The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) in the Chair.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
1. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government’s plans to improve vocational education? OAQ(4)1264(FM)
We are building on existing strengths to improve vocational education by creating additional apprenticeship places, refining the vocational qualifications offer with more employer involvement, and ensuring that vocational qualifications have clarity of purpose.
All of us in the Chamber see the enormous benefits that are offered by vocational education. However, I am sure that you share my concern at a recent Estyn report into courses in construction, planning and the built environment, which has raised concerns that they fail to take into account local labour market information, and also fail to be matched to local employment needs. The report also highlights that standards in this field are only average, compared with other learning areas. Do you agree that this simply is not good enough, and what will your Welsh Government do to try to resolve these problems?
There is always room for improvement, of course, but I do believe that we provide our learners with an excellent variety and depth of education. It is important, of course—and, in fairness, I believe that further education colleges do this—to understand the needs of the local labour market. Indeed, many, if not all, FE colleges in Wales have done just that, when they look to provide their courses.
First Minister, you will be aware that the Cory Band has recognised the importance of music in vocational education, by setting up a brass band academy and an outreach programme for young people, with the support of the Arts Council of Wales. Will you be following this up by writing to the Cory Band, to congratulate it on winning the national championships at the Albert Hall this year, adding to its title of world champions?
I join with the Member in congratulating the Cory Band on its success. I will write to the band, following its success in winning the national championships of Great Britain. It builds, of course, on previous achievements, in winning the British, European, and, indeed, world championships, reinforcing its status as one of our premier brass bands. The fact that it is looking to invest in the youth of the future is marvellous in terms of ensuring, through the academy, that it will get the throughput of young people that it needs in the future, to ensure that the band continues to flourish.
Following on from Nick Ramsay’s question, Coleg Llandrillo Menai trains about 30 engineering apprentices every year, with an eye on the Wylfa B development, if that becomes a reality. However, it seems that Wylfa B will need thousands of workers—2,000 or more—in two tranches. How will the Welsh Government and the colleges identify all the skills that will be required and do the preparatory work for those skills, so as to avoid having to bring those skills in to north Wales?
That is a fair question. Coleg Menai was giving this consideration some four years ago. The first place that I visited as First Minister—back in 2009—was Coleg Menai, and the college was giving consideration back then to the skills required to ensure that people had the skills to work in Wylfa B. It is true to say that some skills will have to be brought in, in terms of some people, but what we want to ensure—and what the college wants to ensure—is that local people have a fair go at acquiring the skills that they need and that they are able to get temporary and permanent employment in the future.
Equality Impact Assessments
2. Will the First Minister outline how the Welsh Government uses Equality Impact Assessments to determine government policy? OAQ(4)1268(FM)
We are committed to ensuring that we tackle the inequality facing those protected groups under the Equality Act 2010. Equality impact assessments provide an important mechanism for us to do that. It is something, of course, that we employ, particularly with regard to the budget, and the assessment was published on 8 October.
Thank you for that, First Minister. I am proud that this Government takes equality impact assessments seriously. As I think has been shown in the budget that was announced by your Minister for Finance last week, that budget could have some wide-ranging impacts for some local authority services. How will you make sure that local authorities also use equality impact assessments correctly, to make sure that their residents are not further hampered by any cuts to services that they may feel they have to make?
There is no doubt that the settlement is a challenging one for local authorities. That much is true and we have never said anything different. However, under our Wales-specific equality duties, local authorities do have a duty to carry out equality impact assessments of their decisions. Those decisions have to be robust, otherwise they are challengeable. So, they have to demonstrate that the criteria they use are robust as far as the assessments are concerned. It is vital, of course, that, when making financial decisions, local authorities do ensure that disabled people have equal access to services and opportunities.
First Minister, the equality impact assessment in the 2014-15 draft budget states that local authorities have a statutory duty to protect children and vulnerable adults, to provide education and to promote the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of the community. Yet, it also concludes that it is not possible for the Welsh Government to identify the equality impact of cuts to this area. Despite this, cuts were made of £96 million. With such a large cut and the conclusion that the equality impact of this cannot be identified, how has the Welsh Government ensured that the cut will not act to the detriment of the promotion of equality in our communities?
By the requirement, of course, that local authorities have to carry through equality impact assessments. Her party wants to cut more from local authorities, so the foundation upon which she rests her question is a very shaky one indeed. If anything, her party would want to complain that we have not taken enough off local authorities, given the fact that it wanted to cut local authority spending by 12.5%. What we have done is to protect vulnerable people and to require equality impact assessments to take place, whereas the party opposite would do nothing but destroy services available to vulnerable people.
I should say ‘Shwmae’, Brif Weinidog. In February this year, you told Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg that you would assess the impact on the Welsh language of all spending across all departments, but the draft budget says that that assessment is yet to be done. Would you consider asking the Welsh Language Commissioner to assist with that assessment, so that it is ready before the vote on the final budget this year, as well as being completed promptly ahead of future budgets?
All these things are assessed, of course. We must remember that spending on the Welsh language is a discrete item; it is not all the spending on the language. We have to remember that education takes up a substantial amount of spending when it comes to promoting the language as well, and there are other areas beyond that. From my point of view, we need to ensure that we get the right outcomes, and I believe that the funding that we have made available, particularly to the mentrau iaith, will enable us to do that. Further information will be provided to the Assembly regarding ‘Y Gynhadledd Fawr’ and more between now and the Christmas recess.
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I now call on the party leaders to question the First Minister. First, I call on the leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Last week, Capital Economics brought forward a report that said that the Welsh economy will struggle to achieve strong growth for the rest of the decade. Whenever the economy is mentioned, First Minister, you recite a well-rehearsed line: either you blame Westminster or you talk about Jobs Growth Wales, the economic growth fund or the JEREMIE fund. However, First Minister, the one fundamental question that you and your Ministers have always failed to answer is: why is the Welsh economy constantly propping up any economic league table you care to mention?
It does not.
It does, First Minister. You are constantly aware of this—all the league tables point to the economic inactivity in Wales and the sluggishness of the Welsh economy. It is a fact that you stated last month that the UK economic policy was discredited and that there had been three years of nothing. Yet, that fails to take into account that the International Monetary Fund recently upgraded the growth forecast to 1.4%, making the UK economy the fastest-growing economy in Europe; 1.4 million new private sector jobs were created in the UK as a whole, of which in excess of 60,000 were created here in Wales; and the deficit has been cut by a third. Yet, time and again, when we look at the economic activity here in Wales, we are regrettably the poorest part of the United Kingdom. After 14 years of Labour in Government, why do you not have the solutions to actually change that difficult proposition?
I listened carefully to the leader of the Welsh Conservatives; I will accord him that respect, even if the rest of this party does not, as we know his conference. Let me give him some figures. Unemployment has come down close to the UK average. Let me tell him, for example, that exports have risen in the last quarter. Let me tell him that, when it comes to foreign direct investment, we have outpaced the rest of the UK. It is simply not right to say that Wales is the poorest part of the UK by any stretch of the imagination. Look at the north-east of England; look at the north-west of England; look at the west midlands; look at London, where unemployment is higher than in Wales. That is the reality of the situation.
Yes, we have well-rehearsed lines; that is because we are doing things. More than 6,800 young people are now in employment because of Jobs Growth Wales. The equivalent scheme that his party set up in England was a disaster. We have the Wales economic growth fund. We have job announcements being made on a regular basis. I have to say to him: his words would carry more weight if he was to break his silence with regard to the Silk commission part 1. We need stamp duty, we need borrowing powers in order to finance the M4, we need to ensure that we have the right tax base for Wales—will he join me now in calling on the UK Government to respond positively to Silk part 1 without further delay?
As usual, the First Minister is not answering the question put to him. He is quite right to say that they have been doing things. What they have been doing is talking up the double-dip and triple-dip recession that they have been prophesising. The Minister for Economy, Science and Transport was saying in January of this year that we were going into a triple-dip recession; the Minister for Finance was saying that we would be back into recession; dear old Joyce Watson, the Member for Mid and West Wales, was saying that Britain is slipping back into a triple-dip recession; and the great Mike Hedges has been talking about the serious threat of Britain going into double-dip recession. [Interruption.] Is it not the case, First Minister, that what you and your colleagues have done is constantly talk the economy down? You might look like Derek Brockaway but your forecasts are not half as accurate. When are you going to get a grip and turn the Welsh economy around?
Could I just assist the leader of the opposition by telling him that the gentleman’s name is Derek Brockway, not Brockaway; he may not watch tv, who knows? He seems to come here without any sense of irony. He accuses me of talking down the UK economy when he spends the best part of 10 minutes talking down the Welsh economy, without realising the weakness of his own position.
He was invited to reiterate his position with regard to the Silk commission—he took a principled position on it when he came before the Assembly—but he has failed miserably to do so. The Silk commission is crucial to the Welsh economy. Without the M4 relief road, that economy will be damaged in south Wales. That relief road cannot be built, cannot be considered, without borrowing powers—it will not happen. When will he come down on the side of business? The CBI, the RICS, the FSB—all these organisations are calling for a response to the Silk commission. It is about time he showed some leadership and stopped being so wet.
’Shwmae’, First Minister? Do you agree that the Welsh Government, rather than the UK Government, should control the justice system?
It appears that ’Shwmae’ is the question of the day. The aim of our evidence to the Silk commission was to ensure that the commission knew that we thought that the justice system could be devolved in the future. However, a number of things have to be considered, of course—for example, the cost of devolving that justice system. In principle, it is possible, of course, but we have to consider the practical implications.
Thank you for your reply.
The UK Government has amended the Anti-Social Behaviour (Crime and Policing) Bill to take powers back from this Assembly. Will this have a significant impact, as you have said in your written statement, or is this just part of the ebb and flow of devolution that your colleague, the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, supports?
I think that you will find that Labour MPs have been absolutely solid in their support for the Welsh Government in this regard. It is unacceptable that powers should be—and I do not use the phrase ‘taken back’—stolen back, because to my mind these powers exist with the Welsh people. It is not right that these powers should be removed from the people of Wales without any consultation whatsoever. The practical effect is that it will make it more difficult for us to deal with anti-social behaviour, particularly in the NHS and in other areas. We have made that position absolutely clear to the UK Government.
I accept the point that you make, First Minister, but the UK Government listens more to the Scottish Government than it does to the Welsh Government. Why is it that the UK Government is ignoring your comments on this? Why is it that it has not yet responded to the first part of the Silk commission report? First Minister, if this is an example of standing up for Wales, you are clearly failing. What exactly are you going to do to defend devolution?
I can only refer her to what some of her own party members have said to me in weeks gone by: they are happy that we are taking the lead on the constitution. I have made my position very clear. I cannot answer the question as to why there has been no response to Silk part 1, but it is certainly a question that I will be asking tomorrow when it comes to the joint ministerial committee.
I want to ensure that Wales has an ambitious and vibrant future, but I also think that it is important to remember when we put forward policies as parties for Wales that they are practical. I did listen to her conference speech and I have to say that I was surprised to hear that she wanted to impose a levy on sugared drinks in order to pay for 1,000 doctors. Ignoring the fact that we do not have the power to do such a thing, or the fact that the 1,000 doctors do not exist in reality, as any conversation with a medic will tell you, what sense is there—I put this as a point to her—in linking the employment of doctors to the increased consumption of sugary drinks? That makes no sense to me. It is a bit like saying that we are going to pay for extra doctors by increasing tobacco duties. In that case, if people smoke less, then, of course, we will have less money to pay for those doctors. It makes very little sense to my mind. Hypothecating a tax to do that surely puts you in a position where you either (a) want to encourage people to drink more sugary drinks or (b) you accept that they will drink less and you can employ fewer doctors. It makes no sense to me.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
First Minister, the chief executive of NHS Wales has confirmed that, last year, due to increased winter pressures, 2,600 operations were cancelled. How many operations do you expect to be cancelled this winter?
She is incorrect to say that operations were cancelled: operations were, in fact, postponed. They were carried out at a later date. I can say that planning for winter pressures is well in hand and the Minister for health has been clear in terms of what is planned for NHS Wales over the course of this winter.
I am sure that the semantics of words will be lost on those individuals who were anticipating being treated by a certain date and were subsequently told that, as a result of a lack of capacity, they could not be treated on that date. First Minister, you said that plans were afoot to limit cancelled or postponed operations, but there are already worrying signs that the NHS is not ready for the forthcoming winter. Figures show that, in August this year, the number people waiting longer in hospital than was medically necessary was up on the number of people waiting in hospital in August of last year. What analysis have you carried out to see how many lost bed days there will be this winter in the Welsh NHS because of an increase in delayed transfers of care?
These are analyses that have been carried out by the Minister for health and by the local health boards. Planning for winter pressures is well advanced. We cannot know, of course, what the weather will be like, but we have to plan for what we believe may well be a cold winter. I do not accept that NHS Wales is lagging behind in terms of preparing for winter pressures. It is not semantics to say that operations are cancelled rather than postponed. If you tell people that operations are cancelled, people think those operations never took place in the first place. There is an important difference between a postponement and a cancellation. But, in terms of the detail, I can say that the seasonal planning group has been planning for the winter since its first meeting in March. Indeed, the planning that was begun at that meeting is well in hand.
They were not my words. They were the words of the person who runs the NHS in Wales. I am grateful that the analysis is being carried out. Perhaps if it is already on the Minister for health’s desk, waiting, you will be able to publish it before the afternoon is out, noting how many lost bed days you anticipate to suffer this winter as a result of winter pressures.
Perhaps the most worrying figure of all is that, in the five months to August, we saw the number of people waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment double. That was in the spring and summer months. Your own target says that nobody should wait that long, yet 13,000 people are waiting that long. If the NHS cannot meet its targets for treatment during the spring and summer months, how do you expect the NHS in Wales to deliver those targets during the winter months?
As the leader of the Liberal Democrats will know, we have been open about the challenges that the NHS faces in Wales. Nevertheless, we believe that the trends are now moving in the right direction; it is the opposite in England, where things are getting worse. We see the situation that exists there, where the English NHS is in crisis. She asked the question—well, she didn’t ask it, but this is what she meant to ask: can Members and members of the public have confidence in the plans that have been put in place for the winter? I can say that following the winter planning forum, formal winter plans have been received as part of our early winter planning assurance process. They are being examined at the moment by officials, and the Minister will be examining those plans closely to satisfy himself that we are prepared for the winter that is to come.
They are not publicly available.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Question 3 from Paul Davies is next.
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on what the Welsh Government is doing to support education provision in west Wales? OAQ(4)1262(FM)
We have put in place a range of measures to support learners at all stages of education in west Wales and throughout the whole of Wales.
I am grateful to the First Minister for that response. There are concerns among my constituents in the St David’s area because the local authority is reviewing the provision of education in that area. I accept that the local authority is yet to come to a decision on this, so it is crucially important that real consultation takes place as part of the process. Would you agree that the views of the whole community must be taken into account before any firm decision is taken and that the consultation process should be open and transparent?
Naturally, I would support what you have said. It is very important, where there are changes to any education system in any county in Wales, that there is wide and thorough consultation to ensure that any local authority understands the views of the local people.
If will approach this question from a different direction to that taken by Paul Davies. Of course, we must look at education provision in the context of county-wide provision and problems arise if you look at individual examples without looking at the county-wide provision. Problems can arise sometimes with transport to school and that transport is looked at in the context of the individual school only, and wider provision is not offered.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Be quick, please.
Let me propose a scenario to you where I have a constituent with multiple sclerosis, her husband works for the armed forces and is away, and she has difficulty in ensuring that her child can get to school. Should the local authority in that situation not look at the individual circumstances of that child and be flexible in terms of the provision of education?
It is very difficult to express a view on one individual without knowing the whole facts. However, generally, every local authority should consider, in detail, how it ensures that education is available in its area and consider the situation of some individuals and the viewpoint of the population as a whole.
South Wales Fire and Rescue Service’s Fire Cover Review
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service’s Fire Cover Review? OAQ(4)1274(FM)
Fire and rescue authorities are autonomous, independent bodies and they have to determine the provision of services in their area. However, I can say that the Minister for Local Government and Government Business has committed to an oral statement to Plenary regarding the fire and rescue services in Wales next week, on 22 October.
You may be aware that the fire service is currently consulting on proposals to remove the second appliance at Cwmbrân station, which is a proposal that would see 17 retained firefighters lose their jobs, and there are serious concerns about the ability of the local fire service to cope in the event of a major incident, with what is a 50% reduction in fire cover for Cwmbrân. I know that proposals in Blaina are causing considerable concern as well. While I appreciate that you are not able to intervene directly in this matter—and I appreciate that we have the statement—will you use your influence on Government business to ensure that we have a full debate on this matter, rather than simply having a statement, next week?
I cannot promise a full debate, but I can promise a statement. I hope that Members will have the opportunity to ask questions as fully as they need to on behalf of their constituents. I can say, however, that it is important that any fire authority satisfies itself that it can provide services safely and quickly to the local population that it serves. As part of any changes in service, I would expect those factors to be paramount.
All Members will welcome the continued decline in the number of emergency call-outs to tackle fires, but I wonder, First Minister, why the fire cover review appears not to take into account the extended role to encompass rescue services. The First Minister will be aware that potential road improvements in south-east Wales and the increase, hopefully, in provision will make these more and more likely. What talks has your administration had with those fire services on a regional basis to indicate the potential demand?
It is for the fire services themselves to go through this determination and to ensure that they take into account those factors that are relevant, particularly of course the safety and speed of fire services and how quickly they can reach an incident. As part of the process, I would expect any fire authority in Wales to follow those principles and be able to demonstrate to the public that any service changes would lead to improvements in order to make sure that people do not feel that they may be put at risk as a result of service changes. It is important, of course, that service changes are explained, both in terms of what they mean and in terms of what they might mean for improvement.
First Minister, one of the most successful public awareness campaigns in modern times has been the reduction in house fires and deaths due to those fires. There are 50% fewer calls and the number of fires has gone down by 70% in the last decade. So, the firefighters’ efforts with regard to prevention are to be applauded. I know that this review is, perhaps, required, but will you ensure that it considers the national perspective of emergency and rescue services as a whole? Surely, it is now time for fire and rescue and ambulance services to be considered as one, rather than for this to be done in isolation.
In terms of ambulance services and fire and rescue services being part of the same organisation, that is a different question. In terms of whether they should co-operate, the answer clearly has to be ‘yes’. I would expect there to be co-operation between the emergency services in order to provide the fullest cover possible.
The Member is right to point out that the number of fires has reduced; unfortunately, it is still the case that between one fifth and one third of calls in different parts of Wales are false alarms. There is still some work to do, of course, in making sure that those who ring for a fire engine under false pretences are dealt with as quickly and effectively as possible.
Waiting Times for NHS Treatment
5. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve waiting times for NHS treatment? OAQ(4)1261(FM)
We have received plans from all health boards, which show how performance will improve over the remaining months of the year. The Minister for health and his officials are closely monitoring progress.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. Waiting times for NHS treatment could be improved by tackling the problem of cancelled hospital operations. Cancellations due to bed shortages have risen by 72% since 2010-11, wasting millions of pounds and causing considerable distress to vulnerable patients. What action is the Welsh Government taking to reduce the number of cancelled operations in Wales?
The majority of operations are postponed for clinical reasons or, indeed, where patients themselves have requested such postponements. There are occasions, of course, when postponements take place because the medical staff are not available at that time, but, of course, the boards have put forward proposals for a reconfiguration of health services across Wales. It is important that we understand that, in order to have a safe and sustainable health service in the future, there need to be changes. The extent of those changes, particularly in some parts of Wales, is yet to be decided.
First Minister, winter is not yet upon us, but my constituents have been told this week that their treatments in Bronglais are to be deferred because Hywel Dda Local Health Board is to close beds at Bronglais because of staffing difficulties. There are surgeons available in Bronglais, and some of those will not have work to do or patients to treat because of this news. Why, in your opinion, is a health board such as Hywel Dda so ineffective in planning its workforce, even when there are not winter pressures on that service?
It is not acceptable for the board to have made a statement like this in the way that it has done so today. The Minister for health will contact the board in order to have an explanation of how this has come about and why this statement has been made without any indication to anybody, from what we can see. If I can say this on behalf of the Minister for Health and Social Services, he will write to the Member once he has an explanation from the health board.
First Minister, there are, indeed, many challenges to waiting times in England and Wales, but could you give us an assurance that you will not be following the English Tory example of privatisation of NHS services, which has so far led to a five-year high in waiting times in England, at least 12 hospitals so far at risk of going bust, and the loss of some 5,000 nurses?
I can assure the Member that one thing that we will not be doing is, for example, suddenly deciding to remove funding for rarer treatments, as was done this morning by the UK Government, surreptitiously and without any warning. We will not be reducing the number of nurses in Wales by thousands; we will not see our health providers go bankrupt; we will not be privatising the health service in any way, and we will not be making cuts of £20 billion in the health service, as has happened in England. What I can say is that, unlike in England, the NHS in Wales is not in crisis; it is in England.
First Minister, officials at Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board accepted last year that they had cancelled treatments in order to reach their budget targets. Were you aware of that, and would you be willing to accept such a situation arising again this year?
I did not hear the question, as there was a lot of talking to my left. It is a shame that the leader of the opposition does not speak as loudly to David Cameron.
The officials of Betsi Cadwaladr health board have admitted before the Public Accounts Committee that they cancelled treatments last year in order to reach their budget targets. Was your Government aware of that, and would you be willing to accept such a position again this year?
We would not expect any authority to delay any operations. However, one of the problems that they have is the fact that they have to bring in a balanced budget within one financial year. That is going to change, we hope, with the new Bill, which is going to help them because they will be able to plan now for a period of three years. I would not expect to see any such situation happening in the future.
6. What is the Welsh Government doing to support tourism in Wales? OAQ(4)1275(FM)
In June we launched our new tourism strategy to help drive forward sustainable growth in tourism and ensure that we deliver jobs and wealth for the Welsh economy.
Across the UK, music tourism is proving to be big business, generating £2.2 billion last year and creating 24,000 jobs through festivals, concerts and so on. With Wales famously being the land of song, how are you ensuring that Wales is best placed to cash in on this?
We are investing in a range of live music events and festivals through our major events strategy. They include, for example, Classic FM Live, Festival Number 6, the Green Man Festival, the Choral Festival North Wales, Wakestock and of course, next week, WOMEX 2013—a massive event for Wales. It will have an economic impact of some £3 million and we have delegates coming from over 80 countries. So, we know the importance of music to tourism in Wales and we look forward to continuing to support events such as WOMEX next week, which will mean so much, both economically and culturally, for Wales.
First Minister, in the Welsh Government strategy for tourism 2013 to 2020, language skills to meet the demands of international markets are right up there as a key focus, but how do you square that ambition with the dismal performance in languages that we have at primary and secondary schools throughout Wales?
We are always looking to encourage the use of what would be either second or third languages. It is important that we are also innovative. We know that, for the tourism market, one of the languages that will need to be developed in the future will probably be Mandarin, given the fact that Chinese tourists will be coming to Wales—we believe and we hope—in greater numbers. So, we will be working with the tourist industry to make sure that we are able to provide the right level of support to it, particularly with regard to the need to provide services in languages that previously were not seen as important, although they are now.
Looking at all possibilities in terms of developing tourism in my constituency is important because of the importance of tourism to the local economy. Can the First Minister tell me what the results of the latest studies by the Government and its officials are on the possibility of re-opening the line between Gaerwen and Amlwch for the benefit of tourism on the island and for community benefits?
Concerning the line between Gaerwen and Amlwch, a study was done by the Deputy First Minister in the last Government, but, at the time, it was not a priority in relation to some of the other plans across Wales. It is very important that, first, the railway itself is kept, and the tracks are not moved or taken away. That would make it much more difficult to reinstate the railway, but we are more than willing to consider any business case that can be made for a railway coming down from the north of Anglesey. At the moment, it is not a priority, but, in the future, of course, that could change.
First Minister, we received a letter yesterday from the Minister for the economy stating that the Severn tunnel would be closed on 26 and 27 October, hitting one of the major events that you mentioned, WOMEX, and another on that weekend. What mechanism does the major events team have in place to make sure that major infrastructure operators such as Network Rail and the Highways Agency and, of course, transport operators, are informed of major events so that this kind of situation can be avoided?
They know our views; they keep on doing it anyway. They have form for it. They did it in 1999, for example, when Wales played England at Wembley; I remember quite a long diversionary route being taken by the train on that occasion. We have, of course, not just WOMEX but the Rugby League World Cup opening ceremony on Saturday and, again, the tunnel has been closed. In a more rational world, 20 years ago, when the new Severn bridge was opened, a rail deck would have been put underneath it so that the Severn tunnel could have been closed permanently and its operating costs dispensed with, but it is not in the nature of the UK—it certainly was not then—to be that farsighted, unfortunately, compared with some other countries in the world. We have to live with what we have at the moment, but we have certainly made our views very clear to Network Rail that, closing the Severn tunnel on a Saturday, when there are so many events taking place in Cardiff, particularly, is something that we deplore.
Medical Recruitment in the Welsh NHS
7. What steps has the First Minister taken to address medical recruitment issues in the Welsh NHS? OAQ(4)1276(FM)
Ninety-seven per cent of medical and dental posts are currently filled. That reflects the effective work carried out locally by NHS organisations, supported by our national Work for Wales campaign.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. Today, I have unearthed some figures that highlight that, in my health board area, Cardiff and Vale, for example, there has been a 23% increase in the use of locum and temporary staff. Also in the news, in mid Wales, in Aberystwyth, for example, procedures are being cancelled because of a lack of staff. You launched a recruitment drive 12 months last February that was going to solve some of the vacancies that we had within the Welsh NHS. What progress has been made with that campaign and, in particular, are you getting to grips with the local health boards in their use of locum staff, where they are unnecessarily used?
As I said, the vacancy rate now is only 3%. It is right to say that there is a reliance on locums, although spending on locums has decreased by 18% in the last year. The reality is that there will always be a reliance on locums. It is the case that there are many specialists who want to work part time and who do not wish to have full-time positions, and it has been the case for many years in the NHS that their services have been welcome. It is the case that they have the skills that are needed in the posts that they fill on a temporary basis. Nevertheless, as I mentioned, the cost of employing locums has gone down substantially over the course of the past year.
I should also say ’shwmae’. Yesterday, I met the chair of the Hywel Dda Local Health Board and we discussed recruitment problems, particularly following the result of the scrutiny panel on Prince Philip Hospital. I accept that there are problems throughout the UK. What further steps will the Welsh Government consider to support the local health board in recruiting clinicians to support the service in Llanelli and west Wales? How can we make the most of training to ensure that clinicians practise to the highest possible standards?
First of all, we have to consider that money is not the problem here. We know that there is a scarcity of specialists in some places—neurology, for example, and accident and emergency. We understand that. Money is not the problem; we cannot recruit 1,000 doctors that are not available. Money is not the issue. They want to come to places where they see plenty of cases and have an opportunity to train as well. That has tended to mean over the years that doctors want to train in larger and larger centres. Money will not change that and more doctors will not change that. It will not make any difference at all. What they want to see are centres where they can have the training they need and where they can have a throughput of cases. If they do not have that, they cannot work properly. That is the challenge. That is why we have to go through a system of re-establishing the health service. It is not popular, and we understand that. However, that is the only way to ensure that we have specialists who are going to come to Wales, stay in Wales, and be trained in Wales.
There is no doubt that budgetary factors drive many of the changes that are happening in many areas of Wales. Certainly, we are seeing in north Wales that recruitment problems are leading to services being moved across the border, for example. Certainly, that is a solution that has been proposed by the health board.
We heard the response that you gave earlier to one suggestion from Plaid Cymru as to one means of going about creating an additional source of income. Do you have any suggestions as to how we could look at creating specific sources of income to strengthen provision in the health service, which is creaking?
Money is not the problem. The problem with doctors is to ensure that they have places to train. I have to ask Plaid Cymru Members: do you talk to doctors? We do on this side of the Chamber. When I saw the statement that was made on the weekend, I spoke to many doctors. They said that this would not work. There are not 1,000 doctors to come into Wales. What sort of doctors do you want? Do you want people who work in neurology or people who work in the community? You have not thought about it; that is the problem. The way to ensure that doctors want to come to Wales is to ensure that they have centres to train. If those places for training are not available, it does not matter how much money you make available, they will not come. Speak to the doctors; they all say the same thing. They have to have the opportunity for training. They have to have sufficient cases through their departments as well. If they do not have the cases, they do not practise and they cannot stay in the department; the deanery says, ’You are not seeing enough cases to be safe’. That is not to do with money. That is to do with ensuring that there are enough people coming through any department. Or, what you are saying is that you want 1,000 doctors who are not being trained, who are not seeing the cases that they want to see, and that it does not matter if they are safe or not. This is not a question of money; it is a question of ensuring, as I said, that doctors feel that they have somewhere to work where they can see the people that they need to see in order to be accredited, and also, that they feel that they can be trained in those centres. Money will not make any difference at all.
Shwmae, First Minister?
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on the importance of the Cambrian Mountains to Wales? OAQ(4)1266(FM)
It has just stuck me that I used a particularly eastern Carmarthenshire word in my Welsh: ‘ifflyn’. For the translators, that means ‘not a difference’ or ‘no difference at all’. In terms of the question that the Member raised, I can say that that the sustainable management of the Cambrian mountains and their natural resources is critical to the future success of their local communities and our entire economy.
Diolch yn fawr. First Minister, I am sure that you are aware of the work of the Cambrian mountains initiative over recent years in improving sustainability and environmental standards in the heartland of Wales. This is delivered through a partnership, as you know, that engages key public sector, private sector and third sector partners. In this context, what consideration has the Welsh Government given to affording special status to the landscape of the Cambrian mountains, which was a cause long promoted by a former Member for Mid and West Wales, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth?
I think that the reference that the Member is making is to whether the Cambrian mountains should be a national park. That is an interesting idea but, as he will know, it is not an idea that is without controversy in terms of the people who live there. Of course, protections are already in place within the Cambrian mountains. However, at this moment in time, we are not, as a Government, looking either to extend the existing national parks or create new ones. I believe that what has been done in the Cambrian mountains, particularly through the Cambrian mountains initiative, for example, and the protections that are already in place, will be enough to preserve the landscape, which is what we all want to see.
Does the First Minister agree that the value that the Cambrian mountains brings to the mid-Wales economy is mainly due to the wild, remote and unspoiled nature of its landscape? If he does agree, should it not be kept that way?
Technically, it is not untouched landscape; it is farmed. That means, of course, that there will be parts of the Cambrian mountains that will have been grassed. So, it is not hugely untouched as a wilderness. Nevertheless, it is important that we preserve the traditions of the countryside that exist in the Cambrian mountains. When it comes to sustainability, we must also look at economic sustainability. There is no point in having any part of Wales that looks nice but affords no living for the people who live there. That is why sustainable and sensible development is something that all communities have to examine.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
The First Minister will not be surprised that I am not going to say ’shwmae’, and that I also call the Cambrian mountains by their old name, the Elenydd. Would the First Minister agree with me that what is important about the Elenydd is the quality of the marshland there, as is the case in other parts of Wales? Would he warmly welcome the work that is being done by the nature trusts to restore this landscape, as we saw as a committee just the other day near Efyrnwy on the Berwyn?
May I also join the Member to commend the work that is being done by each body in the mountains—the Elenydd, as he mentioned? He did not say ’shwmae’, of course—that is something that is quite informal and is completely from the south.
Closure of Enquiry Centres
9. What action has the Welsh Government taken in response to HMRC’s proposed closure of enquiry centres in Wales? OAQ(4)1271(FM)
This is not a devolved matter, but I have written previously to the Secretary of State for Wales on the issue of the closure of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs enquiry offices.
Thank you, First Minister, for that response. All face-to-face enquiry offices in Wales are likely to close by February 2014, including the Llanishen enquiry office in my constituency of Cardiff North. Does the First Minister agree with the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, which has expressed concern at the impact that this decision could have on vulnerable people and which is calling for more time for the evaluation of the pilot projects that have taken place?
Yes, I sympathise with that view. I think that these changes are being rushed. I do not think that they will be of benefit in terms of the service that people want to receive, and I have made the views of the Welsh Government known to the Secretary of State.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, First Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have accepted an urgent question under Standing Order 12.66. I call on Byron Davies to ask the urgent question.
Further to initial discussions with its owners, will the Minister provide an update on the future viability of Unity Mine, following confirmation that it has filed for administration? EAQ(4)0314(EST)
I refer Members to my written statement of 11 October 2013. The mine’s management board has filed for administration, but it is important to note that the mine has not yet entered into administration and that discussions are ongoing.
Thank you for that response, Minister. There have been significant warning signs that the Unity mine was in danger of filing for administration for some months. When did you know that the Unity mine was filing, and what action did you take to try to prevent that, if any? Specifically, can you outline what action you have taken over the past six months to support Unity mine, and what direct action are you taking to support the workers and their families at this difficult time?
I am obviously delighted to see that the Welsh Conservatives now take an interest in mines and mining communities in Wales when we consider what happened to mining, with the mines going in 1985 following the miners’ strike and what happened after that. We have been in considerable discussions on this issue, as my colleague Gwenda Thomas, the Labour Member for the Neath constituency, knows, because she has been raising this issue with me on a regular basis, and my officials have been working with the mine on a regular basis.
A good, old communist answer.
Minister, the owners have claimed that it is their outstanding planning applications that have prevented the company from expanding or pushing ahead. I would just like to understand what those problems were, because, as you will know, your colleagues are in the council and run the council of Neath Port Talbot. I would like to understand, if there are any planning difficulties, how they can be addressed and what measures you will take, because, of course, as has been said and noted with interest by the Conservatives, these issues are very pertinent to our local area and they are something that we should all be interested in.
It would be inappropriate for me to comment further on any matters to do with planning at this time, because they are subject to the planning process with the local authority.
I understand, Minister, that both Peter Hain and Gwenda Thomas have been working to remove those sorts of obstacles. As I understand it, one of the problems is whether the company can be recapitalised to stay open. What support is the Government able to give to the company in pursuit of that recapitalisation project?
We are working with the company to offer assistance, including training aid to the company, in compliance with state aid rules. I very much welcome the directors’ intention to protect the current workforce during this difficult period. We will continue to work with the company with any appointed administrators. However, of course, public grant aid for coal production is not permissible under state aid regulations as it is a restricted sector, but we will continue. When I am able to do so, I will provide a further update to Members.
I have three changes to report to this week’s business. First, the Business Committee has agreed to schedule a motion to elect a member to a committee immediately after the business statement. Secondly, the time allocated to the Counsel General’s questions tomorrow has been reduced in accordance with the number of questions tabled. Finally, the Presiding Officer will propose that two motions relating to appointments to the Wales Audit Office and the remuneration of its members should be grouped for debate tomorrow but with separate votes. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the agenda papers, which are available to Members electronically.
I thank the Minister for Local Government and Government Business for her statement today. Bearing in mind that tomorrow is World Food Day, will you consider a statement on a cross-portfolio basis in terms of understanding what food means for people around the world, the differences in what we grow and eat and the cultural significance of food, with particular emphasis on Wales—there are so many wonderful examples of stuff that we produce—not only on what we grow, but also on what we use and waste? There is an increasing global impact from the rising cost of food and fuel, but we need a greater understanding of our own food security, bearing in mind that, worldwide, there are up to 1 billion who are at risk of hunger because of food shortages.
Thank you. I know that the Minister for Natural Resources and Food gave a statement a few weeks ago, but I am sure that we all share the sentiment that you bring forward about the international day tomorrow.
Will the Minister for business join me in congratulating the British Council for the Takeover Cardiff event, which was launched on Saturday in the Senedd and was hosted by the Deputy Presiding Officer? It saw young people taking over major cultural venues in Cardiff, such as the Wales Millennium Centre, the library, Chapter arts centre and the national museum in order to show the artistic talents of young people. Would it be possible to have a debate about giving young people even greater opportunities in the arts and encouraging this sort of event?
Yes, I will certainly join you in congratulating the event. I know that it was a very successful event, hosted by the Deputy Presiding Officer here last Saturday. It is really important that young people know that their voices are heard and that they are able to be listened to. You will be aware of a great deal of work that is being undertaken by the Welsh Government at the moment across all portfolios in relation to young people.
Weinidog, roeddwn yn gwrando ar ateb y Prif Weinidog i gwestiwn Leanne Wood ar y Bil sy’n mynd drwy San Steffan ar hyn o bryd ynglŷn ag ymddygiad gwrthgymdeithasol, trosedd a phlismona. Roedd ef yn glir iawn y byddai’r Bil hwn, pe bai’n cael ei dderbyn fel y mae wedi’i eirio, yn tynnu pwerau oddi wrth Lywodraeth Cymru sydd ar hyn o bryd yn ei meddiant, yn enwedig ym myd addysg ac iechyd. A gredwch y dylem gael trafodaeth lawn yn y Cynulliad ynglŷn â pha mor bell yr ydym am fynd ar y mater hwn? A oes consensws yn y man hwn bod angen datganoli’r holl system gyfiawnder troseddol? A oes rhai sy’n credu y gallem fynd cam tuag at hynny drwy ddatganoli cyfrifoldeb dros blismona yng Nghymru? A yw’r materion hyn, ym marn Llywodraeth Cymru, yn bethau y dylem ei drafod yn y man hwn er mwyn sicrhau beth yn union yw barn Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru?
Thank you for the question and you are right, we did hear the First Minister making his position very clear. He said that he will raise the issue again tomorrow with the Prime Minister when he attends the meeting of the joint ministerial council. The First Minister produced a written statement last week and I have written to Damian Green, the relevant Minister. You talked about the issues around devolution and we will have many debates about the process in the Chamber as we go forward.
Minister, concerns have been raised over the issue of the bedroom tax on a number of occasions in the Chamber. In the UK Parliament last week the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Owen Smith, asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb, to confirm for the record whether or not Wales is hit harder than any other part of the UK. In his reply he said that Wales is not harder hit than other parts of the UK. However, the Government’s own statistics show that 46% of households in social housing in Wales have been hit compared with 31% in the UK. This has also been confirmed by the chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, David T.C. Davies, who said that the bedroom tax is not working. Does the Minister share my concerns about the apparent lack of factual knowledge of the Wales Office Ministers of the true situation in Wales? Will she be writing to the Wales Office to ask it to ensure that they understand precisely what is happening in Wales when they answer these questions?
My colleague Jeff Cuthbert, the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, within whose portfolio this falls, raised this at the last joint ministerial committee. The Minister has also written to the UK Government raising these concerns with the appropriate Ministers. I think that we are all concerned about the lack of up-to-date information being received by the Department for Work and Pensions. For instance, its last impact assessment on the bedroom tax was 15 months ago, on 28 June 2012. Certainly, the research that I have seen recently from the University of York has said that the savings intended were £480 million, but that it is more likely to be £190 million. So, as you say, it is certainly not working.
Minister, I would be grateful if you could please ask the Minister for Health and Social Services to bring forward a statement on the delivery of orthodontic services as soon as possible. I received a letter from the chief executive of the Hywel Dda Local Health Board confirming that the current waiting time for primary care orthodontic assessment is three years. I am sure that the Minister for Government business will agree that this is an appalling situation, and that action needs to be taken. In the circumstances, therefore, I would be grateful if she could ask the Minister for Health and Social Services to bring forward a statement as soon as possible to tell us what the Welsh Government is doing to tackle this unacceptable situation.
I am aware that orthodontic services have been a cause of concern in Hywel Dda, but you are quite right—three years is a very long time for somebody to wait for orthodontic services. I am sure that the Minister has heard you and perhaps will write to you in due course when he has taken the issue up further.
Today the National Osteoporosis Society has launched a new campaign called Stop at One to raise awareness of the link between fractures and bone fragility, following the news that a fifth of women have three or more fractures before they receive a diagnosis of osteoporosis. I would welcome a statement providing an update on the diagnosis of the condition and its long-term management, access to fracture liaison services and efforts to help people prevent osteoporosis in the first place.
The Minister for Health and Social Services obviously expects local health boards to deliver services for osteoporosis sufferers, in line with service standards set out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and also in the national service framework for older people, which the Minister and the Deputy Minister launched back in July of this year. The framework is currently out to public consultation and that ends on 31 October, so the end of this month. Perhaps that would be an appropriate time to bring forward further information.
I call for two statements: first, a statement on the work that the Welsh Government is doing with third sector providers supporting people with addictions. This follows the welcome news that Livingroom in Cardiff, the major community-based recovery centre for Cardiff and south Wales, is merging with north Wales-based CAIS, the drug and alcohol rehabilitation charity for north Wales and Powys, to create one of Wales’s largest addiction therapy providers.
My second and final request is for a statement on cross-border health services. As you will be aware, north-east Wales has a long history of being part of a health delivery region with north-west England, exemplified by the Countess of Chester Hospital built 30 years ago to provide services in Flintshire as well as north-west England. We need to know how the Welsh Government proposes to deal with concerns that, for example, providers in the north-west are seeing referrals for elective treatment from north Wales reduced or cancelled, and are concerned that the health board is pulling back activity without capacity, emphasising that they can collaborate—their delivery is based on collaboration—and, putting the patient first, they want to contribute to a model that provides quicker, better and more effective care, on a genuine cross-border partnership.
In relation to your first question, regarding the work undertaken by the third sector, there is a great deal of work being undertaken in relation to substance misuse, and I am sure that you welcome the collaboration to which you referred. Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board is responsible for ensuring that all patients in its area are treated in the most appropriate manner. As far as I am aware, there are no differences to cross-border treatment—no changes have been brought forward at all.
Shwmae, Deputy Presiding Officer?
I wish to ask the Minister for a statement on the governance of sporting clubs, so that those of us who are supporters of Cardiff City Football Club can express our support for the genuine work that is going on behind the scenes to introduce proper processes of corporate governance in that club. As a founder member of the Cardiff City Supporters’ Trust, may I also echo the words of the supporters’ trust today, that Malky Mackay is one of the best managers that our club has ever had, and I was delighted to be able to welcome him and the players to the Senedd in May?
I thank Leighton Andrews for that question, and I know that that was a very heartfelt plea, which we have all heard. I know that the Minister for Culture and Sport is doing a great deal of work with supporters directly, and with co-operatives. As someone who is a member of Wrexham Supporters’ Trust, I know of the importance of that. However, I think that we have all heard your comments today, and I am sure that the Minister will respond as appropriate.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
May I say that it ill behoves the Conservative group to shout from a seated position, when other Members are seeking to put points to the Minister for business? I have six of you down to be called on this business statement, and I really do not think that you ought to undermine other Members who want matters of public concern to be addressed by the Minister for business, on behalf of the Government, just as you are now making your points, six times. I call on Russell George.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Will the Minister please consider bringing forward a statement on how the Welsh Government is progressing with its implementation of its human transplantation legislation? Several constituents have contacted me over the summer months, deeply concerned about how this new law will be implemented and how they will be affected. One said, ‘It’s an invasion and violation of the privacy of my body’. Another said that it was tantamount to organ theft. In all of these cases, what they want to know is what the earliest possible opportunity to opt out of this process will be, and how they can go about doing that. I am quite sure that my constituents will not be alone in wanting to know this information, and the Welsh public has a right to be kept informed of its progress. Therefore, I hope that the Minister, and her colleague the Minister for Health and Social Services, will look favourably on this request.
You will be aware that the Human Transplantation (Wales) Bill completed its stages in this place in July, and that it became law on 10 September, when the First Minister applied the Welsh seal. You will also be aware that the Minister for Health and Social Services, on taking that piece of legislation through, committed to a two-year media campaign, to ensure that everyone who lives in Wales understands the Bill. Therefore, we expect the new system for consent to be introduced on 1 December 2015. That will be the time when people who choose to opt out can do so.
The Presiding Officer (Rosemary Butler) took the Chair at 14:33.
It is not very often that I say that I agree with Leighton Andrews, but I am pleased to say that I do agree with Leighton Andrews’s previous intervention.
Is it possible to have two statements from the Minister for Health and Social Services? The first statement that I ask for is in respect of the implementation of the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010 that was passed by the third Assembly, and its implementation by the health boards, and in particular around the issue of governance and the director-level responsibility. It was firmly given in the third Assembly that the vice-chairs of the health boards would clearly be responsible for the mental health Measure in the health boards. However, I would be most grateful now—some three years on from the adoption of that Measure—to know how it has been implemented, and, in particular, how the health boards, at executive level, are implementing the improvements that we all want to see from that Measure.
I wish to call for a second statement from the Minister for health in regard to exceptions. Very often, where people are denied access to medication, and, in particular, new technology drugs—if I can call them that—that have not been approved by NICE are referred to the exceptions process. This is very varied around the health boards; it is greatly improved from what it was five or six years ago, but there is still considerable discrepancy in the level of uptake via the exceptions, and in particular, the information that is provided to patients when they are referred into that process. I would be grateful for an overview from the Minister as to how he sees that process being engaged with, and if there is need for improvement.
Thank you. In relation to the mental health Measure, the vice-chairs are responsible. Certainly, during my time as Minister for Health and Social Services, I attended several events where the vice-chairs were in attendance to discuss those issues. In response to the exceptions, you are obviously talking about individual patient funding requests. Again, I know that workshops were held to ensure that there was consistency from clinicians who were considering these individual patient funding requests to make sure, as I say, that there was consistency coming forward.
I wonder whether we can have an update on the Government’s city region policy. The Minister for Economy, Science and Transport accompanied me—I will rephrase that—came along to the Monmouthshire business awards on Friday and was very impressed by the businesses that were there and that were doing very well. However, there was a concern coming from many of those businesses about how the city region policy ties in with the rural hinterland and how the benefits of the metro can be rolled out into rural areas. I know you that she took that on board.
Secondly, could we have a debate or a statement from the Minister for Culture and Sport on how we can better protect and promote our sites of historic importance? I was recently at the launch of ‘The Lost Lake’ by a local Monmouth archaeologist from my constituency, Stephen Clarke, who has discovered the only example of prehistoric boat building anywhere in Europe. Sadly, the site has since been destroyed because Cadw did not recognise its importance quickly enough. I am sure you would agree that that is something that we do not want to happen in future and that we have a lot of very important sites in Wales that could be lost simply because no-one really knows about them quickly enough.
Thank you for that question. The Minister for Economy, Science and Transport will be happy to give an update on city regions after the October recess. In relation to your second question, you raise a very important issue and it is something that the Minister for Culture and Sport is looking to address within the heritage Bill.
Motion NNDM5335 Rosemary Butler
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 17.14, elects Ann Jones (Labour) as a member of the Scrutiny of the First Minister Committee in place of Ken Skates (Labour).
I move the motion.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There is no objection, therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Presiding Officer, yesterday I laid before the National Assembly for Wales, the Control of Horses (Wales) Bill together with an explanatory memorandum. I also issued a written legislative statement. The Bill provides the legislative tool required to give effect to the Welsh Government's vision of a fly-grazing-free Wales.
‘Fly-grazing and abandonment’ is the common term given to the practice by irresponsible horse owners of intentionally or negligently permitting their horses to graze on land where they do not have the consent of the owner. We have seen over recent years horses left to graze on public and private land, including school and hospital grounds, leading to horses causing destruction of property, alarm and danger to the public, as well as chaos on the public highway. The actual number of incidents is difficult to quantify, but what is clear is that agencies dealing with the issue are seeing an increase in reported occurrences, especially during the winter months. The number of reported incidents recorded during 2012 rose by more than 200% over the same period in 2011.
The increase in numbers also raises concerns around public safety, particularly when the already stretched police, fire and rescue services’ resources are diverted from their other important duties. Fly-grazing is particularly prevalent in south Wales along the M4 corridor, although there is evidence that the problem is increasing in other local authority areas, with reports being received from Dyfed Powys and Gwent police forces, as well as local authorities covering mid Wales.
Local authorities are largely responsible for the enforcement of current legislation, although the police have powers relating to obstruction of the highway and any associated criminal damage. The fly-grazed horses are often difficult to identify in terms of ownership and are placed on land that is then quickly stripped of available grazing. These same horses are often removed as quickly as they appear, leaving landowners or local authorities with significant bills to repair the damage caused. In some cases, the horses are abandoned with no feed and with no water or shelter, simply to fend for themselves or to perish.
There are three local authority Acts that apply to certain local authorities —the Mid Glamorgan Act 1987, the Cardiff City Council Act 1984 and the West Glamorgan Act 1987. Other authorities that do not have the benefit of these Acts have to deal with the problem through the use of other legislation, none of which provides an effective solution, and which only partly address the issue. Consequently, there is no consistent approach across Wales.
Responses we received as a result of the consultation I issued earlier this year from members of the public, local authorities, the police and animal welfare charities have shown that the current legislation is inadequate. There are two major shortcomings. First, the majority of the horses found are unidentified, which makes it very difficult for the local authority to link that horse with its owner and take legal action. Secondly, the powers to seize, impound and dispose of horses in a humane manner are available only to those local authority areas that are covered by the three local Acts I have mentioned.
Presiding Officer, in bringing forward this Bill, I hope Members will share with me my desire to provide local authorities for the first time with the appropriate tools to deal with the issue of fly-grazing and abandonment of horses. In doing so, we will remove much of the costly, resource-intensive and unsustainable economic burden that has fallen on local authorities, the emergency services, animal welfare charities and members of the public.
This Bill aims to assist local authorities in the management of horses by providing for intervention where horses are in public places or on other land without the consent of the occupier of that land and thereby encourage responsible horse ownership. The Bill proposes a national solution to enable local authorities across Wales to deliver a response that is both consistent and robust, and in so doing to remove much of the impact that the nuisance of fly-grazing and the abandonment of horses has on landowners, the agricultural industry and communities across Wales.
The Bill will provide all local authorities with the power to seize, impound, sell and dispose of horses that are in any public place or on any other land in the local authority area without lawful authority. The Bill will impact upon: horse owners or keepers that behave irresponsibly by not acting in compliance with existing law; local authorities, who, for the first time, will have consistent powers to seize, impound and dispose of horses on land without the consent of the occupier; and occupiers of land where horses are on that land or in public places without the occupier’s consent, in particular where the ownership of a horse is difficult to establish.
Presiding Officer, the Welsh Government’s policy objective is to work towards a fly-grazing-free Wales. Fly-grazing is a practice that creates social, economic and environmental harm and threatens public safety. We believe that this legislation will provide local authorities with the tools to deliver a clear and consistent approach to tackle fly-grazing, delivering the message that it will no longer be tolerated anywhere in Wales.
To coincide with the laying of the Bill, I am today pleased to announce the publication of the Welsh Government’s action plan. The fly-grazing and abandonment of horses and ponies action plan has been published in response to a number of suggestions that were made during our consultation on the need for a national solution to the problem. Our action plan sets out how, working with other interested parties, we propose to deal with the related issues. Suggestions include, among other things, improved education and awareness, especially on horse breeding and ownership, and stricter equine identification laws. The action plan will sit alongside the Bill to assist local authorities and other stakeholders and partners through a holistic approach to dealing with the issue of fly-grazing and horse abandonment.
The Bill has been welcomed by local authorities across Wales, as well as animal welfare organisations and horse charities, where resources and space within rescue centres is severely limited, due in no small part to the problem of abandoned horses. Over the last three years, many establishments such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, World Horse Welfare and Redwings have seen a sharp increase in horses needing to be rehomed. These organisations see the benefit of a national approach and, for local authorities, it means being able to act faster, to save money and to recoup costs.
Presiding Officer, I commend this Bill to the Assembly.
Minister, I know that you will want to pay tribute to the work of my predecessor Brynle Williams on the cross-party group on the horse, because he raised this issue for a number of years for the Welsh Government, and that work is being carried on by Angela Burns, who is the current chair of the cross-party group on the horse. That group has raised with you, over a number of years, the problems caused by fly-grazing. I agree that it is an important Bill, and it addresses an issue that has serious implications on the agriculture industry, landowners, animal welfare and public safety. However, I am concerned at the process that is being used to bring this Bill forward. It is because of the width and breadth of those impacts that we need to ensure that the Bill is afforded proper time and scrutiny.
You are aware that Stage 1 committee consideration has been excluded by the process by which this Bill is being taken forward. That is the first opportunity to engage stakeholders and to invite representations, and it is the point at which evidence-based reports are produced, and recommendations are laid out, by the committee. It sets the basis on which other amendments, scrutiny and debates are founded. Failure to allow for the Stage 1 proceedings brings forward concerns that it prevents proper engagement with stakeholders. The cross-party group on the horse has done extensive engagement with its stakeholders, but the publicity that bringing this forward as a Bill engenders could bring forward valuable evidence. Stage 1 committee consideration also allows the invitation of expert opinion, and that is a vital part of the legislative process.
I am sad to say that you have form for this, Minister, because you will remember the agricultural wages Bill, which came forward under the emergency Bill procedure, and the problems associated with that. I appreciate that the emergency Bill procedure has not been advised here, but in avoiding Stage 1 committee considerations, we are running the risk of inadequate scrutiny, and it is important that that is said. It is for that reason that I would like you to explain to us why you have delayed to the point that the expedited procedure was required here. It has been nearly a year since you issued a statement outlining your intention to produce your policy on fly-grazing, and six months since the consultation on fly-grazing closed.
In relation to the Bill itself, as I said earlier, I accept that there is a large-scale problem. There are an estimated 7,000 horses fly-grazing in Britain, and 3,000 of those are in Wales. I am concerned about the issues of funding, and perhaps you could indicate whether the £250,000 that has been allocated to this Bill in the draft budget is in this financial year. In other words, will that first tranche come forward as soon as the Bill has been approved? Do you anticipate that that will be before this financial-year end? About £11,000 is estimated for the production of guidance and £450,000 in set-up costs, and £300,000 per annum could be needed to provide secure accommodation for seized horses. It seems that much of this will fall on local authority shoulders, and we are aware of the concerns about budget cuts in that area.
Secondly, I wonder whether you have been looking at the issue of microchipping of horses. There was a problem with the national equine database, which no longer exists. However, there were problems with owners not registering with that database, not having adequate records and incorrect identification of horses. Will you be looking at the mandatory microchipping of horses in this Bill, so that owners can be quickly and easily traced? It is done with cats and dogs.
Finally, there may be issues relating to the Data Protection Act 1998 in relation to local authorities disclosing the identity of the owners to landowners who have suffered damage and harm by fly-grazing. Have you looked at how that could be overcome, so that it is easy for the local councils to act in concert with the occupiers or owners of land who may be affected or, indeed, charities such as the RSPCA, which may incur significant costs in dealing with these horses?
I would like to start by echoing the words of the Conservative spokesperson about the legacy of our good friend, Brynle Williams. When we lost Brynle, many of us lost a good friend and colleague, but we were also fearful of losing Brynle’s knowledge, expertise, commitment and passion, which he brought to his brief. Therefore, many of us were very pleased to see the work that Angela Burns has been doing on the cross-party group. Angela, not only have you led that group extraordinarily well over the last few years, but you have done something that very few of us thought was possible by following in Brynle’s footsteps. Many of us were very pleased to see that, and I certainly endorse those words about our colleague.
In terms of the process that we have been involved with here and the time available for scrutiny, I will make a number of points. First, the Conservative spokesperson should be aware that a request to expedite the process on this legislation was made by the Conservative leader. Perhaps you might take up those matters with him. However, it is clearly something that many Members on the Conservative benches have been calling for, and I am surprised that she does not represent the widespread view of her colleagues on those benches in asking for this legislation to be expedited and to be moved with sufficient speed. That is something that she might wish to reflect upon.
In terms of where we are in this process, this legislation has been born from a process of debate, discussion and conversation with the equine community across Wales. We have been involved in discussions with people who have real expertise in and knowledge of the field and people who deal with this on a day-to-basis, whether local authorities, the police, animal welfare charities or others. Therefore, this legislation has been born from their knowledge and their experience. It is a consequence of having listened to people; perhaps that is something else that the Member might wish to reflect upon.
In terms of where we are with some of the funding issues, clearly, we do make provision for dealing with these issues, but I say to the Member that this is already costing local authorities a great deal of money and is causing an enormous drain on resources, particularly in some local authorities—the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend come immediately to mind. One of the reasons why the local authorities are strongly behind this legislation is because they see it as a means of saving resources in the future. So, we are certainly ensuring that we have the funds available to us today and in the next year in order to ensure that the legislation is rolled out successfully. However, the purpose of this legislation is to simplify current processes, to ensure that we have the opportunity to deal with this issue in a way that reduces the demand on resources that we are currently seeing. Therefore, we know that this is something that is welcomed by all of the police forces and local authorities. The funding issues are very clear and are laid out in the explanatory memorandum.
In terms of horse and equine identification, I was concerned when I heard second hand that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was unilaterally abolishing the national equine database. I said at the time to the then Secretary of State that I felt that it was a mistake [Interruption.] Yes I did, and the letters can be placed in the Library and on the public record, if you so wish. Your researchers usually send me freedom of information requests once a month; perhaps they could try that. The letters are available on the public record, if you wish to check. I have constantly said to DEFRA that it was a mistake and that it should never have taken that decision. It was not taken because of difficulties in practical terms; the decision was taken simply to save money, and I regret that. I think that DEFRA now regrets it. Certainly, the conversations that we are having with the current Secretary of State are very different to the conversations that we had with previous Ministers in DEFRA. The current Secretary of State does recognise the need to rationalise and to ensure that we do have a form of equine identification in place that deals with the issues that have arisen, both on this and other matters.
My preference has been for a UK equine database and a UK solution to these matters. If that is not possible, for whatever reason, I am certainly prepared to consider a Wales-only solution. However, my clear preference is for a UK solution. That is a matter that I have spoken with DEFRA Ministers about over the last few months and I will continue to discuss with DEFRA. That concludes that issue.
Minister, as you have said, everybody welcomes the Bill and the purpose of the Bill. I agree on a local level that problems have been caused by fly-grazing and leaving horses unattended. That is, these abandoned horses appear in certain areas without anyone knowing who owns them, and they are moved as quickly as they arrived, having damaged the land—themes that are recognised in the consultation.
As you said earlier, recent statistics—such as an increase of 200% in cases—reflect the scale of the problem. I welcome, Minister, the fact that you are introducing an all-Wales system, giving local authorities powers to respond with consistency.
The Bill recognises the problems in the Dyfed-Powys Police area. I have attended meetings to hear complaints from constituents in Llanelli about fly-grazing, from landowners, farmers and people who see these horses around the place. I have personally had to phone the police to report horses around our house.
In these cases, problems with current legislation become clear. It was not clear who owned the horses, and Llanelli is not located in one of the three authorities that you mentioned.
In your previous statement to the Assembly, you said that the European Commission was considering the national equine database—something that the Westminster coalition got rid of, as you said. I have personally received complaints from people who are very concerned about the fact that we cannot identify the owners. Can you provide an update on the discussions that you have had on this issue and on the work of the Commission?
The Bill mentions non-statutory guidance. Will you continue to keep us as a Chamber up to date with the process and any decisions on that guidance? Likewise, will you maintain awareness levels among local authorities with regard to their responsibility with owners contacting them?
I also welcome the fact that an action plan will run alongside this Bill for the Welsh Government, local authorities, the police and welfare charities, and that you will keep us up to date with all developments.
Shwmae, Keith? Thank you for that. One of the things that became apparent during the consultation and the discussion that we have had over the last year is the need to ensure that there is a consistent legal position across the country. What we do not want to see by operating the current legislation is moving the problem from one area to another. That is what has been happening recently. Police forces and local authorities have been robust in saying that we need a national statutory framework in Wales to ensure that we can solve the problem wherever it arises.
I am very happy to consider whether statutory guidance is needed. At present, I do not believe that that need exists, and that is where we are on discussions with local authorities. If, during the scrutiny process for this Bill, people thought that that was necessary, I would be happy to change my mind on that, if required. In terms of ensuring that we have a consistent legal position across Wales, I believe that we have agreement across the board on that.
May I start by supporting the need to tackle the issue of fly-grazing and welcome the fact that the Government has introduced legislation to that end? However, I want to endorse the disappointment of previous speakers that the Minister has had to do it in this way once again. That is not the ideal way in my opinion. It is regrettable, in all honesty, that we find ourselves in this situation because animal welfare organisations have been warning for many years that there is an increasing problem that needs to be tackled. However, we are in a situation where we do have to limit as much as possible the suffering that several of these animals will be going through of the winter months. I am not happy or comfortable with doing it in this way, but given the circumstances, I feel that I have to play my part in finding the best possible resolution to the situation as it currently exists in the brief window of opportunity available to achieve that. I would ask the Minister just to acknowledge that this is not the best approach to deal with this issue, and to demonstrate that he does share the concern of many of us that we have to use these emergency measures once again to produce legislation in the Assembly.
One element that I feel is missing from what is being presented is an adequate recognition of the loss to landowners and tenants. There is mention in your statement, for example, of the burden on local authorities, emergency services, animal welfare charities and the public. Of course, there is also a burden—as I know that you know—on landowners and tenants who lose grazing lands and often face damage to land infrastructure. I do not think that the legislation sufficiently recognises the need to ensure compensation for that group. That is certainly something that I would like to develop as we go through the scrutiny process of this Bill.
I would also ask you, Minister, to give confirmation or an explanation as to whether the Bill encompasses common land in its objectives. Why are steps to establish an appeals process included in subordinate legislation rather than on the face of the Bill? Those are the main questions that I have. Perhaps the Minister would also like to give us an idea of when he believes that local authorities will be in a position to start to make use of these new powers, because the reason that we are doing this as a matter of urgency is to implement it on the ground as quickly as possible. If we are looking at Royal Assent in the new year, and if we need to work on developing non-statutory guidance too, then the winter may have passed us by before it is implemented.
Of course, local authorities can use the legislation once it is law. I look forward to receiving Royal Assent quite soon in the new year so that we can use this legislation soon. This legislation will include every sort of land across Wales and therefore it will include common land. With regard to the appeals process, at the moment, we are considering the process that has been described in this draft Bill. I am very happy to discuss that as part of the scrutiny process and the discussions on this Bill as we move forward over the next two months. I am very comfortable with that as it stands. The legal advice that I have had is that that is adequate for ensuring that there is an appeals process, and I think that there should be; however, because of the nature of this legislation, we do not expect that there will be a need to use an appeals procedure regularly because the way in which we will implement the legislation is quite clear and simple.
When it comes to using processes and the way in which this Bill has been introduced, I think that the people of Wales will expect the National Assembly to be able to respond quickly enough to problems and issues that they feel are important. We could say that every Bill had to go the same way through the process, which can be quite a lengthy process, but I do think that, sometimes, the people of Wales expect the Assembly to respond at a quicker pace than that. When I see that there is a problem, if I were to say here that it was going to take 18 months for the Bill to reach the statute books, the people of Wales would ask, ’Well, what are you doing down there in the bay?’ Sometimes, the Assembly should operate in this way to ensure that we have legislation on the statute book that can respond to the challenges that we face in communities across Wales. That means that we have two months, or three months since we had this discussion, to discuss this Bill. As you know, I am appearing before the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, the Environment and Sustainability Committee and the Finance Committee, so I think that we have an opportunity to have this discussion, but I also think that, sometimes, as the National Assembly, we must have the flexibility to be able to respond to the challenges facing communities the length and breadth of Wales.
Thank you, Minister, for today’s statement.
I also wish to express my thanks to the Minister for the courtesy afforded to party spokespeople and other relevant colleagues in advance of introducing this legislation during the summer recess, and also in appearing before the bodies, as he just outlined. While fly-grazing is not in any way a new issue, it is clear that, just in the last couple of years, it has become an enormous concern, particularly in local authorities straddling the M4 corridor.
Introducing a Bill appears to be the natural way to proceed and to achieve progress in this area, and that also fits with the consensus that has been expressed by animal welfare organisations within the agriculture community and, indeed, by the police. In this context, it seems appropriate for me to also mention—in addition to the mentions that have already been made—the late Brynle Williams in this matter. It also seems appropriate to acknowledge the considerable contribution that has been made by the former chief constable of Gwent Police, Carmel Napier, in advancing some of these matters.
Naturally, I share some of the reservations that have already been expressed by Antoinette Sandbach and Llyr Gruffydd with regard to the mechanism that is being adopted. I think that the pre-eminent concern here has to be around animal welfare. Many of us are still haunted by the images from last winter and the early spring in terms of the sheep welfare crisis in Mid and West Wales and North Wales. We do not want to see that replicated again with regard to horses.
As such, I was particularly pleased to see that some significant changes have been introduced to the Bill that we have seen in comparison with the previously shared draft. Most notably, I am glad that the Government has addressed a couple of loopholes that existed, particularly one that potentially could have required local authorities to care for horses for an almost indefinite period while their identified owner arranged payment. While that change may leave less to comment upon in that regard, I am particularly pleased to see that it has been rectified. Given that, I will focus today on just a couple of initial points that I have taken from the version of the Bill that is before us, and to set out my own stall in terms of how we can enhance and clarify the Bill as we embark on the process to come.
Beginning with section 2 of the Bill, I was hoping that you could expand on your working definition of ‘reasonable grounds’. While this implies an obvious set of circumstances for all of us in this Chamber, it is easy to envisage differences of interpretation and practice developing across local authorities in how they are applied. To this end, Minister, do you see any merit in using the Bill to establish a series of minimum standards for reasonable grounds, to ensure an effective and consistent baseline across Wales that will negate the temptation to focus the grazing problem on those authorities that might be perceived to be more lenient, lax or under-resourced?
Turning to two more general points, I think that we can all agree that this legislation must serve as an effective deterrent against actual or potential offenders. As such, does the Minister agree that there will be merit in using this Bill to develop a charging regime under which it will always cost more to recover a horse from a local authority than it would have cost to use reasonable local livery stables or equivalent facilities? Taken as a whole, I would argue that the most basic premise of this Bill must be to ensure that fly-grazing is never seen by offenders as a cheap or easy option. This, I believe, could be achieved if such a charging regime were to be imposed.
Finally, I wanted to touch on an ethical point. Naturally, destruction is listed as the final option for local authorities when disposing of horses. Given the state of the horse market, and the fact that many of our horse sanctuaries and rescue centres are already oversubscribed, there will be an expectation that, at least in the short to medium term, this Bill will regrettably result in a significant number of horses being killed. I note from the Welsh Government’s action plan that it has no desire to establish a new sanctuary or, indeed, a relevant charity. Personally, I would not contest that approach. However, I would be grateful, Minister, if you could outline any additional measures that you are willing to take, separate from the Bill, to bolster existing sanctuaries or rescue centres, not necessarily in financial terms, in an attempt to address this concern and to deal with the increased number of horses entering the system as a result of the legislation.
I thank the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for his generally positive and warm words on this legislation, on the way in which this Government has gone about developing the legislation, and on the consultation that has taken place over the last period. I really do not want to speculate on some of the matters that he has raised in his contribution, in terms of some of the potential consequences of legislation of this sort. I do not think that it is helpful for any of us here to speculate on some of those matters. The purpose of this legislation is to empower and enable local authorities to deal with an issue that is a very real problem in communities up and down Wales—we know and recognise this. The Member refers to the quite distressing scenes that we saw, as he said, in the spring of this year. I think that we have seen very distressing scenes on many occasions over some years, in fact. We need to be able to deal with those before we arrive at the point where horses die of starvation and of being uncared for. So, we need to be able to deal with this in a rational way, and the purpose of the legislation is to create a framework in which we can do that.
In terms of the definitions of ‘reasonable grounds’, the purpose of this legislation is to deliver a consistent approach across Wales. At present, we have an approach that is inconsistent across the country, in terms of which powers are available to different local authorities and the opportunity for local authorities to take action in order to deal with the problem. So, the answer to the question is very much that, yes, we want to see a consistent approach. We will work with local authorities in order to create that consistency of approach. The Bill has a number of safeguards. The Member has clearly read the Bill, so he will be aware that it has a number of safeguards built into it that will mean that the probability of problems arising in terms of mistaken identity and ownership should not arise. We are confident that that will not be the case. However, in terms of the development of consistent guidelines operating across the whole of the country, that is something that we very much wish to work towards.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We have now had a speaker from each of the parties, so I ask the remaining speakers to stick to questions, if that is at all possible. I call on Janet Finch-Saunders.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I would like to echo the sentiments regarding my north Wales colleague and friend, the late Brynle Williams, and regarding the current chairman, Angela Burns. Minister, I would like to pay tribute to those representative groups that have come along to give evidence and have provided lots of information that I feel helped you to decide to bring this Bill forward. The merits and difficulties around fly-grazing, and the merits around enforcement, have been mentioned here. However, I have some questions. When you came along to one of our group meetings, I think that I mentioned the fact that, when I wrote to the 22 local authorities, they said that they were struggling now. They said that they were short of resources to deal with any aspect of animal welfare. Also, there was a lack of guidance from the Welsh Government to help them to fulfil their responsibilities. So, I would like to see, when you bring this legislation in, how you will overcome those issues when you are placing more responsibilities on them, which will, hopefully, stop once and for all this dreadful action that is taken, actually, by experts now.
Over the years, because of a lack of action, I think that it is fair to say that the perpetrators have become experts—and this is not a pun—in their own field at dodging any enforcement measures. We know that there are 3,000 horses out there in Wales—very sick and very diseased horses in some cases—and we know of the recent horsemeat scandal.
I echo your sentiments on traceability, and I fully support having a database, because we have one for cows. Look at all the regulation for farmers with cows, sheep and pigs, and here we have horses, whose meat is desired on the continent, and yet we have had the recent horsemeat scandal. So, I think that there are some serious issues. This is so serious an issue that I am amazed that, now that we have extra powers in this institution, you are bypassing Stage 1. In the Bills that I have sat through, Stage 1 was one of the most important stages, because it really does deal with the devil, or otherwise, in the detail of any Bill coming forward. I think that there is a bit of arrogance, actually, in bypassing that stage.
According to the responses received—. We have talked about mandatory microchipping, and I would like to know whether you believe in it or not. Also, how do you feel about collaboration when trading standards officers are now working on, for example, a north Wales regional basis? How do you see all the agencies working together—the police, your Government, local authorities, public bodies and all those rescue centres? This really does not mean collaboration in its truest form, but it stems from the Welsh Government. So, I really would like you to answer the points that I have raised.
I echo the sentiments of Antoinette Sandbach and my other colleagues who have spoken today in saying: let us get this right. We know of deaths that have been caused by horses ending up on land. We know about the penalties that were imposed on a local authority as a result of those horses getting out on a busy road—a dual carriageway. Let us get this Bill right. It is not about how many Bills we can pass in the Assembly; it should be the quality of those Bills.
That is, of course, why we have listened to people in communities across Wales. This Bill is the result of those conversations and the consequence of the consultation. It is the result of a long period of discussion with the equine community in Wales, animal welfare charities, the police, local authorities and others across the country. This is a Bill that they wanted. As you say, this is not something that was included in the programme for government; it is something that communities across Wales have asked for, and we are delivering it.
Let me say this: I understand what the Member has to say about process, but I will refer her to her party leader, who asked specifically for this to happen. If she does have any difficulties with that, I really do say to her that it is perhaps a matter that she should take up with the leader of the opposition, rather than with me.
As for where we are on the database, I did make it clear earlier that, for the past two years, I have been talking to the Conservative Ministers at DEFRA who took the decision to abandon the national equine database. It was a decision that was taken without reference to me or to other Ministers in the United Kingdom. It was a decision that was taken unilaterally and without any consultation at all. I have written repeatedly to DEFRA and said to its officials that I felt that it was a mistake, as I feel that we need a means of ensuring that we have identification of equines in the United Kingdom. I will repeat that I think that that is a UK issue rather than one for Wales. However, if we are unable to reach agreement at a UK level, then I am happy to go ahead here in Wales.
On your first few questions, on local authorities and working alongside them, at the moment, of course, as I am sure you are aware, local authorities are already dealing with this matter and are already expending a great deal of resources on dealing with this problem. The purpose of this legislation, as local authorities will tell you, is to streamline their processes to enable them to deal with this problem while using fewer resources. This is a consequence of conversations with local authorities.
Minister, thank you for your statement. I am pleased to see that this is moving forward. It is an emotive issue. To be quite brief about it, it is, without doubt, an issue of organised criminality. First of all, how will the Bill deal with the issue of moving the problem on rather than solving it? The Bridgend multi-agency approach has solved the immediate problem and they skilfully dealt with a number of incidents head on. I must praise Superintendent Paul James, especially, for his leadership in this. However, sadly, the problem has moved on to Gower now and culminated recently in an operation. I hope that this adequately addresses my first question, which is: what specifically within the statement and action plan will solve the problem rather than move it around? It is rather like a burglar: when the police appear, they move on to the next patch so as not to be caught. It is a similar sort of thing with these horses. Secondly, there is the obvious question of finance and constrained budgets—investigating, prosecuting and taking care of the horses all costs a significant sum of money, so what support is available across Wales to assist this further multi-agency approach? Finally, I heard your answer to Antoinette Sandbach on the other issues regarding horse identification, but in your statement you say that
‘the majority of the horses found are unidentified, which makes it very difficult for the local authority to link that horse with its owner’.
Surely, then, microchipping is a crucial point that will go to the heart of proving ownership and, importantly, the neglect of horses. We must, in my opinion, ensure that all horses are microchipped and can be traced and monitored easily. Bearing in mind that I have heard what you have said, will you consider the partial acceptance and ensure that all horses are microchipped?
I thank you for your general welcome for this legislation and I do not disagree with the points that you have made on microchipping or the points that you made on equine identification. As you have said, they are crucial and central to the ability to manage the equine population effectively and I think that we need to do that. I do think that we need to move on that. It is a matter that we can discuss during the scrutiny of the legislation, but I believe that we do need to find a way across the United Kingdom—all the authorities of the UK administrations—to deal with equine identification in an agreed way. That is a matter that I am actively discussing with other UK Ministers at present. I hope that that goes some way towards reassuring you that you we recognise the importance of the problem that you describe. It is not something that I wish to brush under the carpet, as it were, or from which I wish to walk away. It is something that we are addressing and will continue to address completely.
I think that you are very right in your analysis of how we have been dealing with the situation up until now—we have been addressing the issue in some ways, but we have been moving the problem on in other ways. Part of the purpose of the action plan and the legislation, which is born of the action plan, is to ensure that we have a consistent approach across Wales and that we do not move problems from the Gower across the Loughor to Llanelli or wherever. We are seeking to ensure that we have a consistent approach across Wales. We are also in conversation with Ministers in DEFRA to ensure that a similar approach is adopted by the United Kingdom Government for England. Clearly, the approach that it takes on these matters is a matter for it and not for me, but I have spoken to both the under-secretary of state and the secretary of state on these matters in recent months. This matter is the subject of active debate between the different administrations and it is a problem that we recognise.
Finally, in response to those questions, the taskforce approach that we have adopted over the last period has been successful in addressing this problem. Bringing together the different elements of the equine community, law enforcement, animal welfare charities, the Welsh Government and local government, we have been able to bear down on this problem. What we are trying to do now is to give those people the tools to do the job—the tools that they have asked the Assembly to deliver for them. I would be very disappointed if any Member here sought not to provide those people with the tools they need to do the job.
How do you respond to the concern expressed to me in a meeting this summer with a constituent and police officers that this should extend not only to land where horses are grazing without the consent of the owner, but also to land where horses are being neglected or even abandoned with the consent of the owner? In this particular case not only were the horses neglected, requiring intervention, but occasionally the horses were getting off the land and causing stress and problems for the neighbourhood.
This legislation is designed to address a particular problem, but I do recognise the issue that the Member raises, and it certainly is an important one. What I hope we have is sufficient animal welfare legislation to be able to address some of those matters. If the Member believes that there are gaps within the current statutory provision then I am more than happy to consider how those gaps may be filled.
I am delighted to inform Members of the successful implementation of one of our key ‘Five for a Fairer Future’ commitments made when we launched our programme for government two years ago—namely to recruit an additional 500 community support officers. Over 500 CSOs have now been recruited, with the majority already deployed and the remainder to be deployed before the end of this month. This consists of 468 full-time officers and 47 part-time—or 500 full-time equivalents.
This is an example of multi-agency working at its best. The Welsh Government, working in partnership with the four Welsh police forces and the British Transport Police, has introduced an additional resource that is helping to make a real difference to the lives of the people of Wales. The funding of these additional CSOs represents a substantial investment in community safety at a time of significant pressure on budgets.
The police forces have understood and respected the Welsh Government’s desire for CSOs to support, where possible, other Welsh Government priorities, for example in relation to Communities First. Similarly, we recognised the operational independence of the Association of Chief Police Officers Cymru to deploy all the resources at its disposal based on its policing expertise, its deployment of current resources and its knowledge of its force areas. Through true partnership working and continued dialogue, I believe this has been achieved to the satisfaction of all concerned.
As well as making sure Welsh Government priorities are recognised alongside the need for police operational independence, this funding has provided additional front-line resources. However, we have been very clear: this funding must not simply plug any gaps left by reductions in UK Government spending on policing. It is vital that significant investment such as this is evaluated robustly. Members will wish to be aware that, following an open procurement competition, we commissioned the Universities Police Sciences Institute to evaluate the project and this evaluation has begun. The work to date has involved some secondary analysis of the crime survey of England and Wales. Preliminary results suggest the visible presence of CSOs and other police representatives in local neighbourhoods does help to provide reassurance to members of the public. However, much depends on the nature of the locality and how much crime and anti-social behaviour residents experience or believe there to be.
I want to give Members a flavour of the positive impact the implementation of this key commitment is having on the lives of the people of Wales. Before we began to implement this programme, there were almost 700 Home Office-funded PCSOs in Wales. Therefore, numbers have almost doubled thanks to our investment. I have had the pleasure of meeting several CSOs over the last few months. I have walked the beat with them and attended a declaration ceremony where I presented new CSOs with their Welsh Government pin badges. These officers are the realisation of one of our key policies for this Government and it has been a real pleasure to witness it come to fruition. Without exception, the CSOs I have met are passionate about the job they do and totally committed to making a difference in their communities.
I have heard encouraging stories of CSOs and other members of the police family becoming closely involved with their communities, from running anti-bullying campaigns in schools; engaging with local young people to break down barriers between them and the police; attending older persons’ groups; becoming involved in supporting victims of crime; and even providing intelligence that leads to the seizure of drugs. They are recognisable faces in their community. I have been told that CSOs are deemed to be more approachable than warranted officers, and that the public feels more comfortable engaging with them.
This evening, in the Senedd, Members will have the opportunity to meet representatives from the Welsh police forces, along with five Welsh-Government-funded CSOs from each force. I urge Members to attend, and to hear first-hand from some of the CSOs about their work. You will also be able to chat informally with other CSOs, and see evidence of their passion and commitment.
I will give some specific examples of the work that CSOs are doing. A CSO from Gwent Police took ownership of the Online Watch Link—OWL—project, working with school children, and helping them to understand community safety issues. She was awarded CSO of the year by Gwent Police for her dedication to the community. In South Wales Police, one of the CSOs enjoys the variety of his role. He is involved in all aspects of community policing. At one end of the spectrum, he deals with parking offences, right through to helping deal with burglary cases and railway deaths at the other. He appreciates that some aspects of the job are more difficult than others, but says that he always has one goal—helping those who need it. A North Wales Police CSO, who is based in Amlwch, is proud of his involvement with Amlwch’s community pride project, which has given him a valuable insight into voluntary work, and into how young and elderly people can work alongside each other to improve the intergenerational relationship. A Dyfed-Powys Police officer has encouraged residents in her ward to implement the Home Watch scheme, which has promoted a community spirit, and has prompted neighbours to interact with, and support, each other.
All 25 of the CSOs who will be attending the event this evening have provided case studies, which are brief insights into their working lives, and into how their role impacts on communities. These have been published on the Welsh Government’s website. We also have a roll-call, listing all of the Welsh-Government-funded CSOs as of 30 September this year. ‘Making a difference’ is a phrase that comes up time and again in the case studies. The CSOs believe that they can, and do, make a real difference, and take pride in this, and I agree with that statement.
The recruitment of the additional 500-plus CSOs is an achievement that we as a Welsh Labour Government are proud of. It has been challenging, but all of those involved have shown drive and commitment to work together to achieve the best for the people of Wales. I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at the event this evening, and I hope that you will join me there to find out first-hand how the funding that has been provided by the Welsh Government has been used and is making a difference.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I have a long list of speakers on this item, so I ask you to stick to questions on the Minister’s statement, please.
Thank you for your statement, Minister. I agree that funding must not simply plug gaps that have been left by reductions in budgets, which were, of course, announced by current and previous UK Governments. I welcome the fact that crime experienced by people has fallen to its lowest level since the Crime Survey for England and Wales began, and that crime in Wales fell 9% last year, but we must not be complacent.
You referred to an evaluation of the investment, and the programme. What will be the timescale of that evaluation? Will you anticipate reporting the outcome of that evaluation back to the Assembly, and, if so, when would you expect to be doing that? I personally know some of the PCSOs who have been recruited, and I endorse your view that they are passionate about the job that they do, and are committed to making a difference in their communities.
I wish to ask three quick questions, and I will then sit down. You will be aware that, when PCSOs were first rolled out, the Police Federation of England and Wales was, putting it politely, sceptical, but it has warmed progressively over that time. In evidence from the federation, and from the Association of Chief Police Officers, to the Assembly’s Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee—and to its predecessors—we have heard that the full range of powers, when applied, are most warmly welcomed, and that North Wales Police had taken the lead in Wales in doing that. Therefore, what engagement have you—and your predecessor—had with the forces in Wales, to ensure that the full range of powers that are available to unwarranted PCSOs is applied? You will be aware as a Wrexham Member that some years ago Wrexham took the decision to transfer its funding for local wardens to PCSOs because it could double the number of feet on the ground. Therefore, what discussions, in rolling this out, have you had with local authorities and other partners to ensure that you get maximum bang for your buck?
Finally, alongside PCSOs, as we have heard in evidence to committee from serving senior officers, there is also a role for specials as warranted officers, which is not always easy to manage because it is voluntary and people are not always available for rostering when required, but nonetheless, it is recognised as needed. So, what discussion or engagement have you had regarding the roll-out of specials alongside PCSOs?
I thank Mark Isherwood for those questions and I am very pleased that you agree with me that this funding should not be seen as simply plugging gaps that have been left by the UK Government’s cuts to police budgets. The evaluation I referred to has only just started; I certainly will report to Assembly Members, and I would imagine that it would be early in the new year.
I think that you are right that there was certain scepticism about the role of police community support officers, but it is very clear to me, since I took on this portfolio, that that is no longer there. I meet regularly with the four chief constables of Welsh police forces, as did my predecessor, Carl Sargeant, whom I know was very supportive of bringing this achievement forward when he was in charge of this portfolio. I met with them just yesterday and we had a discussion around CSOs. They absolutely accept that these are 500 additional roles. Am I getting my money’s worth? I certainly believe I am. They know that they have to prove the additionally of the roles to me, to ensure that they get the funding for the extra ones that they have had.
In relation to specials and warranted officers, that is a matter for the police forces, which I have not discussed with them.
Minister, I have had the opportunity to go out and about on the beat with one of our PCSOs in Brecon and have seen for myself the excellent work that they do and the unique ways in which they engage with our communities. I congratulate the Government for delivering on our manifesto commitment. There is no set selection procedure for PCSOs and the process varies across forces in Wales, so I would be keen to know how the Welsh Government is ensuring that best practice is shared, so that the Welsh Government’s funding is used to recruit the very best calibre of candidates to serve as our PCSOs in our communities. Similarly, unlike police constables, there is no set training procedure for PCSOs, so training can vary from one force to the next. I am keen to know how much training does vary in Wales and how the Welsh Government is satisfying itself that the training of PCSOs with Welsh Government funding is of a consistently high standard across Wales.
PCSOs have a range of basic powers, but beyond that, certain additional powers can be assigned, and the practice again varies from force to force. Unison, which is the union representing most PCSOs, has argued that giving PCSOs different powers in different forces makes no sense when they are all doing the same job and it only serves to confuse the public, so I would welcome your take on that.
Finally, I would welcome some comment on the continuous professional development and career progression for PCSOs. In any job, it is good to have a career pathway, but it is quite limited for PCSOs, and there is not much scope for additional responsibilities to be accrued over time. Once they have reached the top of their pay band, there is nowhere else to go. Is this something that you think could be further explored to better reflect the value that we place on PCSOs, and to reflect the esteem in which they are held by the police and by the public?
Thank you, Rebecca Evans, for those questions. I am very pleased that you have been out on the beat with a community support officer. When you go out on the beat with them, it is clear how people react to them—it is different to warranted police officers. You are quite right that they come from very different backgrounds. I said in my statement that I had attended a declaration ceremony in the South Wales Police area. There were 14 of them and what struck me was that it was quite a young group; the previous group I had met up in north Wales was—I will choose my words carefully—of people in their thirties. This was a very young group that had just gone through the training.
You referred to the training, and I know that in south Wales they are enrolled on a nine-week study course, they are then tutored on the street for eight weeks before they are finally deployed to go out on their own. You are right, there is a variation across the police forces and that is something on which I am having ongoing discussions to find that best practice, and to find out which is the best model to use.
In relation to CPD, we had a discussion yesterday, when I met with the chief constables about progression—quite often CSOs would like a career in the police force, but they perhaps start as a CSO first. Some do see it as a natural step into the police force. It was interesting to find out that the salary for a new police officer is slightly less than a CSO’s salary, so that could have an impact on whether a CSO chooses to go into the police force. Again, that is something that, as we go through the second half of this Assembly—although, obviously, we have already fulfilled our programme for government commitment halfway through it—I want to continue to evaluate and assess their impact and how we can best support them.
Minister, I asked you a question earlier in your other role as Minister business on the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. As a party we support the concept of employing these officers, but the cost of employing them next year will be somewhere in the region of £16 million. Given that these officers work in a non-devolved area and given that they are partially accountable to the new police commissioners—who, again, are not accountable to the Welsh Government—do you believe that there is a need here for the Welsh Government to provide new evidence to the Silk commission setting out this situation—the fact that anti-social behaviour is non-devolved and that that creates major problems in terms of the Welsh Government’s responsibilities?
I have three brief questions on these officers. First, have you had an opportunity as yet to evaluate the impact of these officers in terms of crime reduction? Secondly, they are supposed to be a means of allaying people’s fear of crime, but how exactly can that be measured? Finally, bearing in mind the fact that they are not directly accountable to the Welsh Government, do you believe that £16 million per annum is justifiable in the context of the activities of these officers?
I thank Rhodri Glyn Thomas for those questions. In relation to Silk, obviously we have provided evidence to the Silk commission, and we have called for the devolution of executive and legislative responsibility for policing and community safety, because we believe that that would strengthen joint working to reduce crime and offending. It is now for the commission to consider our evidence. I do not think that we intend to submit any further evidence.
Community safety sits within my portfolio, so while I accept that policing is not devolved, I do see the programme for government commitment to provide these 500 additional CSOs as a very important part of my portfolio. I mentioned in my answer to Mark Isherwood that we have commissioned evaluation—I think that it is very important that we have robust evaluation. Certainly, I am hearing anecdotal evidence that the fear of crime disperses when people are seen out on the beat. It is important to see whether that is turned from anecdotal evidence into robust evidence. That is something, as I said, on which I am very happy to report back to the Assembly next year.
I have protected the funding for it up until 2016. I think that it is absolutely right to do so.
Thank you for your statement, Minister. I understand that the chief constable has the authority to delegate these powers down to individual police CSOs. The reason for mentioning it is—I know that some local authorities are using private agencies to enforce dog control orders to address dog-fouling, and orders to address littering. In my local authority, I think it is the case that the private company gets 45 and the local authority gets 30. In my previous life, as a cabinet member for community safety—and I believe the previous Minister was involved—there was a lot of talk and planning, in terms of the fact that the chief constable in north Wales at that time was very proactive in pulling together these powers to be vested within these PCSOs, thereby establishing true collaborative working, and, in resource terms, a win-win situation in more ways than one. Have you given that any thought? Are you continuing that previous work at all? In Conwy, I am dealing with quite a bit of casework at the moment where the private enforcement side of things is causing some concern. A more joined-up approach, of the police and local authorities working together, is a far more sustainable option. I just wanted your views on that.
I discussed that with the chief constables yesterday, and I think that it was the north Wales chief constable who referred to the close working that they undertake with local authorities. It is for police forces to have that operational independence and to decide where and how the CSOs are deployed, and, obviously, now, they will be working with the police and crime commissioners as we take those plans forward for subsequent years.
I welcome the statement and I fully support the initiative to recruit additional PCSOs. I have very close working relationships with the PCSOs in my community, who perform a fantastic and invaluable role in terms of supporting their police officer colleagues and in terms of community liaison, dealing with a number of issues that arise, particularly at the PACT meetings.
I have a concern about overreliance on PCSOs. In my community, this has been addressed now, but there was a year in which the PCSOs where left to work on their own, without a warranted officer to back them up. In that situation, they do not have the full powers of a police officer, even with some of the lesser nuisance issues. As a result, they are not able to provide the full policing service that you would expect from the police force. Therefore, I was wondering, as part of your evaluation, whether you will be looking at how PCSOs work with warranted officers, and whether the experience I have had in my community is common and has been repeated elsewhere, or whether it is an exception.
My second question is in relation to the funding. I welcome the fact that you have secured the funding for another two years. Obviously, one would envisage the relationship that PCSOs form with the community lasting longer than two years. Once the evaluation comes back, are you envisaging making this funding a permanent part of your budget to ensure that we can guarantee a medium to long-term support from these extra 500 PCSOs?
Finally, I am aware that different police forces give different powers to PCSOs—they do not all have the same level of responsibility and power—depending on the chief constable and what role they want to engage them in. Will that form part of your study as well? Will you be making recommendations to the chief constables as to how you can get consistency across Wales in terms of the powers and responsibilities that PCSOs have as part of their work?
I absolutely agree that they play a fantastic role in the community. Obviously, our Welsh Government-funded 500 officers work alongside the 700 CSOs that are already out there and the police officers. It is 500 people in jobs, 500 people having opportunities and 500 people out there, playing a part in Welsh public life.
I hear what you are saying about them working on their own or not having the support from police officers. However, in south Wales, I was talking to Peter Vaughan yesterday, and he has lost 500 police officers due to the cuts in police funding from the UK Government. Therefore, we have to remember that the police forces are having significant cuts to their budget and are losing a great number of police officers.
As part of the evaluation, I would want to see how CSOs are working alongside police officers. That would be an important part of the evaluation. In relation to funding security, I welcome your thanks for ensuring that we have that funding up to 2016—and I would not think that it is part of my role to go beyond 2016. For this term of Government, it is important that that funding is there and that those CSOs know that their jobs are secure.
In relation to consistency between different powers and different forces, I am not sure about making recommendations, but it is certainly something that I would want to have a further discussion with chief constables about, if we have four different systems, for instance, in Wales. I would want to know more about best practice in order to be able to share that.
First, I welcome the statement. This has been achieved after less than two and a half years of this Assembly. Therefore, congratulations are due for that.
In my constituency, this is hugely popular. It is one of the most popular policies of the Welsh Labour Government. CSOs are providing additional front-line support; they are visible and are active on the streets of Swansea East. This is incredibly important when the number of police officers is being cut by the Westminster Government. My question is: what discussion has the Minister had with the police and crime commissioners to ensure that CSOs have the maximum impact?
Angela Burns took the Chair at 15:50.
I meet regularly with the PCCs. I met them last Thursday and, once again, CSOs were on our agenda. They, too, welcome the additionality. They recognise the importance for police forces to demonstrate that additionality to us in order to be able to access our funding for their CSOs.
You are absolutely right to say that they are very visible. I went out on the beat with a CSO called Lee in mid Wales, and it was really good to see how people reacted to him. I believe that people treat them very differently to warranted police officers. That is a very important part of their role.
Thank you very much, Minister.
Following Arriva Buses Wales’s announcement about proposals to cut a number of services in north and west Wales, I convened an officials group to work with the three local authorities and to report back to me with options for maintaining services. Today, I am in a position to be able to give you an update on progress. The group has now reported back to me with its recommendations and has identified a mechanism for securing the provision of the services, the majority of which are currently scheduled to end in December.
To secure these services in the short term, we are discussing with local authorities the awarding of contracts under emergency procedures to local operators while we look at the longer term solutions for a sustainable network of services. Funding for the X94 service between Wrexham and Barmouth, which forms part of the TrawsCymru network, will be provided by top-slicing the regional transport services grant. We are continuing our discussions with the local authorities about the funding mechanisms for the remaining services.
Bus services are essential to improving the quality of people’s lives, and our priority in Wales has to be to ensure that we have a transport system that helps to improve the economic competiveness of Wales, that provides good access to jobs and services, and reduces poverty for the people of Wales. However, we face considerable challenges in achieving this. As I outlined in the debate last week, the majority of bus services are provided commercially by operators in response to their assessment of the need for, and profitability of, those services. Local authorities have powers to subsidise the services that they consider to be socially necessary, using their own budgets as well as the Welsh Government’s regional transport services grant funding.
We have allocated £25 million this year to Wales’s four regional transport consortia through the regional transport services grant to help boost the number and range of subsidised, socially necessary bus and community transport services. However, our funding and support of bus services and community transport schemes are likely to continue to come under considerable pressure. In addition, there is an enormous challenge in some areas, especially among rural communities, because some services will need to rely on subsidy to run. Given the difficult position that we find ourselves in, in terms of our limited resource and the bus network’s need to attract more fare-paying passengers, we need to be more imaginative and look for innovative solutions to our public transport provision in Wales. We also need to look at all the issues around the help and assistance that we give to bus services in Wales and how we can better deliver regional transport.
The regional transport consortia were originally established to develop the regional transport plans, and they have developed a broader role overseeing delivery. When I speak to businesses and local authority leaders across Wales, their message is very clear: the consortia have not been as effective at driving delivery at regional level as we might have hoped. At the same time, the city region model is taking shape, and there is an opportunity for the boards to take a greater role in relation to transport. Recognising this, I have asked my officials to examine the options for how we could improve regional delivery of transport. The important thing is to maintain people’s access to key services and facilities as much as we can.
Given the difficult financial circumstances in which we find ourselves, we need to ensure that we are looking at all of our funding mechanisms to maximise value for money and secure the best possible outcome for the provision of public transport. A sustainable bus network depends on increasing the number of fare-paying passengers. As a Government, we are committed to enhancing the transport system in Wales, to demonstrate that we are open for business, provide employment opportunities, stimulate the economy and reduce poverty.
Thank you, Minister. I call on Byron Davies.
Thank you. Minister, I welcome your statement. However, I have some grave concerns that, on the face of it, you are again setting up another review group. The Government seems to be under constant review these days with very little action, if I may say so.
I have a couple of specific questions about the statement. First, where is the running dialogue with the bus industry in Wales and when did you know that Arriva buses was pulling out of routes? Why was this support not being put into place prior to the announcement? It seems that you are only ever reacting and, again, it indicates a complete breakdown in proactive communication between bus operators and the Welsh Government.
Do you not fear that other routes will suffer the same fate if you top-slice the regional transport service grant while bottom-slicing most of the other grants?
I will accept that you obviously blame the UK Government cuts for service closures, but other parts of the UK have taken measures to mitigate the effect of the grant reduction, such as the better bus areas fund, the clean bus technology fund and the green bus scheme. In fact, the director of the Confederation of Passenger Transport Cymru, John Pockett, argued in June 2013 that there is none of this here, just an across-the-board cut. So, I ask, where are other funding streams and measures to mitigate grant reductions that could have prevented these route closures?
Could you tell the Chamber when will this official group have a working solution to secure these routes in the medium to long term? Finally, Minister, when will officials report back on replacing the regional transport consortia? Do you not think that action is required urgently to prevent any further service withdrawal? I think that I can safely predict that this is the beginning, not the end of the problem due to the grant reductions and other pressures on the bus industry. The transport industry needs action now. Our communities will be left stranded if the usual continual review, which this Government seems to phase in and out of, continues.
May I make it quite clear that I take this issue very seriously indeed? I have had enormous support from the three local authorities currently involved. They want to look at innovative solutions to some of these issues.
I am quite surprised at your contribution, because I understood that, as a party, you wanted to leave everything to market forces. If we leave everything to market forces within rural areas, there would not be any services. Therefore, we need to know what support and subsidy arrangements we can put in as a Government and whether they are effective. The question that must be asked now is: how do bus operators operate? My officials have regular dialogues with these individuals and we are aware of issues around the services.
The point on which I agree with you in terms of the questions that you have asked is that this is not just going to involve the areas that are affected now. Your leader Andrew R.T. Davies last week in the Chamber raised the whole issue of the Vale of Glamorgan services, as has Jane Hutt. This will affect many rural areas. Therefore, we have to look at a solution that is suitable in terms of rural Wales and maintaining a service.
We have to recognise that there is an issue about the budget. It has to be more effective. I am not setting up endless reviews. What am I supposed to do? Sit in my office and make a decision without consulting the local authorities involved or any individuals, or experts? I do not work like that. I try to do business in a way that takes the majority of people with me. In terms of these issues, I will have the support of the Chamber on the direction of travel.
Unlike the Conservatives’ spokesperson, may I thank you for your statement and for the priority that you, along with local authorities, have given to finding a solution to the loss of bus services in west Wales? The Arriva announcement that was made just a fortnight ago has led many of my constituents and those of other Members in this Chamber into a blind panic about the loss of a service that was so crucial to them. I have been contacted by people who do not have cars and therefore need these bus services to get to work, students in Aberystwyth and Lampeter who fear losing the only service that connects their university and homes, people who use these buses regularly to visit Glangwili and Bronglais hospitals, and, of course, all other regular travellers on these bus services currently run by Arriva.
The first question that arises from your statement, Minister, is the one that constituents ask me regularly: what assurance can you give to them as people who currently use these Arriva services in west Wales that there will be buses running on the day after Arriva withdraws from the service on 22 December? So, how confident are you that you will be able to find a temporary solution along with local authorities at that time?
Secondly, Minister, you made specific reference in your statement to the X94 service, which is part of the TrawsCymru network and is an important service, of course, but services between Aberystwyth and Haverfordwest and between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen are also strategically important national services and are much more than simply local services, particularly in the absence of a train service of any kind in that area. So, I hope that you acknowledge the national importance as well as the local importance of those specific bus services. After 22 December, when the current Arriva service will disappear, do you anticipate that you will, first of all, find a temporary solution in order to deal with the current crisis, before working with local bus companies and local authorities to secure a sustainable, long-term solution for these important services?
I can well understand the concerns of your constituents about travelling to work, those of students and regarding hospital transport, which is one of the issues that I have been discussing with my colleague the Minister for health, about how services in rural areas need to be more flexible to get people to things like hospital appointments, so that we can fit things in much better. There is considerable work going on in that area in his department, all of which impacts on the issues that you raised. I am relatively confident that we will find a temporary solution in order that your constituents will not be discommoded because of the goodwill of the local authorities and the fact that we will look at awarding contracts using emergency procedures. That work is proceeding well in terms of the discussions that have been undertaken.
I concur absolutely with your point about the national services that are provided, not just TrawsCymru, but some of the other services that are provided. We have to look at these issues once again, because what is happening with some of these services is not panning out well, and I think that we have to be imaginative in our approach. Our problem, of course, is the legislation on the deregulation of bus services, which is the background that all this operates against. I think that it is time for some further decisions on that. Only yesterday, I was talking to Professor Stuart Cole, who is, of course, an expert on bus services and everything to do with transport, and he has agreed to assist by looking at some different mechanisms of dealing with bus services in rural areas, which might be more appropriate.
Thank you for your statement today, Minister.
I am particularly pleased to hear aspects of your announcement today, particularly in terms of the good news about the X94. This has been a matter of great concern to people along the Barmouth to Wrexham route and particularly to my colleague Aled Roberts, who has been proactive on this particular matter. As was discussed in the leader of the opposition’s short debate just last Wednesday, it is abundantly clear that the decision in respect of Aberystwyth came as a shock to communities, not just in the town, but across Ceredigion, and has spurred a number of people into action. Within days, there were at least two local petitions that I am aware of, calling for services to be retained and, indeed, expanded, for the reasons that Elin Jones has outlined. One of them, with Ceredigion County Council, has already garnered in excess of 1,000 signatures, which shows just the start of the strength of opinion in that area.
As we are all painfully aware, in areas of deep rurality, such as we find across my region of Mid and West Wales, high fuel prices and long commutes place an enormous reliance on the limited public transport options available. Indeed, as the Minister has outlined, if the market alone were left to decide, we would clearly be in a worse place. As such, given the strain that companies are under, in retrospect perhaps we should have been a little less surprised at the gravity of the announcement that was made.
I would like to seek clarity on a couple of issues around the Ceredigion experience, particularly issues around the shared ownership, which I understand applies to some of the bus stock in that particular case. I wonder, Minister, whether you could give us some clarity as to what the situation is there, and whether there is the potential of a financial clawback or other arrangements that might come into play if the worst were to occur. In addition, I was also pleased to hear your reference to the Vale of Glamorgan. There have been a number of issues there that have been raised with colleagues of mine, and with me, regarding services around Cowbridge, and also the controversial re-routing of the X91 serving Aberthaw. I would appreciate any update that you would have in that respect.
Finally, you will be aware, Minister, that we have had an extensive exchange of correspondence with regard to petitions that have been brought to the Assembly regarding transport links, particularly with respect to west Wales. I would like you to reassure the Assembly—and indeed the petitioners—that their concerns are also to be fed into the wider role of the group that you have set up and the experts who are advising you.
As Chair of the Petitions Committee, I think that you are likely to have a lot of work in respect of petitions around bus services now and into the future, as we look at the stark reality of some of the issues around the delivery of services, particularly within rural Wales. In terms of the Ceredigion experience, I think that there will be many lessons to be learned. I think that we could have indicated very early on about some of these routes: that there was concern that any commercial operator might have wanted to run them. I think that it is fair to say that, perhaps, if they had not done, we might have been in a better position of supporting those routes. So, I think that these are some of the issues that we have to go through.
We are working through some of the financial issues that you alluded to, such as shared ownership and so on, and we will have a clearer picture in the future about how to deal with matters.
The Vale of Glamorgan’s problems are now almost as grave in certain areas as they are in west Wales in very rural communities and how they are not able to access services. I am very cognisant of the fact that there have been concerns around that area, and there has obviously been a dialogue with the local authority. However, some authorities are trying to do quite a good job on these issues, because the statutory quality bus partnership schemes, which are there to support better local authority services, are very good. Powys has decided to do one of those on the TrawsCymru route between Newtown and Merthyr, which is to be welcomed. I think that there is a greater understanding in local government now about the issues that they can deal with, because it is important that we continue to support the TrawsCymru T4 service from Newtown to Cardiff as it is essential. It goes through the rural communities in north and east Powys, and also calls in Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil and Pontypridd, which is also an important aspect. I can assure you that, as Minister, when I have been dealing with you as Chair of the Petitions Committee, I am very keen to see transport matters resolved, whether they are road safety or other issues, if I can, to help all of our constituents across Wales.
There is a great deal of interest in this debate, and a lot of speakers are waiting in the wings; therefore, could we please have questions rather than oration?
I, too, am delighted that progress has been made, and I am particularly delighted about your emphasis on the rural services. As you know, for some people in Clwyd South the X94 was the only bus access to the Wrexham Maelor Hospital. It affects school bus routes in Gwynedd and it removes the link from Dolgellau to Wrexham’s jobs, shopping and leisure facilities. Is there a way that you can put clauses into contracts where bus operators are operating more profitable urban routes—if I can put it like that—and ensure that, as a result of that franchise, they are required to operate rural routes? Also, will you look at schemes like the Dial-a-Ride schemes, which have proven to be successful elsewhere? I realise that they do not provide the continuity that a scheduled service provides, but it may help break some of that rural isolation that is really key. With the concentration of services, particularly colleges, for example, largely on the coast, it is vital, for people to access their educational services, that they can travel on bus routes, because many of them will not have a driving licence.
Obviously, on your points regarding the health service, through the work of the non-emergency patient transport programme board, we are looking at how the community transport sector, in particular, can play a greater role in the delivery of non-emergency patient transport services. I have allocated officials from my transport department directly into health to look at issues around how we link in all services, and how we can link up health centres and hospitals. That is an ongoing strand of work that I understand is progressing very well.
I will say a few words on community transport, because I think that it is relevant to this discussion. I have been very committed to community transport because I think that it is key to some of the areas that we are talking about—to protect routes and improve connectivity in remote rural communities and very remote urban communities. So, it is very important that we continue to support the Community Transport Association financially, and we need to look at innovative schemes like Dial-a-Ride. We have other schemes as well that we are helping to support. That is quite important in terms of the points that you made.
I have also taken a very keen interest in how we look at some of the contract arrangements with some of the larger companies. We need to look very carefully at how we approach our discussions with them in the future, and what we need to look for. There are profitable routes in Wales. I have been trying to obtain, across the piece, a map that shows which routes are profitable and which routes are not profitable, so that I can say to Members, ‘Here are the routes.’ We have engaged with the bus companies, and you will appreciate that some of the small ones do not have the means to give you a lot of the information—they are very helpful—but the large ones certainly can. So, we are doing further work in that area, which might show us a very interesting pattern that we can work through for the benefit of more isolated communities.
I want, first of all, to put on record my thanks to the Minister and the Welsh Government for acting so promptly and for being so effective in their response. At the same time, I want to pay tribute to Ceredigion County Council for holding its joint meeting with the Welsh Government and Gwynedd and Carmarthenshire councils on 4 October. It is vital that we get to an early resolution on this. To that end, I want to thank the Minister for doing just that, regarding the line from Barmouth to Wrexham, in her announcement.
The Minister is right to say that there are many players in this. If there is ever a case for devolution and for people to work together quickly and effectively, this has highlighted that need. This is what devolution was all about. It was there to help us take urgent and prompt action at a local level, and to turn that into a real solution. I am not going to repeat lots of things that have been said here today, but I would like to ask the Minister how long she thinks it might be before that review has been taken. I know that it is a long-term review, and I support that. Those people—and Elin Jones was right to mention them—have no alternative. There is no alternative; there are no rail services along that Ceredigion-Carmarthenshire border.
I have immediate issues that I have to look at, with a loss of services that will stop people from attending university and going to work. As I gave my assurances to Elin, I give the same assurances to you. However, we really need to get on with some of this. We can deal with the immediate problems, but the long-term ones are more complicated. There are going to be some things that we might want to challenge, in terms of how things have always been done and the way that we think that they might be done in the future. It is quite important that we have a very open mind about how we deal with some of these issues. That is why I have been particularly pleased with the local authorities, which have a very open mind about how we can take these matters forward.
One of the concerns that has arisen with me is something that came out of the short debate last week: nobody seems to ask people in some of these communities what they want. There is an assumption made about services, and about what the needs and requirements of these communities are, in terms of getting people to work, what type of structure they want and what type of hours they want. Are we giving them what they want? If you look at things at a far more localised level, in terms of the discussion on how you commission services, we might get the answers that might benefit communities. This is going to be extremely complicated to undertake. When I was having discussions with experts in this field, they said that we have to push against what people think are the established practices, as they make you think that that is the only thing that you can do, and that that is the only thing that you can do legally as well. Some people say to you, ‘Oh, you can’t really do that, because it is not appropriate’, or, ‘The legislation is this’. I think that we have to start backing into that and saying, ‘Well, we can do it’.
Thank you, Minister, for that last answer. You will be aware of a service operated in my constituency by Lloyds Coaches of Machynlleth. I use that company as an example because it already operates a service in the affected areas, and it may well be in a position to fill the void, as other providers may indeed be able to. It is experiencing problems on its existing site, which is hampering business growth. I know that the company has been in contact with you, but may I ask what discussions you and your officials have had with the company, and what potential service provision opportunities are on the table for it and for other providers? Also, what discussions have you had with Lloyds Coaches and Powys County Council to help them to develop their objectives of creating an integrated transport hub in Machynlleth?
Obviously, I will check with officials about discussions and I would be more than delighted to write to the Member to update him. He makes a valid point; if we are going to deal with some of the smaller companies, we have to ensure that they have the necessary tools within their business capacity to help and assist us, to ensure that there is good transportation for the good people of Wales.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
I would like to thank the Minister for her swift response to this situation, and for her understanding in responding to the nature of the situation. Would she agree that the only way of attracting more paying travellers on to the bus system in Wales, especially in mid Wales, is to create an integrated transport system that links regional railways with buses, offering travellers an efficient choice? Would she also accept—I agree anyway—that the era of regional consortia arranging transport has come to an end and that we need a much more accountable system, not to the bureaucratic needs of local government or even the Welsh Government, but to the needs of travellers? May I suggest that the Conservative spokesperson should travel by bus more regularly?
I totally concur with you, because, if we are going to have more paying passengers, we need an integrated public transport system that links up rail and the buses, so that people can get on with their daily lives in whichever area of Wales they choose to live in.
I think that I made my views quite clear on the consortia. There are issues with them, and concerns have been raised. I think that we now need a system in place that actually reflects the needs of the citizens in terms of what we are able to do. With limited budgets, we are going to have to prioritise what we have to do, but at the end of the day, if we have the structure correct, along with the way for going forward in terms of the principles that we want to underpin it, then I think that we will eventually make progress on what I think is a very difficult agenda, but an essential one for the people of Wales.
Minister, I think that is very easy for people in this Chamber and those outside it to demonise the bus company that made these decisions, but I think that we have to reflect on the fact that these bus companies do actually try to accommodate passengers’ needs as much as they possibly can, and they have certainly changed routes and have added additional routes in my constituency that have served my constituents very well.
I was very concerned to hear about the axing of the X94 service, and I am very pleased with your intervention today to see that reinstated, certainly in the short term once December comes, and with interim arrangements to be put in place. There are two questions that I want to put you, Minister. The first is this: what action are you taking as a Welsh Government to identify the scale of the abuse of the concessionary fares scheme? We know, for example, that some bus operators, anecdotal evidence would suggest, ask people to disembark from the buses and then get back on them in order that a separate fare can be taken from them, effectively, and claimed under the concessionary fares scheme. I am very concerned about that, because I think that it would potentially release a lot more money into Government coffers to invest in some of these rural services that we want to retain.
Secondly, you make a reference in your statement to the future of the regional transport consortia. The regional transport consortium for north Wales, of course, Taith, has been very effective, in my opinion, over the past few years. There is always more that can be asked of the transport consortia, but what sort of arrangements are you suggesting should be considered for those, particularly outside of the city regions that you have mentioned? A city region has not been proposed for north Wales, but we are an important part of the country, which I am sure that you would not want to overlook.
Issues relating to concessionary fares are constantly raised. My officials are constantly monitoring this. It is a period when we are looking at concessionary fares again, so I will prepare a note for Assembly Members, looking at the issues. If there are any indications of abuse or anything, can I please have them from Assembly Members? We will need to investigate this; it is very important that public money is used for the purpose for which we have allocated it. Thank you very much for your comments.
I will keep it concise. You referred to engaging with three local authorities. Your original statement on 2 October referred to a number of affected areas, south and north. Could you confirm how those three are representing other authorities that go beyond their own boundaries? In the north, for example, many people living in Conwy use the x94 bus service, although, technically, it does not travel through the county. There are many others who access it, for instance, to get to hospitals that may not be near their homes.
Gwynedd, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire are the ones that are affected quite a lot by local services so we have used them initially to look at issues. However, in light of the short debate that we had last week and the points that you have made, there will be further discussions with others as we develop policy in this agenda. You made a very valid point about delivery in terms of people travelling into hospitals for services. That is work that is ongoing between the Minister for health and I.
The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the name of William Graham.
Motion NDM5327 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly of Wales:
Notes the Equality and Human Rights Commission Wales Annual Review ’Working Together to Strengthen Equality and Human Rights in Wales’.
I move the motion.
I am very pleased to move the motion tabled in the name of Lesley Griffiths. I am delighted that the National Assembly is holding this debate today, allowing us to recognise the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s work in 2012-13. The commission’s annual review, entitled ‘Working Together to Strengthen Equality and Human Rights in Wales’, highlights what we have achieved in moving Wales forward to become a fair and inclusive place to live and work. The commission in Wales has a unique role as a regulator of the public sector equality duty and the Wales-specific equality duties. The specific duties are considerably more far-reaching in Wales than in England. They are an enabling tool for organisations to meet and demonstrate that they are meeting the general equality duty and, as such, are proving to be a valuable driving force of public service improvement.
The Welsh Government is reliant on the commission to regulate the Wales-specific equality duties. The commission’s approach to regulation through encouraging, guiding and monitoring the public sector has proved to be effective and successful. The commission has produced Wales-specific guidance on implementing the public sector equality duty. This includes its technical guidance, published in January of this year. The commission’s training courses, lectures and many other events are a valuable resource for employers and third sector and public sector organisations alike. The commission’s equality exchange network is highly regarded by equality and human rights practitioners from a wide range of public sector organisations, including the Welsh Government. The commission’s annual conference attracted 100 delegates and proved to be a hugely successful event. I wholly value the work that the commission has already undertaken in 2012-13 in monitoring the impact of the duties across health, local government and education. The assessments concentrated on monitoring the impact of the duties across four key sectors—local government, health, fire and rescue and universities—and focused on a key aspect of the Wales-specific equality duties for each sector. The outcome of this monitoring work has provided an effective insight as well as an early indication of the progress achieved in promoting inclusion and tackling inequalities in Wales.
Welsh Government engaged the commission to undertake an appreciative inquiry into the way that the Welsh Government has conducted previous equality impact assessments of its budget. The findings of the appreciative inquiry confirm the Welsh Government’s commitment to improving the equality assessments of its budget, and confirm that improvement has taken place during recent years. We have found the recommendations of the commission’s appreciative inquiry to be both practical and constructive, thus helping to drive future improvements in the EIA process. The commission is also an independent advisory member of our budget advisory group on equality. The budget advisory group for equality has a key role in supporting the continuous improvement of the equality impact assessment undertaken on the Welsh Government’s budget by providing the expertise to inform the equality considerations of future spending plans. As a result of evidence in the commission’s ‘Who Runs Wales?’ report, the commission organised an expert group to explore potential actions to achieve better representative public appointments. Consequently, Welsh Government undertook a case study with Sport Wales looking at how changes to the public appointments process affected the final outcome. We have since refreshed our action plan to increase diversity in public appointments.
These examples are only a small proportion of the work and achievements of the commission. The Welsh Government has a very positive and productive relationship with the commission and I know that this is shared by other parties and many individual AMs. Now, despite the changes made to the commission’s powers and duties, and the reduction in funding by the UK Government, I am committed to ensuring that the commission retains a strong and distinct presence in Wales and continues to work closely with the Welsh Government. To this end, discussions are under way with the commission to put in place a concordat between Welsh Government and the commission in Wales. I am pleased that the commission is continuing to deliver a robust work programme in accordance with Wales’s unique political, legal and social landscape. The commission’s priorities for the coming year include: improving Welsh workplaces and sharing effective practice; exploring the benefits of aligning equality and poverty strategies; and developing and promoting the equality evidence base.
In conclusion, the Wales-specific equality duties have only been in force for a relatively short space of time, and there are many challenges ahead as Wales continues to follow its own distinct equality path. As the commission’s report highlights, there is a close interrelationship between poverty and the inequalities faced by people with characteristics protected under the Equality Act 2010. The Welsh Government is leading the way on driving change through tackling inequality and poverty together under the unique communities and tackling poverty portfolio. I am committed to taking action to make our country inclusive, equal and fair. We will achieve this through tackling all forms of hate crime and domestic abuse. We will work across Welsh Government to ensure that key public services take account of the needs of all our citizens, increasing diversity in our public appointments, and working with our public sector bodies to ensure equal pay for equal work. I therefore support amendments 1, 2, 3 and 4. We have made considerable progress in addressing hate crime and domestic violence and ensuring that public sector boards reflect the population of Wales. We continue to drive our actions forward to tackle all forms of inequality in employment.
I strongly believe that the way forward is to emphasise our positive vision of the kind of country that we want Wales to be in the next decade. We can only achieve this by working together in partnership, both within Welsh Government and across the public and third sectors. I would like to thank the Wales Equality and Human Rights Commission and Ann Beynon, the commissioner for Wales, for their unrelenting work to promote, monitor, protect and enforce equality and human rights in Wales.
The Presiding Officer has selected the four amendments to the motion. I call on Mohammad Asghar to move amendments 1, 2, 3 and 4, tabled in the name of William Graham.
Amendment 1—William Graham
Add as new point at end of the motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to improve the standard and availability of support services for victims of sexual violence.
Amendment 2—William Graham
Add as new point at end of the motion:
Recognises the need to encourage victims of hate crime and domestic abuse to report such incidents.
Amendment 3—William Graham
Add as new point at end of the motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to investigate ways to ensure the membership of public sector boards more accurately reflect the communities they serve.
Amendment 4—William Graham
Add as new point at end of the motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to develop policies to tackle gender stereotyping in all forms of employment opportunities.
I move amendments 1, 2, 3 and 4. On behalf of the Welsh Conservatives it is my pleasure to move the amendments tabled in the name of William Graham.
I welcome the report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which highlights the progress that has been made in strengthening equality and human rights in Wales. I would like to focus my remarks this afternoon on a number of key areas. The first is violence against women. We all await the Welsh Government’s ending violence against women Bill with the hope that it will provide an opportunity to deliver real change in the lives of women in Wales.
Every year in Wales over 50,000 women will experience over 200,000 incidents of domestic abuse. Since nearly two thirds of public sector employees are women the effective implementation of workplace policies to identify and support victims of domestic abuse are vital. I welcome the fact that around 200,000 people working in Welsh public sector services are now covered by a domestic abuse workplace policy.
We need to do more to tackle the huge inconsistencies in the standard and availability of support services for women who have suffered sexual violence as highlighted by Rape Crisis (England and Wales). There remains reluctance on the part of victims of domestic abuse to report such incidents to the police. That is also true of hate crime.
Will you take an intervention?
Yes, go on.
Do you now regret the UK Government’s decision to cut the funding for the independent domestic violence advisors that your party actually promoted?
Ann, if you read through the document, they have not cut down for the ladies in trouble—
They have—they have cut it by 50%.
This is all nonsense. More money is there for them.
There remains reluctance on the part of victims of domestic abuse to report such incidents to the police. That is also true of hate crime. Race Council Cymru found that only one fifth of racist incidents and hate crime are reported to the police.
The horrific murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich shocked and outraged all communities in Great Britain. It led to an increase in attacks on mosques and other Islamic centres for a short period of time. I am concerned by the findings of a recent poll that found that more than a quarter of 18 to 24-year-olds in Britain do not trust Muslims.
In December last year I called on the Welsh Government to make tackling race hate crime a priority in 2013. It is clear we have more work to do to break down the barriers to greater community cohesion in Wales. Awareness of disability hate crime must be increased to ensure that it is recognised and accurately reported. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Crown Prosecution Service and the National Probation Service agree that there is no clear and uncomplicated definition of what makes up disability hate crime. They have asked the Law Commission to consider the matter. It is also encouraging that these agencies are acting to prosecute crimes motivated by hatred of disabled people. Crime motivated by hatred, whether of disability, race, religion or sexual orientation, are all equally unacceptable and should be prosecuted accordingly.
I would like to say a few words about the public sector equality duty. More work needs to be done to widen participation in decision making to ensure public-sector bodies are more representative of the communities they serve. The Welsh Government’s own report on its programme for government highlights this problem. One fifth of the working-age population in Wales, for example, identifies itself as disabled, but less than 5.5% of public sector board members identify themselves as disabled. Research by BBC Wales found that just two top managers at Wales’s 22 councils declared themselves as from an ethnic minority. Welsh public bodies should be led by people who represent the diverse communities they serve. Only then can we create a strong and cohesive society.
May I ask you to draw your remarks to a close?
Okay. As I said in last week’s debate on vocational education, the limited number of women entering science, engineering and technology exacerbates skills shortages in these sectors of the economy. I welcome this report, Minister—
Thank you. I call Lindsay Whittle.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate today. I will keep my remarks brief, as I did last year. I would also like to place on record my and my party’s thanks to the committee and the staff of the commission here in Wales for another year of hard work and dedication and for producing the report.
We, in the Party of Wales, believe that equality is a barometer of the health and overall wellbeing of a nation. When there is serious inequality, as there is now here in Wales, it is symptomatic of the deep problems we have in our economy and society. However, we know that the issues of inequality are difficult and deep rooted. Some issues of inequality can be tackled by helping to change attitudes, but, as society becomes ever more progressive, which I believe it is, certain issues will become less controversial. However, some inequities are born of actions that can be avoided; they are symptomatic of a failing economic system that does not have fairness and justice at its heart, but selfishness and greed. Some inequities are caused, directly sometimes, by the stroke of Ministers’ pens and changes of policy. Therefore, there is only a limited amount that we can do at this time, especially given that the biggest drivers in equality are economic ones, and, in my view, while we remain on this course of austerity that will not seriously change.
However, there are some points that I specifically want to mention today, and we, too, will be supporting all four amendments tabled by William Graham today. In relation to the public sector equality duty, as a slightly critical friend, there is no mention in the report for the PSED to give equal rights and regard to citizens whose first language is Welsh, and I would have liked to have seen that. I would like to see more details and examples of good and not-so-good practice by public sector organisations in carrying out their responsibilities regarding non-discrimination. The Welsh Government, as has been mentioned by Mohammad Ashgar, with a concordat with the commission Cymru, should be monitoring its own compliance with the PSED, also making sure that its decisions show a clear commitment to equality impact assessment. There needs to be clear guidance laid down as to what sanctions are available to deal with those public sector organisations that need to improve their performance on equality issues.
The Bevan Foundation, in its evidence to the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee, pointed out that the response to the PSED was a bit patchy in Wales and that there is sometimes a tick-box approach. We do not need that. Diverse Cymru recommended that, where necessary, enforcement action should be taken. We fully support that. The Welsh Government has made a clear statement that, whatever the United Kingdom Government might want to do to water down some of the commission’s duties and budgets, we in Wales will want to ensure that the commission here remains adequately funded and will do a good job for us here in Wales. Whenever we drive across our border, we see a sign that says ‘Welcome to Wales/Croeso i Gymru’; for me, that means a welcome to Wales for absolutely everyone.
I am very pleased to speak in this very important debate on equality and human rights in Wales today. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a very well-respected body and has had a huge task since it has brought together all of the different strains of discrimination, bringing together the Disability Rights Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission, and also embracing sexual orientation and faith and belief. It has done a very good job of bringing all of this together under one body.
I also want to congratulate it on its work, which has continued despite the really big cuts to the organisation that have been mentioned here today. It is continuing to do that work effectively. In particular, I want to mention the loss of the Wales-only helpline, because the helpline is now delivered from outside Wales and there are bound to be some issues that cannot be addressed if they are not addressed in Wales. Therefore, well done to the commission for carrying on in these difficult circumstances.
I support the recommendation that the Welsh Government should seek primary legislative competence in relation to the public sector equality duty, and this was highlighted in the Welsh Government’s submission to the Silk commission. I welcome the concordat that the Minister has confirmed today that he will be making with the commission.
However, the other issue that is throwing a shadow over future work is Theresa May’s confirmation that the next Conservative Party manifesto would include a commitment to get rid of the Human Rights Act 1998. I wonder what implications this would have for the work of the commission in Wales, as one of its functions is to encourage compliance with the Human Rights Act. That is something to bear in mind in relation to what might happen after the next election.
The next point that I want to highlight is the link between equality and poverty. With regard to the position of disabled people in Wales—and the report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission highlights this—23% of people in Wales live in poverty, with 46% of disabled people living in poverty. Disabled people have been particularly hard hit by the welfare reforms and particularly hard hit by the now notorious bedroom tax. Shelter makes the case that around two thirds of those affected are disabled. Most disabled people are unable to move house due to the lack of alternative accommodation and therefore have to live on reduced benefits. It is particularly difficult because local authorities appear to be using income from disability-related benefits when assessing discretionary housing payments, and are requiring disabled people to give evidence about the way in which all disability-related expenditure is spent.
This seems particularly unfair and further disadvantages people who are already disproportionately affected by welfare reform, and I am very concerned—as I know we all are in the Chamber—that disabled people are suffering more than the general population. It seems to me to be an outrageous development that disabled people who need support and help are suffering so badly under the welfare reforms. So, I believe that it is very important to look at the socioeconomic duty that has not been implemented by the UK Government and to see whether a way can be found to ensure that disabled people are not some of the poorest in society. Poverty is clearly linked to equality issues, so I hope that there is something that the Government can do and that it can implement the socioeconomic duty in some way, perhaps by combining it with the equality duty, thereby ensuring that we can tackle poverty, which is so clearly linked to equality.
Finally, I would like to make a few points about the development of Gypsy and Traveller issues. I am very pleased that there is a proposal to put a duty on local authorities to provide sites where a need is identified. This will require the development of more sites, and managing the public relations aspect of it is very important. It is vital that efforts are made to reduce the tensions that often arise when proposals are made and it is important that Gypsy/Travellers are part of the consultation and planning process.
I hope that we can reach the stage in Wales where there is no longer any need for illegal sites, where there are adequate stopping places, as well as enough permanent sites, and where every Gypsy child can grow up in security.
May I, on behalf of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report and thank it for the work that it has done on this? We have long prided ourselves as being strong advocates of equality and human rights. We are delighted to welcome the report and support all four amendments tabled in the name of William Graham.
We also welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s submission to the commission on devolution in Wales—the Silk commission—that the Assembly should be given powers to build upon the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998. It is absolutely right that we should have the power in terms of the public sector equality duty and be able to exercise that accordingly.
I also agree with Julie Morgan about the Human Rights Act 1998. It is absolutely imperative that that Act remains in force. The fact that the Conservatives have indicated that they will repeal it if they win power in their own right after the next general election indicates the influence that the Liberal Democrats have had in Government in maintaining our commitment to that Act and ensuring that it remains in force.
Of course, although the Conservatives might be able to repeal the Act, they will not be able to repeal the treaty of which we remain a part in terms of Europe. Therefore, what they will effectively be doing is forcing people into the European courts, rather than into British courts when seeking redress in terms of human rights.
In relation to amendments 1 and 2 highlighting the need for the Welsh Government to focus on important issues such as support services for victims of sexual violence and encouraging victims to come forward, we are very pleased to support that.
We are also keen to see public sector bodies more closely reflect the communities that they serve, as outlined in amendment 3. We believe that such bodies will be far more responsive and understanding to their communities as a result. The Welsh Liberal Democrats are happy to support amendment 4 in terms of tackling gender stereotyping in all forms of employment opportunities. Male and female applicants from whatever background or ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability should all be given a fair and equal opportunity to employment.
Julie Morgan referred to the discretionary housing allowance. It is an issue that I have taken up with the UK Government in terms of the way in which local councils are calculating this particular allowance in relation to those people who have been affected by the reduction in housing benefit subsidies.
It is absolutely wrong that councils are taking into account disability living allowance and child allowance when it comes to calculating the income for people’s qualification of that. In fact, local councils have been very sparing in the way in which they have allocated the DHA, because they are possibly afraid that money is running out. However, it is certainly having an adverse impact on disabled people and their ability to claim that allowance to retain the bedrooms to which they are entitled and do not have to pay for.
I welcome the number of court judgments over the last couple of weeks that have indicated that people with disabilities should be able to have bedrooms of their own if their condition requires that. I hope that the UK Government pays some attention to that. It is a major issue with the changes to housing benefit that this matter has not been addressed. Again, I have made representations to UK Government Ministers that as well as excepting disabled children, they should have excepted disabled adults from this change as well. I think that that is absolutely right and the UK Government is wrong to resist making that particular change.
On poverty, I agree with Julie that it is wrong that 46% of disabled people are in poverty, 32% are from black and ethnic minorities communities and that 48% of lone parents live in poverty, of which nine in 10 are women. There is clearly a huge issue there in terms of equality.
I am pleased that the Welsh Government has agreed, as part of the budget settlement, that we are going to be targeting educational resources at disadvantaged families, particularly those children who are entitled to free school meals. I would hope that the Welsh Government could also take up, once we are clear in terms of Barnett consequentials, what is happening in England in terms of free school meals as well. That is an important issue in terms of making sure that every child receives a hot meal at lunchtime, and I think that if we can take up what the UK Government is doing for infant school children, then that would indeed make a big difference for many people in terms of those children.
The report that we have before us raises a number of very important issues that we are continuing to address in the Assembly, and I am pleased that the Government is committed to addressing those. I think that domestic abuse, mental health, the gender pay gap and equality impact assessments are all important issues as part of our agenda and I certainly think that we need to continue raising those as an Assembly.
I, too, would like to thank the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Wales for its Wales review for 2012-13. Its work in striving to advance the agenda of underrepresented groups in Wales is to be congratulated and needs our robust support, but may I say how much I like this report in particular? As an Assembly Member, and as a councillor previously, I get lots of reports. This one is a report that I could actually take home to my elderly father, he would be able to read it, he would be able to understand it and it would have some meaning for him. I think that the EHRC should be congratulated on the production of this particular report, because it is not full of the technical speak that we as politicians can be guilty of using, it is in a good-sized print, and I will be writing to say as much to Kate Bennett and Ann Beynon and their team.
While much work has been done for many years now, by public sector bodies across Wales in terms of their well-documented and strategic approach to public sector equality duties, the implementation of the Equality Act and, as Ann Jones AM quite rightly mentioned before, equality impact assessments, I think that it is fair to say that the fact that we are debating this here today shows that there is still much to be done to embed the spirit of equality across all aspects of public life in Wales.
The Deputy Presiding Officer took the Chair at 16:52.
Recently, we have taken evidence in the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee on the disabled facilities grant and we are still witnessing disabled people struggling to get around the complex DFG issues. We find that disabled people struggle to access buildings—new buildings that are being built now as we speak. We know that we have ethnic minority communities and individuals within them feeling disenfranchised from participation in sports and facing actual discrimination. That is to name just two issues, but they are not inconsequential. While the report outlines much of the fantastic work being done by the EHRC to improve the opportunities and outcomes for those groups of people across Wales, I would ask the Minister what action he is now taking, as we have raised these issues about people feeling discriminated against in terms of sport or the ongoing social exclusion of disabled people and those from minority ethnic backgrounds. We look at politically elected memberships and elected representatives across the five layers of government in Wales and we look at public service—
Thank you for taking an intervention. Do you accept then that the bedroom tax is, effectively, contributing to the discrimination against disabled people?
I do not believe that there is such a thing as a bedroom tax; there is a spare room subsidy.
We look at public service appointments and higher management within industry, and it is fair to say that if we were getting it right, they would be more representative of and reflect our community.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission in its evidence to the CELG committee outlined concerns that it is unlikely that measurable progress will be achieved in advancing the Welsh Government’s objective of eradicating poverty in Wales unless a joined-up approach is adopted in addressing the inequality associated with socioeconomic background. Given that the Wales review highlights how 27% of young people, 46% of disabled people and 48% of lone parents live in poverty, the Welsh Government and we as Assembly Members clearly have more to do. I urge the Minister to assess the ways in which you can work more closely with the Equality and Human Rights Commission in order to support them, and to develop not a strategy, but a meaningful way forward that actually does alleviate socioeconomic disadvantage for all groups in Wales.
Like many before me, I also want to put on record my thanks to the EHRC for the way in which it has conducted its business over the last 12 months under very difficult circumstances, as has been mentioned. I also wanted to pay tribute to the way in which it has got about Wales and taken information from many areas. It now has a true picture of what is happening, and it no longer just relies—not that it ever did—as some organisations tend to do, on those areas that are easy to access. Therefore, I would like to thank it for doing that, and particularly for coming along to north Wales to visit and to hear people’s experiences.
I believe that the ethos of equality has begun to flourish now in Welsh public life. I think that we have to see that as an extremely positive step. Over the past few years public bodies have taken on board their duties. For me, the provision of the Equality Act 2010 was one of the greatest achievements of the last UK Labour Government. That has actually now made sure that local authorities have to look at the impact their choices will have on a whole range of people who are often discriminated against.
Like the commission—and I am sure that it will agree—we are still nowhere near our goal in ensuring that all Welsh people, no matter their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability are treated equally. So, we still have a long way to go.
I do not think that we have enough women in prominent public positions. The commissions that run Wales expose that year-on-year progress is far too slow. While we quite rightly point to the record of the Assembly, Welsh public life consists of more than just the 60 Assembly Members here, as much as we would like to think that that is a true reflection. It is not. Welsh public life is more than just the 60 of us sitting around the Chamber.
So, it cannot be right that women make up 75% of Welsh teachers, but only 26% are secondary headteachers; nor can it be right that, while women make up the huge proportion of the NHS workforce, there are still many more men in management and executive positions within the NHS. In the field of public appointments I am pleased that the Welsh Government has pledged that at least 40% of all appointments should be women.
We need to challenge the rhetoric around equality, and we need to change that rhetoric into actions. We should do more to advance equality; we can do more to advance equality; and we must do more to advance equality.
I welcome the annual report and I congratulate the commission on its work in what is the most difficult period of its history. We are all aware of the severe cuts in its budget, which will have had a massive impact on its capacity to carry out its work, and the economic climate in which it works. The report focuses on the growing level of poverty in Wales, and this is mirrored in the rest of the UK.
Poverty particularly hits the more vulnerable groups in our society, such as the disabled, ethnic minorities, young people and lone parents. I am clear in my mind that we cannot tackle inequality and human rights in our society without tackling the increasing wealth inequality that exists in our society, and the current policies of the coalition Government, which are increasing poverty and leading to greater social inequality.
Will you take an intervention on that point?
The wealth gap grew under the Labour UK Government and has shrunk since the coalition Government came to power. Do you accept that?
What I accept is that poverty was decreasing under the Labour Government, and since then, your Government has actually exacerbated it, and continues to do so.
Why is it important that we deal with the greater social inequality that exists? Apart from our duty to our citizens and to our fellow human beings, it is because the evidence is clear that an unequal society is an unstable society and a divided society. Such a society cannot survive for long. There can be little doubt that many aspects of the coalition Government’s austerity programme will lead to increasing inequality and stigmatisation of the poor and the vulnerable. Universal credit will result in the poorest tenth of society losing 5% of their income. The focus on benefit fraud worth an estimated £1.2 billion is disproportionate to the lack of focus on tax avoidance, which is estimated to increase from £25 billion to more than £30 billion in unpaid tax. Income inequality is linked to life expectancy. Those in poorer areas are likely to live for eight years less than those from wealthier areas. Top pay continues to rise at around 10% per annum, compared with a pay freeze for the lowest earners, whose income decreases in real terms year on year. A FTSE 100 chief executive will earn an average of £4.8 million per year—185 times average earnings. Of these, 65% will come from the finance and banking sector. In 1979, the top 1% of earners took home 1.3% of national earnings. This has now risen to 10% of national earnings. It is predicted that the top 1.3% will be taking home 20% over the next decade.
Directors’ pay in the UK in the past decade has quadrupled, with no clear link to corporate performance. The national minimum wage in October 2012 increased by 1.8%, while the retail price index increased by 2.9%. The value of the national minimum wage decreases year on year. Poorer people are more dependent on benefits, and the majority of benefit claimants are in work. The £19 billion cuts in the 2012 austerity budget will cut the income of the poorest fifth in society by 12%, but will only cut the income of the richest fifth by 1%. The bedroom tax hits Wales disproportionately, with 46% affected, compared with 31% in the rest of the UK. This impacts, in particular, on 25,000 disabled families in Wales.
Cuts in legal aid effectively disenfranchise and disempower the poorest in society, hitting the disabled, lone mothers, women and, increasingly, young people. The UK Government is now reviewing the future of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the public sector equality duty—[Interruption.]
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Under the equality—[Interruption.]
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Order. The Member will stop speaking. I am calling the Assembly to order. There is far too much heckling from a sedentary position. It is most unseemly and it will stop. I call on Mick Antoniw.
I apologise, Deputy Presiding Officer; their heckling meant that I could not hear your interventions. I can understand that this information is painful to them, because the UK Government is now reviewing, with a view to abolition, the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010. Its intentions are clear. This brings me back to the annual report. While I welcome the work of the commission, it is work being carried out against a backdrop of a coalition Government that is either deliberately or unwittingly increasing inequality and division in our society. It is undeniable that we really are not in it together.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Minister to reply to the debate.
Diolch, Deputy Presiding Officer. I really appreciate the mainly positive points that have been raised here today. I welcome the cross-party commitment to supporting the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Wales. The point that Janet Finch-Saunders raised about the readability of the report is something that we often overlook, but it is an important point because these important reports need to be read and understood by the population in general.
The discussion on the amendments highlights the progress that we have made. Our framework on tackling hate crimes and incidents is currently out to consultation. In fact, the consultation ends this Friday. So, I would urge all AMs—and anyone listening to this debate, if they have a point to make on our tackling hate crime framework—that they should make a submission. The point made about disabled people is very powerful. I have met many as a result of being in this post. It is clear that, when they talk to me about the hate crime that they face, it is extremely distressing. They have been affected, particularly, as a result of the strivers-versus-scroungers approach that has come out and been highlighted in the media, particularly as a result of the so-called welfare reforms. Certainly, disability hate crime is a very important part of the ‘Tackling Hate Crime and Incidents’ framework. It was launched in a school, because we believe that no-one is born with prejudice, and if we can, through teaching in schools, to do our very best to make sure that young people grow up with better attitudes than is currently the case among many adolescents and adults, then I think that we are heading in the right direction. However, as Mick Antoniw said, much of hate crime is down to the state of the economy. We know that it is often economic recession that drives people into the search for scapegoats.
On the points raised by Mohammad Asghar, I am happy to say that we are very serious about tackling domestic abuse. The independent review of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence services in Wales is on course to report to us this autumn. Our commitment is further demonstrated by our 1,000 Safer Lives project and ‘The Right to be Safe’ strategy, which has published its third annual report. The First Minister announced in his legislative statement in July that the ending violence against women and domestic abuse (Wales) Bill will be introduced in June 2014.
Ann Jones rightly raised the issue of women being underrepresented in senior appointments, and diversity in public appointments is now embodied in our programme for government commitment and in our strategic equality plan. Indeed, Ministers agreed at a meeting of Cabinet on 24 September to continue our targeted approach in increasing the number of women and other underrepresented groups in public appointments.
I am firmly committed to gender equality in the workplace—I support the comments of Peter Black—and to enabling women to overcome the many barriers they may face in accessing work, as well as encouraging and supporting them to progress in the workplace. Our strategic equality plan focuses on identifying and addressing the cause of gender pay and employment differences. Equality requires a partnership focus, as emphasised by the title of the commission’s annual review, ‘Working together to strengthen equality and human rights in Wales’, and we, along with the commission and other partners, are working together to deliver it, and will continue to do so.
I welcome the commission's business plan for 2013-14, as it continues to build on the strong and distinct equality agenda that is evolving in Wales. As many Members have mentioned, this is despite the halving of the commission's budget by the UK Government, which means that, in Wales, the staffing complement has been cut by almost half, to 15.
The commission's priority for working with the public sector to achieve positive outcomes is vitally important. The role of the public authorities is essential in leading the way on driving further change and building on the progress made to date. This will also greatly assist with our requirement to publish a Welsh Ministers’ report, which will report on progress in implementing the public sector duty by December 2014. The commission’s monitoring work will play a key role in its production. A successful Welsh Ministers’ report can be achieved only through partnership working. However, as Ann Jones has said, we have a long way to go.
This debate demonstrates how well respected the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Wales is, as well as the critical role it has in ensuring that Wales leads the way in defending and advocating equality and inclusion. Julie Morgan made the important points about the links between inequality and poverty, and I can say that, next month, I will issue a statement on Gypsies and Travellers.
I would like to thank everyone at the commission and the Wales committee for their continued hard work and support. Finally, and with great pleasure, I am pleased to inform the Chamber that the commission is hosting a reception after Plenary for Assembly Members to meet the Wales committee. I encourage Assembly Members to take the opportunity to attend.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree amendment 1. Does any Member object? There is no objection. Amendment 1 is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Amendment 1 agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree amendment 2. Does any Member object? There is no objection. Therefore, amendment 2 is agreed.
Amendment 2 agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree amendment 3. Does any Member object? There is no objection. Therefore, amendment 3 is agreed.
Amendment 3 agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree amendment 4. Does any Member object? There is no objection. Therefore, amendment 4 is agreed.
Amendment 4 agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion NDM5327 as amended:
To propose that the National Assembly of Wales:
1. Notes the Equality and Human Rights Commission Wales Annual Review ’Working Together to Strengthen Equality and Human Rights in Wales’.
2. Calls on the Welsh Government to improve the standard and availability of support services for victims of sexual violence.
3. Recognises the need to encourage victims of hate crime and domestic abuse to report such incidents.
4. Calls on the Welsh Government to investigate ways to ensure the membership of public sector boards more accurately reflect the communities they serve.
5. Calls on the Welsh Government to develop policies to tackle gender stereotyping in all forms of employment opportunities.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion as amended. Does any Member object? There is no objection. Therefore, the motion as amended is agreed.
Motion NDM5327 as amended agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
The following amendment has been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Elin Jones.
Motion NDM5326 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Notes the annual report of the Commissioner for Older People for 2012/13, a copy of which was laid in Table Office on 4 September 2013.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Deputy Minister for Social Services to move the motion; Gwenda Thomas.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I move the motion.
I welcome the annual report of the Commissioner for Older People in Wales, ’Standing Up, Speaking Out’, which outlines the work that has been done over the past year to support older people in Wales. This work includes scrutinising policy and legislation produced by the Welsh Government, and providing guidance to local authorities on the one hand and individual casework on the other. This demonstrates the significant impact that the commissioner is having on the lives of older people on a daily basis.
The commissioner’s annual report raises some key challenges for us in the Welsh Government. I would like to share with you what we, as a Government, are doing in relation to older people. The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill will deliver the Welsh Government’s commitment for social services in Wales to improve the wellbeing of people of all ages who need care and support. That also includes carers who may need support as part of families and communities. The Bill will transform the way in which social services are delivered by promoting people’s independence to give them a stronger voice and control. The Bill will also, for the first time, provide for a coherent legal framework for adult protection. It will seek to ensure that there is the same consistent, co-ordinated and robust multi-agency response to adult protection cases, including the abuse of older people.
The responses to the consultation on the Bill demonstrated overwhelming support for powers to ensure that practitioners could access adults suspected of being abused or neglected. I now intend to include a provision that will enable social services to enter a property to speak with someone who they think could be at risk to determine whether a person is making decisions freely.
Leadership is paramount, and the Bill will therefore seek to establish a national independent safeguarding board to advise Ministers on the adequacy and effectiveness of safeguarding arrangements and on action to strengthen policy and improve practice. Safeguarding adults boards would be established with a specific focus on adults at risk to provide for effective collaboration and multi-agency working.
As I announced in my Cabinet written statement on 12 June, I have decided to further extend provision for statutory advocacy further through a Government amendment for Stage 2 scrutiny. Therefore, I accept the amendment suggested by Elin Jones. I have asked the commissioner to set up and chair a task group to provide me with independent advice on the options for the business case for advocacy for older people, a commitment in our White Paper, ‘Sustainable Social Services’. The task group is working closely with the expert advisory group on advocacy, which I jointly established with the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty. Secondly, based on her report on escalating concerns, I asked the commissioner to establish a task group to provide independent advice on recommendations on additional guidance required for local authorities when care homes close.
Finally, the commissioner has established a task group to provide me with independent advice on the potential benefits of a declaration of the rights of older people in Wales. We might want to reflect on a short debate led by Darren Millar on this. While, in itself, a Welsh declaration of the rights of older people would have no binding legal effect, it would send very clear signals to statutory bodies and service providers, as well as to older people themselves, about our expectations. I have received the task group’s recommendations and am currently considering my response—very recently, in the last day or so. I will keep Assembly Members informed of progress.
The commissioner raises some areas of concern in her additional state of the nation report and serious cases briefing, which I received last week. I would like to reassure that National Assembly and the commissioner that the Government is very aware of how important these issues are. I would like to take this opportunity to provide further detail on the robust approach that we are taking to build up individuals and communities’ well-being and resilience, to reduce dependence and improve overall health in Wales. We all need resources to bring well-being within our reach, and we must also create conditions in which all older people can flourish. This approach—a desire to improve social, economic and environmental well-being to the benefit of the people and communities of Wales—is at the heart of the Welsh Government strategy for older people. Delivering improvements in older people’s well-being can only be achieved by concerted effort and commitment on behalf of the Welsh Government departments and our partners. The evidence from the commissioner’s ‘Dignified Care: Two Years On’ report, published earlier this year, is encouraging, but there is no room for complacency. The report rightly identifies that there is still more work to be done.
I am pleased to see that, since the original report was published in 2011, the focused attention that has been given to this important issue is making a real difference to the people using our health services at the time they are most vulnerable. I congratulate the commissioner on the real impact that she has made since her appointment in 2012. Our ambition when we created the post of commissioner was that older people would have a strong advocate and champion of their rights. This report clearly shows us what the commissioner has done and what she plans to do in the future to ensure that we achieve that vision.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have selected the amendment to the motion and I call on Lindsay Whittle to move amendment 1 tabled in the name of Elin Jones.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to prevent and deal with the abuse of older people, whether physical, emotional, psychological or financial.
I move amendment 1.
I thank the Deputy Minister for accepting the amendment, too—that is very positive. A good start.
I welcome the commissioner’s report, ‘Standing Up, Speaking Out’. It clearly shows us how active she has been with the support of her team in engaging directly with older people in Wales. She is almost fierce in her commitment to ensuring that the voice of older people will be heard, and at the centre of decisions about planning and provision of health and social care services. I am particularly pleased that she has also pointed out the plain fact that older people’s expressed needs do not just centre on health and social services; we need to take on board the fact that their priority need, second to that of care, was suitable housing, including the provision of aids and adaptations. I hope that the Welsh Government will take note of the fact that there are certain local authorities—I will not name them—that are not up to scratch in their responses to older people’s need for aids and adaptations, which will enable them to live as independently as possible in their own homes. On this point, the commissioner’s report recommends that the Health and Social Care Committee takes steps to improve the way that home adaptations are funded and delivered in Wales.
In moving the amendment I know that the commissioner, in writing her report, focused on what she sees as her priorities for action, and while there is a brief reference to protecting older people from harm, there is no mention of the pressing need to prevent and deal with the abuse of older people, often by close relatives. I welcome your statement today, Deputy Minister, about extra powers. A recent report stated that the abuse of older people was all too common, and that it included not just physical abuse, but, in many cases, older people being subjected to psychological abuse, emotional abuse and financial abuse.
Last week I, along with other Members, attended a presentation from Age Cymru on elderly victims of scams. Some of the cases we heard about were absolutely horrendous. There were scores of older people being ripped off for thousands and thousands of pounds—in one case, over £0.25 million, by what I can only describe, and I have to be careful, as unscrupulous and despicable criminals. One of the potential allies that Age Cymru mentioned in combating these scams was the older people’s commissioner, and I have no doubt that she would be only too keen to join forces with Age Cymru and, hopefully, with the Welsh Government—I have no doubt there—in helping to provide protection for older people against these fraudsters. There is no place in any civilised society for these people, who, quite frankly, belong in the gutter.
I would like the commissioner, with the assistance of the Welsh Government, to find out and report on the scale and type of abuse of older people in Wales. This information will be extremely important in helping all of us to decide what action needs to be taken to prevent, and stamp out, this type of totally unacceptable behaviour.
Another feature of the report that I was hoping to see was a clear indication from the commissioner that adult safeguarding boards should not be merged with children’s safeguarding boards. I know that that option is still possibly on the table. The Children’s Commissioner for Wales has already opposed any merging of the two boards in his submission relating to the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill, and we, on this side, at least, will be supporting that position. I shall end there, but I hope that all parties will support this motion, as I am sure they will.
Thank you, Deputy Minister, for introducing this debate this afternoon on this important report. I also want to pay tribute on behalf of my party to the work of the older people’s commissioner, Sarah Rochira, and her team, which they do very effectively. The title of the report, ‘Standing Up Speaking Out’, shouts about their work. The fact that it is also being described as an ‘impact and reach report’, rather than just an annual report, shows the relentless focus that the commissioner and her team have on having some good, positive, outcomes as a result of their work. It is not simply a list of activities, which some other reports that cross Assembly Members’ desks can sometimes describe.
I am pleased to say that we will be supporting Plaid Cymru’s amendment. Abuse in any way of elderly and vulnerable people is completely unacceptable, and you are quite right, Lindsay, to refer to the cross-party group meeting that was held in the Assembly last week on the Scams and Swindles campaign, which Age Cymru and others have been advocating, and which we all ought to support as Assembly Members. One of the startling facts in the public domain is that it is estimated that there are about 39,000 cases of abuse in Wales on an annual basis, but only about 5,000 of those are reported anywhere and followed up. We have to get smarter and better in identifying abuse where it is taking place and deal appropriately with it. Therefore, we will be supporting your amendment.
I was pleased to read in the commissioner’s report about the future work programme that she wants to continue to take forward. We have seen lots of focus on dignified care, and quite rightly—unfortunately, the standards of care in some hospitals in Wales has not been up to scratch and has not been good enough. However, it is pleasing to note that the commissioner has identified that improvements have been made in Wales in the past 12 months. It might not be consistent everywhere, but it is making steps in the right direction. I am pleased that the older people’s commissioner will be continuing to look at that in coming years, to make sure that the recommendations in the original ‘Dignified Care?’ report are followed up.
I was pleased also to recognise this new focus and the review that she has announced on residential care, making sure that the quality of care and quality of life is right for older people who find themselves in a residential care setting. I hope that she will be able to draw on some of the work that the Health and Social Care Committee has done on this subject, particularly in terms of the impact of closures of care homes on older people and the massive burden that that can be, not just to the older people themselves, but to the families in seeking to find alternative accommodation. I am looking forward to working with the commissioner on the residential care review, and I hope to be able to chip in, based on the experiences that I have had in my constituency of care home closures and some of the poor and positive experiences of residential care that my constituents have reported to me.
I was also pleased to note the reference to the fact that there had been a dementia lead appointed by the commissioner in the past 12 months, because we know that there are growing numbers of people who will face life with dementia in the future, and it is important that we embed a culture of understanding, both in the NHS and social care services, about dementia and how we can overcome or ameliorate the impact of that in an individual’s life.
The commissioner has, of course, been busy in other ways, too. On NHS reconfiguration, the report talks about her approach to health boards to ensure that they were taking into account the views of older people and specifically seeking them out, because we all know that the impact of health service changes can sometimes be disproportionate on older people, particularly older people in more rural parts of Wales who do not necessarily have access to appropriate transport provision. Therefore, I am pleased once again that the older people’s commissioner, in the next 12 months, will be focusing on this element of access to healthcare, which is very important.
Other Members have referred to advocacy, but I want to thank you, Deputy Minister, for the way in which you have taken forward the declaration of the rights of older people issue, and I am very grateful for the update that you have been able to provide to the Assembly today. We have to focus on this issue in the future and publishing a declaration of rights that all Assembly Members can subscribe to, support and advocate for is very important. I look forward to future developments on that and the implementation of it as soon as possible.
I welcome this opportunity to contribute today. There is broad agreement that it has been a successful year in terms of profile and awareness raising, further establishing the older person’s commissioner as the go-to voice on a whole range of really important issues affecting older people in Wales. However, while that wider scope of activity means that many potential talking points emerge from this report, given the time available, I just want to focus on a few key areas.
With dignity in care rightly at the forefront of the current public debate on the health service, I was particularly reassured by this report’s conclusion that the tier 1 status afforded to this agenda across the Welsh NHS is actually delivering real results on the ground. The commissioner clearly understands that crucial lesson from the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and the Francis inquiry that, above all, what is needed is genuine cultural change and a zero-tolerance approach to poor care across the board.
As the report recognises, for far too long we have lived with the situation where really fantastic care in one setting is juxtaposed with really substandard care in another—a contrast that is sometimes most evident within different wards of the same hospital. While I am pleased that there is recognition that this variability must be addressed, on the other hand, the commissioner is probably also right that the storm of activity in the wake of Mid Staffordshire has led to too many, albeit well-meaning, separate initiatives promoting dignity and good care.
However, it is important, too, that we simply do not lose focus when the dust begins to settle and the media circus moves on. Clearly, the local health boards’ annual quality statements have an important role to play in this regard, but the commissioner is right to say that it is now no longer good enough just to look at survey data on NHS satisfaction levels and take them at face value. Indeed, we need to get much better at continually monitoring the true patient experience through listening to and learning from the experiences of older people.
That basic principle of always ensuring that the voice of older people is at the forefront of decision making is something that is equally applicable to the closure of care homes—an area where I have worked closely with the commissioner of late. Indeed, St Dunstan’s Care Centre in Griffithstown is closing, with the current operator, HC-One, having announced its intention to withdraw back in July, just two years after it took over the home in the wake of the Southern Cross collapse. I have been really grateful for the commissioner’s personal input and involvement in this matter, not just in terms of monitoring the handling of the closure and ensuring that the health board and the local authority carry out their duties under the current care home guidance, but also in providing practical support to a number of my constituents who have contacted her office to express their concerns.
For me, the whole process has served, once again, to underline the really cruel way in which some of the most vulnerable groups in society—in this case, older people with dementia—bear the brunt of hard-headed commercial choices, often taken by businessmen in board rooms who are totally detached from the brutal repercussions of their decision making in places like Torfaen. I very much welcome the fact that the commissioner is embarking on a legal review of residential care. I am pleased, too, that she has recognised the need to strengthen existing guidance on closures and that she is part of a working group looking at the many issues involved, just as I support the Deputy Minister for Social Services’ recently announced plans to strengthen safeguards on the financial viability of care home providers. More fundamentally, however, I know that the commissioner agrees with me that we must increase the diversity of care home provision in Wales over the long term. This is an area that we explored in the health committee’s inquiry into residential care. While I recognise that there are no easy answers, in my view, we must move on from this over-dependence on private sector care home operators, which are simply able to cut and run from communities the minute that the going gets tough.
Finally, I welcome the commissioner’s focus on public transport provision. I am currently dealing with a number of cases where older people have essentially been left marooned in their own communities, unable to access GPs, a pharmacy, or their local library, because bus services are withdrawn, or routes are altered with seemingly little regard for the very people who are most adversely affected.
While we all recognise that economic times are tough, these are precisely the kind of decisions that can leave older people more, rather than less reliant on the state for support. Whether through the network of older people’s fora, or some other mechanism, we really need to up our game when it comes to including older people in this vital debate around future local transport provision.
May I also welcome the opportunity to take part in this afternoon’s debate? I am also thankful for the annual report. All of us who have spoken, but most importantly perhaps, Lindsay and Darren welcome the opportunity, as opposition spokespeople, to meet regularly with the commissioner and to discuss issues of concern.
I also want to acknowledge, as others have, the positive steps that have been taken since last year’s report, particularly with regard to the announcement that the Deputy Minister recently made about advocacy within the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill. The annual report does show that there has been improvement since last year and that there are obviously examples of good practice and I think that we should encourage those examples. Also, there is clear evidence that the wishes and views of older people have been taken into account in actually preparing the report.
I do, however, think that the Deputy Minister is quite right in saying that just because of those positive steps, we should not be complacent. I am sure that the Deputy Minister agrees that, particularly with regard to health and social services, there is more that needs to be done.
I would like to know, given what Lynne Neagle has already said about the attention that has been given to the dignity and care agenda as far as it being a tier 1 priority is concerned, whether the Deputy Minister is satisfied from discussions with the Minister for Health and Social Services that health boards are addressing some of the issues that were outlined in the ‘Dignified Care?’ report and further reports since then. In 2012, for example, the Royal College of Nursing report detailed the reduction in the CPD hours that were being given to nurses, which meant that a greater percentage of nurses were stating that they were not totally satisfied regarding their ability as far as levels of skills and knowledge were concerned, and also specialist training to deal with dementia patients in particular.
I also accept that the document outlines the need for data to be made available to Government. There is particular mention of ONS data being used for the monitoring of excess winter deaths in Wales. Yet, a consultation from the ONS during the past month has outlined that it will be doing away with three of the health statistics’ populations, which would have helped to identify whether there are issues within the older population. Therefore, is the Welsh Government actually making representations to the ONS with regard to the removal of those requirements?
Darren made a good point that we should not necessarily think of older people merely in the context of health and social care. There is a need to look at other areas as well, as some Members have already outlined. I must say that my experience in some of those areas is not particularly positive at the moment. I know that the UK Government, for example, is moving forward with the agenda that has been there for a number of years with regard to the reliance on internet facilities for many of the benefits and many of the pensions. My wife spent an hour last week with an elderly relative—is she ‘elderly’ at 65? I am an older person as well, because I am 51. They were filling in pensions requirements for the Department for Work and Pensions. That was for a retired teacher. I accept that older people are not IT illiterate, but there are some people who genuinely have difficulties with regard to this movement towards IT dependency.
I can also say that, in my local authority area last week, I came across a situation where the local authority was devising the reconfiguration of services and had given elderly residents, including a 98-year-old, three days’ notice of a meeting to change the whole provision of their services. Therefore, I am not satisfied at the moment that some of the good messages coming out of this report, and from the Welsh Government in particular, are being put into practice even by local authorities in Wales. There is more that needs to be done. I welcome the commissioner’s focus on care, dignity and advocacy and I welcome and appreciate also the commissioner’s understanding of the importance of independence, but, in reality, we will be measured in terms of what the delivery is like on the ground, not necessarily what is contained in annual reports.
It seems that consensus has broken out in congratulations regarding this report, and I am glad to see it. I think that we are all aware of the work that the older people’s commissioner has done not just to identify the usual suspects, but to go around Wales and to find older people, of any age. You are identifying yourself as an older person at the age of 50 of 51, but, for me, you are quite young, and I have to say that I used to work with the mother of the Assembly Member who has just spoken and I recall her talking about him as quite a small, naughty boy. [Laughter.]
Anyway, moving swiftly on, I think that she has worked very hard in identifying new areas of work that, perhaps, have been neglected in the past. I look at the work that she has done with Stonewall, for example, which was very good work indeed. However, at the same time, I think that we have all heard what the Deputy Minister has said, and we are looking at the strategy for older people, which is in its third phase now. There is a lot of agreement now on what should be done for older people.
I make the distinction too that there are older people who are fit, healthy, having enjoyable lives and are outgoing, and there are quite a lot of them about, I think. At the same time, we have to look at the more vulnerable people and realise, of course, that for all of us there may be a time when we move into transition in that way. Transition is quite important here, because we talk about it with younger people quite a lot, and with regard to changing from young adulthood to older adulthood, but we do not look too often at the pathway moving from your 50s to your 60s, to your 70s, to your 80s and, sometimes, if you are very fortunate, to your 90s. As I said, some people are very healthy, but many get additional illnesses and problems, and some of those problems are financial, because you sometimes will talk to an older person who will say quite clearly, ‘Do you know what, my pension looked good when I first started taking it, but it’s not looking so good now?’ Therefore, the financial hardships that they endure on a static income—and it is a static income; that is important—have to be looked at as well.
All the same, I really congratulate the commissioner on the work that she and her staff have done. Things have been said already that I totally agree with. I would just like to concentrate on two particular aspects. The first is dementia. We have to go on looking at continuing care for people with dementia. Again, this is about transition. At some stages, people are quite happy living in their own homes with support, and that can go on until the day that they die. That does not always happen, and I am glad that we are focusing now on continuing care for people with dementia. I think that I have said this before; my own mother spent two long periods with dementia in Wrexham Maelor Hospital—in a locked ward in the end—and I wish that the facilities that are there now, which would have enhanced her life enormously even in that background, had been there then. There is a real recognition now of that sort of need. However, I think that we have to go on with the commissioner raising these issues and then the Welsh Government looking at how they can be responded to—and responding to them very well indeed, as is recognised by the commissioner.
The other aspect that we need to look at—as has already been mentioned—is public transport. Public transport for people of all ages, if they live in rural areas, restricts them in many ways. Again, it is particularly so for older people. Sometimes, people have got to an age when they do not drive any more anyway. They might have had a car 10, five or three years ago, or even six months ago, but they do not have one now, and suddenly find that their options are restricted. We are talking about changes in services, including in health. I have no problem at all with providing better and changed facilities. At the same time, we must enable people to get to them, particularly older people, in a way that is comfortable and easy for them. Yes, I do congratulate the commissioner, and I also congratulate the Welsh Government on many of the things that it has done thus far, but this is an ongoing story. I hope that when the next annual report comes along we will all be saying the same things: that there will still be consensus, that there has been good work done, but that it must continue.
As the Commissioner for Older People in Wales states, when older people have a strong voice, they have greater choice and control over their lives, and it can ensure that their needs are not ignored when decisions are made, continuing to engage with and shape their communities. My proposed community care Bill had recognised the need to offer carers and service users choice, control and independence, allowing people to choose whether they wanted to be in control and giving them the support to do that. As I said in last week’s debate on the general principles of the social services and well-being Bill,
‘Local authorities are currently required to offer direct payments as one option for social care, but it is limited in its current form as it does not offer the freedom that Personal Budgets and self-directed support could do’.
I also said that,
‘there is growing evidence that local authorities wish to explore the use of co-production, social enterprise and pooled budgets for direct payments.’
As the commissioner recognises, participatory budgeting is also a great way for older people to engage with and shape their communities, ensuring that limited funds go where they are most needed. The commissioner stated that the nation report talks about how so-called softer services can be a lifeline for older people and can help them to stay well and in their communities for longer. In the current budgetary climate we must work smarter, developing strategy and delivering services across the sectors, if these vital preventive services are to be protected.
The commissioner has previously highlighted a widespread lack of awareness of dementia, its symptoms, its scale and its impact on families, resulting in fear and stigma. However, unlike in Scotland and England, this has not yet been matched with Government funding to help fast-track dementia-supportive communities. In Wales, the ageing well network has received £50,000 from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to grow a dementia-supportive community, knowledge-sharing network in Wales, but continued support from Welsh Government will be needed to ensure that the network thrives and that Wales can become a world-class dementia-supportive country.
In terms of the age-friendly community and dementia-supportive community agenda, we only have to look at previous bad design with the Maes in Caernarfon, and now new paving in Pontypridd blamed for a spate of falls after 20 shoppers have been taken to hospital. Making all communities dementia-friendly would be good for all older people. We need to think differently about the design of our built environment if we are to take older people’s needs into account and plan effectively for the increased older population. Research has shown that a fear of falling is one of the main barriers to older people spending time outside, and leads to disability and decreased mobility. Making sure that our pavements are safe to walk on and that our roads are clear of ice and rotting leaves is a simple but pivotal challenge in reducing older people’s fear of falling. Local authorities need to be given stronger guidance, in conjunction with expert advice, on creating a built environment that reflects the needs of all older people, especially people with dementia. The older people’s commissioner established the Ageing Well in Wales programme to lead the way in developing age-friendly and dementia-supportive communities. How, therefore, will Welsh Government Ministers show their continued support?
The care home review announced by the older people’s commissioner is to be welcomed. She rightly states that the quality of life for some is unacceptable, although she also highlights excellent examples of care in both private and public sectors. Social care is now provided mainly by the private sector in Wales. As the chair of Care Forum Wales said last year, radical reform of the planning and delivery of services is long overdue, and we need to create a culture where the independent sector works in true partnership with public sector bodies.
Age Cymru, as we have heard, has also rightly highlighted the commissioner’s focus on independent advocacy and on protection from criminal scams. With the Prime Minister issuing a UK challenge on dementia at the Dementia 2012 conference, and the Welsh Government stating that it supports the desire of people to live independent, fulfilled lives within their own communities for as long as possible, we must develop and deliver together a care sector that is fit for purpose, flexible, diverse and responsive to the needs of our changing and ageing population.
I am also pleased to contribute to today’s debate on the commissioner’s annual report, in my capacity as Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee. I, too, welcome the report’s title: ‘Standing Up Speaking Out’. It is aptly named, because it is what we expect her to do on behalf of older people, but she also encourages older people to do exactly that.
Since the beginning of the fourth Assembly, the committee has taken a keen interest in the important work undertaken by the commissioner and her office. It is notable, however, that the committee has sought to do more than merely take an interest in her work. Members and the commissioner have worked together to seek a prominent place for the older person in policy and service development, and to ensure that the Government and statutory bodies are held to account for their work in the field of health and social care. This has been evidenced by the close working relationship on the committee’s major inquiry into residential care and Stage 1 scrutiny of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill. I will refer to both of these a little later.
As a starting point, however, it speaks volumes to me that the commissioner has chosen to refer to this year’s annual report as an ‘impact and reach’ report. As in previous years, the committee held a scrutiny session with the commissioner on the work of her office at the start of this term. The clear theme running through that session was the commissioner’s focus on action and delivery. Her determination to ensure that public services impact positively on the lives of older people is clearly illustrated by the recent progress review of her predecessor’s work, ‘Dignified Care?’ The need to treat older people with care, dignity and respect in any setting is paramount. Although her review notes that this agenda is being taken seriously by the health service, she told us that further work is needed before consistent improvement is seen on the ground. The committee noted the commissioner’s call to move forward from plans and initiatives towards tangible action, particularly at ward level. In other words: stop the talking and get on with the work. This will be tested next year when the commissioner delivers her final assessment of Welsh health boards’ responses to the ‘Dignified Care?’ recommendations. We welcome the fact that the commissioner is a constructive and committed scrutineer who is constantly pushing our public services not only to talk about improvement but to deliver that improvement on the ground.
I noted a little earlier that the commissioner had worked closely with the committee on two of its most significant pieces of work: the inquiry into residential care for older people and scrutiny of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill. With regard to residential care, we welcome the commissioner’s intention to undertake a formal review of the quality of life and care of older people in care homes in Wales. I believe that this is a clear illustration of where the work of the committee and that of the commissioner can dovetail. The committee shone a light on an area that required improvement and recommended steps to be taken to achieve progress. The commissioner is now taking the next step in the scrutiny process, seeking evidence of where improvements have been made and of where further work is needed. As has already been mentioned, this will help inform our follow-up work on this inquiry, and we hope that it will lead to tangible and measureable outcomes for older people and their families. In my view, this example provides a blueprint for future joint working: cooperation between Assembly committees and independent scrutineers like our statutory commissioners. It can only strengthen our ability to scrutinise the Government and public bodies in as robust and constructive a fashion as we ought to.
The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill has been described as a Bill for generations. I note that the committee shares concerns similar to those articulated in the commissioner’s annual report in relation to that Bill. However, Stage 2 proceedings have now commenced, and we look forward to working with the commissioner as individual Members to ensure that this Bill is the best it can be for the people of Wales, whatever their age.
I close by referring to the words of one of my predecessors as committee chair. He has noted in previous debates on the commissioner's annual report that the office does best when it provides the grit that allows us to hear from those who know where things are not as they are to be. During our session this year, the commissioner noted for the first time that she had concerns about the capacity of her office to continue to undertake the breadth of work carried out to date. At this stage, a preliminary flag has been waved. We as a committee will continue to keep an eye on this matter to ensure that the office of the commissioner continues to provide the grit that the system needs and that it is resourced adequately to do so.
Again, I am really pleased to endorse this report. It is another report that is very well written, and another report that my father will have on my return. I hope that he will tell his friends about the excellent work that is going on here in Wales.
With a Royal Voluntary Service ‘Shaping Our Age’ report asserting that a deeply worrying 75% of older people in Wales feel that they are not consulted on services and issues that matter to them, the Commissioner for Older People in Wales could not be more important to us and to the people out there in protecting and promoting our older population. Her report outlines a year of work in which she has successfully managed to instil the importance of dignity and safety in NHS care for older people in Wales. We learn that, for too long, this has been seen as a secondary consideration in patient experience. Thanks to the work of Sarah Rochira and her team, however, and her report, ‘Dignified Care’, it has now become a cornerstone in the delivery of care in Wales. Sarah Rochira has firmly focused attention on the person within the patient, and the patient within the person.
In the progress report, ‘Dignified Care: Two Years On’, the commissioner shows that she has found much improvement. The report, however, outlines several ongoing concerns. More action is needed to empower ward managers—those working on the front line of delivery—to ensure that they are equipped to deliver safe and compassionate care. The RCN survey of 2,086 nurses found that 46% of sisters were unable to authorise additional staffing levels. The Welsh Government really does need to hand power back to those who are best placed to read the situation on their own wards. This marries neatly with concerns raised over staffing levels. The Royal College of Nursing’s Wales survey found that only 26% of those surveyed felt that staffing levels were sufficient to allow them to undertake their duties effectively, and 55% in all disagreed with the statement.
In the ‘Dignified Care: Two Years On’ report, the commissioner raises concerns that there is insufficient evidence of palpable improvements. These need to be forthcoming, with regular, public engagement, as has taken place, with regard to the adequacy of staffing levels. A concern raised with me only last week, when Kirsty Williams and I took part in the Policy Forum for Wales seminar on the next steps for end-of-life and palliative care, was that many care and support workers are now going into the homes of elderly people who are suffering with cancer, dementia or both, and many other complex conditions, and they often feel that they do not have the necessary training and skill levels to be able to offer the comprehensive support required on a one-to-one basis for that individual person. That leaves support workers feeling sad, demoralised and isolated. I would ask the Deputy Minister what plans are in place to ensure that each and every support worker is given this training, so that they are able to deal with focusing on the person within the patient.
One of the key areas of work that the commissioner plans to take forward in 2013-14 is to increase awareness of the abuse of older people. Lindsay Whittle, you really spoke well and passionately about the evidence that we have already had. It is fair to mention the travesty that David Cornock saw with regard to his own family. It has happened in my family, where people have been taken at face value and trusted and then they have been left in a terrible situation. We have to stamp out these rogue traders; we have to stamp out cold calling. I have already submitted written Assembly questions regarding how we can look at increasing the number of no-cold-calling areas. Too often, older people are the victims of these cruel swindles. I understand that there are 14 to 15 people on bail across Wales, as we speak, who are guilty of the most heinous crimes. I do not want to see them on bail; I want to see them behind bars.
I, like everyone else in the Chamber, am regularly struck by the breadth and depth of the work undertaken by Sarah and her team at the older people commissioner’s office. I feel that I must put on record—I think I already have—my appreciation and admiration, and that of people out there, of the strategic and personable way in which she consults with, consoles and champions older people in Wales. I would like to thank also the people whom she has engaged with across the whole of Wales, because they have not been frightened to come forward and give evidence. Her report really does tell you of first-hand evidence of a lack of communication and of the issues facing older people that make their lives difficult. It is about cutting through all that nonsense. From reading this report, it is fair to say that the Commissioner for Older People in Wales has had a very busy year and I look forward to seeing the outcomes that she continues to achieve, and good luck to her.
Like many before me, I also pay tribute to the work of Sarah Rochira and her team. I welcome her initiatives, such as the engagement roadshow, through which she has reached out to some 4,000 older people. I am sure that the community work that she has done has informed her work and allowed her to present this report to us recently. Engaging with the people of Wales in their communities is, of course, the No. 1 priority—not only for her, but for all of us. Those who take the time to open up and talk to the older people’s commissioner need to have some feedback. I think that the annual report and the reports that Sarah is doing are an ideal vehicle to see that happening.
I want to talk briefly about an issue that I have come across recently—well, I have known about it, but the issue is how we are dealing with it in constituencies—and that is loneliness and isolation. It is perhaps the single biggest danger to the general health, wellbeing and happiness of older people within our society. Research by the Royal Voluntary Service found that loneliness, particularly among men, is very problematic. It estimates that some 8,600 older people will spend Christmas day alone this year. How many of us will think about that when we have our families around us? Loneliness also leads to increased mental health issues, frailty, and often, for many of them, suicide. Over the summer recess, I spent an afternoon at the Royal Voluntary Service’s cosy club in my constituency in my home town. In between games of bingo, which I had not done for some time—that was perhaps a misspent youth on the promenade in Rhyl—and very many cups of tea, which is always a pleasurable thing, the older people using the club told me with absolute passion what a lifeline the club was, as were the outings they were able to go on from the club. They told me about the challenges that they face and what they can do as a club and a group of people to help each other. High on their list was just feeling that somebody cared about them. They felt physically a lot better walking out of the club than they perhaps did walking into the club. That was probably only because somebody had spent time with them, just to sit and talk or maybe somebody had spoken to them about what was happening in day-to-day events and asked whether they had read the news or read what was happening in the local papers. That is something that we have to realise: we all have people around us, but, if you have nobody around you, whom do you share that little titbit of information with? To whom do you say, ‘In my opinion, I think this.’? Who responds to you? This is what the cosy club—I cannot think of a better name for it, as I think that it was really nice and cosy—was doing. It is not a difficult service to run, but the potential benefits are unlimited for those people. I am sure that there are hundreds of projects like that across Wales that are all trying to do the same sort of thing. Therefore, I urge the Deputy Minister and the Welsh Government to work with the older persons’ commissioner to see what can be done to improve services aimed at reducing loneliness in older people. To develop those first-class services, in conjunction with the third sector, does not take a lot of money, it just takes somebody’s time and somebody’s ability to sit and put a programme together that older people might want to do. You might be surprised at what they will do once they get involved in that club. However, in doing that, the benefits could also be a contribution to the invest-to-save agenda and it could ease some of the all-too-burdensome increasing pressure on our NHS. That is just one very brief area of work of the older persons’ commissioner. However, I feel that those are areas that she will address and in which she will provide a good service for our older people across Wales.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Deputy Minister to reply to the debate.
I thank Members for their contributions this afternoon. Lindsay Whittle started on a good point about the voice of older people being heard. I could not agree more with that. On your points about aids and adaptations, you will know that I am bringing forward an amendment in order to include that. You mentioned the abuse and neglect of older people. In response, I would like to mention the robust legal framework that the Bill will provide, and the setting up of the national independent safeguarding board. At the moment, I am seeking independent advice from the expert advisory group, which I would be more than happy to share with Members.
Darren Millar talked about the positive outcomes achieved by the commissioner herself, and I agree with that. He mentioned ‘Dignified Care: Two Years On’ and the improvement, which is encouraging. He also mentioned the closure of care homes, and I would like to quickly mention the opportunity presented by the Care Bill that is going through Westminster, and the positive relationship with Norman Lamb that I have been able to have in order to ensure that we get to the best place possible and in order that we can ensure the continuity of care where there is provider failure. When we come to discussing the legislative competence motions, we can go into that in more detail.
On the declaration of rights, I am really excited about this and I believe that Wales can lead the way in driving that agenda.
Lynne Neagle also talked about dignity in care and the fact that there was a need for a cultural change—and there still is. I agree wholeheartedly that that cultural change needs to be complete and needs to touch all sectors.
Lynne Neagle also mentioned care home closures. On the regulation and inspection Bill and the proposals within it—and we will all want to look at that—providers will be required to produce annual reports and it will be a requirement that that report includes a reference to their viability so that we can measure the viability of the market. That information will then be collected and looked at on a Wales-wide basis, so that we can measure the market and ensure that there is adequate provision within Wales.
Aled Roberts talked about advocacy, the ‘Dignified Care’ report and the RCN report. He also mentioned the ONS health statistics, and I will take that up with the Minister when I get a chance to see him tomorrow. I take his point about the internet and online form filling, as well as the important point that Aled Roberts made about the short notice given of a change in service provision. That will not do.
Sandy Mewies talked about the work with Stonewall, which was very important indeed, and I commend the commissioner for that. She also mentioned the third stage of the strategy for older people. This strategy really is respected not only in Wales, but in the UK and in Europe. We now know that we have reference site status for that strategy, which could, next year, attract European funding.
Mark Isherwood talked about voice and control and independence. Interestingly, he mentioned co-production and social enterprise. I am sure that there is the opportunity there to look into that and the Bill provides it.
Ann talked about dementia-supportive communities and there are good examples of that. I do not have time now to share some of those. Again, Mark Isherwood welcomed the care home review.
The Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, David Rees, talked about the impact and reach report, and how the commission has used this report. You also welcomed the formal review of care homes, as I do.
Janet Finch-Saunders, I really take the very serious point that you made about readable reports. I would defend your father’s right and everybody’s right to accessible information. It is an important point to make. We have been investing heavily in training and workforce development. That investment, I think, has paid off with regard to the development and training, not only of social workers, but social care workers as well. Ann Jones talked about engaging with people; that is what it is all about, is it not? The commissioner does engage with people and she is accessible.
We are all familiar with the reference to loneliness, of course, and we know what the consequences of loneliness can be and how important it is to be able to chat sometimes over a cup of tea. Therefore, in conclusion, I would like to thank the Commissioner for Older People in Wales for her tireless enthusiasm in championing the interests of older people in Wales and raising awareness of issues that older people have told her are important to them.
I look forward to collaborating with the commissioner and her team over the next year. I am confident that she is assisting us in making Wales an excellent nation to grow old in.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree amendment 1. Does any Member object? There are no objections, therefore amendment 1 is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Amendment 1 agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion NDM5326 as amended:
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Notes the annual report of the Commissioner for Older People for 2012/13, a copy of which was laid in Table Office on 4 September 2013.
Calls on the Welsh Government to prevent and deal with the abuse of older people, whether physical, emotional, psychological or financial.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion as amended. Does any Member object? There are no objections, therefore the motion as amended is agreed in accordance with Standing Order No. 12.36.
Motion NDM5326 as amended agreed.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
That concludes today’s business. Thank you.
The meeting ended at 18:07.