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The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
 
13:30
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
I call the National Assembly to order.
 
13:30
Statement by the Llywydd: Appointment of the New Chief Executive and Clerk of the Assembly
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
As you all know, the Chief Executive and Clerk of the Assembly, Claire Clancy, has decided to retire following almost a decade in the role. The clerk is the most senior Commission employee and our principal accounting officer. It’s the responsibility of the Assembly Commission to make the appointment to this post and, over the last few months, we have conducted a rigorous, competitive recruitment process to find a replacement for Claire. We were looking for an exceptional individual and we attracted a strong field of candidates.
 
I’m delighted to announce the appointment of Manon Antoniazzi as our next chief executive and clerk. Manon has had an impressive career and brings a wealth of experience at a time when we face many new challenges and opportunities. Manon is currently director of culture, sport and tourism for the Welsh Government, having been chief executive of Visit Wales. Earlier in her career, she had roles at the BBC and S4C, as well as with the Prince of Wales. The Commissioners are in no doubt that Manon will approach the role with great skill and enthusiasm, and a passionate commitment to the success of the Assembly.
 
The performance of the Assembly Commission has a direct impact on the success and reputation of the Assembly. We rely heavily on the chief executive to provide innovative, effective leadership, and to deliver exceptional standards of service. Thanks to Claire and our hugely committed, talented staff, the Commission is a highly regarded organisation, much admired by parliaments elsewhere. Claire will be with us until Easter, when Manon will take up the reins to lead the organisation through the next exciting and challenging phase of our development at the heart of democracy for Wales. Thank you.
 
1. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
13:31
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
And, so, we move on to the first item on our agenda this afternoon, namely questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, and I call on the first question—Janet Finch-Saunders.
 
A North Wales Tidal Lagoon
 
13:32
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the potential economic benefits of a north Wales tidal lagoon? OAQ(5)0114(EI)
 
13:32
Ken SkatesBiographyThe Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure
Yes. A north Wales tidal lagoon has the potential to create considerable jobs in north Wales. And we have consistently stated our commitment, in principle, to supporting the development of a sustainable tidal lagoon industry right across Wales.
 
13:32
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, and I’m sure you would agree with me in welcoming the Hendry review, and the positive support therein for tidal lagoon developments across Wales. For us in north Wales, such a project would provide essential flood protection, deliver significant employment and economic inward investment opportunity, and contribute towards helping Wales to become a world leader in renewable energy. A number of stakeholders have already pledged their support, and I’m glad that you pledge your support in principle. The Welsh Conservatives group pledge their support for tidal lagoon technology in Wales. But will you also back that up, please, with some commitment towards any funding that is needed to make that project a reality?
 
13:33
Ken SkatesBiography
Well, we are fully committed to this project, and I’ll be meeting with Charles Hendry later this afternoon to talk about the pathfinder project in particular, which would lead eventually to the creation of a tidal lagoon in north Wales. It’s a project that could potentially create 27,000 jobs for the north Wales economy. It would also, as the Member highlighted, contribute to the defence of coastal communities, and this is something that is very much of great concern to the Welsh Government, and it’s something that I’ve spoken with the Cabinet Secretary for environment and natural resources about very recently. So, we are very enthusiastic about this project. We are supportive and, of course, we’ll work right across Government, including with the regional skills partnerships, to ensure that the skills are there to deliver the project in a timely fashion, were it to go ahead.
 
13:34
Jeremy MilesBiography
Tidal lagoons are one manifestation of Wales’s blue economy, which, as well as energy, also encompasses fishing and aquaculture, and tourism and leisure. Wales has a strong advantage in this area against other countries that don’t have the same coast and high tidal reach. What priority will the Cabinet Secretary give to Wales’s blue economy in the new economic strategy, and what steps can he take to ensure that firms, large and small, are able to take advantage of this opportunity?
 
13:34
Ken SkatesBiography
I’d like to thank Jeremy Miles for his question, and also thank him for a very insightful piece on his website, concerning the blue economy. I think it’s very timely that we’re talking about this particular subject, as we start planning for 2018, which has been designated the Year of the Sea. And, for the purpose of growing visitor numbers, of course, the blue economy will be increasingly important.
 
In terms of existing opportunities, we are committed to taking advantage of every major blue economy infrastructure project across Wales, including the Swansea bay tidal lagoon pathfinder project, subject, of course, to the necessary consents being in place. I am determined to make sure that coastal communities take advantage not only of initiatives such as the Year of the Sea, but also of major infrastructure projects, and that the supply chain around Wales, and particularly in coastal communities, is able to exploit those major opportunities for economic growth.
 
13:35
Llyr GruffyddBiography
It was good to hear Charles Hendry briefing Members of the Assembly at lunchtime, and one of the points that he made, of course, is that it is his recommendation that there should be a delay after the development of the first project in order to learn lessons from it. One understands why that would be beneficial, but there is recognition in that regard that that may create problems for the new supply chains that we intend to develop around the Swansea project. Whilst he is calling on the UK Government to demonstrate a long-term plan in terms of major projects, he’s also suggesting that we need to look at a series of smaller projects in order to maintain the supply chain in the interim, until we reach the point where we can be confident in moving forward with a number of larger projects. Can I ask what work the Welsh Government is undertaking to identify the potential for a series of smaller projects along the Welsh coastline in order to ensure that that supply chain does have the medium-term resilience and sustainability to survive the long term?
 
13:36
Ken SkatesBiography
This is a really important point the Member raises, and I’ve talked in the past about the need to have a constant pipeline of major infrastructure investments, but one that also mixes in smaller investments that can maintain people and employment whilst waiting or transitioning from one major project to the other. And for that reason, we’re working with local government, with skills providers, and with businesses, to ensure that we’re able to identify a time frame for major projects to take place in, but also one that ensures that, between the major projects, we’re able to identify opportunities for companies to grow and to prosper from smaller scale projects.
 
One of the key issues that I’ll be raising this afternoon with Charles Hendry, and it’s something that the Member has already touched on, is how long the pathfinder programme is envisaged to last for, because this will have, as the Member rightly says, knock-on effects not just on the Swansea bay project, but also on tidal lagoon projects right across Wales.
 
Business Growth
 
13:37
Angela BurnsBiography
2. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline what discussions he has had with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government in relation to the growth of business in Wales? OAQ(5)0111(EI)
 
13:37
Ken SkatesBiography
I meet regularly with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, and the wider Cabinet, to discuss a range of economy and infrastructure issues within my portfolio, including, of course, business growth.
 
13:38
Angela BurnsBiography
Thank you for that, because, as you will recognise, developing and growing a business in today’s climate is harder than ever and there are a number of issues that business owners cite as barriers to growth for their businesses—lack of structured borrowing and capital from the banking sector is one. However, many talk about the barriers from local authorities and other public sector organisations, ranging from Natural Resources Wales to transport infrastructure. Planning is key, and I recognise that both you and the Cabinet Secretary for finance don’t have responsibility for that. But what I’m really trying to elucidate is a sense that there is a coherent strategy around the Cabinet table that encourages and empowers businesses to thrive. The economy is our lifeblood. What else do you think, Cabinet Secretary, could be done to ensure that untimely delays, a lack of vision and disjointed thinking in public services doesn’t impede the growth of our economic health?
 
13:39
Ken SkatesBiography
I’d like to thank Angela Burns for her question. Since I was appointed to this post, I’ve embarked on numerous engagement opportunities with the business community, and the points that the Member raises today have been relayed to me on numerous occasions. For that reason, I engaged directly and constructively with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government in the drafting of the White Paper, which will be presented shortly, on local government. And I think it’s absolutely essential that we recognise that there are barriers that still exist that inhibit economic growth. For that reason, I’ve asked every department in Government to draft formally a competitiveness plan that can fuel economic growth within the private sector.
 
13:39
David ReesBiography
Cabinet Secretary, your predecessor introduced enterprise zones as a means of actually growing the economy in particular areas across Wales and, last year, she introduced an enterprise zone in Port Talbot. What are you doing with your colleagues to ensure that the enhanced capital allowances can be extended beyond the time we’ve already been given, so that the enterprise zone, which we all know does not take one year but several years to establish itself, can get established? What he also told me in discussions with him was that capital allowances were needed to build the sites and grow spaces, which is square footage that we haven’t got elsewhere in Wales, to allow businesses to come in and use them, enabling them to grow.
 
13:40
Ken SkatesBiography
This is one of the points that has been raised by Chris Sutton on numerous occasions with me during, again, the engagement programme that I’ve had with businesses. It’s absolutely central that we recognise that many of the premises that were built to attract investors are now reaching a point where they require either major investment or replacement. So, it’s going to become an increasingly important aspect of the prosperous and secure strategy, as we move forward to a post-Brexit existence.
 
I think also in terms of enterprise zones and the support that we’ve been able to provide through business rates, we’ve been able to already support 200 businesses with approximately £9 million of funding through the scheme. But there are other ways in which Welsh Government can act as an enabler of economic growth and business growth, and, of course, the provision of modern fit-for-purpose premises is one of those means by which we can encourage economic growth and prosperity.
 
13:41
Vikki HowellsBiography
Minister, as you will be aware, proposals to develop a circuit of Wales have been circulating for some time. Up to now, the project team have been unable to raise the necessary finance for the project. Would you be able to outline what recent developments there have been?
 
13:41
Ken SkatesBiography
Like the Member, I’m concerned that the circuit of Wales project has been publicly debated for many years without the team yet being able to raise the necessary private finance to bring the project to fruition. The proposals have changed, of course, over the years, since 2011. Last July, I made it clear what our position as a Welsh Government is. I stated clearly in this Chamber that we require a minimum of 50 per cent of the capital and 50 per cent of the risk of the project to be taken by the private sector. Should that happen, we will consider any new proposal against the appropriate value-for-money and due diligence tests. The people of Ebbw Vale, as the Member has already identified, deserve to know if this project is going ahead and, crucially, if so, when. I’m keen to avoid the opportunity costs associated with a project that does not have a final end date. So, I have therefore written to the Heads of the Valleys development corporation today, asking them to make faster progress on this project and asking for evidence to be provided to me of named investor term sheets within the next two weeks.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
13:42
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Questions now from the party spokespeople. First, the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Adam Price.
 
13:42
Adam PriceBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. As the Cabinet Secretary will be aware, I and my party colleagues were roundly condemned for expressing our sincere belief, echoed by many steelworkers, that the current package of proposals on offer from Tata needed to be radically improved to make it fair and acceptable for workers. It was therefore gratifying to see as a headline in the ‘Llanelli Star’ earlier this week this picture of the AM for Llanelli and the MP for Llanelli, under the headline, ‘Leading Llanelli politicians tell Tata Steel: ‘"Re-think pension deal"‘. Now, the Labour MP for Llanelli said of Tata’s proposals that steelworkers have every right to be angry and expressed her hope that even now, just days before the vote, it is not too late for Tata to look again and offer a better deal, even though we’ve heard, of course, from some of the Labour benches the argument that there’s no alternative. Does the Cabinet Secretary agree with the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence that workers are right to be angry and that Tata urgently needs to rethink its proposals?
 
13:44
Ken SkatesBiography
I think the Member is right to say that workers should be concerned about the future of the steel industry, but it does nobody any favours to politicise what is an incredibly sensitive matter. It’s not often that I would agree with the leader of the opposition, but I do think that he was right to tweet that there was no place for political posturing in what is an incredibly important debate about pensions, which could then determine the long-term sustainability of the steel industry. I think what the Member for Llanelli has said reflects the concern not just within this Chamber, but in the wider communities where steel is so important, that there should be the best possible deal for steelworkers on the table for their pensions, but this is the only deal that’s there at the moment, and the First Minister and I have been very clear in our views that the debate should be conducted without any political interference whatsoever.
 
13:45
Adam PriceBiography
I gave the Cabinet Secretary the opportunity there to support his own members—members of his own party—who are simply doing their job, actually, and I actually support them in what they’ve said. We’ve said the same—this deal is not good enough, and, really, he should be using his position and that of the Welsh Government to actually get a revised proposal. Now, earlier this week, the UK Government published its own industrial strategy, the Green Paper. Was he as surprised as me to see that steel only had a single passing reference in a 132-page document?
 
To be fair, there were some areas that present opportunities for Wales, so will he be proposing steel as one of the areas for a sector deal? Will the Welsh Government take up the offer of a joint ministerial forum on industrial strategy? Does he welcome the commitment to move cultural institutions and Government bodies, including research bodies, outside of London to support economic development? Does he welcome the long-overdue commitment by the UK Government to take into account the current regional imbalance in investment in infrastructure in making future investment decisions?
 
13:46
Ken SkatesBiography
I was pleased to be able to speak with Greg Clark at length on Monday ahead of the publication of the strategy. I agreed with the Secretary of State that joint chairmanship of the forum would be something that I would desire. I also spoke with him about a specific steel sector deal—this is something that we’re going to be discussing in the coming weeks.
 
I was surprised how little reference there was to steel within the strategy. However, I have made it clear that I wish to see steel become a major component of the industrial strategy’s work moving forward. I’m also keen—the Member is aware that I am keen—to decentralise wherever possible. So, whether it concerns investment or innovation, I would like to see more opportunities given to companies outside the intensely urbanised areas where, traditionally, financial institutions and innovation bodies are based.
 
13:47
Adam PriceBiography
Of course, it’s often all too easy to attack the UK Government, and sometimes they make it too easy for us, but there are some things we can learn here, surely. At least they’ve got a strategy. It’s taken the new administration just six months to produce an industrial strategy. Where is our Welsh Government economic strategy that we were promised in June? Has research been commissioned? When can we see a draft? Will the Welsh Government commit to equalising infrastructure investment between the regions? There’s a 5:1 gap between the south-east of England and Wales; there’s a 3:1 gap between the south-east of Wales and my own region. Will it commit to locating the Welsh Revenue Authority outside the south-east? It’s good to see the decision imminent on the Circuit of Wales, but will other investment projects outside the south-east that have been languishing in his ministerial in-tray, like the Egin in west Wales, finally see a decision so that we can get on and create investment and jobs outside of one corner of Wales?
 
13:48
Ken SkatesBiography
I think the Member should reflect on what his colleague said yesterday about ensuring that due diligence is followed and thoroughly pursued—it’s absolutely essential. So, whether it’s Yr Egin or any other project, we do pursue due diligence rather than rush hastily into an investment that may not offer best value for money for the taxpayer.
 
In terms of the UK Government’s strategy, although the Member may wish to ignore the fact that a UK Government exists, we will not ignore that fact. One of the messages that came across clearly from businesses the length and breadth of Wales whilst I was consulting with them over the contents and the vision within our strategy is that we need to take account of what the UK industrial strategy presents for Wales. We could not have produced a strategy that did not take account of the key elements of the vision of the UK Government, whether we like that or not.
 
13:49
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The Welsh Conservatives’ spokesperson, Russell George.
 
13:49
Russell GeorgeBiography
Diolch, Presiding Officer. I do have no doubt that the Cabinet Secretary will agree with me that small businesses are vitally important, of course, to the Welsh economy. But I have to say that small businesses haven’t been afforded the stability I think they need from past and this Welsh Governments. Business rates have been devolved for some time, and businesses are still at a significant disadvantage to their counterparts in England—indeed, they’re crying out for support. Given that there has been a 26 per cent drop in new business start-ups since 2011, do you think that the Welsh Government should give potential entrepreneurs and businesses the security that they need by raising the rateable value for small business rate relief from 1 April this year?
 
13:50
Ken SkatesBiography
Well, in terms of business rate relief, this is obviously something that’s in the hands of my colleague, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, but what I am pleased with is that the scheme is to be extended for 2017-18, and that a new permanent scheme will exist from 2018 onwards. We’re already providing something in the region of £98 million in rate relief to businesses in 2016-17. I think it’s worth noting, because you made the direct comparison with England, that around 70 per cent of businesses qualify for relief, and around half of all eligible businesses pay no rates whatsoever.
 
13:51
Russell GeorgeBiography
Well, Welsh businesses are already losing out to their competitors in England and Scotland. England and Scotland have already raised the levels of small business rate relief there. Furthermore, the development bank you are proposing is a hybrid model of Finance Wales—indeed, it provided the business case. Now, I had an example last week where I went to visit a business. Their rateable value had gone up. They would have received rate relief if they were in England—they don’t because they’re in Wales. Furthermore, they applied to Finance Wales for funding—indeed, Finance Wales sat around the table and helped them complete the application form—yet it was rejected. So, what I’ll say is: how is your Government going to provide the certainty and security to those businesses? Your White Paper, while concerned about the potential of the UK departing from the single market, offered no suitable plan for small businesses in particular during negotiations to leave the EU. Now, you’ve been asked this once today, but I will ask it again: where is your industrial strategy in this regard?
 
13:52
Ken SkatesBiography
The prosperous and secure strategy, which forms part of four cross-cutting strategies for Welsh Government, will be presented to the First Minister, along with the other three strategies, this spring. They will be published together, and through all four I think Members will be able to see that themes and interventions can be woven right across not just the economy, but the public sector, through education and through health. We live in a society, and we live in an environment, where economic priorities often align perfectly with the priorities of other areas of Government, and it’s therefore essential that we don’t just devise a strategy for the economy that’s in isolation from other strategies, but that we do it together. And that is something that I am keen to pursue. So, by spring, we will have presented to the First Minister our respective strategies—we are already meeting as Cabinet colleagues to agree the contents. I can’t possibly comment on the individual matter the Member raised on Finance Wales. I would however say that I’d be glad to take this up on behalf of him if he writes to me. I’ll take it up directly with Finance Wales as well.
 
13:53
Russell GeorgeBiography
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, I’ll do that and I’m grateful for that. The Prime Minister’s industrial strategy has indicated that significant investment will be made towards research and development, and to training, so that our workforce is ready to deal with the challenges innovation will bring. Indeed, it states that we should be
 
‘creating the right conditions for new and growing enterprise to thrive, not protecting the position of incumbents.’
 
Now, in Wales, we have to consider also the implications of the Northern Powerhouse, which has been given an additional £4.7 billion by 2020-21 in R&D funding through its investment fund. And I would say, Cabinet Secretary, to my last question you did answer regarding having a joined-up strategy, and I agree with that position. But I would ask: would it not have been better to have a strategy to accompany the White Paper that you delivered this week?
 
13:54
Ken SkatesBiography
I think it’s absolutely essential, with regard to the Northern Powerhouse, that the growth deal in north Wales dovetails perfectly with the aspirations and the vision that local authorities and the local enterprise partnerships have across the border. For that reason, I’ve been quite clear in saying that, ultimately, I would envisage a joint committee structure that perhaps crosses the border. That would be the ultimate objective of what is, essentially, an east-west economy in the north. I think it’s absolutely essential that local authorities as they move from the North Wales Economic Ambition Board to a joint committee structure, recognise that doing business with partners across the board, not just in terms of growing the economy, but also in terms of delivering better public services and improving public transport, is absolutely essential.
 
13:55
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
UKIP spokesperson, David Rowlands.
 
13:55
David J. RowlandsBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. As the Cabinet Secretary knows, I’m very enthusiastic about the metro plans and look forward to its implementation. However, can he outline exactly what specific structural improvements the metro will make to one of my constituencies, namely Torfaen?
 
13:55
Ken SkatesBiography
Well, we’ll be investing more than £700 million in the metro, and this will see vast improvements to infrastructure and to the travelling experience of many, many commuters across south-east Wales. I was very grateful that the Member was able to attend last week’s briefing session on the next rail franchise, which, of course, included a briefing on the metro as it’s going to be rolled out and, with new services commencing in 2023, I think it’s absolutely essential that all parts of south-east Wales that have felt cut off, isolated and marginalised within the context of economic growth in recent years feel empowered through new stations and infrastructure, and that includes in Torfaen, where I am looking very carefully at what infrastructure improvements, both to existing infrastructure and to new infrastructure, can be delivered as part of the metro vision.
 
13:56
David J. RowlandsBiography
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his answer, but I understand that Torfaen County Borough Council has pledged some £11 million to the project. Does he honestly feel this level of investment gives good value for money, given what he’s just outlined?
 
13:56
Ken SkatesBiography
Well, Torfaen is a small local authority; I think we need to recognise that. And therefore £11 million, whilst, in the greater scheme of things, when we talk about more than £700 million, might appear a small sum, actually, to a small local authority, to a relatively small council, £11 million is a significant investment and demonstrates, I feel, a commitment to a vision that I think, right across the Chamber, we all buy into.
 
13:56
David J. RowlandsBiography
Again, I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his answer, but can I urge him, perhaps, to make some improvements to the infrastructure in Torfaen? For instance, the Pontypool Road railway station is particularly uninviting: it’s cold, it’s dark and, actually, it’s well outside the town. So, would he consider at least upgrading the facilities on Pontypool Road or, indeed, consider moving it closer to the conurbation of Pontypool?
 
13:57
Ken SkatesBiography
I’ll consider any project as part of a wider investment by Network Rail that delivers better value for money and a better experience for passengers. I think the Member may be aware of this statistic—it’s quite startling—that Welsh Government have invested more in the current control period in rail infrastructure than those who are actually responsible for rail infrastructure, and I think that speaks volumes about the commitment of this Government to improving the rail network and to ensuring that Wales becomes a more united and connected country.
 
The Role of Faith Tourism
 
13:58
Suzy DaviesBiography
3. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the role of faith tourism? OAQ(5)0107(EI)
 
13:58
Ken SkatesBiography
Yes. Visit Wales continues to promote faith and religious heritage sites as part of the overall heritage offer. Our Year of Legends will focus very much on all aspects of Wales’s heritage.
 
13:58
Suzy DaviesBiography
That’s encouraging to hear. Faith tourism sites, such as Neath Abbey, and other Cistercian Way heritage, should be a huge draw for visitors, both domestic and from abroad, and particularly from the USA. Last year, you launched the faith tourism action plan to develop faith tourism as part of that wider visitor offer. How are you measuring its success, and can you say yet that it is persuading visitors to stay longer and spend more, both on and off-site?
 
13:58
Ken SkatesBiography
We can if we look specifically at those sites that we measure visitor numbers for. So, for example, with the Cadw sites that are related to the question the Member asks, we’ve seen a considerable increase in visitor numbers. And, in terms of the associated spend, we’ve seen again an increase. We’ve seen, for example, with Cadw properties at Tintern and Valle Crucis and Strata Florida, between them, they’ve attracted more than 84,000 visitors. Now, in terms of the faith tourism action plan, of course, it’s very early days in the actual delivery of that action plan, but Visit Wales—and I think it’s a very important point that Visit Wales sits on the newly established forum that stemmed from the faith tourism action plan task and finish group, because it’s essential, in terms of protecting the future heritage of faith structures, that we have the key promotional vehicle there, offering advice and also offering a willingness to promote right around the globe some of the key features of what Wales can offer.
 
13:59
Mike HedgesBiography
Last week, I was visited by a constituent interested in promoting faith tourism who was actually creating a website to do that for the south Wales area. Ireland had a signature project on St Patrick and the Christian heritage. Have the Welsh Government considered a similar project on St David and will the Government also consider a policy to protect key sites and market these sites around the world?
 
14:00
Ken SkatesBiography
Yes, we already do that with the faith tourism section of the Visit Wales website. I think it’s important that we don’t see an overabundance of websites and web pages dedicated to what essentially are the same subjects, and that instead we are able to direct visitors who are looking to learn more about faith tourism to key portals. For that purpose, I am going to encourage the Member to, in turn, encourage his constituents to make sure that anybody who creates a website dedicated to a single or multiple heritage centre or a heritage visitor attraction directs people to the Visit Wales website, where they can learn more not just about what is in that very localised area, but right across Wales. We’ve been able to develop, through Cadw, a pan-Wales heritage interpretation plan—the first of its type in Europe—and that demonstrates how we are committed to capturing the essence of a Wales-wide cultural offer and promoting it across the globe. In terms of the outcomes—and the Member mentions the need to promote our sites better right across the globe—in terms of international visitors, it was a record year last year and one of the key factors that has attracted visitors to Wales is faith tourism sites. I’m convinced that, during the Year of Legends, that will remain so.
 
Reducing Congestion in Town Centres
 
14:01
Julie MorganBiography
4. What plans does the Cabinet Secretary have to reduce congestion in town centres? OAQ(5)0115(EI)
 
14:01
Ken SkatesBiography
Our national transport finance plan sets out the interventions we are taking to tackle congestion and provide sustainable alternatives to car use.
 
14:02
Julie MorganBiography
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for the response. Does the Cabinet Secretary agree that it’s very good news that Cardiff council has recently launched a plan to get commuters to walk or cycle? This scheme has been designed with help from Copenhagen and experts there who’ve developed a very successful cycling strategy there. The target is to get commuters in the city out of their cars by 2021—and 60 per cent by 2026. Does the Cabinet Secretary welcome this initiative from Cardiff and think it is very good news for the city?
 
14:02
Ken SkatesBiography
I do very much welcome this initiative by Cardiff city council. We have some distance to travel before we catch up with some of those Scandinavian countries, but we are on the right path. The key to success is in changing people’s behaviour and cultures. For that reason, I’m particularly pleased that we are investing in the Active Journeys initiative, which is operating in primary and secondary schools across Wales. It’s my understanding that, to date, somewhere in the region of 232 schools across the country have been involved in that particular scheme and more than 30 are in Cardiff. The importance of that scheme is that it creates a change in perception and a change in behaviour amongst people at the earlier stage. We know, with recycling and the change in behaviour that’s accompanied recycling, that if you can convince young people to do things differently, they in turn convince adults and parents.
 
In the next financial year, we’re also going to be making available £2 million for road safety education. The Member will be aware, because it was in Welsh Labour’s manifesto, that we have restated our commitment to improving cycling proficiency, and this fund is designed to do just that.
 
I also fund, the Member may be aware, the travel plan co-ordinators across Wales, who are tasked with working with employers in their respective areas to encourage staff to use alternative forms of transport, or indeed to walk, where a car is not needed. This is complemented by the Cymru Travel Challenge offer, which aims to encourage commuters, again, to switch from their cars to other forms of transport or to walk for short journeys.
 
14:04
Russell GeorgeBiography
I met with your predecessor, Edwina Hart, last year with regard to Welshpool’s one-way traffic system, along with Welshpool Town Council as well. It was agreed at the time that Welsh Government would undertake some work to assess the options of Brook Street being reverted back from one-way to a two-way traffic system to ease the ongoing issues in the town. I’d be grateful if you could provide me with an update on this.
 
14:04
Ken SkatesBiography
I’d happily provide the Member with an update. I’m very pleased that we’ve been able to identify additional resource to solve the problems of pinch points across the trunk road network in Wales. But I’m also keen to ensure that, where we can identify solutions to in-town congestion, we implement them at speed. So, I’d be more than happy to take a look at the particular proposal for Welshpool, which, if we can make progress on, I think will complement very much the investment that we’re making in Newtown as well with the bypass there.
 
14:05
Neil McEvoyBiography
I declare an interest because I drive on these roads and I’m a member of Cardiff council. I find it incredible that Julie Morgan is talking about plans to reduce road congestion when she supports Cardiff’s local destruction plan, which would put 10,000 extra cars on the road. So, Cabinet Secretary, maybe you can explain and maybe enlighten the public as to how a local development plan putting at least 10,000 extra cars on the road in the west of the city is going to reduce congestion, because building on the green fields, as you plan to do—are you going to say those people are not going to drive into town? Absolutely incredible.
 
14:06
Ken SkatesBiography
I don’t think the honourable Member should be so disparaging about colleagues in the Chamber. But the important point to make about Cardiff is that we are rolling out one of the most ambitious programmes, in the form of the metro, for public transport anywhere in western Europe. I think that’s something that should be applauded and it’s something that will hugely contribute to removing cars from our roads. I’m also looking at other innovative ways to support the bus network. The Member may be aware that this week I hosted the bus summit in north Wales—although it was a pan-Wales event; again, I’m keen to decentralise wherever I can—and that looked at how we can create a more sustainable bus network across Wales that encourages people to move from their private cars to buses. We know that there are 101 million passenger journeys taken by bus every year, but that number has fallen in recent times. The number of people that are taking journeys on commercial routes has fallen, whilst at the same time community transport usage has increased. There is, without a shadow of a doubt, the scope to increase the number of people who are using buses, and within intensely urban areas such as Cardiff city centre, I think it’s absolutely essential that we look at how we can encourage more people to use buses.
 
Access to Public Transport for Disabled People
 
14:07
Julie MorganBiography
5. What plans does the Cabinet Secretary have to improve access to public transport for disabled people? OAQ(5)0116(EI)
 
14:07
Ken SkatesBiography
We are fully committed to public transport for disabled people that removes barriers to travel, that empowers people and that promotes independent living, rather than inhibits it. I’m also particularly keen to ensure that public transport empowers vulnerable groups to participate in society, and this is a cornerstone of ‘Taking Wales Forward’.
 
14:07
Julie MorganBiography
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. Does the Cabinet Secretary have any plans to increase the role of community transport in the future, as part of the mix of transport available? Last week, I visited VEST and found that it was overrun with requests from people asking for help to go to day centres and to go to doctor’s appointments, and it seemed to me that there is a crucial role for community transport in the future. So, what plans does he have?
 
14:08
Ken SkatesBiography
As I just said to Neil McEvoy, I think community transport plays as an essential role within the mix, and we’ve seen an increase in the number of people using community transport in recent times. It’s my belief that community transport plays a particularly important role for people who are unable to access conventional buses or trains, or who may have particular health-related requirements. I want the community transport sector to be part of the solution for my plans for a fully integrated public transport network across Wales. I’m very pleased that we’ve been able to freeze and maintain the bus services support grant at £25 million, which is available to community transport, and I’m very pleased that that fund is being utilised by many of the operators around Wales.
 
14:09
David MeldingBiography
Can I commend Julie Morgan for raising this issue about community transport? Because for the most disabled people—those that are most vulnerable and least likely to take any sort of journey—community transport is vital. I think it’s fair to say there was a lot of innovation until about 10 years ago when the grants system changed a bit, and it’s not quite been taken forward with the sort of pace that we are seeing improvements, whether actual or planned, in public transport. But there are ways of delivering these services in a very innovative, effective way, but they do need quite a high level of subsidy, and I think those people deserve that type of support from the rest of us.
 
14:09
Ken SkatesBiography
I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s absolutely essential that we recognise that public transport should be an empowering provision, and that every person in society should expect access to good-quality forms of public transport. The Member might be interested to know that I’ve established an accessibility group to advise me on the new rail franchise, but the group is also able to advise me on other forms of public transport such as community transport. I think it’s essential that we recognise, again, as part of that fully integrated system, that community transport will become increasingly important across communities, not just in more urbanised areas but especially in rural areas where often there are no other solutions available.
 
14:10
Sian GwenllianBiography
The general opinion is that the rolling stock that is used by the current rail franchise in Wales is of a very poor quality and significant investment will need to be put into it to improve the stock, which impacts on the passenger experience. But, in addition to that, by 1 January 2020, the carriages will have to conform to the new rules for accessibility for disabled people. According to the most recent survey, 73 per cent of the Wales and borders carriages would not attain the required standard. Are you confident that it’s possible for 100 per cent of the new Wales and borders franchise to attain that standard by 2020?
 
14:11
Ken SkatesBiography
It’s essential that the PRM 2020 is met by the new franchise operators. All four bidders are well aware of their obligations that they must meet by 2020. As we are currently involved in a competitive dialogue process with the bidders, I can’t reveal any of the details of what they are offering, but I can assure the Member that we are focused on delivering a transport system that doesn’t just offer quick, reliable transport for the most able, but is also there and capable of meeting all of the current and indeed near future measures that will be introduced.
 
With regard to accessibility for rail users, I’ve mentioned the accessibility group that’s been convened to advise on the next franchise and I’ve also sought agreement—and it’s been given—from each of the four bidders for that group to liaise directly with them over how they can meet the obligations that are going to be there in 2020.
 
Critical Infrastructure Projects (North Wales)
 
14:12
Darren MillarBiography
6. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on investment in critical infrastructure projects in north Wales? OAQ(5)0105(EI)
 
14:12
Ken SkatesBiography
Yes. As set out in the national transport finance plan, we are making significant investments to modernise transport infrastructure across north Wales. We are also working closely with National Grid to explore how a third Menai crossing could be utilised to carry power from Wylfa Newydd onto the national grid.
 
14:13
Darren MillarBiography
The Cabinet Secretary will be aware that I’ve been very concerned for some time about the vulnerability of the transport infrastructure in north Wales to flooding, particularly around the area in Old Colwyn. The Welsh Government, of course, had some additional resources, capital resources, as a result of the UK Government’s announcement last year—an additional £400 million. What work are you doing with your colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs to ensure that that critical infrastructure—the A55 and the north Wales railway line—have sufficient protection from the sea? Because you and I both know that those sea defences were damaged significantly in the storm just a couple of weeks ago. They take a pummelling every time there’s a high tide with onshore winds and I’m concerned, very concerned indeed, that if something doesn’t happen soon, there’s going to be some catastrophic failure that could lead to a loss of life.
 
14:13
Ken SkatesBiography
I was pleased to meet with the Member on Monday in Llandudno Junction to discuss the tidal lagoon proposal and during that discussion we raised the prospect and possibility of a lagoon actually protecting coastal communities. I think it’s really important that I continue to work with other Cabinet colleagues in finding solutions that get best value for money for the taxpayer.
 
In terms of Old Colwyn, the Member is absolutely right; this is a particularly complex project that involves a number of Government departments to work together. I’ve been absolutely clear that, should Conwy council wish to bring forward a proposal for a project that requires funding, I would be more than happy to consider it.
 
Young People’s Access to Transport
 
14:14
Lynne NeagleBiography
7. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on young people’s access to transport? OAQ(5)0113(EI)
 
14:14
Ken SkatesBiography
Yes. I remain very keen that there should be a legacy scheme after the current mytravelpass ends on 31 March. My officials have had encouraging discussions with representatives of local authorities and with the confederation of bus operators. I’m optimistic that I will be able to confirm the details of the successor programme very soon.
 
14:15
Lynne NeagleBiography
Thank you. That is encouraging, because I was very disappointed that the mytravelpass scheme was not going to be continued, particularly as one of the reasons given to the media was that young people were only using it to travel locally, which, for 16 and 17-year-olds, I don’t think should be particularly surprising. My concern is that young people will be prevented from having access to education, training and youth services. I hear what you’re saying about working with local authorities and the confederation of bus transport, but it is very much my experience locally that bus services are being cut because of the funding pressures on local authorities. I would like to know what evaluation you undertook of this scheme and what decisions led you to the decision to discontinue it.
 
14:16
Ken SkatesBiography
I should point out to the Member that this was a pilot scheme, and therefore something that we can learn from. And we have learnt from it. The fact of the matter is that uptake was not as high as we would’ve wished, which is why I’m very keen for the successor programme to reach more young people across Wales. I believe it’s something in the region of 10,000 young people who took advantage of the mytravelpass scheme; I would wish to see that number grow far more with the scheme that will emerge, which I’m hoping to announce within the coming weeks.
 
Vehicle Journeys around Newport
 
14:16
Jenny RathboneBiography
8. What has the Welsh Government done to collate the starting points and destinations of the 43 per cent of vehicle journeys around Newport of less than 20 miles? OAQ(5)0104(EI)
 
14:16
Ken SkatesBiography
We have undertaken roadside surveys and postcard surveys at the Severn crossings and we’ve also made innovative use of mobile phone technology to understand trips made in and around Newport.
 
14:16
Jenny RathboneBiography
It would obviously be very interesting for all of us to see this, because, clearly, it’s a crucial piece of information if we’re going to get the modal shift of people with the investment that we’re hoping we’re going to make in the metro. Obviously, there’s a wealth of evidence that people will only shift if there is either improved journey times and/or an improved cost for their journeys. I just wondered if you could say anything more about that, given that you have got the information and we haven’t.
 
14:17
Ken SkatesBiography
Yes. The Member is absolutely right. Data gathered from vehicles in terms of discovering their origins and their destinations will inform us in terms of understanding how people move around the region. Data collected as part of the M4 project will be used to inform development of the metro, and rightly so, because we need an evidence-based vision for the metro development. Rail ticket sales and other industry data are also an important source of information in planning transport interventions, and will inform the business case and also the design of phase 2 of the metro.
 
The Productivity of the Welsh Economy
 
14:18
David MeldingBiography
9. What measures are in place to improve the productivity of the Welsh economy? OAQ(5)0109(EI)
 
14:18
Ken SkatesBiography
We are taking forward a range of measures to increase productivity in Wales, including raising skill levels, investing in high-quality infrastructure and also supporting innovation.
 
14:18
David MeldingBiography
I think skills are key to productivity, and an often overlooked area is the skills of management, particularly middle management. There’s a lot of evidence that that’s a key sector, both in the public and private sectors, and perhaps more initiative needs to be invested there to get the best quality management we can have.
 
14:18
Ken SkatesBiography
The Member is absolutely right, and I believe this is a subject that Professor Dylan Jones-Evans has been examining very closely recently. We can provide, through the Business Wales service, a mentoring service that drives up the availability of skills advice right across the business community. The Member is also right to say that skills are fundamental in driving an improvement in productivity. We have been conducting, as part of the work on the prosperous and secure strategy, work on sub-regional productivity variances, and what we’ve found is that adverse skills distribution is very much a key factor in lower productivity rates. We’ve also found that lower density of activity, or, if you like, a lack of agglomeration, is also a feature, which explains why productivity rates tend to be higher in bigger cities.
 
So, there are various reasons for productivity not being as high as we would wish, but now that we have the evidence base to take forward a strategy, I am convinced that the strategy will be able to deliver on an aspiration that’s shared across this Chamber to drive up the wealth and prosperity of Wales.
 
14:20
Lee WatersBiography
Cabinet Secretary, I was pleased earlier that Adam Price quoted this week’s ‘Llanelli Star’, which reported faithfully what I said in the Senedd last week. Since then, Nia Griffith—the MP for Llanelli—and I have communicated further with steelworkers in our constituency, and we have very real concerns that the deal, which is only possible because of the Welsh Government’s intervention, faces being voted down. Would he echo my concerns to the Tata chair that unless further changes are made, this deal may be lost, and the impact to the productivity and the wealth of the Welsh economy will be significant? Would he also agree that calling for a better deal, and calling for the deal to be rejected, is the world of difference, because that would be irresponsible?
 
14:20
Ken SkatesBiography
I think the Member is right to draw attention to the fact that encouraging people to vote down—as Plaid Cymru have done—a deal could lead to the collapse of the steel industry. That is in nobody’s interest, whether you are employed as a steelworker, or whether you live in a community or are related to a steelworker, which I am.
 
14:21
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
I thank the Cabinet Secretary.
 
2. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
14:21
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The next item on the agenda is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport. The first question is from Nathan Gill.
 
The Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board Improvement Programme
 
14:21
Nathan GillBiography
1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the improvement programme for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board? OAQ(5)0109(HWS)
 
14:21
Vaughan GethingBiographyThe Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport
Thank you for the question. The health board reported against the milestones set out under the improvement framework in November last year, which highlighted good progress. I expect to see continued and sustained delivery of the required improvement outcomes before I can consider removing it from special measures.
 
14:21
Nathan GillBiography
Thank you for the answer. I received an e-mail from somebody in Old Colwyn who was concerned about the fact that their general practitioner is now retiring, and 1,200 of the patients are going to be disbursed amongst different surgeries. Now, it seems to me that what we need to be doing is thinking creatively around this area around GPs retiring, and maybe bringing some of them back out of retirement, or people who are going to be retiring, encouraging them to stay on part-time. One of the major blockages for this is the fact that indemnity insurance can range anything from £5,000 to £40,000 per GP per year. Can the Welsh Government look into this and see if they can find a creative way in assisting GPs to cover these costs in order to cover GPs on the rota?
 
14:22
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the question. There are a range of things we are already talking to the GP and wider primary care community about—that includes what happens when people choose to retire; how patients have an uninterrupted access to a proper primary care service; and the sort of interventions the health board are able to undertake if they are not able to manage a smooth transition to another practice and actually continue. Actually, what Members should take comfort from is that, in each instance where someone has retired and handed back their contract, there has been no break in provision, that every patient has been found a new practice to go to, or that the health board themselves have managed to run a proper primary care service.
 
I recognise the particular issue the Member raised about indemnity insurance. It’s something we have active conversations with the British Medical Association about, and I’m hopeful that we can come to a solution in the near future.
 
14:23
Darren MillarBiography
Cabinet Secretary, you’ll be aware of the concerns that have been expressed about the pace of progress at the Betsi Cadwaladr university health board, particularly in terms of progress to deal with some of the mental health challenges in the region. Following the Tawel Fan scandal, quite rightly, the Government put the health board into special measures, and one of the reasons it did so was because of its failure to address concerns about mental health issues. However, there was a six-month delay before the follow-up work, which was promised in the wake of Tawel Fan, was actually commenced. As a result of that now, we are drifting into a longer period. We were told that the work would be finished by March; now we’re told it’s going to be at least until the summer that people will have to wait. No-one’s been held accountable for what happened at Tawel Fan. There are people who are still suspended on full pay, much to the consternation of taxpayers in the region. When can we expect to see the sea change in delivery in terms of mental health services in north Wales, so that people can be confident that they are of a high quality? There’s no mental health strategy yet. We’ve only got an interim director of primary and community mental health care. These are things that should have happened quickly in order that people could get over the past and look forward to the future.
 
14:25
Vaughan GethingBiography
I think there are two particular parts to the comments the Member sets out. There is, in fact, a substantive director of mental health services, and he is leading the approach to actually reform mental health services in north Wales. So, you will see engagement over the period of the next few months on that new mental health strategy, which is absolutely needed, because, as a Government, we recognise that mental health is one of the most significant challenges that the health board faces for the future, and it’s probably the one that will take the longest period of time to resolve properly. In many ways, that’s why we set out the length of timescale that we expect the health board to be in special measures. I actually think the new director’s had a significant impact, but it’s important that that continues and is sustained.
 
The second point that I think you’re making is about the ongoing investigation. The health board did the right thing in actually approaching the Health and Social Care Advisory Service to undertake a proper and independent investigation, and what has happened is that that investigation has lengthened and expanded. As they’ve gone through, more families have contacted them and more interviews have been undertaken. My understanding is they’ve already had to review 300,000 pages of documentation and there are more people who still need to be interviewed. So, I think the most important thing is that enough time is taken to do this properly, and I don’t want to set any artificial deadlines for timescales that would actually potentially compromise the thoroughness and the adequacy of the report that we will ultimately receive. However, I do recognise that it would be in everyone’s interest if this matter could be dealt with even more promptly and expeditiously from a time frame point of view. There are people who will want to know what happened, from both the families and individuals themselves to the staff members who are engaged and involved as well. It is in all of our interests that this is done quickly; however, the speed of the investigation should not compromise the ultimate outcome and the soundness of that investigation. But I have been very clear with the health board about what I expect them to do. We also need to think about the oversight and the governance of this as well. So, it really does matter that we get this right, and I hope that Members would support and recognise that.
 
14:27
Llyr GruffyddBiography
The health board, of course, is in special measures and has been for a year and a half, and I agree with many of the points that have been made on the problems that exist. But would you agree with me that there are some more fundamental issues that need to be tackled and would you agree that three specific things need to happen to that end? One we’ve already heard about is that we need more doctors and nurses to respond to demand. The second point, of course, is that much more needs to be done to integrate health and social care services. And, thirdly, we need to reopen beds in community hospitals to facilitate that patient flow from general hospitals, otherwise, of course, we are not going to tackle the fundamental problems.
 
14:27
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the questions. We recognise and we regularly discuss the need for a new staff mix, not just the numbers of staff we have but who those staff are and how they’re used. So, the models of care really matter as well as the numbers of staff we have: doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmacists—there’s a whole range of different people we will need in the health service of the future, working a slightly different way. I agree with you about integration between health and care. That is a clear direction of travel for this Government, and we expect to hear more about that during the course of the parliamentary review and the recommendations that it will provide for us and every party in this Chamber.
 
On your third point, again, we do talk about patient flow, in the sense of those patients who don’t need to go into secondary care, don’t need to go into hospital beds, or into anticipatory care, to keep them where they are, a better relationship with residential care and domiciliary care, as well as primary care and social services, as well as understanding what mix of beds we need and what provision we need. Sometimes, that will be in residential services. It isn’t just about having alternative forms of community hospitals. We need to think about the whole mix that we need, so not setting a particular bar or a particular number on beds. We need an understanding of what our whole system needs, how people are getting to the right place for their care and, crucially, how we return people to their community and their home to continue receiving care, where they still have a need for care that doesn’t need to be undertaken in a hospital bed.
 
Allied Professionals in Primary Health Services
 
14:29
Lee WatersBiography
2. What plans does the Cabinet Secretary have to extend the range of allied professionals in primary health services? OAQ(5)0108(HWS)
 
14:29
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the question. We expect to see an even more extensive role for allied health professionals as part of the primary care team. Health boards are already extending the role of allied health professionals through their local plans to strengthen primary care, backed up by Welsh Government funding.
 
14:29
Lee WatersBiography
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I was very pleased to welcome you recently to Kidwelly to visit the Minafon surgery, where, a year ago, when the surgery faced a crisis when the doctors left, working closely with Hywel Dda health board, the range of local Labour councillors and the community, it designed a service where there is a pharmacist, a physiotherapist and other allied health professionals working together, and the service that the patients have has improved immeasurably. What can be done to extend that model to GP services right across Wales?
 
14:30
Vaughan GethingBiography
I thank the Member for the question. It was, indeed, a very interesting visit, and recognising there was a real threat about the future of primary care in Kidwelly not that long ago. And it was helpful to see a really challenging but supportive environment from local elected representatives. And, actually, the staff within the practice have kept it going, particularly the practice manager, who really had a significant role to play in keeping that together.
 
And it’s a good and practical example of some of the things we talk about in wider theory—why we need a different team of staff in terms of the mix, in terms of being able to deal with the healthcare needs, of professionals. And, often, that means people get seen more quickly, by the most appropriate professional. In particular, I was really impressed with the pharmacist, the advanced nurse practitioner, and the physiotherapist, taking demand away from GPs. They got to do more of what they need to do, in seeing more complex patients, and those people were actually being properly and safely seen and treated. And it’s been popular with patients too. We heard that directly from the community health council.
 
So, it’s more of this we need to see, not less, in the future, in every part of Wales—not just Kidwelly, not just Hywel Dda, but across the country. That is more and more the future of primary care—GPs at the centre of primary care, with more professionals around them, to properly meet and see and deal with the appropriate needs of their patients, wherever they may be in the country.
 
14:31
Angela BurnsBiography
Minister, more policy development is recognising that we cannot work in silos and that many people will have co-morbidities, which will exercise the knowledge and skills of all allied healthcare professionals. What discussions have you had with professional bodies representing allied healthcare professionals, in order to determine that the training requirements for these bodies reflect not only the current but also the future needs of our population?
 
14:31
Vaughan GethingBiography
I have regular discussions with representative allied health professionals. They are an effective and very professional lobby, I find. And they come to you with a range of evidence to back up the statements they make about the future of the service. They are also a group of people who are very willing to change the model of care, and to say there’s evidence that doing things in a different way will provide better outcomes for patients, and that’s really, really encouraging. They have mentioned to me the potential of looking again at some of the particular requirements. But, most of the conversation I have with them is about the numbers that we have and how those staff are used.
 
You will see in the future of the primary care workforce, in the second half of this year, a particular focus on allied health professionals and pharmacy, and other groups, to understand the numbers of people that we need and what we want to do then to recruit more people, where we know we need more numbers—we are, of course, training more people in a variety of different allied health professions—and also how are the current staff, and how their skills are used. So, I think there’s lot of reasons to be positive about what’s happening, as well as recognising the challenge that does exist. So, I’m happy to continue having a regular conversation with them and other representatives of the primary care workforce.
 
14:33
Huw Irranca-DaviesBiography
Could I, following on from the question that introduced this, thank the Cabinet Secretary for his visit this morning to Tynycoed surgery in Sarn? And he saw the enthusiasm and the expertise of a wide range of professionals, but not only the GPs, not only the allied care professionals, but social care, healthcare professionals, people involved in social enterprises, people involved in the third sector. And the whole thrust of this was to move away, towards a system where it’s to do with well-being rather than the repair costs further down the river.
 
Does he share my hope, and those of other colleagues here, that these innovative collaborations—like the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board cluster model—pump primed by Welsh Government funding, will ultimately prove those benefits of keeping people healthier for longer in their communities, reducing the load on our ever-stretched NHS services and wider health services, and potentially delivering cost savings too, by making sure that people are kept healthier longer, rather than washing up into acute, secondary, or even our GP care services?
 
14:34
Vaughan GethingBiography
Yes. And it was a particularly interesting visit this morning, for the launch of the cardiovascular risk assessment programme in the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health board area, not just to meet GPs from around the cluster, but also to meet with healthcare support workers, who are going to be a key part of taking forward that particular programme. It’s a good example of building on what’s already taking place in Cwm Taf, and in Aneurin Bevan as well. There’s lots of learning there about going and understanding part of the population who don’t go to see their GP very often, but are at real risk of acquiring future conditions. So, it is about anticipatory care, and avoiding longer term and more chronic conditions in the future.
 
And I was particularly impressed, not just with the focus on well-being, but really taking forward learning. I want to see that rolled out on a consistent basis. That’s one of the things that, if we’re honest, we haven’t done as consistently or as effectively as we should have done in the past. And there’s a real imperative to do more of that in the future. The other really important message that I took from this morning was that clusters are something that GPs themselves are seeing more and more of the real benefit of—the way they get to work together, the way they do it with other professionals in health and care and the third sector—and the way that we release money directly for them has been a big part of gaining trust within that. Trust is a huge commodity, and I was really pleased to hear that the GPs who were there today recognised that there is a Government here that is willing to listen to them and to act with them.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
14:35
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Questions now from the party spokespeople. Welsh Conservative spokesperson, Suzy Davies.
 
14:35
Suzy DaviesBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Good afternoon, Minister. Obviously we welcome the additional £10 million in the next budget intended for social services, but that isn’t ring-fenced, so what reassurances have you had from local authorities that it will be spent on services that commentators in the sector say would be lost without it?
 
14:35
Rebecca EvansBiographyThe Minister for Social Services and Public Health
The budget this year gave extra allocations to social services. We gave an initial £25 million to social services, £4.5 million to reflect the uplift that we’ve given in terms of the capital limit, and a further £10 million that was specifically in grant form this year to address the challenges that local authorities and the sector are facing with regard to implementing the new national living wage. So, because that £10 million is a grant this year, it does give us that extra oversight.
 
14:36
Suzy DaviesBiography
My understanding, based on answers to previous questions that I put to you is that the living wage created an issue with the initial allocation of budget, and that the £10 million was to sort of make up for that, at least in some part. So, it’s not actually directly for the uplift in the living wage; it’s for filling the gap that the living wage left, if I can put it that way.
 
You didn’t actually address my specific question about which services were endangered, though. As this extra money was given to meet a particular need, rather than just being a general uplift to the revenue support grant, and was raised in part by increasing the maximum contribution that people pay towards their care, I think, actually, it’s in order for both of us to follow that money and make sure it’s being spent with the intentions you originally had. So, when the sector experts told you that certain services were at risk, which examples impressed you sufficiently in order for you to consider even raising this additional money?
 
14:37
Rebecca EvansBiography
The decision to invest further in social care this year is a direct reflection of the discussions that we have had with experts in the field. We held three round tables with local government, with providers and others, in order to listen to the challenges of the social care sector, and work out a way we can collaboratively respond to them. So, Welsh Government is providing extra funding—you’re correct in saying that—but we also require local government to commission services in a cost-effective way and to invest there. Also, there is an onus on providers themselves as well, in order to make social care the kind of career that people want to work in. It’s unacceptable at the moment that there is a third turnover in staff in the sector, and every time a new member of staff has to be appointed, it costs the provider £3,500, with all of the checks and the training and so on. So, it’s incumbent on all of us to work in partnership in order to ensure that we have sustainable and resilient social care for the future.
 
You referred to the increase in the cap on domiciliary care to £70 this year. That will give local authorities an extra £4 million on top of the other funding, to which I referred as well. I think it was a fair time to consider increasing that cap because the cap has been at £60 now for the last two years. So, I think that the increase is a reasonable increase to make.
 
14:38
Suzy DaviesBiography
Thank you for that answer, and I don’t challenge you on your answer on the rise in the cap on payments towards domiciliary care, but I’m still struggling to find out what exactly it is that this £10 million will go on. What I’m picking up from your answer is that it’s primarily to do with staff retention, and that may well be the case, but that’s what I want to be able to see happening as a result of this extra money coming into the system.
 
I think we probably agree that preventing avoidable reliance on social care is worth while, both to our citizens and obviously for the services that provide that care. In my meeting with members of the Welsh NHS Confederation today, the key players—and they are key players in this, there is no two ways about that—summed up the current situation like this: they said that Wales has the answers for growing demand for more complex social care, but it’s the structure that gets in the way. I heard the Cabinet Secretary’s reply to Lee Waters’s question, and to the supplementaries, about how allied healthcare professionals can be part of this and that complete understanding that they are willing and ready to take part in different ways of working.
 
Do you now have enough evidence about partnership working, pooled budgets and all the rest of it from local health authorities, local authorities and from the third sector even—evidence that is strong enough to start developing policy now on a Wales-wide basis, which is predicated on greater numbers and a greater responsibility for occupational therapists, physiotherapists and other allied healthcare professionals, releasing them from this silo of secondary intervention only?
 
14:40
Rebecca EvansBiography
I think the intermediate care fund is providing us with just that evidence. We have a £60 million intermediate care fund, which is really transforming the way that local authorities and health boards work together, including meeting people’s needs.
 
Just this morning, I was in Ystradgynlais, seeing the good work that they’re doing there in terms of bringing together health and social care, and they did include the allied professionals as well. I sat in on one of the team meetings where cases were discussed, and it was absolutely incredible to see how quickly packages of care could come into place when they had all the right people around the table. So, we are gathering that evidence.
 
Our intermediate care fund projects are providing us with information on a quarterly basis and we’re analysing that, looking at what really works. Because we’re starting to get to the point now when we can demonstrate the number of nights saved to the NHS, for example, and we have surveys of satisfaction from people who’ve been recipients of care through the intermediate care fund. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve been blown away by the success that we are seeing in the various projects right across Wales. I’ve visited projects in Swansea, Bridgend, and a couple up in north Wales as well. Although the approaches are different in different places, I think it’s important that different projects in different areas learn from one another. I think that the fact that professionals are freed up to do their jobs and to learn from one another, and not to have these artificial barriers between health and social care, is really making a difference to the care that people receive.
 
14:41
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
 
14:41
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Thank you, Llywydd. My questions are also to the Minister. Pressures on emergency departments in our hospitals have an impact on both sides of Offa’s dyke and have been in the headlines again, and there are many reasons for those problems. But, I want to concentrate on the role of social care. Does the Minister agree that good social care services play an important role in preventing people from having to go to hospital in the first place and allows them to leave sooner?
 
14:42
Rebecca EvansBiography
Yes, I absolutely agree that social care has a role to play in preventing unnecessary hospital admissions and ensuring that people can have a step-down service to return home as quickly as possible. We know that staying in hospital for too long is obviously bad for the individual in terms of their health and their well-being, which is exactly what the intermediate care fund is doing in terms of providing those step-up and step-down services. We’re able, as I say, to demonstrate the number of nights saved to the NHS, but behind every night saved to the NHS, obviously, is a story of an individual whose care has been improved as a result of it.
 
14:42
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
We know, of course, what percentage of our budget is spent on the NHS, but the same attention or prestige is not given to social care budgets. In England, of course, we know that the Conservatives have cut the funding available for social care and the impact of that, I think most would agree, has been clear in terms of increasing the pressure on hospitals. Here, in Wales, the Welsh Government takes pride in the fact that social care budgets haven’t been cut to such a degree as they have in England, but why, therefore, has the number of adaptations to people’s homes declined by 21 per cent since April 2011? Why has the amount of equipment provided for users of services reduced by 15 per cent over the same period?
 
14:43
Rebecca EvansBiography
You’re absolutely right to say that we do take a very different approach to the one that we see in England in terms of our support for social services because, of course, the UK Government has abdicated its responsibility for social services in putting the burden on councils to raise council tax to pay for social care locally, which I think is an unfair approach and one that we wouldn’t be seeking to adopt here.
 
On delayed transfers of care, we are seeing improvements in those figures and I think that is the result of the work that we are doing through the intermediate care fund. But with regard to the specifics on why we are seeing fewer aids and adaptations, I couldn’t tell you why we’re seeing that because people should be having their needs met through the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, which does require an individual assessment of each person’s needs, which will include aids and adaptations, and they should be available to the people who need them.
 
14:44
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Perhaps the Minister should be trying to find out why those adaptations have been declining and why the equipment has not been going out at rates at which it has in the past because that all has an effect and a knock-on further down the line within our health and social care system.
 
Let me draw your attention to another service that is vastly underappreciated—that of unpaid carers. Last year, Carers UK found that 55 per cent of carers in Wales found that their own physical health had suffered because of their caring duties. That’s the highest percentage anywhere in the UK. The amount of respite care provided in Wales—the number of nights of care provided in Wales—has dropped a staggering 24 per cent since 2011. This has happened at the same time as this and the previous Government presided over a programme, of course, of closing community hospitals, with an overall decline in the number of NHS beds available in Wales of 7 per cent. These community hospital beds, I need not point out, could have provided a smooth transition for patients back to the community, tackling delayed transfers of care, as well, of course, as providing desperately needed respite care for the army of unpaid carers that keeps our system afloat. So, will the Minister now admit that the drive to close community hospitals has been a big mistake and that, in the main, and for the sake of strengthening our social care system, it’s time to start reversing that programme?
 
14:46
Rebecca EvansBiography
Well, just to pick up on the comment you made on aids and adaptations, I think that we should be looking at whether people’s needs are being met, not whether or not there has been an increase or a decrease in the percentage of certain aids and adaptations that are being installed. If you have specific examples locally as to where people haven’t had their needs met through aids and adaptations, then by all means please raise them with me.
 
I share your admiration for unpaid carers. They’re doing an absolutely wonderful job across Wales. We wouldn’t be where we are without them. This is why we have committed, as a Government, to introducing and to developing a national respite strategy, because we know that provision for respite locally does differ across Wales. When we listen to carers, they tell us that, more than anything, the one thing that they need and that they want is access to respite. This is why, when we asked the Family Fund to look at the kind of support they offer to families here in Wales, we asked them to focus on respite and short breaks, because these are the things that disabled families have been asking us to focus our attentions on.
 
You’ll be aware as well that we’re currently refreshing our carers strategy, and, again, this is through listening to carers as to what their priorities are. Early priorities that are emerging from those discussions, as you would expect, include respite. They also include young carers, older carers and carers of older people as well.
 
14:47
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
UKIP spokesperson, Caroline Jones.
 
14:47
Caroline JonesBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Cabinet Secretary, one of our most effective weapons for fighting cancer is population-level screening. I welcome the recent announcement made by the Minister for public health about the move to better methods of screening for both bowel and cervical cancer. However, no matter how we improve the screening techniques, our biggest battle is convincing the public to participate in screening programmes. What plans does your Government have to reverse the downward trend in cervical screening and improve uptake in bowel cancer screening?
 
14:48
Vaughan GethingBiography
I thank the Member for the question. As you know, the Minister leads on our population health screening programmes as part of her public health responsibilities. We, too, are concerned about the figures confirming that cervical screening rates have lowered, and we expect there to be more public information, but also conversations between health professionals and individuals about the real benefit of undergoing screening for a range of different potential conditions. On bowel screening, I actually think we will see an uptake because the test is easier to administer. Without going into the details of the old test and the newer test, it’s an easier test to administer, and we expect that we will see a rise in the number of men, in particular, who will undergo that particular screening programme.
 
14:49
Caroline JonesBiography
Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. One area that could benefit from improved screening is prostate cancer. A recent study published in ‘The Lancet’ showed that using multiparametric MRI on men who had high prostate-specific antigen levels increases detection of aggressive tumours, and spares many from the need to have a biopsy and its associated side-effects. What plans does your Government have to roll out this new technique across the Welsh NHS?
 
14:49
Vaughan GethingBiography
I thank the Member for the question. Prostate cancer is a particular area of focus, and not just because there is a very active—and I welcome their activity—third sector organisation around prostate cancer, who regularly encourage us to find out more for ourselves and to encourage others to think about the current ways of understanding whether people do have prostate cancer and the potential treatment options. Part of the challenge is that we currently have a less than adequate test for prostate cancer, and it’s part of the uncertainty that goes into that. We are interested in advancing the evidence base for more effective tests to understand whether people have prostate cancer and what particular type of prostate cancer, and the evidence you cite from ‘The Lancet’ is just one of those. We need to understand all of that evidence, and understand how much of that goes into diagnosis and how much goes into screening as well. This is one of those areas where demand and a desire to have a wider screening test—we need to know whether there’s evidence that the screening test is actually the right thing to do, as opposed to different forms of diagnosis where there is a suspicion of prostate cancer. As ever, in this area and others, we will continue to be guided by the very best evidence and the very best return in terms of patient outcomes from any new form of screening or diagnosis.
 
14:51
Caroline JonesBiography
Finally, Cabinet Secretary, the holy grail in cancer screening is the development of a reliable testing regime for lung cancer. Cardiff University, in a recent trial, found that the use of low-dose CT scans for lung cancer screening has no long-term psychosocial impact on patients, making it an excellent tool for detecting lung cancer early, when there’s a better chance of survival. Does the Welsh Government have any plans to look at the feasibility of using low-dose CT lung screening for high-risk individuals?
 
14:51
Vaughan GethingBiography
I think my closing comments to your previous question still hold. We look at all of the evidence available as to what is an appropriate way of either understanding our diagnosis where there is suspected lung cancer, or potential population screening. But I think, actually, with lung cancer, our biggest challenge is the fact that there is late presentation for lung cancer. It’s a really big concern. In particular, we recognise there is a real differential in terms of the most deprived groups and our least deprived communities, and those who are most likely to present and seek help. That is our biggest challenge, and it’s a challenge that the cancer implementation group has recognised themselves. Clinicians within the service and cancer charities and campaign groups recognise that we need to do more to get people to present at an earlier stage, on lung cancer in particular, when there is a better prospect of people having their life saved. But, as I say, I look forward to the evidence on what we could and should do, and how we then implement that progressively and successfully across the whole service.
 
Out-of-hours GP Services (South Wales Central)
 
14:52
Neil McEvoyBiography
3. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on out of hours GP services in South Wales Central? OAQ(5)0099(HWS)
 
14:52
Vaughan GethingBiography
I expect health boards in South Wales Central to provide safe and effective out-of-hours services. This includes ensuring that all patients are dealt with within a clinically appropriate time.
 
14:52
Neil McEvoyBiography
Okay. The problem is—and this comes from people in the service—that there have been times over the last 12 months in Cardiff when there has been no doctor available at all in the out-of-hours general practice service. What can be done to make sure that that doesn’t happen in future?
 
14:53
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the question. I’m aware that there were in two occasions, one in August and one in December, when there was no GP available for a limited period of time for part of the night. What actually happened to make sure that the health board could provide a proper service was that there were other health professionals, and there was call-on support from neighbouring health boards, too. The challenge is across the country, in varying degrees. For example, Cwm Taf health board have been much more stable and secure, and they’ve got greater GP numbers going into their service. Cardiff and Vale held another recruitment day in the middle of this month, and they’re hoping that there will be more GPs coming into the service. It is something about how we make the whole model more sustainable as well. It isn’t just a GP out-of-hours service. It is about how we understand all of the needs. For example, 7 per cent of the calls over the last month have been on dental issues—and that’s something I’ve got particular sympathy for right now—but we do need to see the whole range of professionals covering and doing that. That should make it more attractive for GPs to undertake their part of the service.
 
In many ways, it’s a similar issue to the earlier questions and discussions we had on the wider primary care team. We need a wider team within out-of-hours to make sure the GP’s part of the role is both interesting and attractive for GPs to undertake it, so that they provide the right care and make the right decisions that only they can make as part of the out-of-hours service. But it’s definitely something that is on my radar, and I expect to see further improvements over the rest of the year.
 
14:54
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Conservatives
Cabinet Secretary, you talked about making the service more sustainable, the GP service and, indeed, the out-of-hours service. Obviously, the backbone of that is having doctors on the ground who can perform the service when it’s required. I heard, in a previous answer that you gave to Nathan Gill, about the insurance, and indemnity insurance in particular, for doctors who are coming to the end of their career who might wish to practise part time and could offer this service back into the NHS, thus alleviating some of the staff pressures. Are you going to bring forward a national indemnity insurance scheme, such as is available in other parts of the UK that is paid out of the NHS risk pool? This would go a long way towards actually tapping into that huge resource of retired doctors who would wish to continue to practise but, because of the cost they face in insuring themselves, it is just not financially viable for them to do that.
 
14:55
Vaughan GethingBiography
I indicated earlier, as you will have heard in my response to Nathan Gill, that we’re having active conversations with the BMA about trying to resolve the issue of indemnity. It’s a particular area of concern for them and the whole GP community. It isn’t just an issue about the end of a career, either—it is something running through the lifetime of a GP’s career, as indemnity costs are rising. I’m not going to spike those conversations by trying to talk halfway through about the range of options there are. But, we’re considering a range of options with the BMA, and, as I said, over the coming months, I’m hopeful we’ll be able to bring forward a proper proposal that we will have worked through in partnership with the BMA. Again, that’s the point—we want to work in partnership with our GPs and the rest of the healthcare community.
 
Accident and Emergency Admissions
 
14:56
Jayne BryantBiography
4. What assessment has the Cabinet Secretary made on the progress to reduce accident and emergency admissions? OAQ(5)0102(HWS)
 
14:56
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the question. We are committed to reducing accident and emergency admissions through a number of initiatives, including Choose Well, NHS 111 and a range of falls response services. Health boards and the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust are supporting these and similar initiatives in order to ensure that the service operates at maximum efficiency.
 
14:56
Jayne BryantBiography
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. Several of my constituents have contacted me recently to praise the falls prevention service currently being piloted in Aneurin Bevan health board. Launched in October, this service has helped 183 out of 229 emergency calls to get back to their feet without having to be taken to an accident and emergency department. Not only does this prevent hospital admissions, but the team also conducts a home assessment to prevent further falls in future. Can the Cabinet Secretary keep a keen eye on the evidence and the results of the pilot in Gwent? What more can be done to prevent people being admitted to hospital following a fall when other action is more appropriate?
 
14:57
Vaughan GethingBiography
I thank you for the question and, in particular, for highlighting one of those pilots that we are actively looking at. I was also pleased to see that it was highlighted in an ITV Wales report previously as well—that work with the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust, and how their staff are used in a way that avoids emergency hospital admissions and avoids emergency ambulances being sent out as well. It’s about the smarter use of all of our resources, and that’s something that we really do have to do more of now and in future—it’s people in their individual homes, but also people in residential care.
 
We also have a range of pilots—for example, some involving the fire and rescue service in Wales as well. So, there’s a programme of different pilots in different parts of the country. We want to assess and understand what those are, and that will be undertaken through the emergency ambulance services committee. We then expect to learn from those and understand how much more, progressively, they can be rolled out across the country—what evidence works and what’s appropriate in each part of Wales, and then go out and do that successfully. Even while these are reducing the number of admissions that would otherwise come into an A&E department, we do know that we’re still seeing a rising tide of numbers coming into our departments. So, more work on this front is required, not less.
 
14:58
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Welsh Government targets say that no patient should wait longer than 12 hours for treatment in an accident and emergency department in our hospitals. However, figures show that the number of patients waiting longer than 12 hours for treatment was 31 per cent higher in December 2016 compared to the same month a year earlier. This is in spite of a 5.5 per cent drop in admissions in our hospitals. What reason can the Cabinet Secretary give for this increase in waiting times when admissions really have fallen in our hospitals?
 
14:59
Vaughan GethingBiography
I thank the Member for the question. Actually, we’ve seen an increase in the number of people going into hospitals and in admission rates. The challenge for us is, though, not just accepting that far too many people do wait too long, but what we’re able to do about them. That goes back, again, to previous questions about what we do to keep people out of hospital successfully and what we do to actually recognise the fact that we do have an older and broadly sicker and poorer population than England itself. That means we’re more likely to see people who do come in in the winter time in particular who will need to be admitted. How do we make sure that those people actually have a good patient experience when going through and receiving care in our hospitals? There’s no point pretending that this is an easy challenge to resolve, but it is why we do need a whole-system response—not just the front door of a hospital, but through the whole hospital system, people taking responsibility, and at the front end and at the back end with social care and primary care as well. So, I’m certainly not complacent about the challenges that we face, and I expect Members will continue to ask me a question until we see a fall in the number of 12-hour waiters that continues and is a sustained drop. Because I recognise there is unlikely to be a great patient experience for somebody who waits that long before they’re seen through to their discharge.
 
15:00
David ReesBiography
Cabinet Secretary, one of the ways to actually reduce the pressure on A&E units is to look at how the minor injuries units can be used effectively. Now, in Neath Port Talbot and in Singleton at the moment, there is consultation going on about reducing the hours, but part of the problem is the staffing and resourcing of those units. What action is the Welsh Government taking to actually improve the training of advanced nurse practitioners so that we can deliver MIU units that will work effectively, take pressure off A&E, allow patients to go through A&E and major units faster, and therefore also allow patients to be seen within hours rather than perhaps longer hours? And, from personal experience, I know that feeling.
 
15:00
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the question. You’re right to point out that our minor injuries units around the country have a very good record of seeing people quickly, seeing, treating, discharging, or arranging for them to be admitted if that’s required. They are led, in most instances, by advanced nurse practitioners, providing high quality care and able to make decisions that people might think you would need a doctor for. Now, part of the challenge is how we understand what’s sustainable in that way, because you’re right in that some of those units have very small numbers of people attending at various hours in the day, and so health boards will need to understand properly how to make the best use of their staff to meet the demand that exists.
 
There is something to do also about minor injuries streams within major units as well, and, if we get that right, we’re more likely to see a quicker turnaround, not only for people in that particular unit within a hospital, but how we understand how we direct through to the right part of the service. So, again, it goes back to having that whole-system approach and understanding what we need in our minor injuries units, where those should be, what the evidence is for them being at the right time and the right place, but also there is still improvement we do need to see within the major units for that minor injuries stream.
 
Alcohol Misuse
 
15:02
Joyce WatsonBiography
5. What is the Welsh Government doing to help reduce alcohol misuse in Wales? OAQ(5)0106(HWS)
 
15:02
Rebecca EvansBiography
We’re investing almost £50 million a year in our substance misuse agenda, which includes taking a range of actions to help reduce alcohol misuse in Wales. Details are set out in our latest substance misuse delivery plan for 2016 to 2018.
 
15:02
Joyce WatsonBiography
I welcome that, but alcohol is ubiquitous in our society—it’s glamorised on tv, it’s promoted as something that you have to have in order to relax, or even to socialise. It’s advertised in sporting events, billboards, bus shelters, and magazines. Bearing that in mind, it’s not surprising that, based on alcohol sales, Public Health Wales have reported that 75 per cent of the Welsh population drink more than that which is considered safe to do so. I understand that the last Welsh Assembly Government were hoping to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol as a way of helping to reduce alcohol consumption in Wales, but I understand that we may not have, under the new reserved model, the power to now legislate. So my question is, first of all: do we have the power to legislate? If we don’t have the power to legislate, what other ways are we planning to help reduce alcohol dependency and abuse even further?
 
15:03
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you for the question. We do currently, under our existing settlement, have the power to legislate, but, unfortunately, despite numerous arguments made to the UK Government, this is one of the powers that they have sought to remove from the Assembly for the future—but we do still very much support the introduction of minimum unit pricing as an additional lever in order to reduce alcohol-related harm, and we’re actively considering the need to bring forward legislation on this matter. It is part of a wider suite of measures that we are taking. For example, our area planning boards are doing some great work locally, and, in Newtown, in your area of Mid and West Wales, tackling under-age drinking is really important—and we’ve invested there by supporting the development of a community alcohol partnership, which is bringing together local stakeholders, trading standards, police, schools and alcohol retailers, in order to support young people in particular to avoid having a harmful relationship with alcohol.
 
15:04
Paul DaviesBiography
Minister, you may be aware of Alcohol Concern’s Communities Together project in north Pembrokeshire, which will be hosting a conference in March to learn more about how local communities can actually reduce alcohol harm, and how we can develop healthier relationships with alcohol. Do you agree with me that projects like this are a great way to promote healthier living, and can you tell us what the Welsh Government is doing specifically to promote and encourage these types of projects across Wales?
 
15:05
Rebecca EvansBiography
Well, partnership working, as you describe, is absolutely essential, because there are so many parties involved in terms of helping people who already have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol stop drinking, but also to promote responsible drinking as well. The community alcohol partnership, which I’ve just described to Joyce Watson, is one example of how we’re doing that. In December, as well, I published our new night-time economy framework for Wales, and the purpose of that is really to provide a structure for all key stakeholders in order to aid the development and preservation of sustainable, healthy, and safe night-time economies across Wales as well. And, again, that’s about bringing partners together to address these issues.
 
Hospital Waiting Times (South Wales West)