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The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
 
13:30
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Good afternoon. I call the National Assembly for Wales to order.
 
Questions to the First Minister
Teachers’ Pay and Conditions
 
13:30
Simon ThomasBiography
1. Will the First Minister make a statement regarding the devolution of powers over teachers' pay and conditions? OAQ(4)1927(FM)
 
13:30
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I broadly welcome the recommendation of the Silk commission to devolve powers over teachers’ pay and conditions. However, I must stress that any such transfer of powers must include an appropriate allocation of resources.
 
13:30
Simon ThomasBiography
Thank you, First Minister. At a fringe meeting of the Plaid Cymru conference in Llangollen a week ago, two of the Welsh unions were represented and were discussing this issue. Although there was a difference of opinion, it must be said that both were agreed that it would be better to establish a process now at the national Welsh level to discuss these issues rather than waiting for Westminster to decide and to insist upon devolution without providing adequate resources. So, will you, as a Government, put in train this process of discussing with teachers and the unions so that we can look at the kind of national system for teachers' pay and conditions that we could establish in Wales?
 
13:31
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
This is something that the Minister has raised from time to time with the unions. There are differences of opinion among the unions as to whether they support the idea or not, but, as a Government, we can see that there would be benefits to having such a system for Wales, as there is in Scotland. However, what is crucially important is ensuring that sufficient funding and resources are available so that we can implement any new system.
 
13:32
Paul DaviesBiography
Last year, an inquiry found that supply teachers are paid far less when they are employed through agencies rather than directly by schools. Given that there are 5,000 supply teachers here in Wales and that there are around 40 agencies recruiting these teachers, can you tell us what discussions your Government has had with the UK Government on this specific issue?
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Personally, I have had no such discussions, but there is a means of dealing with this, namely by ensuring that the powers over teachers’ pay and conditions reside here in the Assembly and with the Welsh Government. However, I will ask the Minister to write to you with any details that he may have.
 
13:32
Aled RobertsBiography
First Minister, I am sure that each and every one of us would agree that adequate resources should be transferred with the powers, but does the Government have any intention to do any preparatory work in this area and to assess exactly what your requirements would be, given, of course, the negotiations currently ongoing?
 
13:33
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
This has been done previously, and proposals have been put to the Government in the past to take on these powers, but without the appropriate resources. However, some work has been done as to how many additional people would have to be employed in order put this system in train, and, on top of that, it would be up to every political party to ensure that they decide how they would use the new powers provided to Wales, and I am sure that that will be something for the manifestos in two years’ time.
 
Western Valley Regeneration Area Initiative
 
13:33
Gwenda ThomasBiography
2. Will the First Minister outline the achievements of the Western Valley Regeneration Area initiative in Neath? OAQ(4)1932(FM)
 
13:34
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The area has provided almost £2.6 million to facilitate various projects in Neath supporting employment, leisure, businesses, improved access and transport, and it has, in fact, drawn down over £10 million in match funding.
 
13:34
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Thank you for that response. In my constituency, Glynneath has benefited from £360,000 of funding that has vastly improved the town centre and this vital valley hub. The local labour councillor described the regeneration scheme as absolutely first-class. Now that the heavy lifting is complete, what we would like to see is targeted support to maintain the momentum of improvement. First Minister, is the Welsh Government undertaking to focus the Support Your High Street campaign and Small Business Saturday, and other such programmes, on towns like Glynneath, so that we can build on the successes of the western valleys initiative?
 
13:35
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I am pleased to say that the high street campaign last September was a success, with activities across Wales, including in the town of Neath. It is important to build on the successes that we have seen in Glynneath, and, of course, in Neath, further down the valley. We are supporting Neath to establish a business improvement district, which will be important for all those who live in the Neath and Dulais valleys. I can also say that Neath was successful in its town centre partnership application; it will receive £40,000 over the next two years to enhance its marketing and promotion, and to develop digital technology, such as a smartphone app and an events programme, to build of course on its existing food and drink festival. This is the sort of creative thinking that we want to see across the whole of Wales.
 
13:35
Suzy DaviesBiography
First Minister, your vision for the western valleys is that, by 2015, the western valleys will embrace a network of distinctive, vibrant, sustainable communities, that are confident and secure in themselves, and with their relationship to the wider world. Now, Neath Port Talbot council seems determined to cut itself off from the wider world, having axed all its funding for tourism. Is that a responsible decision for a local council, when tourism is a key economic driver, and will the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill, as drafted, secure a more considered approach to tourism from councils that have access to this kind of money?
 
13:36
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, these are matters, of course, for Neath Port Talbot council. However, what it has done is to secure loan funding of £13 million from the Government’s regeneration investment fund for Wales, to deliver a new retail-led development in Neath town centre. I do not think that Neath Port Talbot council can be accused of sitting on the fence.
 
13:36
Bethan JenkinsBiography
As someone who lives close to Glynneath, I welcome the fact that things have been regenerated, given that developments have now taken place. However, what concerns me is that the statement that Suzy Davies referred to uses the word 'sustainable'. As you know, there are a number of opencast planning applications in the Glynneath area. How will you, as a Government, ensure that people will want to come to work in the tourism sector while there are developments that run contrary to the sustainable agenda in that area?
 
13:37
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I would expect, of course, for any planning applications relating to coal to follow the guidance that is in place at present and which is quite robust in terms of when and where any developments should be considered.
 
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
 
13:37
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I first call the leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
 
13:37
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, today in the Public Accounts Committee, a letter was submitted to the Chairman, and Members, around the escalation status that three of the health boards have found themselves in here in Wales. Betsi Cadwaladr, in particular, was identified as being in the highest category of escalation status. This involves interference, if you like, in the running of the health board by the Welsh Government, because you do not believe that the health board is in a suitable place to be able to deliver the services that you have charged it to deliver in that area. Is not the British Medical Association’s assertion that the Welsh NHS is facing imminent meltdown now becoming a reality, when such letters are being delivered to the Public Accounts Committee about local health boards in escalated status?
 
13:38
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
You see, this is the main difference between us and him: when we see a problem, we deal with it; he sits back and wants an inquiry, and to do absolutely nothing about it at all—sit back and spend a few years navel gazing, in my view. The difference is this: when we see a problem, we deal with it. This is what has happened with Betsi Cadwaladr—that is why it is having this extra help. We would not want, would we, our hospitals to be like Hereford County Hospital, under his party, which is in special measures and which has been described as inadequate and unsafe? Yet, he does not call for an inquiry into the English NHS—I wonder why.
 
13:39
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
What a remarkable answer. At the end of the day, if we take—
 
13:39
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Thank you. [Laughter.]
 
13:39
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
It is remarkable for its flippancy, to be honest with you, First Minister.
 
If we take one example in Betsi Cadwaladr’s area, that of urology, a report was published recently, and which was in the board minutes—so this is not a confidential document that I am quoting from—which said that urology patients were facing the most difficult waiting times in the United Kingdom, that there was a lack of grip and that there was a significant lack of understanding around the issues that led to these waiting times. It also said that there were hundreds—hundreds—of bladder cancer cases waiting for an appointment time. It went on to say that the outcomes were very negative for resolving this issue within the health board. When you talk about imminent collapse, when we talk about difficulties within the health service, what do those hundreds of urology patients feel when they see a report that has been drafted by that particular health board and, in particular, the director of the cancer networks about the service that they can expect in Wales and the lack of action from you and your Government?
 
13:40
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
What I would say to them is this: cancer treatment times are better in Wales in every regard. We spend more on cancer treatment in Wales per head than is the case in England. Let us be quite clear that the issue that he has referred to in Betsi Cadwaladr is a particular issue that has been caused by the retirement of one consultant and the sudden death of another. That has caused a difficulty, which is short term, but it is a difficulty for the health board in order to cover the services that it provides, and it is, at present, looking to recruit, given the fact that, through those unforeseen circumstances, it has lost two consultants. It is working with neighbouring urology providers in England to ensure that patients are treated in order of clinical priority until replacement consultants are appointed. It is important that people get access to the treatment that they require. They get that in Wales when it comes to cancer treatment, but there will be occasions, because of retirement and a sudden death, unfortunately, where there are short-term problems that need to be resolved, but we are confident that they are being resolved.
 
13:41
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
First Minister, when a tragedy like a death happens, that is truly a tragedy that no-one can foresee, but, ultimately, when you look at this report, which the board itself has considered, and which has pointed not to tens of people waiting on these waiting lists, but hundreds, there is something far more deep-seated about the issues that are going on in the north Wales health board. Ultimately, First Minister, you can rant and rave as much as you want here, but when a letter is delivered—[Interruption.] When a letter is delivered that says that three of the seven health boards in Wales are facing escalation status, and one of those health boards is at the most severe status in the grid that you have put forward, there is something very seriously wrong with the health service in Wales. However, as you want to stand there week in, week out and deny that there is anything wrong, will you commit to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development coming over and comparing the Welsh NHS against all the other health services in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, so that we can see, genuinely, who is on the right side of this argument? Is it the doctors and the British Medical Association or is it the Labour politicians sitting around that failed Cabinet table?
 
13:42
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I can guarantee him that if I spoke to most doctors in Wales—and I tread on difficult ground again—they would prefer to be in Wales than under his party in the NHS in England. That much I can promise him. The other thing that he must understand—when he talks about ‘ranting and raving’, he has had an irony transplant yet again—is that he did not know the circumstances in urology in Betsi Cadwaladr, did he? He did not understand that it was a short-term problem; he just leapt in, a bull at a gate as ever, without checking the circumstances. If he looks at his party’s handling of the NHS in England, he will see hospitals in England in special measures, he will see trusts that are bankrupt, he will see cancer treatment times that are worse than those in Wales, but does he call for an inquiry in England? No, he does not. We all see this for what it is: a politically inspired attack on the NHS in Wales and NHS staff in Wales.
 
13:43
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Next is the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
 
13:43
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
Diolch, Lywydd. First Minister, I think that we share concerns about the dangers to Wales that would come about from an European Union exit. Just last week, it was confirmed that this country will receive another £2 billion of EU investment up to 2020, and you will be aware that many businesses have expressed concerns about their future in the event of an EU exit. Has the Welsh Government undertaken an assessment of the impact on Wales of a UK withdrawal from the European Union?
 
13:44
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, we have. It would leave us worse off; at the very minimum, we would be £150 million worse off in terms of spending. That is the bare minimum. About 150,000 jobs in Wales depend on our free access to the European market. Farming, of course, gets £200 million a year from the European Union, without which farming in Wales would collapse; it would not exist. It is absolutely essential for us to remain part of that larger market. I was in India, as Members will know, last week, and the Minister for economy was in Japan, and one of the main questions that we were asked was, ‘What’s happening with the UK’s membership of the EU?’. Not being part of that larger market would be exceptionally difficult—and that is an underestimate—for the Welsh economy to cope with. It is absolutely essential that Wales remains part of the EU.
 
13:45
Leanne WoodBiography
Thank you, First Minister. The German Chancellor has described the Prime Minister’s statements on this as getting to the point of no return—or so it is reported, anyway. I am sure that the First Minister will agree with me that it would be wholly unacceptable for Wales to be dragged out of the European Union against the will of the people of Wales. If he does agree with me on that point, will his Government and his party support a clause in legislation requiring a majority in each nation of the UK before withdrawal from the EU can be triggered?
 
13:45
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I think that that is worth considering. I do not think that the UK will leave the EU. Given the opinion polling that we have seen recently, it is unlikely. When people are not sure of something, they tend to stick with the status quo. We have had more referenda in Wales since 1961 than in Switzerland, probably, and we have experience of this. If the UK leaves the EU on the basis of English votes, it would trigger a constitutional crisis the likes of which we have not seen. I think that, in Scotland, it would lead to demands for another referendum because, in Scotland, one of the issues that caused people to vote ‘no’ was uncertainty over EU membership. If that is removed, I have no doubt that that will be the dynamic in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, where EU membership is an exceptionally important part of the peace process, let us remember that the UK has a large, open land border with the Republic of Ireland. It is impossible to count people in and out, because that border has a motorway running across it—unless you want to build a Berlin wall around it to keep people out. The reality is that that will become, according to some in the Conservative Party and UKIP, the border between the UK and the EU. So, there are much wider dimensions here. I think that it is exceptionally important that the UK remains in the EU. However, if English votes take the UK out, it creates immense problems in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
 
13:47
Leanne WoodBiography
I welcome the First Minister’s response. I would ask him, therefore, to join me in exploring the possibility of a cross-party, all-Wales position on this question. Would he agree with me, therefore, that if we can get to speak as one strong voice in the interests of Wales on this question, we could avoid Wales being dragged out of the EU against the will of the people here?
 
13:47
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The leader of Plaid Cymru makes the assumption that the Conservatives will win with a majority in May. [Interruption.] It is an assumption. I do not know whether that was a yawn or a roar of approval from the leader of the opposition; it sounded like a bit of both. [Laughter.] I will take it as the latter, to be generous to him. I do not accept that that will be the outcome of the general election. We have to see, first of all, whether there will be a referendum, but I think that it will be important for all who believe that Wales is stronger within the EU to get together and articulate that position very clearly if such a referendum is called.
 
13:48
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Finally, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
 
13:48
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
First Minister, last year the Welsh Government received over £8.5 million as a result of the pharmaceutical price regulation scheme. Could you tell us what that money was spent on?
 
13:48
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
That money, of course, as with all moneys, goes into the block grant. Then, of course, it is a matter for the Assembly to decide, via the budget process, how that money is spent.
 
13:48
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
First Minister, your Government says that new medicines should be available within three months of approval from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence or from the all Wales medicines strategy group. Could you outline to the Chamber what you are doing to ensure that those medicines are not simply listed on formulary by local health boards, but are actually available for clinicians to prescribe to their patients? Would you consider using the moneys from PPRS to prioritise the uptake of new medicines that have been approved by NICE and the all Wales medicines strategy group?
 
13:48
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
If there is no bar on GPs prescribing a particular medicine, they are able to do it. That is my understanding of it. For example, as of this month, the all Wales medicines strategy group had appraised and recommended 19 new cancer medicines for use in the NHS in Wales. Of course, they are now routinely available to eligible patients. If they are routinely available and have been approved, there is no reason why they should not be prescribed.
 
13:49
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
I think that there is a world of difference between technically being able to prescribe and the reality on the ground for clinicians and for their patients. Academic evidence from the Centre for Health Economics and Medicines Evaluation at Bangor University has highlighted issues in the prescribing of new drugs—for instance, the new generation of oral anticoagulants. Despite being approved for usage, the report found that they are being introduced in a more constrained manner because, and I quote the report, if they introduce the guidance to its fullest extent, that would have a crippling effect on the finances of the local health board. I ask you again: what will your Government do to ensure that your guidance is implemented by local health boards and that patients and clinicians are able to use drugs that have been approved and they want to use for their patients?
 
13:50
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I am not aware of the study that she mentions, but, as I say, we would expect that, where drugs are approved and where guidance is issued, those drugs should be available. I remember being told this by Dr Brian Gibbons when he was here that, as a GP, he could prescribe anything unless it was specifically not allowed. I remember that he said to me that it was technically possible for doctors to prescribe, in the past anyway, things like Oxo, and that it is a question not of what you are able to prescribe but of what you are not able to prescribe. On that basis, then, I would expect those drugs that are available through the usual processes, whether it is through NICE or through the AWMSG, to be then made available to the general public via prescribing physicians. If there is evidence that that is not happening, I would be grateful to see it.
 
13:51
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move back to questions on the agenda and question 3 is from Janet Finch-Saunders.
 
Civil Contingency and Emergency Planning
 
13:51
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on civil contingency and emergency planning in Wales? OAQ(4)1935(FM)
 
13:51
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. We provide de facto national leadership in civil contingency and emergency planning, although much of it, of course, de jure is not devolved.
 
13:51
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Thank you, First Minister. According to the Wales Audit Office environmental health services are becoming unstable in Wales, with spending down to less than 0.5%, shrinking budgets since 2011, combined with further cuts to communicable disease budgets. It maintains that our authorities will be unable to complete their statutory duties. Against this is the backdrop of previous E. coli cases, the norovirus and now the potentially life-threatening Ebola pandemic. As the First Minister, you are charged with the ultimate responsibility for our public safety here in Wales. Given the threat of Ebola against a backdrop of such cuts, what assurances can you give me today that this is not a disaster waiting to happen and that all contingency plans will not be adversely affected by these cuts?
 
13:52
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I am quite stunned by that question—the way it was phrased. She will know that, some two weeks ago, I gave a very full answer in terms of our preparations for Ebola. It is something ultimately for Public Health Wales, not for local authorities; they are charged with environmental health and with trading standards. Public health is not a matter that they would deal with. That is a matter for Public Health Wales, funded through the Government. She will know, of course, that there is a public health Bill that the Minister will seek to promote through this Assembly in due course. There is no evidence to suggest that the preparations for communicable diseases, and she mentioned Ebola particularly, are anything other than utterly robust, and that is the case, I have to say, not just in Wales but across the rest of the UK as well.
 
13:53
Ann JonesBiography
First Minister, the fire service is an integral part of any civil contingency system and any emergency planning across Wales. Therefore, may I say thanks, on behalf of communities across Wales, to those fire services that remained working over the last weekend, unlike those in England that have had to go out on strike action because of the inactions of the Tory Government over the ongoing dispute with the Fire Brigades Union? May I pay tribute to you and to your Government Ministers for the way in which they opened negotiations with the Fire Brigades Union to avert that strike action here in Wales? Will you join me in saying thank you to the fire service, in the run-up to bonfire night, which is one of their busiest times, but also throughout the years, year in year out, because we know that we can rely on the fire service here in Wales, under your leadership as a Welsh Government? Will you talk to the England Government, to the Department for Communities and Local Government, to get it round the table as well?
 
13:54
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, I have to be careful with the last point. If someone was invited in the House of Commons to get the UK Government to talk to the Welsh Government, the answer might be quite short. So, I will leave that as a matter for DCLG. However, I welcome her comments. We have bonfire night, which is tomorrow night, of course, and we know that there are often great calls on the fire service at that time of year. Our room for manoeuvre with regard to this issue has been quite limited due to the funding structure that we have in place for the fire service, but, nevertheless, we are pleased with the fact that the fire service and the FBU representatives feel that there is much to discuss. We will continue those discussions.
 
13:54
William PowellBiography
First Minister, with winter approaching, we will soon be marking the first anniversary of last year’s storms, which hit our coastline with such devastating consequences. In that context, in the clean-up efforts in towns such as Aberystwyth, it became evermore clear how important the role is of local champions in co-ordinating the response, but also, in the longer term, in encouraging continued investment in flood defence—sometimes measures as simple as shutters within properties facing the coast. In that context, First Minister, and given that we are likely to experience further storms in the time to come, what specific actions have the Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales taken during the course of the last 12 months to enhance community resilience in the face of the threats that we will face in the future?
 
13:55
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
First of all, of course, we provided over £10 million to local authorities and NRW to repair the damages of last winter. There has been investment, of course, in property level protection by Natural Resources Wales, but the key to flood management in terms of the coastline is via shoreline management plans. Local authorities, NRW and other bodies are involved in that process. Those plans, as with plans for flooding inland, have to be reviewed periodically, given climate change. I remember introducing technical advice note 15, if I remember, in this Chamber in 2005 or 2006, and it was seen as an extreme response: that we were going too far in terms of prohibiting building on flood plains that were subject to what was then regarded as a one in 1,000 year flood risk. Now, that is seen as having been surpassed, given the events that we have seen last year and in years gone by. So, the shoreline management plans, the work that NRW has done, and the investment that it has made in flood prevention: all of these things will help us to be as secure as we can be with the winter coming.
 
Equality of Opportunity
 
13:57
John GriffithsBiography
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact of the Welsh Government's strategy to deliver greater equality of opportunity in Wales? OAQ(4)1925(FM)
 
13:57
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. Our strategic equality plan is focused on tackling inequality and achieving greater fairness through delivering on eight outcome-focused equality objectives. We will publish the next annual report in March of next year.
 
13:57
John GriffithsBiography
First Minister, the Labour movement is about social justice and equality of opportunity and outcome. Will you agree with me that the living wage campaign will further these objectives, if realised, and that employers have much to gain in terms of better staff retention and a more productive and committed workforce, for example? Will you commit the Welsh Government to working with the campaign, with the Living Wage Foundation, the trade unions, employers and civic society to make Wales a living wage nation? Also, would you agree that the UK Government needs to recognise and reward employers who become living wage employers, understanding that the UK Government will pay less in benefits and receive more in taxation as a result?
 
13:58
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Very true, and the Member, of course, summarises what we stand for on these benches, particularly. I can say that our programme for government does set out a commitment to work with trade unions, employers and other stakeholders to explore ways of ensuring a living wage for every worker in Wales. We remain committed to that approach. The workforce partnership council is, in my view, the right platform for these discussions to take place, and that is where we will continue in our quest to make sure, with the minimum wage having been won, that the next challenge of the living wage is faced and met.
 
13:58
Mohammad AsgharBiography
First Minister, in November last year, I called on the Welsh Government to consider introducing a fund like the one introduced by the UK Government to provide greater opportunity for disabled people to stand in elections—local council elections, Assembly elections and UK Parliament elections. Will the First Minister advise what consideration has been given to this and what plan his Government has to make it easier for disabled people to stand for election in Wales?
 
13:59
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, these are matters for political parties, in my view. It is important that we all, as parties, strive to be as inclusive and as diverse as we possibly can be. We all have work to do—none of us is in a perfect position when it comes to equality—but I think that it is not a question of public funds being made available to encourage people to stand, but of their being made to feel welcome and supported by political parties as well. That is a challenge for us all.
 
13:59
Lindsay WhittleBiography
What action is the Welsh Government taking to create an equitable distribution of apprenticeships, so that opportunities for apprenticeships are equally available across Wales, and not just in the A55 and M4 corridors?
 
14:00
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
If you look at Jobs Growth Wales, you will see that apprenticeships are reasonably widely distributed. It is, of course, one of the most successful schemes, if not the most successful scheme, in terms of the creation of jobs in Europe, and sustainable jobs as well. We want to make sure, of course, that it is the case that people are able to access apprenticeships, as they can across the whole of Wales.
 
14:00
Christine ChapmanBiography
The cross-party women in the economy group recently heard from Professor Alan Felstead that while women in full-time employment are likely to be in skilled work, women part-timers stand a greater chance of being in low-skilled jobs and of being unable to use the skills and qualifications they possess. Do you agree, First Minister, that there is a cultural issue here to do with part-time work not being valued as much as full-time-equivalent work, which has serious repercussions for equality of opportunity? First Minister, while the Welsh Government has a good record as an employer in this area, what can it do to tackle this attitude more widely in Welsh society?
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I think that the Member is right. We know that women are more likely than men to take on part-time work, and it is undoubtedly correct that much of that part-time work is low paid. We know that from the figures that we have seen. The question that is asked is: what can we do about it as a Government? Well, we have clear strategic goals that are linked to the programme for government to increase the participation, progression and retention of women in the economy, focusing on key need and impact. We are a small nation; we cannot afford to see talent wasted, and it is important that we maximise that talent. Of course, it is also important that we seek to encourage—although this is not something that we have direct control over—more flexible and more sustainable working practices, to enable people to work full time, where they want to and are able to do that, and then to make sure that there is no indirect discrimination because of working practices, and to increase further flexibility in the workforce.
 
We are also committed to increasing the number of women starting and growing businesses and, of course, there is the great challenge of improving access to high-quality childcare. That is something that we continue to consider, and I have no doubt that it will be a live election issue, both next year and the year after.
 
Eradicating Child Poverty
 
14:02
Lindsay WhittleBiography
5. What progress in being made towards eradicating child poverty in Wales by the year 2020? OAQ(4)1930(FM)
 
14:02
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It has to be said that the levels of child poverty remain stubbornly high—one in three children is affected. We are committed still to the ambition of eradicating child poverty, but there is a great challenge in the light of UK Government welfare reforms and reducing budgets, as well as the squeeze on people's incomes that many people have felt. We are, though, investing in early years and prevention to affect the longer term outcomes. One example of that, of course, is Flying Start.
 
14:02
Lindsay WhittleBiography
First Minister, thank you for your answer; I do not disagree with much of what you say. However, of the five worst areas in Wales with regard to child poverty, four of them are in the south-east region that I and other colleagues here represent. What action is the Welsh Government taking to work with the four local authorities in particular, and other public bodies, in order to reduce that child poverty?
 
14:03
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Let me give five examples. First of all, Communities First is a long-established programme that has done so much for many communities and has restored their confidence. Families First, Flying Start and Supporting People are making a real difference to the lives of children in our poorest communities. Also, of course, there is the pupil deprivation grant. That certainly has provided, in the past, £918 per eligible pupil, up to £1,050, and in 2016-17 it will increase to £1,150 per eligible child. There are five programmes there that make a real difference to family and child poverty, but of course we need the UK Government to do its bit as well.
 
14:04
Mick AntoniwBiography
First Minister, you will be aware of the report commissioned by the coalition Government some time ago, chaired by Alan Milburn, that made quite a number of positive comments about the progress being made in Wales as a result of Welsh Government policies to eradicate child poverty. Of course, the pressure as a result of austerity measures on funding has had its impact. Do you agree with me that it is still fundamental as a priority for Welsh Government that access to early years education is a cornerstone of removing and eliminating child poverty?
 
14:04
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Absolutely, and the earlier we can get children into some form of education, the better. I have been quite shocked that, in one or two schools in my constituency, they often have three-year-olds coming in who cannot speak, because, at home, it is the television or it is a computer, and they are not able to articulate sentences. Of course, unless there is early intervention, they will forever be behind their peers. That is why early years education is so important, in order to give the opportunity and fairness that we all want to see for young children, particularly those at the youngest end of the scale.
 
14:05
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
The Children’s Commissioner for Wales, back in 2012, raised concerns about the direction that the Welsh Government was taking regarding eradicating child poverty. You have listed a whole pile of schemes there that have been in existence for quite a few years now. He also followed up his remarks by saying that the Welsh Government’s strategies lack vision and leadership. Irrespective of the size of the budget and initiatives, if you do not have leadership and vision, they will not go anywhere. What effort has the Welsh Government undertaken to address the children’s commissioner’s remarks and, in particular, to allay his fears or to address his concerns and change the direction?
 
14:05
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I would take that more seriously if I knew what his proposals actually were to deal with child poverty. There was much criticism, but not much in terms of policy development. However, he asked the question and I will answer it. We have the tackling poverty action plan, which is where we outline how we will deal with child poverty. There are targets for reducing the number of babies born with a low birth weight, improving the educational attainment of pupils eligible for free school meals and reducing the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training, among other things. Therefore, we are doing our bit. I would love to know what his party’s plans are for dealing with child poverty, beyond cutting benefits.
 
14:06
Jeff CuthbertBiography
First Minister, you mentioned the impact of welfare reform as a difficulty that we have to face in terms of tackling child poverty. Do you agree with me that our independent research, which shows that each working-age adult in Wales will lose about £500 per annum, totalling a £900 million loss to the Welsh economy, is an absolute condemnation of the welfare reform plans of the UK Government?
 
14:06
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The injustice of it all is that the targets of the benefit cuts have been, by and large, working families—people who are in low-paid work who are now seeing their incomes squeezed; people who are working very hard. If you look at the bedroom tax, you see once again people who are working sometimes being forced to move and to leave the areas where they live and work because they cannot afford to stay in properties that are judged to be too big for them. The leader of the opposition can sigh as much as he wants to; this not a problem for him. He has no conception of the way in which this works for ordinary people on the ground. However, what I can say to him is this: he has no right to preach about child poverty or about the difficulties that people have in terms of making ends meet when he sits there and supports the removal of support for hard-working, low-paid families. If he stood up and did something for them, perhaps more people would listen to him.
 
The Loss of Money through Fraud
 
14:07
Antoinette SandbachBiography
6. What action is the Welsh Government taking to make sure that local authorities do not lose money through fraud? OAQ(4)1934(FM)
 
14:08
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Responsibility rests with individual local authorities for ensuring that appropriate counter-fraud measures are in place. However, they are mandated as well to take part in the national fraud initiative, which uses data matching across public sector bodies to identify potentially fraudulent transactions.
 
14:08
Antoinette SandbachBiography
First Minister, a recent response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 by me to Welsh councils indicates that, in the last three and a half years, over £16 million has been wrongly paid out in housing benefit payments that were made because of fraud. I am sure that you agree that, in times of tightening local authority budgets, this is not a very satisfactory position and that this money would be much better spent on front-line services. What will you do to encourage Welsh local authorities to make sure that they minimise any housing benefit fraud that happens in their areas and that they recover money from the fraudsters, because, often, council tax fraud goes hand in hand with housing benefit fraud?
 
14:09
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I would think that there would be an in-built incentive for local authorities to recover money that has been paid out fraudulently. It is a matter for them, of course, to do that, but it is absolutely right that benefits are made available to those who are eligible for those benefits and, where they are paid fraudulently, it is for local authorities to recover the money.
 
14:09
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
First Minister, the local government auditor has declared very clearly in the context of what is happening in Pembrokeshire at present that no payments should be made to chief officers or senior officers who depart from local authorities that are linked to payments made contrary to the law. Is that a warning and a lesson to local government throughout Wales that they should not make such payments as these chief officers leave their posts?
 
14:09
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I think that that is a fair point. It is very difficult to defend what has happened in certain local authorities to the public. It is extremely important that local authorities, when they employ someone in a senior position, ensure that they do not find themselves in a position where, if that person has to leave, they have to pay them hundreds of thousands of pounds. I do not think that the public would expect them to do that and it is a lesson to each and every local authority in Wales in terms of ensuring that they do things properly and do not make these payments that are indefensible in the minds of the public.
 
Tourist Attractions
 
14:10
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on attendance at tourist attractions in Wales? OAQ(4)1926(FM)
 
14:10
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
According to a Visit Wales survey almost 13 million visits were made to attractions in Wales in 2013. Of course, we know that there has been a substantial increase in the last six months in the numbers of visitors from abroad.
 
14:11
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
Thank you for that answer. In August, the Welsh Government included Cwmcarn forest drive in my constituency in a list of the top-10 most popular free attractions in Wales. I recently attended a public meeting hosted by the friends of Cwmcarn forest drive. Many constituents raised concerns that the felling of the diseased larch trees could have an effect on the attendance at the resort. Will the First Minister join me in publicising the fact that the bike and walking trails, the play areas and the visitors centre at Cwmcarn forest drive will remain open for business as usual while this work takes place?
 
14:11
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. It is important to say that. Unfortunately, there is no alternative other than to take the diseased larch trees down. The route will be closed for at least two years in order for that to happen. While the forest drive itself, which I am familiar with, will be closing, I want to emphasise that all footpaths and mountain bike routes will remain open as will the visitors centre, which I know is run by the council. The campsite, which includes 10 glamping pods, will also remain open, as will the play area, the gift shop and Ravens cafe. It is far from the case that Cwmcarn forest is somehow closed for business.
 
14:12
William GrahamBiography
The latest published Welsh Government statistics for visits to tourist attractions in Wales, for 2013, show that eight of the 10 top free attractions had a decline in attendance. One of the two attractions with increased visitors was the Cwmcarn forest drive. I accept the assurances that the First Minister has given this afternoon, but he has not told us that the actual drive element will reopen.
 
14:12
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It is not for Natural Resources Wales to decide that. At the moment I sense that it does not want to give the impression that the drive will open by a particular time and then find that it cannot be opened by that time. We all understand the importance of the drive and, of course, it is for NRW to make sure that the disease is dealt with and then give consideration to reopening it. I suspect that it is concerned about giving a particular date only to find, perhaps, that there is more disease than originally thought or there are greater difficulties in terms of the logistics. Let us put it this way: the Government understands how important the forest drive is to the area.
 
14:13
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Increasing the number of visitors to attractions in Wales is extremely important. Extending the season is also important and I certainly congratulate those businesses in my constituency, and members of the Anglesey Tourism Association, who work very hard in order to achieve that. Does the First Minister share my concern and that of many members of the association that Wales will not be able to reach its potential until the Government spends significantly more on marketing what we have to offer in terms of tourism in Wales?
 
14:13
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We have to bear in mind too that marketing is undertaken by UKTI. I have seen the marketing of Wales take place. I am sorry, but it was VisitBritain that I meant rather than UKTI. VisitBritain promotes and supports Wales also. May I say, for example, that we know that the number of foreign visitors has increased by 21% in the first half of this year, which is way more than the UK as a whole? We know that there are more people coming in to Wales now, but the decision taken by Visit Wales to concentrate on certain markets, namely Ireland, Germany and the United States, was taken in order to ensure that there is growth in those markets. But, of course, work is also being done by Visit Britain.
 
14:14
Eluned ParrottBiography
One way that we can drive up visitor numbers without spending hugely more money is through joint promotion and joint ticketing schemes for attractions. However, while many private attractions are collaborating in that way, the Welsh Government body tasked with promoting Wales’s heritage as a whole still only promotes its own venues. Therefore, even Cardiff Castle is missing from Cadw’s website, would you believe? Will you instruct Cadw to do more to promote the Welsh heritage sites it does not directly manage by, for example, including them on the ‘days out’ section of its website where, as I say, many of them are missing, and by providing information on other local attractions to visitors who do attend its sites?
 
14:15
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, Cadw does not run Cardiff castle, of course. It is a matter for the city—it was given to the city after the war. I do not think that is the point, in fairness to the Member, that she is making. That was my original impression, but she then went on to say that Cardiff castle is not part of Cadw’s promotion and perhaps should be. Cadw’s role, of course, primarily is not to promote other attractions. Its role is to safeguard the sites that it has, to enhance them, and to promote visitors to its sites. Visit Wales, however, and, indeed, local authorities to an extent, do have the responsibility to promote attractions more widely. Does that mean that leaflets should not be available in different places? No. I think it is important that all those sites that attract visitors, whether they are public or private, should work together to maximise benefit for the local community.
 
14:16
Joyce WatsonBiography
Sometimes, Wales’s best attractions are those that just pass through, such as the migrant birds that we get this time of year, and the superpod of dolphins in Pembrokeshire waters more recently. However, it is the permanent fixtures that are tremendously important to the local economies. According to the Welsh Association of Visitor Attractions, there are around 18 million visits to Welsh attractions every year, employing 7,500 people. So, First Minister, when you next meet with Visit Wales, will you press upon it the economic importance of Wales’s attractions and the need to promote them both here at home and abroad?
 
14:16
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, indeed, it knows that. It is our biggest industry. We know that it employs many thousands of people. We also know that the number of overnight trips made by GB residents to Wales was up by 7.8% in the first six months of this year; I have already mentioned the international figures. The amount spent while in Wales was also up by 2.1%, by all visitors. So, we know that Wales is more and more on the map, and, of course, I have no doubt that the NATO conference will also have helped, particularly the unsolicited but welcome endorsement of the US president.
 
Transport in North Wales
 
14:17
Mark IsherwoodBiography
8. Will the First Minister outline the future development of transport provision in North Wales? OAQ(4)1922(FM)
 
14:17
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. We recognise the importance of an effective transport system across the north and the north Wales transport taskforce will be providing recommendations for further improvements.
 
14:17
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Thank you. Speaking at Wrexham’s business dinner 12 days ago, Wrexham’s Labour MP described the region’s rail system as ‘deficient’. He added that the Welsh Government
 
‘invested tens of millions in introducing the Valleys and Vale of Glamorgan Lines. It is investing the whole of the 2014-9 Wales rail budget in electrification of the South Wales Main Line and Valleys Lines. It has recently announced an intention to invest £1 billion in the M4 motorway. It must recognise that investment in infrastructure in Wales' most important industrial region, that of Wrexham and Flintshire, is required urgently. If not, there are fears that the ‘jewel in the Crown’ could be lost to Wales.’
 
My response is to agree with him. What is yours?
 
14:18
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We are not paying for the electrification of the south Wales main line. Despite the disputes that have taken place between us and the UK Government, it has accepted that that is not a matter for us, so to say that we have committed money to that is obviously wrong. We are, of course, paying for the upgrade of the Wrexham to Saltney Junction section of the line, which will enable there to be better working of the line. There was, of course, the bypass, if I remember rightly, of Wrexham industrial estate. That was financed by Government. If you look more generally across the north, you see the improvements to the A470 from Dolwyddelan to Pont-yr-Afanc and Maes yr Helmau to Cross Foxes, the Porthmadog bypass, the Caernarfon and Bontnewydd bypasses—these are all investments in the north. There is also the £10 million that forms part of the budget agreement with the Liberal Democrats, on which discussions are ongoing as to how best to use that money.
 
14:19
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
Are not the statements made last week on investment in the economy of the north of England crucially important to the new infrastructure of north Wales? I am thinking of HS2 reaching Crewe—I hope that I will live to see that day; if it were to happen six years earlier perhaps I would have a better chance. Following that, is not crucially important that we have electrification across north Wales by that point?
 
14:19
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, my view is that electrification should happen in north Wales too, particularly of the line that comes in from Chester to Holyhead. It is true to say that it will be the south Wales line that will be electrified first, but, of course, we want to ensure that electrification happens throughout the whole of Wales in time. There is no reason why—. It is true to say that the former Secretary of State for Wales, David Jones, was a great champion of ensuring electrification in north Wales, and we hope that this will come from the UK Government in future.
 
14:20
Aled RobertsBiography
First Minister, the statement made last week—. Also, the ministerial taskforce and north Wales councils have received a report from Greengauge 21, which reinforces the case for electrification in north Wales, but one case is based on the extension of cross-border services to Manchester and Liverpool. The draft Arriva Trains Wales timetable cuts the number of those services available. So, will you as a Government make it entirely clear to Arriva Trains Wales that you are not content to see a reduction in the services between north-east Wales and north Wales more generally and the north-west of England, as it currently intends to put in place?
 
14:21
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It is extremely important that it considers the importance of those connections. I know that it is listening, because I remember before that there were schemes to create a railway system that, more or less, was just within Pembrokeshire, with very few connections outwith Pembrokeshire, and that was then amended. So, it is very important that people express their views to it. Of course, there is an issue with the Halton 'curve', which is important in order to ensure that trains can run from Wrexham to Liverpool through Birkenhead. That is important for the future in order to create those connections. However, no, I would wish to ensure that Wrexham as a town has the best connections, as have been created, to Cardiff, as well as to Liverpool and Manchester.
 
14:21
Business Statement and Announcement
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I call on the Minister, Jane Hutt.
 
14:22
Jane HuttBiographyThe Minister for Finance and Government Business
Llywydd, there are two changes to report to this week’s business. I have agreed to a request at Business Committee to extend the time allocated to this afternoon’s oral statement on qualifications reform to 45 minutes. As no questions have been tabled for answer by the Assembly Commission this week, timings for tomorrow have been adjusted accordingly. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the agenda papers available to Members electronically.
 
14:22
William GrahamBiography
Minister, may I ask you to ask the Minister for Health and Social Services whether he would consider making a statement on the unique 35-year Caerphilly cohort? This was a study that followed four or five health steps with particular individuals, including exercise, a balanced diet, not smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight and low alcohol. This meant that they were 70% less likely to develop diabetes, 60% less likely to have heart attacks or strokes, 40% less likely to have cancers, and 60% less likely to suffer from dementia. May I ask that that statement be made? This is a very unique cohort and it gives wonderful examples for all of us in Wales.
 
14:23
Jane HuttBiography
I thank William Graham for that question. Indeed, I heard an interview with Professor Aylward on the work that he has undertaken. I recall when I was Minister for health also meeting with him. I know that the Minister for Health and Social Services shares that view and will be happy, I am sure, to come forward with a statement.
 
14:23
Julie MorganBiography
Today is Equal Pay Day, and we mark the fact that, because of the gender pay gap, some women in the UK and in Wales are, in effect, working for free until the end of the year. In Wales, the pay gap is slightly better than in the UK as a whole, but it is still increasing. I think that women managers in Wales earn £4,000 less than male managers. So, could we have a debate about the situation to see what more can be done to reduce the pay gap?
 
14:24
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Julie Morgan for that question and for drawing attention in the Chamber and the Senedd today to Equal Pay Day. It is appalling that women are, in fact, working for nothing until the end of the year as a result of that gender pay gap. Unfortunately, the gender pay gap is widening, particularly as a result of UK Government policies. However, here in Wales, we do have a very robust public sector equal pay duty in terms of our delivery of those specific equality duties. I am sure that the Minister will agree that it would be appropriate to have a debate on equal pay, in the context particularly of our strategic equality plan.
 
14:25
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Minister, today marks the one hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary of the Chartist rising in Newport. Brave men across the Valleys marched to the town to fight for justice for ordinary people and, as we know, many perished. Would you agree to a debate in the Assembly on a modern charter for people who live in Wales today? This being Living Wage Week, I am sure that you would agree that it is an appropriate opportunity to address the injustices that ordinary people face in Wales 175 years on from the Chartist rising.
 
14:25
Jane HuttBiography
That is another important day to acknowledge in terms of commemoration and remembering the Chartist rally. I think that it is important that we recognise it today—I think that Mick Antoniw, and others across the Chamber, I am sure, attended the living wage event—and look at ways in which we can modernise our approach to the strong important message that came through from that Chartist rally and reflect it through the debates. Indeed, I will discuss that with my colleagues.
 
14:26
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Minister, last week, you would have seen the story regarding the threat to the ancient oak tree at Tregaer in Erwood. It highlighted once again the need for greater recognition and protection of Wales’s ancient trees. In April 2013, the then Minister, following the loss of Wales’s oldest oak tree at Pontfadog, established a task and finish group to look at establishing a register of such trees. That group has met once since April 2013. I wonder whether you could impress upon the new Minister to restart the work on this important issue to look to establish a register of such trees to offer them the protection and recognition that all of us, I am sure, think that they deserve.
 
14:26
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I think, Kirsty Williams, that we have all, or many of us have, driven past that tree in Erwood and I think the important thing, of course, is that the predecessor Minister set up that working group and I will certainly draw it to his attention. [Interruption.] Right. I think it is an important point in terms of not just recognising this one ancient tree in your constituency, but those ancient trees across Wales.
 
14:27
Nick RamsayBiography
Minister, you have already been asked this afternoon about the Chartists and their fight for justice. One ongoing injustice in Wales today is the inability of Welsh patients in the NHS to access equitable cancer treatment, as they would if they were living across the border in England. Tomorrow lunch time, this Assembly will receive a petition signed by 98,000 people in Wales calling for equitable access to cancer treatment in Wales. Failing the Welsh Government being there to accept this petition along with me, could we have a statement from the Welsh Government as soon as possible regarding the Welsh Government’s position, addressing the concerns of my constituents, your constituents and the constituents of all Assembly Members here today, to make sure that, moving forward, we get that equitable cancer treatment here and that people in Wales do not feel that they have to sell their homes and move across the border to get access to the drugs that they deserve?
 
14:28
Jane HuttBiography
It is useful when we are asked these questions: the First Minister earlier on today, and I as the Minister for Government business, and the Minister for health tomorrow, have an opportunity to put the record straight in terms of the spend and commitment that we have in terms of accessing important cancer drugs.
 
I will make just one point. As of October, last month, the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group had appraised and recommended 19 new cancer medicines for use in the NHS in Wales. These 19 cancer medicines cover 23 clinical indications; all are routinely available to eligible patients, but, Nick Ramsay, only nine of these medicines are available in England via the cancer drugs fund. The Minister for Health and Social Services ratified the decision to make the new chemotherapy drug, Abraxane, available to eligible patients with advanced pancreatic cancer in September 2014. Wales is the only country in the UK where this cancer drug is routinely available on the NHS.
 
14:29
Joyce WatsonBiography
Leader of the house, could I respectfully ask you to ask the Minister for Public Services to make a statement on the circumstances that surround the severance due for the chief executive of Pembrokeshire County Council? Bryn Parry-Jones’s pay-off deal looks set to go ahead after the Wales Audit Office agreed changes to that deal and a bid to block it through the courts failed last Friday. Even so, I believe that the case contains important lessons, especially as we move towards a restructured model of local government in Wales, not least about the scale of the pay at the top of the system in most local authorities, while at the same, those people at the bottom of the pay scale are being asked yet again to suffer a freeze or a minimum pay rise.
 
14:30
Jane HuttBiography
This is an important issue. Of course, it is entirely a matter for Pembrokeshire County Council. I know that Members across the Chamber will be aware of the circumstances and the situations that have arisen in terms of the former chief executive and the severance package. I think that it is important to know that the Minister for Public Services intends to write to the Auditor General for Wales to seek his advice on how we can ensure that the kind of situation that has arisen will not be repeated in the future, in terms of the management of that package by that local authority.
 
14:31
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
This morning, a letter was given to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee stating that Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board had been placed on the third stage of the escalation status grid, as there were concerns about three particular areas: first, overspending, with the advance warning that it will be £27 million over budget by the end of this year; secondly, concerns about capital projects, and thirdly, concerns about waiting times. I listened to the First Minister earlier this afternoon, and all I can tell you is that the director of the health service in Wales said quite clearly this morning that waiting times in north Wales are a cause of concern to the Government here. May I therefore ask for a statement from the Minister reporting on the position in the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area so that we can get some details on the concerns that exist and an explanation of what is happening, to tackle the situation? Thanks.
 
14:32
Jane HuttBiography
I think that the First Minister answered this question earlier fully in terms of his opportunities, but I would say to Alun Ffred Jones that this is a routine part of performance management of NHS organisations, in terms of escalation and intervention arrangements. Of course, the Public Accounts Committee did have this opportunity this morning to discuss this at length, and also to ensure that it could ask questions of the NHS Wales chief executive, deputy chief executive and chief medical officer.
 
14:33
Eluned ParrottBiography
I would like to ask for two things, if I may. Firstly, I note that Arriva Trains Wales was forced to apologise to passengers over the previous weekend following the cancellation and reduced capacity of several services. One of the reasons cited was problems with rolling stock across Wales. It is becoming more and more clearer as time goes on that we have a crisis in terms of the rolling stock that we have in Wales. I wonder whether I could request a statement, please, on bringing forward a rolling stock strategy to take us from now to the electrification of the Valleys lines, as planned.
 
Secondly, I wonder whether I could request a statement on the Welsh Government’s response to the recommendations of the expert review of public libraries in Wales, which was published just a few weeks ago. The issue is pressing, of course, as there are live consultations ongoing at the moment on downgrading library services in your own constituency and in my region. I met this week with campaigners, in fact, who are hoping to save Rhoose library. Given the proposals to downgrade their local service, they are particularly keen to hear the Welsh Government’s response to recommendation 8, which is that community-managed libraries should not be considered as part of statutory library provision at the present time—in other words, that those downgrades should not be considered part of the statutory service. So, could I ask when the Welsh Government is likely to give an answer to campaigners like those in Rhoose, please?
 
14:34
Jane HuttBiography
On Eluned Parrott’s first question, within the context of our powers, clearly rolling stock is an issue that needs to be addressed, and of course, the importance of ensuring that we get the right kind of franchise and the powers that we need to deliver on that franchise is crucial in terms of the prospects for improving our rail system, including rolling stock.
 
On your second point, I am also engaging in what is, I have to say—and this of course refers to consultations around the whole of Wales, and I am sure that many local authorities are looking at the future of their public libraries—a consultation that is being undertaken in the Vale of Glamorgan. It certainly has not been completed yet, so I know that constituents will be feeding into that. The expert review of public libraries in Wales is an important way in which the Minister is enabling local authorities to work together and learn from each other, in terms of the opportunities to safeguard and develop our public library service.
 
14:35
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Two matters, leader of the house. First, can I echo the calls from Kirsty Williams in relation to veteran trees? I am sure that you will be aware of the Llangernyw yew, which is some 4,000 years old, and which is up in north Wales. It is an incredibly special tree, and is perhaps one of the oldest living things in Wales. So, I would urge action on the points that she raised with you.
 
Secondly, Minister, I do not know whether a statement surrounding the sale of Welsh Government-owned forestry land should be from you or from the Minister for Natural Resources. I am sure that you agree with me that land that Welsh Government holds on behalf of not only this generation but future generations, and which relates to the Forestry Commission and the forestry estate here in Wales is land that should not be sold without at least some public consultation. I am sure that you are aware of the stance that your colleagues took in England when there was a suggestion of the privatisation of the forestry estate in England, and the heavy criticism that took place there. I understand that 277 ha of Welsh land owned by, or belonging to, the Forestry Commission is being offered for sale. It seems surprising when the Government is so far behind on its target of 100,000 ha of forestry to be planted that Welsh Government has done this without any announcement or statement in this Chamber, without any consultation with the public, and that public assets are being sold in this way, without any statement from the relevant Ministers.
 
14:37
Jane HuttBiography
I note your follow-up question regarding ancient trees. I am sure that we all have ancient trees—practically all of us, if not all of us, perhaps—across Wales, in our constituencies. It is important, of course, that we look to the work that is being undertaken by the Minister for Natural Resources. I will have to explore with the Minister the issue about Natural Resources Wales. I am not aware of the developments, and I will of course draw this to his attention for a response.
 
14:38
Aled RobertsBiography
Minister, I must endorse Alun Ffred Jones’s request for a statement from the Government on the letter that the Public Accounts Committee received this morning. I do not think that the First Minister's response reflects the gravity of the situation. Of course, perhaps the four of us, as Members from north Wales, received answers, but the other members for north Wales have not received answers, and, certainly, not one of us was aware that these problems were so serious within the health board. So, may I please ask you to think very carefully, as a Government, as to whether you need to make a statement in this place?
 
14:39
Jane HuttBiography
I think, Aled Roberts, that I have responded, as did the First Minister, to this question, and, indeed, the Public Accounts Committee had full opportunity this morning, in terms of considering this issue in relation to one health board. It is, as I have said, a routine process of performance management of NHS organisations. I think that Dr Andrew Goodall had also written to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee to inform him of the decision ahead of appearance at the committee. I think that there is nothing further to add to that letter at this stage.
 
14:39
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Leader of the house, could we have a statement on the proposed improvements that the Government is sponsoring to Five Mile Lane in the Vale of Glamorgan? I understand that the Vale of Glamorgan Council is charged with working up the workings around these improvements but, to date, there has been a very little public information campaign, albeit that many rumours are spreading around of significant changes to the current road layout. I think that everyone supports the principle of improving this dreadful piece of road, which has had, sadly, many fatalities on it, but there is a question mark over whether this actually calls for a completely new road or whether it just means upgrading the existing road. Therefore, is it possible to have a statement from the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, whose department I believe is sponsoring these developments, as to the Government’s intentions about this piece of road and, indeed, what budget it is making available and, importantly, what time frame it is working to over the consultation and advertising of such changes around the Five Mile Lane?
 
14:40
Jane HuttBiography
I do not think that anyone would disagree with Andrew R.T. Davies about the need to address the safety issues in relation to Five Mile Lane. Of course, work has been done and proposals have been brought forward. I will ensure that the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport comes forward with the information. Of course, it will also involve the Vale of Glamorgan Council.
 
14:41
Darren MillarBiography
Minister, could I ask for an urgent statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services on the efforts being made to tackle the urology problems in north Wales? You will be aware from some of the exchange during the First Minister’s questions that concerns have been raised by the director of the cancer network in north Wales regarding urology. He said that he could not give an assurance that the urology service is fit for purpose and drew attention to the fact that the access times to radiotherapy in north Wales remained the worst in the UK. That is a very serious situation. It is not one of the things referred to this morning in the Public Accounts Committee as being something that the Welsh Government has been actively monitoring. I would appreciate an urgent statement to know what the Welsh Government is doing to support Betsi Cadwaladr in turning that situation around, so that patients can be confident that they are getting access to the services that they need.
 
14:42
Jane HuttBiography
I think that the First Minister, again, fully replied to a question on this earlier on this afternoon. Of course, we are aware of pressures on urology services in north Wales but also urology is a specialty that trusts across the UK are experiencing recruitment difficulties with. As you are aware, because the First Minister confirmed it, the health board is working with neighbouring urology providers in England to ensure that patients are treated in order of clinical priority until replacement consultants are appointed. The only thing I would add is that the majority of cancer patients are treated within their treatment time. According to the latest available data, 87% of patients on the 62-day pathway were treated within the standard, and 99% of patients on the 31-day pathway were treated within the standard.
 
14:43
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
14:43
Statement: Qualifications Reform
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I call on the Minister, Huw Lewis.
 
14:43
Huw LewisBiographyThe Minister for Education and Skills
Presiding Officer, we have reached an important milestone in our journey of qualifications reform, with the publication of our new Welsh baccalaureate and GCSEs. These qualifications have been designed in Wales for Wales, in line with the strategic direction of the review of qualifications.
 
Accepting the review’s recommendations in 2013, the Deputy Minister for Skills at the time described them as
 
‘a strong and sustainable basis for developing a world-class qualifications system for Wales’.
 
He said that the programme of change would take four or five years. Less than two years on, I can report excellent progress towards implementing the recommendations and achieving the review’s vision:
 
‘qualifications that are understood and valued and meet the needs of our young people and the Welsh economy’.
 
In October, we accredited the new Welsh baccalaureate and the new and revised GCSEs in English, Welsh and maths to be taught from next September. The specifications and sample assessment materials are now available, enabling detailed preparation in schools and colleges to begin.
 
Continuing professional development, support and advice is being provided by the Welsh Joint Education Committee, the regional educational consortia, ColegauCymru and Welsh Government, to ensure that every school and college in Wales is ready for the new qualifications. The consortia have committed to deliver support to every school to ensure that they are ready to start teaching the new GCSEs by September.
 
They have employed dedicated subject specialists to work with schools to develop classroom materials. They have identified schools and departments where there is good practice to undertake school-to-school support to build capacity. This work is under way, and materials developed will be shared on Hwb over the coming months. We have also commissioned additional sample assessment materials and sample teaching materials.
 
The success of the new qualifications will depend fundamentally on teachers and lecturers delivering them to a high standard. It will require changes to the way that aspects of the subjects are taught. I have confidence that our professional and committed teaching workforce in Wales will rise to the challenge, and we are providing support to help them do just that.
 
We saw encouraging progress in GCSE and A-level achievements this summer. Our reforms build on the acknowledged strengths of those qualifications and the progress already being made in our schools and colleges. The new language GCSEs will focus more on literacy and on the fundamental aspects of language. GCSE mathematics-numeracy will focus on the maths needed for everyday work and life. These GCSEs reflect and support the improvements that will result from the national literacy and numeracy framework.
 
GCSE mathematics will extend to other aspects of mathematics, including those needed for progression to scientific, technical or further mathematical study. Having two maths GCSEs reflects the importance of the subject for progression and employment. I expect most learners to take both maths GCSEs, and I expect learners who have not achieved at least a C grade in GCSE English or Welsh language and mathematics-numeracy by 16 to continue to work towards these or other appropriate qualifications.
 
Several AS and A-level qualifications are also being revised for 2015. We are developing these in step with changes in England, to minimise disruption for centres and learners in Wales. A-levels in Wales and England will be the same in size, scope and level of demand and will share the same content as far as possible, although there may be some cases where slightly different content is appropriate—for instance, to reflect a Welsh perspective in history. We are retaining AS-level qualifications as a coupled part of A-levels in Wales. Stakeholders, including, crucially, the universities, have been clear that they support us in our approach.
 
Yesterday, I visited St Richard Gwyn high school in Barry, one of the schools helping to pilot our new Welsh baccalaureate. There, I saw young people engaged in the enterprise and employability challenge, creating products to sell at their Christmas fair. These young entrepreneurs had already faced a gruelling ‘Dragons’ Den’-style panel with local employers to ensure that they had a good knowledge of their product and their business plan.
 
The Welsh baccalaureate is about essential skills: literacy and numeracy, of course, but also digital literacy, planning and organisation, innovation and creativity, critical thinking and problem solving and personal effectiveness. These are skills that are valued worldwide by employers and by higher education. These are developed and assessed through three challenges and a substantial individual project based on independent research.
 
The Welsh baccalaureate is already highly valued for entry into higher education, but the introduction of grading at advanced level from next summer will increase its currency. In attaining the new advanced Welsh baccalaureate, learners gain a qualification that is the same size as an A-level and graded in the same way. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service expects to allocate the same tariff points as for an A-level.
 
Vocational qualifications are changing too. We have categorised all vocational qualifications as either IVETs or CVETs—that is, initial or continuing vocational education and training—according to European conventions. Since September, only IVETs have been available to learners up to the age of 16, so, younger learners have access to qualifications appropriate for their age, providing a broad introduction to a sector and allowing for progression. Those over the age of 16 can take IVETs or CVETs, which focus more on competence in specific roles. New stakeholder panels, involving employers and others, are being introduced to take a strategic view of vocational qualifications within each sector.
 
Qualifications in Wales must be understood and respected worldwide to ensure portability and to enable our learners to study and work wherever is best for them. Confidence in the new qualifications is vital. Our work with employers and universities across the UK is already proving to be effective. I am now launching the next stage of the campaign, providing information packs and web-based resources for schools, colleges and training providers and materials for them to use in explaining and promoting the changes to learners and parents.
 
The role of building confidence in our qualifications system and regulating and assuring the effectiveness of our qualifications will, subject to legislation that I will shortly be introducing, pass to Qualifications Wales. This will be an independent, expert body focused on ensuring that our qualifications meet the needs of our learners and are recognised and valued internationally. It will work closely with stakeholders to shape and simplify our qualifications system and strengthen regulation.
 
We are making excellent progress in building a high-quality, robust, distinctive national qualifications system that can compete and compare with the best in the world.
 
14:51
Paul DaviesBiography
I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon. This is certainly an interesting time for the education sector in Wales, with the introduction of the new GCSEs and the Welsh baccalaureate. May I say at the outset that we are broadly supportive of much of the work that has been detailed in this statement today?
 
The Minister notes the excellent progress made in light of the recommendations in the review of qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds, which is, of course, good to hear. Given that there were 42 recommendations in the review of qualifications, perhaps the Minister can expand on what he means by ‘excellent progress’. How exactly does that translate to the number of recommendations that have already been implemented?
 
One of the many recommendations in that review was to set up a substantial UK-wide communication strategy to explain and raise the profile of qualifications in Wales. In light of the review, I would be grateful if the Minister could outline what work the Welsh Government has already done in this area, and what more work it plans to do in the future. We must also recognise the role of parents, who have an influence on the qualifications that their children study for. Could the Minister also update us on the work that the Welsh Government has done to communicate its direction of travel to parents across Wales?
 
The Minister’s statement also notes the important contributions that awarding organisations, such as the WJEC, make to the provision of continuing professional development opportunities for teachers. Perhaps, in his response, the Minister could clarify how, in the future, the new Qualifications Wales body, awarding organisations and the Welsh Government will specifically work together when it comes to continuing professional development?
 
In his statement, the Minister makes it clear that the consortia have identified schools where there is good practice and that there will be school-to-school support to build capacity. While I would welcome this step, there will undoubtedly be challenges in how this school-to-school support will work in practice. Perhaps the Minister could clarify a bit further what he means by building capacity through school-to-school support.
 
I am pleased to read from the statement that teachers will be given more support to rise to these new challenges, but I would be interested to understand what that actually means. In the circumstances, could the Minister outline what additional resources are being and will be made available to teachers to provide that additional support?
 
The Minister’s statement recognises the importance of developing entrepreneurial skills among our young people, and I note that he recently visited St Richard Gwyn high school in Barry, which has been creating products to sell at its Christmas fair. He will be aware, of course, that this is something that I have campaigned for for many years, and so I very much welcome steps to develop entrepreneurial skills in young people at an earlier age and to promote these skills through the education system. In light of seeing the enterprise and employability challenge in action, perhaps the Minister will commit himself to seriously considering establishing social enterprises in all secondary schools in Wales, not just for those studying the Welsh baccalaureate.
 
Today’s statement also highlights changes that are coming to vocational qualifications. It is, of course, crucial to recognise the importance of vocational education alongside more traditional academic education. I note that new stakeholder panels have been established, involving employers among others, to take a strategic view of vocational education. Perhaps the Minister could tell us more about these panels, such as, for example, their format and how often they meet.
 
The statement also notes that legislation will be forthcoming regarding the establishment of an independent body to regulate qualifications in Wales, which I support. Can the Minister tell us more about the timetable for this legislation and can he confirm that we are likely to see the introduction of this legislation before the end of this Assembly term?
 
I very much share the Minister’s ambition to remove the current regulatory responsibility for qualifications from Welsh Ministers, thereby creating a body independent of Government, and it is important that that independence is protected. It has been suggested that the monitoring of Qualifications Wales will be done directly by the National Assembly, and that is something that I welcome. Therefore, will the Minister tell us whether we are likely to see a Qualifications Wales annual report brought to the Assembly that can be scrutinised by all Members, as is already the case with Estyn’s chief inspector’s annual report, when the body is up and running? Given that the Minister has committed to creating an independent body at arm’s length from Government that is responsible for the regulation and quality assurance of qualifications in Wales, it is therefore essential that the monitoring of this new body is as transparent as possible, and the production of an annual report to be debated in the Chamber is one way of doing just that.
 
Therefore, in closing, Presiding Officer, any qualifications that our pupils achieve in Wales must be meaningful and provide young people with cast-iron guarantees that their results will be recognised across the UK and further afield. I therefore hope that today's statement and the ongoing reforms will result in building a high-quality qualifications system here in Wales. I look forward to further scrutinising the Minister regarding these ongoing reforms in the future.
 
14:57
Huw LewisBiography
May I thank Paul Davies for his broad support for today's statement and its content? He asks a number of questions and I will attempt to field them as best I can in the time available.
 
On communications, Paul Davies will be aware that, yesterday, I launched our communications plan for parents and teachers. For those people who want a broad overview of what that entails, the best thing to do is to go to the website, which is ‘qualifiedforlife.org.uk’, and, hopefully, all the information that any parent or teacher could want will be summarised in that location.
 
In addition to that, of course, there is the groundwork around stakeholders. Over the last nine months, officials from my department have met senior management in every university in Wales and those in England that take significant numbers of learners from Wales. They have also visited a number of Welsh anchor companies and key employer representative groups to explain the reform programme and to ensure that our qualifications meet the needs of business. Feedback has been very positive. A Welsh qualifications engagement officer has recently been appointed to co-ordinate a further communications effort to advise higher education institutions of the changes made to our qualifications system. This communications strategy will unfold over time.
 
In terms of Qualifications Wales, well, yes, there is overlap here with the continuing professional development of teachers and my announcements surrounding the new deal for teachers. I would expect close working between the Welsh Government and other partner agencies in terms of how that is constructed over time. We do already have school-to-school support developing apace out there on the ground, and our educational consortia are driving those efforts.
 
He also asks, in terms of support for teachers and the generality of professional development, what resources are available. Well, £3 million has been allocated to support that effort—a not inconsiderable chunk of resource dedicated to making sure that our teachers have everything that they need.
 
In terms of the universality of entrepreneurial training, well, of course, my ambition is that the Welsh baccalaureate should become a universal offer across the state school system in Wales, and I think that that future is not too far off.
 
15:00
Keith DaviesBiography
Minister, I welcome the new national qualifications system in Wales. Do you agree with me that events surrounding GCSE English in 2012 were unacceptable? On top of this, Gove’s proposals in England to change A-level and GCSE qualifications were disgraceful, and I am pleased that you are establishing a new body, namely Qualifications Wales, to be responsible for regulating and quality assuring all qualifications in Wales that are not at degree level. New mathematics and language qualifications at GCSE will build upon the improvements arising from the literacy and numeracy framework, which is now in our schools. I am also pleased, as a former maths teacher, that you agree with me about the importance of mathematics to the progress and employment of our young people, and are establishing two GCSE mathematics courses. The last point on GCSEs is the fact that you are abolishing the modular system, where children in year 10 in many schools took exams after just one term. When this will be implemented, Minister?
 
Retaining AS examinations in Wales is also welcome, and is quite different to what is happening in England, where they are to be abolished, contrary to the comments made by admissions tutors at universities such as Cambridge.
 
Finally, the changes to the Welsh baccalaureate make it stronger, and I am sure that UCAS will still compare it with A-levels and that it will be accepted by universities. Have you had any discussion with UCAS?
 
15:02
Huw LewisBiography
I thank the Member for Llanelli for those points and those questions. First of all, yes, he is right, to contrast, I think, our approach in terms of qualifications reform with that that pertains over the border. I would like to think—well, I can confidently state—that ours is based on evidence at every stage and has arisen through careful consultation through the recommendations of the qualifications review. Stakeholders have been engaged at every point. That includes teaching professionals, as well as industry and other stakeholders. I intend that this will lead us through an ambitious but steady and achievable programme of reform towards the goals that we seek. We certainly do not want to see a situation in Wales as has happened in England, I think, where the system is thrown suddenly between competing demands and where announcements are made seemingly without any evidence base, from time to time.
 
He is right to point to the importance of mathematics. We are really signalling, I suppose, through this statement, a revolution in terms of the signals that we send through the school system about the central importance of mathematics. There will be further announcements a little later in the autumn, in terms of the rollout of that message to our professionals, to our parents and to our pupils, too.
 
We are retaining AS levels in Wales. We are taking advice here, again, from the people who should know—the universities, in particular, which regard that as an indispensible check, of use to the student and to them, as institutions, in terms of university admissions. That is the evidence base, and we will run with that.
 
15:04
Simon ThomasBiography
Plaid Cymru welcomes, in broad terms, the statement by the Minister today. I would like to say, at the outset, that some, of course, have questioned whether Wales should do this at all, as our education system had appeared so weak and deficient with regard to some PISA league tables et cetera. For me, those results suggest exactly why we should do this. It is evident that the current system is not working for the benefit of pupils in Wales and, in particular, that the current system does not allow our learners to apply their skills across the curriculum and use those skills in different situations. Therefore, I think that, with the developments in England, where they have decided on a different route, it is inevitable and unavoidable that we develop different qualifications here in Wales—separately, but based, as the Minister said, on evidence.
 
For any system like this to work, particularly in the Welsh context, where we are a relatively small nation compared with the larger nation next door that is doing something quite different, and where there are a number of universities and jobs, it must, in my view, have three vital points, namely that it is seen to be completely independent, that it is robust and evidence based, as I said, and that it is portable—namely that qualifications can be moved from place to place, accepted as equivalent qualifications with those in the rest of Britain and, indeed, in western Europe. What the Minister has said today about these three things has satisfied me, some more than others. First of all, regarding the independence of the system, I welcome, of course, that this, ultimately, will be managed by Qualifications Wales—an independent regulatory body. That is something that Plaid Cymru has consistently asked for over the past four years, and I look forward to seeing the legislation and to supporting it, I hope, to see that independent system in place.
 
In turn, an independent system helps with the process of ensuring that these qualifications are robust and based on evidence. However, there are some things that I have to highlight with the Minister today that are weak in the embryonic system that we have at the moment. I still find that Welsh pupils do not understand the baccalaureate and do not always support it. That happens because pupils sometimes see the baccalaureate as a waste of time, in their words, or they do not see how it would qualify them to go on to university or into the vocational field. In particular, I think that the change to a graded baccalaureate, so that there will be a higher grade, will assist in this process, but, as I said, I still encounter this perception. So, there is a job of work to be done, even with our own pupils and parents in Wales, on the baccalaureate. That is in addition to the fact that pupils are still telling me that some colleges and some universities are still rather dismissive of the baccalaureate and what it represents. That was said as recently as last week, when I met with pupils from Ysgol Dinas Brân in the Plaid Cymru conference in Llangollen.
 
While I support the fact that we have kept the A-level, and the AS level in particular, in the current system, there is a great need for this system to work, to gain even more awareness of the new system among workers, employers, universities, parents and pupils themselves. The fact that Philip Blaker has been appointed temporary head of Qualifications Wales—I understand that he comes from UCAS—may help in this system.
 
The second part of being a robust system is that you have a credible examination body. In that regard, I wish to pay tribute to the work of WJEC to date. WJEC has been hammered by Ministers in this place in the past, but WJEC, it seems to me, has adhered to the timetable, has prepared appropriately for the new GCSEs, and has done a good job as far as I can see. It is important now, of course, that teachers receive training and support to implement this system. It appears to me that this shows how well one body can collaborate with Government. There is no need for competition between examination bodies in this area when talking about core subjects such as mathematics, Welsh or English. You need one credible body to work with Welsh Government. In that context, and given that we are discussing Qualifications Wales, is it still the Government's intention to bring WJEC or its work into this new body—that is, to turn the regulatory body into an examination board too? I think that we should wait to see the board running properly before making such a decision.
 
The last point that I want to make—if I may, Deputy Presiding Officer; it is a long statement, I must say—is how important it is that these qualifications are portable, so that pupils and students can carry them from place to place. I would like to hear much more from the Government on its work on this—perhaps not today, as it is not all in place, but I definitely want the Minister to acknowledge that this is a very important point. Some, including some people in Wales, still do not understand the Welsh education system and it will be even more difficult when the education system in England has developed so differently over the next period.
 
15:10
Huw LewisBiography
I thank Simon Thomas for his general welcome for today’s statement. He is right to point to those three key elements: that our qualifications need to be robust and portable, and that we need independent oversight—hence the need for that independent body, Qualifications Wales, to ensure all three of those things as its core business.
 
In terms of his comments surrounding the Welsh baccalaureate, I accept them. I, too, have encountered attitudes from pupils and from parents that are, let us say, lacking in awareness of the philosophy behind the Welsh baccalaureate and what it is all about, and they are sceptical about its usefulness. We have a job to do in terms of making sure that everyone is up to speed. Perhaps we did not carry that through at the very beginning in the way that it should have been done. However, essentially, the Welsh baccalaureate is about the rounded individual. It is about those decades-long requests that we have received from universities and employers about the need for learners to have some kind of confidence and grounding outside the narrow confines of their subject area. If you look at the website, for instance, of any major public school, you will find two promises, essentially: you will find one regarding academic rigour—and that is fine, and, of course, we will have that in our system here in Wales—but you will also find an offer around the whole person, the whole individual. The Welsh baccalaureate, uniquely ours here in Wales, is a response to that demand from educationalists and from employers that a young person has a grounding and a self-confidence that goes beyond the narrow confines of, for instance, an A-level in a particular subject. Therefore, it is an essential part of today’s educational portfolio.
 
In terms of competition for competition’s sake, I agree with Simon Thomas on this. I am far more interested within this sector in attaining coherence rather than competition within the world of examinations, both in terms of regulation and awarding. He is right to say that we will have some time to assess the new organisation, Qualifications Wales. There will be time for us to take a look at how things are progressing, but it remains my ambition that we will have, as a destination, a Scottish-style awarding and regulatory body in time.
 
He mentioned portability as a key concept and, of course, he is absolutely right there, too. That is why, of course, we are holding on in Wales to those trusted brands of GCSE and A-level.
 
15:13
Ann JonesBiography
Most of what I was going to say has been said, but I know that my committee will be looking forward to discussing in great depth what is being proposed now, both in your statement and your forthcoming Bill on qualifications. I believe that your approach to qualifications reform has been strongly endorsed by stakeholders, particularly leaders from the education sector. I will just hit on one endorsement by Claire Armistead from Rhyl High School—I know that hers is not the only school in my constituency, but I keep referring to her because I think that she is such a breath of fresh air in the high school. She said that she very much welcomes with great vigour the introduction of the Welsh baccalaureate that is more appropriate to the needs of the children. I agree with her, and I agree with that as well and also with your vision to make Welsh qualifications a hallmark of quality. I do think that your plans can make that aspiration possible and it is really to your credit that you are driving this through, not just as reform, but in a way that does take people with you along that journey. As you quite rightly said, we have reached a milestone in that. I just wonder how you will embed your proposals within this statement in your upcoming qualifications Bill. Are you going to amend your Bill—well, not amend it, but are you going to revisit the strength of that Bill before you publish it?
 
15:14
Huw LewisBiography
I thank Ann Jones for those comments. She is absolutely right to say, of course, that there has been widespread—in fact, near universal—support for these changes from stakeholders up and down Wales and across the United Kingdom, from Cambridge and Oxford universities to the Federation of Small Businesses, to our own Welsh higher education institutions and every port of call in between. There has been a resounding thumbs up for the qualifications reform package that has been announced. Now we have to deliver on the basis of that trust that we have built up with stakeholders, and deliver on quality as Ann Jones has said. Qualifications Wales will have at the centre of its work the maintenance of a gold standard of quality in terms of what a Welsh qualification looks like and what employers and educational institutions can expect of a young person who walks out of one of our schools or colleges with one of these qualifications in their back pocket. It must be a passport that can take them anywhere that they want to go.
 
In terms of legislation, of course, I will have to consider—there are details within legislation that we do not really have time to go into this afternoon. Of course, all the tools that Qualifications Wales will need will have to be available to it when it takes up what is a vital and central role in Welsh education.
 
15:16
Aled RobertsBiography
I also welcome the statement and thank you for giving us an overview of the point that we have reached at this juncture. I think that the situation is changing. My wife went to Birmingham University a fortnight ago to an open day and the university said that, because of the changes to the baccalaureate, it was now willing to accept that qualification for the first time, across the university. So, perhaps some of the steps taken by Government are now starting to bear fruit.
 
I will restrict my questions to the communications strategy. Clearly, you have launched the website for the teaching profession and parents during the last week, but how are parents to be made aware of that website and the resources available? In making preparations for my contribution—I have a son in year 10 and another in year 12—I realised that your communication strategy states that by the autumn every parent of a child in years 9 and 11 should have received a pack from Government. Are you still going to be distributing those packs, given that there are some families that do not have access to websites?
 
Your strategy also mentions the fact that you must create a situation where the profession accepts the path that you have chosen and that parents want to accept it, but you are also talking about industry and universities across the UK. You did state that you would be contacting 18 of the anchor companies in Wales to ensure that they fully understand what is happening, and that you are going to ensure that Qualifications Wales attends conferences across Britain. So, have you made arrangements for that to happen and are you content with the development in that area?
 
To conclude, as we move on to A-levels and AS-levels, there is a sentence that states that it is possible to share some resources with England, but that you are eager to see where particular resources for Wales are required—you mention history in particular and that we must ensure that those resources reflect the history of Wales. Some of us, over this last week, have received a letter stating that resources are being provided for schools, and some schools in the primary sector are buying those resources, where all that has happened is that the resources have been translated into Welsh. They do not reflect the history of Wales in any way. They give some sort of British-centric view of history. With regard to all the resources that are available in the market for these schools, do you think that we need to have some sort of kitemark from Qualifications Wales to say that the resources reflect the kind of curriculum that we want be see in Wales, because there have been some questions raised about the fact that schools themselves are now purchasing all of these materials, rather than those materials being provided by local councils or the Government itself?
 
15:20
Huw LewisBiography
I thank Aled Roberts for those interesting points. In terms of the baccalaureate, it is good news to hear the comments from Birmingham University. There is near-universal acceptance, particularly throughout the Russell Group universities up and down the UK, of the Welsh baccalaureate. After all, there should be—this is what the universities themselves have been asking for in terms of the qualification portfolio of a young person. The greater rigour in the Welsh baccalaureate at advanced level, the grading that will be introduced, the Universities and Colleges Admission Service commitment of a points score, and so on, I hope will lead to universal acceptance across the UK university system in short order. It is, after all, what the higher education institutions have been saying they want in terms of the skills of young people.
 
Yes, the information packs will be available; I just launched them yesterday, so they are on their way. That was part of my visit to St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School in Barry yesterday. There will be hard-copy packs for parents that I have checked out—they are very accessible, very informative and they are on their way to schools now for distribution to the parents of pupils in the appropriate year groups.
 
Working with anchor companies will continue to be important. Much work has already been undertaken. Admiral Insurance was with me at the launch yesterday, as was Lloyds Bank, and I know that Airbus UK has been instrumental too in terms of developing the qualifications strategy, and we will continue to keep in touch. Philip Blaker will continue that work when Qualifications Wales takes over.
 
He is quite right to point to an issue around materials and content within the curriculum, and schools using material from elsewhere in the UK, and so on; that is absolutely true. However, he must not forget that we are simultaneously, as we are going through this qualifications reform, reviewing the curriculum in a fundamental fashion. Essentially, we are still operating according to the 1988 national curriculum, with some alterations here and there that have grown up over the years. When we have our new curriculum for Wales, in many ways that will mark a year zero in terms of curriculum content and will entail questions around materials too that we will need to discuss, debate and resource.
 
15:23
Jeff CuthbertBiography
I thank the Minister for his statement today. As the labour market becomes more competitive, more flexible and more globalised, we have to ensure that Welsh learners are able to demonstrate a collection of portable and rigorous qualifications for employers to consider as they enter the world of work. Minister, during my time as Deputy Minister for Skills and as detailed in your predecessor’s book, ‘Ministering to Education’, I led the Welsh Government’s qualifications review that has informed the background to your statement today. A key aspect was to win support from employers by providing qualifications that are relevant to the Welsh economy. So, would you agree with me that our proposed new Wales-specific GCSEs will be an asset to Welsh learners and employers by strengthening essential skills, such as functional literacy and numeracy, and ensuring that our learners have qualifications that will stand them in good stead as they enter the highly skilled jobs market of the future?
 
15:24
Huw LewisBiography
I could not agree more with the Member for Caerphilly. He is quite right to say that the world does not stand still, and that the world that our young people and children will walk out into is very different from the one that we walked out into when we qualified all those years ago. For instance, within those basic skills of the Welsh baccalaureate that we were discussing earlier is a commitment to digital literacy, which is something that would not have occurred just a few short years ago, but is now taken as read as part of the core skills that a young person will need, regardless of, for instance, their A-level choice. They should have that digital literacy as a passport-able skill wherever they need to go, and we need to supply them with that. He is right to say that we are not being shy about being Wales-specific in certain areas. Our emphasis on literacy and numeracy is clear. Our emphasis on retaining the AS-level is clear, because it is based on evidence—what our stakeholders are telling us. Our commitment to holding on to practical examinations in science is unashamed, and I have to say that, as a former science teacher, the idea of scrapping at A-level the elements of practical examinations is nonsense and something that they will live to regret across the border in England, very rapidly in my view, and universities again have made their view very clear in that regard. So, we will proceed on the basis of evidence and of rigour and bearing in mind at all times what is fit for Wales and what we need to kit out our young people with as they walk into the wider world.
 
15:26
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
15:26
Statement: Performance on Recycling
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to a statement by the Minister for Natural Resources on performance on recycling. I call on the Minister, Carl Sargeant.
 
15:26
Carl SargeantBiographyThe Minister for Natural Resources
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I want to bring to the attention of the Senedd a real success story for Wales. This success is to be found in our recycling performance. Wales has the highest recycling rates in the UK. Our figures for municipal recycling put us at number four in Europe. This is a fantastic achievement by our local authorities and the people of Wales and demonstrates real leadership by Welsh Government. This success deserves to be recognised, and we will build upon it, enhancing the climate change and economic benefits of high recycling levels.
 
There are several reasons for this success. Clear strategic direction is provided for this by Welsh Government through ‘Towards Zero Waste’, the national waste strategy for Wales. We have also set statutory recycling targets for local authorities. Achievement of these targets has been assisted by investment from the Welsh Government. Since 2001, £607.5 million has been provided to local authorities to help them deliver against recycling targets, helping to save on landfill costs and generate new jobs in Wales.
 
The public of Wales has embraced recycling and, through its efforts, turned Wales into the highest recycling society in the UK. We need to do better, though. I want Wales to come first in the European league table, and achieving our targets for the future will deliver this. We must take advantage of the economic and social opportunities that recycling offers. I want to see Wales benefit fully from the circular economy, and all that we do in future must support this.
 
Developing the circular economy in Wales has the potential to deliver annual savings of around £2 billion a year. The circular economy and resource efficiency are not just ideological ideas—they are at the heart of the opportunities for a sustainable economy and green growth in Wales. There are already 10,000 jobs in Wales directly related to recycling, and we want to see those grow too. New laws requiring those who collect waste to collect paper, glass, plastics and metals separately in order to achieve high-quality recycling come into effect on 1 January 2015. In the spring, we shall be introducing proposals for further legislation that will require businesses and the public sector to separate their waste. This will help to ensure a more circular economy for Wales so that the inherent financial value of waste is protected.
 
I want to see local authorities’ recycling services in Wales move towards a more consistent approach. To this end, in March 2011, the Welsh Government published its ‘Collections Blueprint: For affordable and sustainable local authority collection services for recyclable, compostable and residual waste’. The blueprint was informed by an extensive evidence base, and it describes the Welsh Government’s recommended service profile for the collection of waste from households. The inherent inefficiencies of 22 different styles of collection cannot be justified. If we just take a rational look at the containers we use to collect waste, every authority in Wales could at least use the same colour container for the same type of waste. We currently have 22 different versions. The collections blueprint is based on the use of resource recovery vehicles that are lightweight and fuel efficient, designed to deliver high-quality recycling collections.
 
In this time of austerity, we need to continue towards high recycling targets while reducing costs. This is the purpose of the collaborative change programme, a joint initiative between the Welsh Government and the Welsh Local Government Association, which will provide help to local authorities. The CCP has modelled options for six Welsh councils that show potential savings of around £13 million. There are some costs of transition, but they can be reduced by timing changes to coincide with contract periods and fleet renewals, when investment would be required anyway. Making changes to save large sums in future is simply sound business management.
 
Delivering good recycling services that support the local circular economy and green jobs is a priority and we have to move on from past debates around different models of recycling and seize these opportunities. Looking forward, Presiding Officer, not backwards, we have to gain from new opportunities. A study of three authorities in Wales showed that, if they each got the best price for every material they sold to market, it would potentially earn them an extra £2 million in each year. If this approach were repeated across Wales, there are many millions of pounds extra that local authorities could earn. WRAP is delivering this for local authorities in Wales and I will report progress on this later in the year.
 
The outlook is extremely positive. Wales is, and will continue to be, a world leader in recycling. We need to ensure that all the wider economic benefits translate into new businesses and new jobs in Wales and we will continue to celebrate this national success story.
 
15:31
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Well, Minister, I do welcome the success of local authorities in delivering this. It is quite clear that rural councils are outperforming urban ones in the latest figures for the first quarter of 2014, and there is a 5% difference in the amount recycled, reused or composted in rural councils and urban councils. It is 57% to 52%. Government targets were 52% for 2012-13; that had to be hit if we were going to be on course to achieve the 70% recycling target by 2025. The Welsh average has matched this figure, but there are three local authorities that missed the target. The worst-performing council on recycling, Merthyr Tydfil, recycled only about 48% of its waste, but the joint top performers, Denbighshire and Monmouthshire, are recycling 63%, which surpasses Government targets for two years from now. So, clearly, there are lessons to be learned from those two local authorities as to why they are being so successful.
 
What is concerning is that six of the 22 councils in Wales have seen no change or a drop in their rates of recycling between the first quarter of 2013 and the same period in 2014. Minister, you know that, in the evidence before the Environment and Sustainability Committee, local councils asked for flexibility in how they deliver their recycling services to their local communities, and therefore I am concerned about your blueprint. Are you implying in your statement that you are going to make it compulsory for the blueprint—? I can see you nodding to that. That is concerning, particularly in county council areas such as Powys, which has very successful rates but a different method of collection. Minister, I wonder whether you could indicate how the blueprint is going to fit into local authority reorganisation, because it is quite clear that your colleague has indicated that there should be voluntary mergers. There may well be different systems and your statement has not addressed that at all.
 
In terms of Cardiff, many in the Cardiff area do not have a central facility for food waste collection, even though houses have a regular weekly pick-up. Those residents will not be able to compost, so there is a danger, Minister, that Welsh Government has gathered the low-hanging fruit, if I can put it that way. Could you explain to me how you are going to encourage those authorities that have large numbers of flats and apartments and how they are going to improve their recycling rates, particularly because of issues around space in flats, which make it very difficult for residents of flats to do a kerbside sort, which I know is the preferred method of the blueprint.
 
Clearly, there is the possibility of upcycling, and I know that you know organisations such as Freecycle and Refurbs Flintshire. I agree with you, Minister, that a large amount of the success has been due to the citizens of Wales, who have committed themselves to recycling in a clear way. Again, Minister, you heard evidence that, where local authorities changed their recycling method, that caused a drop off in success rates. Clearly, that will happen if you switch, or force local authorities to switch, to the blueprint.
 
However, I do feel, Minister, that there is something to celebrate here: it is largely the success of residents and the local authorities, who are delivering this. I think that, for the future, our children and our children’s children will be much more aware of resources and the importance of recycling in terms of maintaining our resources. However, clearly, with local authority reorganisation on the way, there are going to be very difficult questions to be asked where two local authorities that neighbour each other have different kinds of recycling systems. How are you going to ensure that there is no drop off?
 
15:36
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for a positive contribution in welcoming the success in Wales in terms of local authorities delivering for their communities. A couple of points that the Member raises are of significance, and I will respond to them in order.
 
The Member raised several issues around the blueprint and how we intend to move forward on this. This really is not rocket science, actually. This is about 22 current authorities operating different systems, and there is a cost involved in each doing that separately. We know—we have evidence, which is in the blueprint—that there are significant cost savings to be made by local authorities if they adopt these models. I will give them some more time to consider the blueprint and move into a direction, as I said during my contribution, about how they can start shaping their services to align with the blueprint model, including vehicle procurement et cetera, in order for them to transfer. However, what I will not stand back on is waiting for recycling rates to start to fail and move backwards, and, therefore, we have to make some positive interventions.
 
Local authorities are delivering on this at the moment; the challenge that they face is enormous, but there is a huge opportunity as well. If we are to implement the ‘Towards Zero Waste’ programme completely by 2025, Wales stands to benefit by an additional £88 million by just doing business differently. I think that that is something that would be rather foolish to ignore, and encourage local authorities to adopt these policies in order for us to achieve this as soon as possible.
 
I do not accept the issue that mergers or the Williams Commission or any changes to local authority boundaries will compromise the issue around change. Let us take one of the examples that the Member raised with me already, Powys. When I did a visit to Powys, it already has three different types of recycling processes, which are historic processes from when it was three different counties. So, I do not accept that changes or complications around mergers will ensue because of mergers—it is about the willingness of parties to take part.
 
A final point, if I may, Presiding Officer: the Member raised an issue about—. No, two points, I am sorry. First, on recycling in blocks of flats et cetera, this goes hand in hand with the second point around who should recycle and how. This is not the responsibility of local authorities only, and it is not the responsibility of Welsh Government only. The Member referred to the very positive contribution that communities engage in. I think actually that the issue around high-rise flats et cetera is being, and can be, overcome through the willingness of occupants to pursue recycling.
 
I know, indeed, that Russell George is a keen recycler, in terms of where he recently lived, in making sure that he contributed to recycling while living in a flat too. There are no complications there—if he can deliver, we can all deliver. So, it is incumbent on all of us to take part in this process of ownership of recycling. It is a Welsh opportunity, which should not be missed.
 
15:40
Ann JonesBiography
Minister, there is much to welcome in this statement today and I welcome the fact that we are seeing recycling targets being met and that we are there, and I do not doubt for one moment your sincerity in trying to get us to No. 1 in Europe. However, I have to take issue around the co-mingling issue.
 
Twelve months ago, I accompanied Denbighshire County Council to UPM Shotton to see what happens with the co-mingled waste from there. Denbighshire has signed an agreement with UPM and UPM Shotton provides quite a lot of jobs. It has some very good quality material that comes out from the co-mingling and co-mingling is not seen as an issue for it. However, it is an issue for the residents of Denbighshire. I take what you are saying about people who live in flats, but if you have a lot of people who are on their own and elderly who then have to remember which colour box to put out and which colour box to put stuff in, it makes it very difficult for them. It will also, I think, put a burden on local authorities that have to collect from people rather than expecting older people to put heavy boxes of recycling on the kerbside. I take the fact that, if you are living on your own, you probably do not recycle as much as a family would. Nevertheless, it can be very difficult for someone who has a disability, or is not as mobile as they would want to be, to carry boxes and crates or bins or whatever.
 
Denbighshire is one of the local authorities highest up in the recycling league table and that is something that we have to congratulate it on. However, I just wonder whether its recent idea of charging for green waste will push it further down the league table. A lot of people feel very angry that they will be charged for green waste and want to know why Denbighshire council cannot look at a composting system whereby it could collect the green waste and turn it back into compost for those who are keen gardeners. I have to admit that I am not a keen gardener and therefore my green bin is just filled and I do not really want to know what is done with it. Having said that, however, are there any schemes that you can offer local authorities that are interested in looking at ways in which they can make composting schemes or make it more viable for them so that they do not have to charge residents for taking away green waste, which, I fear, will then end up in hedgerows or down back alleys, which would be a blight on our communities? If there is anything that you can offer around that, I am sure that people will be more than interested. I know that Denbighshire takes a very keen interest in what I say in this Chamber, so, hopefully, it will accept the fact that I have praised it this afternoon.
 
15:43
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her very positive contribution about Denbighshire council too. I am very keen that we recognise the success of Wales in terms of where we are. We are, I suppose, the Real Madrid of Europe in terms of recycling—or, indeed, the Rhyl FC of north Wales in terms of our recycling opportunity. [Laughter.] I thought I had best get that in, Presiding Officer, or I would never hear the last of it otherwise.
 
The fact of the matter is that the Member raises some very important issues in terms of recycling. I know that co-mingling is a lot easier for the customer—the residents—in terms of the process, but it does compromise the quality and the cost of the material on exit. That is why a quality product, in terms of it being sorted at source, gives a better price for the material in the longer term.
 
The Member is absolutely right. I share her concerns about the complexities of recycling wherever you are in Wales. It is a big communication issue, but people do get this; we are seeing the effects of positive intervention, but the whole point of the blueprint to which I referred earlier is that it introduces consistency. At the moment, we have hundreds of different styles and colours of recycling boxes right across Wales—bags and boxes that people who move from one county to another would have no idea which to put out when. This is why the blueprint can effectively save money, if we start to do things together once.
 
On the issue around Denbighshire council and the recycling of green waste, what I do not want to do is micromanage authorities in terms of how they recycle, as long as they make sure that they receive the best advice and are able to meet the challenging targets that we set.
 
On the process for the collaborative change programme, it is a funded programme that allows authorities to start changing the way that they process, and it is something that authorities bid into. It makes a very positive contribution in terms of delivery. Again, I know that the Member has raised with me privately some of the concerns she has around some of the collection methods and activity in her constituency, and will continue to do so. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that we are doing very well, but we can do better.
 
15:45
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
May I join the Minister in congratulating the success of the work that has been done on recycling? It is certainly a cause for celebration and is an example of a consistent policy, funded properly that is bearing fruit. That has been achieved, we should emphasise, by county councils, which are criticised so often in the Chamber. The challenge—and it is a real challenge—will be to increase the percentages from the current 52% to 64% by 2019-20. It is going to get even harder and, in this case, there is no doubt that communication and gaining a better understanding among the public is crucial. The question i have is this. Is the Minister prepared to hold a national communications campaign to improve people's understanding of the need to recycle?
 
Reference has been made to the blueprint, which follows changes in European legislation, and the emphasis on having one consistent methos of collection across Wales. I would remind the Minister that a report by the environment committee 10 years ago recommended that the Government adopt a single general system across Wales, and that system was the kerbside separation of recyclables. Would the Minister now acknowledge that it was a mistake not to adopt that policy then and give clear direction to local authorities?
 
Thirdly, the Minister, perfectly rightly, has referred to the advantages of the cyclical economy and the fact that high-quality material that is recycled then attracts a better price. There are no examples in his statement of where this is working well. How much of the material that is recycled in Wales is being sold to and treated by Welsh companies? After all, if the majority of this material is exported for sale to companies in England—as I suspect is the case—we are certainly not getting the full benefit bearing in mind the cost in relation to recycling. Does the Government have any figures to show how much of this material is recycled in Wales?
 
Finally, with reference to green material recycling, which Ann Jones referred to, there is no doubt that this is a service that is appreciated, but I would have to say that we should be encouraging people to compost their own green material home. That is the sensible thing to do. It costs less, it is less of a drain on the environment and, truth be told, it is completely counterproductive to take lorries around the country to collect this green material when the majority of it could be recycled in the home.
 
15:49
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his contribution. We should be ambitious in Wales. Around 100,000 tonnes of waste can produce around 250 jobs. This is a new opportunity in terms of what we should be looking for, to deliver in the future.
 
On the issue of an advertising campaign, we already support Keep Wales Tidy, and I have visited eco-schools. They do a fantastic job in terms of understanding, particularly young people, how recycling will and should take place. I think that it is a generational issue, actually. Our young people are doing a fantastic job with recycling, and we have a lot to learn from them. We will continue to work with schools, Keep Wales Tidy and other organisations to ensure that the message continues to go out.
 
The Member asked me whether I think we made a mistake by not implementing a separation-at-kerbside law. I certainly do not think that it was a mistake. I think that, actually, we should celebrate that we are the best in the UK at recycling. Wales is the best in the UK. We are much better than England and fourth in Europe, so it is successful, and we have been successful. However, I accept, and the Member is right, that we can demonstrate in the blueprint that the separation method gives us the best quality and the best price, and I think that that is what we need to aim for. That is why, in a previous response to Antoinette Sandbach earlier on, I said that I will give some space to authorities to get to the blueprint, but that is time limited. We need to start thinking about how we get there and when this will be delivered, on the basis of the economy and the strength of the economy that this can deliver.
 
I do not have, to hand, the figures in terms of what is recycled in Wales, but I would be happy to write to the Member with any details that I am able to provide.
 
The Member’s final point was one of significant importance: composting. In general, around recycling, we have to take personal responsibility for waste management. This is not, as I said earlier, a job just for councils or for Governments. This is about our individual responsibility for climate change and recycling, and how each one of us can make a significant difference. That is why the suggestion by the Member about composting will and does happen across many communities, but I also recognise the challenges that people face in the different circumstances of where they live, too. However, it is something that everybody should consider: what the waste stream is from their home, household or business in terms of how much more they can contribute to ensure that, actually, we do not create waste and, therefore, do not need to dispose of it.
 
15:52
William PowellBiography
Thank you, Minister, for this afternoon’s statement.
 
It was very much an upbeat statement, and I think that that is to be welcomed. The Minister has rightly celebrated the success of local authorities across Wales, and that is important. However, also, he has spoken of the need, potentially, to intervene where individual authorities fall short and, unfortunately, in this city, we have seen in the last couple of years a tailing off in recycling figures. Despite harnessing social media, the Tidy Text service and so on that the city council employs, we have seen the trend that was in place between 2004 and 2012, rising from 14% to 50% recycling, go in the wrong direction. Minister, do you have plans to intervene on this particular matter? You said that we should recognise good practice where we see it, but also, we cannot afford to allow bad practice to prevail.
 
Currently, there is diversity in Wales in terms of recycling, and we have heard details in our current committee investigation in terms of nine authorities operating a form of kerbside recycling, five using twin-streaming and the remainder, co-mingling. Minister, greater consistency is obviously attractive, and you are going in that direction with your blueprint, but I would urge you to consider the points that Antoinette Sandbach and others have made in terms of looking at the scheduling of this in terms of the increasing drive towards mergers. I would urge you, Minister, to work closely with the WLGA on this matter, because, clearly, it is well placed to judge impacts on the ground.
 
You rightly referred to the importance of behavioural change. In your evidence before the Environment and Sustainability Committee, and also today, you have rightly acknowledged the role of young people, and the major advances that they have shown. However, would it not, Minister, be appropriate to target an education and information campaign specifically towards our more mature fellow citizens to accelerate the pace at which they move to recycle?
 
In terms of reducing the overall amount of material that enters the home, you have correctly stated that this is an important issue. Indeed, earlier this year, the Petitions Committee received a petition from the Friends of Barry Beaches calling on the Welsh Government to ban the use of polystyrene from fast-food and drink packaging.
 
In recent years, Members across this Chamber will have seen the huge rise in the level of packaging, from vacuum-wrapped swedes—a vegetable that surely does not need that level of protection—to frozen fish portions, which now come within their individual wrapping, which is sometimes very difficult to negotiate. Minister, are you prepared to bring to bear your influence to actually drive down the level of excess packaging which, as you have already referred to, aggravates this problem considerably?
 
15:55
Carl SargeantBiography
Thank you for the Member’s contribution. Again, it was another positive recognition of local authorities delivering in Wales. I assure the Member that I have recently met with the Minister for Public Services. He has his eye on performance and delivery. Together, we will ensure that local authorities, of whatever scale or size, will deliver. Quite frankly, to suggest that mergers may have an effect on recycling, in recycling terms, is ‘rubbish’. [Laughter.] The fact is that it does work. We are seeing local authorities that have worked together. My example earlier about Powys and its successful rates while operating different schemes in the same authority is evidence of that. The fact is that, whatever the merger opportunities are for the future, what I have real concern about is that, subject not to merger, we will see services starting to fail, including recycling. We cannot afford for that to happen; therefore, we must move forward very quickly, working with the Minister for Public Services to ensure that we get good, effective mergers at the appropriate time, working with the Welsh Local Government Association.
 
I think the Member’s point regarding packaging is an important one. I believe that that is a reserved matter. However, I think that there is an issue around social responsibility of companies and what they use in terms of their packaging. It is something that my department and I are considering in terms of some dialogue with Westminster on how we could take this forward.
 
As the Member recognises, the communication on recycling is a challenging one to whatever age group. Keep Wales Tidy is doing a very good job, but it is about communicating that everyone should understand the ease of recycling, why we should do it, and that personal responsibility, which I always bring people back to. We all have to take a piece of responsibility to achieve the target ,where we aspire to be the best in the world in terms of our recycling rates.
 
15:57
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
Dame Presiding Officer, I thank the Minister very much for his enthusiasm on this issue. It is an enthusiasm that he knows I share from the days when I was voluntary chair of Keep Wales Tidy many years ago. I am sure that Keep Wales Tidy can take advantage of any resources that the Government may have, either in the form of an advertising campaign or in spreading best practice, wherever it is found across Wales. However, may I ask him one further question and emphasise this point? Is it not high time we learned the lessons of this whole issue of waste? The people of Wales are often ahead of Welsh Governments, whether local government or national, when they see the need for change. The way in which the population of Dwyfor Meirionnydd, if I may say so, has taken to recycling and the new arrangements, despite what some local and national politicians who should know better had to say about that issue. However, has the time not come for us to find a way of devising a national policy in all areas of public services that are appropriate for Wales? We are a nation of only 3 million people, after all.
 
15:58
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his contribution, and I recognise the good work that he did as the voluntary chair of Keep Wales Tidy. Indeed, I think that putting change on a footing has proved evident today in terms of our recycling rates and how we are achieving them. The Member raises a very important point: it is actually about what communities do deliver on the ground. The communities that he represents are clearly delivering for the community, but more importantly for the effects on the climate across the world. So, we can all play a part in our contribution to this.
 
The blueprint is a starting point for change across Wales. For the 3 million people who need to engage in this process, we have to have a structure behind that. A framework for the blueprint needs to be adopted, and I will be working with the Minister for Public Services to ensure that we will be encouraging local authorities very quickly to adopt these processes as soon as possible.
 
16:00
Russell GeorgeBiography
I recognise that many communities and local authorities are achieving success in meeting recycling targets, which, of course, is to be welcomed. We all welcome that today. However, when a local authority is not meeting those targets, you have the ability to fine those local authorities. Could you talk to that point and explain in what circumstances you may take that approach?
 
16:00
Carl SargeantBiography
Of course, it is a bit of a carrot-and-stick approach. We are investing many millions of pounds with local authorities for transition to change in order for them to achieve. What I have to do is consider, case by case, where authorities are failing and understand the reason behind that. Sometimes, there are effects of different types of communities and the way they recycle. It might be a communications issue or it might be a physical collection issue.
 
I cannot be specific on any of the authorities that have breached, but I do look at them very carefully and will consider how we interact with them. There has to be a place in time when we say, ‘If you don’t comply, then there will be a fine mechanism put in place in order for that to happen’. However, that can have a negative effect—by actually not achieving you get a fine and then it is even harder to achieve. So, that is why I am trying to use encouragement as opposed to legislation or a stick at the moment to beat local authorities with.
 
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair at 16:01.
 
Carl SargeantBiography
They are doing an incredibly good job across Wales. We should encourage them more and I will do anything I can through the process of my ministry, in terms of funding, reassurance or help to local authorities as they continue to deliver across Wales.
 
16:01
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
16:01
Statement: Hate Crime Awareness Week and Future Delivery
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I call the Minister, Lesley Griffiths.
 
16:01
Lesley GriffithsBiographyThe Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Within my portfolio, I have responsibility for ‘Tackling Hate Crimes and Incidents: A Framework for Action’. I would like to update the Chamber on some of the challenges we are facing and some of the feedback I have personally heard during Hate Crime Awareness Week, which took place last month.
 
Recent published figures show that 1,877 hate crimes were recorded by police forces in Wales from 2013 to 2014, an increase of 6% compared with the previous year, with an increase in reporting across all five protected characteristics. Crown Prosecution Service statistics also show an increase in prosecutions and successful convictions in Wales for the same period. An increase in reporting is welcome, as we know from research that people are reluctant to report. Therefore, I hope to see these figures increase further as a result of the implementation of the framework, with victims more confident to report hate crime.
 
Hate Crime Awareness Week provided an opportunity to raise awareness and I provided funding to police and crime commissioners across Wales to enhance engagement at a grass-roots level. There was some excellent work undertaken across neighbourhood policing teams, which included attending community venues, places of worship and engaging directly with communities.
 
I am pleased that Welsh Government funding has been awarded to Victim Support Cymru to deliver a national hate crime reporting centre. Already in the first five months, there have been 500 cases to the reporting centre and a comprehensive wraparound service of support has been put in place. Reporting in Wales is being enhanced though our five regional equality councils, which have received funding from the Big Lottery Fund to provide advocacy and support to hate crime victims. There are real opportunities for Wales to lead the way in tackling hate crime and incidents.
 
At the beginning of Hate Crime Awareness Week, I met with faith communities forum members and heard their views on hate crime. I attended Cardiff United Synagogue to speak with community members, along with south Wales police and crime commissioner Alun Michael, and deputy police and crime commissioner Sophie Howe. There were real concerns raised around heightened tensions as a consequence of world events and a greater feeling of insecurity. Some Jewish community members said they felt afraid to walk in public with their skull caps on and would hide their identity to avoid any prejudice. There are also clearly heightened safety concerns in our Muslim communities, and we know from the work of the organisation Tell MAMA, which works with Muslim communities, that there is an increase in Islamophobia.
 
On the Saturday, I attended a community awareness raising event in Wrexham. I spoke with some truly inspirational people who work on a daily basis to help eradicate hostility and prejudice within our communities. There were clear signs people are beginning to feel more confident to tackle some of these issues. I hope that the briefing papers that we produced during Hate Crime Awareness Week will give people the information that they need to take action on hate crime. I want to continue to work with our community and faith leaders to increase greater awareness of hate crime. I will be working with the faith communities forum to develop an awareness-raising event in the Senedd, which will take place in early 2015.
 
Sadly, disability hate crime remains part of our society. Following the Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry into disability harassment and the subsequent National Assembly for Wales inquiry in 2011, some progress has been made. We have seen an 11% increase in disability hate crimes reported and, importantly, we have seen an increase in prosecutions and convictions in Wales. We support police forces who are tackling this with multi-agency risk-assessment conferences to support high-risk victims. This is part of our work with non-devolved criminal justice agencies through the Hate Crime Criminal Justice Board Cymru. Funding has been provided to the Taking Flight theatre company to tour schools across Wales to deliver an interactive production to increase awareness of disability hate crime with over 3,000 pupils per year. Befriending disabled or older people for exploitation is known as ‘mate crime’ and remains a significant challenge. We have produced a guide to spot potential signs of mate crime, in partnership with Disability Wales and Mencap Cymru. However, there is still much more work to do. I am aware of the impact that welfare reform and negative images in the media have had on disabled people, and we all have a role in challenging this.
 
Cyber hate and bullying have a devastating impact, and this is a form of abuse from which there seems no escape. I was pleased to see powers being brought in to crack down on internet trolls. We have already seen some high-profile cases in Wales, and this is especially true among children and young people. We recently awarded a contract to South West Grid to work with us on a programme of e-safety education and awareness-raising activities. We will continue to work to tackle these issues across Wales. A new Welsh Government anti-bullying leadership group will be launched in November, jointly chaired by officials from the Fairer Futures Division and the Department for Education and Skills. Monitoring delivery of the framework for action is essential. I am chairing a new independent advisory group, which met for the first time on 16 October. This consists of organisations representing communities across all of the protected characteristics, who will engage with grass-roots communities to provide feedback on the impact of the framework. The group will also play a key role in advising me on future delivery and considering statistical evidence to analyse the impact of the framework. Next summer, I will publish a report setting out progress in delivering the framework, together with a new delivery plan for 2015-16.
 
I will be working actively across my portfolio area to raise awareness and increase reporting. I was pleased that a new social housing toolkit was launched during Hate Crime Awareness Week, and I believe that there is a significant role for the housing sector to play in tackling hate crime. I remain wholly committed to working with my Cabinet colleagues and all Assembly Members to continue to tackle hostility and prejudice in all its forms.
 
16:08
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Minister, I thank you very much for this statement, and I appreciate the points that you have already raised. You made some very good comments and remarks in your statement. It is clear that the underreporting of incidents of hate crime remains a problem. That is why events such as Hate Crime Awareness Week are so important.
 
May I ask the Minister what plans she has to raise public awareness about what constitutes a hate crime and to encourage reporting of incidents by the victims? A recent survey revealed that 56% of victims did not report hate crimes because they either regarded the incident as too trivial, or they did not believe that the police could do anything about it. What more can the Welsh Government do to increase the confidence of hate crime victims that reporting incidents is the right approach? Does the Minister agree that victims of hate crimes must be kept informed by the police of the progress made in the investigation of these crimes? Emotional and practical support for hate crime victims is mainly provided by family and friends. However, in some cases, victims may not have access to the support of strong family networks, and their feelings of isolation and vulnerability can be made worse by disability and rural living. What is the Minister doing to ensure that such victims have access to comprehensive and easily accessible support services?
 
Minister, effective partnership working by public and third sector bodies, together with the police and criminal justice agencies, is vital if this crime is to be tackled effectively. This means that activities need to be co-ordinated, and good practice needs to be shared and promoted, together with extensive training, recognising and dealing with hate crimes. Will the Minister take the lead in ensuring that such co-ordinated partnership is delivered in Wales? There were a few areas that you mentioned, Minister, which I appreciate. You went to a synagogue, but do not forget that the Muslim community in Wales are fourth and fifth generation, and there are still hate crime incidents against their senior citizens and at the mosque, when some dirty animals’ heads are thrown in certain places, and there is abuse when people come out from prayer. That is also very disturbing among the community, and that crime is normally never reported. I would ask you to encourage priests and the mosques, temples, churches and synagogues, should anything happen, to report it strongly to the police, to be involved and to put CCTV cameras in dangerous areas.
 
Another area is that of saving electricity at night time. In some areas, in certain places in city centres, the lights should not be turned off at night, Minister. Those are the areas where crimes happen. When people walk through those dark streets and dark areas, those are the places where there are other people who are not getting on with each other—and it is only a very minor number of people who are actually prejudiced, be it against a colour, a cause, a religion or anything. So, such an area should be lit, so that the problems can be ridded. Minister, I again thank you very much for taking this lead, and I am sure that we will set an example in Wales to eradicate this bad habit in this country.
 
16:12
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you, Mohammad Asghar, for the contribution. I think that you are absolutely right; there is underreporting, and one of the whole purposes of Hate Crime Awareness Week was that we could see, hopefully, a rise in that reporting. I have asked for an evaluation of the week, but, first of all, we need to see what actions were taken during that week and whether we will now see a rise in the reporting. So, I will have that evaluation, which I will be very happy to share with Members.
 
On the point that you raised, and certainly, in talking to people, I did not just visit a synagogue; I did several visits. Certainly, during the visits that week, and on other visits that I have undertaken since I have been in this portfolio, some people do not recognise what they are being subjected to as hate crime. I think that that is a very important point, and the reason we wanted the awareness week was to show people that nothing is too trivial if you think that you are a victim of hate crime. I mentioned the papers that we put out—we put one out every day of the week on a specific protected characteristic, and we gave examples to show people what hate crime is. One example that was told to me was of a Muslim lady who said, in front of her friends and colleagues, that if something in particular was happening anywhere else in the world and was on the news, and it was against Muslims, she then did not want to go to school to pick her children up. You could see that her colleagues and friends were really shocked that she felt like that. They did not see that as hate crime. So, I think that events such as Hate Crime Awareness Week are very good to show not just people who are suffering from it, but their friends and colleagues, too.
 
I think that the point you raised about making sure that people have emotional and practical support is very important, because, if you are going to report that you are the victim of hate crime, you want to be taken seriously. I think that it is incredibly important that the police deal with that.
 
I mentioned that I had visited the synagogue with the police and crime commissioner from Cardiff and the deputy police and crime commissioner—sorry, from south Wales. There were several police officers in attendance, and they heard what those people at the synagogue, the Jewish community, were telling them. I think that they absolutely took that on board.
 
I mentioned in my statement that we had given £5,000 funding to each police and crime commissioner. The Dyfed-Powys police and crime commissioner did not take up the offer due to time constraints, but I will be meeting the Dyfed-Powys police and crime commissioner so that we can discuss future collaboration, because I think that it is really important that we do have that partnership working with the police.
 
I think that we are taking the lead in Wales. We are doing very important work in this area. It is very important that we carry it on—and, as I said, we will have the evaluation—if we think that it significantly increases the number of people who feel they can report it. As I said, with more reporting, eventually I want to see a drop, because if the perpetrators realise that they will be dealt with very seriously, then hopefully the incidence will drop.
 
16:16
Jeff CuthbertBiography
I thank the Minister for her statement today. As the Minister will be aware, I worked on the issue of hate crime awareness and strategies to tackle this problem during my time as the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty. I very much agree with what the Minister has said about the need to improve the arrangements to report hate crime and about ensuring that there is a co-ordinated multi-agency response towards tackling it. Partnership working is very much the key. There is, however, one point that I want to pick up on particularly and, indeed, this was introduced by Mohammad Asghar. Would you agree with me, Minister, that our efforts need to pay careful attention to the issues facing Wales’s Muslim communities, especially because of the rise of Islamic extremism in Iraq and Syria, and to ensure that they do not become the victims of any retaliatory hate crimes, while at the same time working to tackle with the police and other agencies instances of extremism that may spill over into Wales?
 
16:17
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, absolutely, and I pay tribute to the work that you did as my predecessor. Certainly, you raised a very important point about the Muslim communities, and Mohammad Asghar mentioned that we now have fourth and fifth generation communities, and that has certainly come through from people I have spoken to. In the synagogue, there was one lady, an elderly lady, who said that she had lived in Cardiff all of her life, but now, suddenly, she did not feel as safe as she had done. So, it is really important that we get that message out to them that this will not be tolerated, there is no place for that sort of behaviour in Wales, and they will be taken seriously.
 
Partnership working is absolutely vital, and I mentioned the funding that we have given to the police and crime commissioners, and I certainly want to follow up with them the work that was undertaken during that week. It is not just about one week, is it? We want to carry it on all through the year. So, I will certainly follow that up.
 
16:18
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Minister, thank you for your statement. As my party’s spokesperson, obviously, I have to endorse entirely the general principles in your statement today of trying to reduce the number of hate crime incidents here in Wales—and there are too many categories to itemise, I believe. However, I personally look forward to the day when all hatred is reduced to the gutter, where it belongs. I think that you are right in pointing out to us that schools have a huge influence in educating young people about its effects, especially, indeed, through social media, which many young people are now absolutely hooked upon—in fact, I am getting hooked upon it myself, I think.
 
You highlighted one aspect in particular, and it is no coincidence that I choose to highlight that same subject. So, we are great minds thinking alike I hope. One of the worst aspects of hate crime is that against disabled people and, in particular, institutional hate crime against disabled people. I will be very brief, Minister. I have one question. What is the Welsh Government doing to tackle institutional hate crime against disabled people and do you agree with me that a disabled persons’ commissioner is now needed?
 
16:19
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I thank Lindsay Whittle for that question. I know that that is something that has been discussed and there were consultation events on the framework for action on independent living. It was viewed then that the appointment of a disability commissioner was not seen as a priority among disabled people who were in attendance. What they wanted to see was a strong focus on strengthening the voice of disabled people themselves, so that they could have greater choice and control over the services that they receive. So, I do not think that it is the right time. Certainly, I will listen to disabled people as we go forward.
 
16:20
Peter BlackBiography
I also welcome the statement, Minister, on the work that the Welsh Government is doing on this particular issue. This sort of hate crime is one of the worst forms of discrimination, particularly when directed against disabled people, in terms of mate crime as well. Certainly, I know that the committee, when it looked at that, was shocked at some of the evidence that it received.
 
Minister, I have just a couple of questions. We had a debate on this on 20 May this year and I am pleased that the independent advisory group, which the then Minister referred to, has now met and has started its work. I would be grateful if you could say why it took so long to get that group up and running. We are talking about more than six months since that debate. As part of that debate there was reference to a hate crime reporting centre to encourage an increase in reporting hate crimes, including a new helpline and online support. I would be grateful if you could give me an update on that particular aspect of the work of your department. Following on from the previous contribution, there was also an amendment to that debate recognising that school councils and school governors have a role as well as teachers, families and the wider society in preventing bullying. I notice that your statement mostly keeps to your own portfolio. Perhaps you could tell us what work you are doing with the Minister for education to try to take forward that aspect of tackling hate crime.
 
16:21
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I thank Peter Black for those questions. In relation to the independent advisory group, as I said, I launched it during Hate Crime Awareness Week. Work had been done over the summer before I came into portfolio. I thought that that week was the best time to launch it. I chair that group. The members of the group have been selected on the basis of representation of all of the protected characteristics and from organisations that have a strong track record right across Wales of tackling hate crime. What I have asked them to do is go out to talk to people within their network to bring evidence and views back to it.
 
In relation to the national hate crime reporting centre, that was launched alongside the framework in May of this year by Victim Support Cymru. I mentioned that there have been 500 cases in the service to date. We have funded Victim Support for a three-year period to establish this centre. What is really important is that anybody who reports hate crime or any incident will have fair and equitable support. It does not matter where you live. What we want is consistency right across Wales. They need to have access to advocacy, advice and, importantly, support.
 
You asked about what I have been doing with the Minister for Education and Skills. I have just written to him, following on from that meeting I referred to. When I attended the synagogue in Cardiff, the need to tackle and raise awareness of bullying in schools was raised with me. So, I wrote last week to the Minister, following Hate Crime Awareness Week, to tell him of issues that were raised with me and to say that I want to continue to work with him. International students in Wales, particularly at higher education level, have also raised concerns with me. There has been a good deal of work going on previously in the Department for Education and Skills. I know that, this month, it is launching the Wales anti-bullying leadership group. We need to make sure that teachers feel confident in tackling these issues if somebody discloses problems to them.
 
16:24
Byron DaviesBiography
Minister, thank you for your Hate Crime Awareness Week and future delivery statement. We can deduce from that that crime reporting, prosecutions and convictions are up.
 
You are quite right in what you say at the beginning of your statement that an increase in reporting is welcome. As we know from research, people are reluctant to report; how true that is, whether it is hate crime related to disability, race, colour, creed, sexual orientation or bullying. From my own experience, working in less affluent London boroughs, it is something that has to be stamped on immediately, otherwise it increases and destroys neighbourhoods and all sorts of things, including the individual. That is really rather sad.
 
On 10 June 2014, I asked the First Minister here what assessment he had made of the recent British social attitudes survey results on self-reported racial prejudice in Wales. I notice that you did not refer to it in your statement, but the First Minister responded by saying:
 
‘It is obviously disappointing, but the Member should bear in mind that the sample size was just over 100 people. Normally, that would be far too small…1,000 is the minimum’.
 
I totally agree with that. Accepting that, it nevertheless shows a rise of 14 percentage points since 2000 based on figures from, as I said, the British social attitudes survey, which I think is a worrying factor, as I hope you will agree. What action will the Government take on this, and can you think about taking part in, or perhaps organising, a survey so that we can get a true picture of how it is in Wales? That is my first question to you.
 
Secondly, I would like to refer to your last paragraph, where you say that you will be working actively across your portfolio area to raise awareness and to increase reporting of this. I would implore you to ensure that police forces feel the need to be responsive to these reports and ensure that prompt action is taken. The Member for Caerphilly is absolutely right that it is about partnership working. I would ask you to ensure that the police do respond to it quite properly.
 
16:26
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I thank Byron Davies for those points. I am not aware of the British social attitudes survey, but I will certainly ask officials to give me a briefing on that. I think that the independent advisory group is where I will look to get a feel of what is going on out there. I mentioned in my answer to Peter Black that the people sitting on that group have been chosen because of the work that they have already undertaken within their organisation or individually in relation to tackling hate crime.
 
You are quite right; across my portfolio, I will certainly—. Now that housing and regeneration have come into the portfolio, housing associations have done a great deal of work in this area too. I have been very pleasantly surprised at just how much work housing associations do, not just to provide housing for their tenants but also work to encourage tenants to come forward with lots of different issues and help them to deal with them. I mentioned the toolkit that one housing association has brought forward, and I would like to see that in more housing associations across Wales. I am absolutely committed to working with the police and any non-devolved body to make sure that they realise the seriousness of the issue. I mentioned that I was at the synagogue; there were several police officers there, and some members of the Jewish community were asking how urgently the police would respond if somebody from that community rang up and said ‘I’m a victim of hate crime’? I think that they were very reassured by the answers and by the support given by the police.
 
16:28
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
16:28
Statement: The Chief Medical Officer's Annual Report 2013-14
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I call the Minister for Health and Social Services, Mark Drakeford.
 
16:28
Mark DrakefordBiographyThe Minister for Health and Social Services
Each year the Chief Medical Officer for Wales sets out an independent overview of health issues. I am pleased to make a statement to mark the publication of the second annual report delivered by the present CMO, Dr Ruth Hussey. The report reflects on developments over the 12 months that followed the first report and looks ahead to the future.
 
In the year to April 2013, Dr Hussey emphasised the importance of preventative services, including the part played by health at work and the contribution that new technologies will make to this agenda in the future. She also drew particular attention to the need for clear and understandable information, on which the public can act.
 
In this second annual report, the CMO provides evidence of progress against all these headings: the Health Working Wales programme, the health technology fund and the rapidly developing My Local Health Service website, while returning very clearly, again, to the theme of prevention.
 
In this second annual report, Dr Hussey articulates the different contributions that individuals and organisations can, and need, to make in preventing ill health and bearing down on avoidable mortality. Indeed, the distinction that Dr Hussey makes between avoidable harm and unavoidable harm is, it seems to me, one of the very important ways in which the report will help to shape future policy and practice.
 
The report is clear that, in order to allow the health service of the future to go on providing for those harms that cannot be avoided, much more needs to be done to reduce and eliminate harms that need never have happened at all. Preventing the preventable, Dr Hussey says, should be the watchword for the future.
 
The report provides clear recommendations for action. It calls on the UK Government to take legislative action to reduce sugar intake. The responsibility deal with the food industry has produced real gains in reducing salt intake in processed foods. But, with obesity continuing to contribute to so many chronic illnesses, the report calls for urgent mandatory action at the UK level to reduce sugar levels in processed foods and introduce curbs on advertising—especially where children are concerned—and for continued exploration of taxation on sugary drinks.
 
At the devolved level, the report draws out the importance of both the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill and the intended public health Bill for Wales. The former will enable a long-term preventative approach across all policy areas. The latter will provide a set of practical measures to address the major public health challenges of today. The chief medical officer specifically draws attention to the set of actions, legislative and otherwise, that are being taken in relation to tobacco. She endorses the Faculty of Public Health’s advice that a precautionary approach should be adopted to e-cigarettes and provides explicit support for minimum unit pricing in relation to alcohol. All of these are measures that legislators can take that will help materially to avoid harms to health that need never have happened. But when we have acted collectively to create the conditions in which individuals are better able to take care of their own health, the report is also clear that we each have our individual responsibility to take those actions that can only be taken by individuals.
 
This year, the chief medical officer’s report draws out the lessons of the Caerphilly cohort study, which William Graham highlighted in the Chamber earlier this afternoon, with its remarkable confirmation of the impact that health behaviours have on wellbeing later in life: a 50% reduction in diabetes, a 60% reduction in dementia and so on for those adhering consistently to four or five of the healthy behaviours identified as contributing towards an individual’s healthy lifestyle.
 
Preventing the preventable goes beyond legislation, of course, and the report focuses on other forms of collective action that are key to achieving our shared ambitions in reducing air pollution, sustaining high immunisation rates and tackling anti-microbial resistance. Dr Hussey refers to this as ‘shared responsibility’, in which best outcomes are jointly produced by services and individuals, each making a necessary contribution, rooted in genuine reciprocity and high levels of trust. These characteristics are important in all parts of the health service, but nowhere more so than in primary care, to which the chief medical officer devotes a whole chapter in her annual report. It sets out the preventative purpose of the primary care service of the future. A primary healthcare service for Wales, based on the principles of prudent healthcare, will become the mainstay of the NHS, the report says. It will tackle the root cause of ill health; prevent people from being admitted to hospital unnecessarily; help those who have been admitted to get home quickly with the right support and motivate and support people with chronic conditions and long-term illnesses to self-manage their health at home.
 
I would like to put on record my thanks to Dr Hussey both for her report and for the leadership that she provides to the medical profession in Wales. This year’s annual report reminds us of the challenges that we face—persistent inequalities, workforce pressures, shifting public health messages from education to motivation—but it also identifies a series of successes and further opportunities for the future. Realising those opportunities, the chief medical officer concludes, relies on,
 
‘a full partnership between the public and public services at every level.’
 
That is a message, Dirprwy Lywydd, that I believe should resonate with us all.
 
16:36
Darren MillarBiography
Thank you, Minister, for your statement. Indeed, I want to put on record my thanks to Dr Hussey on the publication of her second annual report. I am very pleased to see that there is a significant emphasis in it on prevention and, indeed, on patient responsibility—something that the Minister will know I return to on a regular basis in this Chamber.
 
As you would expect, Minister, I have a number of questions that I would like to ask. There are parts of the report that make for worrying reading, particularly in terms of the number of avoidable deaths in 2013-14—there were over 7,000 of them here in Wales. Obviously, it is important that we reduce that number; that is the number of deaths that could have been prevented had there been more timely medical intervention, or different decisions taken about individuals’ care. I know that the mortality reviews that are under way, whenever there is a death in hospitals across Wales, have been drawing out some interesting evidence on those things, but I am a little concerned, Minister, that there is little reference to mortality data in the CMO’s report. There is a small sentence that suggests that it is not always necessarily the best piece of information that can be used to determine the quality of services. However, we know from evidence just this morning in the Public Accounts Committee that it was the risk adjusted mortality index figures that were published by ABMU health board that helped it, with other information as well, to triangulate those data and focus on some of the problems in terms of the care of elderly, frail people in the Princess of Wales Hospital. I think, Minister, that it would be helpful if you could outline your current thinking in terms of the use of mortality data by the Welsh NHS for the future.
 
I was very pleased to see that the CMO made reference to the need for greater transparency in information sharing in her report. It is quite right that there should be information available to the public and other interested stakeholders. Obviously, the innovation of the My Local Health Service website has been a very positive development here in Wales and I want to see that used to a greater extent in the future. You will be aware, Minister, of the concerns that have been expressed by some in this Chamber, even today, at the lack of transparency that there appears to be regarding the information that is available to the public on the escalation and intervention by the Welsh Government that is taking place in a number of health boards around Wales at present. Could you give a commitment today to the publication of that information on the My Local Health Service website, so that members of the public and other stakeholders, like Assembly Members, can refer to that and see what action is being taken by the Welsh Government to hold health boards to account and to support them in achieving their performance and quality and safety objectives?
 
The CMO’s report makes reference to vaccination levels in Wales and, of course, there is nothing like a measles outbreak to drive vaccination levels up. It is pleasing to see that there has been progress against those. There is also a suggestion, Minister, that consideration be given to introducing the meningitis B vaccine in Wales. I would be very grateful if you could put on record your current thinking around that. It would be great to see that available in Wales. We know that there are many preventable deaths that could be avoided if such a vaccine were available.
 
I am disappointed to note that, while there was reference to the influenza vaccine take-up among NHS staff and the fact that that had increased over the past few years, there were no comparisons to be made in the CMO’s report between the take-up rates in Wales and other parts of the UK. Minister, you will know that it has been a cause of concern for members of the Public Accounts Committee in particular that the take-up levels in Wales are lower than elsewhere, and that we do not have the same ambition in terms of targets for influenza vaccination among NHS Wales front-line staff as elsewhere in the UK. I wonder whether you could advise the Chamber today whether you have reviewed your current position on that and whether there will be more ambitious targets in the current winter period.
 
Workforce challenges were also referred to in the report. It was a very interesting statistic that the CMO highlighted regarding the percentage of the population in Wales that finds it difficult to make GP appointments. I think that she said that four in 10 or around 38% of patients find it difficult. I wonder whether you can provide us with an update on what action you are taking to hold health boards to account to ensure that they are requiring GPs to fulfil their contractual obligations. One thing that we know is that, even within the current contracts, which may not be perfect, there are opportunities to get more and improved access to GPs for patients. I wonder what support you are giving to health boards to see just that.
 
Finally, on patient responsibility, I wonder whether you can give us an update on the Choose Well campaign and how successful, or otherwise, that has been in encouraging patients to be more responsible about the decisions that they take in terms of accessing information and advice on their own healthcare. I know that that programme has been subject to an evaluation, but I have not seen the outcome of it. It would be helpful to know what the current situation is.
 
16:42
Mark DrakefordBiography
I thank Darren Millar for those questions. I will take them in order. The CMO’s report provides information on preventable, amenable and avoidable deaths. She points out that it is encouraging to note that avoidable, preventable and amenable mortality have fallen year on year in Wales since 2001. Since 2001, rates of avoidable deaths in Wales have been lower than those in the north-west and the north-east of England. While the figure that the CMO quotes is the most recent one, there is a pattern here that is helpful to us. Data are important in this area. The future, I believe, lies in the development of the mortality case note review system, which we are well advanced on in Wales and to which the CMO makes reference in her report. I believe that as that develops further it will provide members of the public with a better insight into the relationship between care received and avoidable mortality. Of course, it is very important to repeat what the CMO says: the figure that she provides is not of deaths that could have been avoided by care within the health system when people become ill; it also includes all those deaths that could have been avoided by better public health measures much earlier in the system. In many ways, that is where the maximum gains are most likely to be achieved.
 
I am grateful to Darren Millar for what he said on the My Local Health Service website. I wish that it were used more. It is now a very rich source of information for members of the public and it manages to combine information with explanation. I think that as people find out more about it, so the use of it will go up.
 
On vaccination, where meningitis B is concerned, we will follow the advice of the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation, which operates at the UK level. It has recommended the introduction of meningitis B vaccination, provided that it can be supplied by the manufacturer at a cost-effective price. It is the Department of Health in London that is leading on behalf of all four nations in the negotiations with the manufacturer, and they are not, as yet, concluded. I was pleased to see in the report that the incidence of meningitis B in Wales has fallen every year from 2005 onwards, and is now in single figures. That does not mean to say that we do not want to follow the advice of the JCVI.
 
Staff uptake of flu immunisation is not where we would like it to be, but the rate of improvement among staff in Wales has been by far the fastest of any of the four home nations. We have now overtaken some other parts of the United Kingdom. I have spoken at length with representatives of staff groups as to whether this is the right year to change the target figure. By and large, their advice to me is that it would be demotivating, in this year, to move the goalposts further forward just as we look as though we are about to reach them. However, I understand that we need a target that is stretching and challenging, as well as one that motivates people. I am clear that this is the last year in which we will rely entirely on persuasion and making it easier for staff to take up the flu vaccination. We need a different sort of message in the system as well, and I will keep the whole issue of targets under review.
 
As far as the workforce is concerned, it is very important that GPs fulfil their contractual obligations, and there has been a great deal of progress in making sure that they open for their contracted hours, right across Wales. To improve access in primary care, the chief medical officer is clear that the workforce of tomorrow will not be the workforce of yesterday, but will rely on a broader range of contributions from different professional groups, all able to make a contribution to seeing patients effectively and providing effective care at primary care level.
 
Finally, on the point of responsibility, the report echoes the position that I think that I would take: Government has a responsibility to create the conditions in which people are better able to look after their own health, and the Choose Well campaign is about creating those conditions. Then individuals have a responsibility to take advantage of the opportunities that have been afforded. Once the Choose Well evaluation is available for publication, I will make sure that it is shared with Members.
 
16:48
Elin JonesBiography
I thank the chief medical officer for her annual report, and such an annual report is a useful yardstick to assess progress and Government performance in terms of improving public health and the performance of a nation of individuals in improving our own health as well. There are positive steps and progress but there is more still to be done and there are new challenges facing our society and Government year on year in this particular area.
 
I have a few specific questions. First of all, Minister, the report is very clear that the link between levels of ill health and poverty continues to be a link that is very difficult to break. During questions this afternoon on the Government’s anti-poverty plans and programmes, we heard mention of a range of schemes that are delivered by the Government, and Communities First, perhaps, is the most significant of those, targeted at areas of deprivation. Are you confident that those schemes are sufficiently active in the public health sphere to ensure that they too work towards endeavouring to break the link between levels of ill health and poverty? Are you confident that the CMO, for example, has sufficiently close links with programmes such as Communities First in order to ensure that that happens?
 
Secondly, the CMO is very clear in her report on the need to reduce the amount of sugar in individuals’ diets and clearly sees that there is a need to look at taxation of sugary drinks as a means of promoting this. Your statement is a little more ambiguous perhaps as to the Government’s stance on taxation of sugary drinks, so perhaps I could tempt you to explain a little more clearly your policy stance on this issue and what steps you are taking, if you are in favour of taxation of sugary drinks, to encourage the Westminster Government, as the powers currently reside there, to look seriously at such a t