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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
Before I call on the First Minister, I’m sure Members will wish to join with me in extending our condolences to all those affected by the recent horrific events in Las Vegas.
 
1. Questions to the First Minister
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
13:30
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The first item on our agenda is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Joyce Watson.
 
Wales as an Ethnically Diverse Country
 
13:30
Joyce WatsonBiography
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on how Wales has gained from being an ethnically diverse country? (OAQ51135)
 
13:30
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. Throughout our history, black, Asian and minority ethnic people have brought skills and entrepreneurship to Wales. And, as we celebrate Black History Month, the theme, ‘Our stars, our future, our history’, supports our ambitions within ‘Prosperity for All’, because we know that a prosperous Wales needs diverse, creative, highly skilled and adaptable people.
 
13:30
Joyce WatsonBiography
I thank you, First Minister, for that answer. Last week, I was delighted to attend and speak at the launch of the tenth Welsh Black History Month. Events, which are held throughout October, help us to reflect on the rich heritage of Wales and the diverse make-up of its people and their contribution to shaping Wales. And it gives us an opportunity as a parliamentary body to reach out to black and minority ethnic people and to encourage them to become engaged with us and the work that we do. As you know, First Minister, our next Assembly apprenticeship scheme will be launched next year. Could I ask you, therefore, what steps the Welsh Government are taking to promote applications from black and ethnic communities?
 
13:31
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we’re providing £360,000 in the course of 2017-20 for the all-Wales black, Asian and minority ethnic engagement programme, providing information, of course, to the Welsh Government on key issues and challenges, and that will help us, of course, to ensure that we’re able to recruit in a way that fully reflects the population and make-up of Wales.
 
13:32
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Three weeks ago, I attended a meeting in Wrexham with the Polish ambassador from London, the consul general from Manchester, a council representative, various agencies in attendance, and, of course, representatives of the Polish and Portuguese communities, talking about how we could develop a contact centre. In this case, the Polish consul talked about the Polish community business clubs possibly being able to raise the funding to access this. But we need somebody to facilitate a way forward, to tackle the barriers that people in these communities are continuing to face, and also, in consequence, to reduce pressure on statutory services. How could the Welsh Government help facilitate progress in this area?
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we look to work, of course, through our engagement with the different communities, through the various fora that we have, and also, of course, the work with the Polish ambassador and Polish diplomatic representatives in the UK. We’re more than happy to work with the ambassador in order to identify where such groups exist in Wales and how we can best engage with them. I’ll write to the Member. If I write to the Polish ambassador, perhaps if I could enclose as part of the letter the words that he’s used in this Chamber, and then of course we can see how we can best work together in order to achieve the outcome that he’s described.
 
13:33
Bethan JenkinsBiography
First Minister, on Friday I was with the ethnic youth support team in Swansea, and they were saying that they would like to have much more support going into schools and education venues in regard to trying to get communities to work together. And so, in one school, they had a white girl wearing a hijab, and she walked down the street, and then she came back and said how different she felt she’d been treated because she was just wearing one piece of headwear that was different to how she would usually dress. And I think these types of things would help children who’ve never been introduced to other communities, or other ethnicities, in their lives to try and understand how it is to live in those everyday experiences. So, I was wondering whether you were able to speak to them—I know they work closely with the Welsh Government—in providing them with additional resource to go and do this in other schools across Wales, to make sure that, when we start at a young age, those potential problems may be alleviated by starting as early as we possibly can?
 
13:34
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, can I suggest that the organisation involved goes through the usual route—talks to the Minister’s officials—and then, of course, we can consider what resources might be made available in the future?
 
Patient Advocacy Services
 
13:34
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on patient advocacy services in Wales? (OAQ51134)
 
13:34
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. We’re committed to providing effective patient advocacy services in Wales. Services are provided to adults by community health councils, and local health boards are responsible for arranging the provision of advocacy services to children and specialist mental health advocates.
 
13:35
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Thank you. During our debate recently, your Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport was very much in favour of abolishing community health councils and replacing them with a new body. This is despite an inordinate amount of public objection. How ironic then, First Minister, that, in my most recent correspondence with the Cabinet Secretary regarding a problematic constituent case, he has had the audacity to suggest that I recommend to my constituents approaching their CHC, in effect passing the buck for the shortcomings of his, and your, health service. First Minister, would you not agree with me that this is rather duplicitous of the Cabinet Secretary, and would you also place on record your acknowledgement and support of the work that the community health councils and their volunteers have carried out on behalf of our patients as an advocacy service over many years?
 
13:36
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Duplicitous—that’s the word of the day. I think we had that yesterday from the Secretary of State for Wales in his widely ignored speech. [Laughter.] I don’t accept at all that the Cabinet Secretary has been in any way duplicitous. Of course, he would refer a constituent of yours to an independent advocacy service. That’s what exists under the current structure and that’s what will exist in the future—an independent service. The Minister cannot be by nature independent, so I think the answer he’s given to you is absolutely correct: that if your patient needs advocacy, it is right that that advocacy service should be independent. It’s right, then, that it is the community health council, as they provide that service at this moment in time, and—we look to see, of course, what the responses will be to the White Paper—your constituent, I believe, has been given the right advice, based on what you’ve told me in the Chamber today.
 
13:37
Rhianon PassmoreBiography
First Minister, the Welsh Government, in January 2017, announced veterans and armed forces champions of health boards and NHS trusts in Wales. The Aneurin Bevan Local Health Board, which covers my constituents in Islwyn, named Brian Mawby as the champion. Congratulations to him. What impact does the First Minister believe these champions are having on ensuring that local service plans provide support, and that their local plans reflect the needs and priorities of the brave men and women of Wales who have bravely served our nation in our armed forces?
 
13:37
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Very much so. We know, of course, that there are very effective champions in many aspects of public life in Wales, and they do much to influence positively the direction of the Government and, indeed, public bodies and agencies. So, yes, I very much recognise the work that your constituent has done, as many others have done across Wales, because they add to the knowledge the Government has in order for Government to act in the most appropriate way for the people.
 
13:37
Caroline JonesBiography
First Minister, an independent patient voice is vital, particularly for those who can’t make themselves heard. We have made huge progress in providing advocates for people with mental health issues, but patient advocacy services are also vital to people with dementia. There have been calls for every person with dementia to have access to a skilled and independent advocate who understands dementia and is equipped to advocate effectively. First Minister, do you support this view and will you outline the actions your Government is taking to improve advocacy services for people with dementia?
 
13:38
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, health boards are responsible for arranging the provision of general patient advocacy services for children, and children and young people in receipt of mental health care can be further supported to raise concerns through accessing independent mental health advocacy. All health boards in Wales have in place arrangements to provide mental health advocates trained in working with children and young people—that’s true. And, of course, we want to make sure that the patient voice is strengthened when it comes to mental health services for adults. We’ve done much, of course, to assist those organisations who are helping people and their families who are dealing with dementia, such as, for example, by pushing forward with dementia-friendly places so that people can go and live their lives as long as possible and in as familiar an environment as possible.
 
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
 
13:39
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Questions now from the party leaders. The Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood.
 
13:39
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, homelessness is a blight on any civilised society. Have you noticed that the number of rough sleepers is currently increasing?
 
13:39
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The number of rough sleepers, according to the last count, is 141. That count took place in November of 2016. It’s difficult, of course, to count the number on a regular basis because it does fluctuate up and down, but she is right to identify the fact that rough sleeping is an issue, which is why—the Secretary will be giving his statement on the budget later—we will be looking to provide all the resource that we can in order to alleviate the problem.
 
13:40
Leanne WoodBiography
Homelessness is on the increase, First Minister, and that’s from rough sleeping counts, applications for homelessness support, people in temporary accommodation, evictions—the lot. Here in Cardiff, The Wallich estimates that there’s been an 18 per cent increase in rough sleeping compared to the same quarter in 2016. It comes as no surprise, to us at least, that this is happening. Everyone predicted that this would happen as a result of welfare cuts, which, I remind you, started under the Blair Government when Lord Freud was given his first ministerial job. But it was also predictable that Westminster’s dysfunctional political system would ignore these warnings and go ahead with their cuts anyway. Why wasn’t your Government and your party more proactive in seeking the powers to not have to implement these cuts?
 
13:41
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, it’s one thing to have the powers, it’s another thing to have the money. It’s one thing to say, ‘We’re going to do something’; if the money isn’t there to do it, then it becomes more difficult. What have we done? Well, we’ve just announced an additional £2.6 million to support services for rough sleepers and young people, and crucially we’ve introduced legislation to prevent homelessness in the first place. Dealing with people who are already on the street is important, but surely it must be the case as well that prevention is a priority for us. The legislation has meant more help for more people and help at an earlier stage, including rough sleepers, and the latest homelessness statistics for the first quarter of this financial year show a steady rate of success in times of increasing demand—63 per cent of all households threatened with homelessness had their homelessness prevented in Wales. That would not have happened anywhere else, and that’s as a result of the legislation.
 
13:41
Leanne WoodBiography
First Minister, you can’t condemn Westminster for callousness while still accepting that the powers to prevent homelessness remain in Westminster. You’re right—you have recently reformed the homelessness system to adopt a more preventative approach, but clearly there remain a great number of people who have fallen through the very wide holes in your safety net. Now, if you accept that we are facing a homelessness crisis—and I’d be very surprised to hear you deny that we are facing a crisis—will you commit to abolishing the Pereira test to get rid of homelessness intentionality, ending priority need, so that everyone is entitled to a home?
 
13:42
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The legislation has gone some way to addressing that. She and I are in a different position. I don’t believe that it makes sense to devolve welfare because we know that Wales is a net recipient of the overall pot. I do agree with her that the actions of the Tory Government have been heartless, unthinking, and have led to more people being homeless. I was in Brighton last week and it was extremely noticeable how bad the problem was in Brighton. We have a problem in Wales, we know that. It was far worse there. I believe part of that is because, in England, they have not enacted legislation that would help to prevent homelessness in the first place. The answer to this, of course, is to have a welfare system that works for people, a welfare system that is compassionate, and a welfare system administered by a Labour Government in London.
 
13:43
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
 
13:43
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, recently the Cabinet Secretary for Education delivered a speech that highlighted that there were secondary schools in Wales that until recently had not been entering a single pupil for a GCSE science exam—not a single pupil in secondary schools in Wales. Also, there had been a tendency for many schools to enter pupils for the easier BTEC courses, where, in 2016, there was a 99 per cent pass rate. Estyn, in a recent report, have highlighted the difficulties that some science subjects face in the way they’re taught within Welsh schools. Don’t you think it is vital, if we are going to be aspirational about delivering a high-wage economy, a skilled economy, that we have more pupils entered in the sciences? And, what confidence can you give that, in the PISA examinations in 2018, we will see real improvement in the sciences? We’ve gone back by 20, from 505 to 485, from 2006 to 2016. It has to be a key area of improvement. Yet, on your watch, we’ve got schools that haven’t been entering pupils for science at all.
 
13:44
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
First of all, we have for some time in Wales been emphasising the need to create parity of esteem between the academic and the vocational. Therefore, we should not make negative comparisons between BTECs and GCSEs. One is a vocational qualification; the other is more of an academic qualification. Schools will enter candidates for the appropriate exam according to what they feel they need, in terms of their future skills.
 
He asks about PISA. Well, we’ve seen GCSE results improve year after year—that is a good sign as far as PISA is concerned. We’ve seen improvements in subjects at A-level—that’s a good indication that PISA will improve in the future. We have, of course, new exams—we’ve made sure that they have been rolled out without great difficulty. We’ve taken the decision to postpone the introduction of the curriculum—that’s the right decision, and we know that teachers and professionals have supported that. And, of course, we are building schools all around Wales—schools that would not be built if he were in my position.
 
13:45
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
First Minister, that was a pathetic answer. On your watch—[Interruption.] On your watch—[Interruption.] On your watch, we have had secondary schools in Wales—. And these aren’t my comments, because we can’t get the data—we’ve applied to the Welsh Government to have the data that the Cabinet Secretary based her speech on. Here’s the speech—. The speech is here; it’s her remarks, not my remarks, that say how shameful it has been that, under your Government, we have had secondary schools not entering a single—a single—student for science GCSEs—not A-levels, GCSEs. How on earth can you defend that when you’ve been First Minister for seven years? These are the remarks of your Cabinet Secretary, not mine, so how can we have confidence that we will see the improvements we need in science, technology, engineering and mathematics when we’ve had such a laissez-faire attitude from your Government?
 
13:46
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
That was a response worthy of the Secretary of State for Wales—and that’s not a compliment, by the way. The reality is that the system has been changed. We’ve just introduced, of course, the new GCSEs; that has happened. So, far from sitting back and doing nothing, we’re encouraging schools to enter pupils for GCSEs and other qualifications, and at the right time—and at the right time—so they’re not entering them early in order to get them through a particular subject and the grades are coming down as a result. That is something that we have done as a Government. [Interruption.] Well, it’s unlike David Melding to be like this, but, clearly, something has caused him to be annoyed this morning, or this afternoon.
 
We’re confident in what we’re doing: we’re confident in what we’re doing in terms of changing the syllabus; we are confident in what we’re doing in terms of results—we see results improving, both at GCSE and A-level. We see money going into education in a way that’s been deprived from schools by his party in England. We see schools being built across Wales that would not be built by his party if they were in power here. And, of course, we want to make sure that as many of our pupils have as many opportunities as possible to enter examinations in order to get the qualifications that they need—that’s exactly what we’ve done in terms of the system we’ve now introduced.
 
13:47
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
First Minister, David Melding is most probably getting annoyed by your performance this afternoon, because it is a very laissez-faire attitude, I have to say. You can’t defend a system that has not—[Interruption.] You cannot defend a system that has not been entering GCSE students for the sciences, and then stand there and try to defend it. I want to have confidence, First Minister, that we will see improvement. I want to see improvement in the Welsh education system. We all want to see that. But we had in the last GCSEs the worst results for 10 years. We’ve got the PISA examinations coming forward now in 2018. I asked you in the first question: where are we going to be? Give us an indicator of where we’re going to be—just give us something to come out of this First Minister’s questions where we can mark your homework as to where science will be in 2018.
 
13:48
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Science entries are up. We changed the system partially to encourage schools to enter more students, and enter them at the time that is appropriate for them. That has been done. He talks about the worst GCSE results for 10 years—I do not recognise that, if you compare like with like. If he thinks that things are rosy in England, I suggest he needs to look at what happened in England with the system there. And he makes that comparison from time to time. Look, we will make sure that the education system is properly financed according to the settlement we get from him and his Government. If he wants to see—[Interruption.] If he wants to see more money into education, can I suggest he actually lobbies—because he’s more effective than his parliamentary colleague—his colleagues in London to get more money into education across the UK and particularly to Wales? We could do a lot more with a fairer settlement. A £1 billion bung for Northern Ireland—not a word, not a word, from the party opposite; not a word. Let’s see Wales get the same fair play and let’s see whether the Welsh Conservatives can stand up against their colleagues in Westminster.
 
13:49
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Leader of the UKIP group, Neil Hamilton.
 
13:49
Neil HamiltonBiographyLeader of the UKIP Wales Group
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. This afternoon—[Interruption.] I knew that the Chamber was circular, Llywydd; I didn’t realise it revolved as well. This afternoon, we shall hear the outline budget from the finance Secretary, but his room for manoeuvre is obviously limited by the nature of the funding of the Welsh Government. Ninety-two per cent of the money that Welsh Government spends currently comes from the United Kingdom Government by block grant. So, the success of the Welsh economy and the ability of the Welsh Government to spend depends crucially upon the health of the UK economy, which, in turn, depends crucially upon the economic policies of the Government at Westminster. Does he think that the consequences for Wales of the kind of spending plans that Jeremy Corbyn outlined last week in Brighton would, in the long term, benefit the Welsh economy? They’ve been added up to about £312 billion. It must be one of the most expensive speeches in human history. That’s £4.15 billion per minute, £69.3 million per second. Such a speech programme would actually bankrupt the UK economy, and that can be nothing less than disastrous for Wales.
 
13:50
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It has never been cheaper to borrow. In 1945, a Government came to power in the UK, presiding over a wrecked country and a wrecked economy, with far less money at its disposal. Yet it managed to create the national health service, managed to put industry back onto its feet. It managed to ensure that people’s standard of living began to rise. It dealt with a country that had been destroyed because of the effects of war. If they can do it, then a Labour Government can do it now. We’ve had seven years of austerity and nothing has changed for the better. It’s got worse and worse and worse. Seven wasted years: it’s time for a change.
 
13:51
Neil HamiltonBiography
I don’t want to debate economic history with the First Minister, but, immediately after the war, we did, of course, have the Marshall aid programme and actually there was a very substantial reduction in the proportion of debt to GDP during the course of the Attlee Government from 1945 to 1951. When Tony Blair came to office in 1997, the national debt stood at £359 billion and, in his first term of office, he actually reduced it further. In 2001, that was reduced to £317 billion. Then Gordon Brown turned on the spending taps, and we all know what happened with the financial crisis in 2008. The national debt—[Interruption.] The national debt now stands—[Interruption.] The national debt now stands at nearly £2 trillion and we’re spending, every single year, £56 billion on debt interest alone. If the Welsh portion of that debt interest, which would be one twentieth—that’s about £2 billion a year—was available to the Welsh Government to spend on the health service, social care, education, whatever, Wales would be very much better off than it is now.
 
13:52
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
All Governments have to borrow. Well, there are very few Governments that don’t have to borrow—usually those that are oil rich. The reality is you borrow to invest. What we’re seeing at the moment is a Government that is bumping the British economy off the ground. We know that, as far as injections of money are concerned, that’s not happening. The economy is not being stimulated. Now, he doesn’t want me to lecture him on economic history—I will, and recent economic history, which he will remember. Because he seemed to suggest that Gordon Brown was responsible for the world financial crash in 2008. The reality is the crash was caused by irresponsible banks selling financial products to people who they knew full well would not be able to repay them. Then they bundled those debts and sold them onto other banks, infecting the entire system. That’s what happened. We are still living with the consequences of that. It’s quite clear to me, then, that the old ways of doing things cannot be followed in the future. We need a Keynesian injection of cash into the economy in order to make sure that we create more employment, that we put more money in peoples’ pockets, and stimulate the economy in that way. Because it’s quite clear that, over the past seven years, what’s been done isn’t working.
 
13:53
Neil HamiltonBiography
You would think, from what the First Minister just said, that there hadn’t been a Labour Government from 1997 to 2008 and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not Gordon Brown, in charge of banking regulation, whereas we know that he believed in a light-touch regulation of banking, so he was a contributor to the financial crisis, which ultimately engulfed him. Jim Callaghan knew what it was like to cope with a financial crisis. I’m sure the First Minister will remember very well that in 1976 he appeared at a rather different kind of Labour Party conference and said:
 
‘We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by…boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion…by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step.’
 
Jeremy Corbyn, if he ever did learn that lesson, seems to have forgotten it. His role as a kind of moth-eaten Santa Claus, dipping into a bottomless bag of presents to dish out to gullible children, is not the way forward for any sensible or realistic political party that has any designs upon holding the highest offices in the land.
 
13:54
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We have revealed to us this afternoon the UKIP strategy for dealing with appealing to young voters. ‘You are all gullible children’ is the way that they’re going to be described in the future, so I can’t see many of them voting UKIP in the future.
 
In the 1970s, there were particular challenges with stagflation, as he should remember, because of the soaring price of oil as a result of the 1973 oil crisis. That knocked the usual economic cycle out of sync and, as a result, we saw rising unemployment and rising inflation at the same time, meaning that the traditional way of injecting money into the economy to deal with high unemployment—[Interruption.] I can give the leader of the opposition a lecture on economic history, if he wants, as he knows less than nothing about it—[Interruption.] And so the circumstances of the 1970s are very, very different. But what I can say to him about 1976—. Here’s a statistic for him: 1976 was the time in history when Britain was most equal—when Britain was most equal. Since then, the Tories have made it more and more and more unequal, and that’s what a Labour Government will change.
 
Poverty Among Young Women
 
13:55
Eluned MorganBiography
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on poverty among young women in Wales? (OAQ51108) [W]
 
13:56
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Young women are more likely to be represented in single-parent households and part-working households, which are more at risk of living in poverty. We are providing a range of support to build prosperity by helping them overcome barriers to employment and to maximise their employability and access decent, well-paid work.
 
13:56
Eluned MorganBiography
Diolch yn fawr. The First Minister will be aware that, last week, in the Labour Party conference, Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, suggested that a new Labour Government would commit to ending period poverty in schools. Does the First Minister have any intention of introducing such a measure in Wales?
 
13:56
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, I did note the announcement. It is something I know that we will look at as a Government to see how it can be dealt with in the most effective way. But it is a concept that needs to be examined very closely in order to make sure that it can be dealt with effectively in Wales.
 
13:57
Suzy DaviesBiography
First Minister, last week, I visited Severn Trent’s testing labs in Bridgend—you may know them already—and most of the senior team there were women. They weren’t educated recently in Wales, I’m afraid, so it doesn’t help you on Andrew’s question, but, even so, it is a great example of women getting into good STEM careers. They’re also a good example of where, in a facility where you would normally expect a degree level of education, their interest is now turning to the further education sector to see whether students from there can be brought into appropriate roles, and, as we know, people from poorer backgrounds tend to use FE a little bit more. Welsh Government announced in January that the Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales was setting up an internal working group developing the ‘Talented Women for a Successful Wales’ report findings. So, I’m wondering whether you could provide us with an update on that on that, when we might be seeing some results on the back of it.
 
13:57
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I will write to the Member with a date as to the publication of that document. In terms of the pumping station, I’ll be there on Friday so I’ll be able to hear at first hand what they have already said to her.
 
13:58
Sian GwenllianBiography
In a letter to the Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee on 17 July, the Cabinet Secretary for the economy said this: it would not be wise to publish a national action plan for poverty. Isn’t this an entirely shocking statement? No particular action plan. No targets for the mitigation of poverty. No monitoring, because there is nothing to monitor, despite the fact that over 30 per cent of children live in poverty in Wales. Do you agree with me that this is a clear sign that this Labour Government has turned its back entirely on poor families in Wales?
 
13:58
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
‘No’ is the answer to that. Poverty is something that’s being dealt with across Government; it just doesn’t come under the portfolio of one Minister, because we know how important it is. If you look at what we published last week then it’s obvious that we consider poverty as something that it’s vital we resolve in Wales, and the way of doing that is to ensure that people have the skills that they need, that they have the opportunities that they need, and that they can have free childcare—and that’s something that we put in our manifesto in the election and we’re moving forward to act on that—and that there are jobs available to them that are well paid. We don’t have every lever within our grasp, because we know that there is much around employability and payment that is in the hands of the United Kingdom Government, but we must ensure that we can do everything possible in Wales in order to address poverty.
 
13:59
Huw Irranca-DaviesBiography
First Minister, the child poverty action group has identified very early on that the way that universal credit is structured poses a real risk to the financial autonomy of women in the household. It actually undermines their ability to be autonomous and to have financial independence.
 
We now know from Citizens Advice Cymru that some people in the pilot areas, some women, are giving up work due to childcare issues, as a direct result of the design and the roll-out of universal credit as it is. And we now know, of course, this week, according to the Government’s own figures, that over 80 per cent—over 80 per cent—of recipients of universal credit that is being rolled out are now falling into rent arears. The Government’s own pilot areas are showing that it is an unmitigated disaster and it is driving young women, but also all people, into poverty. Could I ask the First Minister what further representations he can make to the UK Government? Because the impact in all of our communities is going to be significant.
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we’ll continue to make those representations, but we’ll have to get in a queue. I mean, their own MPs are saying that the roll-out should be stopped. If I could sum up the attitude of the Conservative Government, it would be this: lessen the financial burden on the rich—cut tax—and increase the financial burden on the poorest—getting rid of tax credits, the bedroom tax, universal credit. We know, of course, that on top of that they do these things incompetently, and that’s what the current roll-out of universal credit is doing. The leader of the opposition finds it funny. When we talk about welfare, he finds it funny. Well, why doesn’t he go and talk to people who are affected by this? Why doesn’t he go and talk to people about the threat of homelessness? Why doesn’t he go and talk to people who find themselves in a position where they’re going into rent arrears? Then he might learn what real life is actually about. Because we deal with these issues on a regular basis, on a constituency basis, and we see the inhumanity of universal credit, along with so many other of the policies developed by a Conservative Government that benefit only the richest.
 
The Rail Network in Mid and West Wales
 
14:02
Neil HamiltonBiography
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the rail network in Mid and West Wales? (OAQ51114)
 
14:02
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Devolution of funding for rail infrastructure remains with the UK Government. They have refused to devolve that. Despite this position, since 2011, the Welsh Government has invested around £200 million into a programme of rail infrastructure improvements, including additional and enhanced rail services in the mid and west.
 
14:02
Neil HamiltonBiography
I thank the First Minister for that response. We welcome the Welsh Government’s funding for a feasibility study to reopen the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen railway line. I’m sure he’ll agree with me that the best way to revive railway lines that were closed largely in the 1960s under the Beeching plan would be to produce low-cost opportunities for the trains and carriages that would work on the track. Because it’s the operating costs that are going to be the big stumbling block. There’s been an estimate of a £700 million total cost to reopen this particular line. But there have been some very encouraging studies done of no-frills trains being manufactured using lightweight materials and running at low speeds, which may be introduced in the next two years as the result of a £4 million trial. So, will the First Minister do everything he can to encourage the introduction of this new technology that will offer the opportunity to open up perhaps many more lines in rural Wales that were closed years ago?
 
14:03
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
No. What he’s talking about is light rail. It’s a model that’s used for suburban railways and for short journeys. I don’t think a 50-mile journey between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth is best served by a light rail carriage with hard seating, for example, without the kind of facilities you’d expect from a longer distance train. And, of course, with light rail, you end up in a situation where, it’s true, it’s cheaper, because the signal requirements are not the same, for example, but the comfort levels are way, way lower and I don’t think people in the west of our country should have a train service that is far less comfortable than would be expected along an equivalent route in England. If we’re going to move forward—. It’s a significant challenge—I don’t think we can underestimate it—a significant challenge and a significant cost to reinstate the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen line, but if it’s going to be done, it’s got to be done properly.
 
14:04
Russell GeorgeBiography
First Minister, I was pleased that the Cabinet Secretary confirmed that Carno station will be included in the current stage 2 assessment process for new stations in Wales. A petition will also be submitted to the Assembly tomorrow from the Carno station action group, 10 years after the first petition, urging the Government to reopen Carno station within a five-year timescale. Now that the Cabinet Secretary has announced that Carno will be considered, will you outline what the next steps are during this process, and do you feel that five years is a realistic timetable for the reopening of Carno station?
 
14:05
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Just to inform the Member, the next stage is that, as he knows, the Cabinet Secretary has decided to include Carno in the current round of stage 2 assessments. What does that involve? It involves obtaining information from Network Rail on deliverability and operational considerations on the prioritised stations. In addition, a standard assessment model has been run to assess the anticipated demand at the proposed stations as well. I know that the Cabinet Secretary has asked officials to engage with the action group as part of the stage 2 process. So, that’s where we are now, but he will know, of course, what our intention is. There are many unknowns. When you deal with Network Rail, it’s not always clear what the challenges are. We’ve found that in the past, where problems have been identified that were not known at the time that an announcement was made. But it is our intention, he will know, to reopen Carno, pending, of course, the assessment.
 
14:06
Simon ThomasBiography
As I understand it from what the First Minister and the Minister for the economy have said in the past, the current situation is that the franchise will commence without the full powers or the full budget having been devolved to the Welsh Government, and therefore the Welsh Government to all intents and purposes will be an agent for the Westminster Government. Now, if that is the case, can I ask you plainly in light of what happened in terms of electrification to Swansea, do you trust in the Westminster Government to transfer full powers in time and, importantly, to transfer the full funding additionally?
 
14:05
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
If they don’t do that, we won’t be able to move forward—it’s as plain as that. We have done everything that we need to do, and so now they must take action. But there is no indication at present that there will be a problem. We wish the franchise to progress as it should in April. We’re also talking to the unions to ensure that they understand what we’re trying to do. It would be much easier had they devolved the funding and the powers to us from the outset, particularly the power to instruct Network Rail. We don’t have that at the moment, so we have to consider new ways of doing things. But what is important is that we can act on behalf of the people of Wales in a way that wasn’t possible previously.
 
14:07
Joyce WatsonBiography
First Minister, there was an awful lot to welcome in the transport Minister’s latest statement on the next franchise, and what was particularly welcome was the commitment to keep a guard on every single service, something that people have campaigned quite heavily to see, and they welcome it. The other commitment was that the new rolling stock should be maintained by workers, ideally, here in Wales. Very recently, I had a tour around the investment that’s been made in the Machynlleth depot, and met some of the 33 highly skilled employees that reside there and work there. So, going forward, First Minister, can I ask that we will do all that we can to ensure a positive future for that that we’ve already invested in, in both Machynlleth station and the people who work there?
 
14:08
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Absolutely. If I remember rightly, Machynlleth had a depot in the 1980s, then it closed, then it reopened, because it was needed, clearly, to service trains on the centre of Wales and Cambrian Coast lines. So, yes, we want to make sure that not only do we keep our network of depots, but we increase the number in the future, because we know that there will be new rolling stock, there will be new modes of transport that we will look at, and it’s important, then, that the equipment is maintained in Wales as far as is possible.
 
Wealth Creation Policies
 
14:09
David J. RowlandsBiography
5. Will the First Minister outline how the Welsh Government measures the success of its wealth creation policies? (OAQ51116)
 
14:09
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It’s important to consider the performance of the Welsh economy using a basket of indicators and not look at one individual measure. Of course, ‘Prosperity for All’ shows the way forward. The plans that will follow will provide greater detail.
 
14:09
David J. RowlandsBiography
I thank you for that answer, First Minister, but in measuring not only wealth creation, but also health, education, housing provision et cetera, is Ron Davies, the former Labour Welsh Secretary, correct when he says that, after 20 years of a Labour-controlled Welsh Assembly, Wales is now poorer than it was 20 years ago? This former Labour luminary went on to say that he is not able to name a single initiative that has improved the lives of the people of Wales. Surely, First Minister, you have to agree that this is as damning an analysis of Labour policies since devolution as any expressed in this Chamber.
 
14:10
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
‘No’ is the answer. Now, where do we start? Let’s start with Jobs Growth Wales, shall we? The fact that so many people were helped to get into jobs, young people were given training. Let’s look at the help that was given to workers to keep their jobs when the recession hit hard in 2008-09. Let’s talk about the people who are alive because of the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013, supported cross-party across this Chamber. Let’s look at the fact we have the best foreign direct investment figures for 30 years. Let’s look at our employment levels. I suspect, really, that Ron needs to read a few more papers.
 
14:10
Mohammad AsgharBiography
The Federation of Small Businesses has claimed that Welsh Government offices overseas have failed in their aim of boosting exports to those countries. Figures suggest that exports to those countries have, in fact, fallen between 2013 and 2016, down 13 per cent to the United States, down 22 per cent to Belgium and 55 per cent to Japan. First Minister, what plans does the Welsh Government have to review the effectiveness of its overseas offices in boosting trade with the countries in which they are located?
 
14:11
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
He’s fallen into a trap there, set for him by the UK Government, because what has happened is that the methodology has changed, so that—if I remember rightly—if you have a factory in Wales that is exporting, but its headquarters are in England, it’s counted as an English export. That’s the problem. So, all of a sudden, we see these sudden changes in the export figures, not because physically fewer goods are being exported, but it’s because they’re counted as having come from England because their headquarters are in England. We know that many organisations in Wales that manufacture don’t have their headquarters in Wales.
 
He asks a question: what are we doing to boost our presence overseas? We are moving ahead with a strategy to do just that. The balance that has to be struck is between: do you boost an existing office or do you open a new office? We commissioned work from the Public Policy Institute for Wales; they gave us information as to how we should approach that. Over the next few months, Members will hear of new office openings and, of course, boosting of staff abroad in order to make sure that we boost our presence, working quite often with the Department for International Trade—in fact, most often with DIT—but in those markets where Wales has a strong presence and needs to strengthen its presence in the future.
 
14:12
Adam PriceBiography
Isn’t it true, though, First Minister, that despite what you said about unemployment levels—and that is welcome; they dipped below the UK average for a period in the early 1990s as well, didn’t they? But the problem is in terms of income, in terms of prosperity. You can choose any number of a basket of indicators, whether it’s average earnings, household disposable income, gross value added per capita, income per hour worked, et cetera. We have gone backwards compared with where we were at the beginning of devolution, and that wasn’t what was promised. So, where are we going wrong and what is the indicator—how are we going to measure the, hopefully, success that will come at some point in the future?
 
14:13
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It’s not that we’ve gone backwards, and that people are somehow poorer than they were. What is correct to say is that, as our gross domestic product—or if you want to measure gross domestic household income as well— has gone up, it has not improved at the same rate as other parts of the UK. That’s the accurate description. He asked the question: what do we do about it? At the heart of it all is skills—it’s skills. What happened at the beginning of devolution is we did see a lot of those businesses that, I think, came here because of the money and provided unskilled work—they left. They went to Hungary. A business in my own constituency went to Hungary. They went to lower cost economies, because all they wanted to do was to manufacture cheaply. Now, we can’t play that game, nor should we try and do it. So, the focus now, heavily, is on skills. One of the questions we’ve always been asked by overseas investors is, ‘Have your people got the skills that we need in order for us to be able to function in Wales?’ Increasingly, of course, the answer is ‘yes’.
 
We work very closely with further education colleges and we work with our universities in a way that, 10 years ago, wasn’t happening. Our universities were not interested in working towards economic development at that point; they saw themselves purely as academic institutions. In fairness to them, they’ve changed. It will take some time for the fruit of that work to come through, but we are seeing investors coming to Wales that, bluntly, wouldn’t have come 20 years ago—high-end investors who are paying more in terms of the jobs that they create. What’s key now is to keep on moving on that track, not just in terms of FDI. He will make the point, I understand, in terms of encouraging SMEs in Wales. It’s not a question of one or the other, and that’s exactly what we want to do as well, working again with the universities and others, making sure that young entrepreneurs who have good ideas get the support they need to put those ideas into practice. Increasingly, across Wales, we are now seeing those businesses starting to be created and to grow.
 
'Qualified for Life: A Curriculum for Wales—A Curriculum for Life'
 
14:15
Hefin DavidBiography
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the implementation of 'Qualified for Life: A Curriculum for Wales—A Curriculum for Life'? (OAQ51136)
 
14:15
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
On 26 September the Cabinet Secretary for Education launched ‘Education in Wales: Our national mission’. That reaffirms our commitment to building a transformational curriculum in order to deliver a better education system for Wales.
 
14:15
Hefin DavidBiography
I broadly welcome the Welsh Government’s approach to implementing the recommendations of Professor Graham Donaldson, but Members will be aware of Professor Donaldson’s comments that were reported by the BBC this morning, in which he remarked that ‘progress remained good’, but also cautioned against
 
‘any loss of momentum in the whole dynamic of this reform’.
 
What discussions has the Welsh Government had with Professor Donaldson with regard to the changes that were announced by the Cabinet Secretary last week? And what would be the First Minister’s response to Professor Donaldson’s concerns about a potential loss of momentum?
 
14:16
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, Professor Donaldson actually oversees the implementation board. He agrees that we’ve made the right decision to introduce the curriculum as a phased roll-out rather than a big bang. The approach will mean that all schools have the time to engage with the development of the curriculum and be fully prepared, of course, for the changes. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have already said that we need to continue our drive to create a curriculum for the twenty-first century, and that’s what we will do, but at the appropriate pace.
 
14:16
Darren MillarBiography
First Minister, while we welcomed the postponement of the implementation of the curriculum, one aspect that still concerns us is the fact that secondary schools will be required to deliver two curricula for pupils in those schools for a period of five years. Now, that’s going to cause absolute havoc and I believe it’s a recipe for chaos for, particularly, newly qualified teachers coming into the system, who will have been trained to deliver a new curriculum but are having to deliver the old, and for the already burdened profession that we have out there, 70-odd per cent of which said that they felt overworked and stressed because of their workload. So, what are you going to do to make sure that schools are geared up to deliver two curricula to the pupils in those schools and ensure that pupil attainment doesn’t dip as a result, and that staff aren’t overworked more so than they are now?
 
14:17
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, if that was a concern, then the teaching unions wouldn’t support this, but they have. They have supported the phased implementation. Teaching skills are transferable. It’s not the case that somebody is trained to teach a particular curriculum. They have teaching skills that they adapt according to the curriculum that’s before them. It’s hardly unknown, of course, for schools to teach different curriculums at the same time. When the national curriculum came in, schools had to gear up for that. There was often overlap at that point. Foundation phase was the same. My father worked in education in the 1980s and I can tell you, things used to change almost on a half-yearly basis, which the teachers had to deal with. So obsessed were Ministers at that time—and they weren’t Welsh Ministers; they didn’t have control over education then, over the syllabus—teachers found themselves having to satisfy the whims of Ministers who wanted to change things all the time. Now, that surely is not the best approach. It’s hugely important that we don’t introduce a curriculum until the profession is ready. They’ve indicated that they’re content with this approach, and that is why we’ve taken the approach that we have.
 
Nurse Recruitment in North Wales
 
14:18
Llyr GruffyddBiography
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on nurse recruitment in north Wales? (OAQ51115)[W]
 
14:18
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board, supported by our Train, Work, Live campaign, is actively recruiting additional nurses.
 
14:18
Llyr GruffyddBiography
At the last count, 92 nurse posts at Wrexham Maelor Hospital were vacant, with a number of nurses approaching retirement age also. Now, the shortage of nurses means that specialist nurses regularly now have to work on general wards and it’s a daily crisis in the hospital, which is the largest in north Wales. The expensive foreign recruitment of the health board in India and Barcelona, through a private agency, has been an utter failure; only four nurses from India have managed to pass the language test. So, given the failure of your Government to plan the workforce over a number of years, and having placed Betsi Cadwaladr in special measures over two and a half years ago now, do you take responsibility for this awful situation?
 
14:19
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We see that things are improving. For example, there’s been an increase in the number of nurses training in north Wales. That figure is now higher than in any year over the past decade. So, we have invested in recruitment and also, of course, in training. That means that there’s been an increase of 13 per cent in nursing places in Wales over this financial year. We’ve put a £95 million investment into training, and that means that 3,000 new students can now study healthcare programmes in Wales. It is challenging, of course, because people don’t wish to come to the United Kingdom any longer because of Brexit, and they feel that they wouldn’t be welcome now. Of course, that is something that happened last year, but in order to deal with that, we understand that we need to train more nurses in Wales. That is why we’ve seen a significant increase in the numbers being trained.
 
The M4 Public Inquiry
 
14:20
Lee WatersBiography
8. What assessment has the First Minister made of the Future Generations Commissioner’s submission to the M4 public inquiry? (OAQ51122)
 
14:20
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, of course, the submission is welcome. It’s important that the public inquiry is open and detailed. That, of course, is what is happening at the moment.
 
14:20
Lee WatersBiography
Thank you. In its evidence to the M4 public inquiry, the Government acknowledged that a new motorway will inflict long-term harm, but this would be outweighed by the short-term economic benefits. The Government’s own independent adviser, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales has now said that this is incompatible with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The watchdog of the Act says that that these trade-offs are no longer lawful in Wales. Would the First Minister agree to set up an expert group to quickly design a solution to the congestion on the M4 that is compatible with a law that we passed?
 
14:21
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, that is precisely what’s happening now because we have got an independent inquiry that is looking at the M4. It was designed to be as broad as possible—so it didn’t just look at one particular scheme—and that’s what it’s doing. So, it’s important that that inquiry is able to report dispassionately and independently, considering all the evidence before it.
 
14:21
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Thank you, First Minister.
 
14:21
2. Business Statement and Announcement
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The next item on the agenda is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the leader of the house, Jane Hutt.
 
14:21
Jane HuttBiographyThe Leader of the House and Chief Whip
Diolch, Llywydd. There’s one change to today’s agenda—the time allocated to the draft budget has been extended to 90 minutes. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement found among the agenda papers, which are available to Members electronically.
 
14:22
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Leader of the house, could we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health, please, in relation to a report about the realignment of district general hospitals in the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board area and the Cwm Taf Local Health Board area? To date, I do not believe a statement has been forthcoming. This does have quite large implications for people in the west of the Vale of Glamorgan who use the Princess of Wales Hospital as their main district general hospital, and GP surgeries in particular in the western Vale who refer to the Princess of Wales Hospital. To give security of understanding of how these proposals might or might not progress, a Government statement would be welcome to actually see what the thinking is on the rationale behind any proposed changes in the current configuration of the health boards that run the Princess of Wales Hospital and the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, i.e. Cwm Taf health board and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg.
 
14:23
Jane HuttBiography
Well, of course, these are matters that are out for consideration in terms of consultation, and those options and suggestions were made clear in the recent statement and White Paper. So, clearly, there is an opportunity to consider this in terms of the importance, which is delivering a service to the local people.
 
14:23
Steffan LewisBiography
Can we have a statement from the Welsh Government on the planning crisis in the county borough of Caerphilly? There is no active local development plan at the moment and, as a result, the planning system is heavily skewed in favour of developers and, indeed, inappropriate unsustainable development. Recent adjudications by the planning inspector have highlighted the fact that the five-year land supply requirement trumps all other considerations, including the much celebrated well-being of future generations Act. So, can we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary in order to suspend the need for Caerphilly to demonstrate the five-year land supply until a sustainable local development plan is in place in that county borough?
 
14:24
Jane HuttBiography
Well, of course, this is a matter for Caerphilly County Borough Council. Clearly, they are aware and are engaged in this issue and, of course, there’s a robust discussion and debate locally about it. And, of course, that is what we’ll take forward in terms of the Cabinet Secretary’s engagement with it.
 
14:24
Jeremy MilesBiography
Can I ask for two Government statements? The first from the Cabinet Secretary for Education in relation to the steps taken by the Welsh Government to tackle lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bullying in schools. I acknowledge the readiness of the Cabinet Secretary to meet with myself and Hannah Blythyn to discuss this issue. She’ll be aware of the report published in the last week by Stonewall Cymru, which discloses that more than half of LGBT young people in Wales, and 73 per cent of trans young people in Wales, still face bullying at school, with very serious consequences in many examples. The report calls on a number of recommendations on the part of Welsh Government and local authorities, and I’d welcome a statement in relation to what steps the Government is taking on an issue the Government acknowledges is significant.
 
And a second statement, please, in relation to what support the Welsh Government is giving to the Swansea city of culture bid, which we hope will benefit the broader Swansea bay region. The current UK City of Culture, Hull, has seen significant investment in its region as a consequence. Our region has suffered a Conservative betrayal in relation to electrification, and we fear that will happen in relation to the lagoon, so we’d welcome a statement on Government support for that bid.
 
14:25
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Jeremy Miles for both those questions. I think Members will be aware of the latest ‘School Report’ 2017 by Stonewall Cymru, and it is encouraging to note that, in fact, that report shows that the number of lesbian, gay and bi pupils bullied because of their sexual orientation has fallen by almost a third. But we obviously recognise there’s much more we have to do to prevent potentially long-term educational and emotional damage that bullying can cause. The Cabinet Secretary for Education’s been very clear that she expects schools to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of bullying, including homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying, and we recognise, of course, in terms of that school report, and the existing anti-bullying guidance, that that requires us to take into account the latest report and whether updating is required.
 
On your second point, of course the Welsh Government fully supports the city and county of Swansea’s bid to become UK City of Culture for 2021. It would, obviously if successful, provide Swansea with significant funds. We’ve already provided additional in-kind support to help Swansea with the practical challenges of delivering the year, for example in tourism and marketing expertise, and of course it complements the city deal and accelerates the city’s regeneration. And, of course, post Brexit, it will show the world that Wales remains outward-facing and open for business. So, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure will join Swansea council, and senior officials, when the City of Culture assessment panel visits the city on 23 October. I was very pleased to be in Swansea last week, last Thursday, when the bid was formally put in by the leader of the council, with his cabinet and partners, when I visited the Tabernacle in Morriston in Mike Hedges’s constituency to celebrate the fact that they’ve been awarded the Sacred Wales honour.
 
14:27
Mohammad AsgharBiography
May I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for economy on support for businesses in Newport? In March this year it was revealed that Newsquest was closing its sub-editing hub in Newport with the loss of 14 jobs, in spite of receiving more than £340,000 in grant aid from the Welsh Government. Then, in July, Essentra announced plans to close its packaging factory, putting hundreds of jobs at risk. They had previously received more than £0.5 million pounds from the Welsh Government. Leader of the house, can we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary on the terms and conditions on which Welsh Government grants are made to companies and whether he believes they need to be reviewed to ensure their objectives are achieved and the maximum benefits for the taxpayer is obtained? Thank you.
 
14:28
Jane HuttBiography
I know the Cabinet Secretary would want to update not only on the investment in Newport and support for business, but also on the good news that has been announced recently in terms of development, which will benefit the local economy. Of course, his officials are closely engaged, when businesses have difficulties, particularly those businesses where we have already supported them in terms of their development.
 
14:29
Julie MorganBiography
In September, I attended the Fair Funding Wales anti-austerity rally at city hall in Cardiff, along with other Members from this Assembly, and more recently leaders and mayors throughout the UK went up to Westminster in order to have a meeting, they hoped, with the Government about the issue of fair funding, which did not take place, and of course today we have a statement on the draft budget by the Cabinet Secretary after nine years of austerity, of continuous cuts. And so, given the fact that, by 2019-20, the Welsh Government’s revenue budget is due to be down by £1.2 billion, can the leader of the house suggest any way forward, through the business of this house, that we can bring this issue further to the front?
 
14:30
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Julie Morgan for that question. And, of course, immediately after our business statement, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, as you said, will be publishing the Welsh Government’s outline draft budget for 2018-19, making an oral statement. We’ve repeatedly called—certainly led by the Cabinet Secretary—on the UK Government to end its damaging and flawed policy of austerity. And it was good to see partners coming together—leaders and mayors, and, indeed, Assembly Members, certainly—supporting that call, that anti-austerity rally, at city hall in Cardiff. But we do have the first opportunity this afternoon to debate the draft budget, on the day it’s published. And there will be a further opportunity to repeat our call to the UK Government to choose a different path, to end austerity.
 
14:31
Jenny RathboneBiography
The Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee visited the SOLCER house in Bridgend last week. Not only did we learn the results of the performance of this fantastic house as a power station, which is now generating more electricity than it’s using for nine months of the year, we also learnt about five different retrofits that Cardiff University and the other partners had undertaken, in five very different types of housing. And, certainly for affordable sums, they were able to completely transform these otherwise very-difficult-to-heat homes, including one that was a void—had been void for many years—and is now attracting a premium rent because of the quality of the housing it offers.
 
So, I’m fully aware that Arbed has done a great job—over £70 million over several years, and some 20,000 homes, I think, have been improved—but I wondered if we could have a statement from the Government on how the Warm Homes programme of the Welsh Government is going to tackle or accelerate the strategy, now that we know how we can retrofit existing homes, given that 80 per cent of the houses that are going to be lived in in 2030 have already been built. Not only do we need to build energy-efficient homes, but we need to, obviously, tackle the fuel poverty that many of our communities are suffering. So, I wondered if we could have a statement on how we can accelerate that programme, in the light of new understanding of how we can go about it.
 
The second point I wondered if we could have a statement on is that there was, last week, a report on the take-up in different local authorities of council tax discounts for carers of disabled and very sick people by local authority. And there was a huge differential between one local authority and another—in some cases, up to 77 times the take-up. So, I wondered if it’s possible to have a statement on the take-up in Wales, by local authority, of the council tax discount for carers, so that we can see which local authorities are properly promoting it.
 
14:33
Jane HuttBiography
Thank you, Jenny Rathbone. I think you’ll be very pleased to hear, following your committee visit to the SOLCER house, learning about those different types of retrofitting, in line with local vernacular, that we are investing £104 million in Welsh Government Warm Homes over the next four years, to improve a further 25,000 homes. And we’ll continue to look at options to increase the scale of our own energy-efficiency programmes. And, of course, recognising our decarbonisation ambitions can’t be achieved through Government funding alone. This requires collaboration across all sectors, to increase the uptake of energy-efficiency measures, particularly amongst those able-to-pay households. So, that’s something that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs is looking at carefully, in terms of how to best drive this change, and increase activity in this area.
 
On your second point, I think the report you referred to was the MoneySavingExpert report. It does provide additional insight into how council tax is managed across local authorities, and the Cabinet Secretary will be outlining his plans for local government finance next week, because we’ve just published research into the approaches that local authorities are taking in handling council tax debt, and the Cabinet Secretary is considering the range of evidence in this field, and we’ll be taking a number of steps to make our commitment to council tax fairer.
 
14:35
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Thank you, leader of the house.
 
14:35
3. Statement: The Draft Budget 2018-19
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The next item, therefore, is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for finance on the draft budget for 2018-19, and I call on the Cabinet Secretary to make the statement. Mark Drakeford.
 
14:35
Mark DrakefordBiographyThe Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government
Thank you very much, Llywydd. Today, I lay the Welsh Government’s draft budget before the National Assembly. It’s a budget crafted in a period of austerity that has by now lasted longer than seven years, and under the shadow of further cuts to come. Today, for the first time, I published alongside the budget a report from the chief economist for Wales about future public finances and our economic prospects. It provides some stark messages: if the United Kingdom Government continues on its present path, then we will face a further extension in a period of austerity already unprecedented in length and depth.
 
Llywydd, this is the bleak background against which today’s Welsh budget has been prepared. As the difficulties deepen, we remain committed to doing everything we can to help our public services meet the very real challenges they face today, while acting now to improve the prospects for the future.
 
In line with the new procedure this National Assembly has agreed for this year’s budget, the information before Assembly Members today sets out the major building blocks of the budget: where the money comes from and how it will be allocated to the different government departments. Later this month, the Government will publish a greater level of detail than previously provided, explaining how individual portfolio Ministers intend to deploy the resources available to them. Llywydd, I have listened very carefully to the calls from the health service, local authorities and others who provide vital services across Wales about the importance of being able to plan over more than a 12-month horizon. Despite the very real uncertainties that we face, and within which this budget has been drawn up, I have been able to set out revenue plans for the next two years and capital plans for three.
 
Llywydd, in setting out the building blocks of our budget, I turn first to the important issue of reserves. As I have previously discussed with the Finance Committee, I have taken a particularly stringent approach to reserves during the first two years of this Assembly term. While in-year allocations have been made from reserves for essential purposes, my intention has been to make maximum use of the new Welsh reserve, negotiated as part of the fiscal framework. That agreement means that we are able to take a maximum of £350 million forward into that reserve from April next, and to do so unencumbered by the restrictions we have faced by having to abide by the UK Treasury’s budget exchange mechanism. Thanks to the help of all my Cabinet colleagues, I have been able to plan this budget on the basis of the Welsh reserve being at, or very near, its maximum at the start of the next financial year. I am then able to deploy the benefits of this prudent management to help protect our public services against the worst of the cuts in the more difficult years that lie ahead.
 
Specifically, Llywydd, I intend to take two actions. I have decided to reduce the level of in-year contingency, which I would otherwise need to retain. As a result, £40 million in revenue in each year has been released to invest in public services. At the same time, the level of the Welsh reserve will be such as to allow me to release, in a managed way, a further £75 million in 2019-20 to support our revenue funding.
 
Without these decisions, Llywydd, Welsh public services would face further reductions of £115 million in 2019-20. This is almost exactly the sum of money by which the Chancellor intends to reduce our budgets in that year, as a result of the £3.5 billion-worth of unallocated cuts that still hang over our services. I repeat, once again, my call to him this afternoon not to proceed with those unfair and counterproductive reductions. Welsh taxpayers will contribute no less in that year than they do now, but they will be badly short-changed as a result of the actions the Chancellor still intends to pursue.
 
Llywydd, I turn now to capital expenditure. I repeat the message that I and finance Ministers from Scotland and from Northern Ireland have put to the Treasury team in London: while interest rates remain at a historic low, now is the time to borrow to invest in our collective futures and to create the conditions in which prosperity can be secured.
 
In his autumn statement last year, the Chancellor went some way to repair the damage done by his predecessor. I urge him to do more this year. As a result of the additional capital and the new needs factor in the Barnett formula, our budget in 2019-20 for vital investment purposes will now be 20 per cent below where it stood in 2009-10, rather than 27 per cent, but, a 20 per cent reduction at a time of urgent need is a very big cut indeed.
 
We have therefore continued to build on the foundations set in place by my predecessor, Jane Hutt, in developing new and innovative ways in which we can fill that capital gap. The principle that underpins all this is that we will always exhaust the use of the least expensive forms of capital before moving on to other sources. In line with this principle and in this budget, we will deploy £4.8 billion-worth of conventional capital, including grant and financial transactions funding provided through the block grant. We will then borrow £375 million in capital—£125 million annually over the next three years—making the first use of the new borrowing powers directly available to the Welsh Government. Even when we have done that, we will go further and alleviate the budgetary pressures on other public bodies and housing associations to enable them to carry out £400 million-worth of borrowing for essential capital investment.
 
And, Llywydd, when all of that has been achieved, we will go further still. We will secure over £1 billion-worth of investment through the mutual investment model schemes, which are so important in our health service, our education service and in transport. Beyond that as well, we will look to draw down as much of the £208 million of EU structural funds available to us for capital projects, and we will press ahead in seeking approval of further key projects in the next period, including the south Wales metro.
 
Central to all of this is the cumulative revenue impact of the capital financing decisions we are taking. Historic decisions, including PFI, most often made before devolution itself, result in just over £100 million in revenue being required on average in each year of the budget. The decisions made more recently to enable innovative investment in public infrastructure add another £30 million to that sum.
 
All of that, Llywydd, brings me to our revenue resources. With the devolution of tax powers, the funding arrangements for the Welsh Government have changed. We now have the power to raise revenue directly to fund public services through devolved taxes. Nevertheless, the vast majority of funding for Wales will continue to be through the block grant from the UK, still accounting for almost 80 per cent of the revenue available in 2019-20.
 
This draft budget is operating for the first time under the fiscal framework agreed between the Welsh and UK Governments last December. These arrangements mean that Wales will receive an additional £47 million over the period of this budget, and all of that money has been put to work to support our public services.
 
Llywydd, this is an historic moment for us in Wales. This will be first time we, as Members of the National Assembly, have the powers to set the rates for our very own taxes. With those new powers come, of course, increased responsibilities, and as we enter this new phase of devolution, we will provide stability and certainty for taxpayers and the citizens of Wales. That does not mean that we must keep the taxes as they are today; we now have an opportunity to use these new tools to make changes to help take Wales forward.
 
Llywydd, in this budget, I make decisions in relation to the first two taxes to be devolved to Wales. I’ll begin with the landfill disposals tax. I can announce today that the standard and lower rates will remain consistent with the UK tax for the next two years, providing the stability that businesses have so clearly told us they need. I intend to set the rate for unauthorised disposals at 150 per cent of the standard rate. Wales becomes the first country in the United Kingdom to set a higher rate for unauthorised landfill disposals, creating an additional financial deterrent for people disposing of waste illegally, and this decision will complement the regulations laid today by my colleague, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, which will enable fixed-penalty notices to be issued for small-scale fly-tipping offences. I also reaffirm my commitment this afternoon to allocating £1.5 million a year to the landfill disposables tax community scheme in Wales for each of the next four years. This ensures that our commitment to communities affected by landfill disposals is upheld, and provides a stable funding stream to those communities for the next four years, even as we expect the revenue taken from this tax to decline gradually over that period.
 
Llywydd, I turn now to land transaction tax. I have decided to introduce a new, higher starting threshold for homebuyers here in Wales. From 1 April 2018, a starting threshold of land transaction tax in Wales will move from £125,000 to £150,000—the highest starting rate anywhere in the United Kingdom. This will mean the average first-time buyer in Wales will pay no tax at all when they buy a home. Indeed, the average homebuyer in Wales will pay nearly £500 less in tax than they would under the existing stamp duty land tax regime. Indeed, nine out of 10 homebuyers will now pay less or the same tax in Wales under land transaction tax. The decision I announce today will mean that those who purchase the most expensive properties in Wales will pay more, but that is inherent in any progressive approach to taxation.
 
Turning now to businesses, Llywydd, decisions I make today will mean that Wales will now have the lowest starting rate of land transaction tax for businesses anywhere in the United Kingdom. This means that businesses will either pay no tax or less tax than under stamp duty land tax for all property purchases up to £1.1 million. This will benefit small and medium-sized businesses right across our country—the lifeblood of the Welsh economy. As with residential property, I have rebalanced taxation on business premises to improve progressivity.
 
Llywydd, as well as setting the rates for the new taxes, we have produced revenue forecasts for the first time. I would like to thank Bangor University for providing independent scrutiny and assurances of those forecasts. Landfill disposals tax is forecast to contribute £28 million to the Welsh budget in 2018-19, falling to £26 million in 2019-20. Land transaction tax is forecast to raise £266 million in the next financial year, rising to £291 million in 2019-20.
 
In July, Llywydd, we began a national debate asking people to put forward ideas for potential new Welsh taxes. A significant number of responses has been received, and I would like to thank everyone who has become involved and helped shape future Welsh taxes. Today, I can announce the four new tax ideas on which further work will be carried out before we propose one idea to the UK Government early next year.
 
The growing demands for social care place significant pressures on the Welsh budget. I therefore want to explore potential financial levers, including taxation, to support social care provision in Wales, building on the work of Professor Gerry Holtham. We will explore the efficiency of a possible tax to end land banking and a disposal of plastics tax in Wales, and we will work with local government to explore how a tax on tourist accommodation could be used to support the local industry and encourage jobs and growth in Wales.
 
Llywydd, I will now set out how our combined capital, revenue and reserves resources are to be applied across Government. This announcement takes account of our two-year budget agreement with Plaid Cymru, which sees a number of the measures we agreed in last year’s agreement being made recurrent, and which sees other important investments in agreed areas across the budget. I want to take this opportunity to put on record my gratitude to Adam Price and his team for all of the time they took with us to reach this agreement over the summer period.
 
As a result of all of that, the total health, well-being and sport main expenditure group will now stand at £7.5 billion in 2018, rising to £7.8 billion in 2019-20. That MEG will include an additional £450 million over two years for the NHS in Wales. It will include an extra £16 million in each of the two years to support the new treatment fund, and I am able to provide an additional £90 million for the NHS Wales capital programme over the next three years.
 
The total local government MEG, including non-domestic rates, will now stand at £4.5 billion in 2018-19, and will remain at £4.5 billion in 2019-20. That will include protecting the front-line schools budget and social care, and it will provide an extra £12 million over the next two years for homelessness services through the revenue support grant. All of this means that local government in Wales will once again enjoy a far more favourable settlement than its counterparts across our border in England.
 
Llywydd, the total communities and children MEG now stands at £874 million in 2018-19, and £777 million in 2019-20, to include extra investment amounting to £70 million over two years to expand our flagship childcare offer, to guarantee that there will be no cuts to the Supporting People grant, and to release an extra £340 million in capital over the three years to build 20,000 affordable homes. It will invest an additional £14.9 million in capital over that period to support the regeneration of our community facilities, and I am able to allocate an additional £1 million in both years for the discretionary assistance fund, directly to help some of the poorest families in our land.
 
The total economy and infrastructure MEG will now stand at £1.2 billion in 2018-19 and rise to £1.3 billion in the following year. That will provide £220 million over two years to support our determination to create 100,000 all-age apprenticeships over this Assembly term. It will include £50 million over three years to develop a new rail station and park-and-ride facility in Llanwern, and I intend to earmark money in the reserves to buy new rolling stock for the new Wales and borders franchise, subject to the outcome of the ongoing procurement process.
 
In education, the total MEG will now stand at £1.6 billion in both 2018-19 and the following year. That will allow us to invest £50.5 million to raise school standards over the two years, to maintain our level of investment in the pupil deprivation grant and to invest a new £40 million-sum over two years to accelerate the twenty-first century schools programme, bringing band A of that programme to an end even faster than we would otherwise have been able to achieve.
 
The total environment and rural affairs MEG now stands at £344 million in 2018-19 and £322 million in 2019-20, including delivering £150 million-worth of investment through our innovative flood and coastal risk management programme and an extra £7.5 million in capital in 2018-19 for targeted flood prevention measures. I intend to provide a further sum of £5.4 million over the three years to support the rural development programme to ensure that we can maximise match funding opportunities to support our rural communities as we prepare to leave the European Union.
 
The total central services and administration MEG now stands at £297 million in 2018-19 and will fall to £286 million in 2019-20.
 
To conclude, Llywydd, I want to put on record my commitment to public services in Wales by saying that if the Government of the United Kingdom decides not to go ahead with the £3.5 billion-worth of unallocated cuts, then I will aim to make the maximum use of the resources that would then be available to this National Assembly between the draft budget and when I have to lay the final budget at the end of December this year. As a result, the budget in front of the National Assembly today sets out a bold and balanced set of proposals that deliver the priorities of this Welsh Government and the priorities of the people here in Wales. We will use our powers to invest in our health service, provide 20,000 new affordable homes, create the most generous childcare offer anywhere in the United Kingdom and set out on our new tax responsibilities in a way that provides the most help to those who need it the most. I commend the budget to the National Assembly.
 
14:59
Nick RamsayBiography
Cabinet Secretary, thank you for your statement on the draft budget and for the meeting you had with me earlier today. Can I also welcome the new way of doing the budget, with the changes that have been made to the format of this statement today and paving the way for tax devolution next year? This has been a key call from the Finance Committee, and from the Chair of the Finance Committee, for some time, with the advent next year of tax powers.
 
This budget is, as you’ve said, being formed against the backdrop of a new fiscal framework, which is ensuring additional revenue for the Welsh Government—revenue above what you would have received without the fiscal framework. I appreciate your comments about how, because of cutbacks, we are still, I think you said, 20 per cent down on funding. That is far better than the 27 per cent that we would have been facing without the advent of the fiscal framework, so that’s to be welcomed.
 
Can I firstly turn, though, to your announcement on the rates and bands of the new taxes, because that’s new information, information that I and the rest of the Chamber’s been calling for for a long time? The publication of that is good news and it is to be welcomed for those organisations that need to have stability and certainty when it comes to planning the tax landscape.
 
If I can turn to land transaction tax first, and the new starting threshold of £150,000, £25,000 higher than in England I believe you said, and £5,000, I believe, higher than in Scotland, that is to be welcomed. Welsh Conservatives have for a long time now been calling for additional help certainly for those first-time buyers in Wales and those at that end of the housing ladder, so that is to be welcomed. There was of course a nip in the tail, so to speak—a sting in the tail—in that that money does need to be recouped and you did announce that there would be a new higher rate. So, can I ask you what assessment has been made of the impact that that will have on the Welsh economy, particularly when it comes to the border areas of Wales? I think you said that Bangor University has been employed doing forecasting for the Welsh Government. Will you be publishing the details of that forecasting at any point, and will we be able to see the exact effect that that independent analysis believes those changes to bands will have on the economy? Clearly, this is just the start of tax devolution, so, over the months and years to come, this will become even more important.
 
You mentioned the land disposal tax as well and I think, in terms of the environmental benefits of adjusting that tax, you will have the support of most parties, if not all parties in this Chamber, and we want LDT to succeed as much as possible and indeed be better, if possible, than in other areas of the UK.
 
Now, you mentioned the tourist tax, and it would be remiss of me not to mention this. I hope that that’s just a working title and that that’s not going to go forward in the future. Now, clearly, it is not in the interests of anyone in this Assembly or anyone in Wales for us to discourage tourism. We know how dependent the Welsh economy is on tourism. It is one of the key pillars of the Welsh economy and it is therefore vitally important that not only does any tourist tax, if and when it is developed—[Interruption.] That not only does any tourist tax not have a negative impact in terms of the way that it is set out, but also that the perception is not given out by the Welsh Government, not created by the Welsh Government, that Wales is not open for business when it comes to our tourist economy. So, I think that you have given us an indication of the way you see taxation in Wales going, Cabinet Secretary. I think it’s very important that that is qualified as soon as possible and that people who want to come to Wales to visit, for whatever length of time that may be, are not discouraged from doing so, so we do need to see some clarity as soon as possible on that.
 
You said in opening your statement that this is very much giving the higher level, the bigger picture, of taxation. You expect detail to follow in the weeks and months to come, and the Finance Committee will no doubt be scrutinising the draft budget over that length of time. So, if I can turn to the way that this budget will deliver on the Welsh Government strategy, the ‘Prosperity for All’ strategy, the First Minister has said that this
 
‘would drive integration and collaboration across the Welsh public sector, and put people at the heart of improved service delivery.’
 
This is a noble aim to which I’m sure we would all aspire. With this in mind, can you tell us how this is reflected within the funding streams for this budget and what protections has the Cabinet Secretary—what protections have you made—to ensure certain important projects are ring-fenced within the streams?
 
Now, clearly, we have another deal before us between Labour and your partners in this budget, Plaid Cymru, something that we’ve got used to over recent years, something that Wales has had to get used to, whether it liked it or not, and part of a two-year budget deal that will tie the hands of the Welsh Government for that time. But will the Cabinet Secretary respond to Plaid Cymru’s claim that over 50 per cent of its spending commitments, or £500 million, have been secured in full or in part over the last two budgets? This doesn't really tally with comments you made over the weekend, so I would appreciate some clarification on this please, Cabinet Secretary. It’s vitally important that the people of Wales believe that this budget deal has been done in the best interests of Wales—in their best interests—and not something that has been rushed through for the sake of a quick political fix, which I’m sure you would want to avoid the accusation of.
 
Also, if Plaid’s comments are correct, how many spending commitments has the Welsh Government had to give up in order to accommodate Plaid support for this budget? And can you give us details of the commitments that have been shelved? Because, surely, as you would admit, Cabinet Secretary, something has to give. You’ve said that budgets are tight, so you can’t fund everything, so we’ve got a new agreement with Plaid Cymru. Which priorities of the Labour Party in Wales have had to be sidelined or shelved? If I can turn to the—
 
15:05
Simon ThomasBiography
Will the Member give way?
 
15:06
Nick RamsayBiography
Yes, I give way.
 
15:06
Simon ThomasBiography
I just wondered if the Member would like a penny, because it’s more than he’s ever got out of any budget deal with any Government in Wales.
 
15:06
Nick RamsayBiography
It’s always nice to hear the—[Interruption.] I’m not sure—[Interruption.] I’m not sure—[Interruption.] I’m not sure whether that’s a Plaid comment—
 
15:06
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Okay. The intervention has—
 
15:06
Nick RamsayBiography
[Continues.]—or a comment from the Chair of the Finance Committee.
 
15:06
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The intervention has been made. Allow the spokesperson for the opposition to continue, please.
 
15:06
Nick RamsayBiography
Thank you. If I could turn to some of the specifics and our national health service, the NHS is a key priority for the people of Wales and Welsh Conservatives believe that it should be our key priority too. We are, of course, still playing catch up because of the lack of real-terms budget protection over a number of years, but we are where we are. The ‘Prosperity for All’ document states that the Welsh Government will ensure that organisations delivering health and care services will pool their budgets. So, has the current budget accounted for delivery of this aim? I’d be grateful if you could tell us if the organisations that have been involved have been fully informed of how they are intended to implement this.
 
Whilst I welcome the ongoing commitment that the Welsh Government has announced to a new treatment fund, we still don’t believe that makes up for the lack of a cancer treatment fund, which we have long called for in Wales. At the same time, we know that, across the border, the UK Government has recently announced 2,000 additional nurses, consultants, and therapists for child and adolescent services, and is introducing waiting-time standards for mental health services. Can the people of Wales expect the same level of investment, and how much of the £40 million promised in the budget will allow for such changes in Wales as well, and, crucially, will this be suitably ring fenced?
 
It’s well known that health boards across Wales are carrying some eye-watering levels of debt. There doesn’t seem to be any real light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to effectively managing this debt. How confident are you, Cabinet Secretary, that the health board deficits, such as the £49 million at Hywel Dda Local Health Board—I could go on—will receive the money that they need through the health budget and that we won’t see spiralling debt in future?
 
Just turning to transport and infrastructure, the Cabinet Secretary has outlined the tightness of budget and you’ve said about how you intend to use capital funding borrowing powers. There clearly is a shortness of cash there, but we hope that you’ll be able to meet those aims. And, if I could turn to the M4, it is interesting that it’s not that long ago that I remember Plaid Cymru saying that the Welsh Government’s commitment to the black route as its favourite option would be a deal breaker in terms of any future support for a budget. That’s probably more of a question for Plaid than it is for you, Cabinet Secretary, but, that said—and I’m sure you will say that this is currently a matter for the public inquiry—there clearly isn’t deep support for a new motorway, a key plank of the Government’s transport policy, underlying this deal, so is this really a sound basis on which to proceed, and has this deal been stress tested?
 
To close, Llywydd, and, on a positive note, I welcome the ongoing commitment to a development bank. Welsh Conservatives have long supported the restructuring of Finance Wales, and I hope that this delivers the dividends that we all want it to do. In conclusion, I look forward to working with the other members of the Finance Committee and with yourself to fully scrutinise this draft budget over the weeks and months ahead. And I hope that, at the end of it, Wales will have a draft budget and a finalised budget that will truly deliver for the needs of the people of Wales.
 
15:09
Adam PriceBiography
It’s true to say, of course, that Wales has always been a nation where the need outstrips the resource that we have to meet that need. And that’s certainly true now for the reasons outlined by the Cabinet Secretary: austerity as a result of the policy emerging from Westminster.
 
But it has been true for a longer period than that. Historians call Wales a ‘late nation’ in the sense that we haven’t been able to build the infrastructure necessary to be a prosperous nation. Establishing a budget is one of the most important responsibilities we have in this place because, of course, we must prioritise this work of rebuilding the nation and tackling the need to put right the problems of the negligence that’s existed over generations.
 
That is the spotlight that we in Plaid Cymru place on this as we hold the Government to account where necessary, but also work together where there is common ground. I came into politics to make a difference, and that is what Plaid Cymru has done through the agreement that we have reached once again with the Labour Government. If truth to be told, I would prefer to be in the Cabinet Secretary’s seat, and I very much hope that Plaid Cymru will lead Government at some point, because there are issues that we disagree on vehemently.
 
There are areas where I didn’t manage to persuade the Cabinet Secretary. At the moment, of course, there’s this whole question of the pay cap in the public sector, the question of tuition fees and increasing the debt burden on students. There, we disagree with Government and, for that reason, of course, we’re not going to be supporting this budget, and we will continue to disagree on those areas and others. But where there is common ground, then we are willing to co-operate with people from other parties for the benefit of Wales, and that is what the people of Wales expect from us, if truth be told: mature politics, politics that looks to the long term. Wales cannot wait three and a half years for an election in order to get a new Government in place to build the foundations that are needed for the longer term. So, I make no apology at all for playing our part in building that better Wales that we all want to see.
 
There are a number of areas where Wales cannot wait for a change of Government, and, therefore, in a Parliament where the Government does not have a majority, it is incumbent upon all of us, as parliamentarians, to do our bit to actually put into action the kind of policies that we want to see, that we were elected on, and that’s what we try to do in the agreement that we have that has been set out. We’ve clearly made the point on many occasions in recent years that we must ensure that Wales does not become, in microcosm, a version of the UK’s problem of an overcentralisation, overconcentration, of wealth in one corner of Wales. We want to see success in that corner of Wales, but we want to see that spread equally, and that also requires public investment in those areas as well. And, yet again, in this budget agreement, we tried to emphasise having that investment in all parts of Wales.
 
So, we have the £4 million to kick-start the development of the third Menai bridge, we have the development of the integrated healthcare centre in Cardigan, £15 million for the improvement north-south links, and the upgrading of the TrawsCymru service as well, of course, the work continuing on the feasibility study of the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen railway line, as was referred to earlier, and the national football museum in north-east Wales as well. And, indeed, if we’re removing tolls on the Severn bridge in that corner of Wales, then it’s right as well that we follow through on the principle and remove the tolls on the Cleddau bridge in south-west Wales as well.
 
It’s good to see a commitment for making sure that the south Wales metro reaches all parts of the Valleys in its area, and so looking at extending and linking into the Rhondda Fach, and creating a new metro as well for Swansea bay and the south Wales Valleys. So, making sure that this is a budget for the whole of Wales is a core principle for us, and that’s what we tried to do with the agreement, but it’s also about investing in our future, so it’s good to see an additional £40 million there for higher and further education. Young people are absolutely our most critical resource—true for any country and certainly true for us. There is £6 million, as well, for young farmers to actually ensure that we have a future for that sector that is grounded within new entrants into the industry. In north Wales, £14 million for medical training and a development fund for undergraduate medical training, building on the £7 million for last year.
 
Our deal is also about new ideas—new ideas that try to come up with solutions for some of the long-standing problems that we address in this Chamber, looking at new innovations within health and social care. The Buurtzorg pilot that will lead to the training of 80 new district nurses, the foundational economy, which has broad cross-party support—it’s here in the Plaid Cymru agreement so we can start the work, not just talk about it, but start the work on actually putting that into action in tangible ways, beginning with care and procurement as sectoral focuses.
 
So, there are a number of areas here that we also feel have been underinvested in in the past, and we’re trying to set the balance right. Mental health—I think there’s a broad consensus that that is a sector that has not had the support it deserves, and so, yet again, right at the core of the agreement, an additional £40 million on top of the £20 million from last year, but now, crucially, baselined, so that will be there, recurrent into the future, as it should be if we’re to meet the requirements of that important sector of our public health service. Agriculture and tourism get additional money. They’ve often been cinderella sectors in recent years. We need to see them actually—. They’re at the core of the rural economy, and it’s good to see additional money here as a result of Plaid Cymru priorities in this budget.
 
There is £15 million overall additional money for the Welsh language, and if you count all the additional Welsh language-related areas, there’s an additional £20 million investment. Additional money—that’s the way that we’re going to achieve the ambitious target that the Government has set out in terms of the million Welsh speakers by 2050.
 
15:17
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Will you take an intervention?
 
15:17
Adam PriceBiography
I certainly will.
 
15:17
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Thank you. I’d be grateful to understand from the Plaid finance spokesperson—. I appreciate the finance Secretary, when he outlined the budget, said he was looking to explore specific tax measures within the tourist sector to raise money. He wasn’t looking to alleviate taxes in the tourism sector; he was looking to raise money. Given that you’ve had in-depth discussions with the Government, what is your understanding of the Government’s ambition in this particular sector, on the tourism industry in Wales?
 
15:18
Adam PriceBiography
Well, the additional money that was referred to was for marketing. I would like the Conservative Party to point out the areas that all these positive ideas that Plaid Cymru have brought to the table—which one of them do you disagree with? Do you think that there should be less money for the tourism sector?
 
15:18
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
We wouldn’t have a tourism tax.
 
15:18
Adam PriceBiography
In terms of the tourism levy, I think this is an idea that deserves to be explored. It is used widely—[Interruption.] It is used widely throughout most economies. Many of them have bigger tourism sectors than us and they use it to invest intelligently in the skills and infrastructure necessary to have a successful tourism economy. It’s called investing in the future of your country, and you should try it sometime, rather than just carping on the sidelines. Why don’t you see a positive vision for the future of Wales and bring your ideas here to this Chamber? That’s what you’re elected for. As a result of this deal and last year’s deal, and the compact that we originally signed, Plaid Cymru ideas from our manifesto will have been delivered in part or in full to the tune of £565 million. Actually, most of our major financial commitments from our manifesto from 2016 will have been delivered in part or in full. That is democratic politics in action, I would respectfully suggest to the leader of the Conservative Party. He should try it sometime. We are paid not to issue soundbites and press releases; we are paid to try and do our bit to make the lives of the people of Wales better. That is why we’re here in this Chamber, and I am not going to apologise to him or to anyone else for doing our job.
 
15:20
Neil HamiltonBiography
Perhaps I’ll try and calm things down a little in my usual way. I would like to thank the Cabinet Secretary for the courtesy that he has shown to me, also, in telling me the broad outlines of the statement this afternoon when we spoke this morning. I agree with my new neighbour, Adam Price—[Interruption.] I don’t know whether I should now call him my honourable friend or whether—[Interruption.] Near neighbour. There is a kind of cordon sanitaire between us, in the form of Simon Thomas. [Laughter.] But I’m delighted to join my fellow nationalists, anyway, on this side of the Chamber—[Interruption.]
 
15:20
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
Stick to the subject.
 
15:20
Neil HamiltonBiography
I agree with the point that Adam Price made with such passion a moment ago, that it is right for parties in this house to work together for the benefit of Wales. So I was a bit surprised, actually, when the Cabinet Secretary did ring me this morning, because on the radio on Sunday morning, he said he has little limited contact with the Conservatives and can’t ever imagine having conversations with UKIP. Anyway, I’m very pleased to see that he’s recanted within a couple of days from that rather extreme opinion.
 
This debate, to an extent, is one of shadow-boxing, because although I appreciate that the deal that Plaid Cymru have done with Labour has enabled them to make a real contribution to this budget in detail—£500-odd million is not an insignificant sum—but the Welsh Government’s budget, of course, is £15 billion to £16 billion and they are constrained, in any event, in what they can do with it by the obvious things that have to be funded by any Government. The element of discretion in the Welsh budget is inevitably very limited, although that will certainly become greater when we do actually get tax devolution in two years’ time. Then, there will be more options that the elected politicians of Wales will be able to choose from amongst in (a) the levels of taxation and (b) what we do with it. But the background to this budget is, of course, set out in what the Cabinet Secretary says about the policy of the UK Government. He says:
 
‘If the UK Government continues on its present path, we face a further extension in a period of austerity already unprecedented in length and depth.’
 
He also says, in the same paragraph in this statement, that a report from the chief economist for Wales about future public finances and our economic prospects shows some stark messages. The one message that I get from the pack that came with the document with all the details about the budget in it today, and the chief economist’s report—it has at the end of it, on page 27, this from the Office for Budget Responsibility:
 
‘new unfunded “giveaways” would take the Government further away from its medium-term fiscal objective and would only add to the longer-term challenges. In many recent fiscal events, giveaways today have been financed by the promise of takeaways tomorrow. The risk there, of course, is that tomorrow never comes.’
 
From the way in which the Welsh Government speaks about the economy, anybody would think that spending bills never come home to roost. We’ve been down that dolorous path many, many times in the course of my lifetime. Eventually, the chickens do come home to roost and you have to be able to pay back the money that you borrow. Very often, of course, the payback time comes when it’s extremely inconvenient, and indeed sometimes impossible, to do so. Once a Government loses its credit rating and its ability to borrow at reasonable rates, then those who suffer most in those circumstances—all historical precedent shows this—are those, actually, who are the most vulnerable in society. I give way to Mike Hedges.
 
15:24
Mike HedgesBiography
Hasn’t the Conservative Government in Westminster already lost its AAA rating?
 
15:24
Neil HamiltonBiography
Yes, it has. I’m glad to have that reinforcement of the point that I am making. It’s as a result of profligacy in recent years that the Government has lost its AAA rating. I gave the figures in my questions earlier on to the First Minister. We now have a national debt of £2 trillion a year. It’s costing us nearly £60 billion a year to finance it. The money that we are spending on debt interest is money that would otherwise have been available to spend upon real, front-line public services. So, the idea that you can borrow forever and never have to worry about how to finance it is fantasy economics, as the people of Venezuela, Zimbabwe and many other countries know to their cost. And therefore, it’s perhaps fortunate that the Welsh Government doesn’t really have any extensive borrowing powers, and that they don’t have full responsibility for the budgets over which they preside, because if they were able to do that, then they might replicate some of the worst examples in the British Government since the war. So, all talk of austerity actually is very misplaced. We’ve had the opposite of austerity for the last seven years, it’s just that we are paying the price, for years and years before that, of massive overspending on the basis that tomorrow never comes. So, that is the reality of life. We have to pay eventually for overspending. We cannot go on overspending forever. I give way.
 
15:25
Huw Irranca-DaviesBiography
Thank you, Neil, for giving way. I just wanted to make the observation that Moody’s, in their downgrading, about a fortnight ago, of the credit rating of the UK—they’ve also positively ascribed that to the very specific issue of uncertainty over Brexit. I wonder whether he has any comments to make on that—the downgrading from Moody’s they have directly ascribed to uncertainty over Brexit.
 
15:26
Neil HamiltonBiography
I don’t think I shall get tempted, Llywydd, to go down the byways of Brexit in the budget debate.
 
I want to deal also with the point that comes out of the statement and the outline proposals in the budget about what the Cabinet Secretary says about the deal between the UK Government and Northern Ireland. It’s inevitable, in these circumstances, that a price is going to be extracted for their political support. Exactly the same thing has happened in this Chamber between Labour and Plaid Cymru. For Northern Ireland, there is an extra £1 billion a year, and good luck to them. I wish we could do that as well. If only Plaid Cymru had played the positive role at Westminster that the Democratic Unionists had played, they might be able today to crow about extra money for the Welsh Government too. I appreciate that their views on Brexit are very different from those of the Government, but I don’t think it lies in the mouths of Welsh Ministers to complain about what has happened at Westminster when they are responsible for exactly the same kind of deal here in Cardiff.
 
I do actually welcome the role that Plaid Cymru has played in the development of a part of this budget. I think it is a good thing that all parties of this house should work together in these ways. That, I think, is what the people of Wales expect of us as well. I know that the future is not going to be easy. The Cabinet Secretary did refer, in the course of his statement, to the prospect of unallocated cuts by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the year 2020, and we don’t know, as yet, to what extent those cuts are going to fall upon areas of devolved policy. If they fall in areas like defence, which I think is unlikely, then we will get off lightly. If they fall on health and education, or something like that, then we will suffer very substantially indeed, possibly, and I would very much regret that. But I’m afraid that the reality of the economic circumstances in which we have to live is that we’ll need to get used to this for the foreseeable future.
 
We can all wish that we had an unlimited bank account, but no government can possibly have that. The trajectory upon which the national debt is now set is for it to fall as a proportion of GDP, and that is actually the only way in which sustainable public finances can be preserved for the future. We could all wish that every year would be easier, but once you get debt levels down, they do become easier. The first Blair Government certainly understood this, because the national debt figure that they inherited in 1997 was preserved because they maintained Kenneth Clarke’s tight policies—fiscal policies—when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer for the first administration, in order to get themselves elected for the second time. They actually finished the first Blair period of office with a lower national debt than that with which they started, but then Gordon Brown embarked on a totally different trajectory for the next two Parliaments, with the catastrophe that we all ended up with in 2010 and the inheritance of the Conservative Government, which it’s still trying to grapple with today. I believe they could have been tougher in the way that they treated the public finances.
 
We have proposed cuts to the non-humanitarian part of the aid budget to help with that. We proposed, of course, getting out of the EU, which will enable us to reduce public spending. The future is bright, actually, outside the European Union. Look at the investments that have been taking place in Britain, or have been announced by big firms, such as Müller with £100 million just a couple of weeks ago, and Dyson, also, with £3 billion in its technology park, and so on, and so forth. I believe the future can be bright for Wales, but only with a Government that understands the importance of entrepreneurship, to raise the tax base in this country, by raising the economic potential and productive capacity with which the taxes that we will need to spend in the future can be raised. And I see no sign of that, sadly, from this Welsh Labour Government.