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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 Members to order.
 
13:30
Statement by the Llywydd
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Members will be aware that a point of order was raised yesterday regarding the use of language in the Chamber. This has prompted me to reflect more generally on a recent tendency among Members to sail close to the wind in relation to the words they choose to use. I’m satisfied that my response to date has been correct and in accordance with our Standing Orders. However, judgments of this kind are finely balanced and can depend much on the context in each case. This is why no Member should interpret a ruling as having established some hard-and-fast line of what constitutes acceptable behaviour.
 
Whilst I have made clear from the start that I want to ensure robust scrutiny and lively debate, the people of Wales would not expect this Chamber to become a place where accusations about the personal integrity of Members are thrown around lightly or frequently. All Members must think carefully about the words they use. I will not allow a pattern of behaviour to develop that deliberately tests our boundaries.
 
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
So, we move on to the first item on the agenda, which is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure. And the first question is from Rhianon Passmore.
 
Tourism in Islwyn
 
13:31
Rhianon PassmoreBiography
1. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline what actions the Welsh Government is taking to develop tourism in Islwyn to aid economic regeneration? OAQ(5)0199(EI)
 
13:31
Ken SkatesBiographyThe Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure
Yes. Our tourism strategy sets out our principles and priorities to support the industry across Wales. This includes marketing campaigns in the UK and overseas, it includes capital development funding for new and existing tourism businesses, and it also includes revenue funding for regional projects.
 
13:31
Rhianon PassmoreBiography
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. The Valleys taskforce has expressed its desire to use the wonderful natural landscape of Wales to promote our economy. In Islwyn, we have the wondrous Cwmcarn forest scenic drive, which we need reopened. We have the historic grade II Navigation colliery, with its grade II listed buildings. Cabinet Secretary, what can the Welsh Government do to showcase the great Valleys to the world and, as a consequence, revitalise our economy?
 
13:32
Ken SkatesBiography
Well, can I thank the Member for her further question, and also thank her for the keen interest she’s shown in the visitor economy? The Valleys could benefit considerably from the growth in tourists to Wales in recent years. The thematic years, I think, have been particularly beneficial, being focused on the great outdoors, building on the primary purpose that people come to Wales for holidays for, which is to experience adventure, the great outdoors, outdoor discoveries. And I’m hoping that, in the years to come, communities in my colleague’s constituency will benefit further from our initiatives.
 
In terms of the specific projects that the Member highlights, I do believe that the Crumlin Navigation colliery is probably the finest surviving group of former colliery buildings in Wales, and it’s been supported with financial resource from the Welsh Government to undertake reclamation works. It’s my hope that we will see further improvements there in the years to come.
 
In terms of the Cwmcarn forest drive, this is something that I know was incredibly popular when it was in operation. Perhaps we could look to the Year of Discovery in 2019 as a way, and as an opportunity, to reopen that drive. I think it would be fantastic to see it reopened. I do recognise the challenges—financial challenges—facing Natural Resources Wales, but we are looking for major events, new and innovative activities, which can be launched in 2019, and perhaps I could meet with the Member to run through the opportunities for that particular project and more widely in her constituency.
 
13:33
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Cabinet Secretary, earlier this month, the director of the Welsh Centre for Tourism Research at Cardiff Metropolitan University said that Wales is not reaching its full potential in attracting high-spending international tourists. She pointed out that Wales was not doing as well internationally as our competitors, getting about 3 per cent of visitors and 2 per cent of spend. Given the importance of tourism to the Welsh economy, what action does the Cabinet Secretary intend to take to increase the number of international tourists coming to Islwyn, and Wales altogether? Thank you.
 
13:34
Ken SkatesBiography
Yes, I appreciate the points made by the Member. The challenge of getting international visitors out of London is one that faces all regions outside of London. Wales is not unique in that regard. But we have redoubled our efforts to attract visitors to Wales, and the results, I think, are quite impressive, in terms of all types of visits. We saw an increase of 15 per cent last year on the previous year. In terms of day visits, we’ve seen numbers increase to above 103 million last year, and, in terms of international visitors, trips were up last year by 10.8 per cent compared with the year before. In terms of spend, which is really what matters to businesses in the visitor economy, the sums that were spent increased by more than 8 per cent. It is now a fact that, when visitors come to Wales on day trips, they now spend more per head than is the UK average. But we don’t want to rest there—we want to continue to attract more international visitors to Wales and that’s why we’re increasing our marketing activities, making sure that we attend more travel expos abroad, bringing in more tourism experts and travel writers on familiarity trips, to get more people interested in the incredible offer that we have in our country.
 
Economic Development in West Wales
 
13:35
Angela BurnsBiography
2. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline the Welsh Government’s plans to promote economic development in west Wales during the fifth Assembly? OAQ(5)0201(EI)
 
13:35
Ken SkatesBiography
Thank you. Yes, we are developing a strategic approach to economic development based on prosperity for all, enabling all parts of Wales to benefit from economic growth and the opportunity to secure greater degrees of job creation.
 
13:36
Angela BurnsBiography
Thank you for that, Cabinet Secretary. As you will know, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park covers vast swathes of my constituency, and the decisions taken by them can have major impacts on businesses operating either wholly within the park or partly park and partly the rest of Pembrokeshire. Whilst I understand the need for consideration to be offered to the park’s overriding principles, it is vital for economic development in west Wales that businesses can grow and mature. Can you outline what support your department, along with the department of the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, can offer to businesses to ensure that decisions taken by the national parks are taken in the timeliest manner so as to minimise the economic impact on businesses operating in the area? Otherwise, I fear that a number of businesses will be driven from west Wales.
 
13:37
Ken SkatesBiography
I’d agree with the Member that our national parks do need to work in partnership with the businesses that are located within them. We do see, in many parts of Wales, very proactive national parks working effectively and very efficiently with businesses in the spirit of partnership. With regard to the national park in Pembrokeshire, I think there has been a concerted effort by the park to take advantage of the Year of Legends and the forthcoming Year of the Sea, working in partnership with the local authority and crucially with businesses.
 
The Member is absolutely right that the park must be proactive in reaching out to businesses and in assisting businesses to—I was going to say, ‘exploit’—take advantage and work with the park to draw more visitors in and to make sure that visitors stay for longer. There are some phenomenal attractions on the Pembrokeshire coast. That’s why I go there every summer for my personal and private holiday with my family. It’s an amazing place, but we’d like to translate more day visits and weekend visits into week-long visits, and you can only do that by having a partnership approach that brings together all businesses and brings together those providers of attractions and events.
 
13:38
Simon ThomasBiography
Thank you, Llywydd. The Cabinet Secretary will be aware that publishing books is very important in the west of Wales, and I declare an interest, as is in the register of interests, as my wife and my niece work in this area. So, I’d like to ask him about publishing but starting by paying tribute, if I may, to Tony Bianchi, a gentleman who passed away some three weeks ago, who was from Newcastle, who learnt Welsh and became an eminent Welsh writer and promoted Welsh writing and publishing in Wales and professionalised the art too.
 
In that context, we have the Professor Medwin Hughes report, which has created something of a headache, from time to time, for the Cabinet Secretary over the past few weeks. I would like to thank him for the way he’s responded to the report and the way he’s brought everyone together to agree a way forward. Can I ask him specifically whether he will ensure that, as we are in a situation where the people who are seen to be criticised in the report are raising their voices, he will also listen to those people who are frankly less vocal but do want to work with him and everyone in the area to secure a prosperous future for publishing in Wales?
 
13:39
Ken SkatesBiography
Can I thank Simon Thomas for his question? Simon makes an important point that we should all behave responsibly and fairly when we respond to a report of this nature. Can I also pay tribute to Tony Bianchi and the incredible work that he produced and also his commitment to Welsh literature? His passing is very much missed, I’m sure, not just in my colleague’s constituency and region, but right across the country and beyond given the reach that his work had. I think, in terms of publishing, the report was designed and is designed to strengthen literature and publishing in Wales. Now that it has been produced, I think it’s important that all interested bodies work together to ensure that all interested bodies become strengthened in their respective areas, and deliver better what they have been delivering well to date. The arts council, the Welsh Books Council and Literature Wales—they all have delivered magnificent events, services and activities, and do an incredible amount to promote publishing. I want to make sure that these bodies go on strengthening and flourishing in the future.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
13:40
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
I call on the party spokespeople to ask their questions of the Cabinet Secretary. Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Adam Price.
 
13:40
Adam PriceBiography
Diolch, Llywydd. Cabinet Secretary, in November last year, you told the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee that the First Minister had said that he expects the economic strategy to be with him by the spring of 2017. Earlier this year, you said in Plenary that you had to wait until the UK’s industrial strategy had been published in January. On 8 February, a Government amendment to a debate on the economy noted:
 
the Welsh Government’s plan to publish a cross-cutting strategy to support economic growth later in the spring.’
 
The First Minister, on 16 May, in response to a question by David Rees, said,
 
We intend to publish our strategic approach to building prosperity for all before the summer recess.’
 
And, finally, just a couple of weeks ago, Cabinet Secretary, on 3 July, at the external affairs committee, you said you would publish this strategy in this term. Cabinet Secretary, this is the last day of term: where’s the strategy?
 
13:42
Ken SkatesBiography
I’m pleased to be able to inform the Member that the cross-cutting strategy ‘prosperity for all’ was approved by Cabinet this week. It has been completed. It will be published early in the autumn on return of this Assembly, and, over the summer, we will be engaging in an extensive—[Interruption.]—in an extensive stakeholder engagement programme to further refine the work, based in action, after the strategy has been published.
 
13:42
Adam PriceBiography
For the record, Members are asking which autumn of which year we’re talking about. So, maybe the Cabinet Secretary might want to put that on the record. Now, maybe one of the reasons for it being delayed was because you had to rewrite it following the fall-out of your decision over the Circuit of Wales. Now, on 27 June, Cabinet Secretary, you told the Assembly that you could not have a definitive answer from the Office for National Statistics on the balance sheet issue until after contracts were signed. There was a risk that, many months down the line, you could find yourself with a project on the balance sheet with all the implications that would have. You’ve now admitted to me in a written answer that there was an alternative: you could have asked for a provisional ruling from ONS. Why didn’t you?
 
13:43
Ken SkatesBiography
Can I first of all thank the Member for his good humour, this being the last opportunity that he will have in this current term to question me? Can I also thank him for the 12 months that we’ve had of grilling and probing and having me on the rack, during which time we have disagreed on a number of occasions, but I hope we have been able to agree on a number of subjects as well? I recognise the Member’s deep belief in the Circuit of Wales project, and I also recognise his disappointment that we were unable to support it. It would have been wholly irresponsible to have taken it forward on the basis of risk that was presented. And, in terms of the point that the Member makes, provisional advice on potential developments can be sought from the ONS, but that should only be when contractual documentation is in a near final form and following a decision in principle to offer Government support.
 
13:44
Adam PriceBiography
Well, Cabinet Secretary, your Government did ask for a provisional ruling from ONS when you made a decision in principle on your own Government’s mutual investment model in October 2016. Furthermore, isn’t it true, Cabinet Secretary, that ONS has also got provision for policy proposals that are not at a near final stage? Their classification guidelines, which you yourself referenced in your answer to me, say this:
 
government departments might seek a view on a proposal at an early stage of development. In such cases, ONS will provide provisional advice on the expected classification of the proposal, based on information available at the time.’
 
So, my question to you is this: did you seek, and were you given, provisional advice on the expected classification of the Circuit of Wales proposal from ONS? And let’s be clear: what I’m asking you is not whether you spoke to them and then formed your own view based on what they said, but did you ask them for their provisional advice in the terms set out in their guidelines? And as the Cabinet Secretary invites me to end the scrutiny on a more positive note, can I ask him this one last thing? If, out of the rubble, the Circuit of Wales project was rescued by the local authorities in the city region—with the prospect now, of course, of Formula 1 being a possibility as well—and the Welsh Government were asked not for their money, but for their blessing, would you welcome the project being salvaged in this way?
 
13:46
Ken SkatesBiography
Can I thank the Member for his further questions? Of course, the one big question that we’re still awaiting an answer for is whether he agrees with our decision that was taken last month, and unfortunately there is no agreement, which I’m sure indicates that the Member would have been content to have signed off the project, only to have returned here, in all likelihood in six months’ time, to tell the Chamber that he was having to put on ice more than £300 million of capital programmes, which, as I’ve said in this Chamber before, would amount to 5,000 affordable homes or 10 schools or one superhospital. I don’t just call that irresponsible; I call that reckless in the extreme. [Interruption.] I hear the leader of UKIP—we’re entering the pantomime audition season—entering the fray from the side, but the point is that he too would have signed off this project in a demonstration of huge irresponsibility.
 
The fact is that we took responsible action on what was a controversial subject, which did fire up passions and beliefs in the Valleys, but we are now moving on with a clear vision for the Heads of the Valleys and we will deliver. The people of Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent and the Heads of the Valleys have waited long enough. We are here to deliver and we will do just that.
 
13:47
Adam PriceBiography
You didn’t answer the question.
 
13:47
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Conservative spokesperson, Russell George.
 
13:47
Russell GeorgeBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Cabinet Secretary, infrastructure projects have too often been delayed by short-term political considerations, and this has often led to spiralling costs and the cancellation of projects altogether. In addition, where high levels of uncertainty hang above infrastructure schemes, potentially, private sector investors are often deterred from providing financial backing for these kinds of projects. When infrastructure is planned and delivered within the context of a secure, credible and long-term view, these projects often secure a greater level of private sector interest and investment. So, can I ask you, perhaps in the light of recent events as well, to reconsider putting the national infrastructure commission on a statutory footing? I would also suggest that it will be a missed opportunity for you not to do that. I think what the Government needs to do is to demonstrate a genuine commitment to creating a stable and long-term approach to infrastructure development in Wales.
 
13:48
Ken SkatesBiography
Can I thank the Member for his question and also for the work that he led in assessing the establishment of the national infrastructure commission of Wales? Of course, we already utilise innovative forms of funding. We are doing that with the dualling of the A465, and we will continue to do so. The work that’s taking place on the infrastructure commission is taking place at speed. We are now looking at the appointments of the chair and the members of that commission in the early autumn, and as I’ve said on previous occasions, we will review the operations of the commission before the end of this Assembly term. I have given my undertaking to do that. As of yet, we have received no compelling evidence for putting it on a statutory footing. However, we will be reviewing the effectiveness and the delivery of the commission by the end of this Assembly.
 
13:49
Russell GeorgeBiography
Well, I would put it to you, Cabinet Secretary, that we do need a more long-term and stable approach in Wales—more than ever before. Over the last number of years, the Welsh Government has presided over a number of significant major project failures, I’m afraid to say. That has created confusion and uncertainty for potential private sector investors, and the failure and the process with regard to the Circuit of Wales—as Adam Price has mentioned earlier—is one example where we see, potentially, a reduced confidence amongst investors that Wales is indeed open for business. Do you, Cabinet Secretary, acknowledge that the creation of the infrastructure commission should be followed up by the introduction of legislation to equip the commission with the extra weight and clout it needs to do its work?
 
13:50
Ken SkatesBiography
As I’ve said, we will be assessing the effectiveness of the commission by the end of this Assembly term. We will be establishing it by the end of this year. I must disagree with the assertion made by the Member that Wales may appear not to be open for business given the latest results for inward investment, which show, I believe, that it was the third most successful year. Indeed, investment from within the UK into Wales reached a record high. We are continuing with our efforts to bring in major projects. Just last week we were able to announce the investment by Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles—a huge investment that will bring monumental change to Newport and the economy of south-east Wales, creating 300 jobs, but also, crucially, offering enormous potential for expansion. That’s something that we will build upon. Since May of this year, we have announced, through our support, the creation of more than 500 jobs in this current year, and we are also working to establish many more jobs across—and that’s just in Wales in this past eight weeks. But we are also working with a pipeline of interests at the moment to create further employment opportunities in the months to come.
 
13:51
Russell GeorgeBiography
And finally, Cabinet Secretary, if I could perhaps pursue an issue that Adam Price raised in his first question, there’s still some confusion for me in this regard, certainly when it comes to your publishing of ‘prosperous and secure’ and your economic strategy. I’m aware that you did tell the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee that you’d publish it this term; I’m aware that last week, in the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, you said it would be the autumn; however, in the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister on Friday of this week, I asked the First Minister and put it to him, and he said that ‘prosperous and secure’ would be published this term. So, I have to say I am a little bit confused. So, reflecting on what the Presiding Officer said at the beginning of proceedings today, who is right? Is it yourself or the First Minister?
 
13:52
Ken SkatesBiography
I can assure the Member—I can assure the Member because we were all there at Cabinet—that ‘prosperity for all’ was approved, was signed off by all members of the Cabinet on Tuesday, and will be published as soon as we return.
 
13:52
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
UKIP spokesperson, David Rowlands.
 
13:52
David J. RowlandsBiography
Diolch, Llywydd. I’m not sure whether the Cabinet Secretary recalls it, but as long ago as yesterday I questioned you on the availability of funding, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises in the research and development sector. In evidence to the EIS committee last week, you indicated that the development bank of Wales would be moving away from direct grants to repayable loans. Do you not think that this would present a particular obstacle to such companies, as these may not see the financial benefits of their research for many years?
 
13:53
Ken SkatesBiography
Well, there is a need to balance direct support in the form of grants with repayable loans, because repayable loans offer an evergreen approach that can recycle investments into other businesses, but I do take the point that the Member raises, which is that a repayable loan is not the answer and not the best means of supporting all businesses. For that reason we will maintain other forms of direct support, be it grants or indeed advice through Business Wales and the development bank itself.
 
13:53
David J. RowlandsBiography
Well, forgive me if I show some continuing frustration, Cabinet Secretary, but I have personal involvement with a constituent who is seeking funding for what seems to be a project that fits all the Welsh Government criteria, in that it involves cutting-edge nanotechnology, will have a hugely beneficial environmental impact and has massive growth potential, and yet although some funding has been made available through his engagement with both Bangor and Swansea universities, I have seen at first hand how difficult it is to access further funding to take this product to fruition. Surely, Cabinet Secretary, if Wales is to succeed in its aspirations to become a world leader in this environmentally friendly technology, we have to have the funding processes that will allow this to happen.
 
13:54
Ken SkatesBiography
We do, indeed. Research funding is absolutely crucial, and that’s why we’ve been very clear that any research funding that could potentially be lost when we exit the EU is made good by the UK Government. In terms of the specific company that the Member mentions, it’s not clear whether they have an account manager within Business Wales to support them, but I would gladly make contact with the company if the Member can provide details of it and ensure that Business Wales are there to give support and signpost the company to the best method of financing their product so it can reach market.
 
13:55
David J. RowlandsBiography
Thank you.
 
Economic Development in the South Wales Valleys
 
13:55
Steffan LewisBiography
3. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on Welsh Government plans for economic development in the south Wales valleys? OAQ(5)0203(EI)
 
13:55
Ken SkatesBiography
Yes. Tomorrow we will publish ‘Our Valleys, Our Future’, a high-level plan for action, building on the work of the Valleys taskforce, and in addition to this, we will continue to invest in infrastructure improvements and skills and the general environment for business across the south Wales Valleys.
 
13:55
Steffan LewisBiography
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his answer. I’m sure he would agree with me that the industrial and manufacturing heritage of the Valleys is not something that should be confined to its past, but should be central to its future as well. We’ve got particular challenges facing us in terms of research and development and productivity, and I hope he won’t underestimate the potential for Welsh Government to make meaningful interventions that can transform the economic prospects of that region. Last month, the Scottish Government announced that it was going to create a national manufacturing institute in Scotland, based on the very successful advanced manufacturing centre in Sheffield. The one in Sheffield has 100 private partners plus, and it supports very highly skilled and highly paid jobs in that region. So, now that he’s got a little bit more time to tinker with his economic strategy over the summer, I wonder if he will look into the merits of creating a niche manufacturing institute, and of course that that should be located in the south Wales Valleys.
 
13:56
Ken SkatesBiography
I’m very pleased to say to the Member that I’ve already done it. In fact, I announced last week that an advanced manufacturing institute based on the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield, which will be delivered with the University of Sheffield and universities in Wales, is being built. I approved the funding for the first phase of the institute just last week.
 
It’s also my vision that, as part of the technology park that we’ll be developing in Ebbw Vale, we will see an advanced manufacturing centre of excellence configured there as well. The model of the AMRC is already proven. Institutions and businesses have access to £0.5 billion-worth of research equipment. That’s why the model is so attractive. The advanced manufacturing and research institute in north Wales will build on that model, and I was also able to reveal that, according to the business case, the AMRI in north Wales will have an economic impact of up to £4 billion on GVA in the next 20 years. I want to make sure that we replicate that sort of model of success in the south Wales Valleys.
 
13:57
David MeldingBiography
I look forward to scrutinising in this Chamber ‘Our Valleys, Our Future’, because we certainly need a transformative vision for the Valleys. I’m not sure the Valleys landscape park would constitute a hub, but it would be a transformative vision, potentially. We’ve got to start to recognise the real potential of this resource. The Valleys were once amongst Britain’s most beautiful spots, and travellers from all over the UK would come and paint pictures and write poetry about this wonderful landscape. They should come again, and more of them. I commend the sort of vision that your colleague Huw Irranca-Davies has for a Valleys forest, for instance. There is great potential there, and now we need to match it with vision.
 
13:58
Ken SkatesBiography
Can I thank David Melding for his question, and also for, once again in this Chamber, touching on the importance of well-being to the economy, and the contribution that the natural landscape can make to our well-being? My colleague the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language will be making a statement in the Chamber concerning the idea of a Valleys park. I’m sure that it’s an idea that you will very much welcome, and will incorporate, I am sure, a good degree of forestry and outdoor health activities.
 
13:59
Dawn BowdenBiography
Cabinet Secretary, given the contribution that tourism is making to economic development across the country, I’m pleased to note the tremendous success that we’ve seen with the tourist investment support scheme across Wales. But I am concerned to note that, of the 205 schemes that have received offers of grant support under the tourism investment support scheme since April 2011, only four of those were located in the south Wales Valleys region. I’m very pleased to say that Rock UK in my constituency was one of them. Given the beautiful countryside that David Melding’s just been talking about, and the rich industrial and social heritage of the area, do you share my concern at this limited take-up in the Valleys, even given that TISS is a funder of last resort? Could I ask you if you’d consider undertaking some research into why businesses in this area are reluctant to take advantage of this specific source of funding and whether in fact there is scope for extending the scheme—for extending the scope of the scheme?
 
14:00
Ken SkatesBiography
Can I thank Dawn Bowden for her interest again in the visitor economy? Dawn has recognised regularly in this Chamber the value that tourism can make to communities in her constituency. I do share her concerns about the number of projects funded through TISS that have actually been delivered in the communities that she’s spoken about. For that reason, we carried out a piece of work to understand why fewer businesses come forward in the Valleys than in other areas of Wales.
 
As part of that work, we’ve also secured tourism funding from the rural development programme, which will enable us to deliver a higher intervention rate to businesses, and my officials will be undertaking a scoping study and an engagement programme, with a view to being able to develop more reputation-changing, interesting, innovative, creative tourism attractions in the Valleys communities.
 
I think the Member’s already identified one particular attraction that has proven to be quite game changing within her community. There are many others. There are, for example, activities based on biking and mountain biking, such as Bike Park Wales, that have proven enormously successful and have changed perceptions of the area.
 
Major Events in North Wales
 
14:01
Hannah BlythynBiography
4. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on Welsh Government support for the hosting of major events in north Wales? OAQ(5)0195(EI)
 
14:01
Ken SkatesBiography
Yes. This year we are supporting a range of sporting and cultural events in north Wales, including FOCUS Wales, Hijinx Unity Festival, RawFfest, the Good Life Experience, and Wales Rally GB. We wish to attract more major international events to Wales and are in ongoing discussions with partners in north Wales to identify new opportunities.
 
14:02
Hannah BlythynBiography
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I’m pleased to hear of the ongoing discussions to identify opportunities. You’ll be aware that, in the past few months alone, north Wales has successfully hosted a number of high-profile stadium concerts, from Olly Murs at the Racecourse, to the now annual epic Access All Eirias at Eirias Park, and Llanfest in your own constituency, which had the Manic Street Preachers there this year.
 
Flintshire is also home to the national Wales rugby league team, the only national team to actually be based in north Wales, and who later this year will compete in the Rugby League World Cup in Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea, supported by a lot of local organisations and businesses in my constituency, including being suited and booted by Vaughan Davies of Mold.
 
I’m sure the Cabinet Secretary and other colleagues will join me in wishing the Wales rugby union—rugby league team, sorry, every success in the Rugby League World Cup, but I’m also aware from constituents and others that there’s growing public support for us to be able to host major events and teams in north Wales, along with the investment in infrastructure that is needed to expand our offer.
 
So, can I urge a further commitment from the Welsh Government to further invest in our area, to show we have the greater capacity to host events, whether that be in iconic and historic locations like Flint Castle, existing stadiums, or perhaps one day looking at a future stadium or a location in the Flintshire area of north-east Wales?
 
14:03
Ken SkatesBiography
Yes, very much so. I’m looking forward to being at Flint castle this very Friday, where we’ll reveal a world-class arts installation design, which I’m sure will capture the imagination not just of people in Flint but the people of north Wales and beyond. I’d also like to extend my best wishes to the Welsh team as they go out to the Rugby League World Cup. I’m sure that they will perform magnificently and do us proud and I wish them all the best.
 
Officials recently engaged with 30 events organisers in north Wales to scope out further opportunities. We currently spend around about £1.7 million in supporting major events in north Wales, but we want to build on the reputation that north Wales now has globally as one of the best destinations to visit for a holiday and for outdoor adventure. So, our investment must continue in those innovative products such as Surf Snowdonia, as well as the innovative major events, which can attract new and existing visitors alike.
 
The Member may also be aware that a sports facilities study has been commissioned. Work is under way to assess what facilities are needed for future major events to be hosted in Wales. That study will look at all parts of Wales and will assess existing infrastructure as well as the demands for new sports stadia. The Member may also be interested to know that I did recently meet with the Welsh Curling Association to discuss the building of a bespoke facility in the adjoining constituency of Alyn and Deeside.
 
14:05
Mark IsherwoodBiography
On 9 July, I had the pleasure, with many others, of watching Bryan Adams at Eirias Park in Colwyn Bay who was, of course, preceded the night before by Little Mix, and I’m looking forward, as you may be, on 4 to 6 August, to one of the highlights of my year, which is the Mold Blues and Soul festival—absolutely wonderful: great music, great local ale, great food, and, hopefully, fantastic weather, fingers crossed. Recognising that research and practice show that major popular music events are a fantastic way of stimulating the visitor economy in north Wales, what role is or could the Welsh Government play in helping to promote that within the wider regional offer?
 
14:05
Ken SkatesBiography
Can I thank Mark Isherwood for his question? I’m looking forward to joining him at Mold Blues and Soul Festival in August. Perhaps we could share a pint at the Alehouse or the Glasfryn afterwards. I’m sure it will be a magnificent event. Mold has carved out an enviable reputation in the region for hosting cultural food and drink and sporting events, and I’m sure that the Blues and Soul Festival will prove hugely successful. We fund, through the tourism product innovation fund, a number of regional and local events and activities that are designed to align with the thematic years, and in north Wales this year there have been a number of events that we’ve funded to capitalise on the Year of Legends, most notably in Conwy, where an incredible festival recently took place based on what was called ‘the tournament’ and included jousting. We work with local communities, with tourism providers, and with events organisers through Visit Wales to promote all activities that are taking place, but particularly with those that are aligned with the thematic years. We noticed that, in rallying the entire sector together by using the thematic years, we’ve been able to gain added value in terms of our offer, and that’s what’s lead to a significant increase in the marketing spend that’s been generated as a consequence of the thematic years, up by around about 18 per cent, we believe, just last year.
 
14:07
Llyr GruffyddBiography
One of the centres trying to establish itself as a venue for events with some of the major bands is the Racecourse. I have regularly raised the need to invest in the Racecourse with you, because it needs to be—and it should be—an important centre for entertainment, but also an international standard sport stadium. We constantly hear this Government making very proactive statements about conference centres and so on. When will we see the Government being as proactive in ensuring investment in the Racecourse?
 
14:08
Ken SkatesBiography
Can I thank Llyr for his question? I know he shares a very keen interest in this subject with my colleague Lesley Griffiths, and with the local Member of Parliament, Ian Lucas. I’m sure all of you would like to see, as I would, the Racecourse receive investment to become a more active and vibrant hub within the Wrexham community, but, indeed, in the wider region. My officials, I’m pleased to say, recently met with Wrexham football trust. They discussed the vision for the stadium, but of key significance will be the role that the local authority plays in devising a masterplan for the town to ensure that any future investment in the stadium is aligned with other facilities and other services that are being developed in Wrexham, but, to my mind, there is no doubt that the Racecourse deserves to have investment to make sure that it can go on being the oldest international stadium in Britain, in Europe, and possibly the world. To do that, it will need further investment, and the further investment will only come as a consequence of a sound business case and a very clear vision, and that’s exactly what, through my officials, we are now trying to draw together.
 
Wales’s Status as the Poorest Part of the UK
 
14:09
David J. RowlandsBiography
5. What is the Welsh Government doing to change Wales’s status as the poorest part of the UK? OAQ(2)0212(EI)
 
14:09
Ken SkatesBiography
Well, on measures of household incomes and wealth, Wales is not the poorest part of the UK. Nonetheless, we do need to improve wealth and well-being considerably. Therefore, we are taking a range of actions to deliver prosperity for all in Wales, including investing in skills and infrastructure and creating an environment where businesses can start up and grow.
 
14:09
David J. RowlandsBiography
Well, thank you for that answer, Cabinet Minister. I asked the question because it appears that, after many years of this institution, we are now relatively poorer than we were at the start of devolution. Why, after billions of pounds of so-called European structural funding, do we find ourselves in such a position? Surely, it is time to address this situation with fundamentally different solutions than those applied before. It is time for Wales to turn away from an economy dominated by the public sector to one that is a dynamic industrial powerhouse that competes with the best in the world. We have the resources, skills, hard-working, industrious population, to make this happen. I know the Cabinet Secretary possesses those very same attributes, so will he apply them to drive this new industrial revolution in Wales and put a stop to this endless cycle of poverty?
 
14:10
Ken SkatesBiography
Can I thank the Member for his question, the keen interest he shows in this area, and the passion with which he speaks about the need to grow wealth in the aggregate as well as at a community level, making sure that we spread prosperity more evenly across Wales? In terms of activities since devolution, Wales has had the fifth highest increase in gross value added per head compared to the 12 UK countries and English regions. We’ve seen a record number of people entering into work, unemployment is consistently at a very low rate, and we’ve seen the number of business births now rise to record levels.
 
We know that there are almost—we’re just about touching on 100,000 businesses that are headquartered in Wales. But what we wish to see take place in the coming years is a move towards strengthening regional economies in Wales so that we can decentralise and deconcentrate investment. For that reason, I’m reshaping my department so that we have strong regional units that can work with the city regions, and with the growth region, and with local authorities on a regional footprint, to assess what the key sectoral strengths are across Wales, and then to hone in, develop them, and, during the fourth industrial revolution, make sure that people are skilled and make sure that businesses are futureproofed in order to create a higher-value economy, one that benefits the whole of Wales.
 
14:12
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Cabinet Secretary, one of the best ways out of poverty is through work, and that means creating an efficient integrated transport network to allow people, particularly young people, to access jobs within a reasonable distance of their homes. However, the cost of fares can often be a deterrent to young people being able to access jobs. Given that the Welsh Government’s mytravelpass scheme, offering young people a third off bus fares, ended in March this year, what plan does the Cabinet Secretary have to assist young jobseekers with their transport costs when looking for work across Wales? Thank you.
 
14:12
Ken SkatesBiography
Can I thank the Member for his question? He is absolutely right in that the lack of affordable, reliable, and frequent public transport is a major barrier preventing many people from gaining work. We know, based on all available statistics, that in the Growth Track 360 region of north Wales and the Mersey Dee area approximately a quarter of people who receive job interviews are not able to go to them because they cannot get transport to those interviews. That is an appalling—an appalling—statistic, which must be addressed.
 
We have piloted the mytravelpass. It’s continuing whilst we consult with young people and with the bus sector on a sustainable replacement scheme. It’s my view that there are current schemes operating in the UK that are sustainable that we could look to to learn from. I was recently, with colleagues, in Liverpool learning about the Merseytravel scheme for young people, which I believe operates on the basis of £3 can get you anywhere anytime, as many trips as you want per day in that region. That’s the sort of model that’s innovative, it’s sustainable, and it’s fair, and that’s the sort of development I’d like to see in Wales.
 
But, fundamentally, we need to reform the bus sector itself—modernise the bus sector, get better-quality buses being utilised, and change perceptions of bus travel as well, so that people access bus services not as a last resort but because they are of a sufficiently high quality to experience an enjoyable trip. I think in terms of rural communities especially bus services are absolutely vital. We’ve maintained the bus services support grant of £25 million for several years now, because we’ve recognised the value of bus services in rural communities. I’m keen to make sure that we work with the sector and with passenger groups to find more sustainable ways of growing patronage on bus services so that the level of public subsidy can be reduced without affecting the attractiveness of transport on buses.
 
14:15
John GriffithsBiography
Cabinet Secretary, I’m sure you’d agree with me that the recent announcement by CAF of the 200 to 300 jobs in Newport—quality jobs building the trains of the future to help take that integrated transport system forward—is very valuable, and I’d be very interested to know how we can capitalise on that investment by attracting further investment and, indeed, making sure that local suppliers and local firms benefit from this very welcome development.
 
14:15
Ken SkatesBiography
Can I thank John Griffiths for his question? I know that he’s warmly welcomed the announcement by CAF of £30 million in his constituency, which will lead to the establishment of a fairly major manufacturing facility, employing 300 people. It’s worth saying that we managed to beat more than 100 locations around the world to secure this investment for Wales, once again stepping up and beating our competitors around the planet. Now, the facility will enable the company to assemble, test and commission new vehicles in Wales. It will have the capacity to undertake future manufacturing projects, as well as maintenance and servicing activities. When you align that to the development of the metro and investment in the next franchise, I think there are huge opportunities for us to grow a skills base in this particular sector that will maintain people in employment for a generation.
 
Prosperity in the South Wales Valleys
 
14:16
Lynne NeagleBiography
6. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline how the Welsh Government is working to improve prosperity in the south Wales valleys? OAQ(5)0207(EI)
 
14:16
Ken SkatesBiography
Yes. Tomorrow, we will publish ‘Our Valleys, Our Future’, building on the work of the Valleys taskforce chaired by my colleague Alun Davies. In addition to this, we’ll continue to invest in skills, in infrastructure and in the right business environment for companies to flourish.
 
14:17
Lynne NeagleBiography
Cabinet Secretary, the proposals put forward by the Department for Work and Pensions over the future of their estate in Wales will see a relocation of some 200 skilled staff out of Cwmbran town centre. Not only would this have a devastating impact on the local economy in Cwmbran, but would pose enormous difficulties for staff with caring responsibilities who are unable to travel to the location that’s been proposed, which is the Treforest area. The fact that that location has been chosen suggests that the DWP have little or no understanding of the geography of Wales. I know that the Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James, who’s been incredibly helpful, was meeting with the UK Minister last Thursday, and I’d be grateful if, as a Government, you could provide an update to Members. But can I also ask you for your assurances, Cabinet Secretary, that you will do all you can personally to work with Julie James to represent the staff affected by these proposals, which will have a devastating impact on one of the poorest parts of Wales?
 
14:18
Ken SkatesBiography
The Member is absolutely right, and I’ll just reiterate our strong disappointment that the DWP did not consult with Welsh Government ahead of the decision being made, without any alternative solutions being considered. And I know that the Minister has now met with the UK Government Minister, and I’m sure will be providing a written update to Members in the coming days on the discussions that took place and the further activity that will now be undertaken. And I can assure the Member as well that if any workers take redundancy, then we will offer ReAct as a means of ensuring that people can get back into work without a lengthy period of unemployment. It’s absolutely crucial that anyone affected by this who is left without work does not stay in unemployment for a long period of time, and we will help in every way possible.
 
14:19
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Minister, you just said that the strategy will be unveiled tomorrow. The Minister, Alun Davies, made a statement last week. I did press him on his statement to try and explain what the hubs economically are going to achieve. He talked that there would be six hubs. One of those six is the automotive enterprise park—call it what you will—in Blaenau Gwent that has been allocated £100 million over 10 years. He was unable to give any information at all; I’m not sure whether that was because he didn’t know what they were going to do, or whether he was just being guarded because, obviously, there was so much focus on the Circuit of Wales concept that, obviously, sits in his constituency. I’d be grateful from your perspective if you could enlighten me as to exactly how these hubs will operate. Will they be merely just small enterprise zones? Will they be themed? Geographically, where will they be located? And what budget lines are going to be allocated to them? Given that we know £100 million has been allocated to the one in Blaenau Gwent, are we talking similar sorts of moneys for the other hubs that will be dotted around the rest of the Valleys as part of the strategy?
 
14:20
Ken SkatesBiography
Can I thank Andrew R.T. Davies for his questions? Very important points were raised—the need to ensure that hubs operate in a way that generates sustainable growth. I envisage the hubs developing as opportunities for clustering and agglomeration in certain specialisms. So, it may be, for example, in Ebbw Vale, automotive. It may be, in another hub, based on house building. So, my view is that the hubs have the potential to become recognisable clusters of specialisms that, again, can enable skills partnerships across the Valleys region to home in on opportunities that are emerging through the pipeline of interests that we already have, and the pipeline of interests that we already have will lead funding to be delivered on an on-demand basis. So, any funding requirements will be drawn down from my department, and potentially other departments, if it crosses subject boundaries.
 
In terms of the further detail that the Member requests, this is something that Alun Davies will be revealing tomorrow, but the aim of the clusters, the aim of the hubs, is to make sure that there is a concentration of activity in certain areas based on emerging economic and manufacturing trends and to take advantage of the theme of better jobs closer to home, offering people access into work and then career progression in areas of economic activity where we know there is a sustainable future.
 
National Football Museum
 
14:21
Llyr GruffyddBiography
7. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on the proposed national football museum? OAQ(5)0205(EI)[W]
 
14:21
Ken SkatesBiography
Yes. Can I thank the Member for this question? It’s very exciting. We are currently running a procurement exercise on Sell2Wales to appoint a contractor to complete a feasibility study on the football museum. The study is set to commence around the end of August and will be completed within six months.
 
14:22
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Well, thank you for your answer, and I welcome, obviously, the commissioning of this study as a consequence of an agreement between the Government and Plaid Cymru, of course. But some people are asking the question of whether there’s a slight change in direction here because the original commitment was to look into a football museum located in the north, whereas the feasibility study looks at a more general sporting museum, which, potentially, could be anywhere in Wales. Now, some people are worried that north-east Wales might lose out.
 
14:22
Ken SkatesBiography
Okay. Can I just assure the Member that the specification does state that the preferred location is in Wrexham or elsewhere in north Wales? I think it’s well recognised that north Wales would do well to have a sports museum or a football museum—a specialist football museum. It could potentially complement the football museum that exists in Manchester. Given that it’s a live procurement, there’s a limited amount that I can say on this, but we have honoured the agreement that we reached, and I’m excited about this piece of work. I think it could produce a very, very enticing idea that we would be keen to deliver, provided the feasibility study makes it an affordable one.
 
14:23
Mark IsherwoodBiography
On a similar theme, I’ve also had similar concerns raised with me regarding the feasibility study—the procurement document you refer to—which does, I’m told, talk of there being a sports museum in Wales, so I’m reassured by your comments. But do you agree that it is important that what comes out of this ensures that the north-east is recognised for its pioneering role in promoting what’s become, for many, the national sport—some might argue it’s rugby union but, for many others, it’s football—recognising that this club started in 1872, that it’s where the first international match was played in Wales, where the Football Association of Wales was formed, and that it’s home, of course, to one of the world’s oldest football clubs?
 
14:24
Ken SkatesBiography
Yes, absolutely. Wrexham Association Football Club have an incredible history that deserves to be recognised and promoted. I can also assure Members, because I heard on the opposition benches concerns expressed about whether this would be a national museum of Wales or just a football museum. We will be engaging the National Museum Wales in discussions and deliberations as part of the feasibility study. As far as Wrexham AFC and football as a whole are concerned, north-east Wales has a very proud heritage in the sport. Many of us from that part of Wales would consider it to be certainly one of the national sports—probably the one that was most widely played by us when we were growing up—and we’re keen to make sure that any investment in a facility such as this serves to inspire people as well as to capture the past and to inspire people to go on to be very successful in football in the future.
 
14:24
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Thank you, 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.
 
14:25
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The next item, therefore, is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport, and the first question is from Rhun ap Iorwerth.
 
Orthopaedic Treatment in North Wales
 
14:25
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the number of patients referred for orthopaedic treatment in north Wales? OAQ(5)0201(HWS)[W]
 
14:25
Vaughan GethingBiographyThe Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport
Thank you for the question. There has been a significant increase in orthopaedic referrals in Betsi Cadwaladr over the last four years and capacity has not met demand. The local health board is taking a range of measures to deal with the increase, including the use of various triage services such as physiotherapists in general practitioner practices and lifestyle and weight management clinics, in line with recommendations of the planned care programme.
 
14:25
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
More than 1,200 patients are waiting longer than a year for treatment in north Wales and that is unacceptable. I hope that you would agree with that. A recent paper from the board on developing orthopaedic services emphasises the need for more training places in order to provide the necessary workforce to create a sustainable service that can meet reasonable targets. Isn’t the statement that you made yesterday that there is no case for establishing a medical school in north Wales entirely contrary to the spirit of that paper and runs contrary to what was said in the recent health committee report? Of course a medical school cannot be established overnight, but your pledge to have more students spending more time in the north, as if it were some far-flung country, clearly isn’t enough. So, when are you going to show some ambition on this issue and set a target so that we can start to move towards it?
 
14:27
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the follow-up questions. I do agree that long waits are unacceptable. There’s a real challenge for Betsi Cadwaladr in actually delivering property capacity and demand within its services. We know that there’s likely to be more demand as we move forward and that’s why they have to take a range of measures. The initial orthopaedic plan they had at board wasn’t endorsed because there’s still further work to do on it.
 
There’s a challenge here about a range of our services, not just specialist services but elective services as well, in understanding how we use properly the capacity we have and in reconfiguring that capacity to make better use of it. I think the link that you attempt to draw between a decision over a medical school and the ability to recruit enough staff to work within a different model—I don’t accept that there is a direct link in the way in which you try to present it.
 
The decision that I announced yesterday was meeting the commitment that I gave to the Assembly to give that indication before recess, and it was deliberately done before questions today to make sure there are opportunities to have this debate within the Chamber. But the health committee report did not say that there should be a medical school in north Wales. It made a number of points that I do take seriously about the case being made to make sure that training across the country takes place, and where those medical education places are actually provided. That includes a proper conversation with the two medical schools about where their students are housed and where they undertake their medical education, and, as I indicated in my statement yesterday, I do think there is a proper case to take forward to ensure that more people undertake medical education within north Wales.
 
So, there has to be a proper partnership carried forward between Bangor, Cardiff and Swansea universities and the national health service to make sure we do deliver more places for medical education to take place. That must take place regardless of any expansion in numbers, because if I were to try and tell you and other people this will only take place if there is an expansion in numbers in medical education, it would be the wrong signal to give. I think it’s important with our current cohort we think about how we provide the opportunity for more of those people to undertake their education in different settings. That does tie in with work already in place, and I’m committed to doing that and to having and open and a sensible conversation with stakeholders, not just across the national health service but in this Chamber and beyond to deliver on that ambition, because I do think there will then be a greater prospect of people either staying in north Wales or returning to north Wales to undertake further periods of medical education and actually staying to work within the national health service thereafter.
 
14:29
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Thank you to the Member from Ynys Môn for raising this once again in this Chamber. Now, according to the latest Welsh Government figures, the number of patients left waiting over 36 weeks, which is twice as long as long as in England, for trauma and orthopaedic treatment in north Wales now stands at 3,336. This is the highest it has ever been. Anecdotally, an 84-year-old female constituent of mine waited 103 weeks—84 years old—that’s over 720 days, almost two years, for their surgery. And a male constituent waited three years for hip operations. In response to my correspondence, you state that you expect all patients to be seen at the earliest opportunity. That is a laugh. What are you going to do about your failure to deliver for these 3,500 patients in north Wales? It’s your Government—you hold the brief and portfolio for health. And I have raised this question time and time again, and we get very, very waffly answers. Tell the people in north Wales—the 3,336 who have been waiting over 36 weeks, twice as long as in England—tell them when are they going to have their operations.
 
14:30
Vaughan GethingBiography
I can assure the Member this is not a laughing matter and it’s certainly not something that I find amusing at all. The challenge always is, whether in relation to an issue where we understand there is more than one reason for a rise in demand, and the inability of the health service to meet that demand—. The demand for a simple answer, to flick a switch and deal with it—that’s unlikely to be the case. And I would much rather be honest and deal with Janet Finch-Saunders saying that I’m waffling by explaining honestly and clearly the challenges we face and what is being done about them, rather than pretend that there is a magic lever within Government to make all of this go away. I think that is absolutely the wrong thing to do.
 
But I am clear—I do expect people to be seen at the earliest opportunity. And that is why I’m very clear, not just to her, but to other Members in the Chamber, across other parties too, that I do think that waiting times within north Wales are unacceptable. That’s why I expect the health board to improve. That’s why I expect to see a real plan for orthopaedic services in north Wales to make a real difference, not just at a long point within the future, but progressively over the rest of this term as well.
 
Retaining Existing Staff in the Health Service
 
14:31
Leanne WoodBiography
2. What efforts are being made by the Welsh Government to retain existing staff in the health service in Wales? OAQ(5)0196(HWS)
 
14:32
Vaughan GethingBiography
There are a range of measures in place. The Welsh Government remains committed to supporting and retaining the existing NHS workforce. We have an open and constructive dialogue with trade unions and other staff representatives and we’re determined to create a supportive learning environment for our staff to work in and deliver high-quality care with and for the people of Wales.
 
14:32
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
There’s a link between waiting times and the number of staff that you’ve got working in the service. Recent figures have shown that the number of nurses and midwives in the UK leaving the profession has risen by 51 per cent in four years. Within these figures, released by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, home-grown nurses have been found to be leaving in the largest numbers. Now, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives have both called for the pay cap to be scrapped to prevent this situation from getting worse. Do you not agree that it is time for you to fulfil the Welsh Labour manifesto pledge to scrap the cap, to ensure that nurses remain in post in Wales? Secondly, by ensuring that you stick to your manifesto commitment, you will help to prevent further damage to people’s trust in politics.
 
14:33
Vaughan GethingBiography
There is a real issue about staff within the service, and the pay cap is not just about people’s financial means—there are real issues about value. And that was set out very clearly in the last NHS pay review body report. It was set out again, not just within the health service but across the public sector, in a report from the senior salaries review body, issued this week and in the armed forces’ pay review body as well. There is a real issue about the continuing pay cap, and the effective approximately 14 per cent drop in real-terms income.
 
This Government wants to see the pay cap removed. We’ve been very clear about that. I’ve discussed that with both the RCN and other trade unions as well. And trade unions themselves understand very well that this requires the UK Government to shift its position. The remit that is given to pay review bodies essentially comes in the financial envelope from the resources available. And that means that if the UK Government do not shift their position and provide resources to deliver a real-terms pay increase, what we could do is give them a remit to give a bigger increase to staff, and we’d then have to fund that increase for national health service workers on the back of redundancies in other parts of the public service.
 
That is the reality of where we are. And it’s no use the leader of Plaid Cymru saying that isn’t true—we need to deal in reality, because people in our public services are facing the reality of a pay cap. They face the reality of the Tories continuing that pay cap. You may think the right way to approach this is to give the Tories a free pass on the issue. I think all of us who want to see a real-terms pay rise for public service workers need to identify the real cause of the problem, and make sure the Tories do not get away scot-free—that we do make sure that the UK Government deliver on the signals they give and actually make sure that the pay cap is ended. That is what trade unions want; that is what our staff want; that is what this Government wants.
 
14:35
Russell GeorgeBiography
The concern raised with me in mid Wales is not so much about retention, but about the recruitment of health professionals in the first place. There are concerns raised with me on a regular basis about the severe shortage of the recruitment of dentists in mid Wales. So, can I ask: what is the Welsh Government doing to incentivise the recruitment of dentists, GPs and other medical professionals to take up positions in mid Wales in particular?
 
14:35
Vaughan GethingBiography
In terms of reviewing and understanding the recruitment across mid Wales and, in fact, every other part of Wales, health boards themselves, within their integrated medium-term plans, are supposed to be able to plan for the workforce. We are taking forward measures to more properly understand the needs of the workforce and our training and education requirements. That’ll get taken forward with the introduction of Health Education and Improvement Wales—that’s part of the picture.
 
But the general picture of recruitment is also affected by the issue that we’ve just discussed with the leader of Plaid Cymru, about the continuing pay cap—that is a real issue about how people are valued. The way in which our services work is also a particular challenge for us. To try to pretend that there is one single issue to resolve all of these just means that a politician may have an easy answer to give, but will not deal with the issues that public servants face or that our communities face.
 
The other aspect in the recruitment that none of us should forget is the onrushing juggernaut of Brexit. If we don’t have a proper deal about what this will look like, those European Union staff who have already left all parts of the service that you refer to, and those who are already considering leaving as well—that will make it worse, not better. If we can’t understand that all of those issues have an impact in every single part of Wales, then we will fail to not just understand the challenge, but to actually have a proper answer to make sure that we have a well-funded and well-resourced public health service, including, of course, the staff to actually undertake the work.
 
14:37
Michelle BrownBiography
As has been pointed out in this Chamber on numerous occasions, there’s a nurse shortage in the NHS. This shortage has been getting progressively worse for years, and that’s basically because both UK and Welsh Governments have failed to ensure that there are sufficient nurse training places being funded to provide care for an ever-increasing population. What measures are you taking to increase the number of nurse training places in Wales?
 
14:37
Vaughan GethingBiography
I’m happy to confirm that this Government has progressively increased the number of nurse training places within Wales. I announced in February this year another significant increase on the back of increases in the previous two years. If you went and spoke to the Royal College of Nursing, or to Unison, as the trade union representing the largest number of nurses in Wales, they would recognise that this Government is increasing training places, in addition to the ‘Train. Work. Live.’ campaign that we’ve introduced, working alongside stakeholders within the service, and in addition to keeping the NHS bursary that we are proud to have kept, unlike the decision made across our border.
 
This is a Government that is serious about workforce planning, serious about working alongside staff representatives and serious about having the staff to undertake the job to do. But that does require a different conversation about resources, and Members from any party cannot simply point the finger to this Government and say, ‘Make more resources available to the national health service’ without then setting out which other parts of public service spending in Wales will have further cuts imposed upon them to do that. We already make incredibly painful choices to put extra resources into the national health service. I think that our staff and our public deserve honesty in this debate and that is what this Government will do.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
14:38
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Questions now from the party spokespeople. Welsh Conservative spokesperson, Angela Burns.
 
14:38
Angela BurnsBiography
Diolch, Llywydd. Cabinet Secretary, the interim parliamentary review on health and social care has highlighted that there remain significant barriers for good ideas and policies to translate fully throughout the whole of the NHS due to cultural resistance and a fear of failure. There’s a recognition, evidence based, that a significant proportion of the public sector are often doing things without understanding what really works, and it stresses the need not to be afraid of failure, but to learn from it, because this approach will allow for a far more innovative and open approach to change that can only have positive outcomes.
 
Cabinet Secretary, I’m sure you’re aware that the Behavioural Insights Team, which works very closely with the Westminster Government, sets out to encourage the public sector to address change in a more similar way to the private sector. I was wondering, and what I would like to know is: have you engaged with or considered engaging with organisations such as the Behavioural Insights Team so that we can fully engineer effective and sustainable change throughout the Welsh NHS?
 
14:39
Vaughan GethingBiography
There is a serious point in the question that the Member asks about our ability to change and reform public services by choice, and understanding the choice we’ll be making in delivering a different service. There are arguments that we want the service to be broken before we fix it. And I accept that there are significant cultural challenges within every public service, including the health service. So, part of our challenge is, as you correctly identified, looking at where that experience exists. We have work ongoing, and I am certainly prepared to listen to and for the service and to engage with a range of different people, because, actually, delivering significant change in a large private sector employer isn’t easy, necessarily, and so there are insights to be gained in the private and the public sectors too. That does not mean we surrender the values and the ethos of the service, but we do need to understand how we deliver the change that is plainly required.
 
14:40
Angela BurnsBiography
Business process re-engineering is never easy to deliver, but the tactics of nudge and leading and culture change are very well evidenced and have been used successfully in the private and public sectors. And I would urge the Cabinet Secretary to engage with organisations like that, because we can all learn, and there are good practices to learn from these kinds of organisations. Whilst the parliamentary review team are also going to be working, over the next few months, to develop more of a detailed map to aid the identified direction of travel for the NHS and social care sectors, do you think that these sectors should continue with current plans for structural reform? If you do, is there any Government-led work to ensure that any divergence is minimised between proposed structural reform now and what the parliamentary review may say in the longer term?
 
14:41
Vaughan GethingBiography
This goes back to the conundrum that we discussed in actually setting up and agreeing the terms of reference for the parliamentary review. Not just yourselves, but the spokesperson for Plaid Cymru also raised the point about, ‘Will the review mean that you will stop doing things you need to do now and kick things into the long grass?’ You have to look at the balance, in saying, ‘Do we want to put something off until the review comes up with their recommendations?’ There’s a balance to be struck, but I still think that where there is a clear case for services needing to change, and there is a clear case for different parts of the service needing to work more closely together, then that should happen. So, for example, on elective care, Hywel Dda health board and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg have had a joint planning meeting. I expect those to be a regular occurrence. The health boards in south-east Wales—Cwm Taf, Aneurin Bevan and Cardiff and Vale—are having joint planning meetings as well. So, there has to be an understanding of what needs to take place now under that, and not simply waiting and putting everything off for the parliamentary review to report. Because the challenge you raised in your first question about the cultural challenges—they exist among clinicians, they exist among the public and, indeed, politicians in our ability and our willingness to support and get behind change. So, I don’t think there is a need to put off the drivers to try and discuss and talk about change, but there is a need to properly understand what the parliamentary review will come forward with in a number of months—and I think they will go quite quickly—and then to understand how we do what they suggest and understand what we think works and then to do so rapidly and at scale across the national health service.
 
14:43
Angela BurnsBiography
I think that the parliamentary review interim report is very clear on the direction of travel, and my understanding is it has buy-in from not just the health and social care sectors, but also political buy-in in terms of that direction of travel. The question I actually asked you was: is there some kind of oversight going on to ensure that any structural reforms that are currently being undertaken or currently being proposed by health boards have got some kind of backstop review to ensure that they are going in approximately the right direction of travel? Because, like you, I do not think we can just stop everything until we have a nice fat report in our hands that we can all study.
 
And, of course, one of the areas that has been highly identified by all of us here, by the health boards, by the parliamentary review, is that mental health services in Wales need, to be frank, to be totally overhauled for both adults and children. I do appreciate that there is work ongoing, and, indeed, I was pleased to sponsor and chair a session arranged by the NHS Confederation in which initiatives were outlined as to what we’re going to be doing to—or what they intend to do to improve and deliver transformative change within adult and child mental health services. And it is obvious that some areas in Wales have made outstanding progress. So, again, I ask you: whilst we’re not going to wait for this report to deliver all, what will you be doing to drive and to identify those initiatives that have delivered some outstanding changes, transformative changes, to child and adult mental health care? What will you be doing to identify those and to try to ensure that they are consistently and quickly applied throughout the rest of Wales? Because this is one area where we as a nation are not doing so very well.
 
14:44
Vaughan GethingBiography
I thank the Member for the question. In the general sense, about the backstop and the ability to think about whether we’re delivering change and making sure it’s going in broadly the right direction, that’s why there’s an NHS collaborative, bringing chief execs together to discuss and review evidence for changes that are proposed. That’s why we have integrated medium-term plans to try and set up the direction of travel for each health board—to have a plan, moving forward, about the changes that are being contemplated and delivered. It’s why health boards themselves [Inaudible.] they have processes that return a capital investment as well. There has to be a business case, and then there’s an investment board that looks at all-Wales capital bids, so, where capital is being used to try and re-engineer a service.
 
There are different layers of oversight about some of the plans and challenges over service reformation. In the particular area you raise about children and young people, I would not be quite so pessimistic about the need for a total overhaul. There are challenges in different parts of the country, of differing scale, but that’s part of the reason why, in recognising, if you like, the short-term, significant build-up of pressure that came in, we made the choices to start the Together for Children and Young People exercise with the NHS, working with the third sector, working with statutory partners, and, indeed, with young people themselves having an engagement in it, and it’s then about delivering a service model they recommend. That’s also why we invested the additional sums of money. We are seeing waiting times come down in this particular service area, and we are seeing faster access to therapies, backed up, of course, by tougher standards on waiting times in this area. But this is not a position where any of us should say we now have the perfect solution and the answer.
 
The progress we’ve made is real. The reality is that it’s also real that there are still too many children and young people and their families who wait too long, and it’s a constant process of reviewing where we are and what we need to do next, and that is already delivering transformative change within our service. But it isn’t just the specialist end; it is about the wider, broader services that wrap around families, and you’re right that it is about the consistency of the ability to do that. That’s why being reflective, having a national mechanism as well as a local mechanism to do so, really matters, and it’s also why we take the third sector and the voices of children and young people themselves seriously in designing and delivering our services.
 
14:47
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
 
14:47
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Diolch yn fawr. On Monday, the auditor general released a critical report about the behaviour of Cardiff and Vale regarding procurement and recruitment. Now, I understand that. In response, NHS Wales’s chief executive has written to LHBs to seek assurances about their processes. What’s your hunch? Do you think that this was a one-off?
 
14:47
Vaughan GethingBiography
I think it is likely to have been a one-off, but part of the point about the chief executive writing to all health boards is to ensure that it has been a one-off. If there are other issues, then we want those to be uncovered and dealt with, because the Wales Audit Office investigation revealed a picture that is simply not acceptable and not in line with the established processes and recommendations, and, again, the chief executive’s letter to every chief executive in NHS Wales makes very clear that we expect those standards to be strictly adhered to.
 
14:48
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
The report itself highlighted what I think we’re justified in calling ‘nepotism’ when it came to procurement and recruitment. The auditor general also noted it proved extremely difficult to obtain a clear position of the facts relating to the matters subject to audit. UHB officers and former officers provided conflicting and inconsistent accounts. There was a tendency for them to blame each other for the failings identified in the report. I could go on.
 
Cabinet Secretary, we have some excellent—many excellent—managers and officers in the NHS in Wales, but I’m sure you’d agree that, in this case, behaviour has been unacceptable. We have a GMC for doctors, an NMC for nurses and midwives, so where is the body for regulation of NHS managers? Of course, managers can do just as much damage to patients from poor decision making. Is this something that you would consider?
 
14:49
Vaughan GethingBiography
I’m always open to considering whether our accountability framework is in place as it should be, but this should work by the proper challenge of the board itself—those independent members, the non-exec members. And that’s part of the challenge here in understanding what information was provided, how information was not provided to the board, and I think the honest truth is that the people responsible for the choices in this particular report, as has been revealed by the Wales Audit Office’s report, which is an unusual step—. It is unusual for a report to be provide all of that and I do not think the auditor general has provided a report like this before about NHS Wales. It’s a bit more common in England, where procurement is a different beast. The challenge here is to make sure that we are clear about our expectations, clear about the accountability that must flow where people do get this wrong, and that that is proper accountability. I think, actually, the health board now—and I was encouraged by the response from the new chief executive, who, again, made clear that what had happened was not acceptable and won’t be defended, and it’s important that there is confidence amongst the staff and the public about the processes in place today, and the expectation of behaviour today as well.
 
14:50
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
You mentioned their accountability within the NHS and how the NHS itself seeks to better itself through its own governance. You have recently published a White Paper on reforming NHS governance, and real concerns, actually, have been brought to my attention about some of the suggestions that have been made, certainly in relation to the replacement of community health councils with new arrangements and, in particular, the potential erosion of local knowledge, and also a lack of assurance that there will be a continued, real, strong patient voice in any new proposals. But, would you accept that a better way forward perhaps, rather than reforming NHS governance now, would be initially to have an independent review of management across NHS Wales, highlighting and seeking to promote the undoubted good practice that we have, whilst at the same time trying to root out the bad and using that as a basis for new legislation?
 
14:51
Vaughan GethingBiography
Well, the White Paper is a genuine consultation. So, it really is only for people to express their views and, if they don’t support the proposals, to think about alternatives to improve the quality and governance and direction of the national health service. So, this is not the Government saying, ‘We’re asking you, but we’ve already made our minds up’. It is a genuine consultation.
 
On the point about whether there is now a case for an independent review of managers and management within the health service, I would need to be persuaded that that’s the right thing to do, but if you think there is a compelling case to make, I’d be happy to consider representations that you provide on how that can add value over and above what we already have in place, and over and above the professional expectations we could and should properly have of NHS senior managers and the operation of boards within the national health service.
 
14:52
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The UKIP spokesperson, Caroline Jones.
 
14:52
Caroline JonesBiography
Diolch, Llywydd. Cabinet Secretary, the second Wales cancer patient experience survey has, once again, highlighted the fact that many cancer patients still do not have a key worker. While we have made progress, 14 per cent of patients still don’t have a key worker, and more than a quarter of patients said it was often difficult to contact the key worker. The survey also highlighted the benefits patients found in having a clinical nurse specialist, with the majority of the 81 per cent of patients who had one stating that their treatment was greatly improved due to this. As a result, Macmillan Wales is calling for every person with cancer in Wales to have access to a clinical nurse specialist. Cabinet Secretary, do you support this view and do you agree that the clinical nurse specialist should act as a key worker for Welsh cancer patients?
 
14:53
Vaughan GethingBiography
We certainly want every patient, where a clinical nurse specialist is appropriate to provide care, to have one. The challenge about whether the clinical nurse specialist is the key worker, I think, is different, because, for some people, it need not be the clinical nurse specialist who acts as the key worker, although, in practice, in the great majority of cases, it is the clinical nurse specialist who undertakes that role. There’s been a significant improvement on people knowing who their key worker is. In the previous cancer patient survey, in 2013, 66 per cent of people knew who their allocated key worker was. In this survey, that’s gone up to 86 per cent. Again, this is a significant undertaking. Over 6,700 staff have given up their time to provide their view on a wide range of their own experience of cancer care, and it’s as a result of this wide-ranging survey that we’re able to understand the state of our current services, the areas where we’ve improved, and, equally, those areas where we still need to improve further in the future.
 
14:54
Caroline JonesBiography
Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. Staying with the Wales cancer patient experience survey, nearly a quarter of patients said that the GP didn’t take their symptoms seriously before their diagnosis. In fact, 6 per cent of patients stated they had to see their GP at least five times before being referred to hospital. As stated in the cancer delivery plan, detecting cancer earlier makes it more likely that treatment can be curative, less intensive and less expensive. It is therefore vital that, when someone presents with symptoms that could be caused by cancer, they are taken seriously. Unfortunately, we seem to operate in a model where we rule conditions in rather than out. We work up to the most serious rather than working back. So, Cabinet Secretary, what more can be done to improve early cancer diagnosis in primary care?
 
14:55
Vaughan GethingBiography
I don’t think the way in which you’ve characterised the way that general practitioners approach their job is particularly fair. I do think there is a serious case, though, about improving the number and the quality of referrals. This is a really big challenge for the health service, because the overwhelming majority of people referred in with suspected cancer are actually given the all clear. So, we already have a significant undertaking where we’re looking for the minority of people who are referred in and who are then told that there is a form of cancer to be treated.
 
It is also the case that cancer referrals have gone up significantly in this last year. They’re up 12 per cent within this year alone, and it is about how we continue to improve the rate of referral, but also what the conversion rate is as well, because, within health boards, there are different referral rates, but also different conversion rates. So, for those who aren’t aware, the conversion rate is the number of people who are referred in and then go on to be told that they have a particular cancer. That may be about the communities themselves. It may also be about the numbers of people and how and why they are being referred in. It’s really important again that we have a properly reflective approach where general practitioners are able to talk to each other, and other actors within the service, to understand what is happening and the outcomes they’re delivering for their patients. I think there’s got to be a properly reflective and supportive approach as opposed to looking to say that there will be blame apportioned to GPs, who are being told that they are doing their job in their wrong way. I think that’s unlikely to see the sort of reflective and positive approach that people want to take. Let’s not forget that people make a choice to go into medicine to care for people and to help improve lives, and we need to help them to do their job as well as being properly reflective of where that improvement is required.
 
14:57
Caroline JonesBiography
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. Finally, less than half of cancer patients have the opportunity to discuss their needs, and only 18 per cent of patients were offered a written care plan. Care plans are not only focused on healthcare needs, but they also pick up on emotional, financial and practical support. Less than half of Welsh patients were given information on financial support and benefits or had the impact their cancer would have on their day-to-day life discussed with them. We need to improve the way we deal with the impact cancer has on the patient, not just on their physical health, but the broader aspects. So, what is your Government doing, Cabinet Secretary, to ensure that all patients are offered a written care plan that incorporates a holistic needs assessment?
 
14:57
Vaughan GethingBiography
We’ve set out clearly our expectations for improvement in the cancer delivery plan. There’s no dispute within the wide range of healthcare professionals in tertiary, secondary and primary care services of the need for improvement, or in the real value of having written care plans. It is indeed because people see the whole person, so not just the particular direct impact of cancer in treatment terms, but what that means for that person—their ability to work, their ability to live their life, to make different choices and, actually their prospects for the future. So, it is really important to have that wider discussion and to understand that it will be at different points in time for different people. Some people, at the point of diagnosis, may want to know everything. Other people may want to get out of the room as soon as possible. It’s understandable why that happens, and that’s why a service cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach; it’s about being more agile and for it to be wrapped around that person. It also reiterates the need to have not just primary care and hospital-based care in a proper and constructive relationship with each other, but actually the real value of people in the third sector being able to support people in a different way, in a non-medicalised setting.
 
But I do think that it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that more people are being referred for cancer, more people are being treated for cancer, more people are treated in time for cancer, and more people have better outcomes. More people survive now than ever before, and, actually, on the experience of care, 93 per cent of people have a good experience of cancer care here in Wales. So, more improvement required, I accept that completely, but let’s not try and say that everything is bad here. We have many things to be very proud of.
 
Injuries Caused by Dog Bites
 
14:59
Julie MorganBiography
3. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on the extent of injuries caused by dog bites treated in Welsh hospitals? OAQ(5)0210(HWS)
 
14:59
Vaughan GethingBiography
The latest published information for 2015-16 shows 525 hospital admissions across Wales for patients bitten or struck by a dog.
 
14:59
Julie MorganBiography
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that information. I understand from the Communication Workers Union that there’ve been 1,750 days lost by Royal Mail staff across the UK during the last year due to dog attacks. There’ve been some terrible injuries to postal staff including fractures, tendon damage, and even amputations. So, I’m grateful that we have those Wales-wide figures, because would he agree that having the figures from the health service will be a help in contributing to assessing the overall picture and informing the view of what actions need to be taken in order to address this growing problem?
 
15:00
Vaughan GethingBiography
Yes, I do agree, and I want to pay tribute to both Julie Morgan and her constituent Councillor Dilwar Ali, for the approach they’ve taken, not just for the individual that’s affected and his family, but actually in seeing a wider issue to campaign on and improve, both for members of the wider public as well as, in particular, postal staff who are largely members of the CWU.
 
This is not, if you like, a laughing matter, where the postie gets a nip and that’s just part of the job; actually this is a real and serious issue. People have real harm caused to them, and not just physical harm, but actually it affects someone’s willingness and ability to do their job. I know that the postal service spend a significant amount of time in trying to identify where there are likely to be dogs that are not controlled and the ability to provide mail to that house and to make sure that workers are properly protected.
 
So, I’m happy that the health service has provided information to help understand the scale and the nature of the problem, the cost to the public purse, the cost to the individual, and the improvement that all of us need to be a part of making. I know that politicians who wander around the country in elections have a small example of what postal workers undertake and the difficulties they face on a regular basis.
 
15:01
Angela BurnsBiography
Indeed, Cabinet Secretary, you’re talking to one of the politicians who suffered so only last May. I had a very bad bite on my hand, thanks to a random dog, and had outstanding service at Withybush hospital A&E, who performed a lengthy but significant operation to repair my hand. But above all, I was able to return home and, for the rest of the week, I received treatment three times a day from the acute response team. Indeed, many of my constituents have had the acute response teams respond to them. This is a time-limited, acute nursing intervention for patients within the community to prevent them from having to stay in hospital. One of my constituents had septicaemia and had the acute response team come out to him and look after him, I think, four times a day actually.
 
Cabinet Secretary, could you just give us an overview about the acute response teams and what we might be able to do to promote their use throughout Wales? Because they are a very good way of ensuring that people are not having to stay in beds, freeing up beds for other people, and giving them community treatment in their homes, where they want to be, and they wouldn’t be able to stay there without such a great initiative as an acute response team, such as the one in Hywel Dda.
 
15:02
Vaughan GethingBiography
Well, it’s a good example of the fact that within each of our health boards there are examples of real excellence, and the drive is to have more care delivered closer to home, which means people don’t need to stay unnecessarily within a hospital setting. Again, the point is that significant areas of activity that would previously have been undertaken by doctors are now undertaken by different staff. Having a nurse-led intervention is a good example of, and another example of, the sort of reform we want to see in our service, delivered progressively, that isn’t about bricks and mortar, but is about how we make better use of our staff in different settings. I think it’s what we need to do, and there is an expectation within the public, and I think there’s a real desire amongst the staff themselves to design new models of care to do just that.
 
Services for Cancer Patients
 
15:03
Mohammad AsgharBiography
4. What action will the Cabinet Secretary take to improve services for cancer patients in Wales in 2017? OAQ(5)0197(HWS)
 
15:03
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the question. The Welsh Government’s intentions were set out in November last year in the updated ‘Cancer Delivery Plan for Wales’. Through the national implementation group, there will be a focus on early diagnosis and health boards will continue to prioritise cancer waiting times.
 
15:04
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you very much for the reply, Cabinet Secretary. During the general election in 2010, Labour promised to provide every cancer patient in Wales with a key worker by 2011. However, the recent Wales cancer patient experience survey found that 14 per cent of respondents still do not have a key worker. Also, it is not mandatory for Public Health Wales to collect data on key workers. What action will the Cabinet Secretary take to ensure that these vital data are collected and when does he expect that cancer patients in Wales will receive the level of care promised back in 2010? I think six to seven years is much longer than our term and the promise should be fulfilled. Thank you.
 
15:04
Vaughan GethingBiography
Well, in answer to the question from the UKIP spokesperson, I again indicated that, from 2013, 66 per cent of cancer patients had a key worker, and, okay, that’s risen to 86 per cent in the most recent survey. So, significant progress and yet more to do, as I previously indicated. Currently, the key worker information’s held within the cancer information system, otherwise known as Canisc. And we do know that needs to be replaced, and so it should then make it easier to understand a range of these areas. Rather than asking health boards to do it manually or to invent a different system to collect the information on key workers, I’m interested in getting a proper approach to collect and allow us to interrogate those data in a meaningful way, not just about key workers, but on a number of other areas. So, that work is being undertaken by the Wales cancer network and by officials across the Government. So, this is an area where I think we can be proud of the progress we’ve made, but as I say, and I regularly say, we still recognise there is more for us to do.
 
15:05
Dawn BowdenBiography
Cabinet Secretary, the cross-party group on asbestos received a presentation at its meeting in May on immunotherapy as a potential treatment in mesothelioma, including the SKOPOS trial at Velindre, looking at how a vaccine called TroVax may work alongside chemotherapy for those who suffer from pleural mesothelioma. Funding for this research runs out in August of this year and there’s concern that the immunotherapy research being carried out in Leicester university, which is heavily dependent on the trial work carried out by the Cardiff research group, could be compromised. Do you agree with me, Cabinet Secretary, this is pioneering work being carried out in Velindre, and is key to identifying new ways of treating mesothelioma? And can you assure me that you’ll look at what funding can be provided to ensure that this work can continue beyond August?
 
15:06
Vaughan GethingBiography
I thank the Member for raising the issue. Mesothelioma is something that I’m particularly interested in. Without wishing to go over my previous role, somebody else in the Chamber and I were lawyers before coming to this place and we actually dealt with and worked on a number of mesothelioma cases. Meeting members of the family and having to witness appeals was particularly striking at times—a very difficult experience to go through, because mesothelioma is, to date, always fatal. The path to the end is a quick and a distressing one. So, I’m particularly interested in research to potentially not just extend life, but save life as well. I’d be grateful, actually, if the Member would write to me. I’d be happy to discuss the matter with her in more detail—I understand you are the chair of the cross-party group—to understand where we are now and the approach that we’ll take with other parts of the UK in helping to improve outcomes in the future.
 
Clinical Research and Innovation
 
15:07
Jayne BryantBiography
5. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on the progress of clinical research and innovation in the Welsh NHS? OAQ(5)0199(HWS)
 
15:07
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you for the question. Research and innovation are key criteria for university health board designations in Wales and form part of the NHS Wales planning framework. As a Government, we have committed over £29 million in this financial year to continue our investment in high-quality research and technology-focused innovation within the NHS.
 
15:08
Jayne BryantBiography
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. The clinical research innovation centre at St Woolos Hospital is an excellent example of investment by Aneurin Bevan health board that allows researchers and staff to participate in groundbreaking research in areas including dementia, diabetes and cancer. Last year, over 17,000 participants participated in nearly 480 clinical research studies, which helps researchers develop new treatments and ensures that patients have access to those closer to home. What plans does the Cabinet Secretary have to work with the centre, health boards and others to ensure that support and encouragement of patients, carers and staff fully embrace research and make it a core activity within the NHS in Wales?
 
15:08
Vaughan GethingBiography
I thank the Member for the question. I enjoyed our visits—well, my visits—to your constituency to meet staff within the Aneurin Bevan university health board. I was struck by the range of activity that was being undertaken. That’s part of the £21 million that we fund through Health and Care Research Wales. The additional £8 million, when I refer to the £29 million, comes from the Efficiency Through Technology fund. There’s a range of different routes to getting there. But, actually, this is really important for not just having staff who are committed and who want to understand what more they can do, but actually to improve outcomes and the quality of care that is delivered. As I said, it is a key part of university health board designation and status. It also forms part of the criteria for approving or not approving an integrated medium-term plan. So, this is embedded within our planning framework, and I expect to see it in our regular meetings with chairs, in their appraisals, to make sure that research and innovation are a key part of what the health boards are actually undertaking today, to ensure that we improve healthcare for tomorrow.
 
15:09
Nick RamsayBiography
Cabinet Secretary, it was a pleasure accompanying you to the turf-cutting ceremony at the new critical care centre, now known as the Grange university hospital, on Monday in Cwmbran. I did tweet a nice picture of us, with you with a shovel digging the foundations. This new hospital has been a long time in the pipeline, as we know, and you have the virtue of being the Minister who actually got to cut the turf—many of your predecessors didn’t get around to doing that. But, would you agree with me that it’s more than just about the building? We want to see that the new hospital develops into a world-class centre of excellence and innovation. I know it was once considered as a possible centre for neuroscience, but I think that fell by the wayside. So, what work are you doing, and is the Welsh Government doing, to ensure that when the new hospital does finally open—hopefully in a few years’ time—that it really will be a hospital that will be world class, that will be something that the people of south Wales can be really proud of, and that will attract the brightest and best medical staff?
 
15:10
Vaughan GethingBiography
I think it should make a real and significant difference in remodelling healthcare right across the Gwent area and beyond. It’s due to open, as you know, in spring 2021, when the Grange university hospital should be open for business. It’s important, in terms of the question that Jayne Bryant asked and the point that you make, to understand that the way in which we deliver services isn’t simply about delivering excellent healthcare—research and innovation have to take place alongside and through that as well. So, I do expect there to be a keen focus on research and innovation when that hospital opens, not just at the point of opening but throughout the period of time, because that is part of attracting and retaining staff there.
 
So, for example, the moves that have already been made to have a hyperacute stroke unit, currently based in the Royal Gwent—a lot of that is actually about having a different service model that has allowed it to attract, recruit and retain high-quality staff who would not otherwise have come into an old model of care. The research that is already ongoing there should be carried forward within a new model of delivering healthcare as well. So, for me, it’s a key part of what we’re investing in for the future, not just the bricks and the mortar.
 
15:11
Dai LloydBiography
Cabinet Secretary, what are you doing to promote clinical research in rural health here in Wales?
 
15:12
Vaughan GethingBiography
Interestingly, I’ve had a range of conversations with people in the mid Wales collaborative, with Aberystwyth University and with Bronglais hospital, but also I attended last week the research and innovation day at Trinity college Carmarthen, which looked at a range of research and innovation activities right across the Hywel Dda health board area. There’s a very clear signal from this Government that we expect that work to continue, because there are a number of people who want to undertake activities in areas where they know they’ll have to work, effectively, in an urban area or in a city-based service, but there are lots of other people who specifically want to work in rural medicine. We need to make sure that our service doesn’t just provide the services people who live in rural communities want to undertake, but that we understand the best-quality evidence that is available about how to deliver that service safely and securely in a way that values the choices people make to live in rural communities so that they receive high-quality healthcare too.
 
Provision of General Practices
 
15:12
Neil HamiltonBiography
6. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the current provision of general practices in Wales? OAQ(5)0202(HWS)
 
15:13
Vaughan GethingBiography
Thank you. We are committed to high-quality general practice as a core part of a modern primary care service. Investment in general medical services will increase by £27 million in this financial year. This, together with £40 million for primary care estates and our £43 million primary care fund, supports the ongoing provision of sustainable and high-quality general practice.
 
15:13
Neil HamiltonBiography
I’m grateful for that reply, but the Cabinet Secretary will know that the national survey for Wales found that 39 per cent of respondents find it difficult to make a convenient appointment to see a GP, and 62 per cent overall were not satisfied with the service provided by the NHS in Wales. Since 2004, as a proportion of NHS funding, general practice has declined from 10 per cent of the total to 8 per cent—admittedly, that’s gone up recently—but the British Medical Association say that in order to get to a satisfactory position, this should be 12 per cent of what we currently spend on the NHS. Can the Cabinet Secretary give us an idea of what response he would make to the BMA about that figure?
 
15:14
Vaughan GethingBiography
To be fair, this is the general practice committee of the BMA. I’m robustly confident that clinicians in secondary care would not wish to see a significant resource transfer between secondary and primary care. That is an honest part of our challenge: as we increase the money going into the health service—as I said earlier, at a painful and significant cost to other parts of public spending activity here in Wales—when you think about how and where we’ll invest that money, the honest truth is that delivering services in secondary care is more expensive than delivering services in primary care. So, even as we invest in trying to deliver more care closer to home—the example that Angela Burns gave earlier—that doesn’t always have the same cost attached, for example, as the significant capital you need to invest in a new generation of radiologists. So, there are honest choices to make here. What I’m determined to do is, as services move and are reconfigured, that funding is provided to make sure that that service is properly and adequately resourced. I don’t think it’s helpful to try and stick to a percentage figure within the NHS budget as the aim and the objective. The aim and the objective must be to deliver the right care at the right time in the right place, and with the right resources to allow people to do so.
 
15:15
David MeldingBiography
Cabinet Secretary, when it comes to mental health services, there is evidence that good counselling services can prevent repeat GP attendances, and they have a proven track record of helping and managing and even alleviating mild to moderate symptoms. I do think this sort of innovation is something we need to see more of in the NHS, particularly if we want to retain more GPs, perhaps some of the older ones who are thinking about retirement, of which there are quite a large number in Wales. This is just an example of how we can help balance the workload and use GPs at their best for the actual sharp end of the service that’s required.
 
15:15
Vaughan GethingBiography
I agree that we need to consider how we make best use of professionals within the service, and outside the service as well. It’s a significant part of a GP’s caseload, actually, those sort of moderate to lower level mental health challenges that bring people through their doors. And it’s part of the reason why lots of primary care clusters are investing in counselling services with the resources that we’ve made available to them. Mental health and therapy services are some of the more significant and consistent areas, together with pharmacy, for that cluster investment. And it is about that general sense of well-being and how we actually address that as well. Sometimes, that is not a medical intervention. So, for example, when we think about social prescribing, much of that is actually about improving mental health and well-being as an alternative to, if you like, a formal talking therapy or, indeed, medication. That’s also why this Government has recommitted in our programme for government to undertaking a significant social prescribing pilot that we think will provide us with significant information on how to develop a service for the future that should make a real difference to mental health and well-being. And, obviously, we’ll look again, in a year or so, at the practice of Valleys Steps, which we think has made a real difference in this area already.
 
15:17
Sian GwenllianBiography
The Dolwenith surgery in Penygroes is closing at the end of the month and nobody will replace the GP who’s retiring. He was the only one providing Welsh-medium services in an area of 5,000 people where three quarters are Welsh speakers. The valley will have fewer doctors per head than the Welsh average and yesterday, in a very poor statement, you said that you wouldn’t be establishing a medical school in Bangor. How many other surgeries have to close? How many other locums will you have to pay a great deal for before you realise that a medical school is the only sustainable way of resolving the health crisis that faces us in north Wales?
 
15:17
Vaughan GethingBiography
Well, I don’t share the points that you make, and I think we could either have a conversation where we’ll continue to talk about how we deliver more medical education and training, and more healthcare professionals in every part of the country that needs them—north Wales, mid and west Wales and south Wales, too—or we could go through a rather formulaic, ‘You are responsible, it’s all your fault and I’m disappointed’. I don’t think that gets us very far. I’m happy to have a row if there’s a need to have a row, but I don’t think this is the area to do that. I actually think that the decision that we made yesterday was based on a proper evidence base about the right thing to do. I am concerned about our ability to recruit, retain, and attract people to work within the health service in Wales. That’s why the incentives, for example, on GP training in north-west and north-east Wales—we’ve filled those areas that were hard to recruit to previously. So, I do take seriously the whole model of care that we provide, but I don’t share the tone or the content of the remarks you make. I’m committed to delivering a proper health—[Interruption.]—a proper health service for communities right across Wales, including north Wales, and I resent the implication and accusation that I do not care about one part of Wales.
 
15:19
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary.
 
3. Topical Questions
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
15:19
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The next item is topical questions. Steffan Lewis.
 
Safety in Youth Jails
 
15:19
Steffan LewisBiography
Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the decline in safety in youth jails in light of the publication of the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales’ Annual Report 2016-17? TAQ(5)0172(CC)
 
15:19
Carl SargeantBiographyThe Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children
Thank you for the question. Whilst the Welsh Government takes the safety of young people in custody very seriously, responsibility lies with the Ministry of Justice and the youth justice board. I have previously visited Parc prison and will raise the issue the Member raises with the UK Minister.
 
15:19
Steffan LewisBiography
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his response, and I’m sure that he shares my horror at many of the findings found in this report. Indeed, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons has concluded that not a single establishment inspected in Wales and England last year is safe to hold children and young people. Rates of self-harm have doubled since 2011, 46 per cent of boys feel unsafe at their establishment, assault rates were 18.9 per 100 children, compared with 9.7 in 2011. There has been a decline in the conditions in which children are detained, and levels of violence are high—both assaults on staff and on other young people.
 
We’ve gone beyond the crisis point, I think. I acknowledge, as the Cabinet Secretary said, that this is not due to Welsh Government policy, but Welsh children are being put in danger and are being failed by the current regime. The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children is responsible for children and young people’s rights. Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says that Governments must do all they can to ensure that children are protected from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and bad treatment by their parents or anyone else who looks after them. Article 37 reads: children must not suffer cruel or degrading treatment or punishment. When arrested, detained or imprisoned, children must be treated with respect and care.
 
Given this crisis, Cabinet Secretary, will you agree that, as an immediate step, you will demand access from the Ministry of Justice to the prisons estate for Welsh Government to inspect the plight of Welsh children for itself? And, secondly, will you seek the swift devolution of youth justice to this country so that Welsh children are not further failed by the current broken penal system?
 
15:21
Carl SargeantBiography
I think the Member raises some really interesting and important points about the state of the nation and particularly young people and how we have to ensure that they are protected at all costs in terms of where they are within the sector. I can say that the youth justice board relationship with Wales is very good, and there has been an inspection prior to the release of that report, and action has been taken, particularly on the secure estate here in Wales.
 
I can inform the Member that the published outcomes of the inspection of 2016-17 for Parc prison under ‘Safety’, ‘Respect’, ‘Purposeful activity’ and ‘Resettlement’ were all ‘reasonably good’. Arguably, that should be better, but it certainly is in a better place than all the other establishments that are secure across the country.
 
My whole ethos, and my department’s ethos, is, actually, that, when people end up in the secure estate, we’ve actually failed the system. We should be much further up front in making sure we have prevention in place to support young people. That’s why we’re investing in the adverse childhood experiences hub here in Wales to protect individuals from stacked ACEs. We’re working with Public Health Wales across the departments to make sure that we can help young people—prevent entering into these systems—but I’ve taken the points that the Member raises and will look carefully at the recommendations in the report, and, if there’s any more we can do, I will keep the Member informed of this.
 
15:22
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Thank you to the Cabinet Secretary. The next question—David Melding.
 
Dangerous Structures
 
15:22
David MeldingBiography
Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on current guidance for the management and removal of dangerous structures, following yesterday’s fatal building collapse in Splott? TAQ(5)0166(ERA)
 
15:23
Lesley GriffithsBiographyThe Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs
Thank you. Local authorities may enforce action in relation to dangerous structures through the Building Act 1984. Section 77, ‘Dangerous building’, is used where there is the potential for a dangerous structure; section 78, ‘Dangerous building—emergency measures’, is used when immediate action is required to remove the danger.
 
15:23
David MeldingBiography
I thank you for that answer. Can I express my sympathy, Presiding Officer, to the family of the man who was killed yesterday? I do think there’s a need to take prompt action when buildings are identified as high risk. We have quite a large number of Victorian public buildings that are not in regular use, as this building was not, and at risk of deterioration. I think particular care needs to be taken where buildings are a further risk to local neighbourhoods or adjacent infrastructure. I do hope that you will be able to use the planning system to emphasise the importance of these matters.
 
15:24
Lesley GriffithsBiography
As I said, this is a responsibility for the local authority, and planning would not cover dangerous structures. The legislation is the Building Act 1984, which is England-and-Wales legislation. So, it’s England and Wales, so it’s not our legislation. We are hoping to see a transfer of powers via the Wales Act 2017, from next April, and it’s certainly something that we can look at. But I absolutely agree with you that prompt action should always be taken.
 
15:24
Neil McEvoyBiography
This isn’t a time for politics. A man has died, and our thoughts go out to his family and the community in Splott. I do think, though, that questions must be asked as to how it came to pass and if any other buildings in Cardiff are in a dangerous state. On behalf of my group, I would just like to offer the family our condolences again and offer any support that we may able to give, and that goes for the Cardiff council group as well.
 
15:25
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I thank Neil McEvoy for those points, and we’ve certainly heard the leader of Cardiff city council say that there are questions to be asked. My officials have been in contact with Cardiff city council officials and, of course, we will do anything that is required of us. But, as I say, this needs to be looked at very carefully, obviously. The Health and Safety Executive are involved, so I don’t think it would be appropriate to say anything more.
 
15:25
Jenny RathboneBiography
Obviously, as it is the matter of a possible criminal investigation, we need to be very careful what we say here, but my understanding is that the building had already been identified by Natural Resources Wales as being in an unsafe state, and that is why the owner had been directed to demolish it. But, clearly, the issue that arises here is the quality of the risk assessment that needed to be carried out to ensure that the building was demolished safely. Obviously, that is one of the issues we need to await the inquiry for, but I don’t think there’s any reason to assume that just because a particular building has tragically collapsed that therefore other buildings are about to collapse. One doesn’t follow from the other.
 
15:26
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I understand from press reports that a survey had been undertaken, I thought by Network Rail, in the area a couple of years ago. I think it’s really important that local authorities have resilience within their planning and building regulations department, and I think that’s a piece of work I can do with my colleague Mark Drakeford, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government. But, as I say, it is now with the Health and Safety Executive, so I don’t think it’s appropriate to make any further comments.
 
15:27
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary.
 
15:27
4. 90-second Statements
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The next item is the 90-second statements. Ann Jones.
 
15:27
Ann JonesBiography
Thank you, Llywydd. The Assembly term has come to an end and the school term has finished as well. Sixty years ago, Rhyl became the home of the first bilingual school and that then led to a growth in Welsh education throughout Wales. So, congratulations to Ysgol Glan Clwyd. I am very pleased to be Assembly Member for the Vale of Clwyd, the birthplace of bilingual education.
 
15:27
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Well done. Hannah Blythyn.
 
15:27
Hannah BlythynBiography
I’m proud to serve an area with a rich industrial heritage, whether that be steel, coal, or manufacturing. This coming weekend, a major piece of that industrial heritage will be unveiled at the grand opening of a restored pit wheel and pony structure at the Point of Ayr colliery. The site was the last deep mine in north Wales, and, whilst the memories live on for those who worked there, the monuments and structure of this pit have faded with its demolition. But now work to transform this key site is well under way. The Point of Ayr Then and Now team, led by passionate chair, John Wiltshire, have worked tirelessly to see memories brought back to life for the restoration and return of parts of our industrial past, including an original pithead that now has pride of place on the edge of Ffynnongroew. The project was awarded over £40,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has provided the financial support to deliver this ambition. John shared the story of this project here at an event in March, and the following month saw the opening of the Point of Ayr trail, the first stage of this exciting project.
 
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
 
Hannah BlythynBiography
Celebrating our industrial heritage is an important part of understanding and recognising our past, and essential in shaping our future. On Sunday, I have the privilege of officially unveiling the restored pit wheel and pony structure, marking the start of a journey of discovery for many families, local people, and, importantly, future generations, as part of our history is brought back home.
 
This will be a special day for the community, the former Point of Ayr workers, their families, and the committed team that have worked to make this happen. It will not only be a proud moment for me as the Assembly Member for Delyn, but for me personally, as my taid, uncle, and many members of my family worked at the Point of Ayr.
 
15:29
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you. Dawn Bowden.
 
15:29
Dawn BowdenBiography
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Last week I was delighted to attend Fochriw Primary School’s red kite celebration fair-trade coffee afternoon. The red kite project at the school is designed to develop the pupils to be ethically informed and to hold strong values about the environment and the nature that is around them. For the project, the school formed an eco-committee, which came up with a range of ideas, including a pupil voice and ownership of the project, three school rules, which were to be respectful, to be responsible, and to be safe, and, as part of this, pupils were encouraged to be even more respectful to wildlife, both in and out of school, to develop their digital and real-life skills, and to promote Cwricwlwm Cymraeg, with the story of the red kite in Wales. The project gave pupils a realisation that nature is all around us, if only we open our eyes. As they said, it is really special, and we need to be responsible in looking after it now and for future generations.
 
Arising from their activity, the project has not only raised awareness of the red kite, but has also raised money, enabling the school to make a donation to the Gwent Ornithological Society, which uses the money to replace nest boxes in the Goytre House wood. The pupils embarked on an intensive social media campaign to share their experiences of the project and provide information on the red kite, which is regularly seen in the area around Fochriw, and in the wider Rhymney valley.
 
The project received its well-earned recognition when it recently won the 2017 Young People’s Trust for the Environment’s Better Energy School award, for the Wales and west region. Can I ask Assembly Members to join me in congratulating Fochriw Primary School on its award, and applauding their fantastic work on the red kite project, and in raising awareness of the environmental issues amongst young people, whilst at the same time developing their digital skills? Diolch.
 
15:31
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Forty years ago to this week, in 1977, I left Ysgol Gynradd Llanwnnen, at 10 years old, to go to high school in Lampeter. Forty-nine years ago to this week, my fellow Member, Dai Lloyd, left ysgol Llanwnnen too, also to go to secondary school.
 
This week, every child will leave ysgol Llanwnnen, and the school will close its doors forever. The schools at Cwrtnewydd and Llanwenog will also close their doors, and in September, all the pupils will commence their education at Ysgol Dyffryn Cledlyn, a new area school.
 
More than 400 years of education has been provided between the three schools—Llanwnnen, Llanwenog and Cwrtnewydd—to generations of children. My grandmother, and my father, before me, were at ysgol Llanwnnen. But this is no time for feeling disheartened, but rather a time to look forward enthusiastically for another century and more of education for children of the area at Ysgol Dyffryn Cledlyn.
 
A fortnight ago, I walked into ysgol Llanwnnen to the sound of the children singing, ‘Rwy’n canu fel cana’r aderyn’—a song that I sang 40 years ago and more at the school. Therefore, yes, things do change but some things remain. The buildings and the facilities do change, but the education, the singing, the playing and the Welsh language go on.
 
Thank you, therefore, for the excellent start to life that Llanwnnen, Llanwenog and Cwrtnewydd schools gave to so many of us. I wish Ysgol Dyffryn Cledlyn a long and happy life.
 
15:32
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you.
 
15:32
5. Statement from the Chair of the Finance Committee: Fiscal Reform—Lessons from Scotland
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move on to item five, which is the statement from the Chair of the Finance Committee on fiscal reform—lessons from Scotland.
 
15:33
Simon ThomasBiography
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer, and I am pleased to be making this statement today, to share the lessons we learnt from our recent visit to Edinburgh to discuss the Scottish experience of fiscal reform.
 
During our visit, we met with representatives from the Finance and Constitution Committee of the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Fiscal Commission, and Revenue Scotland. One of the main roles of the Finance Committee is to consider the draft budget and how fiscal devolution to Wales is going to impact on how we do this. Members will be aware that the revised Standing Orders, and the associated protocol, have been agreed in preparation for this year’s budget, which will be the first to take place within our new funding arrangements. However, the committee is also considering a legislative budget process for the future.
 
In Scotland, where there is already a legislative budget process in place, a budget review group was set up to evaluate the Scottish budget process, specifically looking at public engagement, in-year scrutiny, fiscal framework, multi-year budgeting and scrutiny based on outcomes. The Scottish budget review group was made up of officials from the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government, as well as external public finance experts, including leading academics and stakeholders with extensive experience of fiscal and budgetary arrangements. The group published its report at the end of June and included a number of recommendations, with the aim of improving financial scrutiny in Scotland. I hope that the Scottish experience, and this report, will be useful tools for us as we prepare to implement our new arrangements, and as we go forward to consider a possible new process.
 
The establishment of this group in Scotland demonstrates the importance of building expertise in devolved fiscal arrangements, and it is imperative that the same level of support from experts is provided to develop our scrutiny arrangements so as to ensure that they are robust and effective.
 
Fiscal devolution and the changes in the Assembly represent an exciting and challenging time for Wales. As a committee, we have shown great interest in the preparations for the establishment of the Welsh Revenue Authority. Given that Scotland has already established its equivalent organisation, which has been operating since 2015, we feel that it’s important to learn from those experiences to ensure a smooth transition when the WRA is operational from April next year.
 
We heard from Revenue Scotland about the importance of stakeholder engagement when developing the website and promoting its role. Extensive engagement with stakeholders when designing the interface for the online tax system led to a high number of digital submissions. The Cabinet Secretary has previously committed to ensuring that this interaction with stakeholders is part of the process, but it’s still not too late to learn from the Scottish experience to ensure that any issues, however small, are ironed out before next April.
 
We met also with representatives from the Scottish Fiscal Commission, which has been operating on a statutory basis since April this year. The commission’s responsibilities include producing independent forecasts for Scotland, including forecasts for tax revenues, expenditure on social security and onshore gross domestic product. We learned that the commission and the Office for Budget Responsibility will provide fiscal forecasts for Scotland, but that the commission will be using data specific to Scotland rather than UK data that the OBR uses, which should make the commission’s forecasting models more accurate.
 
Rather than establish such an organisation here, the Welsh Government has appointed a team from Bangor University to undertake scrutiny of its budget forecasts. It appears that the key lesson from Scotland is the need to develop Wales-level data that are specific and timely beyond the data provided at a UK level by the OBR. Personally, I also believe that we will require a body such as the Scottish Fiscal Commission ultimately, as tax devolution is implemented. I note that the Cabinet Secretary has issued a written statement very recently, indicating that the establishment of such a commission is one of the options he is considering. The Finance Committee will examine this issue as we scrutinise the draft budget.
 
This work on fiscal devolution is an exciting time for the Finance Committee, and the Assembly as a whole, hopefully, and we hope that we can learn from the Scottish experience to ensure that our scrutiny arrangements are as robust as they can be. Thank you very much.
 
15:38
Nick RamsayBiography
Can I thank the Chair of the Finance Committee for his statement today? As one of the three members of the committee who visited Edinburgh, and the only one who unwisely took the train and ended up taking a lot longer than everyone else, I found it extremely useful when I got there, particularly the meetings with the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee, the Scottish Fiscal Commission and Revenue Scotland. I think it’s worth stating as well that the Chair and myself—I think we were the only ones—also visited the Auditor General for Scotland, Caroline Gardner, who had an invaluable insight and oversight into the way the different organisations worked together in the new fiscal landscape that is developing.
 
As you said, Simon, Scotland demonstrates the importance of building expertise in devolved fiscal arrangements and we can learn from both good practice and, indeed, mistakes that have been made north of the border.
 
So, turning to my main question: what role do you see the Finance Committee being able to play in aiding in this process over the rest of the Assembly term as fiscal devolution progresses? It strikes me that, never in the history of the Assembly has the Finance Committee really been potentially in such a pivotal and influential role in terms of deepening devolution and I think there’s a chance for the committee to really come into its own during this process.
 
In terms of the development of the Welsh Treasury and economic forecasting capacity, these are huge areas, and although Dafydd Elis-Thomas would say that these are issues for the Welsh Government primarily to be concerned about, I think it’s a huge task for any Government to have to deal with. So, I think there is an important role both for this Assembly and the Assembly committees, including our committee, to do what we can to influence, to provide guidance and to feed back to the Welsh Government on where we think that good practice can be built upon.
 
The Chair mentioned Revenue Scotland and the importance of stakeholder engagement in framing the system to the benefit of the Welsh taxpayer. Our committee has a wealth of experience in stakeholder engagement, so, again, it can play a valuable role in engagement and pressing for what I think we need, which is a bespoke Welsh tax-raising framework that people in Wales can feel comfortable with and can be proud of. We’ve spoken about this in committee, Chair, but we don’t want an adequate WRA; we want a world-class Welsh Revenue Authority. We want something that really can pave the way—not an easy goal, I know, but I think that’s what we should be aspiring to. Personally, I would have preferred the organisation to have been ‘revenue Wales’, a point that I made in the previous Assembly. I think I was outvoted by every other Member in this Chamber. But I think that, certainly looking at the way that Revenue Scotland has developed, then ‘revenue Wales’ can certainly learn from that organisation north of the border.
 
Just briefly, Deputy Presiding Officer, and turning to the Scottish Fiscal Commission, I tend to agree, the evidence that we took seemed to suggest that it wasn’t necessary for Wales, or it wasn’t the best value for money for Wales to necessarily go down the route of having a fiscal commission. However, we do need to make sure that the Welsh Government does have access to the best possible and timely data. That has not always been the case in the past, but in the case of fiscal devolution, it’s going to be really important that we get up to speed on that area as quickly as possible, and I know that the Chair of the Finance Committee will say that the committee wants to assist the Welsh Government and the finance Cabinet Secretary as much as possible in this process.
 
15:41
Simon ThomasBiography
I thank Nick Ramsay. Can I assure him that I took the train back to Aberystwyth, so I’m sure I suffered alongside him, and a very pleasant journey it was as well? I think the key point that he was making around the role that the Finance Committee can play, and one of the reasons, he’ll be aware, that I wanted to bring this statement to the Chamber, was that, in the Finance Committee, we don’t want this just to be a debate in the Finance Committee, but something that involves all Assembly Members, and vibrant to be aware that this is a pace of change that we haven’t seen for some—well, we’ve never seen before because we haven’t seen fiscal devolution before. The pace of change around our scrutiny of the budget, around the budget process itself, will be enormous in these next two or three years, and I think everyone needs to get across that, and that’s one of the reasons, I hope, for bringing the Finance Committee’s own deliberations out into the open, into the whole Chamber, as well. So, we do have that important role to play, and I think our most relevant role at the moment is to look at and examine very carefully what the lessons are in places like Scotland, what the lesson is of a legislative approach to budgeting, and to try and apply those to Wales.
 
But I would agree with the point that he makes around a bespoke arrangement in Wales. I’m not—. I would not advocate—and I don’t think he does, either—just copying from Scotland or copying from other parts of the United Kingdom, or, indeed, other devolved legislatures elsewhere. We do want an arrangement that is bespoke for Wales and suits not only our scrutiny arrangements, but also the ability of the Welsh Government to propose budgets that are based on the most available and best data and the best information possible.
 
In that regard, as well, I would take up his point, really, around where we go further forward. What we have in place, I would agree with him, is robust enough for the current arrangements, but as we have future devolution, I think the example of the fiscal commission in Scotland is an interesting one to look at and examine. We don’t need it today, but maybe in two or three years, particularly, perhaps, in the next Assembly when we have fuller exercise of the income tax powers, when, perhaps, we will have had an election where people will have pitched