it’s been a great honour to work with you in many cases on this Bill. I hope that we will indeed be able to ensure that buildings of local interest are protected, not just by me and my officials and the work that takes place in my portfolio, but also across Government and by other Ministers.
 
Deputy Presiding Officer, the Assembly must now decide whether it will give Wales its first dedicated legislation for the historic environment. The Bill represents, I believe, the culmination of a long process of development, informed by sound evidence and ongoing engagement with the public, with stakeholders and Members of this Assembly. Our historic environment has shaped our identity as a nation, and it remains a matter of vital importance to our citizens and communities. The often passionate debates about our neglected listed buildings, our historic place names and our religious buildings have shown how much we care. The Bill will help protect our most treasured historic sites. It will allow decisions to be made on the basis of sound information and will allow our decisions to be more accountable and transparent. In short, it will allow the Welsh historic environment to continue to deliver economic, social and cultural benefits and make an enduring contribution to the wellbeing of Wales and its people. I therefore urge the Assembly to pass the Historic Environment (Wales) Bill.
 
15:24
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] I will defer voting until voting time.
 
Voting deferred until voting time.
 
7. Debate on the Draft Budget 2016-17
The following amendments have been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Paul Davies, and amendments 2, 3 and 4 in the name of Elin Jones.
 
15:24
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 7 is the debate on the draft budget for 2016-17. I call on the Minister for Finance and Government Business to move the motion. Jane Hutt.
 
Motion NDM5947 Jane Hutt
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 20.12:
 
Notes the Draft Budget for the financial year 2016-2017 laid in the Table Office by the Minister for Finance and Government Business on 8 December 2015.
 
Motion moved.
 
15:24
Jane HuttBiographyThe Minister for Finance and Government Business
Dirprwy Lywydd, I welcome the opportunity today to debate our draft budget, ‘Fairer, Better Wales—Investing for the Future’. The focus in this debate is on our future spending plans, but I’m also publishing later today the second supplementary budget for 2015-16, which sets out the latest budget figures and allocations for this financial year to debate in early March.
 
Our draft budget sets out a clear way forward for Wales. We’re abiding by our principles as a Welsh Labour Government by putting our public services first and putting them on a sustainable footing to protect and enhance the services that mean the most to the people of Wales.
 
This draft budget has a number of distinguishing features. We’ve allocated nearly £300 million extra to the Welsh NHS, which has increased funding also for the intermediate care fund by £30 million to deliver more integrated health and social care services, and an additional £10 million capital for the intermediate care fund was announced today for step-down and re-ablement facilities. We’re putting £30 million into older people’s and mental health services, and an extra £21 million into local government for social services. This investment sets us clearly apart in the UK public finances context, as latest figures show that our combined spending on health and social services is 7 per cent higher per person than in England.
 
I’d like to thank the Finance Committee, and indeed all Assembly committees, for their work, which has been compressed into a short timetable due to the lateness of the UK Government spending review. I will, of course, respond to the Finance Committee’s report in due course. But, Dirprwy Lywydd, it’s clear that being decisive about our priorities for this budget has had an impact on other budget areas. The strategic integrated impact assessment sets out key impacts and how we will seek to mitigate them. Let me remind Members that we all faced uncertainty waiting for the settlement. Despite the challenging timescale, we published a draft budget within two weeks of the spending review, providing clarity and early certainty for our partners. But our budget has had a 3.6 per cent real-terms reduction over the next four years and our budget will be 11 per cent lower by the end of the decade than it was in 2010. The Chancellor’s spending review failed to signal an end to austerity. In fact, it is far from over, and budget cuts for Wales are as much a reality for the future as they have been in the past.
 
Once we published our plans, our partners responded immediately and positively. The Welsh NHS Confederation, said:
 
‘We welcome the increase in health spending proposed in today’s draft budget…. In a period of austerity, combined with increases in demand, rising costs of providing services and an understandable expectation to continuously improve quality and safety, NHS Wales faces a significant financial challenge.’
 
In responding to our draft budget, Councillor Aaron Shotton said:
 
‘We also welcome the Welsh Government’s commitment to protect services like education and social care. This recognises the strong call made by the WLGA for recognition of the important contribution council-run services make to reducing costly pressures in other public services such as the NHS.’
 
We are investing in our public services because the evidence tells us that the number of people over 65 and the number of young people are projected to increase, identifying pressures that will impact on our schools and on our health and on our social services. We have a responsibility and a duty to respond.
 
Maintaining our commitment to tackling inequalities in educational attainment, nearly £35 million of the £40 million of extra funding provided to schools will also be funded through the revenue support grant. We’ve also increased the investment in the pupil deprivation grant, in line with the budget agreement with the Welsh Liberal Democrats. We are protecting further education, with £5 million more to create 2,500 apprenticeships. Just over two weeks ago, the principal of Bridgend College, said:
 
‘It is very encouraging that during such austere times, Welsh Government has announced an additional 5million investment into the apprenticeship budget.’
 
We remain committed to spending on services and programmes that can either prevent problems happening or stop problems from getting worse, and this is why we’ve protected our universal benefits, keeping budgets for Flying Start, Communities First and Supporting People at the same level as last year.
 
Although we received a small rise in our capital budget for next year, it fails to mitigate the cuts we’ve had in previous years. However, our record of achievement across a wide-ranging set of economic indicators shows that we are right to invest in jobs and economic growth, and I’m announcing today a further £120 million capital boost for 2016-17 to support our investment priorities set out in our Wales infrastructure investment plan. This builds on the additional £230 million already reflected in the draft budget, but the new money I’m announcing today supports investment across a number of sectors, including £50 million for priority transport projects, £20 million to support housing supply and regeneration, the £10 million I have mentioned for the intermediate care fund to support independent living, £20 million to support capital investment in the health service, specifically £10 million for new ambulances and £10 million for neonatal services. This extra funding has the potential to create around 2,000 jobs associated with the construction phases, supporting economic growth both in the short and long term. With the funding announced today, we’ve allocated an additional £1.6 billion of funding over and above core departmental budgets to support priority projects through the Wales infrastructure investment plan, and also, of course, using a range of innovative finance approaches to boost our resources.
 
Dirprwy Lywydd, we’ve listened carefully to the representations that have been made about the evidence of the impacts of some budget decisions, and, as a result, today I am announcing the following adjustments to our plans. The provisional revenue support grant settlement clearly signalled the strength of our commitment to the delivery of local services. At an average of 1.4 per cent, the reduction was significantly lower than anticipated. Reviewing the evidence from local authorities on the pressures they’re facing, I am making an additional allocation of £2.5 million from reserves to support the councils of Powys, Ceredigion and Monmouthshire, and this specific allocation will only be applied to these three authorities.
 
The proposed change to Higher Education Funding Council for Wales’s budget has also been raised during the scrutiny period, and we’ve been clear that this has been made up of two elements: firstly, £21.1 million is the final element of the tuition fee grant transfer from HEFCW to Welsh Government, in line with previously agreed plans. But, following further discussions with the sector, we’ve decided not to proceed with this transfer for 2016-17, and this adjustment will be reflected in our final budget. As far as HEFCW’s programme budgets are concerned, our priority has always been to the student, ensuring that everyone with the potential to benefit is able to access higher education, regardless of their circumstances or mode of study. It is in line with our objectives that I’m earmarking £10 million of additional funding to be carried forward to 2016-17, £5 million of which will be used to support part-time provision. And £5 million also so that we can continue to build our capacity and excellence in Wales, including world-class scientific research—also a key priority for this Welsh Government.
 
Ken Skates has already announced plans to reverse the planned cut to the Welsh Books Council, but, Dirprwy Lywydd, scrutiny of our draft budget this year again has served to highlight the challenges of delivering priorities for a fairer, better Wales when budgets are falling. Where we’ve considered that evidence is compelling, we have made some adjustments to our spending plans to support our priorities. Dirprwy Lywydd, we’ll not be supporting the amendments; we are confident that our plans are the right plans to invest in the future of Wales: a clear way forward, supporting jobs growth and the services that mean the most to the people of Wales. I move the draft budget motion.
 
15:33
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I call the Chair of the Finance Committee, Jocelyn Davies.
 
15:33
Jocelyn DaviesBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. This year, the scrutiny of the draft budget was later than usual, and, of course, this allowed the Finance Committee to run a consultation on the actual figures in the draft budget, which proved a successful approach, resulting in the most responses received for any budget consultation during this Assembly. So, it was very helpful for our consideration of the draft budget to have so many informed responses. Now, the committee was mindful, while considering the draft budget, that we are scrutinising spending that will take place in the fifth Assembly, and it will be for the next Government to implement. The committee’s report contains a number of conclusions and recommendations, and I’m sure you’ll be delighted to hear that I won’t be covering them all in my contribution this afternoon, but I strongly recommend the Welsh Government accept each of them.
 
Now, last year, one of the main topics of the committee’s budget scrutiny was the increasing funding allocation to the health service, and we saw that continue this year. The Minister told us that the Welsh Government had collectively decided that health was to be the priority, and, of course, it’s not the committee’s role to question the Government’s priorities, but we do question the increase in allocation to health, with seemingly little accompanying evidence of service transformation. We heard some localised examples of the initiatives taking place in some areas of health, but we heard no evidence of the broader strategic long-term service reform. The committee urges the Government to identify how additional spending will be used towards service transformation.
 
The evidence from local government witnesses shows that, compared to the cuts they had been expecting, they were relatively happy with the settlement they received. However, the committee remains concerned about how the cuts to local government could affect the delivery of services, which then impacts on the health sector. The preventative services offered by local government clearly have a role in supporting the work of the health service, and this must be considered an important factor when making funding decisions.
 
Furthermore, we are concerned that continuing budget cuts will impact significantly on non-statutory services, such as libraries and leisure centres—services that also contribute to the health and wellbeing of the people of Wales. We have recommended that the Welsh Government look at alternative delivery mechanisms that can support the ongoing provision of non-statutory services. I’m sure that Ceredigion, Powys and Monmouthshire will be delighted with the announcement that we heard today, but we also recommend that the formula for the local government settlement be fundamentally reviewed, along with the introduction of a funded floor to limit the cuts to individual authorities in order to protect service delivery.
 
Now, cuts to higher education were a topic the committee received the most written evidence on. The evidence showed that the proposed cuts will negatively impact on services being offered by Welsh universities. It is clear that the reduction in funding would have an impact on the universities’ ability to deliver on the Welsh Government’s priorities, for example, widening access, studying through Welsh, part-time, and research, amongst other things. Therefore, the committee recommends that this be reviewed. Obviously, I’ve heard what the Minister’s had to say this afternoon, and we were pleased that, during evidence, the Minister assured us that she took our concerns seriously.
 
We also looked at the Government’s approach to tackling poverty, and we accept that the Welsh Government does not have some of the key levers that can be used to reduce poverty. But we believe that the Government is too focused on alleviating poverty, rather than addressing its root causes. Therefore, the committee recommends that the Government promotes a more joined-up approach to poverty reduction when formulating policies, across all departments.
 
We also make the plea that domestic abuse services be maintained, in line with the protection given to Supporting People in the budget. We were gravely concerned that protection of the Supporting People budget may not preserve services, as providers are expecting a very significant cut, which is at odds with what this draft budget purports to indicate.
 
Finally, I’d like to address the way the budget is presented by the Government. Through this Assembly term, we’ve worked with the Minister to make positive changes to budget presentation. However, this year, we are disappointed to see how year-on-year comparisons have been presented, and we believe this reduces transparency and makes the process of scrutinising the Welsh Government spending more difficult. We would recommend that future Welsh Governments consult with the Finance Committee when making significant changes to budget presentation, to ensure that effective scrutiny is possible.
 
As always, I’d also like to thank everyone who responded to the consultation, despite it being run over the Christmas period. The committee is grateful to all the individuals and organisations who took the time to respond. I’d like to thank everyone who provided oral evidence to the committee, and I’d particularly like to thank the Minister for her consistent co-operation and collaboration with Finance Committee work, and, of course, the Commission staff for their efforts in supporting us.
 
This is both the last draft budget of this Assembly, and the final budget that will come before the Finance Committee with me as Chair. Therefore, I’d like this to be a time, I think, to reflect on how effective our scrutiny of the Welsh Government spending has been, and, really, I have to say, has it resulted in the budget changes? And I think, sometimes, that that is a great shame. Because this must not simply be a process that we routinely undertake, and the next Assembly, I think, must strive to find a way of this scrutiny being meaningful and productive, or there will be no confidence in its being worthwhile. Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.
 
15:39
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I have selected the four amendments to the motion, and I call on Nick Ramsay to move amendment 1, tabled in the name of Paul Davies.
 
Gwelliant 1—Paul Davies
 
Delete all and replace with:
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
 
Does not believe the Welsh Government's Draft Budget 2016-17 meets the needs of the Welsh people.
 
Amendment 1 moved.
 
15:39
Nick RamsayBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. And, as our amendment indicates, the Welsh Conservatives will not be supporting the Welsh Government’s draft budget for 2016-17, the sequel to last year’s part 1 Welsh Government-Lib Dem budget.
 
As with so many sequels over the years, it doesn’t quite hit the mark, Minister. With piecemeal rises in health and education, this budget is more an attempt to make up for past underfunding than a genuine investment in our vital services. I’d like to focus on health, education and local government as three principal areas of concern. The draft budget shows a £245 million increase in resource spending on health and social services, thanks to an additional £260 million in funding for the delivery of core NHS services.
 
However, this is, of course, against the backdrop of five years of Welsh Labour Government cuts. In fact, spending on the Welsh NHS has fallen by 2.4 per cent since 2010-11. Adjusted for age, health spending per capita in Wales remains £50 lower than in England. The Nuffield Trust has shown that, in terms of spend per capita for NHS services, Wales spends £1,875 per head, compared to £1,925 across the border in England. Welsh Conservatives have consistently warned the Welsh Labour Government about the failure to adequately invest in the Welsh NHS. And it’s not just us saying this. Cardiff and the Vale University Local Health Board have stated, ‘When we received news of our allocation, we were then able to set that against all of these costs, and for us, were left with around £26 million of efficiency still to find.’
 
Minister, with one in seven people in Wales on a waiting list, the number waiting over 26 weeks for treatment up by 70 per cent since 2011, and Wales’s critical care bed capacity being the lowest in Europe, the consequences of the cuts to the health budget over the last five years have been vast.
 
And it gets worse. As conclusion 3 of the Finance Committee’s report makes clear, the committee did not receive sufficient evidence that this year’s additional funding will lead to significant reform and service improvements, rather than simply compensating for overspends. So, there is a question mark, a real question mark, over whether this money is going to achieve its aim. Minister, isn’t it the case that the piecemeal funding of the Welsh NHS, which we have come to expect from this Welsh Government, is no substitute for a properly funded, properly protected NHS budget? This is what they got in England, this is what people should be able to expect living here—[Interruption.] You don’t like hearing the facts, but they got it there; they didn’t get it here. Five years of underspending and you think now—
 
15:42
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Order, order. We’re debating the draft budget. I do want to hear what the Member says and you ought to listen as well. It is part of the process. Nick Ramsay.
 
15:42
Nick RamsayBiography
So, whilst we welcome more investment in the NHS, these sums amount to an admission of previous failures. Year on year, five years of previous failures, of underfunding this health service. These sums will not make up for previous cuts. Quite simply, Minister, it’s too little, too late.
 
Turning to education and skills, the Welsh Government has announced an additional £10 million to higher education student support. Sounds great. However, as we all know, and at least some of us acknowledge, the cost of the tuition fee subsidy in its current form is unsustainable. As Cardiff University told the Finance Committee, the Welsh Government underestimated the amount of funds required by the tuition fee grant, which has seen over £20 million transferred from HEFCW’s budget to post-16 learner support.
 
I was very pleased to hear the Minister’s announcement earlier regarding the postponement—and from what I could gather from your comments, Minister, it did sound more like a postponement than a cancellation—of that removal of money from HEFCW’s budget. I’m pleased you’ve listened to the Finance Committee, I’m pleased you’ve listened to the higher education sector on this issue, because you did need to. But you’re still left with a gulf, an unsustainable gap, in funding for higher education, which will need to be addressed, and you may not want to address it this side of the election, but addressed sooner or later it will have to be. So, you’ve made a start, we welcome that, but we look for further recognition of the need for you to make different spending commitments.
 
The higher education budget cuts will impact most heavily on those seeking to access part-time courses or those seeking to undertake courses in Welsh. This flies in the face of the Welsh Government’s so-called priorities. What is the point of having priorities if you are not then going to put your money where your mouth is and adequately fund the higher education sector in Wales? But I recognise that there has been that announcement today, Minister, and any move in the right direction is good.
 
There are many long-term negatives for a failure in effectively funding higher education. Cutting research funding can have an adverse effect on science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, which will have repercussions for the future Welsh economy, as we’re weakening the ability to build the quality of our skills base. The committee has recommended the Minister look again at these allocations. Of course, once again, the big loser of this draft budget has been local government. I was, again, very pleased to hear the Minister’s comments about at least three of the rural authorities earlier. The proposed 4.1 per cent cut to Powys’s authority budget was clearly completely unacceptable. The cuts to Ceredigion and to Monmouthshire’s budgets were also unacceptable, and I think the Minister had to recognise that.
 
15:45
Alun DaviesBiography
Will you take an intervention on that?
 
15:45
Nick RamsayBiography
Yes, I will.
 
15:45
Alun DaviesBiography
Thank you very much, I’m very grateful to you. You described a 4 per cent cut as ‘completely unacceptable’, so I assume you’d use the same words to describe the 6.7 per cent cut that your Government has imposed on local government across the border.
 
15:45
Nick RamsayBiography
The 4.1 per cent, clearly, was unacceptable, because the Minister has reneged on that today by putting extra money in. It’s a shame that the frontbench didn’t keep you in the loop with Cabinet discussions, isn’t it? But I suppose they learnt that lesson a long time ago, Alun.
 
So, I’m pleased that there is going to be some additional funding for local authorities, but we have called, across this Chamber, for a rural stabilisation grant. In some ways, I hope—I haven’t seen the detail yet, but I hope that this additional funding will work like that. But it is still not the commitment to a rural stabilisation fund that we were looking for.
 
In her comments, the Chair of the Finance Committee said that this is just the tip of the iceberg. We also have the problem of the local government formula, and there have been discussions on that committee about the need to somehow move to a better formula. I stand by those comments. I think that this is a start in the right direction today, Minister, but, overall, we need certainty of funding for local authorities across Wales. We need to see a rural stabilisation grant in place in the short term, and we need to see a reformed local government formula that will recognise the stresses that local authority budgets, particularly in rural areas, are under.
 
Of course, whilst we talk about the cuts to local government budgets, and the Minister emeritus Alun Davies talks about a 6 per cent cut to Wales—the frontbench weren’t listening to you, Minister—[Interruption.] Well, to England. The frontbench might not have been listening to you, but I was. At the same time, the Welsh Government is increasing their allocation for administration, one of the few uplifts in this budget. Welsh local authorities are put under further pressure, and yet there will be an increase to the Welsh local government administration budget. It’s not surprising, is it, that there’s cynicism about politics today when you see cuts across the board, but the Welsh Government itself does not seem to be able or in a position to make similar savings to those that they are expecting local government to do. Councils have had to make difficult decisions to cut funding elsewhere, often in preventative services, creating even more problems for the future, and what does that all mean in practice? Well, probably higher council tax rates, with Welsh households facing the double whammy of further increases to their council tax bills at the same time as losing vital local services.
 
In conclusion, Deputy Presiding Officer, it’s not just rural councils that are being penalised. This is another deeply worrying draft budget for Welsh agriculture; a £3.7 million cash-terms cut to the agriculture and food budget is more bad news for the nation’s farmers and our rural communities. This cut includes £0.5 million less to support marketing Welsh food and drink produce and less funding for the delivery of the rural development plan. There are cuts to animal welfare of £0.75 million—again, this will disproportionately impact upon rural areas and Welsh farmers, to say nothing of the reductions in funding to manage TB eradication and other endemic diseases.
 
In conclusion, Deputy Presiding Officer, I’m pleased that the Welsh Government seems to be admitting its folly of the last few years and realising that there is a need to put greater funding into public services in Wales. It is long overdue, but it is too little and it is definitely too late.
 
15:49
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I call on Alun Ffred Jones to move amendments 2, 3 and 4 tabled in the name of Elin Jones.
 
Gwelliant 2—Elin Jones
 
Add as a new point at end of motion:
 
Regrets that the draft budget fails to take an all-Wales approach to future capital investment.
 
Gwelliant 3—Elin Jones
 
Add as a new point at end of motion:
 
Regrets that the draft budget proposes a damaging and severe cut to funding support for Welsh higher education institutions.
 
Gwelliant 4—Elin Jones
 
Add as a new point at end of motion:
 
Regrets that the draft budget’s proposal for continued funding pressure on local government has not been matched with a proposal for a rural stabilisation grant.
 
Amendments 2, 3 and 4 moved.
 
15:49
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Thank you very much. I’m very pleased to move these amendments tabled in the name of Elin Jones.
 
The background to this budget is too well known by now and George Osborne’s plans for having a balanced budget over the past six years have failed time and time again. Despite all the pain, the value of the salaries of workers, generally speaking, is still 9 per cent lower than it was before the crash of 2008. Yet, simultaneously, we see a financial sector that has regained its confidence and is still acting as irresponsibly as ever. I would encourage you all to go and see the new film, ‘The Big Short’, to understand how ordinary people across the west were conned and impoverished in 2008, and continue to pay for that deception, of course.
 
In terms of the current budget, and given that background, we obviously welcome the increase in expenditure on health. There are questions that arise from that. If the expenditure in Wales is so much higher per capita, as the Government claims, why are the waiting lists so unacceptably long? Of course, that may have something to do with the point that my colleague Mike Hedges raises relatively often in the Finance Committee, namely productivity, which, according to one of the Nuffield reports, which is often quoted in this Chamber, has reduced significantly over the past few years. I think that that is an issue that Jocelyn Davies also referred to in terms of the value for money that we achieve from that substantial budget.
 
In terms of this budget, and in accepting the difficulties facing the Government in terms of expenditure, there are three areas that we believe that the Government should reconsider, and we are very pleased that you as a Government have listened not only to us, but to the particular sectors and the case presented by them. Each county council is under siege these days. Even with this afternoon’s announcement, the truth is that each council is looking to make cuts to their basic services. In my case, in the case of Gwynedd Council, there are cuts of £5 million to take place over the next year or two on services. That will also mean job losses and a reduction in services that provide support and comfort in rural and urban areas. We were specifically concerned about those councils that were being hit the hardest, and this relatively small amount of money pledged at £2.5 million will be appreciated by those councils. However, the challenges remain.
 
I don’t have much patience in terms of setting the urban councils versus the rural councils—that is irrelevant—but the cuts to Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion did stand out and created an impossible situation there. Therefore, we are grateful to the Minister for the changes that she made there.
 
It was also clear that the cut in higher education was far too grave, and it showed that the present Welsh Government policy on tuition fees, for example, was unsustainable in the long term. It also showed a lack of understanding of the higher education sector, and I think that that’s even more shocking to us all. These real-term cuts to the HEFCW budget are going to undermine the credibility of the sector. For example, in terms of Bangor University, the original cuts would have meant a loss of perhaps between £3 million and £5 million within a year. That would have impacted on all of the university’s plans over the next 10 to 15 years in terms of borrowing in order to create better facilities and resources for its students, and in doing so, raising the standard of research and the learning experience, and in so doing, securing the future of the university. So, that was the reality facing the university. The rumour that the universities of Wales have reserves of £1.3 billion is just ignorant nonsense. It is not true, and I do not know why the First Minister is still peddling that figure. As I say, a university like Bangor, for example, is only just paying its way, if truth be told, and it does need a small amount of surplus annually in order to guarantee its loans and to fund its plans for the future. However, we are grateful for this change of mind within the Government, which has shown that they have listened and have understood the impact and the consequences of their original proposals.
 
15:54
Joyce WatsonBiography
Will the Member give way?
 
15:54
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
By all means. Yes.
 
15:54
Joyce WatsonBiography
Thank you very much for taking an intervention. We’re talking about education, and we’re talking about cuts in Gwynedd. Would you speak to your Members in Gwynedd and ask them to change their minds about the proposed increase to travel to Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor, and the proposed two-thirds increase in the bus ticket from £60 to £100 a term? That’s what you do when you’re in charge.
 
15:55
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Well, examples such as that are going to become more and more apparent, and they happen across Wales because of the situation that we’re facing. I don’t think it’s relevant to the debate that we are having today.
 
In terms of capital projects, the Government has provided hundreds of millions of pounds in unallocated reserves, although we did hear a brief announcement today on some of that funding. We can’t support a budget that refuses to declare exactly where those capital projects are to take place, and we are still concerned about that. I do want to make one further reference to the budget in the area of the environment. We have huge concerns about the ability of NRW to respond to its duties and to actually deliver against its duties under the legislation and Bills that have been recently passed in that area. I know that there is grave concern within the sector that it will not be able to deliver what it is required to deliver under that legislation.
 
I see that the Labour Government remains committed to spending its entire borrowing capacity on the M4 black route scheme around Newport. We see this as a failure to take an all-Wales approach to future capital investment. This is a clear dividing line between the Government and Plaid Cymru. We need to see all future capital investment reassessed and reprioritised so that it embraces the whole of the nation. We will not support a budget or a Government that we see as failing to meet the needs of all of the regions of our country.
 
15:57
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I call the Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Peter Black.
 
15:57
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Could I start by declaring my interest as a member of the City and County of Swansea in relation to amendment 4, and also put on record that my wife works for Swansea University, because we will be talking about HE as well?
 
Deputy Presiding Officer, the Welsh Liberal Democrats welcome the announcement that the finance Minister has just made in relation to local government and to higher education. Nick Ramsay just said a few minutes earlier that a 4.1 per cent cut in Powys’s budget was unacceptable, and I agree with him. The Assembly, of course, is facing a much bigger cut to its own budget, and presumably Nick would also agree that that is unacceptable too. But clearly, there are difficult decisions to be made as a result of that. The Welsh Liberal Democrats recognise that, and we are doing our best to work with the Government to try to get a budget that is balanced and that delivers priorities that we think are important, as well as the priorities of the Welsh Government themselves. That doesn’t mean to say that we agree with everything in the budget—we don’t. Clearly, I have concerns about a number of issues in the budget, but I am fairly pleased to see that the Welsh Liberal Democrat priorities that are set out in that two-year budget deal are there. And, for that reason, we will allow the budget to go through, though we will not vote for it, because, of course, it is not our budget, and nor have we been consulted on the entire budget. But certainly, we will abstain so that the budget can be passed.
 
We’ve worked with the finance Minister, with local government and the higher education sector to try and put right the issues that arose from the draft budget. We feel that that is a much more constructive approach than shouting from the sidelines, which is the approach taken by both Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives. And, of course, Plaid Cymru did have an opportunity to take part in discussions with the Welsh Government, but it decided to abdicate that right and allow us to do all the dirty work for them. So, that is the situation that we find ourselves in now, where the Welsh Liberal Democrats have effectively secured £223 million of investment in a number of key policies secured during our negotiations with the Welsh Government. Even split over two years, this is the largest funding package secured in budget negotiations over this Assembly term. I think that it compares favourably with the £30 million that Plaid Cymru secured in 2012. This is a £223 million budget deal. It is a clear investment in children and young people, helping to ensure they have the best opportunities and a fair start in life.
 
As part that two-year deal, we have secured an increase in the pupil deprivation grant to £1,150 per pupil, helping to boost funding for schools to invest in children from the very poorest backgrounds. We welcomed the recent second evaluation report on the pupil deprivation grant, which confirmed that the additional funding is making a difference to educational outcomes for pupils who are eligible for free school meals. Thanks to the funding that we initially secured for this policy in 2011, there have been significant improvements in literacy, numeracy, behaviour, confidence and self-esteem for disadvantaged pupils. The rate of improvement in GCSE attainment of pupils eligible for free school meals has almost doubled since the introduction of the pupil deprivation grant. The two-year funding deal has also given schools more certainty over future funding of the PDG, enabling them to plan ahead to ensure funding is spent most effectively.
 
We also secured £7.5 million to extend the pupil deprivation grant to the under-fives, benefiting over 12,500 nursery pupils across Wales. The Sutton Trust found that the poorest children are 19 months behind on school readiness at the age of five. That is why early intervention is key, and we need to make sure that every child gets the care and attention they deserve when they are very young.
 
We also secured protection against the planned cuts to apprenticeships with funding for around 5,000 new apprenticeships over two years. In England, under the coalition Government, we saw an increase in apprenticeships of an unparalleled scale, with almost 2.5 million apprenticeship starts over the last five years. In contrast, in Wales we saw decline in apprenticeships, with figures only recently returning to the level of 2006. In almost a decade, we have just managed to break even. We are pleased that, through the budget, we secured funding for apprenticeships to help build the highly skilled workforce in Wales that we need.
 
We secured £14.75 million for our young travellers youth concessionary fare scheme, which is giving discounted bus travel to 16 to 18-year-olds across Wales. So far, over £1.9 million has been allocated to local authorities in south-east Wales, £801,960 to south-west Wales, over £1 million to north Wales, £97,440 to Ceredigion and £148,360 to Powys. This scheme is open to 112,500 young people in Wales, helping them to access work, education, training and apprenticeships.
 
Following our recent debate, we also welcome that the Supporting People grant has been protected, which delivers such vital support to some of the most vulnerable people in Wales. Every £1 invested in the Supporting People programme saves £2.30 across health, social care and housing, demonstrating that this is a truly worthwhile investment. We welcome the increased spending on health of £245 million, or 3.5 per cent. Two hundred million pounds is being given to support core NHS delivery and we hope that this will help ensure that we have safe staffing levels on our hospital wards, so that staff have the time to give patients the care that they need. The £30 million extra for mental health and older people is also welcome, but we need to see much greater investment in mental health to a level equal to its disease burden. Given the fact that 23 per cent of the disease burden of the UK comes from mental illness, whilst only 11.4 per cent of the NHS Wales budget is spent on mental illness, clearly, more needs to be done. Spending more money on mental health care is an investment. Mental ill health costs Wales £7.2 billion a year; spending more on mental health care would avoid more costly spending on physical illness and the number of working days lost from mental ill health, saving money in the long run.
 
The Local Government Settlement has caused considerable concern, despite the overall cuts in the draft budget being less than feared. Bob Wellington, the WLGA leader, said that the
 
‘settlement offers a welcome slow-down in the daunting level of budget cuts local government has experienced over recent years.’
 
And it did do that. However, clearly there was an issue in relation to rural authorities, which have been referred to already. Of course, that manifested itself particularly in terms of Powys and Ceredigion, which saw a 4.1 per cent and a 3.4 per cent cut respectively. While the vote on the local government settlement is separate from this vote today, and of course separate from the budget deal that we did with the Welsh Government, the Welsh Liberal Democrats made it clear that we would not have supported a settlement that hit rural areas so badly. That is why we had those constructive discussions with the finance Minister and we are very pleased with the announcement today of additional funding for Powys, Ceredigion and Monmouthshire. We’ve worked with them, and we’ve worked with local government and the HE sector to put right those issues from the draft budget, and I think we have succeeded. This is not about shouting from the sidelines; this is getting real results.
 
Of course, this arrangement is not sustainable. It’s a one-off deal. We cannot continue to have this problem year on year, and that is why we need to have that full review of the funding formula that the Welsh Local Government Association brought before the Finance Committee when they gave evidence on the budget. However, I have to say, as a note of caution, nobody can predict what the outcome of that will be. Of course, when you have a declining population in rural areas then, inevitably, there is going to be a problem with a population-based formula. But, I’m pleased that we’ve sorted this out for now. I think that is work that needs to be taken up in the next Assembly. Certainly, we need to make sure that the data that are used in the formula are brought up to date, so that we can be certain that the formula is working properly.
 
We welcome the increase of £64.6 million of capital funding for the social housing grant. But, we must be more ambitious if we are to deliver the level of housing we need in the next Assembly. The Holmans report identified that we need 12,000 homes a year, of which 5,200 were social housing. That is a significant step over the 10,000 a term, which this Assembly Government has strived to deliver. The Welsh Liberal Democrats are committed to 20,000 over the next Assembly term, which I believe brings us much closer to the aspiration in the Holmans report.
 
Deputy Presiding Officer, as I said at the start of this debate, the budget is one that has been significantly improved, I believe, as a result of the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ intervention. It is not our budget. There are things in it that I think can be better and can be delivered better. But, I think that the extra money that we put in for poorer pupils in education, the money that we’ve brought in for cheaper transport for 16 to 18-year-olds, the extra apprenticeships, and the additional capital funding we’ve had delivered around Wales make it a budget that we believe should be passed today. Thank you.
 
16:06
Lynne NeagleBiography
I’m very pleased to speak today on a positive budget settlement from the Welsh Government and the fairer and better Wales it lays the foundations for. Our steadfast and sustainable approach to public services means higher per-head spend on health and social services, continued investment in education, and greater protection for councils than in England. That’s not to say there aren’t tough choices after six years of Westminster austerity. We are the first administration since the start of devolution with only cuts to deal with—11 per cent in real terms by 2020. So, it’s depressing that today’s Tory amendment seeks to undermine this budget’s delivery when, in fact, we’re responding to the hand dealt from a Westminster Government intent on cuts and austerity no matter the cost to communities.
 
Before us today is a budget that delivers on Labour priorities. I want to talk first and foremost about some of the spending commitments I’m pleased to see included. The biggest local headline announcement for my constituents is the capital funding allocation for the Cwmbran based specialist critical care centre. The business case is still with Welsh Government but, as a sign of commitment, they’ve allocated £36 million, the largest single allocation in this year’s capital budget. Having campaigned for this development, I’m delighted at its inclusion and will continue to work with Aneurin Bevan Local Health Board and the Welsh Government to ensure that it is delivered on time. This £500 million hospital will deliver twenty-first century healthcare for the Valleys and flies in the face of opposition rhetoric about underfunding in local hospital services. This is a Welsh Labour Government that protects the NHS. Thanks to the £300 million extra this year and the £1.1 billion already invested over the past two years, we spend more per head on health than England.
 
Social services is, of course, fundamental to the delivery of first-class healthcare. I am proud that we in Wales recognise that link through protecting funding. I’ve always made the case for more investment in social care and I’m delighted to see an additional £21 million for social services in the draft budget. This is in sharp contrast to England where huge cuts are causing chaos. We’ve even seen proposals from one council in England to charge £26 for each older vulnerable resident who falls in the night. It shows the pressure on local councils to cope as the Chancellor promises more cash for the NHS while cutting other parts of health and social care to fund it.
 
Today, we learn that even David Cameron’s mother is joining the campaign against Tory cuts, having signed a petition against cuts to children’s centres in the Prime Minister’s constituency. We welcome her to our cause.
 
For my constituents in Torfaen, however, there’s positive work ongoing. I was really pleased to visit Nevill Hall Hospital recently and meet the teams who—funded by the intermediate care fund, which has been increased in this budget—are making huge strides in supporting patients and reducing lengths of stay.
 
Of course, social services face challenges, but we approach those in the spirit of consultation and co-operation reflected in this budget. I hope this spirit of co-operation with local authorities continues on a local government settlement that is tough, but ultimately much better than anticipated.
 
Torfaen, which originally planned for a 4 per cent reduction, is now in a much better position and able to row back from the harshest savings, continue to invest in social care and protect education. A reduction of 1.7 per cent is still significant, though, and there are some difficult choices pending for an authority that faces many challenges and serves communities with high levels of deprivation. I cannot let this opportunity pass without stressing the need for greater weight on deprivation for deprived Valleys authorities like Torfaen. Comments have been plentiful from colleagues pushing for funding floors and stabilisation grants for rural authorities, but that extra funding cannot be at the expense of Valleys communities that already lose out because of the weightings given in the local government formula for sparsity.
 
I’m also delighted that we in Wales continue to spend more per head on education than in England and that the protection for schools spending continues in this budget. This is on top of very welcome protection for FE budgets in Wales.
 
In conclusion, this is a draft budget that, despite the harshest of Tory cuts from Westminster, delivers our manifesto commitments and protects vital public services, and I’m very proud to vote for this budget today.
 
16:11
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Questioning the finance Minister over her draft budget last December, I asked how much the Welsh Government received as a consequence of the UK Government’s announcement of the biggest house building programme by any Government since the 1970s in England, and how much of that additional money she would be allocating to new housing supply in Wales during 2016-17, after the devastating cuts imposed on housing here since 1999. No answers were provided. This weekend’s last-minute, pre-election announcement of some extra funding for social housing—but only during this current financial year—must be judged in this context.
 
Wales has had by far the lowest proportion of housing expenditure of any of the four UK countries. New home registrations in Wales have lagged behind the rest of Britain for years, and last year Wales was again the only UK nation to see a fall in the number of new homes registered. Twelve years ago, I warned that stripping money out of housing to fund Labour’s top-down anti-poverty programmes was akin to throwing mud at the wall while digging up the wall’s foundations. It is also 12 years since the housing sector warned of an impending housing crisis in Wales unless urgent action was taken. Although housing is key to sustainable community regeneration and the Homes for Wales campaign is calling on the next Welsh Government to end the housing crisis in Wales, capital funding to increase the supply and choice of affordable quality housing in this Labour budget is barely two thirds of that provided by the last Conservative Government in 1997 in Wales, despite average house prices in Wales being almost 250 per cent higher.
 
Wales needs the whole housing sector working together to tackle the housing crisis by delivering a comprehensive housing reform programme. I welcome the Welsh Government’s u-turn on proposed cuts to the Supporting People programme, but regret it took an all-Wales campaign to achieve this. [Interruption.] Did somebody speak? No. As I said in the 2014-15 draft budget debate, Labour’s proposed cuts to this preventative programme represented a false economy that would lead to greater cost. Further, as Cymorth Cymru, which represents over 100 housing-related support organisations, has stated, the programme now needs a large-scale evaluation and focus on better prevention, partnership and procurement—spending to save. Rural housing enablers are key to delivering affordable rural housing, tackling the strategic barriers identified in their 2014 evaluation. So, why does this draft budget appear to scrap their funding?
 
The Williams commission report on public sector governance and delivery found that the only viable way to meet the needs and aspirations of people is to shift the emphasis of public service towards co-production and prevention, working with third sector and independent organisations, communities and individuals. The auditor general has stated that councils need to consider alternative models of delivery, but found that although some councils are managing to provide key services with less money accordingly, many councils are too slow in reviewing alternative methods of delivery and missing out on opportunities to reduce expenditure. Only last week, the Wales Audit Office told the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee that the auditor general has talked about the need for local authorities to innovate and do things differently.
 
However, although the Welsh Government is facing a real-terms reduction in the block grant, averaging just 1.1 per cent annually over four years, serious concern has been expressed to me by homel