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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. The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
 
1. Questions to the Minister for Natural Resources
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
13:30
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
The first item this afternoon are questions to the Minister for Natural Resources. Question 1 is to be answered by the Deputy Minister. I’m sorry, I’m on the next set of questions already. Question 1 is Angela Burns.
 
Planning Laws (West Wales)
 
13:30
Angela BurnsBiography
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the effect of planning laws on agricultural matters in west Wales? OAQ(4)0388(NR)
 
13:31
Carl SargeantBiographyThe Minister for Natural Resources
I thank the Member for her question today. The agricultural sector benefits from special consideration under the planning system, which includes a specific permitted development right.
 
13:31
Angela BurnsBiography
Thank you for that, Minister. My concern is with the incremental development of farms that grow over time, to the point where they can be classified as superfarms. I have no problem with superfarms, and I have written to you on this issue, and I’m grateful for your reply. However, the people who live in the vicinity of these superfarms actually have pretty miserable lives, with enormous equipment going up and down small, narrow lanes, and the problems with the seed, the birds, and all the rest of it. In your reply, you said that, as long as superfarms are operating within parameters of their planning approval, and planning conditions, set out to mitigate the farm’s impact, then there’s nothing that can be done.
 
My point is that, because these farms have grown incrementally over time, there are no planning conditions set, and so the farmers enjoy the ability to have what is, essentially, an industrial effort, in a very, very closed-in, agricultural area, and the people in the surrounding villages—and I’m talking about, really, the whole area around the Alltycnap Road in Carmarthen—are suffering. And this is also true of people in Ludchurch; it’s all over Wales, I’m sure. And I wondered, Minister, whether you would take another look at this area.
 
13:32
Carl SargeantBiography
Indeed. I’m grateful for the Member’s question. I think I will look at it in more detail in regards to the application she makes reference to. I think our policy objectives that we issue—the guidance and the technical advice notes, and ‘Planning Policy Wales’—do provide enough detail, in general, for development consideration, but the add-on effects are clearly having an impact on the Member’s constituency. Of course, there are always the enforcement issues for local authorities to consider, but I will give that some further thought, as the Member has raised it again today.
 
The Farming Sector
 
13:33
Mohammad AsgharBiography
2. What plans does the Welsh Government have to improve access to information by the farming sector in Wales? OAQ(4)0384(NR)
 
13:33
Rebecca EvansBiographyThe Deputy Minister for Farming and Food
The use of online technologies by farmers is a cornerstone of a modern and professional industry. Rural Payments Wales Online makes customer access to information and correspondence readily available. Going forward, we plan to increasingly publish key statutory and scheme information through this route, and via Gwlad online.
 
13:33
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you for that reply, Minister. ‘Gwlad’ magazine plays an important role in informing farmers of important news relating to the industry, including revelatory changes. The Welsh Government has decided that, from April 2016, ‘Gwlad’ magazine will only be available online. Given the poor availability of broadband in rural areas in Wales, this will hinder farmers accessing important information. Will the Minister listen to representation from the Farmers Union of Wales, and ensure ‘Gwlad’ magazine remains available in hard copies here in Wales? Thank you.
 
13:34
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you for that question. You referred to the issue of broadband availability in rural Wales, but, at the moment, already, almost 80 per cent of homes and businesses in rural Wales have access to fast broadband. This certainly puts us well ahead of the European Union average, and ahead of countries such as France and Italy, for example. But we have to appreciate that communicating and doing business online is fast becoming the norm for the Welsh farming industry. Seventy-two per cent of the single application forms were submitted online in 2015, and this reduced farmer error and allowed us to pay more than half of all farmers in the first week as well. And farming is a professional business. We have a modernisation agenda, and it’s difficult to imagine a modern industry of any sort that doesn’t embrace online information and communication.
 
13:35
Joyce WatsonBiography
Minister, you’ve already alluded to the fact that farming has to move into the modern industry and you’ve already said a lot about the online resources. But are you able to tell me about any other ways in which the Welsh Government is helping the farming industry to move into the modern era?
 
13:35
Rebecca EvansBiography
I thank you for that question. We’ve been working very closely and in partnership with the farming industry to deliver what I think are some real game-changing initiatives, such as the strategic framework for agriculture, Farming Connect, RPW Online and EID Cymru as well. All of these initiatives are designed to modernise and professionalise the industry and to encourage the greater use of online resources in what is an increasingly global marketplace.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
13:35
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from the party spokespeople, and first this afternoon is the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd.
 
13:36
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Minister, some people are now saying that the Welsh Government’s target of a 40 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020 is, and I quote, ‘almost impossible’. Now, during your visit to Paris this week, many of us were reassured when you said that you’re confident that we can still meet that target. So, could you confirm, therefore, that you are still committed to that target?
 
13:36
Carl SargeantBiography
Yes.
 
13:36
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Well, I thank you for that straight answer. But, unfortunately, Minister, your actions don’t match your words, because when Plaid Cymru put forward an amendment to include that particular target as one of the interim targets in the Environment (Wales) Bill, you argued against and your party members voted against. Now, the Bill already includes targets for 2030 and 2040, and given your confidence that the 2020 target can be achieved, will you now commit to supporting it as an interim target at Stage 3 in the Bill?
 
13:36
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, it’s unfortunate the Member still hasn’t got his Christmas spirit yet, but I will try my best to encourage him. We are very committed to the figures that we’ve published in and around the environment Bill. We will not be seeking to support the amendment made by the Member, but it doesn’t detract in any way from our commitment to tackle the issues of climate change.
 
13:37
Llyr GruffyddBiography
I’m tempted to say ‘bah humbug’, Minister, but there we are. We all know that we need a six-fold increase in the improvement in emissions performance over the next seven years compared to the last 20 years. Now, that requires transformational change in the way that we reduce carbon emissions. So, could you tell us what transformational action, therefore, you are proposing as a Government in order to meet those obligations?
 
13:37
Carl SargeantBiography
Thank you for the question and it’s a very serious one the Member raises. I was in Paris for the last week and we have been talking about international agreements and other issues around states and regions and the issues that they can bring to the table to make clear changes. We are leading the way in terms of our objectives in our legislation. We are introducing carbon budgeting for this Government, a first, we believe, in terms of legislating, certainly in the UK. We have the green growth strategy, where we’ve just invested £10 million in pipeline projects for bringing forward the market for green growth. There is around £9 trillion-worth of economic green growth across the world. Wales can be a part of that and we recognise that some mitigation and adaptation along the journey to 2020, and 2050 for the 80 per cent target, are things that we need to do, and we’re working very closely with all sectors to develop that programme.
 
13:38
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Welsh Liberal Democrats spokesperson, William Powell.
 
13:38
William PowellBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Deputy Minister, there are few sectors that are more vulnerable to climate change than agriculture. In the coming years, Wales is predicted to experience warmer winters and summers with an increase in winter rainfall but a decrease, crucially, in spring and summer rainfall, with a potentially serious impact on harvests. And these weather events are key: the unprecedented levels of rain caused by storm Desmond that have fallen in the last few days causing flooding across large swathes of mid and north Wales and, indeed, the Royal Welsh Winter Fair as some of us experienced at first hand. In recent weeks, we’ve also been reminded of the unprecedented sheep mortality in Montgomeryshire in the spring of 2013. With numerous other market pressures making survival increasingly difficult for our farmers, Deputy Minister, do you agree with me that the Welsh Government must be more proactive in supporting farmers through these extreme changing weather patterns? Specifically, what can the rural development plan do to serve supporting farmers to become more resilient to the effects of climate change?
 
13:39
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you for that question. One of the key priority action areas within the RDP is promoting resource efficiency and supporting the shift towards a low-carbon and climate resilient economy in the agriculture, food and forestry sectors. So, that’s very much front and centre in terms of what we’re trying to achieve through the RDP. Through that, we’ve tried to integrate climate action, supporting our agriculture industry to develop more profitable farming systems and to diversify, thereby taking advantage of the opportunities that are available in terms of on-farm renewable energy.
 
The sustainable production grant, for example, is particularly well suited for that, and there are many opportunities under that to apply for funding, for example, for small-scale wind turbines, solar panels, heat pumps, solar water heating, anaerobic digestion equipment and so on, and I’d be happy to write to the Member with a full list of the opportunities that are under the sustainable production grant for the farming industry in Wales.
 
13:40
William PowellBiography
Thank you, Deputy Minister, for that response. As you understand, agriculture is uniquely well placed to play a role in mitigating the effects of climate change, notably flooding, as I referred to earlier, and the scheme that you mentioned is, obviously, key. Cranfield University has recently revealed the potential benefits of upland planting in terms of avoidance of flood risk and the Pontbren scheme in my own region of Mid and West Wales is a particularly good example of what can be achieved. What more can the Welsh Government do, through the RDP or other mechanisms, to mainstream the good practice and the potential benefits of schemes such as Pontbren?
 
13:41
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you for that question. You’re absolutely right in saying that the uplands particularly play a huge role in terms of the agriculture industry as a whole in Wales, but particularly in terms of holding water up in the hills, as that has a knock-on beneficial effect then in terms of protecting our lowland farmers. So, we have to see the whole of the farming industry as a complete supply chain, if you like, in ecological and environmental terms as well.
 
Schemes such as the Pumlumon project, which has been funded by the Welsh Government, is a perfect example in terms of peatland management and holding water in peatland and the benefits that that offers to farms further down the hill, if you like. So, there are plenty of examples of good work that we are doing under the nature fund. Again, there’ll be further opportunities for that through the RDP in future.
 
13:42
William PowellBiography
Thank you, again, Deputy Minister, for enumerating those opportunities. If uniquely placed to help to mitigate the effects of climate change, agriculture is also, I would argue, uniquely well placed to help to tackle it directly, particularly in terms of reduction of emissions levels produced from current farming practices. A recent report, commissioned by the International Fund for Agricultural Development—IFAD—showed that, with the right investment, particularly smallholder farmers, can play a key role in helping to deal with climate change. Given the significant number of smaller farms that exist here in Wales, there appears to me to be real opportunity for us to make progress in that area. What more can the Welsh Government undertake, particularly to aid our smaller and medium-sized farms, to address climate change as well as to mitigate its effects?
 
13:43
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you. You’re right to say that we must address climate change on farms because, actually, as well as being well placed to help us meet our emissions targets and so on, agriculture is a serious contributor to those emissions in the first place, so the two things do very much go hand in hand. This is why, under our new RDP scheme, and particularly the sustainable production grant, we’ve been keen to ensure that, for example, where there is an uncapped slurry pit, then capping the slurry pit is part of that particular project. When that’s not a feasible or possible opportunity on the farm, then farmers have to demonstrate other ways in which they would be enabling the Welsh Government to start working towards meeting those environmental climate change targets. Climate change, and addressing and mitigating it, is all very much at the centre of the package of support that we’re offering through the rural development programme.
 
13:44
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
And we now move to the Welsh Conservative spokesperson, Russell George.
 
13:44
Russell GeorgeBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Deputy Minister, yesterday, your Welsh Government announced yet another blow to Welsh farmers and food producers by announcing a further £3.7 million revenue cut to the agriculture and food budget. This follows last year’s cut of 18 per cent to the agriculture and food budget—the largest of any other Government department. That is a decision taken here. At a time when farmers in Wales are already exposed to the market changes, you should be working to extend greater support to those in the Welsh agriculture sector and not taking resources away from them. Isn’t this yet another example of agriculture missing out as a result of you not having a seat at the Cabinet table?
 
13:45
Rebecca EvansBiography
The Welsh Government invests heavily in the agricultural industry through specific projects such as EIDCymru, Rural Payments Wales online—which is working extremely well for Welsh farmers as compared to other models elsewhere—and, of course, we have £400 million of Welsh Government funding in the rural development programme. So, I think that it’s ridiculous to suggest that the Welsh Government isn’t investing in the agriculture industry in Wales as we’re doing so through specific projects. We’re investing heavily, for example, in the skills and knowledge and innovation in Welsh farming as well, through Farming Connect, which is a major offer that we have under the RDP for farming. So, if your Government wants to give the Welsh Government a fairer, larger slice of the cake, then we will apportion it appropriately.
 
13:45
Russell GeorgeBiography
Well, of course, the UK Government could do that but it’s your decision on where that money falls in each department, Minister. Last year, this department—your department—had the largest cut of any other department at all. I would like to turn to your decision to commission an independent review on the important animal welfare issues of wild animals in circuses. I’m pleased that you appear to be taking limited action following proposals from the Welsh Conservatives—[Interruption.]
 
13:46
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I’m sorry, I’m struggling to hear what Russell George is saying. Will you give the questioner some peace, please?
 
13:46
Russell GeorgeBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Our position on wild animals in circuses is clear: we would seek an immediate ban on the practice as soon as possible. Can I ask you, will you commit to using the powers at your disposal to implement this ban immediately?
 
13:46
Rebecca EvansBiography
Well, I thank you for that question. As a responsible Government, we have to make legislation that is evidence based, and we need the evidence to underpin any proposals that might come forward. You’ll be aware of course of the Radford report of 2006, which suggested that there weren’t serious animal welfare implications in the use of wild animals in circuses. So, since 2006, we know that 17 countries have moved on to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, so we’re looking at the evidence base that underpins that legislation, particularly within the European Community. I’m struggling to hear, Presiding Officer.
 
13:47
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
You’re struggling to hear? Thank you, I thought it was just me. Please, will you stop having this banter across the Chamber, from the back bench, Nick Ramsay, to the front bench, Carl Sargeant? [Assembly Members: ‘Hear, hear’].
 
13:47
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you. I look forward to your support—
 
13:47
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
And Andrew R.T. Davies.
 
13:47
Rebecca EvansBiography
[Continues.]—for the Welsh Government’s proposals, because we do see no place for wild animals in circuses. So, actually, I think we are on the same page on this one.
 
13:47
Russell GeorgeBiography
Thank you for your answer, Minister, and it’s welcome to know that you are on the same page as the Welsh Conservatives. I would also like to move on to, you have published recently the ‘Code of best practice on the use of snares in fox control’. I should say, Minister, this is very welcome indeed. It’s supported by us with regard to improvement to animal welfare. One thing I would say is that although this code of practice in itself is very welcome—it’s a very glossy document—it’s not going to be enough in itself to deal with the issue. I do have concern that there is a low take-up of the code-compliant snares that are mentioned within the code. So, what I would like to know is what you’ve done to promote the use of compliant snares with suppliers and wholesalers of farming products. Do you also feel that there is a role for Farming Connect in promoting best practice on training with regard to the use of snares?
 
13:48
Rebecca EvansBiography
Well, I’m very glad that the Conservative Member is on the same page as the Welsh Government on this particular issue. You’ll be aware that we’ve been waiting for the Law Commission’s review of wildlife law more generally, but that includes the law relating to snares. We have received that published report towards the end of last month, so we’re considering what that might mean for the next steps in terms of what Welsh Government can do to increase welfare when the use of snares takes place. Obviously, there are strict laws already. Snares have to be free-running, for example, and anybody selling or buying snares should obviously avail themselves of the information that’s already out there in terms of what is legal and what isn’t legal.
 
13:49
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you. We now move back to questions on the paper. It’s question 3 and now, Nick Ramsay, you can speak. Nick Ramsay.
 
Alpacas
 
13:49
Nick RamsayBiography
3. Will the Deputy Minister make a statement on the welfare of alpacas in Wales? OAQ(4)0386(NR)
 
13:49
Rebecca EvansBiography
The welfare of all animals is a priority for Welsh Government and the Wales animal health and welfare framework group. Provisions contained within the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Wales) Regulations 2007 set out animal welfare standards and protection for alpacas reared and kept in Wales.
 
13:50
Nick RamsayBiography
Amazing Alpacas have been breeding and selling alpacas as pets since 2004 from just outside Usk in my constituency. Two of their animals were tested for TB. They passed one and failed one blood test and were put down after a 15-month delay, during which time they were in perfect health. They were subsequently found to be free of the disease. This was clearly a distressing episode for the families who had bought them. There is a third blood test available in England, Enferplex, which is seen as far more reliable than the intradermal skin test for alpacas. Will you look at the potential benefits of Enferplex in Wales for alpacas?
 
13:50
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you for the question. The responsibility for the operational delivery of the TB eradication programme with regard to testing alpacas rests with the Animal and Plant Health Agency, which will follow its usual protocols in deciding when a TB test is necessary, including where a TB breakdown has occurred on a contiguous premises as well. But, in terms of the testing, there are two types, as you say, that we use. We use a skin test and an antibody blood test as well, but I’d be more than happy to look at what evidence is used elsewhere and to consider whether that might be appropriate for use in Wales.
 
Scallop Conservation
 
13:51
Simon ThomasBiography
4. Will the Minister make a statement on scallop conservation in Cardigan Bay? OAQ(4)0387(NR)[W]
 
13:51
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his question. Current scallop fisheries in Cardigan bay are managed through restricted legislation to ensure sustainability of the stock. New proposals to improve the management of this fishery, which are currently subject to consultation, include proposed controls on catch and effort limits to underpin sustainability and safeguard important marine species and habitats.
 
13:51
Simon ThomasBiography
Thank you for that response, Minister. Of course, many people are concerned about conservation in general in Cardigan bay and are particularly concerned about scallops, and that scallop fishing, were it to happen again in the conservation areas, would have a broader effect on those areas. I see from the correspondence that I’ve received from the Welsh Fishermen’s Association, for example, that there is a proposal to use a different kind of dredging and to do that in a more sustainable way and to avoid the problems that we’ve had in the past when Elin Jones had to take action on this issue. So, what powers does the Government have to ensure that, if there is more sustainable dredging put in place by fishermen from Wales, the same methods are adopted by fishermen from any other country, because we can’t prevent fishermen coming into the conservation area, of course?
 
13:52
Carl SargeantBiography
Indeed, and the Member raises a very important issue. It is important to me and my team to make sure that we make the right decisions based on the evidence. We’ve already started some work, as the Member will be aware, on the back of an extensive programme of research undertaken by Bangor University. We will continue to proceed with the consultation as we have responded to a technical issue that appeared on the website, which was purely technical. On the basis of the controversy around that, we’ve restarted the consultation. I think that was the right thing to do. We will look at the evidence proposed from that to make sure that we can provide long-term, sustainable fishing grounds. All of these issues have to be considered around controls on catch and effort limited, with the spatial issues, minimum size limits and how we can ensure that all fishing that takes place in a protected area under the habitats regulations assessment is fully managed by the agencies that work alongside Welsh Government.
 
13:54
Joyce WatsonBiography
Minister, I recall, as Elin Jones will, when this site had to be closed to dredging, and it was as a consequence of misuse of dredging equipment. It completely and utterly destroyed the beds underneath it. I’ve had concerns, masses of them, in my inbox about the nature of the consultation, and you’ve just addressed that in your reply to Simon Thomas. I don’t know, Minister, whether you’re aware that there is a petition running with over 12,000 signatures so far in the Tywyn, Cardigan bay area, where the concern is very real that any action here doesn’t have a negative impact elsewhere, particularly on the whales and dolphins and the tourism therein, as well as the conservation. What sort of assurances can you give, if any, at this stage, to those people who clearly are frightfully concerned that we don’t end up back where we started when this bed was closed?
 
13:55
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, it’s absolutely right that members of the public and stakeholders get engaged in the consultation. I think there was rather an excitable journalist who wrote an article that was factually incorrect in terms of his reporting that I am, I think it was quoted as, ‘a dolphin murderer’. I can assure the Chamber I’ve never murdered a dolphin in my life, but the reality is here: we’ve got a professional, full consultation taking place, we have to take notice of the consultation, and I value the contribution by your constituents and many people who’re engaged in this process, but we have to be basing our decision on the evidence that we receive back.
 
13:56
Paul DaviesBiography
Minister, balancing a profitable fishing industry that also protects our local marine habitats is no easy task, and I welcome the opportunity for those with views on this issue to feed into the Welsh Government’s consultation. But, in light of this consultation and, of course, the seriousness of the issue, can you tell us what additional stakeholder activity will the Welsh Government be undertaking to ensure that the process engages with as many stakeholders as possible?
 
13:56
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, this process has been, I suppose, by virtue of the interest of some reporters and the reporting of that, it has raised the stakes in terms of more people knowing about that consultation than you would probably know. We focus very much on the basis of local concerns, and Members in this Chamber have written to me on several occasions about their particular issues, but we’re receiving correspondence from right across the world on this particular issue, around dredging in this particular area. I can assure you that even the people who responded originally to the consultation during the technical fault period with the website, we’ve gone back out to them again to ask, ‘Are the responses that you gave to that consultation then and currently the same?’ ensuring that we can have a full and accurate reflection of the opinion of stakeholders. It is important to us.
 
13:57
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
I declare an interest due to my contact with Bangor University and the school of oceanography, which is excellent and produced a balanced report on this issue. Will the Minister ensure that any decision taken by the Welsh Government on sustainable scallop fishing in Cardigan bay and in other surrounding areas will be a scientifically correct and safe decision?
 
13:58
Carl SargeantBiography
I’m very grateful for the work that Bangor University has undertaken on our behalf in terms of that. It is critical to have that scientific base in order to make those decisions. The consultation, alongside the extensive programme of research undertaken, will be a factor in determining the outcome for these fisheries.
 
European Union Markets
 
13:58
William PowellBiography
Before asking my question, I place on record my declaration of interest with regard to our family farm.
 
5. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact of changes in EU markets on the farming industry in Wales? OAQ(4)0394(NR)
 
13:58
Rebecca EvansBiography
I continue to work closely with the EU on issues affecting the agriculture industry in Wales. The current discussions on a trade deal with New Zealand are critical and I will ensure that the needs of Welsh farmers are represented on the EU reflection group on sheep meat.
 
13:59
William PowellBiography
Thank you very much, Deputy Minister, for that response. According to a 2015 study by Agra Europe, the combined impact of EU import tariffs, the abolition of agricultural support through the CAP and market liberalisation that will accompany any potential Brexit, could result in up to 90 per cent of UK farmers going out of business, and the FUW predicts that the impact on Welsh farmers could be disproportionately high. Deputy Minister, will you heed the calls of the FUW, which, incidentally, celebrated its sixtieth birthday yesterday, that we should undertake more detailed work to quantify the impact of any changes to EU markets in order both to inform the national conversation ahead of any EU in-out referendum, but also to inform contingency plans, should such an exit prove inevitable?
 
13:59
Rebecca EvansBiography
I thank you for the question and join you in wishing the FUW a happy sixtieth birthday. With regard to the EU referendum, actually, that’s not the only challenge that’s facing Welsh farmers. There’s probably a more pressing and current challenge, and that would be the TPP, the trans-Pacific partnership, conversations that are going on at the moment. They account for around 40 per cent of the whole world economy. So, the Welsh farming industry within that is just, you know, a tiny, tiny fraction. However, I am really, really keen that the Welsh farmer’s voice is very much heard on that, and that the impact assessment that will be undertaken will take into account the needs of the Welsh agriculture industry as well. How will we do that? Well, Welsh Government has a role, as I say, on the sheep meat reflection group, and I’ll be asking Hybu Cig Cymru, at their next meeting, which will be looking at the international trade and supply issues, to raise the specific issue of imports and the New Zealand lamb issue and how that might impact on Welsh lamb as well. That’s probably one of the most pressing issues and current issues with regard to the EU at the moment.
 
14:01
Russell GeorgeBiography
Deputy Minister, there is a view that the end of the system of milk quotas could result in a significant expansion of the Welsh dairy industry. What is the Welsh Government’s view on the suggestion put forward by my Conservative colleagues in the European Parliament that there ought to be an EU intervention price that is more reflective of production costs?
 
14:01
Rebecca EvansBiography
Well, we have considered intervention rates, alongside my colleagues, in the meetings that we have ahead of European Council meetings in Brussels. The UK, as a member state, is opposed to changing intervention rates at the moment, because that will just head off and store up problems for the long term. Actually, I believe it would have a disproportionate impact, assisting farmers elsewhere in Europe long before it assists Welsh farmers. From my perspective, supporting Welsh farmers and our Welsh dairy industry has to be the priority, particularly at this current difficult time. I’m not opposed to, you know, considering and looking at the intervention rates, but my own view is that a change to them would probably do more harm to Welsh agriculture than good.
 
14:02
Mick AntoniwBiography
Has the Welsh Government carried out an assessment, or have you carried out an assessment, of the impact that withdrawal from the EU would have on agriculture and on farming? Will you be in a position, at some stage, to publish that evaluation, that assessment, if one is carried out?
 
14:02
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you. Leaving the EU would be catastrophic, I think, for farming in Wales. EU membership provides us with around £200 million of direct payments straight to Welsh farmers every year. Suggestions that the UK Government would make up that payment to the same level are just farcical, given the many pressures on public finance at the moment anyway. Additional funding is also available under pillar 2, and membership of the EU gives our Welsh producers unrestricted access to a market of 0.5 billion potential customers, and our food and drink exports are worth over £270 million. So, that would all, obviously, be put at risk. If we were to be outside Europe, but still wanted to trade with them, we’d still have to adhere to the same high standards and the same kind of regulation in order to trade, but we’d have no opportunity to influence those rules. So, Members will know that I’m very active in terms of fighting the corner of Welsh agriculture in Brussels, and I’ll continue to do so.
 
14:03
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Given the problems that exist in European markets, it’s very important that common agricultural policy payments are made to farmers as soon as possible. Will the Deputy Minister therefore give us an update on how many farmers have received their payments to date, and when do you expect the rest to receive their payments?
 
14:03
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you. I can advise you that 8,991 customers have been processed for payment and that is around 57.6 per cent of our farmers. So, I think that we’ve overperformed, really, in terms of what we were expecting to be able to deliver. I did promise at the HCC breakfast at the winter fair that we would pay more than half of our farmers within the first week of the opening of the window, and we were able to do that. Of course, farmers are only having part-payments of around the value of 80 per cent, because of the fact that this is a new system and a new period of CAP reform. We should pay the—. Well, we’ll continue making payments throughout December and then we aim to pay the vast majority by early next year.
 
Fallen Stock
 
14:04
William PowellBiography
6. Will the Minister make a statement on the management of fallen stock in Wales? OAQ(4)0395(NR)
 
14:04
Rebecca EvansBiography
It’s the responsibility of the individual farmer to ensure that appropriate and timely arrangements are in place for the collection and disposal of fallen stock. The rules surrounding fallen stock are provided by the Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (Wales) Regulations 2014 to protect animal and public health.
 
14:05
William PowellBiography
Thank you very much, Deputy Minister, for that response. There’s some very interesting research currently being undertaken at Harper Adams University, and also Bangor University, looking into the potential for anaerobic bioreduction of animal carcases. Initial findings suggest that significant levels of biogas can be produced from porcine carcase material, and this potentially could offer livestock farmers a sustainable, practical and cost-effective means of producing renewable energy while also driving down biosecurity risks. Further work is needed to determine whether this should go forward to the European Commission for approval, but will the Deputy Minister please make an undertaking to keep a close eye on this research and to provide any necessary support to enable it to go forward?
 
14:05
Rebecca EvansBiography
Yes, I’d be very keen to learn more about that particular piece of research. I visited Harper Adams University very recently, in the last month or so, and was very impressed by the research that is being undertaken there in all kinds of fields—crop management, dairy and so on—and so I’d be very keen to find out more about this particular piece of research and how it might influence the way that we dispose of fallen stock in Wales in the future.
 
14:06
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Minister, few can forget the devastating effects of the snow in 2013 that saw many drifts and blizzards that actually saw hundreds of livestock fallen, as well as half of the feral Carneddau ponies. There was huge chaos and a lack of meaningful support coming from the Assembly Minister at that time. What actions have been learnt from that? What actions have actually been learnt from that, and what efforts now will you make should we—? We’re going to be facing another hard winter, and I never ever want to see—you know, where farmers actually didn’t know whether they were allowed to bury their stock or not. We had lorries not being able to go in and collect the stock, and livestock were falling like flies. I don’t want to see that again, and neither do the farmers. What actions have you got in place now to ensure that that doesn’t happen again?
 
14:07
Rebecca EvansBiography
Well, the Welsh Government has instigated a contingency management plan, as recommended in the review carried out by Kevin Roberts on the resilience in Welsh farming. This will be in place to monitor situations should we see another severe winter again this year. The information that comes forward from that contingency plan will be vital then in enabling me to make timely decisions in terms of how we can support farmers. But, as you’ll be aware, there are a number of derogations available, one of which permits the disposal of animal carcases by burial, burning, or other means where access is difficult due to geography or climate or natural disaster, and those were the derogations used during the severe winter of 2013. But I’ll be more than happy to write to the Member on the full range of derogations that would be available to Welsh Government, if that would be helpful.
 
Promoting Food
 
14:08
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
7. Will the Minister make a statement on promoting food from Wales to young people? OAQ(4)0392(NR)[W]
 
14:08
Rebecca EvansBiography
The Welsh Government is keen to improve access to Welsh food and drink for people of all ages, including young people. Through our new public procurement arrangements, we will ensure that quality Welsh food can be locally sourced by schools and other establishments in Wales.
 
14:08
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Thank you very much. I’ve been leading negotiations in my constituency on the shortage of kitchen staff, chefs and so on to work in the local catering and hospitality industry. One problem that we identified was a lack of awareness of the opportunities available, but also a general lack of awareness of food and local supply chains and so on. I would like to organise some kind of roadshow around schools, raising awareness in this area. I wonder whether the Deputy Minister could support, in principle, such a move or even better, provide practical support.
 
14:09
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you. Addressing the skills gap in the food industry is something that Welsh Government’s particularly keen to do. We’ve outlined how we’ll go about doing that in our food and drink action plan. One of the actions in there relates to careers and so on. So, working in partnership with Food and Drink Wales and Careers Wales, we’ve just launched the National Skills Academy for Food & Drink and launched what’s called Tasty Careers Wales, which is an initiative to promote jobs and careers in the food and drink industry to young people in Wales. That brings together career information, but also live industry vacancies to make them instantly accessible to young people and help secure the next generation of food and drink manufacturing talent. If you’d like to find our more information, it’s at www.tastycareers.org.uk, but, if you’d like to write to me, we could potentially have a meeting to discuss your ideas further.
 
14:10
Mark IsherwoodBiography
When promoting food from Wales to young people, perhaps you could tell them why 200 farmers clapped, at the NFU meeting in Builth Wells on 5 November, when you were told, ‘Thanks for destroying the beef industry in Wales’. Having previously refused to meet representatives of the 3,000 farmers affected, have you since agreed to meet them to discuss their legitimate concerns and the real risk of bankruptcy that some state they’re now facing?
 
14:10
Rebecca EvansBiography
I spend a large proportion of my life meeting with farmers and their representatives, so any suggestion that I’m not extremely accessible to the farming industry and those who represent them is absolutely ridiculous. As it happens, I’m going to visit that particular farmer and meet with him to discuss his particular circumstances. At the meeting, I did suggest that he meet with my officials immediately, and he did talk to my officials at that meeting to look at what particular support we could offer him. But any suggestion that Welsh Government isn’t fully engaged with the industry is just ridiculous.
 
14:11
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I’m not sure how that was to do with young people and food, but I’m sure it was there somewhere. Question 8, Darren Millar.
 
Flood Resilience
 
14:11
Darren MillarBiography
8. Will the Minister make a statement on flood resilience in Old Colwyn? OAQ(4)0382(NR)
 
14:11
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for Clwyd West for his question. Conwy council, as lead local flood-risk management authority, is responsible for flood resilience in Old Colwyn. I am aware of the council’s proposals to strengthen the area’s coastal defences and it has met infrastructure providers that benefit significantly from the defences to discuss funding contributions and is planning a further meeting.
 
14:11
Darren MillarBiography
Minister, thank you for that update. I’m very concerned, and have been for a number of years, at the resilience of the flood defences in Old Colwyn. As you know, they protect the vital transport infrastructure along the north Wales railway line, and indeed the A55 corridor as well. There’s been very little progress in recent years. Meetings appears to be happening for meetings’ sake, with very little progress arising as a result of that. I appreciate that the local authority is the lead agency, but, given the importance of that vital infrastructure for the whole of north Wales, will the Welsh Government now step up to the plate and take the leadership on this issue to ensure that these flood defences are upgraded as soon as possible, so that that part of our coast can be as resilient as it needs to be, particularly in view of the sorts of storms that we’re seeing these days over the winter period, and some of the bad weather that’s forecast over the winter?
 
14:12
Carl SargeantBiography
Of course, I’m grateful for the Member’s question, again on flood defences, just to highlight the opportunity that we can give assurances of this. Welsh Government has made significant contributions on flood defences, unlike the Westminster Government. Over recent years we’ve provided over £13 million for coastal risk management in the Colwyn Bay area, with additional funding for regeneration. In addition, over £2 million was provided to Conwy council to restore coastal defences in Clwyd West following the 2013-14 winter storms. It is our commitment to continue making investments in vulnerable areas. My officials have met with Network Rail to provide better engagement on flood and coastal risk management matters. It is a matter for the local authority, but I will ask my officials to encourage them to complete discussions in order for investments to be made.
 
14:13
Llyr GruffyddBiography
I too would echo the need to ensure that the investment does happen, but, of course, we must ensure that the investment happens in a way that not only brings environmental benefits and benefits in terms of coastal erosion, but also creates economic activity. We’ve seen the success of the last few years—how improvements to the beach in Colwyn Bay, for example, have contributed to economic growth in that area. Can you give us an assurance, therefore, that any investment made in terms of coastal flood defences are made in a way that is very aware of the economic and social potential that could also benefit?
 
14:14
Carl SargeantBiography
Well, I’m encouraged by my department, and I would hope that the future local government department, who will be covered by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, will consider all aspects of sustainable development in their financial investments. I always look for a win-win situation when making environmental impact funding streams, and we’re looking to continue to do that. There are some great examples, in fact, in Conwy, as the Member alluded to, which have already happened, but we’ll have to look at this particular case, which Darren Millar has raised with us, around the area he looks at specifically.
 
The Grading System in Abattoirs
 
14:15
Russell GeorgeBiography
9. Will the Minister make a statement on the grading system used in lamb and beef abattoirs? OAQ(4)0390(NR)
 
14:15
Rebecca EvansBiography
The current payment system for beef and lamb carcases is based on both carcase weight and the EUROP classification system. Hybu Cig Cymru are currently considering alternative automated approaches to carcase evaluation for lamb that would allow the development of a payment system based on meat yield.
 
14:15
Russell GeorgeBiography
Thank you, Deputy Minister; I am pleased to hear that response. There have been some representatives from the industry that have criticised the subjective nature of the current classification system used in the UK for sheep and beef, which has led to mistrust from farmers, abattoirs and supermarkets. There is often a belief amongst farmers that some abattoirs change their grading pressure according to the time of year and supply-demand relationships. I appreciate you’ve mentioned that Hybu Cig Cymru have looked at this, but can I ask you when they will be reporting back to you? Clearly, it’s good to give consideration to moving towards this yield-based approach in this regard.
 
14:16
Rebecca EvansBiography
Thank you. I will write to the Member with the date on which I expect to receive the results of the deliberations. I can tell you that Welsh Government representatives and representatives from across the red meat industry are also involved in that piece of work that Hybu Cig Cymru is leading, so it’s very much a joint piece of work. I was also pleased to meet with the Food Standards Agency recently—they’ve just visited New Zealand to look at automated carcase grading systems over there—to see what we could potentially learn from them in Wales. I’m hoping to have some feedback from that particular meeting as well. So, this is an ongoing piece of work; I’d be more than happy to keep you updated.
 
Allotments
 
14:16
Gwenda ThomasBiography
10. Will the Minister make a statement on the development of allotments in Wales? OAQ(4)0385(NR)
 
14:16
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for Neath for her question. New Welsh Government guidance on the provision of allotments is currently being developed and will be published before the end of the Assembly term.
 
14:17
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Thank you for that, Minister. New allotments are taking root in my own constituency of Neath. These green shoots of development are occurring in Rhos in the community of Cilybebyll. There, the local community council and county councillor have been working hard with a group of dedicated volunteers and have formed the Cilybebyll Allotment Society to take the project forward. In this case, the allotment society have as a landlord the community council itself, which is supportive and actively involved in the development. Minister, what can the Welsh Government do to make land owned by different branches of the public sector in Wales available for the creation of allotments?
 
14:17
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her question. The issue of land management, particularly of allotments, is complex. The guidance we will issue will include advice on establishing allotments and will be available to public sector bodies in addition to private landowners. Advice and support on the legal issues, land agreements and the processes of purchasing land can also be sought from the Community Land Advisory Service, which is set up.
 
14:18
Paul DaviesBiography
Minister, there are a number of impressive allotments in Pembrokeshire, which could play a significant role in educating young people about the local environment and how to grow their own food. In light of this, will you commit to discussing this with your colleague, the Minister for education, to ensure that the Welsh Government is doing all it can to promote the use of allotments throughout the education sector, so that young people can learn more about the benefits of healthy eating?
 
14:18
Carl SargeantBiography
I share the Member’s thoughts and vision around increasing community growing. We have the great Eco-Schools programme here in Wales, which encourages green opportunities through education programmes. I will speak to my colleague to see whether there’s any more we can do to help those proposals.
 
14:18
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
2. Questions to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
14:19
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 2, which is questions to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty. Questions 1, OAQ(4)0402(CTP), and 2, OAQ(4)0409(CTP), have been transferred for written reply from the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, so we move to question 3. Paul Davies.
 
The Voluntary Sector (West Wales)
 
14:19
Paul DaviesBiography
3. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s priorities for the voluntary sector in west Wales? OAQ(4)398(CTP)
 
14:19
Lesley GriffithsBiographyThe Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
Thank you. The third sector makes a vital contribution to communities across Wales. We remain committed to supporting the sector to tackle poverty and work with individuals, families and communities. I agreed over £528,000 core funding for county voluntary councils and volunteer centres in west Wales this year to sustain this work.
 
14:19
Paul DaviesBiography
Minister, a priority for the voluntary sector in west Wales, and I would hope across all of Wales, is encouraging young people to get involved and support our local communities; that’s why I think it’s excellent to see the Pembrokeshire coast national park’s youth rangers, who are part of the Big Lottery funded Your Park project, shortlisted for a national award. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it’s great to see young people giving up countless hours of their time to make a difference. Therefore, can you tell us what the Welsh Government is doing to promote this sort of activity across the whole of Wales?
 
14:20
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. Yes, it’s absolutely vital we encourage young people to participate in volunteering activities right across Wales. You will be aware of the Millennium Volunteers scheme that we’ve had, and it’s something that I do—. I know there’s not just the group that you mentioned—there’s also the Pembrokeshire autism-friendly youth group, which is very active in your constituency also.
 
Vibrant and Viable Places (North Wales)
 
14:20
Llyr GruffyddBiography
4. Will the Minister make a statement on the Vibrant and Viable Places scheme in north Wales? OAQ(4)0410(CTP)[W]
 
14:20
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Diolch. Our Vibrant and Viable Places programme has several components, all focused on regenerating town centres. The programme encompasses capital investment of over £38 million in north Wales, levering in £60 million from other sources, creating 140 jobs, providing over 200 affordable housing units and ensuring energy efficiency improvements to 1,300 properties.
 
14:21
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Thank you for your answer, Minister, although I have to say there has been a theme emerging in the projects supported by the scheme in many parts of north Wales about a lack of involvement of the local community in the projects being funded. You’ll be familiar, I’m sure, with the situation in Wrexham, where market traders are frustrated by the disruption caused by the building of an arts hub in the market, which is funded by the scheme. So, do you accept that regeneration schemes are unlikely to work unless the people in the areas concerned have ownership and real involvement in those schemes?
 
14:21
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I think it’s very important and, obviously, as Wrexham’s my constituency, I am very aware of the particular case that you refer to. I’ve made sure that my officials have made it very clear to Wrexham County Borough Council that they need to consult widely with the market traders. As you said, it’s very important that they are on board.
 
14:21
Sandy MewiesBiography
As you said, Minister, this scheme has made a really good contribution, both to the environment and to businesses, in promoting regeneration. This has happened in parts of Flintshire. So, can I ask what scope there is to extending this scheme to other parts of Flintshire in the future?
 
14:22
Lesley GriffithsBiography
When the original bid was put in from Flintshire County Council, they concentrated on Deeside, as you’re aware, and it has developed a number of innovative projects, such as Deeside’s Green Team. I met with them—I think it was just over a year ago—and it was very good to see how young people were being engaged in regenerating their communities and also providing very valuable training opportunities at the same time. Through our support for the Flintshire towns action plan, town centre partnerships and our social housing grant programme, we are supporting the regeneration of town centres in Holywell, Flint and Mold in your constituency. But I think the work that’s been undertaken at Deeside really provides a very valuable model that could be taken forward by the local authority in regenerating other communities also.
 
14:23
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Mark Isherwood.
 
14:23
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Which number, sorry?
 
14:23
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Well, you have to keep up. We’re on number 4; I don’t know what number you’re on. We’ll move to Aled Roberts.
 
14:23
Aled RobertsBiography
You say that you’ve been discussing this scheme with Wrexham council. Can I ask you, therefore, if you’re aware of any concerns and whether an assessment made of other businesses in Wrexham who now see competition from a nursery created by the council, where staff from within the council are being transferred, creating a situation where businesses can’t compete with the council-run nursery?
 
14:23
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, when the local authority submitted the bid for VVP funding, one of the things they brought forward was to have a nursery, and that was because the childcare sufficiency assessment highlighted a gap in provision for working parents, especially those on low incomes and those who also work unsociable hours, for instance at weekends. There was definitely a gap in Wrexham in relation to that. So, through the affordable childcare project, the nursery came forward, and that was looking to address the issue through the creation of additional childcare places, with flexible opening hours and pricing structures, and linked to the provision of training opportunities for local people. I know it’s doing very well.
 
14:24
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Mark Isherwood.
 
14:24
Mark IsherwoodBiography
On Vibrant and Viable Places.
 
14:24
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Okay.
 
14:24
Mark IsherwoodBiography
When the Welsh Government, last year, made a statement on Vibrant and Viable Places, it announced additional money for Flintshire to deliver the Welsh housing quality standard plus—with the added issues around environment, jobs, training and community engagement. How are you monitoring that to ensure that this is based upon community engagement, with the community deciding, and community empowerment, rather than being a local authority scheme?
 
14:24
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, within the VVP programme, there’s a great deal of monitoring that’s undertaken. Every local authority has a specific regeneration manager who’s an official within my department, to ensure that that work is being undertaken, and as I mentioned in my answer to Llyr, it’s very important that the community is consulted about anything that takes place.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
14:25
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from the spokespeople. The first this afternoon is the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson, Peter Black.
 
14:25
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, can you tell me how many applications you’ve had from Welsh credit unions for mergers over the last three years?
 
14:25
Lesley GriffithsBiography
You’ll be aware of the one between North Wales and Hafren credit unions, and I am aware of one other that’s been submitted, but I don’t know the name of the specific credit union. Could I declare, Presiding Officer, that I’m a member of North Wales Credit Union?
 
14:25
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you. Presiding Officer, I declare that I’m a member of LASA Credit Union, but that wasn’t one of the ones that applied for merger, so I didn’t mention it. Minister, a freedom of information request indicated to me that when you had the merger of North Wales Credit Union and the former Hafren Credit Union, the Government provided a total of £138,186 to facilitate that merger, of which £96,956 was approved to cover the difference between the income and expenditure levels resulting from the merger, presumably to pay off debts which the two credit unions had. Do you think that’s good value for taxpayers’ money?
 
14:26
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, I think what it’s done is provide a very stable credit union. We’ve looked to make sure that that money has been well spent. I am aware of the FOI request that you put in, and the money was broken down very significantly for you to see.
 
14:26
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you for that indication, Minister. I think it’s important that we do establish what financial, developmental, governance and sustainability criteria the Welsh Government applies to any decision to support a credit union merger. If you were to receive other credit union merger applications, is that sort of money available in your budget in future, or is this a one-off expenditure which is going to just apply to that particular credit union?
 
14:27
Lesley GriffithsBiography
No, I think we would look at it on a case-by-case analysis.
 
14:27
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Welsh Conservatives spokesperson, Mark Isherwood.
 
14:27
Mark IsherwoodBiography
The Wales Council for Voluntary Action has long called for local authorities, health boards and the third sector to work together more imaginatively to develop better services closer to people, more representative of needs, and add value by drawing on community resources. However, the Welsh Government has decided to push ahead with replacing core funding arrangements for national third sector organisations with new project-based grant schemes, that mean that third sector bodies that have been delivering projects and programmes, often for decades, delivering improvements to people’s lives, representing causes and saving Welsh Government statutory bodies money, are now faced with closure or demotion to simply delivery agents for Welsh Government programmes, including, of course, Disability Wales, the rights and equality-based umbrella organisation, which no longer fits the criteria. After 40 years as a national voice, Disability Wales has less than four months to ensure its survival. As one campaigner in north Wales said, ‘we’ve been attacked enough; this just adds insult to injury’. As the Minister responsible for both equality and the voluntary sector, how will you, at this final moment, intervene, if at all, to enable delivery and design with the third sector, which will improve outcomes and save Welsh Government money, rather than trying to shoehorn them in to shrunken organisations simply delivering your programmes?
 
14:28
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I very much value the contribution that Disability Wales makes in promoting disabled people’s rights and equality. They are receiving grant funding from my department, and they’re taking forward one of the key aims in our framework for action on independent living, and that funding will continue.
 
14:29
Mark IsherwoodBiography
I know that; I declare that, alongside Aled Roberts, I co-chair the cross-party group on disability, which is sponsored by them. This is devastation, this could force their closure and this must not be allowed to happen. Of course, they’re not alone. As the Welsh government’s guidance on the Families First programme to improve outcomes for children and families, particularly in poverty, states, we need good communication between Welsh Government, local authorities and the third sector and multi-agency working.
 
However, when I wrote to you after concern was raised by third sector bodies working on this programme over what’s going to happen to core funding for that programme after spring 2016, you came back talking about the timing of the UK Government’s spending review, even though the Welsh Government had already announced its intention to move from core to project funding. Now that we’ve had the comprehensive spending review, will you revisit this, as your answer to me implied, and see how this, and other programmes, can be safeguarded, and how the Welsh Government can learn from them how they can help you actually do more with your reduced budgets?
 
14:30
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, I’m sure even Mark Isherwood understands that there is a process you have to go through. It was a very, very late comprehensive spending review that came from the UK Government, which has made things very, very difficult, particularly for third sector organisations. We’ve now had the budget, just yesterday, and, obviously, my budget now—I know what my budget will be for 2016-17, and there will be ongoing discussions with all our third sector partners to discuss levels of funding for next year.
 
14:30
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Well, thank you for that. As I state, your announcements as a Government on core funding predated the CSR, and it’s not about, in this case, how much, but how you choose to spend that, and ask them how they can help you spend it better.
 
My final question, in a similar theme—third sector involvement in financial inclusion. As you know, the Welsh Government has put virtually all of the funding into large national advice agencies, such as Citizens Advice. Now, I’m told by organisations working in the sector that they generally have lengthy waiting lists, when smaller organisations can provide intervention in 24 to 48 hours. The consequence is that housing officers, support workers et cetera, who are not regulated to offer debt advice, are nonetheless, with the best of intentions, setting up unrealistic payment plans, which can result in other bills not being paid, and the client ending up in a cycle of debt. Will you again speak to the sector at large across Wales to establish how those most vulnerable people can not only be rescued from their creditors when in crisis, but that permanent intervention be put in place, to minimise the risk of the problems recurring in the future?
 
14:31
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Good quality advice is very important. I’m certainly monitoring very closely the advice services that we have in Wales. You’ll be aware I’ve set up the advice service network. That’s coming back to me with recommendations and advice, and we will be looking at that going forward.
 
14:32
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
And we now move to the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhodri Glyn Thomas.
 
14:32
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Minister, the budget announced yesterday suggests that your department is facing cuts of almost £60 million. How does that affect the aims of your department?
 
14:32
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, you know, we’ve received a significant cut to our budget from the UK Government, and we can’t do everything we want. What we need to do now is prioritise the funding to make sure that it has the impact that we want it to have across Wales. So, for instance, Supporting People, you’ll be aware, has had a flat cash settlement. But I’m going through my budget, line by line, over the coming week.
 
14:32
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
I accept that you have to prioritise and make difficult choices, but what criteria do you use to ensure that those most deserving cases, and those people who depend on those cases, do not suffer in the process?
 
14:33
Lesley GriffithsBiography
For me, what’s very important is outcomes. So, again, Supporting People—when I came into post, just over a year ago, I wasn’t happy with the level of outcomes that I was receiving from Supporting People. I asked our partners who were delivering the Supporting People programme to ensure that those outcomes came back, so that I could make decisions based on very hard data, and that’s what I’ll be doing right across the portfolio, particularly with my tackling poverty programmes.
 
14:33
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Minister, you heard earlier from Llyr Gruffydd about cases in north Wales where people feel that they don’t have enough input into some of these schemes and programmes that you have, and that they feel that they are being introduced from the top down. The same is said of Communities First and about a number of other programmes. Will you be looking at those programmes to see how you can reduce the bureaucratic burden, and ensure that the people in our communities feel that they have ownership, that they have an input into the programmes and that the programmes serve them in the most effective way possible?
 
14:34
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, I certainly will. I don’t think it’s any secret that I’ve been looking at Communities First very closely, because I think it’s really important, again, that we look at the outcomes of a programme that we’ve had in place for a significant number of years. So, as I say, particularly the tackling poverty programmes, the four main ones—you know, Communities First, Families First, Flying Start and Supporting People, to some extent—I’m going to be looking very closely at how we go forward, and any transitional period also.
 
The Supporting People Programme
 
14:34
Jocelyn DaviesBiography
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the Supporting People programme? OAQ(4)0406(CTP)
 
14:34
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. The Supporting People programme plays a significant role in preventing homelessness. It provides essential support for vulnerable people to find and keep a home and to live as independently as possible. It also helps to reduce demand on our health and social services, and for this reason we have protected the budget for 2016-17.
 
14:35
Jocelyn DaviesBiography
Thank you, Minister. I very much welcome the news that the funding for Supporting People has been protected in the draft budget. However—and I am sorry that there is a ‘however’—I am concerned about the cut to the homelessness protection grant. Now, in the Finance Committee this morning we heard an explanation from the finance Minister that this cut is due to a non-recurrent transfer in 2015-16. Can you explain what that means and offer some assurance that what’s left of this grant will remain for use by the third sector for the excellent work that they undertake in stopping people becoming homeless, rather than it being used to top-up the local authority transition fund?
 
14:35
Lesley GriffithsBiography
The 2015-16 budget supported local authorities to make the transition to the new legislation via the additional sum of £4.9 million and that was provided in the first year of the legislation. So, that, as you say, isn’t recurrent. However, you know, preventing homelessness is absolutely a priority for us and we will be looking at what we can do to maintain the funding. I mean there will be some cuts but I’m working very closely with officials to see what we can do to help.
 
14:36
Jenny RathboneBiography
Given the cost of housing people in homeless accommodation, which often turns out to be more expensive than the Ritz, I think that the Supporting People programme is hugely cost-effective, as we saw, Minister, when you visited the Julian Hodge house run by the Wallich in Adamsdown recently, where people with addiction problems are supported to get their lives back on track and to start volunteering and get back into training to enable them to get work. I was fantastically impressed with that and I wondered, on the back of that, what evidence you have of how the Supporting People programme prevents people being referred upwards into the NHS with more expensive problems.
 
14:37
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, it was a very good visit we undertook last week to the Wallich centre. It was very good to talk, particularly to the young people who were then hoping to go back into education. I thought that was, you know, very encouraging. I think there is widespread recognition that the Supporting People programme plays a huge role in reducing demands on our health services and we do now have growing evidence, really, to support that and back that up.
 
I commissioned a feasibility study that linked data from the programme with NHS data in both Swansea and Blaenau Gwent and the emerging findings are very encouraging and it showed an overall long-term reduction in the use of general practitioner services, for instance, by people who were involved with the programme. And I think similar patterns were also seen in the use of accident and emergency departments; they weren’t seeing the same people time and time again once they were involved in Supporting People. So, I’m looking to expand that research across other local authority areas in Wales. As I said in my answer to Rhodri Glyn Thomas, I think it’s very important that we have that information and those outcomes.
 
14:38
Suzy DaviesBiography
Supporting People is a programme that Welsh Conservatives have no difficulty at all in supporting and welcoming either. Enabling a person, whatever their vulnerabilities, to live independently I think is one of your big wins on equalities, Minister. On this one, empowerment actually does mean something. But it doesn’t exist in a vacuum and I think Members were surprised at the level of cuts to Disability Wales. In coming to that decision and making cuts to other third sector bodies, what consideration did you give to the effect that it would have on programmes like Supporting People, which obviously depend on the third sector to a significant degree in order to be so successful?
 
14:39
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, I should make it clear that cutting the funding to Disability Wales didn’t come from my portfolio, so I didn’t make that decision. But, you know, I very much welcomed the cross-party support for Supporting People. I think that was very evident in the campaign that was run. But, as you say, it doesn’t work in isolation. I don’t think anybody does. We all need support from others. But, you know, we can’t do everything and we have to prioritise and, as I said, I prioritised the Supporting People programme. They’ve had a flat cash settlement. However, they are very aware that they need to keep coming forward with the outcome data to support my decision.
 
The Voluntary Sector and Volunteering
 
14:39
Gwenda ThomasBiography
6. Will the Minister make a statement on the work of the voluntary sector and volunteering in Wales? OAQ(4)0401(CTP)
 
14:39
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. Volunteers make a vital contribution to community life and to support this I provided £6.68 million to third sector infrastructure organisations. I’ve also approved funding for 22 capital-funded community facilities programme projects worth a total of £5.4 million and published a consultation on assets of community value.
 
14:40
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Thank you, Minister. Neath Port Talbot Council for Voluntary Service provides an excellent service supporting, promoting and developing the voluntary and community sector in Neath Port Talbot, which is composed of 60,000-plus volunteers. Last year they worked regionally with partners, including Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board, supporting the sector’s involvement in developing its values and behaviour framework, including standards of care for older people in hospitals and the ABMU children’s rights charter. Minister, do you agree with me that this is an excellent example and an example to us all?
 
14:40
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, absolutely. I note your support for Neath Port Talbot Council for Voluntary Service and I think that all the county voluntary councils right across Wales are providing vital support. As I’ve said before, as a Government we can’t do everything on our own and we really look to our volunteers and to the third sector. I’m always really struck by the real difference that they do make out there on the ground. But I particularly applaud the model of partnership working in Neath Port Talbot, working with the local authority and the health board, because we don’t see that right across Wales, but I think it is very good best practice and I’d like to see a lot more of it over the coming years.
 
14:41
Darren MillarBiography
Minister, faith groups do an enormous amount of voluntary work across Wales, from churches and chapels to mosques and synagogues, too. What work is the Welsh Government doing to promote the volunteering efforts of faith groups and to ensure that they are engaged in the provision of services sometimes at local authority level? Some local authorities appear to be very good, such as the case we’ve just heard, but elsewhere in Wales that relationship is not as effective as it could be. What work are you doing to ensure that it’s more effective in the future?
 
14:42
Lesley GriffithsBiography
My main contact with faith groups and the third sector is through the faith group forum, which the First Minister chairs and I’m the vice-chair. We meet regularly with representatives from all faiths right across Wales and it’s important to ensure that they are aware of what’s going on out there and, equally, that we, as a Government, are aware. So, that’s the main area that we work in.
 
14:42
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Minister, at the last official count, there were 33,000 voluntary sector organisations in Wales. We love committees, don’t we? Since many of these have to compete for funding, what are your views on whether larger organisations that duplicate each other’s activities should consider merging?
 
14:42
Lesley GriffithsBiography
We don’t want to see duplication of services being provided, and, again, because of the funding I think that that has had much more of a sharper focus on it than perhaps before. Certainly, I have heard of a few groups that have merged together within the voluntary sector and perhaps it is something that could be looked at, but I think it’s important that we do see a range of support services and that we don’t see duplication.
 
14:43
William PowellBiography
As has been widely acknowledged, the voluntary sector across Wales does make a huge contribution to communities across the length and breadth of this country. Minister, I’d like to put on record my thanks to you for taking the time out to visit Brecon Dial-a-Ride with me just a couple of weeks ago to see at first hand the valuable work of Lisa Marsh and her team in Brecon.
 
In the wider context of volunteering for the elderly, Age Cymru has an award scheme that recognises the outstanding contributions that are made throughout Wales to support the elderly, particularly those living in their own homes. As nominations for this year’s round of awards close next Tuesday, will you join me in calling upon members and other bodies within Wales to look to put forward nominations of schemes of merit so that they can be given due recognition and also that their good practice can be further widespread?
 
14:44
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Absolutely. I think success should always be celebrated and it’s really important to say thank you, and certainly the visit I did with you to Brecon Dial-a-Ride was one—. It’s an incredible service that they provide and to hear the people, who use the service, talk about the benefits that they get and how isolated they would feel if they didn’t have that service available—. So, absolutely, it’s really important: one, that we say ‘thank you’ and, two, that we celebrate success.
 
14:44
John GriffithsBiography
Given the amazing job that volunteers do across the length and breadth of Wales, Minister, would you agree that we need to encourage and reward our volunteers and one way of doing that is through time banking, which allows volunteers to exchange the hours that they give for access to leisure, entertainment or perhaps sporting facilities?
 
14:45
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, I absolutely agree with you. We have 1 million people—so one in three people in Wales—who volunteer. That’s a huge number. Time-banking—I remember a visit I did, I think it was to Cardiff Community Housing Association, and I met a young mum there who told me that she couldn’t afford to take her young child swimming or to the cinema. By time-banking, through working in the food bank within the housing association, she earned enough hours to then have a voucher—I think it was bowling, actually—to take her son bowling. So, it’s great to see that sort of initiative, with volunteers being rewarded in that way also.
 
Community Relations
 
14:45
Mohammad AsgharBiography
7. What plans does the Welsh Government have to improve community relations in Wales in view of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, please? OAQ(4)399(CTP)
 
14:45
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. The Welsh Government is funding eight regional community cohesion co-ordinators to work with partners locally. They will continue to monitor tensions and will assess any increase in hate crime following the Paris attacks and the arrival of Syrian refugees in Wales. I will provide an update to Members following the Syrian refugee taskforce meeting in February.
 
14:46
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you for that, Minister. Following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, two mosques in Newport were vandalised with anti-Islamic graffiti. Gwent Police have said they were treating the incidents as hate crimes. Will the Minister join with me in condemning this vandalism, and does she agree that this kind of religious intolerance has no place in our society as freedom of religion is one of the values that ISIS is trying to destroy?
 
14:46
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I was horrified at the recent graffiti that was placed on the mosque in Newport, and I do want to make it absolutely clear that this behaviour will not be tolerated. There should be no scapegoating of our Muslim communities. It’s really important that we all continue to work together. Wales is an inclusive, multicultural society, and our Muslim communities play an integral role in Welsh society and they have done for many years.
 
14:47
Eluned ParrottBiography
Minister, one of the great fears of the kind of appalling rhetoric that we’ve seen from some political leaders over the last few weeks is that it breeds an atmosphere of intolerance and ignorance in our communities, which is detrimental to all of us. However, I think that by tackling the ignorance, we can start to tackle those fears. I was very pleased to attend the Dar Ul-Isra mosque open day in April this year. I wonder what support the Welsh Government could give to the Muslim communities in Wales to enable them to take part in these kinds of community-engagement activities so that we can educate our communities and encourage more people to go along and find out about the religion of Islam.
 
14:47
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Yes, I absolutely agree with the Member. I think it’s very important, as politicians, that we do not use inflammatory language at all. I met last week with my two colleagues, the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister for Public Services, to see what more we could do to strengthen the links across our portfolio areas to support positive community cohesion across our Muslim communities, and that’s work that we will be taking forward.
 
The Third Sector
 
14:48
Mark IsherwoodBiography
8. How is the Welsh Government supporting the third sector in Wales? OAQ(4)0404(CTP)
 
14:48
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. Welsh Government supports the third sector across Wales in many ways. In 2015-16, I provided core funding of £6.68 million to Welsh third sector infrastructure organisations. This includes just over £4 million for a network of county voluntary councils across Wales and £1.4 million for our national volunteering grant programmes.
 
14:48
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Thank you. Well, as your shadow Minister, I’ve become concerned by the number of third sector bodies telling me that the Welsh Government is effectively shutting down the independent voice of the sector. Will you seek advice from the auditor general on how you might best consider alternative models, working with the sector, to improve outcomes and get best value for the public pound?
 
14:49
Lesley GriffithsBiography
What I would like is for the Member to write to me about that specific point because I’m not really sure what you’re implying.
 
14:49
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
The cuts to local government budgets mean that we are relying more and more, of course, on third sector organisations, and the cuts then have an impact on how much funding those organisations receive. Workers from one not-for-profit group in my constituency contacted me with concerns that there will be less funding available to pay for staff, or that staff will lose some of their working conditions. They are concerned particularly at a time when it has been pledged that the minimum wage will be increased—something that we, of course, in principle support. Now, according to my constituents, they did contact the Welsh Government to ask for advice and to note their concerns, and the response was that this was an issue for the London Government, the UK Government. Does the Minister agree that that is an insufficient and unsympathetic response, and can the Minister outline any steps that the Welsh Government will take to support staff groups such as these?
 
14:50
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Again, if the Member could write to me specifically about the specific organisation, I will look into it and respond.
 
14:50
Aled RobertsBiography
You’ve already alluded to the change from core funding under section 64 into the social sustainable grant, and Disability Wales. I understand that there is a process that you have to go through and that tendering and bids have to be submitted, but, bearing in mind that many of these disability groups are facing changes in the welfare state, what assistance and support will be available in the light of the fact that Disability Wales will be unable to continue to provide some of these services in future?
 
14:51
Lesley GriffithsBiography
As I mentioned, the particular pot of money that Disability Wales won’t be getting isn’t from my portfolio, and I know there is work being undertaken by the Minister for Health and Social Services’ officials with Disability Wales to manage the transition. Disability Wales is continuing to receive grant funding from my department to help take forward the framework for action on independent living, as I previously mentioned.
 
Traveller Sites
 
14:51
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
9. What is the latest guidance the Minister has provided to local authorities in relation to the provision of traveller sites? OAQ(4)0400(CTP)
 
14:51
Lesley GriffithsBiography
The Welsh Government published the ‘Undertaking Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessments’ guidance on 25 February 2015, in line with section 106 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. New guidance relating to design and management standards for local authority Gypsy and Traveller sites was also published in May this year.
 
14:51
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Thank you, Minister, for that answer. In my region in the area of Sully, there is a current proposal to meet the LDP requirement of the Vale of Glamorgan for a Traveller site. Everyone understands that provision has to be made, but, obviously, with the Government’s direction of travel regarding local government reorganisation, do you still think it is applicable that all local government authority areas—the 22 of them—should have that requirement placed on them, given all the changes that are going on in government at the moment via the legislative process and policy process? It seems to be indicating a direction of travel that there will be a smaller footprint of local government across Wales. Therefore, the provision may not necessarily need 22 sites and could be more reflective of any map that might emerge in the future.
 
14:52
Lesley GriffithsBiography
In answer to the question, yes I do.
 
14:52
Julie MorganBiography
During the recess, the cross-party group on Gypsies and Travellers will be meeting in Pembroke, and they’ve asked to have the subject to be accommodation, although Pembrokeshire has got quite a good service in terms of sites for Gypsies and Travellers, but, nevertheless, they’ve still got worries. I wondered if the Minister could give any update or overview of the success of Gypsies and Travellers in getting planning permission for individual family sites where they own the land. Over Wales, are there any trends emerging?
 
14:53
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I don’t have that information to hand, but I’ll be happy to write to the Member.
 
The Affordable Housing Policy
 
14:53
Suzy DaviesBiography
10. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government’s affordable housing policy? OAQ(4)0407(CTP)
 
14:53
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. We provide a range of programmes to support affordable housing and have achieved 91 per cent of our target of 10,000 affordable homes, which clearly demonstrates our commitment. Yesterday, our draft budget allocated an additional £21.7 million in 2016-17 to affordable housing through our social housing grant programme, which again strengthens our commitment further.
 
14:53
Suzy DaviesBiography
Thank you very much for that answer, Minister, and I hope that this new money will be used in innovative ways. In Uplands in Swansea, there are over 1,000 houses in multiple occupation, as of the end of September this year. It’s a very disproportionate number of such homes for the area. I declare an interest because I live in that particular ward. There’s an oversupply for students and, of course, the problem is exacerbated now by the attraction of living a little nearer to the new campus to the east of the city. What discussions have you had with Swansea council, which is looking at some unacceptably large areas for development under the LDP, about renewing focus on bringing HMOs and empty town-centre properties back into more stable, affordable residential use?
 
14:54
Lesley GriffithsBiography
HMOs actually fall within the portfolio of my colleague Carl Sargeant. My officials will have had discussions in relation to plans for properties within the area that you talk about. I think it is really important that we do have innovative ways of using the social housing grant and, certainly, I think we have seen that over the past few years and I would want to see more of it in the coming months, also.
 
The Supporting People Programme
 
14:55
Simon ThomasBiography
11. What assessment has the Minister make of the efficiency of the Supporting People programme in Mid and West Wales? OAQ(4)0405(CTP)[W]
 
14:55
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Diolch. I have commissioned a review of every local authority’s management of the programme and use of the budget. All authorities in mid and west Wales have been reviewed. The reviews have demonstrated where things are working well, and where improvement is needed. I expect authorities and their partners to use resources to best effect.
 
14:55
Simon ThomasBiography
Thank you, Minister. As has been mentioned already a few times this afternoon, we all welcome the fact that the programme hasn’t seen a significant cut in the budget, although ‘cash flat’ does constitute a small reduction, of course. I have received information from a programme in mid and west Wales that shows that more than 7,000 people had been assisted in the most recent six-month period, and they claim that every pound spent on the programme leads to a saving of £2.40. I recently visited a scheme in Carmarthen and saw for myself the qualitative difference it makes to people’s life to have stability in terms of accommodation and housing. As you are now seeking more robust evidence on this preventative spend, what is the Government itself doing to ensure that there is a structure in place so that this information is gathered?
 
14:56
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, we put the structure in place previously, and I think it’s a 96 per cent increase that I’ve seen this year in outcome data, which has been very helpful when I’ve had to make decisions around my budget. You’re absolutely right—I actually think, probably, it’s higher than £2.40; you only have to look at what is saved by people not going back to their GP time and time again, or to accident and emergency. So, I think there is a huge preventative agenda around the Supporting People programme, which all my ministerial colleagues are very well aware of. I think it’s really important that we continue to see that outcome data coming from the regional collaborative committees and each individual local authority.
 
14:57
Angela BurnsBiography
Minister, under the Supporting People programme, could you, perhaps, enlighten us as to what discussions you have with county councils in how they would support vulnerable people by providing appropriate housing? I know that, in my constituency, there is a complete dearth, for example, of disabled housing coming down the line. There’s no intention to build any for at least 18 months, and, of course, this goes against the absolute grain of the Supporting People programme that you are pushing forward. So, we have you coming from one direction and complete inertia from another direction, and I wonder what you might be able to do to try to move that logjam.
 
14:58
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, I’m sorry to hear that, because certainly, in other parts of Wales, I’ve been very fortunate to view particularly adapted housing being built within affordable housing developments. It may be only one in, say, 20, but it’s really important that that house is there for a disabled person.
 
I know that when I’ve had—. As I say, I’ve had a review of Supporting People at local authority level across all 22 local authorities, and there were some improvements that I thought Carmarthenshire should make. They’ve been told that and we are monitoring very closely to make those improvements. Pembrokeshire, also, which I know is in your constituency, has acknowledged that there are further administrative procedures that need to be put in place, and, again, I will be monitoring it very closely.
 
The Community Facilities Programme
 
14:58
Elin JonesBiography
12. Will the Minister provide an update on how communities in Ceredigion benefit from the community facilities programme? OAQ(4)0403(CTP)[W]
 
14:59
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I have so far approved funding worth a total of £5.4 million for 22 projects across Wales that improve community facilities to help to prevent or mitigate the impact of poverty in our most vulnerable communities. I will be making an announcement on projects currently under consideration, including one from Ceredigion, before Christmas.
 
14:59
Elin JonesBiography
Wel, Minister, you visited the Penparcau bowling club with the Penparcau forum, and Simon Thomas was also there, back in the summer. Couldn’t I tempt you this afternoon to make that announcement on funding the community centre in Penparcau? If I can’t tempt you, then could I just encourage you by saying that the people of Penparcau would very much appreciate confirmation of this funding? It would be an excellent Christmas present for that community.
 
14:59
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Well, Christmas is coming, so, as I say, I will make an announcement before Christmas.
 
Opportunities in the Cynon Valley
 
14:59
Christine ChapmanBiography
13. What is the Welsh Government doing to improve the opportunities for people with disabilities in Cynon Valley? OAQ(4)0408(CTP)
 
15:00
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you. Our framework for action on independent living aims to create an environment where disabled people have access to the same opportunities as everyone else. Tackling poverty programmes, such as Families First, also play a critical role in helping to achieve this aim in areas such as Cynon Valley.
 
15:00
Christine ChapmanBiography
Thank you, Minister. Well, further to my supplementary question to the First Minister on this subject yesterday, how is the Welsh Government engaging with employers in Wales to ensure that they are aware of grants and support that enable them to make reasonable changes to support new or existing employees with disabilities? How is the Welsh Government engaging with disabled people so they’re also informed of this support?