The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Order. I call the National Assembly to order.
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is in the name of Neil Hamilton
The General Practitioner Crisis in Mid and West Wales
1. Will the First Minister provide an update on what the Welsh Government is doing to assist with the GP crisis in Mid and West Wales? OAQ(5)0137(FM)
He uses the word ‘crisis’, but we have increased investment and are modernising services through our primary care plan. We are working closely with health boards who are responsible for providing services for their populations and who are responsible for ensuring continuity of high-quality care when an independent general practice hands back its business contracts.
I’m grateful to the First Minister for that reply, but, as he knows, fine words butter no parsnips, and, for the people of Dwyfor Meirionnydd, I don’t think that they will derive much consolation from what he said. As he’s aware, a surgery in Porthmadog that served 7,500 people recently announced that it would see only those who are acutely unwell. In Blaenau Ffestiniog, a practice of four doctors has now been reduced to one, with a handful of locums, and, often, there’s nobody available. Over half the GPs in Dwyfor are over 55. Is it not time for the Government to actually get its act together and make the health service fit for the people of Wales in the area of Dwyfor Meirionnydd?
These are independent contractors and they are entitled, of course, to seek help from the local health boards. And, indeed, where those contractors have decided that they no longer wish to provide that service, the health boards across Wales have taken over and provided an equally good, if not better service, as the people of Prestatyn will explain to the Member. But, yes, we know that there are difficulties in recruiting GPs; it’s not an issue that’s confined to Wales. It happens in England, in Northern Ireland and Scotland for that matter as well. We are looking to launch a GP recruitment campaign next month in order to make sure that we can, once again, portray Wales as a good place to be a doctor, and, of course, that we can provide the flexibility that the profession now needs, moving not necessarily towards the independent contractor model as the default model, but to look at other models as well.
I was also busy meeting health forums in the summer, First Minister, and I did ask a question last July, where you quite clearly answered me in regard to the Dulais valley that you’re bringing forward very shortly proposals for a national and an international campaign to market Wales and the NHS as an attractive place to work, and that that work would include recruitment, training and retention of GPs. Could I ask you therefore, First Minister, whether there is progress that has been taken forward through the summer?
Yes, I can confirm that, next month, we will be launching a national and international marketing campaign to highlight Wales as a great place to train, work and live, and the Secretary will be outlining the campaign in his statement next week. It will be a step change in the way we market Wales to aid doctor and GP recruitment.
The communities of Porthmadog, Newtown, Cardigan, Tenby, Pembroke and Pembroke Dock, which have to wait a fortnight these days for an appointment with a GP, do feel that there is a crisis and they feel that there is a problem of recruitment and a shortage of GPs who are willing to stay in those areas. There are particular problems in terms of those who want to become partners in surgeries. So, what can the Government do in addition to recruit GPs, and what is the future of the private surgery as part of the health service in primary care?
When he mentions private surgeries, I’m not sure whether he’s referring to a private practice or—
They are currently private.
The independent contractors.
That, of course, is the current model, and, for some, it will be the future model. But it doesn’t mean that it is the sole model that you can have as regards GPs, because more and more GPs want to be salaried. They wish to have the opportunity to move from one practice to another, and that, of course, is something that the profession has to deal with. We are working with the royal college and the British Medical Association in order to ensure that the campaign that we will launch next week will be the most effective possible. And, of course, we expect the health boards to work with GPs, because, when problems are highlighted, we must ensure that doctors come in as locums, if that is what needs to happen temporarily, in order to secure a sustainable future for surgeries. Of course, the crux of the matter is to ensure that more and more doctors wish to work in Wales and also to ensure that there are plenty models available for them to work in Wales.
First Minister, given that we now have three health boards that have had targeted intervention, and one health board in special measures, this drive to recruit GPs has to talk about recruiting the whole family, because, otherwise, these GPs will not want to work in areas where they feel that there is not going to be substantial back-up, medically, for them in their practices. And we need to make sure that these GPs who want to come to Wales—and you’re right that it’s a great place to live and work—want to bring their families; they want to bring their spouses, their partners, their children, they want them to have good schools to go to, and they want to have good jobs that their partners, their spouses, can also undertake. So, it’s not just one person we’re recruiting, but an entire family, and if we can get that family over the border, we can keep them, but we’ve got to give them that whole package. So, when you look at this retention programme and recruitment programme, will you please bear that in mind, and bear in mind that all these GP practices, whether they’re health board driven or individual private members, will be looking to their hospitals and to the local NHS for the service they need to back up their support for their patients? And, with four out of eight in some kind of trouble, it’s not good news.
What we do know is we don’t have a funding crisis in acute hospitals, as England does, or a doctors strike. But she does make a very important point, if I may, with respect to the Member, in the sense that it is absolutely right that we have to target the family. Many years ago, GPs would come to an area, and, quite often, they had a spouse who wasn’t working. That’s no longer the case. So, being able to provide opportunities for a partner and a good environment for children is important, and that will be very much part of the campaign that we’re launching in October.
2. Will the First Minister provide an update on the support the Welsh Government is currently giving to the Welsh steel industry? OAQ(5)0126(FM)
Yes. The Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure sent Members a full update yesterday on the progress that’s been made since the written statement on 8 August. No progress has yet been made, however, by the UK Government in terms of the issues of energy and pensions.
Thank you for the answer, and I did get that statement. In that letter from the Minister, it says that good progress is being made on a range of projects that have allowed the Welsh plants to become more efficient and capable of withstanding the global competition, including developing a major environmental improvement project for Port Talbot, as well as the research and development investment projects in Port Talbot. These are, I believe and if I understood correctly, to be Plaid Cymru ideas that you have taken on board. I wonder whether you would like to give us information on the development of the power plant, and also the research and development activities at Swansea University, which we proposed to you and you have kindly taken on board?
I don’t think the principle of keeping our steel industry was wholly a Plaid Cymru idea. The issue of a power plant is something that we’ve been discussing for years with Tata, long before, actually, what happened at the beginning of this year. What I can say—and there’s a limit to what I can say at this stage, because negotiations are still ongoing—is that good progress has been made, as far as we are concerned as a Government, on seeking to provide a platform for the long-term future of our steel industry. But it is true to say, of course, that those two issues of energy and pensions are still not resolved at UK Government level.
First Minister, thank you for that answer, and we are seeing Welsh Government support for the steel industry, through these projects, which I very much welcome, in Port Talbot. But also, we’ve seen over the summer, since we last met, financial improvements in the steel industry in Port Talbot as well, where we saw losses of £1 million a day beforehand, and we’re now turning it into profits in a month—I think it was £5 million in July, and perhaps it will a break-even in August. So, we are seeing progress in steel making in Wales. It is viable, as we said. But, when you met with the Prime Minister, you talked about steel, and you’ve already partly mentioned this afternoon the issue of the UK Government’s position. Did she indicate that they will actually be working to improve the situation with the British steel pensions fund, and, also, are they making any movements towards the energy costs, because they were the big issues that any prospective buyer had concerns about?
It’s true. I think it’s fair to say that the previous Prime Minister was very proactive in this regard. We’ve not heard as much from the current Government in terms of these two issues. There have been initial conversations; they’ve not been negative, but I think we need now, in the next few months, to see some progress, particularly on the issue of pensions, and on the issue, of course, of energy prices—a long-held issue. We have correspondence going back five years with the UK Government on the issue of energy prices, not just in the steel industry, but for all our energy-intensive industries. We cannot afford to be seen as an expensive place to manufacture because of energy prices.
Following representation by the Prime Minister, Theresa May, the G20 members agreed to set up a forum to tackle the issues of overcapacity and production in the global steel market, so the UK is moving ahead and getting world leaders to confront and answer the central question as well as dealing with the issues they’ve already been acting on until recently. Now, I accept that the Welsh Government has a more limited role—I do accept that—but it can make a practical difference in my region. Pulling out of a deal that could have saved 200 jobs at Fairwood Fabrications as part of the steel industry’s supply chain connected with Port Talbot probably wasn’t helpful, so can you tell us specifically what you’re doing to assist stability in the Welsh steel supply chain? Thank you.
Well, more than anything else, what we’re doing is assisting Tata, looking at ways that they can save money, particularly with regard to the power plant, seeing what we can do in terms of skills and training, and providing the support that they need in order to be sustainable in the longer term. There are issues regarding other businesses that had their issues with Tata, which unfortunately led to the consequences that the Member has mentioned, but we are confident that we can put together a good package as far as Tata is concerned in terms of what we can offer. But we do now need to see progress on the two major issues, and we need to see that progress pretty soon.
First Minister, Welsh steel and other energy-intensive industries are suffering as a result of EU-imposed carbon reduction policies, which have resulted in higher energy bills. In order to secure the future of Welsh steel, particularly the Tata plant in Port Talbot in my region, we have to drop EU legislation that pushes up our energy costs. First Minister, do you agree with me that the best support that the Welsh Government can give the Welsh steel industry is to press the UK Government to complete the Brexit process as soon as possible?
The biggest threat to the steel industry is tariffs. We export 30 per cent of the steel that we produce. Anything that increases the price of that steel is not going to be helpful. If she’s talking about carbon reduction, what she means is more emissions, so, more coming out of the steelworks than before. If she wants to sell that to the people of Port Talbot and Bridgend, she’s welcome to do it. Indeed, I’m sure there will be opportunities this week where she can explain that policy to people in the area—that she doesn’t want to see emissions controlled properly.
But there’s another point here as well. If you look at other countries in the EU, their energy prices are much lower than ours. If you look at Germany, 20 per cent lower. If you look at Spain, 37 per cent lower. So it’s nothing to do with the EU at all. It’s to do with the UK, and the UK’s alleged energy market. Every single energy-intensive industry is saying to us that it’s not an EU issue—it’s the fact that the UK’s energy industry is not transparent enough, and it’s something that Celsa Steel have raised with me along with others. They say, ‘Look, the UK is an expensive place to do business because of its energy costs’. Now, the regulations are the same across the entire EU, but the fact remains that the UK is more expensive than many other of our competitor countries, and that has to change. That’s not to do with emissions, because Germany and Spain have the same regulations. It’s to do with the way that the market operates in the UK.
First Minister, as you are aware, the plants in Newport East, my constituency, at the Orb works and Llanwern, are very important parts of the overall Tata operations in Wales. Will you assure me that those plants will continue to be properly considered in Welsh Government’s thoughts and actions to ensure a sustainable steel industry in Wales?
Absolutely. The four major sites are hugely important—Shotton as well, of course, and Trostre. They are operations that we want to keep in Wales, producing steel in Wales, exporting steel from Wales. Port Talbot of course has had the most focus because it is the biggest plant and it has had the greatest challenges, but all four plants are important for the future of Wales.
I welcome Tata’s August announcement of investment in the Shotton site to create the next generation of steel coating. I spent a day there just after the announcement and I know the workforce is appreciative of the proactive approach by the Welsh Government in securing this investment. But as you’ve already alluded, I urge the Welsh Government going forward to make sure we consider that a successful and profitable site like Shotton is as integral to any discussions on the future of the steel industry going forward.
Absolutely, and I’ve been, of course, to all four sites. Shotton always was a profitable site, but as it was said to me in Shotton, it would be very difficult for Shotton to operate without the steel from Port Talbot because it would take about six months to source the steel from somewhere else if Port Talbot wasn’t there, with an obvious knock-on effect in terms of loss of customers. So, all four of our steel plants are integrated with each other. It’s hugely important, then, that they all stand together and prosper.
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to questions from the party leaders, and, first of all, leader of the UKIP group, Neil Hamilton.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.
The First Minister and I will be able to agree on one thing at least—in congratulating Wales’s athletes on their performance in the Olympic Games and having won so many gold medals. I don’t expect him to agree with me though that he and his administration should get the wooden spoon for pouring cold water on Wales’s chances of hosting the bid for the Commonwealth Games here in 2026.
Well, the cost involved is some £1.5 billion. At this moment in time, that is a cost that would mean that there would be no money to support major events for the next decade in Wales, pretty much. The Scots were able to host the games at a cheaper price because they didn’t have to build as much as we would have to build. We’d have to build a new athletics stadium, build a new velodrome, build a new pool or extend the pool that we actually have at the moment. So, the capital costs are actually huge, which is why, of course, it makes it very difficult for the Commonwealth Games to go to smaller countries these days. What we wanted was to put in an all-Wales bid—that wasn’t looked at favourably—or indeed to launch a joint bid with cities in England. But, again, that’s not possible under the current rules that operate with Commonwealth Games bids. What I’d prefer to see in the future is to explore ways in which we could bid with other Commonwealth countries in order to host the games.
Well, of course I accept the point about the capital costs of improving Wales’s infrastructure, but that’s justifiable in its own right. We’re talking here about probably something in the order of £1 billion to £1.5 billion amortised over 10 years in the first instance. In the context of a Welsh Government budget of £15 billion a year, we’re talking about peanuts. [Interruption.] What I’m asking the First Minister to do is to raise his sights and raise his game and promote Wales to the world through the exploits of our athletes. And what we need is action from our Government to match that in improving Wales’s sporting infrastructure so that we can host the games in 2026.
I don’t think 10 per cent of our budget is peanuts, with respect to the Member. There’s a significant opportunity cost. For example, we’ve been hugely successful over many years in attracting major events to Wales. We have the Champions League final coming next year and the women’s Champions League final, we’ve had the Ryder Cup, we have the speedway every year, we’ve had the Rugby League World Cup, the rugby union world cup, we’ve had major cricket matches—and all this is done with money. That money would no longer be available for any of those events if we were to host the Commonwealth Games.
It’s much better, to my mind, that we use that money to bring in events such as those. The Champion’s League final, for example, is an enormously useful way of promoting Wales. It’s the largest single sporting event in the world. If we were to go for the Commonwealth Games, the money wouldn’t be there to attract events like that in the future.
Well, I’m sorry to say that the First Minister seems to have a rather static view of his functions as First Minister. Why don’t we take a more dynamic view of these projects? Other countries do and they can see the advantages of raising our aspirations. This is in a long line of projects that the Government has poured cold water on: M4 improvements, Circuit of Wales, and now the Commonwealth Games bid. These are all projects that are too difficult, too hard. Kick them into the long grass. Ultimately—do nothing. Well, it’s not good enough to have a do-nothing administration here in Cardiff Bay.
Well, the Member seems to have a particularly delusional view of money, if I may say, because it is a significant financial commitment that it would have involved and it would have meant that we would not have been able to host many, many events in the future. It would have a knock-on effect on our capital budgets. It’s much better to look at investing in grass-roots sports, yes—in building up infrastructure, that much is true. We need, for example, to look at a velodrome with seats, which we don’t have. We need to look at the national pool—it doesn’t have seats. There’s a diving pool that needs to be improved in the future. But the costs he’s talking about are huge. From the perspective we have taken, we’ve looked at all the options for the Commonwealth Games, looked at hosting the games with somebody else, and those options were closed off to us. It’s much better, then, that we’re able to use that money for events such as the Champions League final, which will actually broadcast Wales to a huge audience around the world.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Leader of the opposition, Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Lywydd. First Minister, the terms upon which we leave the European Union will define the future of the Welsh economy and indeed all of Welsh politics. You’ve said that Wales should have a veto if the Brexit deal isn’t a good one for Wales. Now, it’s one thing to call for a veto, but what we need to see now is vision, and people are looking to you for that comprehensive, detailed, inspiring vision of what Wales looks like after we leave the European Union. Fighting for what we’ve already got in terms of funding isn’t sufficient, as that would just deliver the bare minimum, and it’s just not good enough. When, First Minister, can we expect to hear your vision as to what a new Wales will look like after we leave the European Union, or don’t you have one?
Well, it’ll be a Wales that, of course, is still very much part of Europe, a Wales that looks outwards and continues to be successful in attracting Investment. That’s the message I took to the US last week. From my perspective, it’s hugely important that we have tariff-free access to the market in goods and services. It would not be to our advantage if tariffs were to be imposed. Yes, in keeping with the promise that was made by those in the UK Government now, we want to make sure that Wales does not lose out on a penny; that much is true. What needs to be explored now is what kind of model we need: is it the European Economic Area model, is it the European Free Trade Association model, is it a customs-union model, is it a free trade agreement model? Those are the four models that deliver at least partial access to the single market. The World Trade Organization model doesn’t work, to my mind, as far as Wales is concerned. But we do need to understand, first of all, whether the UK Government will keep to its commitment that the devolved Governments will be at the heart of negotiations, and not at the end of negotiations. It also means the UK Government itself has to work out what it wants. It’s talked about a bespoke deal; fine, but what are the elements of that deal that the UK Government sees as essential? For me, funding and access to the single market are fundamental. Without them, Wales would undoubtedly lose out. There needs to be an examination of what it means for freedom of movement as far as people are concerned. We know that many, many people voted to leave because of that issue, and that needs to be handled carefully in terms of the public view. The next steps are: the Cabinet sub-committee met yesterday to look at the initial challenges that Brexit presents, and the external advisory group that I’m putting in place will meet at the end of the month.
First Minister, that isn’t a vision. You’ve outlined the next steps, you’ve outlined what you’d like to see the Prime Minister do, but you haven’t told us what you want to see for Wales. Now, there have been mixed messages coming from your UK leader on this question of single market membership, and your own statements have not been much clearer either. You’ve called for free access to the European single market, you’ve also said that you want uninterrupted access, and last week, you said that you want to see a seven-year moratorium on the free movement of people. Well, I was in Brussels last week with a number of members from my team, and it was made absolutely clear to us that you can’t have complete free access without accepting the free movement of people. Now, access can include all kinds of costs, including tariffs—and we’ve heard today how that would be bad for steel—it could mean custom charges, all of which would be against Wales’s best interests. First Minister, do you believe that Wales should remain a member of the single market when we leave the European Union?
Yes; I’ve said that many times.
Thank you for the clarity on that point, First Minister. [Interruption.] You contradicted that position last week. So, finally, we have clarity and I’m grateful to you for that.
Last night, your Labour MPs—Welsh Labour MPs—voted against a Welsh legal jurisdiction. The amendments that Labour voted against were from your very own government and laws in Wales draft Bill. And that’s not the first time that it’s happened. When they voted against Plaid Cymru back in July, you said that the problem there was a matter of timing, and not a matter of principle. Why can’t you influence your colleagues in Westminster, First Minister?
Well, two things: first of all, I have probably lost count of the times I’ve said that access to the single market is hugely important for Wales and must be uninterrupted. So, for the leader of the opposition—
Access not membership. I asked you about membership.
[Continues.]—to say that, somehow, this is new, it’s clear she hasn’t been following the media or reading the papers for the past two or three months. So, access to the single market, for goods and services, on a tariff-free basis is absolutely crucial. I’ve been saying that ad nauseam. Secondly, of course, what happens in Westminster is a matter for Westminster. We have taken a view that a distinct jurisdiction, at the very least, is hugely important and, without that distinct jurisdiction, there cannot be a lasting devolution settlement for Wales.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, last week, you were in America promoting what Wales has to offer to businesses that are looking to invest into the UK, and Wales obviously wants to get a big share of that cake. At the end of the visit, you chose to actually use a speech to talk about the break-up of the United Kingdom. It did seem rather odd, when you’re trying to promote the product to entrepreneurs who are looking to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the UK—with a bit of luck—that you, on the Friday, were talking down the prospects of the United Kingdom. Can you explain why you used a trade mission as a platform to discuss the break-up of the United Kingdom?
What I didn’t say, of course, was that those in business were fat, lazy golfers, which is a theme of his party at the moment, the party of business. You couldn’t make it up, could you? That’s what one of the senior Brexiteers actually said. I wonder if he’s actually read my speech because I made it very, very clear that there were challenges as far as Brexit was concerned and I outlined a way forward with those challenges. I also said it was hugely important that the UK’s architecture was examined to make sure the UK is robust after Brexit and that is something I’ve said many, many times. The audience was hugely interested in that.
First Minister, it clearly came over that you were fantasising again about the break-up of the United Kingdom, which is something you spend a lot of time talking about these days, and as anyone who goes before an entrepreneur such as in ‘Dragon’s Den’ you don’t go and diss the product you’re trying to sell to them, First Minister. But one thing you could’ve done on your trade mission was go over to Detroit and actually speak at Ford headquarters to the directors there and the senior management team about the announcement that was made last week about the cutting back of production at the Bridgend engine facility. I think we should remember there’s still £100 million-worth of investment going into that engine facility, but this is a significant announcement on behalf of Ford on how they’re going to take forward the dynamics at that plant. Did you request a meeting with Ford, and if you did request that meeting, why wasn’t it granted?
Yes, we did request a meeting but we were told that it was now a matter for Ford of Europe and the meeting should be with them. So, the request was made to have a meeting with them.
In terms of the comment he made earlier on: it’s quite clear that he hasn’t read my speech, has he, in Chicago? Clearly, he’s just picked up on what—. When he said, ‘You gave the impression that you said a certain thing’, that’s code for, ‘Oh, I haven’t read the speech. I’ve picked it up from what I’ve seen online.’ Well, can I suggest he reads the speech? It was read with some interest by people who were there and he will see it’s not quite what he makes it out to be. Like him, I want to make sure the UK is intact in the future but it will need changes. It can’t carry on as it is when there are so many changes that will come down the line when we leave the EU. When I spoke to businesses in America every single one of them wanted to know what will happen next with Brexit—every single one of them. It was the theme as far as American investors were concerned. When I was able to say to them that my view was that it was hugely important that we have access to the single market on a tariff-free basis, it certainly gave them relief. They were happy to hear that because they’d not heard it from the UK Government. So, it’s hugely important that the UK Government now makes sure that it has a coherent view rather than, as we saw the Foreign Secretary doing this week, launching a pressure group that pressures his own Prime Minister into doing something. We do need to see coherence and unity in the UK Government for the sake of the people of Britain.
First Minister, I regret that Ford in Detroit weren’t prepared to meet you because, as I understand it, that’s where the decision about the investment was taken and they seemed to have passed the ball back to Ford of Europe on this matter. But there are three very legitimate questions that I hope your Government and yourself as First Minister have been interacting with Ford on and they are: how, going forward, can the jobs be secured with such a dramatic cutback in production at the plant? Also, what new lines, potentially, could come to the plant to secure the 1,850 jobs that are currently at the site? And it is fair to say the Welsh Government have put money on the table to retain jobs at the engine plant, at a level of 850 jobs, as I understand it. Obviously, there are 1,850 jobs on that site at the moment, so what assurances can you give around the discussions that the Welsh Government have had around future job security, around new products coming to the plant and, above all, about the future viability of the plant as a working entity within the Ford manufacturing capacity of the United Kingdom?
When I was at the plant it was made absolutely clear to me that tariffs were the issue. The plant is the most efficient engine plant that Ford has. The workforce there is excellent but they export every engine they make. It’s wholly export driven. Tariffs would mean a 5 per cent component tariff going to the assembly plant and possibly a 10 per cent tariff coming back in again to the UK. It’s a 15 per cent tariff. Nobody can cope with that. Many businesses in the States said the same thing to me: they’re waiting to see what happens with regard to what the UK does. I’ll be straight with him: I think if we manage to secure tariff-free access to the European market I think the problem is resolved. That is what business investors are looking for. They’re all European operations. They see the UK as part of a European operation. Anything that puts a barrier between the UK and the rest of the European operation is bad for the UK operation. So, the Ford workforce are excellent, they’re efficient, but they cannot be put in a situation where tariff barriers would interfere with the future viability of the plant, which is why I’ve been absolutely clear that whatever model the UK adopts—and there are four different models that could be adopted that give pretty much full access to the European single market—that the UK Government needs to declare that position now in order to give that certainty, not just to Ford but to all our investors from overseas.
3. Will the First Minister provide an update on the development of the South Wales Metro? OAQ(5)0128(FM)
The procurement for the operator and development partner for the Wales and borders franchise, which includes the metro, has started. Subject to a successful competition, the contract will be awarded at the end of next year.
Thank you, First Minister. Our rail network has clearly been uppermost in the minds of my constituents and other AMs over the last few days with the start of the six-week closure period of the Severn tunnel for the important electrification work. Speed of travel is a key aspect of quality of life, so I was very concerned to hear that the town of Monmouth may not be part of the future metro map, following funding concerns in the wake of the European vote. How can you reassure my constituents that the metro scheme will reach all parts of south-east Wales, so that no-one feels excluded, and is the Government looking at all metro options in rural areas, including enhanced bus services and busways?
We have no plans to change the current proposals for the metro, and he will know, of course, that Monmouth is part of the metro in terms of its future development. What is correct, however, is that £125 million-worth of the funding for the metro is due to be met by European funding. Now, without that funding, clearly there will be a limit on how far and how fast the metro project can proceed. Now, I’ve heard what was said that Wales would not lose out as a result of leaving the EU—indeed, I know that it has been said that funding for each and every part of the UK, including Wales, will be safe if we vote to leave; Andrew R.T. Davies, 14 June. So, he has his own leader’s assurance that that £125 million will be still be available for the metro, and I’m sure that he will receive that assurance with some comfort.
First Minister, several of us on these benches are also members of the Co-operative Party and spent part of the weekend discussing the role of co-ops and social enterprises in the Welsh economy. Do you agree that it would be a positive outcome to see not-for-profits, social enterprises and co-ops involved integrally in the delivery of various aspects of the south Wales metro?
Absolutely; I mean, we want to see a model that invests, of course, in the network itself and a model that provides a good service to passengers at a fair price. And these are the issues that we will be exploring as the metro procurement process goes ahead.
Before the summer recess, the First Minister dismissed suggestions that within the economic plan for the capital region and the proposed metro, a distinct status should be afforded to the city of Newport and other centres outside Cardiff itself. Will the First Minister therefore confirm that his plans for the capital region amount to no more than making a commute to Cardiff easier, rather than a comprehensive plan to spread job creation opportunities across the entire south-east?
No. I mean, of course Newport and the Valleys are part of the region because it is an economic region. The reality is that 11 million people a year come through Cardiff Central station; they are commuters—many of them who come down from Valley communities. He is right to ask the question, of course: is this simply about bringing people from Valley communities to Cardiff? That’s half the story. The other half of the story is to make it easier for investors to move their investments up into Valley communities as it becomes, in their minds, easier to get there. It has to be a two-way flow for the region to operate effectively.
Whilst my party broadly welcomes the metro project, closer inspection makes it difficult to envisage any real advantage it brings to the conurbations of the eastern Valleys. Could the First Minister comment where, if any, improvements are envisaged to enhance connectivity for this area?
Well, first of all, of course, we have the existing rail network into Cardiff and that offers us the opportunity to examine how those networks can be made quicker in the future. But the point about the metro is that it’s extendable—it’s not about simply looking at the structure that we have at the moment. The metro in future will, I have no doubt, include new light rail lines and new bus connectivity, particularly cross Valley, where, of course, it’s quite difficult as everything tends to be north-south. Eastern Cardiff is in the same situation, of course—eastern Cardiff is poorly served by the rail network—and as the metro rolls out, we’re fully aware of the fact that we need to look at these areas where, certainly, rail transport is non-existent, or there’s little of it, to make sure that those gaps are filled in in the future.
4. Does the First Minister stand by his position from 2012 that it is appropriate for Cardiff Council to have plans to build tens of thousands of new houses within the city’s boundaries, with a large number of those on green fields? OAQ(5)0138(FM)
I have never taken such a position.
Well, First Minister, you said on 14 June that I’ve lived in a land of fantasy for the past three years. Well, you know, I took it to heart, so I did some more research and found the ‘South Wales Echo’ from 5 April 2012, where you were quoted announcing that Labour would introduce a local development plan under the current system, on page 5. Now, the ‘South Wales Echo’, in its editorial, said that the newspaper firmly disagreed with you that tens of thousands of houses had to be built within the city’s limits—the reported comments, which you have subsequently denied. So, my question is: was the editor of the ‘South Wales Echo’ also living in a land of fantasy? And, do you stand by your comments on the matter made in this Chamber?
No, because I never make comments on LDPs or planning applications. That’s the whole point of being in Government. The reason why the story appeared in the paper in that way is because he put it there and phrased it that way. [Laughter.] That’s the reason for it and, you know, I give him his due: he is, you know, terrier-like; he’s still at it. But, I never make any comments on any LDP anywhere in Wales as far as whether it should go ahead or not. There’s a proper procedure for doing that.
First Minister, I don’t know if I’m going to come to your aid, but anyway, let me just remind the Chamber that, over the last 15 years, we’ve built on average 8,000 homes a year in Wales, when trends indicated that we needed to build 12,000 homes a year to keep up with demand. If we are to have any catch up, we probably need to go beyond 12,000 homes a year. The sad fact is that if we don’t face up to the housing shortage and crisis, it’s young people after family homes who would be denied decent living conditions that most of us would’ve enjoyed in our upbringings.
It’s true to say that demand has exceeded supply for many, many years, particularly affordable housing and, of course, that housing has to go where it’s needed—it can’t be put where the demand is low; it has to go where the demand is highest. They’re very difficult decisions for local authorities in terms of how they meet that demand locally in terms of housing and they’re sometimes not without controversy, but the Member is right to say that we have to make sure that we have enough houses available for the people who need them.
I won’t go into the issue of what the First Minister did or didn’t say in 2012, but there is an important issue here regarding the overdevelopment of Cardiff and major housing developments that have been proposed and are likely to go ahead that go against the wishes of most of the current residents of the city. Does the First Minister agree that there is a problem with the lack of accountability of the planning system in Wales, particularly with the Planning Inspectorate? And, should we make moves in the Assembly to dilute the powers of the Planning Inspectorate in Wales?
No, I don’t. I think there has to be a process of examination that is robust. Cardiff is a growing city; its population has expanded mightily over the last 30 years and how you deal with that demand is not simply a matter for Cardiff, it’s a matter for all the authorities around Cardiff, because we know that that demand will be there outside the city boundaries as well. But, we’re never going to get to a position where we’re not building any houses, because that would mean that the demand isn’t being satisfied. So, for local authorities, they have to produce a local development plan, put forward the evidence for their plans and have those plans tested by a planning inspector. I think that’s a robust system to make sure that an LDP has been tested as rigorously and thoroughly as possible in the future.
General Practitioner Recruitment
5. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's progress in recruiting more GPs? OAQ(5)0120(FM)
Plans to recruit and train additional GPs and other primary healthcare professionals is a priority, and, of course, I’ve gone into it, in some length, in terms of what we’re planning to do across Wales in my answer to question 1.
Thank you, First Minister. There’s understandable concern in Kidwelly, First Minister, about the difficulty in recruiting and retaining GPs in the Minafon surgery, and local Labour councillors have been working hard with the health board to try and inform the community. In fairness to Hywel Dda, they’ve been trying their best to try and recruit a clinical team to the surgery and to bring in locums. I was very pleased to hear that the Welsh Government are planning a recruitment campaign later in the year. It’s essential that the Welsh Government works with health boards and that they’re not left to run their own campaigns in isolation. Would he give us some details about his thoughts on adapting the model that GPs currently have, in building up their own surgeries and buying into them? Because, quite clearly, the needs of modern GPs are more diverse and that seems essential to attracting GPs to places like Kidwelly.
There are. I mean, I understand that two locum GPs have been recruited to replace the two salaried GPs in Kidwelly that handed in their notice, and that service has been resumed. What I notice in many younger GPs is that they’re not interested in buying into a practice. They want to be salaried; they want to have the flexibility. First of all, they haven’t got the money—raising the money to buy into a practice is tricky for them—and also, of course, they want to have the flexibility of being able to move around. The days when GPs went somewhere and stayed there for all their working lives—well, there are fewer and fewer, I suspect, who want to do that. The NHS has to adapt to that reality. It means, for example, that where health boards take over surgeries, in fact, the service is often enhanced as a result of it, and Prestatyn is a good example of that. Where there’s another practice that wishes to take over, that’s facilitated. There have to be a number of different models in the future to make sure that general practice is seen as attractive, rather than the one traditional model that will be attractive to some, but not all.
I last week met with a number of GPs from Anglesey and we discussed how we could encourage more young people to aspire to a career as a GP. I’m sure that the First Minister will share my concern about the reduction of 15 per cent in the number of Welsh-domiciled students who have been applying to study medicine. But, I’m sure he would also support my call, and that of the BMA and others, for the training of more Welsh-domiciled students in Wales. The figures demonstrate that 80 per cent of medical students in Northern Ireland are from Northern Ireland; some 50 per cent of medical students in Scotland are from Scotland; and only some 20 per cent of medical students in Wales are from Wales. Does the First Minister agree with me that we need to change that percentage and that that does have to include an element of quotas?
I think it’s fair to make that point. I would wish to see more young people training in Wales. I have heard anecdotally of people who have been given an offer from a medical school in England but not received one from a medical school in Wales. That is a cause of concern. But, first of all, we must ensure that more and more young people wish to become doctors, and also ensure that there is more of an opportunity for them to train in Wales. I do understand that where you train has a great impact on where you work later on—they go hand in hand.
‘A Planned Primary Care Workforce for Wales’ referenced the emerging role of physicians’ associations and our medical schools as a way of boosting the numbers of GPs in Wales. Given the undeniable crisis of GP provision in Wales, how have you taken this recommendation forward, and what plans do you have in place to increase on just 27 funded places available through our medical schools here in Wales?
First of all, if there’s a crisis in Wales, there’s a crisis across the rest of Britain, because it’s no different here compared to elsewhere. It is difficult and challenging to attract GPs. We know that, which is why a campaign is being launched in October. It’s not simply about opportunity, not simply about flexibility; it’s also about providing, as the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire said, the right environment for their wider family as well. And the statement that the Cabinet Secretary will make will outline in detail how that campaign will proceed.
First Minister, I met last Thursday with Gary Doherty, the chief executive of the Betsi Cadwaladr health board, and he confirmed to me that the biggest challenge that he has in north Wales is the recruitment and retention of doctors, GPs, and also nurses. One of the things that we discussed was the possibility of training Welsh-speaking medical staff in Ysbyty Gwynedd and also attached to Bangor University. Do you agree that this is a good idea, that this would be a way for us to encourage more people to study in Wales and to stay in Wales, but also to help with the dearth, the problem that we have of Welsh-speaking professionals in the health service? Would you be willing to speak with Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, who is the chancellor of Bangor University, and also speak with Gary Doherty, who agreed with me that this was a good idea?
Well, we’re open to any suggestions. What’s important, of course, is that any medical school can give the full opportunity of training to a student—this is one issue, of course, that has been raised before: if this can be done in Bangor. It’s not entirely in our hands. The deanery, of course, will have a view on that, as would those responsible for medical training more widely. It’s right to say that it’s a challenge to recruit in all parts of the UK, and what is absolutely crucial at this stage as well is we don’t give the impression that we don’t want doctors and nurses from outside the UK—they are crucial to the health service—often from outside the EU. We know that the market for medics is international; it always will be. You can never train people who will then stay entirely for their working lives in the country where they were trained, so you have to appeal internationally as well and make sure that people feel welcome.
Transport Provision in North Wales
6. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government's plans for future transport provision in North Wales? OAQ(5)0123(FM)
We are taking a number of actions to improve all modes of transport provision in the north, and the planned metro north Wales project will bring further improvements.
How do you respond to the submission by user groups in north-east Wales to the Welsh Affairs Committee inquiry on the Wales and borders franchise devolution to Wales that English bodies such as Rail North must have devolved franchise responsibility alongside the Welsh Government for those cross-border services, such as Wrexham-Bidston into England, which remain in the devolved franchise?
It’s difficult, of course, to draw an absolute line, given the nature of the Wales and borders franchise. What I would not agree with is one suggestion that did come from the Department for Transport that any service that terminated in England should be run from England. That would mean that literally no service running across anywhere in north Wales, except the Conwy valley line, would be controlled from Wales at all. The same, exactly the same, for the central Wales railway, the Heart of Wales railway, many of the Cambrian coast services as well, as well as inter-city services and many of the services that run to Manchester and that run, at the moment, beyond the border. That would be wholly unacceptable. So, whilst we want to make sure that the Wales and borders service, with its franchise, is run from Wales, we believe we can provide an equally good service to people living in England as well.
Public Transport in North Wales
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on public transport in North Wales? OAQ(5)0130(FM)[W]
Well, I believe that I answered that in the answer to the last question.
Well, yes, we’ve discussed the south Wales metro a fair bit earlier in this session, and your party published a plan for a metro for the north-east, to all intents and purposes, and they were lines on a map and many stakeholders have given their opinion of that. But isn’t talking about a metro just empty talk when much more basic services aren’t being provided, for example, following the failure of GHA Coaches? And would you accept that there are questions that your Government should answer from the fact that the Government knew months in advance that the company was facing very serious financial difficulties? The company wasn’t saved, of course, but what disappointed many people was that weren’t alternative arrangements in place immediately after the company went bust. There are still people who can’t travel to work in Wrexham and can’t travel to education in Wrexham because of those services lost. That isn’t good enough, is it?
But that is the responsibility of local authorities, not the Welsh Government. But, on a broader point, it is crucial to ensure, and it will happen, that this Assembly has the responsibility for bus services. For example, for many years, of course, a traffic commissioner based in Birmingham was regulating Wales, and that isn’t right. In getting those powers, it’d be easier for the Government and this Assembly to ensure that the services are run in the way that we want them to be run. As regards the metro, studies are being undertaken in order to develop a business case to proceed with the metro, and we are working with stakeholders in order to see how we can progress that project.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Finally, question 8, Rhianon Passmore.
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on how the Welsh NHS maintains the principle of being free at the point of care? OAQ(5)0134(FM)
The founding principles of the NHS—to provide health services that are comprehensive, free at the point of delivery and based on equity and equality—remain at the heart of the health service in Wales.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. The internal market in the NHS in England has been estimated to cost up to £10 billion a year. Would you agree with me that the Welsh Labour Government commitment to having no internal market in the Welsh NHS has been of tremendous benefit for patients, and that it is a commitment that will continue?
I can give that commitment 100 per cent. We know that where markets have been introduced in the NHS elsewhere they have led to waste and inefficiency.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, First Minister.
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I have accepted two urgent questions under Standing Order 12.66. I call on Bethan Jenkins to ask the first question.
Will the Minister make a statement on Ford’s announcement that it is to cut production at its Bridgend engine plant? EAQ(5)0037(EI)
Clearly, I was concerned to hear of the announcement. Ford is a company that we are very close to and is matching supply with demand but is still investing £100 million into the site and safeguarding 550 jobs. I will work with all stakeholders to ensure the future of the site and its loyal workforce.
Presiding Officer, I find it quite disturbing that the First Minister, whose constituency it’s in, has left on this very question because I wanted to refer earlier to what he said with regard to Brexit because I share a bit of cynicism about this being entirely to do with Brexit, considering that Ford is a multinational company, and they did not say this pre Brexit. Since devolution the Welsh Government has invested over £43 million of public money in Ford Bridgend, a not inconsiderable investment in a plant that is just 36 years old, and one that also sources little if nothing from within Wales. I believe that the last of the three rounds of funding for the EcoBoost engine was paid last year. Given the company’s history in Swansea—and I have the scars, alongside the Visteon pensions fight—what guarantee have you sought from the company that it won’t just up sticks, leave the staff in the lurch and then give the bare minimum back to Wales after having had so much funding from you as a Welsh Government?
Can I thank the Member for her question? I’ll ignore the opportunistic cheap shot at the First Minister, but I do infer from what you were saying about the Welsh Government’s investment in Ford that you disagree with the Welsh Government’s investment in the Ford plant and the 1,850 people who work there. We are proud to have invested in that site: one of the most efficient and effective car-manufacturing centres in Europe. It produces engines that amount to something in the region of £700,000 for the entire Ford diesel family. It’s, as I say, one of the most efficient and effective plants, and productivity levels there are amongst the very best.
In terms of Brexit, there is no doubt whatsoever that Ford, like many others, wish to see unfettered access without tariffs to the single market. That is one of their primary concerns in the discussion and the debate about how Wales should operate as part of the UK moving forward. I clearly believe—and I’m sure that the Member would agree—that we should have unfettered access to the single market without tariffs and within a stable regulatory environment in which we can operate.
Now, I can say that, as a result of discussions that we’ve had already, my officials are actively working with senior Ford staff to look at future high-tech investment opportunities for the site. I’ve also been in discussions with senior executives within Ford to explore the opportunity for additional investment projects to safeguard the entire site at Bridgend. I’m expanding those current discussions beyond those originating in Europe to include all of Ford’s projects across the globe. In particular, I’m open to discussions with Ford’s headquarters in Detroit. You may wish to be aware that I have instructed officials to alert Ford HQ that I do intend to visit and to meet with them later this autumn.
The majority of the employees in Ford Bridgend are in the constituency of my friend, the First Minister, but also my own. Having spoken to the unions and the workforce and Ford’s management themselves it is clear that whilst Brexit isn’t the pertinent factor in this decision—it’s a lower volume of the production of the Dragon engines—it is an issue that is concerning them because of this very issue that the Cabinet Secretary says, which is that, in order to make a success of this plant, we need future constant reinvention of the product lines, new investment in those lines, and to have the Welsh Government standing firmly behind them, as we’ve always done in the past as well. This is a darn good workforce. They are highly skilled. It is one of the most productive lines within Europe of any automotive engineers. It has a good future, and we must talk the plant up, but the workforce does have those concerns that there will actually be future investment in new lines. So, at the earliest opportunity when he can expand on those plans, that would be really helpful, because we need to see these jobs maintained in south Wales.
Well, I share the Member’s concerns about the workforce, and I share the workforce’s concerns about the future operations of the plant. Indeed, I have spoken with the general secretary of Unite the union and with others to discuss how we can work together with Ford to identify opportunities to sustain engine-building operations at Bridgend. I think there are a number of positives that we can take from the current situation at Bridgend. First of all, it’s likely that, with dieselgate, demand for petrol engines will increase. What Ford have told us is that, at the initial stage, the production of the new engine—the diesel engine—will begin with something in the round of 125,000 units annually. However, they have been clear that there will be the capacity to increase that up to, potentially, the 250,000 units. I’ve said that I will remain firm in my commitment to support Ford, but our level of support will be proportional to the number of jobs they can secure. The money that was there to secure the 770 jobs is still on the table if they can guarantee them.
Now, in terms of a second positive, as the Member has just identified, Bridgend is one of the most efficient and productive engine plants anywhere on the planet. Thirdly, it has one of the most skilled workforces to be able to rely on. Fourthly, there are new electric engines and new technology—of which we are at the forefront—that will be exploited right across the engine sector. I wish to see Ford at Bridgend take advantage of that. In addition, we know that Aston Martin will be building cars here in Wales. I wish to explore the potential of moving the modification of the Mercedes V12 engine from Germany potentially to Wales. I think it would be a great asset for Ford. Finally, the potential is there for further capital investment, which my officials are already exploring, along with Ford. I think there is a question to be asked of the sustainability of the relatively low price of diesel as well, as a product, which has driven demand in diesel-powered cars. I don’t believe that that can be sustained in the long run, and that there will be a readjustment towards favouring petrol, which in turn would be of benefit to the Ford Bridgend plant.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Diolch, Lywydd. Thank you as well, Cabinet Secretary. I found your answers quite helpful, actually, because I think we all share the same view on the quality and the effectiveness of the plant, but, despite that, any drop in investment is always going to be of concern to the workforce. The First Minister says that the problem is tariffs. You’ve said that there is a global drop in demand for the type of engines. I’m wondering which is the greater driver on this, and I wonder if you can cast some light on that. When you say that the Welsh Government will—and I’m quoting you—‘do everything it can’ to support the continuation of jobs in Bridgend, I’m curious to know precisely what you mean by that. Because it’s one thing to say that Aston Martin is there and that there’s a possibility that there’s an opportunity, shall we say, for Ford there. But, what exactly has Ford Europe told you about these high-tech ideas that are in development, and what you, as part of the Welsh Government, could do to bring those ideas forward more swiftly, so that the concerns about alternative production there might be met and put to bed, if you like? Because, standing where I am, it’s very difficult to imagine what that alternative production might look like, unless somebody actually tells me what it looks like.
In terms of additional financial support, you hinted that that might be on the table in your final answer to Huw Irranca-Davies there. But of course, £15 million from Welsh Government has already gone into this plant. I’m curious to know what guarantees you insisted upon before that £15 million was given. Was it just that jobs would be guaranteed, or was it that Ford’s own level of investment in that plant was also guaranteed? Because, again, you hinted in your responses that there might be changes of percentage of what you are going to hand over on that £15 million if you didn’t get the answers you were hoping for from Ford. So, effectively, if Ford’s decision doesn’t affect that commitment, I want to know why not.
Can I thank the Member for her probing questions? First of all, in terms of guarantees, with regard to the Dragon engine, we’ve been clear, as part of the contract with Ford, that we will not release a penny until we’ve seen £90 million invested in the plant to develop the Dragon engine. So, our investment will follow their investment. Our criteria for supporting developments of this type are a minimum of five years’ sustainable and secure employment for a specific number of people. That number is matched to the degree to which we are supporting the plant. The Member identified, I think, it was £50 million. Actually, that’s not in one lump sum. Since 2003, we’ve invested something in the region of £57 million in the plant to support over 1,000 jobs. Indeed, at the moment, it’s around about 1,850.
The Member asks about new products and current products that support the workforce there. I’ll quickly give an overview of what products are there and how they support current employment numbers. Bridgend produces the AJ engine. It’s an excellent engine that’s used for Jaguar Land Rover—a V6, V8 engine. It’s one of the best available; that is going to continue production at the plant. At the moment, there are 145,000 units, there or thereabouts, being produced. Secondly, the Sigma engine, and the Member will have heard about the EcoBoost engine, which is proving to be immensely popular—at the moment, there are something in the region of 550,000 units of that type being produced.
As we approach 2018, the investment in the new Dragon engine will be introduced, and from 2018, that engine will be manufactured. It was aimed to have 250,000 units produced from year one. At the moment, Ford are saying that, because of global demand—and I’ll come on to the demand question—125,000 units are now planned to be built there. As I’ve identified, there is already dieselgate and the low relative cost of diesel against petrol that could lead to an increase in demand for petrol engines as we approach 2018. Nonetheless, from 2018, there will be, as Ford identifies right now, from year one, 125,000 units being produced.
In addition, there are machined components produced at Bridgend, which amount to something in the region of 100,000 units. They are exported. So, clearly, at the moment, we have a pretty unstable currency market. We hope that we will see stability return as soon as possible, but with the relative value of the pound against other currencies, we envisage those exported manufactured components to continue at that level, if not above that level. That’s the current and immediate future of the plant. In addition, we are looking, as I’ve already mentioned, at a whole range of new technologies that are emerging in the automotive sector. The advancement of the automotive sector is accelerating and we wish to make sure that, whether it is with electric engines or whether it’s with autonomous vehicles, we are at the forefront of development. So, we’re in discussions with Ford about what their aspirations are for their products and how we can invest in the innovation and the technology required to realise their ambition.
In terms of the demand, which is the reason right now why Ford have reduced the estimated number of engines being produced from year one—right now it’s demand. However, longer term, the concern that Ford has, the concern that we have, and surely that everybody should recognise, is that without tariff-free trading with our single biggest external market, we will see a number of manufacturers struggle. Ford, amongst many, have identified a tariff-free access to the single market as being of paramount importance in the Brexit discussions. We remain very clear that, as we discuss what Britain should look like, and how Britain should interact with Europe in the future, that unfettered access to the single market, without tariffs, and in a stable and secure regulatory environment, is of paramount importance.
Cabinet Secretary, while it’s disappointing that the planned investment at Bridgend is being scaled back, it is reassuring to hear Ford reaffirm their commitment to the Bridgend plant and its flexible manufacturing capability. Both Ford and the unions refute the assertion that this decision is anything to do with Brexit. There have been other scare stories in recent days, saying that the announcement signals Ford’s intention to close the plant, but they are still making a major investment in the Bridgend facility. We must do everything possible to ensure that there will be no job losses as a result of Ford’s decision, but there is little we can do locally to counteract global demand. Cabinet Secretary, what discussions have the Welsh Government had with Ford regarding their future investment strategy for the Bridgend plant, and does the Welsh Government have any concerns regarding their own investment in the plant?
Ford is one of our anchor companies; we have a very close working relationship with them, and I asked my most senior officials to meet with senior executives in Europe to discuss long-term plans for the Bridgend site. That was back in June, when they assured us that the plans at that point, for 250,000 units, were still absolutely fine. That was back in June.
The Member is right—as I’ve said to Suzy Davies—that, in the very short term, Brexit may not be an immediate problem in its own right. However, Brexit is contributing to an unstable trading environment because of currency fluctuations. That cannot be welcome. Longer term, unless we have clarity about what it is we want from Brexit discussions, then I’m afraid it will just create even more uncertainty. Regardless of how you operate, or what you operate in, or whatever sector, what business wants more than anything is stability—in terms of a regulatory environment and in terms of tariffs. That’s what we wish to see delivered, for Ford and for all manufacturing in Wales.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
And finally, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, thank you for the answers you’ve given. I think they’ve given clarity in certain areas. I do welcome your intervention in saying that you’re going to go to Detroit. The First Minister, though, in response to myself in First Minister’s questions, clearly identified that, as far as Ford was concerned, the ongoing developments at the factory were very much a Ford Europe decision, and, ultimately, those decisions will be taken here at their headquarters in Europe. Can you try and map out how you see, going forward then, the decisions that need to be taken, in a positive way, by Ford, and by the Welsh Government, and the gateways, and in particular the key dates that need to be met? Are you aware of key dates for investment that need decisions taking in the next 18 months to two years, to secure the future viability of that plant, and, importantly, where those decisions will be taken? Will it be Detroit, where this decision was taken, or will it be Ford Europe HQ?
Can I thank the Member for his question? I should just say that we have been assured by Ford—I must stress that we have been assured—that there will be no surplus of labour in the short term. So, those jobs there—the 1,850—are secure and safe in the short term. But, as I’ve tried to impress upon Members, I wish to see the plant secured for the long term, and not just the 1,850 people who work there now, but for future generations, and, indeed, a larger workforce, who would be able to develop a new generation of engines.
In terms of my anticipated visit to Detroit, it’s true that Ford Europe are the decision makers in terms of the development of engines that are produced on the continent, and within the continent, of Europe. However, I see no harm in influencing Ford at their headquarters level, in regard to this decision and any others. So, I wish to be able to meet with not just Ford Europe, but also Ford in Detroit, to discuss Wales’s part in the Ford family. I think it’s worth saying that we’ll be meeting—myself and the First Minister—in the coming weeks with the head of Ford Europe’s powertrain manufacturing unit. We intend discussing with him not just how demand for the new Dragon engine can be stimulated—both by Ford and by the market—but also how we can influence, how we can help and how we can assist in new technologies that Ford is wishing to develop not just here, but right across Europe, or indeed, as I said in answer to one of the earlier questions, right around the globe.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary.
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I now call on Simon Thomas to ask the second urgent question.
Will the Minister make a statement on Abertawe Bro Morgannwg, Cardiff and Vale, and Hywel Dda University Health Boards, in light of their escalation to targeted intervention status? EAQ(5)0036(HWS) [W]
Thank you for the question. Following the latest routine tripartite meeting between the Welsh Government, Health Inspectorate Wales, and the Wales Audit Office, it was agreed that the three organisations that you’ve mentioned should be escalated to the targeted intervention status in our escalation and intervention framework. I issued a written statement on this to all Assembly Members on 7 September.
Thank you, Minister. Of course, I did receive the written statement, but I was very eager to ask questions on the floor of the Chamber on the decision and the rationale behind the decision. This now leaves four of the seven main health boards dealing with primary care and secondary care in some sort of intervention from Government. Can you explain how this situation has arisen, after your Government decided to pass the National Health Service Finance (Wales) Act 2014, which was supposed to provide these health boards with far more certainty on the future, and as you’ve preached to the health boards on the need to plan the workforce, one of the main weaknesses within Hywel Dda health board as I understand it? Having explained why and how this has happened, can you explain who was responsible for these deficiencies? Was it administration and managers at a local level in a health board? Was it you—although you’re relatively new to this post—in your previous post and the predecessor Minister? In that context, can you also tell the Assembly what has happened to Trevor Purt, who was chief executive of Hywel Dda university health board, then Betsi Cadwaladr—two health boards that have suffered terribly after his tenure as chief executive? Is Trevor Purt still paid by the health service in Wales?
Thank you for the series of follow-up questions. In terms of your broad point about NHS finance across Wales, of course, eight of our 10 organisations achieved financial balance last year. One of those that did not is Hywel Dda. That’s a direct contrast with the position in England, where eight out of 10 acute hospitals trusts are not achieving financial balance.
The point about planning the workforce and the models of care is partially related to finance, but not exactly, because what we have to be able to do is to plan a system to deliver that whole-population healthcare, to actually work in proper partnership with local authority colleagues and housing in particular. The challenge that Hywel Dda faces is partly an historical one about its ability to manage its finances, and it’s partly about its ability to plan and manage its workforce. That does also mean it needs to look at its models of care, and that’s part of the broader shift in the NHS about the way that not just hospital services are run and managed, but actually the services we have in the community. So, this targeted intervention is about us looking to support Hywel Dda with a relatively new leadership team, and to try and understand with them not just the challenges they have, but what we can do alongside to support them to improve, because that is our aim and our expectation.
I want Hywel Dda to be in a position where it does have an approved three-year integrated medium term plan. That’s why they’ve been moved to targeted intervention status in the specific areas that I set out in my statement, and they’ll be the areas that we focus on with them. I think this does show that the intervention and escalation framework is real. It would have been much more convenient to find a way not to escalate their status. We chose not to do that because the advice we were given by the chief exec of NHS Wales and the Wales Audit Office and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales was that this was the right thing to do: to provide that support in a constructive manner. I hope and I do expect to return to the Chamber in the future to answer questions on this, and I have committees as well this week. It will be part of a regular discussion at the next tripartite meeting in the spring.
Cabinet Secretary, I did speak with the chair of Hywel Dda by telephone immediately after you issued your statement. What I took from that conversation was that the health board very much welcomes the support that the Welsh Government will now be able to provide it. I think we need to put on record that this isn’t the Welsh Government bailing out, and it isn’t the Welsh Government allowing the health boards to go to the wall, but it is the Welsh Government trying to move in, trying to support and trying to enhance the provision for the people who matter. That is, ultimately, the patient.
The framework of the four escalation levels will now allow us to chart trends. Simply, we will now be able to see whether things are improving or whether things will need some further action. In the case of Hywel Dda and waiting times, for example, we’ve seen a decline in the performance over a few years, including the period for which it’s been under enhanced monitoring status. But there is a contrast, and we have also seen some improvement on ambulance response times, for example. So, I’m really pleased, Minister, that we have intervened and we have recognised that there are weaknesses. What I ask of you is that you will feed back to us, Cabinet Secretary—I can’t get out of the habit of ‘Minister’—that the Government, through the targeted intervention, is able now to advise and to empower Hywel Dda to implement the strategy that will see the changes that we are all hoping for.
Thank you for the question and the points made. I think it is worth reminding ourselves that there is a range of areas where Hywel Dda does particularly well—on diagnostics, for example, it’s done particularly well, and it’s in a position where, at the end of the last year, no-one was waiting more than eight weeks. So, there is a range of positives for Hywel Dda as well as their challenges, and that’s why they’re in this particular area of targeted intervention. Because this isn’t about an arm’s-length finger-pointing exercise; it is about saying, ‘Here are challenges we recognise have not been resolved in the last couple of years’. There is support that’s going to go in to be supportive, to help to deliver the improvement that we expect to see and they should expect to see from themselves, and I’m pleased there’s been a constructive response from the organisation, because we have to be able to identify challenges and then do something about them, rather than simply saying, ‘It’s your fault, now get on with it’. But it is worth while noting that, in the escalation discussion, it wasn’t that just three organisations went up. You mentioned ambulance response times—the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust went down in its escalation status because of the significant and sustained progress it has made, and that is a success story that we should all be prepared to celebrate. It’s about the leadership of an organisation working with trade unions and the workforce to deliver serious and significant improvements right across the country.
Minister, I’m very grateful for your statement, and I’m very pleased, actually, to see you’ve taken this action, because I think it is time that we supported our health boards more thoroughly. Although, Minister, I do have to say that I lay it entirely at the feet of your Government, your predecessors, that they allowed the health boards to get into this state.
I’d like to just talk across the whole piece. I notice from your brief statement that you’re still looking to have IMTPs signed off. Will they still be a three-year IMTP after the one year of support? I’d like to ask about all three, if I may, in terms of: is it all about the money for all three health boards? Is some of it about standards? Is some of it about waiting times? Because I think there’s a slight difficulty in reading through the reasons for each of those health boards for going into targeted intervention. Could you just very quickly outline for us what ‘targeted intervention’ actually means? Is this more like a ministerial advisory board that somebody will go to, there’ll be a group of people, and they will help the senior management team to get to IMTP status? Or is it far more hands off than that?
I do have to just make the point that the ambulance trust has, I’m glad to say, gone out into more routine arrangements, but, let us be clear, there was a significant change of targets, so I’m not surprised that they managed to meet some of them.
Finally, Minister, to have four out of our eight major health boards in some kind of intervention or special measures is a blow for the public and a blow for the morale of the staff that work in these organisations. So, what guidance have you given these health boards as to how they can handle their staff and their staff expectation? Nobody likes to think that they might be working for a failing organisation. I think there has to be real clarity about what this is all about and that this is more of a support than saying that these organisations—or I hope you’re going to be telling me that this is more about support rather than saying that these organisations are actually heading substantially downhill, because the morale out there for patients and staff will be hit by this. I think that it is incumbent upon you to try to pick it up. I’d like to understand how you’re going to be able to do that so that we can reassure the public that accessing those four health boards is still safe, timely and that they will get the services that they require when they require them.
I thank the Member for her comments. There’s something of a contrast from the start to the end, welcoming on the one hand the action taken and then regretting the action taken towards the end. I think the honest truth is that the targeted intervention is not just an important recognition and reflection of where we are, but it is about supporting those organisations to improve. There are different aspects of improvement that have led to the targeted intervention in each of the three organisations, and I set those out in the statement. It is not just simply a matter of managing a financial challenge, although it’s clear that, for example, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg need to see some sustained improvement in their unscheduled care performance. They also need to improve some of their cancer performance. So, that was made explicit in the statement I made. So, their targeted intervention support will be focusing on those particular areas. In Hywel Dda, there are different challenges, and in Cardiff and Vale as well. So it really is about that supportive part.
I’m very proud of what these organisations are doing in global terms because we are not saying that these are failing organisations. This is part of our challenge in having a grown-up and honest conversation about the health service, about all the truly life-changing things the service does on a regular basis, each day, in each part of Wales, and at the same time being able to confront and direct ourselves to those areas of challenge where we need to see further improvement. That is what we have done with the targeted intervention decisions that have been made and with the support they will now get from the Welsh Government.
That helpfully leads me back to your point about IMTPs, and, of course, these will remain as three-year plans. So, our expectation is that, with the targeted intervention and with the support will receive, they will manage through this year, and we want them to be in a position to have a three-year IMTP approved next year. That is our ambition for each of these organisations across Wales.
Finally, on ambulances, which you mentioned, we took a decision to change the ambulance targets that you referred to on the basis of the very best clinical evidence and advice. We better serve the people of Wales as a result of doing so, because we focus the high-quality and expensive resource that emergency ambulances provide to those people who need that intervention to help save life and limb. What we are doing with the ambulance service is completely transparent. There is going to be a proper review, and I announced, in the summer again, that there will be a proper evaluation of the pilot itself. I’m proud of the decision we’ve taken, I’m confident about where we are, and I’m looking to make sure we have a system, moving forward, that continues to say we’ll do the right thing by patients in the greatest need. Across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the rest of world, they’re looking positively on what we have decided to do, based on clinical evidence and advice.
I’d like to start by declaring that my wife is an employee of Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board. Cabinet Secretary, you’ve highlighted some of the good aspects that occur, as well as highlighting the targeted intervention for ABMU in unscheduled care and cancer services. What monitoring will you be undertaking to ensure that, as we see, hopefully, progress in those targeted areas, we do not see a slip in other areas to compensate for it? When will you actually be looking at producing reports and progress reports for us so that we can see how it is actually working? We do have the end-of-year figures, but we want to see progress throughout the year, so will we be having updates in the Assembly? Can you also tell us what action you’ve taken, because some of the concerns clearly are related to resource issues? Will you be offering support that includes and introduces more resources to some of those boards to allow them to tackle those issues that you’ve identified?
Thank you for the series of questions. There are a range of different challenges in each of the boards, as I have mentioned before, and I’ve discussed the financial challenge of Hywel Dda and the fact that, for Cardiff and Vale, one of the areas for their move to targeted intervention was our confidence in their ability to balance their books this year and through the next iteration of their intermediate plan. ABM does not appear to us to be a challenge about their finance in particular, but I do take on board seriously the point about the fact that there should be no slippage in the areas of performance that are working well whilst they actually address the areas of targeted intervention. That will be taken forward in our normal accountability frameworks and mechanism. I will speak to the chair on a regular basis whilst they’re in targeted intervention. There will be another routine meeting of the tripartite advisory group—the chief executive of NHS Wales, the Wales Audit Office and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales—in the spring to provide an update and advice for me on the progress of each organisation in the areas of targeted intervention. So, there will be clarity and, again, I expect to make a statement to Members in the usual course, once that meeting has taken place. But, there are many significant progress measures in ABM—for example, diagnostics, where again significant progress has been made and broadly sustained over this year as well. They’ve also made real significant progress in their waiting times as well. The challenge is doing more of that and, at the same time, dealing with the areas of targeted intervention. I think this action should be seen as both supportive and helpful in allowing that organisation to do what it should do for the population that it serves.
Minister, thank you for your answers this afternoon. I would be a little less generous than Angela was by saying that 50 per cent of the LHBs are now in special measures or under some form of Government supervision; it’s actually six of the health boards that have district general hospitals within their remit to run, and two thirds of them now—four of them—are under some form of Government intervention. Hopefully, that will be seen as a helpful measure for those health boards so that they can progress in the areas in which they do need to progress. But I do think it is not unreasonable to ask the question: how long do you foresee this level of intervention continuing, in particular for the three most recent entries into this programme of Government assistance, if you want to call it that, or Government intervention? When can staff and when can patients take some form of comfort that these LHBs will be emerging as more autonomous organisations running the services within their area of control?
Well, the point to make about targeted intervention, in response to the comments that have just been made, is that these are targeted on particular areas of the service, and it’s where the Welsh Government will be working with and alongside those organisations, helping to direct them along a path of improvement. In the other areas of their operation, they retain the responsibility that they had before this position was announced. So, in all of those areas, they will retain their measured autonomy and their earned autonomy, and there’s an expectation that they will continue to deliver improvements and confront the challenges that each health board faces across Wales and, indeed, across the United Kingdom. I think, when looking at what will then happen and when we’ll see the report—and I indicated earlier to David Rees and in earlier comments as well that the tripartite meeting will take place in the spring—I’ll receive advice then on the progress that has been made in each organisation against those areas of targeted intervention, and our desire is to see each of these organisations having a successful and approvable integrated medium-term plan when that comes up at the start of the next financial year. That’s what we wish to see. That’s why targeted intervention is in place, and I will, of course, report back to Assembly Members on progress that is made or not.
I’m of course concerned that Cardiff and Vale are facing targeted intervention and would not want to deny any issues there are, and I know that the health board is very keen to work with the Government to improve the situation. But I do think there are particular circumstances in Cardiff that are having an impact on Cardiff and Vale’s financial performance rather than its clinical performance. I know the Cabinet Secretary is aware that Cardiff is the fastest growing city in the UK, with, I think, 10,000 more in its population a year, and this obviously has a huge impact on the health service, and, of course, the LHB—Cardiff and the Vale—does take on the tertiary and the complex cases from a wide area in Wales and I don’t know how much that is reflected in the funding that it has. I wondered if the Cabinet Secretary could comment on that. I also think it’s important to recognise the big improvements that have been made in performance for the very reason of public reassurance. So, I want to make the point that waiting times in Cardiff and the Vale have improved for seven consecutive quarters; that urgent suspected cancer waiting times have improved by 25 per cent in less than a year; there’ve been big improvements in ambulance handover, and, in particular, in stroke care. I think it’s very important in this statement that we recognise those achievements because we do want the public to be reassured, and the health board is keen to work with the Government to tackle what is a financial issue.
I thank the Member for the question and the comments, and it is fair to say that there is a positive ambition and vision from Cardiff and Vale health board. You’re right to point out the significant progress that has been made and sustained on waiting times in A&E and, indeed, in cancer care as well. There’s more to do but we do recognise progress that the health board has made. On your broader points about financing the different challenges that people face in delivering healthcare in different parts of Wales, every health board has its own case to make as to why it’s in a unique position and why that needs to be reflected in the funding that it receives, whether it’s delivering healthcare in a rural setting, delivering healthcare to deprived Valleys populations or delivering healthcare to other fast growing cities in the country as well. We consider all those things in the round about the future of funding. In working alongside Cardiff and Vale health board, I expect to see progress made and I expect to see us in a position where they will have an approvable three-year plan at the end of this year. This is absolutely about having progress on that area and not about throwing aside or refusing to recognise the real progress they have made, which I’ve pointed out to staff when I’ve met them on a number of occasions as well as the leadership of the health board as well.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Finally, Caroline Jones.
Diolch, Lywydd. Cabinet Secretary, we now have over half of all local health boards requiring some form of Government intervention. My own health board is receiving targeted intervention due to poor performance in unscheduled care and cancer care. This poor performance is putting people’s lives at risk and is a damning indictment of our health policies. It is abundantly clear that there are serious failings in healthcare across Wales. The people of Wales deserve an NHS that provides the best possible care regardless of where we live and which health board we come under. Cabinet Secretary, what is the way forward? Do we need an independent inquiry? Can we relook at our policies and the way we deliver them? We have to instil confidence in the staff who work in the NHS but also in the patients. Thank you.
I thank the Member for her questions and comments. People regularly talk about the morale of staff within the service and the worry about the level of confidence the public has in the health service, and, frankly, that is affected by the way we talk about the service. When you talk about ‘serious failings’ across healthcare in Wales, it is no surprise that the debate is injected with a level of pessimism that does not reflect the reality of the high-quality healthcare that most people experience. Every single patient survey recognises that people have a good experience of healthcare the overwhelming majority of time, whether it’s 92 per cent or 93 per cent, or other figures.
The challenge is what we do about those areas where that is not the case, and how we honestly confront and resolve those areas. That’s what we are focused upon. And in terms of having an independent look and review about healthcare and health and care across Wales, of course we’ve committed to having a parliament that will look at the future of the service. We want to have a sensible and mature conversation about the future of the health service that does not set us back into a fairly hysterical series of accusations and arguments about what is really happening within the NHS, and that will allow us to be sensible and serious about the areas that do require improvement, which is what the targeted intervention measures are about, and does not, as Julie Morgan was making the point, put us into a position where we refuse to recognise those areas of significant and continuing excellence in the health service here in Wales.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I thank the Cabinet Secretary.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to the next item on the agenda, the business statement and announcement, and I call on Jane Hutt.
I’ve made three changes to this week’s business. The First Minister will make a statement on EU transition following this statement. This will be followed by the legislative statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government on the Land Transaction Tax and Anti-avoidance of Devolved Taxes (Wales) Bill, and a statement following that by the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure on major international sporting events. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement announcement found among the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
This is the second cyclical set of GCSE results that have been achieved since Schools Challenge Cymru was launched. I visited Pentrehafod School and Morriston Comprehensive School on GCSE results day to be told that Pentrehafod had achieved their best ever GCSE results, and that Morriston had increased their A* to C grades by 17 per cent. Can I ask the Cabinet Secretary for Education to make a statement on the success of Schools Challenge Cymru?
I’m sure the Cabinet Secretary will be very pleased to hear, and is very well aware of those very good results, particularly from those schools that have benefited from Schools Challenge Cymru in Swansea East, in your constituency, Mike Hedges. I know that the evaluation, of course, is being undertaken. It’s going to be concluded by next year and it’s going to be published in line with Government social research protocol, and also looking at GCSE results. And she will be, of course, reflecting on the evaluation and this summer’s GCSE outcomes across the board, and committed to building on and embedding lessons from the challenge to benefit all schools in Wales.
Can I welcome the Government’s business manager back from the recess that we’ve all had? I think most of us found it very busy indeed following the referendum result, and the need to talk with and deal with our constituents and businesses and people who are interested in knowing how we’re going to plot a way forward here in the Assembly. I was curiously struck by how rudderless a leadership I thought the Government had during that time, I have to say, but we have a statement today where we’ll be able to press the First Minister a little more about where they’re going to go in future. So, I’ll turn to ask the business manager for a couple of statements on something more immediate, because last night the House of Commons completed its work on the Wales Bill and sent it to another place. Now, the First Minister in July, to the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, described this Bill as something that could never be a lasting settlement, nor provide the basis for a constitution for Wales. And I’m sure that the Government would agree with me that the Bill has not been changed in any significant way to doubt the First Minister’s words at that stage. And so we’ve lost an opportunity now to put an end to the constant tinkering with the devolution settlement, a lasting settlement for the people of Wales has been missed once again by Westminster and we have an entrenched, inferior settlement still. We had an opportunity to give the people of Wales their own parliament with the necessary tools to adequately tackle the major challenges facing our economy, NHS, education system and, of course, Brexit. Now, it wasn’t surprising to me that the Secretary of State for Wales for the Conservatives—someone who is supposed to represent Wales in Government—often voted against Wales’s interests, voting for Bristol Airport in favour of Cardiff Airport, for example, voting against Wales’s interest on natural resources, policing, airports, as I said, and financial responsibility. But, astonishingly, the Labour parliamentary party also voted against Wales’s interests. I think there’s still a parliamentary Labour party, at least for two weeks. And the principles that the First Minister fought for, such as air passenger duty, legal jurisdiction, devolution of policing and a legal basis for fair funding for Wales were either opposed, abstained upon or rejected by his own front bench, or supported at the very last minute. A united Labour Party could’ve got a far better deal for Wales out of this Wales Bill, and it’s a good job that it’s out of business and fast disappearing.
So, can we have a full statement and a debate on the approach that the Government will now take on trying to amend this Wales Bill in the Lords, if the Government intends to try and do that, or how it intends to implement the Bill, through this Assembly, and the implications for the Assembly of implementing this flawed Bill? Can that debate and statement also include how we can look and examine the related implications of the Boundary Commission review of constituencies? Surely, a cut in Welsh representation must be balanced by a transfer of those major policy areas to Wales, so that we have equal policy responsibilities to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Representation in those states was only cut as a result of the transfer of major responsibilities, which we have not yet had here in Wales. We are being denied the same responsibilities that have been transferred in those countries, and yet our representation is going to be cut by a quarter. I would imagine the Labour Party will be very interested in debating this particular aspect of the Wales Bill and the Boundary Commission implications.
As Assembly elections are going to be transferred under the Wales Bill, I would be particularly interested to know, through a statement from the Government, how the Welsh Government intends now to respond to a situation in which Westminster and Assembly boundaries and constituencies will not correspond. Does this mean a change in the way we elect Members? Does this mean an increase in Members, a decrease in Members? Does it mean a change in the way we have a voting system? A statement from the Government on its principles on this matter would be welcome as, obviously, the Government needs to build two-third support in this place in order to pass any such changes.
I think these are important matters that have come since we had the recess and I think an early statement and debate from the Government would be useful.
Well, I also welcome Plaid Cymru’s business manager back. Indeed, we’ve already engaged and you have raised many and very important points for this Assembly—indeed, very important points that the First Minister has been addressing over the summer months. I don’t know where you were, but I certainly was recognising that the First Minister was at the forefront, not just, of course, in terms of our constitutional position, but also in terms of the impact of Brexit and the way forward, meeting the Prime Minister, and also addressing many of the points that you have made. And, of course, we do have to recognise that the Wales Bill is still on its way. The First Minister made it very clear what his position was on the Wales Bill when we had the debate on the Queen’s Speech and the Secretary of State for Wales, indeed, came here in July.
I’m just interested, also in terms of Government activity over the summer, and Members will be aware, that, actually, since my last business statement, there’ve been 28 written statements about action the Government has been taking, and, of course, we’re very respectful of the fact that we don’t want to be seen to be taking action when we haven’t consulted or fully been scrutinised on the point throughout the recess time, but have been very clear that we have been an active, proactive Government, taking forward our responsibilities throughout the recess, and delivering on our responsibilities. So, these are matters, of course, that will all be addressed in due course.
Leader of the house, I’d be grateful if you could please ask the Minister for Skills and Science to bring forward a statement regarding broadband and the roll-out of the Superfast Cymru project. Now, I have received correspondence from a number of constituents over the summer concerned that they are unable to access an appropriate and sufficient broadband service, and in some cases, their broadband service has significantly deteriorated. While some parts of Wales have seen superfast broadband rolled out, there are still some communities, many of which are in Pembrokeshire, that do not enjoy even an adequate broadband service. Of course, it is essential that people have access to reliable broadband services.
Last year, the Minister said that the Government was making sure that rural communities were not being left behind, but from correspondence I’ve received recently, I’m afraid that’s not the case in Pembrokeshire. Therefore, can you please encourage the Minister for Skills and Science to bring forward a statement on this issue as soon as possible, so that people living in the communities that I represent can understand exactly what the Welsh Government is doing to support their ambition to have a decent broadband service, and how it’s going about monitoring the delivery of broadband services?
I thank Paul Davies for that question. The Minister for Skills and Science is regularly updating Members. In fact, I met the director of BT Cymru last week and was very pleased to hear of over 90 per cent reach in my constituency, the Vale of Glamorgan. But we have to recognise that, to date, the Welsh Government has spent £32 million on providing superfast broadband access to over 113,000 homes and businesses, importantly across the areas of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, through the Superfast Cymru project, with at least 93 per cent of the Haven enterprise zone covered, which I know you will welcome. It is important to recognise also that we have the Access Broadband Cymru scheme, the ultrafast connectivity voucher scheme, and that provides access to fast broadband to 167 premises in Pembrokeshire. I think it is also important to recognise that the UK Government announced late in 2014 that it reached a legally binding agreement with mobile network operators, investing a collective total of £5 billion on infrastructure improvements. So, clearly there is updating—. The Minister will also be not only be updating in terms of your own constituency but on an all-Wales basis in terms of superfast broadband, which is key to our infrastructure, clearly.
During the recess, I was very pleased to have a training session for myself and my staff on becoming dementia friends, which was led by the Alzheimer’s Society, and I think we all found it a very rewarding occasion. Obviously, how we can help people with dementia is one of the major challenges that we face, and it’s particularly important for social care. So, I wondered if, at some point, if it would be possible to have a debate about dementia and the way we support people living with it, so that they can retain as good a quality of life as long as is possible?
Julie Morgan raises a very important feature of Welsh life now. Wales is leading the way on dementia friends training, and many will be aware of the huge response at the weekend to the walk in Cardiff Bay, on Sunday. I think, just in terms of the launch of the dementia friends training, supported by Welsh Government funding, of course, we’ve got over 35,000 dementia friends, we have a number of dementia-friendly communities, and I’m sure they’re represented in all our constituencies. And those who are undertaking dementia-friendly training include businesses, as well as the public sector, and I know a number of Assembly Members and Welsh Government officials also have received dementia-friendly training. I’m sure this will be a matter for debate.
Leader of the house, it’s great news that the electrification of the Great Western main line has reached the Severn tunnel, but it clearly will cause short-term disruption, inevitably, of services over the next six weeks or so. I know that this isn’t a devolved issue, being Network Rail and UK Government-related, but there will be a knock-on effect on other services and the local economy of south-east Wales over the short term before we see the benefits of electrification down the line. Can we hear from the Welsh Government as to how you are liaising with Network Rail to ensure that this process does run as smoothly as possible, so that we can all get through this period as quickly as possible and as conveniently as possible, and then enjoy the benefits of an electrified rail service from London to Wales?
Thank you, Nick Ramsay. In fact, the Cabinet Secretary did meet with Network Rail yesterday. I’ve been very impressed how we’ve all been informed, notified and updated, as Assembly Members about the development, because, of course, it is going to lead to that all-important electrification. But we can assure you that the Cabinet Secretary has met with them and will update all Members on development.
I would call for a single statement on the north Wales growth deal. Shortly before recess, your colleague to your right, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, replied to me in the Chamber that
‘We very much hope that the growth deal bid will be submitted in full as a proposal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer by the end of this month.’
That is, July. In response to the UK Government announcement in March—it was opening the door to a growth deal for north Wales, and it would be looking to the next Welsh Government to devolve powers to the region as part of any future deal—you’ll be aware that a growth vision report, signed by all six north Wales council leaders, its university leaders, its college leaders and its business leaders, has been submitted to both the UK and the Welsh Governments, beginning with a single, joined-up vision for economic and employment growth for north Wales. They say in their accompanying letter they are keen to pursue the invitation of the UK Government for north Wales to open discussions over a growth bid for the region, and the formal presentation of the vision is the first major step towards making a growth bid, which, again, needs clarification, given the Minister’s referral to a bid by the end of July, before the end of Plenary. This report says that devolving powers over employment, taxes, skills and transport to north Wales would boost the economy, jobs and productivity, create at least 120,000 jobs, and boost the value of the local economy from £12.8 billion to £20 billion by 2035. This is big, and north Wales needs to hear from the Welsh Government how it proposes to respond and take this forward. Thank you.
Well, of course, the Member for the North Wales region is quite right about how important this bid is for north Wales and the fact that it has got all six authorities and that it has also got the support of vice-chancellors, FE, the police and all the authorities that make a difference to the well-being and economic development of north Wales. The Cabinet Secretary is closely engaged with this, of course. We await the new Chancellor’s response to, indeed, the Northern Powerhouse and how those developments are going to be taken forward by the UK Government, but we think it’s an opportunity for us to say today, ‘We urge the UK Government to approve the north Wales growth deal.’
Leader of the house, could we have a statement from the Minister for transport on progress regarding the improvements to Five Mile Lane in the Vale of Glamorgan? From previous answers I’ve had back, there was an indication that the start date would be the end of this month, September 2016. I’ve put some WAQs in through the summer months to try and clarify land acquisition and cost to date, and the answer I had back was that I needed to speak to the Vale of Glamorgan Council because Welsh Government didn’t have a clue. Now, that doesn’t seem to be a very sensible position for the Welsh Government to find itself in when they’ve made £26 million-worth of Welsh Government money available—that a Member of this institution, just seeking clarification on the expenditure and the start time, is referred to the local authority, when you have such a big financial stake in it. So, I would ask that a statement does come forward. I commend the Government for actually making these improvements, but, again, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a Member to seek clarity over the start date and over how the money is being spent on acquiring land and securing the route that the new road will take.
If I could also just make the point to the leader of the house that the answers that do come back from Welsh Government do leave a lot to be desired. It does come to a point when Members of this institution—and I’ve had to do this on several occasions now—have to use the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to seek the answers rather than actually use the normal channels that should be available to a Member. I would ask you to use your good offices, as leader of the house, to try and work for greater clarity and better answers from the Cabinet Secretaries around the Cabinet table, so that Members do not have to refer to the Freedom of Information Act when seeking perfectly justifiable answers on behalf of their constituents.
I think that Andrew R.T. Davies is quite well aware of the fact that it is the Vale of Glamorgan Council that is responsible for managing the Five Mile Lane project. And I’m glad, again, that we have the opportunity to welcome the fact that the Welsh Government is investing in the all-important development of Five Mile Lane—a crucial artery, as we know, in the constituency. I do wonder, question and urge the Member to raise this with the Vale of Glamorgan Council. I’m sure they will want to meet with you to tell them their project plans, because they are responsible. Of course, any evidence you do wish to raise with me of questions asked to Government, I am very happy to hear from you, but it is a question now of making sure that you understand who is responsible for what in terms of managing projects strategically, as we are, ensuring that the money is available for them.
Leader of the house, can I call for two statements, please—one from the Cabinet Secretary for Education in relation to recognition of the Welsh baccalaureate qualification by universities across the UK? I’ve had a number of constituent cases this year where certain universities, and even departments within universities, are rejecting the baccalaureate as a qualification that is acceptable to them for learners to enrol upon their chosen courses. This is a concern that needs to be addressed, and I know that we’ve got a new baccalaureate that will be emerging in terms of those pupils who are currently taking it at the moment, but it’s really important that the Welsh baccalaureate is a qualification that universities have confidence in, and that pupils and learners can have confidence in as well. So, I would appreciate a statement on that.
Can I also ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs on waste collection in Wales? The leader of the house will be aware that in Conwy they are rolling out four-weekly general refuse collections with effect from this month, which is going to lead to absolute chaos in my constituency, which, of course, is a very important honeypot from the tourism point of view in terms of the income for the economy there. Many people are concerned about the provisions for pet waste, saying that they are inadequate. Many people are concerned also about the vulnerability of older people who might use clinical or incontinence products and will be identified by the new waste receptacles that are being introduced across the county to 10,000 households. Can I ask and urge the Cabinet Secretary to intervene in the situation and give some direction to Conwy as a local authority, so that they can adopt a more sensible approach to the pilot and ensure that there is adequate provision, from a public health point of view, for the workforce who will be collecting this waste and for people with pets, and particularly for older, vulnerable adults, to ensure that they are protected and that there is no adverse consequence for local residents and businesses as a result of these changes?
Thank you for those two questions, Darren Millar. On your first question I think it would perhaps be more helpful if you wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for education and skills to name those universities because, certainly, we are not aware that this would be the case. But if you have evidence, then of course the Cabinet Secretary would want to hear about them and put the record straight. It’s very surprising that that would be the case. In fact, of course, we congratulate once again not only our students in terms of what they attained in their GCSE results but, of course, so many who have now started university, and the Welsh bac enabled them, across the UK, to get into university and, of course, into further education, apprenticeships and jobs, which are crucial in terms of opportunities for our young people.
I think that your second point—waste collection—is the responsibility of local government. Yes, of course, it’s being closely monitored in terms of the pilot, and that will be assessed by the Cabinet Secretary, but any teething problems, of course, and issues that you raise—. I certainly would raise them with my local authority, and I’m sure that you will too.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
And finally, Angela Burns.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Leader of the house, as you may well know, today is world sepsis day. I declare that this is a subject very close to my heart, and I want to ensure that this often unrecognised illness gains greater public understanding. This illness strikes quickly and kills a third of its targets. It maims another third in some way and leaves them with problems of various sorts, and yet if detected quickly enough and treated appropriately, people survive and survive well. The problem is that sepsis dons various disguises, but there are common signs. These are not recognised by the public, often not recognised by GPs, and even, as I know from personal experience, not recognised by staff in A&Es. I was wondering, leader of the house, if you could ask the Cabinet Secretary to provide a brief statement to the Chamber to outline his plans to help raise public and medical awareness of this condition, especially through the first contacts of GPs and A&Es, because there are clear early warning signs of this devastating illness. Detected early, people live; detected too late, people die.
The Member does raise an important point. It is about public awareness. I’m sure that the Cabinet Secretary will consider the best way in which to take that forward, of course with Public Health Wales being the key guide and evidence provider.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Now we move to the next item on the agenda, which is a statement by the First Minister on EU transition. I call on Carwyn Jones.
Diolch, Lywydd. It has been nearly three months since the European referendum and, while many large questions remain unanswered, it is possible to see more clearly some of the challenges that must now be faced both by the Welsh Government and the UK as a whole. The day after the referendum, I identified six key priorities for Wales. They were: protecting jobs; full involvement for the Welsh Government in discussions on UK withdrawal; continuing access to the single market for goods and services; security of funding budgeted under EU programmes; long-term revision of the block grant; and a new post-Brexit relationship between devolved Governments and the UK Government. Three months on, these remain key priorities, and some important elements of progress have been made.
During the recess, I met the Prime Minister, and over the summer, there has been a wide range of ministerial contacts with key Whitehall figures, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. In July, I convened in Cardiff an extraordinary meeting of the British-Irish Council to create a wide-ranging discussion among the devolved Governments, the British and Irish Governments, and the islands’ Governments— all of which will be deeply affected in various ways by what happens next. The BIC will meet again in Cardiff in November for its next scheduled meeting.
Within the Welsh Government, we have established a European transition team, reporting directly to me, which has the task of leading and co-ordinating the Welsh Government’s approach. Our interests are complex and wide-ranging, and the Welsh Government has mobilised work across the substantial range of portfolio interests that are being impacted by the position. At a UK level, new arrangements are in development to enable specific dialogue between Welsh Ministers and our counterparts in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Whitehall, and I will say more about these as they are finalised.
A whole raft of working groups at official level, bringing together the Welsh Government with the UK and other devolved Governments, are also being established. The priorities that I have outlined are among the topics being discussed in these networks. I have also established a Cabinet sub-committee on European transition, which met yesterday for the first time. Cabinet as a whole will, of course, supervise the Welsh Government’s work, but the sub-committee provides the right format for the detailed consideration of policy that we need to drive forward our agenda.
During August, the Treasury announced a partial guarantee for EU funding. This means that the level of funding for Welsh farming under CAP pillar 1 will be guaranteed up to 2020, but not beyond—that’s the end of this European financial perspective. For the important research funding under Horizon 2020, universities and business can bid until we leave the EU, and the Treasury will work with the Commission to ensure payment even when projects continue beyond the UK’s exit. So far as CAP pillar 2 and structural funds are concerned, the Treasury will guarantee funding for projects that are, as they have put it, ‘signed off’—I’m not clear what that means—before the autumn statement.
I am particularly pleased that CAP pillar 1 funding has been settled until 2020. This means that we have some time to work with farmers and our rural communities and, in the period ahead, to allow a national debate on how best to secure a vibrant future for the Welsh countryside in the long term. The Treasury position goes some way towards meeting the Welsh Government’s demands, but not far enough, the question being, ‘What happens after 2020?’
The Treasury guarantee is not comprehensive and leaves holes, particularly in respect of structural and investment funds that have not been committed by the time of the autumn statement. We will continue to press for a full guarantee, with the aim of ensuring that communities across Wales don’t lose out on opportunities to improve their prospects as a result of the referendum outcome. Campaigners for Brexit said Wales should not lose a penny in European funding, and we will hold them to that promise.
I also announced during the summer the establishment of an EU advisory group. This will be chaired by Mark Drakeford and draws together a range of expertise from civil and political society in Wales, with a view to generating a wide sense of Wales’s interests as EU negotiations continue. We’re also establishing an additional liaison committee with Plaid Cymru focused on EU transition issues. The challenges facing us as a nation are wide and deep, and the Government has no monopoly on the answers. We need a national debate on these questions, in this Chamber and beyond, and voices who want to contribute constructively to that debate will find a Welsh Government that’s very ready to listen.
Nowhere, Llywydd, is the future challenge greater than in the economy. I chaired a meeting of the council for economic renewal on 25 July, and we are hoping to meet again in October. Last week, I visited three cities in the US to promote Wales as an investment and trade partner. We will do everything that we can to build confidence in Wales abroad, and I ask the whole political community to get behind this work and to support Welsh business. I will not—. I will ask those, rather, who attack our businesses as ‘fat and lazy’ to consider the impact of their remarks on the global stage and find ways to make immediate amends. Our business community is currently in need of clear leadership and solid relevant support, not base and unjustifiable attacks from Government.
Llywydd, let me be clear on the importance of continued full, unfettered access to the European single market for goods and services. It’s not enough to worry just about tariff barriers, though it would be absolutely disastrous for the Welsh economy if the EU were to impose import duties on UK goods and services as a result of botched negotiations over the UK’s withdrawal. It was successive UK Governments that pushed forward the single market precisely because it was recognised that non-tariff barriers, such as differing technical standards, could be used to impede genuinely free trade between ourselves and other member states and damage the competitiveness of Welsh and British businesses. We’ve heard about a Norwegian model, a Swiss model and others too. But, whatever the model, the Welsh Government’s top priority is continued and uninterrupted full access to the European market for goods and services. We can agree to nothing less.
Let me be clear, Llywydd, about the kind of country Wales has become through devolution and participation in the European Union. This is a country that aims to build prosperity while respecting values like inclusion, sustainability, equality and individual and collective rights. Surely, no one in this Assembly wants to live in a country defined by low wages, poor prospects, falling environmental standards, insecurity and diminishing public services. Anyone who sees departure from the EU as an opportunity to entrench privilege, to row back on the progress we’ve made towards living sustainably, to privatise public services, to undermine employment rights or to promote unfairness, will meet determined opposition from this Government and, I hope, from this Assembly. Let me say, without hesitation, that our position is that the UK Government should give unconditional guarantees to EU nationals already living in this country that they have nothing to fear in terms of their rights to live and work here in the future without any discrimination.
The Prime Minister is very clear that the UK will leave the European Union, and that is something, of course, we all accept, though it’s becoming increasingly urgent that they give greater clarity as to the basis on which they hope to achieve that goal. We as a Government are clear, equally, that leaving the European Union does not mean leaving Europe—still less does it mean turning Wales’s back on Europe. Wales is, and will remain, part of Europe. It’s a matter of commercial interest, certainly, but also a matter of shared values, vision, culture and ambition. Our friends and neighbours in Europe will continue to be our friends and neighbours in Europe and we will find other ways of working with them.
Llywydd, there are many complexities associated with a UK withdrawal from the EU. Among the issues that must be addressed are the Scottish Government’s ambition to remain in the EU and the border question on the island of Ireland. These are among the many questions to which, frankly, the answers aren’t yet known. Of one thing I am clear: the UK can’t turn the clock back to 1973. As we contemplate a changed relationship with our European neighbours, so we must also contemplate changed relationships here within the UK. This is a matter of necessity as well as choice. Devolution has operated thus far exclusively in an EU context. A UK exit from the EU implies a fundamentally different relationship between the devolved Governments and the UK. We need open minds and imagination to develop a new, dynamic and durable UK.
Llywydd, the EU referendum campaign was divisive, and the result traumatic for some. But the result cannot and should not be ignored, as I’ve acknowledged from day one. The Welsh Government is tasked with leading Wales’s interests as negotiations unfold. But we’re talking about the long-term future of our country, and the issues raised go far beyond the interests of any particular Government or, indeed, any particular political party. I hope that in the months and years ahead we will have an inclusive and wide debate about how best to protect Wales’s interests and what kind of country we want Wales to be.
From today’s statement, your keynote speech in Chicago, and the previous written statement issued during August, it seems that the machinery of Government has slowly moved into action over the summer. From the outset, in the eyes of many organisations, businesses and other stakeholders, the Welsh Government response to Brexit has been slow. My first question is: is it true that you called an emergency summit—? Sorry. It is true that you called an emergency summit of the British-Irish Council, and that is an important forum, but, following that summit, to those looking in from the outside, it seems that there were no specific interventions from you until last week’s speech in the United States. Now, on the technical side, there will now be a European advisory group, and Plaid Cymru will contribute to that through our MEP, Jill Evans, and this group will provide a vital technical role.
My first question is: is it true that this group is yet to meet, and why did this committee take so long to establish? On civil service capacity, the unit that you’ve established on transition, can I ask whether that unit will have the necessary resources to participate fully in the Brexit negotiations? Is it the case that much of the necessary expertise that you have is tied up with the Wales Bill, and that this is a problem, regardless of how effective or otherwise you’ve been in gaining the support of your MPs for that work?
Turning to the issue of EU funds, and your commitment to ensure that Wales doesn’t lose a single penny, the work that was carried out by the Wales Governance Centre on this was based on estimates, and their report from earlier this year made it clear that they didn’t have full data. So, have you asked your officials to calculate the full value of EU funds, so that we know the true scale of the vow that was made to our communities by the ‘leave’ campaign?
I’ve got to come back to my earlier question to you, First Minister, about Wales’s membership of the single market. Initially when you answered my question, you looked like you were removing the confusion, before then going on to add to it. Earlier, I asked you, First Minister, about the differences between access and membership of the single market. Now, in your answer, you agreed that you support membership, but then you went on to talk in terms of this unclear definition of access.
Now, your statement today again doesn’t commit to a specific model of European market access. We don’t know your view. We know that there are four possible models. Would it not be better for you to propose an actual trade model, such as EEA or EFTA membership, a model that you’d prefer, so that there at least can be some certainty about what option the Government is pursuing? That might be a good way to end the confusion as regards your position on this. You’ve made much about the need for certainty. Will you take the opportunity to provide that now?
In terms of the remarks you made on EU transition in your speech in Chicago, what will you do to gain support for your goal of a more federal UK within your own party? And can you tell us what possibilities you see for Wales in the new constitutional situation? And, if you have no vision for Brexit, can you tell us where you’d like to see Wales constitutionally—what is the endgame, from your perspective, for Wales in a federal UK?
Finally, will you now tell us how you will ensure that the UK takes a four-nations approach to the negotiations on EU withdrawal? Will you ensure that Wales participates directly in any such talks, and will you commit to us today to make sure that Wales isn’t relegated to the sidelines on this?
There are a number of questions there from the leader of the opposition. Yes, it was my demand that the BIC should meet before—I made this demand before the referendum itself, when the BIC met in Glasgow, that we should have an emergency BIC as soon as possible, as soon as practically possible, after the referendum result, and that’s exactly what happened. Different Governments are in different positions. The Isle of Man, for example, are in a position where they have a customs union with the UK, and, through that, a customs union with the EU. They will lose that customs union with the EU, but they cannot negotiate directly with the EU, so it means they’re reliant on the UK Government, potentially, to negotiate a different settlement for them compared to the UK. That’s one complexity that was identified at that point.
In terms of the advisory group, getting the invitation letters out and the people in place over the course of August is difficult—people are away. But the group itself will meet, as I say, this month. I’m confident we’ve got the right people in place. They’re not the same people as those dealing with the Wales Bill, many of whom are lawyers. We’ve a number of senior staff who have experience of working within Brussels, and the Permanent Secretary has been tasked with ensuring that we have a robust and experienced team in place.
The same challenge faces the UK Government. The UK Government has no experience of negotiating when it comes to free trade agreements or negotiating issues such as this with the EU. I know the UK Government itself is looking around to find people who can develop this expertise in the future.
In terms of what EU funds have been worth to us: roughly £650 million a year in total. We know that farming subsidies alone are £260 million. Now, it’s arguable, I suppose, that in the future that funding would have reduced if we hadn’t qualified for the highest level of structural funding, but, nevertheless, there is a substantial amount of money that we’re losing out on. If we look at farming subsidies, farming subsidies are not Barnettised. The worst imaginable outcome for Wales would be if farming subsidies were paid on the basis of Barnett. That would be a substantial cut in the amount of money that was available for farmers.
It’s issues like farming and fisheries that illustrate why we need a different approach to the constitutional architecture of the UK. We need agreement, for example, on animal health regimes. You can’t have four different animal health regimes. It makes no sense. That needs agreement. We need agreement on how farming subsidies might work across the UK. Is there ground for a certain amount of commonality of rules even though the systems are very different across the UK? When it comes to fisheries, would there be a common approach to fisheries management? That’s all devolved. And of course there’s the fundamental issue, which is that under no circumstances should an EU competence in a devolved area end up with the UK Government. It should transfer straight to the devolved Governments. We’ve made that point very, very clear.
The Scottish Government is in the same position as we are. Until we know the UK’s position it’s difficult to give absolute clarity on the way forward. But she asks the question ‘What is the difference between access to the single market and membership of the single market?’ In practical terms, I’m not sure there is much difference, but membership of the single market implies paying into it. It implies being bound by the rules of the single market and being bound by the directives of the European Union. That’s the EEA model, but that also involves free movement of people, and she will know, like I do, that that was a particularly controversial issue in the referendum campaign itself. At this moment in time, in theory, it points to a free trade agreement-style settlement, but again these things are not done within two years. Canada has an agreement with the EU that gives it access—pretty much 100 per cent access: 98 per cent access—to goods and services in terms of the European market. It’s not bound by European directives. It’s not bound by the rulings of the European court, but, of course, like anybody who wishes to export to the European Union, it is bound by the rules of the European Union if it wants to export there. There’s no avoiding that. So, for me, at this moment in time, it seems that the free trade agreement model, because of the issue of free movement of people, is the one that might provide a way forward, although that’s not easy to negotiate. Given the fact that there’s very little time to do this, and the UK doesn’t have the expertise, it’s easier in theory than it is in practice. In those circumstances we have to then consider issues like whether the EFTA model is more appropriate for us rather than the EEA model, which I suspect would fall foul of the views of many voters within Wales.
In terms of what this means for Wales and its relationship with other Governments in the UK, I’ve given examples in farming and fisheries of where there needs to be a new architecture, but, at the end of the day, we will lose out to the tune of £650 million. That money sits with the Treasury. The Treasury is not known for its generosity as far as Wales is concerned. They have refused for 37 years to reform the Barnett formula, which we know does not do Wales any favours. My concern is two things: firstly, that they’ll try and give us a sum of money, for example for farming subsidies, that reflects Barnett—that’s not good enough—and also they might try and interfere in the way in which funds are spent in Wales in the future, neither of which would be acceptable. Why is it still the case in the UK, for example, that the Treasury is judge and jury when there is a financial dispute between a devolved administration and the UK Government? The dispute resolution process—. If there’s a dispute between us and the Treasury, there’s a resolution process that ultimately ends up with the Treasury taking the decision. Now, the Australians have a grants commission, which gets around this problem. We need to look at ways where there’s greater fairness and consensus when it comes to financing the constituent nations of the UK and not ‘whatever the Treasury says goes’. That has to go in the future—particularly acute, of course, with Brexit.
From my perspective, I’m more than happy with the civil service team that’s in place, with the architecture that’s in place, and also with the views that we have already put forward about what is hugely important for Wales in any future negotiations. But we do have to have an understanding now on where the UK Government stands. Is the UK Government relaxed about tariffs, as David Davis is? He said it didn’t matter about tariffs because £2 billion would be raised in taxes—paid for by the consumer of course, because it’s the consumer that pays the tariff, not the business—and didn’t seem to be particularly worried about what that would mean. There are some, on the extreme end of economics, who take the view that we should simply have no tariff barriers at all, regardless of what any other market does, which, again, I don’t think would find favour with most of our people.
So these are all issues that will need to be explored over the course of the next months and years, but it’s clear to me that, before Christmas, we need to have an understanding from the UK Government on where it stands on the issue of funding, and particularly on the issue of market access. What is absolutely crucial for us is—call it membership or access—that our businesses can sell freely, without tariffs, their goods and services in the European single market. That, for us, is very much the bottom line.
Thank you for your statement. My party, the Welsh Conservatives, do believe that Wales must benefit from at least as much funding as we go forward and we’ll continue to make those representations in our discussions here and elsewhere.
You refer to your being pleased that the Treasury has announced that the common agricultural policy pillar 1 funding for farmers has been settled until 2020 but add that, so far as CAP pillar 2 and structural funds are concerned, the Treasury will only guarantee funding for projects formally agreed before the autumn statement. However, the briefing provided to external affairs committee members for the meeting you attended yesterday did include additional information that the Treasury will also put in place arrangements for assessing whether to guarantee funding for specific structural and investment fund projects that might be signed after the autumn statement but while we remain a member of the EU, with further details to be provided ahead of the autumn statement. Given the importance of that statement and the repeated reference to the situation by yourself here and elsewhere, can you reassure us and provide evidence of what discussions you’re having with the Treasury ahead of the autumn statement regarding that commitment made?
Yesterday, again, you were questioned in the external affairs committee about the external advisory group. I think you told my colleague, Suzy Davies, that you would be seeking to involve all parties and various other agencies in that. Could you provide more detail of when that’s going to happen and the basis on which you intend that to go forward? You’ve referred to your visit to the United States and said you’ll do everything to build confidence in Wales and abroad. Clearly, in your speech last Friday, you talked about Wales being open for business, but you did also talk about the risk of needless economic harm to our country and citizens. Correct me if I’m wrong, but, my understanding is that you were on a sales mission. I know from my previous career that people on sales missions—salespeople—sell the benefits, explaining in a confident, can-do way why a post-Brexit Wales will continue to be a great place to do business. I know you had some business experience before, maybe less sales experience before, but do you grasp that fundamental principle of sales and marketing and bear that in mind as you go forward in discussions in the future?
You rightly talk about the importance of continued, unfettered access to a single market and free trade for goods and services. Yesterday, when I questioned you about engagement in pre-trade discussions—given that we know that exploratory discussions with the Australian Prime Minister and the UK Government took place last week and countries such as India, Mexico, South Korea and Singapore have told the UK Government that they want to engage in trade talks with the Government—is it not a little bit too late to wait for the UK Government, after Brexit, to begin formal trade negotiations? Should you not be directly seeking to be involved in those discussions, given the importance to Wales of matters, as we discussed yesterday, such as New Zealand lamb tariffs?
You referred yesterday, and you’ve done it again today, to trade negotiators. My understanding is the UK has somewhere around 120 trade negotiators, as part of the EU Commission team working in Brussels currently, who are returning—I think an agreement’s been reached that they will be working on this with the UK Government. Of course, the UK Government has announced it is recruiting several hundred more internally within the civil service with relevant experience and added training. What effort have you made, or will you make, to seek the appointment of some of those negotiators to have a position to advise, engage and represent the Welsh Government as part of a UK team? Hopefully, the UK Government might respond positively to the suggestion that such a negotiator in that position might be to everybody’s mutual benefit.
You are right, and we agree, that no-one in this Assembly wants to live in a country defined by low wages or poor prospects. When you say that leaving the European Union does not mean leaving Europe and still less does it mean turning Wales’s back on Europe—Wales is and will remain part of Europe—that, of course, tallies with comments made by, I think, the Foreign Secretary, when meeting the Commission in Brussels not so long ago. So, we welcome that. We also place, like you, high value on access to the EU single market, but we recognise that access to markets is a two-way process and that many EU nations, particularly the larger ones, depend heavily on both the Welsh and UK marketplace. Do you therefore recognise that it is a two-way process, and that this is, at present, an early game, with both sides positioning themselves and that what we must play to are our strengths, as will our friends and partners in Europe, towards a situation that will do hopefully no harm to either and act to the benefit of all? If we keep talking about this as mere supplicants at the emperor’s table, that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Clearly, ultimately, our aim must also be to close the prosperity gap between Wales and European countries. It is ironic that access for Wales to some of the EU funding streams, particularly structural funding, is consequent upon Wales’s prosperity gap with the EU and the rest of the UK actually widening since the receipt of funds. So, how will you seek to use both the negotiations and the reconfiguration of polices after the negotiations to maximise the opportunities to turn that widened GVA or prosperity gap into a narrowed gap that reached the communities that, in large part, voted actually for a Brexit? Again, that was something referred to in committee yesterday.
You referred briefly to the Scottish Government and your view that the likelihood of an independent deal was remote because of the sensitivities in Spain and elsewhere. Do you agree with me that, were Scotland to negotiate as an independent nation, they would be required to enter the eurozone as a eurozone nation, which is part of the rules of membership of the club currently?
Finally, I’ll just refer to agriculture—something that’s vitally important but that I haven’t thus far referred to. At the Denbigh and Flint show, the Farmers Union of Wales panel were unanimous in their decision that the decision to leave the EU should be seen as an opportunity to shape a future that suits Welsh farmers, not just those across the English channel. After the discussions, their managing director said ‘There’s no point in looking back, we must now focus on the future and recognise the excellent opportunity for us to shape our own future, one that suits Welsh agriculture and the people of Britain.’ They also said that, if we don’t change our policy in relation to the management of bovine TB in wildlife, our exports to the European Union in a post-Brexit world are under considerable threat. So, what discussions have you or your Government had, or will you have, with the FUW and NFU over approaching discussions on that positive basis and reflecting the real concerns and barriers they’ve identified?
There were a number of questions there from the Member. First of all, in relation to the Treasury’s announcement, what they have said is they will fund any projects signed off before the statement. There is a debate going on at the moment as to what ‘signed off’ actually means. So, it’s not hugely clear what the cut-off date is, although it’s clear what the commitment is. When he talks about pillar 2 and projects that are signed off after the autumn statement being assessed, that is Treasury speak for, ‘You will have to beg us for the money.’ What it means is we’ll receive no guarantees at all that money that previously would have come to Wales as of right will come to Wales at all, because the Treasury will act as a break on it, according to rules that the Treasury itself sets, and without any kind of explanation. That’s what they mean by that. So, we can give no guarantee at all that we will get a single penny after that sign-off period has gone. It will be, as the Treasury see it, on a case-by-case basis, and they’ll decide whether money that automatically came at one time will come in the future at all.
In terms of the European advisory group, I am aware that it cannot be composed entirely of people who were on the same side in the referendum campaign. So, there will be a need to ensure that people on there do reflect the divergence of views, not just one singular view as to the future. In terms of building confidence, well, he talks to me of ‘salesmanship’ as he put it, not mentioning that Brexit would have been the equivalent of somebody asking me ‘Well, how much is you product?’ and me saying ‘I can’t tell you that’ because every single business wanted to know what was happening after Brexit. Every single business wanted to know what my view was on single market access and for me to say ‘Well, I can’t say that, l’m not telling you’ would’ve looked—well, you can imagine what it would’ve looked like. So, it was hugely important to say to a US audience that the Welsh Government believes that unfettered access to the single market is hugely important. Every business I spoke to said that, because, as I’ve said before, their businesses are European operations not UK operations. If there’s a barrier between the UK and the much bigger operations they have in Europe it’s the UK that will suffer as a result. We need to avoid that at all costs.
In terms of the other issues that he raised, on pre-trade discussions, there’ve been lots of reports in the papers about countries approaching the UK. Iceland was the first. I’ve seen many, many others. The reality is nothing has happened yet and we would expect, of course, to be part of any discussions on free trade agreements. They take years to negotiate—10 years, usually, to negotiate. The suggestion that the UK could renegotiate 50-odd free trade agreements in two years—I can’t imagine that that would be possible, especially against countries that are experienced trade negotiators. So, we have to make sure that we balance what’s necessary with what’s actually possible. At the moment, the UK is still very much in the throes of putting together a negotiating team. It’s a long, long way from being in the position of being able to negotiate a free trade agreement with another trading bloc or country, which is why the theory of what I mentioned earlier on to the leader of the opposition is fine, but the practice is far more difficult at this moment in time.
In terms of the single market, yes, it has to be both ways and it depends who you are. If you are Aston Martin or Jaguar Land Rover, actually tariffs may not make that much of a difference to you. If you are BMW, actually—people will still buy BMWs tariff or not, if they come from Germany. But, if you are a commodity car maker like Nissan or Ford, it makes a big difference because that potentially adds hugely to the cost of the cars you sell, and you sell in bulk. So, the bulk commodity producers would suffer the most with tariffs, whereas prestige marks—bluntly, if you can afford to buy an Aston Martin, maybe 10 per cent on top isn’t going to be that difficult for you. But, it would make a big difference if you’re looking to buy a Ford in the UK compared to a Ford on continental Europe. So, we don’t need tariffs. We need to make sure that tariffs are not in place and I don’t think anyone argues proactively for tariffs in any event. Bear in mind that for the UK’s 60 million, the EU at that point will be 440 million. We’re not talking about two equal blocs here. We’re talking about ensuring that we get as much parity as possible, but it’s not as if we’re the same size.
In terms of the other issues that he mentioned, yes, market access is hugely important for farmers and, yes, there is the opportunity to reshape agricultural policy, but we need the money. If we haven’t got a brass farthing to pay farmers after 2020 we can have the best agricultural support system in the world but no money to pay for it. So, that has to be resolved across the UK by the four UK Governments. The last thing our farmers want—our lamb producers particularly—is a 15 per cent tariff on lamb being sold into the European Union. Yes, it is a prestige product but still it’ll have an effect on the sales within what is our biggest market for lamb. So, the future of farming depends on avoiding tariffs, as it does with manufacturing and any other sector of the economy and that has to be the bottom line. If we get to a position where the UK finds itself subject to WTO rules, it will make it more difficult to attract investment. Why would investors look at the European market and invest there in the UK rather than within the European Union where they can move their goods and services around without any kind of tariff barriers? That’s what we have to avoid in the future and, as I say, I don’t believe there’s anybody who has proactively argued for tariffs in any event. Let’s avoid them.
I welcome the statement and I welcome even more the First Minister’s answers, which I thought were very thoughtful, to the leader of the opposition, in particular his indication that it’s a free trade model that offers the best scope for Wales’s prosperity in the future. I also welcome his statement that the result of the referendum cannot and should not be ignored, which I infer means that there’s no going back on the referendum result, which marks him out, at any rate, from the leader of Plaid Cymru, who has been talking about having a rerun of this, and, indeed, a putative leader of his own party, in the form of Owen Smith, who is constantly talking about rerunning the referendum. So, I hope that he’s going to vote for the right man in the leadership contest in the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who we all in my party support to the hilt, because he at any rate—. [Interruption.] He at any rate has accepted that the result of the referendum is binding.
I agree also with the First Minister when he says that we will do everything we can to build confidence in Wales, but I’m afraid the jeremiads that we hear all too often from the First Minister, such as the way in which his speech in Chicago was reported, don’t actually do anything to help build confidence in Wales. As Mark Isherwood was saying, when you’re a salesman you go out there and sell your product—you don’t talk it down or talk up the difficulties. Yes, of course there are challenges in Brexit—life is full of uncertainties whether we stay inside the EU or whether we’re outside it—but there are also opportunities. Why not focus on the opportunities as well? There is so much European legislation that we’re obliged to implement and adhere to, like the renewables directive, the landfill directive, on business rates and state aid regulations, and so on. We have so much more flexibility outside the EU to reduce business costs and reduce the impediments that there are to wealth creation within Wales. So, why not talk about the opportunities rather more and the challenges rather less?
As regards the EU advisory group, the First Minister ended on a high note in his statement, where he says
‘the issues raised go far beyond the interests of any particular government and any particular political party.’
He’s absolutely right in that. And it’s surprising, therefore, that although he’s come to some cosy little deal with Plaid Cymru to give them favoured access to this particular market in ideas, the leader of the Conservative party and myself who actually believe in the outcome that the Welsh people voted for in this referendum, of course have been excluded. I don’t say this out of any desire on my part to add further committee burdens to my life, but it is vitally important that this EU advisory group does have within it people who are effective advocates for the outcome that the people of Wales voted for, and want to make the best of the opportunities that are available to us. So, I would like to say, and I’m sure I speak for Andrew Davies as well, that we place ourselves at the First Minister’s disposal, in this respect if no other.
As regards the various models—
I think I should intervene. [Laughter.]
As regards the various models of the future that the First Minister referred to, it’s always dangerous when middle-aged men, of course, get involved with models—it usually ends in a rather bad way. [Interruption.]
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
You were doing so well. [Laughter.]
But I was encouraged by what the First Minister said in his reply to the leader of the opposition, because there is no need for us to adopt any models that are already in existence. What we want is a British-designed solution to the future.
No, we want a Welsh one.
Or a Welsh one for that matter, yes, except that your own party doesn’t even believe in independence anymore, so that’s not on offer. So, the opportunity that this gives us is not just, of course, to do a free trade deal with the EU but also free trade deals with the rest of the world, and they are queuing up to do these deals with us. I can’t understand the First Minister’s pessimism about the time this is going to take. So, what I’m asking him to do is to get further behind this idea of a free trade solution to the negotiations that are now ongoing.
As regards other negative things he said, why is he still giving house room to the idea that it’s possible for us to discriminate against EU nationals post Brexit, when he knows that the rights of EU nationals are fully protected under the 1969 Vienna treaty on the rights of nationals of signatory members? There’s no going back on that and the UK Government, I believe, has already made that position clear.
And as regards the future of tariffs within the EU, I can’t understand why he can think that it is actually a serious threat to us that there will be tariffs on imports and exports between Britain and the EU. If we just take Germany as an example, we export £29 billion-worth of goods to them every year, but they export to us twice that—£57 billion. So, he’s been talking about his negotiations with the UK Government, what about setting up some arrangements to talk to the German Government and other Governments that are sympathetic to a free trade solution for themselves as well as for the UK within and beyond the EU? What moves has he made to enter into discussions with the German Government, because next year there is an election in Germany and I don’t think that the German Chancellor will want to go into that election saying that there’s a possibility there’ll be a 10 per cent or 15 per cent tariff on BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen et cetera exports to the EU. So, what I’m asking the First Minister is to become more positive, concentrate on the opportunities that lie ahead so that we can make the best of the outcome of the referendum.
Well, yes, I accept the point about looking at the opportunities. There are opportunities with regard to state aid, potentially, for example. If we’re not part of the current structure then, of course, the constraints that are there now are no longer there—that much is true—but we can’t ignore the risks and think that they’ll happily go away. He mentioned some of the directives that are coming to us, and the landfill directive would have been the one I would’ve chosen probably last, because the landfill directive has made sure that we haven’t seen our country covered with landfill sites. I mean, if he wants to see more of them and he’s willing and more than happy to make that case for the people of Wales—. It’s not a pain-free option. One of the issues that troubled me in the referendum campaign was the suggestion that, somehow, this is all pain free and it’ll all be fine at the end of the day and we don’t have to worry. Well, there’s a lot of work to do in the meantime. Yes, there are countries queuing up, perhaps, to look for free trade agreements with the UK, and naturally they would do, because the UK will be outside the EU; it’s hardly a surprise that they would. We also know the UK is vulnerable, because it has no experience of negotiating free trade agreements at the moment, so we must protect ourselves against others perhaps taking advantage of the UK itself.
He talks about Germany. The reality is that Germany’s export market is huge. Its EU exports, it is true, is more in terms of volume to the UK than the other way around, but a greater percentage of the UK’s exports go to the EU than the other way around, so it is absolutely crucial for us to make sure that we have access to that export market. The Germans will not speak to the UK alone; the Germans will only speak to the European Union—they are part of it. Any deal has to be agreed by the 27 remaining member states, as well as the European Parliament, so let’s not underestimate how difficult this might be.
Now, it seems to me that nobody wants tariffs any more than anybody wants to see a hard border in place between Northern Ireland and the Republic, but, actually, nobody knows how to avoid it coming back, because there would be two parts of an island with different immigration policies—one with free movement and one without, probably. There will be different regulations on both sides of the border. Fisheries access would be restricted. There would be different customs dues. People said to me on the doorstep, ‘We want control of our borders.’ You can’t have that unless you control the border with the Republic. So, there are a number of issues that have to be resolved in Ireland, even though nobody wants to see the border come back. What I want to avoid is that, whilst nobody wants to see the tariffs come back, they happen anyway, because nobody’s put in the work to avoid them coming back. That means there’s a huge amount of work yet to be done; it’s not quite that easy. There’s a huge amount of work yet to be done in order to avoid any kind of imposition of tariffs in the future.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
All opposition spokespeople have now spoken and we’ve had quite lengthy contributions from most. I have many people who still want to ask questions in this statement. We’re already almost out of time, so if I can have very short, sharp succinct questions from some of you, I’ll call you, and short responses from the First Minister as well, but I will not be able to call all of you who’ve expressed an interest in this statement this afternoon. Huw Irranca-Davies.
Diolch, Lywydd. I will indeed keep it very short. One particular moment in the statement made my ears and those of others on the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee prick up, and it was towards the end of the statement, when the First Minister said:
‘As we contemplate a changed relationship with our European neighbours, so we must also contemplate changed relationships here within the UK.’
He goes on at the end of that paragraph to say:
‘We need open-minds and imagination to develop a new, dynamic and durable UK.’
Does he feel those open minds are there, and if not, how do we open them?
I’m not sure they are deliberately open. I think they’re being kept open because of the situation in Scotland, but I certainly hope that they remain open for as long as possible.
I was hoping that the position of the Welsh Government would be clarified, but I’m more confused than ever now. The First Minister seemed to be adopting the policy of UKIP wholesale, leapfrogging the Conservatives and coming out in favour of a free trade agreement, because membership of the European Economic Area would require freedom of movement. That doesn’t sound like leadership; that sounds like capitulation to me. So, if I’m wrong, maybe the First Minister can actually put the record straight.
Specifically on the four-nation approach, is he ruling out the possibility of an asymmetric Brexit, if you like? We heard for many years of opt-outs from European rules. Could we have a position where, if the national interest of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland was different, that we had opt-ins to environmental regulations, to workers’ rights, and a different relationship with the European institutions than possibly might be chosen for England? And finally, in order to allow a full and free-ranging debate, where those divergent national interests can be expressed in the run-up to article 50 being triggered, but also most importantly in the negotiations thereafter, is it now time to revise the concordat on EU matters between the devolved legislatures and the UK Government so that, actually, those different opinions can be expressed publicly but also in discussions with EU institutions?
There’s no barrier to expressing different opinions; I’ve already done that on many, many occasions, so I can assure the Member that is the case. In terms of the four nations, what isn’t possible—certainly the indications show it—is that there is any way in which, for example, Scotland can have a different relationship with the EU whilst being outside it compared to the UK as a whole. The Scottish Government’s view is that independence is still in play. There is an argument for saying, if Scotland were to vote for independence within the two-year period following the triggering of article 50, that Scotland would simply continue with the UK’s membership. It wouldn’t have to reapply nor join the eurozone. I’ll leave that to constitutional lawyers, whose company I’ve enjoyed greatly over the past few years. But as soon as Scotland leaves, the re-entry into the EU, were Scotland to be an independent state, would be on the basis of joining the eurozone—there have been no exceptions.
In terms of where we go next, like me he has to accept the result of the referendum. There’s no point pretending that the vote went a different way, and I’m fully aware, as he is, that many people said on the doorstep, ‘We don’t like the free movement of people’, and so we have to accept that that is the way people feel at the moment. In the same way, I don’t think it would be useful for us to be in a position where we had to implement EU directives without any kind of say over them, which makes it difficult, looking at the EEA model. There are a number of models that we need to explore. We have to bear in mind what people actually said, not what he and I would have hoped that they had said, in order to make sure that we get to a position that’s to the benefit of Welsh business.
I’ll keep it pretty brief, seeing as we’re short on time. First Minister, do you agree with your party’s leadership candidate and MP for Pontypridd, Owen Smith, that we should reject the democratic will of the people of Wales and the United Kingdom and rejoin the EU, adopt the euro and have open borders through the Schengen zone?
No, not any more than I think there should be another referendum on devolution.
First Minister, thank you for your statement this afternoon. Could I seek clarity, please, on one key area? You are signed up to, and I think we’re all signed up to as free a movement of goods and services as possible, because trade is good for any country, and the more barriers you put in place, the less job opportunities and the less prosperity you create. In the wake of the referendum, you gave a very clear statement—in fact, it was in the third point of six that you said that it was vital that we also retain the free movement of people within the condition. That was given on 24 June in your six points that you said was the Welsh Government’s position. I have to say, since then, and in particular after your press conference at the end of August, you’ve said that not making the same demands of the European system of the freedom of movement was now the Welsh Government’s position. It was keen to retain goods and services, but the free movement of people was no longer, and I quote this from the article, of the same demands that you were expecting out of the renegotiation. So, there is a material change in the Welsh Government’s position from what you stated in your six critical points that you outlined at the outset, at the end of June/beginning of July, to where the Government is at the moment. Can you confirm that is the case, please?
I think it’s inevitable that free movement of people is controversial. I think it would be difficult to suggest that people voted in favour of free movement of people—seeing as I heard it so many times on the doorstep—as they voted to leave the EU. Part of the problem is we can’t have an exhaustive list of why people decided to leave the EU. I hear what Plaid Cymru say, but you have to accept what the referendum said, and we have to try to understand what the people of Wales want and to try and find a way forward that the majority of people of Wales will actually want to support. For me, what is hugely important is free movement of goods and services and access to the single market. It is a given that, without that, Welsh business and the Welsh economy cannot thrive. Beyond that, of course, there are a number of points of negotiation that cannot be resolved this week or next month, or the month after that, but will need to be resolved in the two-year period following the triggering of article 50.
I would agree with the First Minister that Wales needs an impact on the Brexit negotiations—it shouldn’t all be left to the Government in Westminster—but sending any of the Europhiles that pack the Welsh Government to represent Wales in the Brexit talks is merely setting the fox to guard the hen house. You wouldn’t send a salesman who had no faith in his product into a negotiation with a key customer; you wouldn’t let a salesman who had spent the previous few months talking down your product and focusing on its weakness to discuss pricing with a key customer; neither would you send a salesman who is convinced that that customer was the only customer in the world.
The Welsh Government has shown time and time again in this Chamber that you have no faith in Wales outside the EU and that you’re totally dependent on the EU to make your laws so that you can run yourselves as a management committee. We don’t need representatives who can sing a song of dependency on the EU in their sleep and who have no belief in their own ability to govern in the interest of the Welsh people or in the entrepreneurial spirit of the Welsh people.
We need people who understand our bargaining power as the fifth biggest economy in the world and one of the EU’s biggest customers. We’re not going to find those people in the Welsh Government.
I think the Member has to accept her party did not win the election. They’ve already lost one Member in record time. Frankly, I’m not going to be lectured by a party not all of whose Members actually live in Wales—talk about commitment to our country. There are people who don’t live in our country, and yet still want, apparently, to have to be paid to do so. That’s just totally ridiculous.
From our perspective, we have to respect what the Welsh people said. We have to try to interpret, as best we can, what they said, because there’s no clarity, apart from the fact that they voted to leave the European Union. But, what they don’t want is to be in a position where they find themselves worse off economically. I know, as far as UKIP are concerned, the world’s a simple place where simple things can be done in a short space of time. That’s not the way that the world actually is. So, from our perspective, we want to respect the views of the people of Wales. For years, her party didn’t want this place to exist. Now, they’re here; okay, they accepted the reality of democracy. We’ve done the same and, as her party claims to have done, we’ll do the same.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Finally, Mark Reckless.
To date, though, agriculture has been devolved legally to Wales, but, in practice, most of what happens in that area has been set at EU level. The First Minister rightly observes there will be a massive difference between a Barnett formula share of agriculture spending and what we’ve received under the CAP. Given that, is it wise for him to set himself against a CAP-type policy on a UK level, simply because it would involve interference with that area that’s been legally devolved?
He’s now saying he doesn’t want interference from Brussels, but that there should be interference from London. I mean, where does that leave Welsh farmers? The reality is that we have an entirely different system of payment and a different computer system. Trying to bring four systems together—good luck with that one. We, for a long time, have said that we will tailor our policies for the good of Welsh farmers. What we need is the guarantee of the money—that money that was coming to Welsh farmers from Europe: £260 million of farming subsidies. He said, and his party said, not a penny of that would be lost. If we have that money, we could implement a farming policy that commands the support of those who live in the Welsh countryside, rather than trying to use this as an excuse to take powers away from the elected body of the people of Wales. I say now to him and to others in this Chamber: if this is going to be used as an excuse to centralise power in the UK away from the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, he will find strong opposition in this Chamber and outside it.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, First Minister.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The next item is the statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government on the Land Transaction Tax and Anti-avoidance of Devolved Taxes (Wales) Bill. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, Mark Drakeford.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. Yesterday, I laid the Land Transaction Tax and Anti-avoidance of Devolved Taxes (Wales) Bill, together with the explanatory memorandum, before the National Assembly for Wales.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
The introduction of this Bill marks a significant step in our tax devolution journey and progress in preparing for the first Welsh-specific taxes in almost 800 years. The Bill follows the passage of the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Act 2016, which received Royal Assent in April. The Act provided the legal framework to collect and manage devolved taxes, including the establishment of the Welsh Revenue Authority—the authority that will undertake the collection and management functions for land transaction tax.
There has been extensive consultation with stakeholders about the content of this Bill and the shape of land transaction tax. I would like to formally thank all those who have contributed to its development. I value their continued involvement in informing the detailed work that still needs to be taken forward under this Bill.
So, it is, Dirprwy Lywydd, that this Bill will establish a new tax on land transactions in Wales, which will replace stamp duty land tax from April 2018.
In particular, the Bill sets out in Part 2 the key principles of LTT, including which types of transaction will incur an LTT charge and who will have to pay that charge. In Part 3 the Bill sets out how the tax will be calculated and what reliefs will apply. Part 4 deals with the application of the Bill in relation to leases and licences, while Part 5 sets out the special rules applicable to a variety of persons and bodies, such as partnerships or companies. Part 6 of the Bill includes the rules on making a land transaction return and paying the tax, while Part 7 sets out specific measures to tackle devolved tax avoidance.
To guide us in developing our policies and procedures, the Welsh Government has learned from the experience of both HM Revenue and Customs and Revenue Scotland. The Bill retains key elements of stamp duty land tax, including the approach to partnerships, trusts and companies, and to reliefs and exemptions. This is in order to ensure consistency and stability, which businesses have asked for, and which will enable a smooth transition for the property market.
There are, however, some areas in which land transaction tax is different. Those areas are designed to improve efficiency, effectiveness and to ensure a focus on uniquely Welsh needs and priorities. For example, the Bill introduces a simpler general anti-avoidance rule, which will apply to all Welsh taxes, and a single, overarching and robust anti-avoidance rule, which will apply to all reliefs within the land transaction tax itself. This approach will extend, simplify and strengthen existing stamp duty land tax legislation.
Dirprwy Lywydd, taxes fund the Welsh public services on which we all rely. This Government will take a robust approach whenever we believe that democratically sanctioned taxes are being deliberately avoided in Wales.
The Bill will establish a framework for setting the rates and bands for land transaction tax. We will adopt a marginal tax structure in Wales because this is both fairer and more progressive and is also consistent with the approach taken in Scotland, and more recently across the UK. The legislation before Members this afternoon includes specific provision that commits us to adopt a progressive approach to rates and bands—a key benefit of devolving stamp duty land tax being the opportunity to embed fairness in our legislation.
Rates and bands for land transaction tax will be set through secondary legislation closer to April 2018, in order to reflect the economic conditions and state of the property market at that time. A research paper providing a wider context about existing stamp duty land tax rates and bands in England and Wales, and land building transaction tax in Scotland, together with the economic context, will be published shortly. I plan to make it available in advance of the Finance Committee’s Stage 1 proceedings in the hope that that will assist the committee with its consideration of the Bill. Both the UK and Scottish Governments have made changes to their respective land transaction taxes recently, in particular in relation to the rate on additional residential properties. The UK changes were consulted upon in Wales, England and Northern Ireland earlier this year, and the legislation is currently in the later stages of progression through the UK Parliament. The Welsh Government published a Treasury paper seeking views about a higher rate for additional residential properties over the summer. The responses received are currently being considered. This is a matter, amongst a range of others, on which I look forward to studying the views of the Finance Committee when it comes to completing its Stage 1 report.
Dirprwy Lywydd, land transaction tax is the first of two taxes to be devolved to Wales. Later this year, I will introduce a second Bill to the National Assembly to establish a landfill disposals tax. Devolving taxes to Wales enables the Welsh Government to develop a tax system that is simpler, fairer and that supports our ambitions for public services, jobs and growth. For the first time in almost 800 years, we will take the first steps today towards developing and implementing a tax regime that is more directly suited to the circumstances and people of Wales. We intend to do so in a way that works closely with those most directly involved in the relevant fields, which remains conscious of the need to provide a smooth transition between long-established regimes and new arrangements, while at the same time putting in place a law that is sufficiently flexible to accommodate the development of further distinctiveness in the future. In this way, I believe the Bill can make a real difference to people’s lives. I look forward now to the scrutiny process that will follow, and to the engagement of the many organisations and individuals within this Siambr and beyond, who I know will have an interest in making this Bill a success. Diolch yn fawr.
First of all, I’d like to thank the finance Secretary for his statement and for sharing it with us prior to making that statement. There’s been a great deal of talk over the past few days, and some excitement, even—at least amongst some—about the historic nature of this Bill that will, along with the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Act 2016 and the Bill on landfill disposals tax, as has been said, mean that Wales will now levy some of its own taxes for the first time since the days of Dafydd ap Gruffydd, the real last ruler of Wales in 1283.
We welcome this Bill and take pride in its historical significance, but the real significance of these powers will become apparent as they are used and as they are formulated, as the Secretary said, to meet the specific needs of Wales. So, it’s an important duty for this place to ensure that we make full use of these powers, and the starting point for that is the scrutiny for which we will be responsible, in order to show the people of Wales that they can trust in this Assembly to safeguard their interests when it comes to the issue of taxation.
It’s a very technical Bill, and we therefore welcome the fact there was a draft Bill. That gave various organisations across Wales an opportunity to respond to that Bill, and I’m pleased to see that the Government has tried to incorporate within the Bill much of the response to that consultation. On this question of the balance in it between the need perhaps for consistency and stability in moving towards a Welsh framework, and of course then creating a platform for policies that are made to respond specifically to Welsh needs, and policies that may be radical from time to time, there is reference in the statement to the treatment of second homes, and that’s one example of that, and, of course, there’s a consultation ongoing in England on that issue at the moment.
But to what extent should we ensure that this Bill provides sufficient freedom for future Governments to make use of that power to differentiate—for example, looking at the possibilities of regional banding in order to reflect differences in housing markets at a local level, which can be a factor; certainly, it is one of the reasons for this suggestion in terms of buy-to-let homes, particularly because of problems in London? To what extent can this tax be used to meet the objectives of other policies, for example, reflecting the quality of housing in terms of energy efficiency or build quality? That is, I’m asking the question: to what extent can we enable future Governments, not necessarily thinking that we are going to implement that immediately through secondary legislation, but providing as much freedom as possible for future Governments to ensure that we have that range of powers available to us?
In terms of negotiations with the Treasury, of course, the question of the fiscal framework is an issue of great importance that does actually impinge on a wider debate on taxation powers that will go hand-in-hand with the scrutiny of this Bill. Now, if the Cabinet Secretary could tell us where those discussions have reached, that would be very beneficial, specifically if he could respond to the Wales Governance Centre’s report on this particular Bill, looking at the question as to whether the south-east of England and London should be exempted in terms of assessing the changes to the block in estimating the impact on the block of any changes in this tax.
More broadly still, may I tempt the Secretary onto some dangerous ground, perhaps? Because most of the economists looking at this tax and at stamp duty in England have come to the conclusion that it is an exceptionally inefficient tax. Indeed, it is very difficult to justify it. Of course, it is also true that the range of taxes that relate in one way or another to land or property that we’ve inherited—council tax and also, of course, business rates—are all less than satisfactory in one way or another. Is it not time now, perhaps, for us to have a broader inquiry into this whole question of the land and property tax framework for Wales? Because this would be an opportunity to actually discover real Welsh solutions, I think, that would certainly give us a framework that would be more beneficial in the longer term.
Well, thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you to the Member for those comments and questions.
I’ll try and respond to three of the big questions that were being raised. I entirely agree with what Adam Price said, that we are trying to strike a balance in the Bill between immediate continuity—because there is a system that people are very familiar with, it’s a system that has a lot of cross-border components to it as well, and the replies to consultation on the draft Bill were unambiguous from practitioners in asking for us to design a system that would be recognisable to them on the day that it was introduced. But we have to go beyond that to create a Bill that allows for policy departure beyond its introduction. That is what we have aimed to do in the way that the Bill is constructed. It will be of interest, I’m sure, to both the Finance Committee, but also to the constitutional affairs committee, to look at the way some of those regulation-making powers have been constructed in the Bill to try and make sure that, whenever a regulation-making power is used in a way that could alter the tax burden on individuals, that would require an affirmative debate on the floor of this Assembly.
But, at the same time, I believe that it creates a framework of flexibility in which, when new ideas and new possibilities want to be attempted, the Bill, if it becomes an Act, is constructed to allow that to happen.
Again, the Member’s quite right to say that the Bill has a direct line to the fiscal framework negotiations, because it will form part of the block grant adjustment mechanism that we are discussing with the Treasury. I’m very happy to say to Members that I’ve met the Chief Secretary to the Treasury once already, earlier in the summer, and I’m due to meet him again before the end of this month. That will be the start of detailed negotiations that will go on around the fiscal framework and the block grant adjustment mechanisms that will be necessary for this Bill and more generally in relation to the way in which devolved taxes and their interface with the block grant are negotiated for the future. I’m looking forward to meeting members of the Welsh Governance Centre—the authors of the report—tomorrow, to hear directly from them some of those ideas about how we might have a comparator that takes out London and the south east of England, with its distorting effect on comparisons with the rest of the United Kingdom.
Finally, on to the dangerous territory that I was invited onto in the final question—it’s the nature of the powers that this Assembly was provided with through the Government of Wales Act 2014 that we have the powers to replace stamp duty land tax. That’s what we are entitled to do immediately and that’s what this Bill therefore sets out to do. Does that mean that we should avoid a debate on bigger questions about different ways of approaching how we raise revenue, what should be taxed, how these taxes interplay with one another? I don’t think we should avoid that at all. I think this Assembly term may well be the right one to look at those questions, not in the abstract, but looking at how those ideas would, in a practical way, be applied if they were to be operated in Wales, and then to allow those with the responsibility to make informed decisions about them.
I very much welcome the statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government on the land transaction tax. We know, on the land transaction tax, it’s a volatile and cyclical tax. We also know that it fell by £110 million between 2007-08 and 2009-10. We also know that the rate of increasing revenue in the south east, especially London, is greater than in the rest of the United Kingdom. We also know that the increase in London is at least partly due to overseas purchases—London is an international city. With the pound having fallen significantly in value against both the euro and the dollar, property prices in those currencies have also dropped considerably.
Can I just say, the Bill does mark a significant step in tax devolution? I think that’s something we need to really take account of. I very much welcome the introduction of a general anti-avoidance rule. In the last Assembly, some of us who were on the Finance Committee kept on talking about the need for a general anti-avoidance rule and I’m very pleased to see that having happened.
I’ve really got sort of two questions. One is about border properties. It says in the Bill:
‘Accordingly, the Welsh transaction is to be treated as a land transaction within the meaning of this Act (being the acquisition of a chargeable interest relating to the land in Wales).’
If there’s land in Wales and England, if the rate is the same in England and Wales, will the same amount be collected post the bringing in of this Act, and then split between England and Wales as it is now? I.e., will there be an opportunity for people to reduce the amount of tax they pay by having a value in England and a value in Wales that takes them below a threshold, which would reduce the amount of money they had to pay?
The second point is really—or the next two points, really, are following on from Adam Price; I wish I’d spoken before him, really. The first one is the no-detriment rule: is that going to be applied? If we’re going to see London and the south east, especially London, increasing in value—and there are houses in London for £50 million and £60 million; I’ve got streets in my constituency for that—I think you really have got that situation, in terms of the value that exists, that we are going to lose out over a period of time unless no-detriment is brought in. That either means, as Adam Price just said, excluding London and the south east and comparing us with comparable parts of England, or thinking of some other means of doing it so that we don’t end up losing out for the Welsh budget.
The third point—and I’m going to be even naughtier than Adam Price in trying to tempt you, Minister—is: is it now the time to start debating the relevance of a land value tax, as opposed to these property taxes, where people are taxed on the value of their land? I know that we’ve talked about it previously, before you had the current role you’ve got. Is now a time when at least it’s ready to start a debate on that subject?
I thank Mike Hedges for all those questions. I’m grateful for what he said about the general anti-avoidance rule, and those who will be looking at the Bill closely will see that we have adopted the Scottish test for the GAAR, which is that tax arrangements that are artificial will be captured by the GAAR, whereas, in the stamp duty land tax, they have to be abusive before the GAAR applies. So, we have lowered the threshold for when the general anti-avoidance rule will come into play.
The issue of border properties, I’m sure, will be one that the committee will want to pursue during scrutiny. We have worked very closely with the land value authority. We think there are about 450 properties—we can practically name them—and about 30 or so of those change hands in any one year. The extent to which a property falls within the new regime in Wales and the regime that will pertain in England will depend upon the extent to which the property is in one nation or another. So, if a quarter of the land lies in Wales, then a quarter of its liability will be determined under our law, and if three quarters of it lies in England, then three quarters of it will be determined under the law that pertains in England. This is why we’re glad that it’s only 30 properties this applies to, and lots of them, actually, don’t have a quarter and three quarters; they are essentially in one country and have a marginal bit of land that’s on the other side of the border.
The no-detriment principle is absolutely important in relation to the block grant adjustment. What is the block grant adjustment there for? It’s to reflect the fact that the UK Government will no longer receive revenues from taxpayers in Wales for which the tax has been devolved. We therefore need to make sure that if this Assembly makes decisions that mean that we are able to grow taxes then we should get the benefit; if we make decisions that are in the opposite direction, we have to be clear that we will face the consequences of those. But comparators therefore have to be fair ones, and that is the point that the Wales Governance Centre was making about the London effect.
Finally, in relation to land value taxation, well, personally, I’ve always seen attractions in that. What I want us to do, if we can, in this Assembly term is to move on from relatively theoretical rehearsals of the merits and demerits of different ways of organising taxation. There’s a very good report, published by the Scottish Government in December last year, jointly between the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Government, that does exactly that: it rehearses the theoretical advantages of LVT, of a local income tax, of a reformed council tax, for example. I don’t think we need to go over that ground again. We know now what the basic pluses and minuses are theoretically. We need to do a bit of applied work to see, as I said to Adam, how, if we were to adopt any of those ways forward in Wales, what that would actually mean for applying taxes in Wales. Then we will be in a better position to see which of these models might be preferable for us.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for your statement. You’ll be pleased to know that I am going to ask you about the land transaction tax and not about an array of hypothetical other taxation, be it the land tax or wealth tax or whatever. I think we’ve got enough on our plate dealing with this piece of legislation. You mentioned that this was a historic moment: the first Welsh tax in several hundred—I think it was 800 years. I felt like it took me 800 years to read the document. Actually, it’s quite a hefty document here, Cabinet Secretary, and there is a lot in there for us to consider before this finally does become the model of land transaction tax that is implemented across Wales. Whilst I acknowledge the more radical direction that Adam Price and Plaid Cymru put out earlier, I’m pleased that you’ve adopted the previous finance Minister’s maxim of keeping things the same as across the border and only deviating where absolutely necessary. Certainly, in the first instance, in the first few years of the operation of this tax, I think that’s a sensible move.
You mention no change for change’s sake. I could say that’s a good Conservative approach, Cabinet Secretary, but that would probably be antagonistic, so I’ll leave it at that. You mentioned consistency—and you were asked by both Mike Hedges and Adam Price about consistency—I’m sure you recognise it’s easy to talk about consistency, but can I ask you how are you ensuring that this consistency is taking place and will take place in practice? Is it on the one hand simply a case of copying English law where appropriate, or listening to experts in the field who may have their own issues with the law across the border and areas of where they think it can be better here and where, indeed, it might be worse across the border? How are you balancing that consistency? And—you have touched on this—how are you engaging stakeholders in an ongoing process as the tax is developed and, indeed, as it beds in?
We know that there have been concerns and anxieties in the tax world about the situation of having a different tax regime here. Land transaction tax, as you said, is particularly vulnerable to this criticism because of the way that people buy and sell houses along the border. I appreciate there may only be a few properties where the land is across the border, but there are many, many properties within close proximity of the border that will come into the decision-making process as people decide whether they’re going to be buying houses here or in England. So, how are you proposing to deal with those concerns of tax experts? There will need to be an understanding of the differences; how you are promoting this understanding? I believe from my meeting with you last week that tax experts and stakeholders who have seen the legislation already have been reassured to a certain extent, and I think that’s down in no small part to a lot of the hard work that has gone in from your staff, actually, in trying to make sure that, in the first instance, this is as workable as possible. How are you going to keep them reassured over the months and years to come so that they don’t lose confidence in the process?
Over the summer, we’ve seen changes to UK stamp duty in terms of tackling tax avoidance. You mentioned the GAAR. As we discussed in our meeting last week, in England, tax advisers are now set to be liable for avoidance as well, not just the people whose tax forms they are. It will be advisers and people filling out their tax form and paying the tax in the first instance. I think it’s important that the new Welsh legislation incorporates these changes. How is this now going to be achieved? I don’t think it’s in that document at the moment. How are you ensuring that the legislation is, firstly, futureproofed and, secondly, regularly updated with any changes that the Assembly deems necessary over the years to come? I don’t think this is going to be an automatic updating any more as this tax and other taxes in Wales diverge from English taxes, so it’s important that we know this legislation and other tax legislation will be futureproofed.
Two final things, Cabinet Secretary: do you agree with me that the aim here, the holy grail if you like, should not be just to replace the UK tax when it is switched off with a satisfactory land transaction tax, but to prove the critics wrong and to do something better here in Wales, something that taxpayers in Wales will actually look to as an improvement on what has gone before? It’s easier said than done, I know—and let’s face it, paying taxation will not be anyone’s first choice, but it is a fact of life, and it’s something that I’m sure that you and your Government would want to make as easy as possible for people here in Wales.
Very finally, Deputy Presiding Officer, on the issue that was raised by Plaid Cymru and Mike Hedges on the fiscal framework, yes, I think that you cannot see this land transaction tax and the fiscal framework in separation. Whilst it’s true and inevitable and we all understand that there will, of course, be a reduction in the block grant to Wales when these taxes come into force, what we don’t want to see—any of us across this Chamber—is an unfair reduction in the block grant. In the first instance, that might not happen, but as the years go by and you have issues such as inflation and population change, there is a danger that, unless the fiscal framework is operating properly, Wales could be short-changed in the future. What discussions did you have with the Treasury, and have you had with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, to make sure that they fully understand and appreciate our concerns here, to make sure that when these taxes do come into effect, they work as best as they possibly can?
Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. I’m always glad to hear Nick Ramsay say those things about the fiscal framework; I quoted him in my meeting with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to let the Chief Secretary to the Treasury know what pressure I was under from the Conservative benches here in the Assembly to make sure that the fiscal framework was properly negotiated from the Welsh perspective. So, I’ll be glad to be able to tell him that those interests continue very firmly.
Working backwards, in a way, through the questions, absolutely it is our ambition not simply to replace but to improve the way that this particular form of taxation is operated here in Wales. Are we simply copying English law? No. One of the features of stamp duty land tax is the way, as legislation tends to do, it has grown up over the years with bits being added on here and bits being voted on in another Bill so that it’s actually quite hard to find everything you need to know. So, we are in a lucky position of being able to consolidate all those changes into one place, making the law more accessible and understandable. And we have certainly taken a great deal of learning from experts here in Wales—experts in taxation, but also experts in the field of land transaction—and I think the Bill shows the benefit of the advice which they have very freely given. We certainly want to, in the way that Nick Ramsay asked, go on benefiting from that during the progress of the Bill. The advisory structures that my predecessor, Jane Hutt, largely set in place are to continue during the whole of the Bill’s passage through this National Assembly.
Nick Ramsay’s absolutely right to say that while there are not that many properties that are actually straddling the border, there are far more properties that are transacted along the border, and therefore we have to make sure that practitioners on the other side of the border are well informed about the rules that they will be operating under if they are working in the Welsh context. A lot of work has gone on already within the professions using professional networks and professional publications, and so on, to promote understanding, and we will be doing everything that we can to make sure that that information is readily available to people who need to prepare themselves to provide good advice.
Publishing a draft version of the Bill just before the recess, with the agreement of the office of the Presiding Officer, I think has been successful in allowing those who will have to do the practical business under this new rule book—in giving them an assurance that, to begin with, we aim for consistency and then we allow for divergence as things develop.
Finally, in relation to penalties and tax avoidance, Nick Ramsay points to a consultation document that the Treasury published during August in which it plans a new deterrent regime for those who provide advice which is clearly designed to avoid taxes that are legitimately there to be collected. That consultation ends on 12 October, so we don’t actually know for sure what it is that the Treasury will do. There’s been some quite hostile response to some of the ideas that the Treasury has floated. I’m very keen to keep a close eye on all of that and to see how much we might want to replicate, as part of our Bill, in terms of the deterrent measures that are being considered in London.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Finally, Mark Reckless.
Thank you. My party accepted the St David’s Day agreement and said we would work with that, I think largely because we wanted to focus on delivering better public services in Wales, rather than continued constitutional navel-gazing. We do not accept the change to devolve income tax powers without a referendum, which is a departure from that St David’s Day agreement, but we note the inclusion of these two taxes within that agreement, and therefore, we engage constructively with that.
I wonder, though, could the Cabinet Secretary explain the rationale as to why it was these two taxes—the stamp duty or the land transaction tax and the landfill tax—that were chosen and consensus met on those, for the benefit of new Members or those who didn’t participate in the St David’s Day agreement?
Second, we see, I think, on the Plaid benches perhaps some understandable celebration at a point of principle of the devolution of a Welsh tax, and while I look forward to sitting on the Finance Committee under Simon Thomas’s chairmanship, I don’t necessarily share that sense of celebration, but it would be churlish for us not to recognise the importance of this to some Members in this Siambr. However, would the Cabinet Secretary agree that these two taxes would be the first two of many to be devolved and does he see this tax as an opportunity to move to a Welsh tax regime separate from that of elsewhere in the United Kingdom for land and property generally, rather than just for this narrow tax?
He mentioned a focus on uniquely Welsh needs and priorities, and I, like Nick Ramsay, have enjoyed my summer reading; I understand that this is the longest law that the Welsh Assembly has, to date, considered. Certainly, from my reading of it, there seems to be rather more replication of UK legislation and codification—in some areas in a lot of technical detail—and rather less, at least as I’ve been able to discern to date, of new departures aimed at uniquely Welsh needs and priorities. I just wonder whether he could give some examples of those uniquely Welsh needs and priorities that he believes this legislation will address.
Thirdly, as a lawyer, perhaps if I could just warn that, on the desire and ambition to extend, simplify and strengthen the existing system, he may find there is an element of tension between the extending and strengthening and the simplifying. Even where codification does appear to simplify existing or previous practice, it often will lead—and he may find this also with the general anti-avoidance rule, however simple it appears—to case law that develops and injects its own complexity in, perhaps, less predictable ways than would’ve been the case if the legislation were not changed. On the extent that there is some difference between the Welsh system—and I hear what he says about making it recognisable is the first priority—does he expect firms of solicitors on the English side of the border that might only occasionally, perhaps, conveyance a Welsh property—. Does he see many of those exiting the market for providing conveyancing services for Wales, and would he see that as a positive and more legal services being delivered at home in Wales, or a negative in reducing competition in the area?
Finally, the issue ably raised by Mike Hedges of the cross-border properties—I understand not large in number, but a point of some interest or principle to Members. Is it really sensible to have a regime where you have two taxes applying to the same property? Mike mentioned the potential for that to lead to a lower tax and perhaps a desire for people to build properties straddling the border, because with a progressive tax you split it into two and the overall amount paid may be lower. Is that really something that we want to lead to? The Cabinet Secretary then said, ‘Well, actually, with most of them, it’s only a small proportion that will go one side or the other’. In which case, doesn’t it follow—? Wouldn’t it be more sensible and easier for practitioners, as well as ourselves, if perhaps we said that whichever side of the border the larger part was on, the tax system of that there nation might take responsibility for the tax of that particular transaction?
Turning to the last question first: the rules for how cross-border properties are to be treated in devising the new tax strategy are set out in the 2014 Act. They’re not something that we have the freedom to manoeuvre over, even when there are sensible suggestions about how it might be done differently. We have a rulebook; we are trying to design the best system we can within it. Do I expect that practitioners on the other side of the border will do less business in Wales as a result of the Bill? That’s not the intention of the Bill, but I can see how, in the way we’ve described the future of the Bill, staying relatively close to known ways of doing things to begin with—. Greater divergence—not simply on our side, but law in relation to stamp duty land tax has changed relatively rapidly on an England and Wales basis, so there will be changes the other side of the border as well that will emphasise divergence over time, and that may change the way that people carry out their business.
I was interested in what the Member had to say about tensions between different ambitions for simplicity and clarity and so on. If there are tensions that we haven’t seen for ourselves, or that will come to greater prominence during the scrutiny process—I think that will be very useful, and I will certainly attend very careful to any examples that emerge. The Member asked about where new departures are to be found in the Bill, and even though, as I say, our ambition is to allow for a smooth transition, there are examples throughout the Bill of where we have adjusted arrangements to take account of Welsh needs and priorities. In relation to leases, for example, which have always been a topic of interest in the Welsh context, you will see that the rent element of residential leases are not proposed to be taxed under LTT, although they are under SDLT. We’re making improvements in the rules for leases that continue after a fixed term and indefinite-term leases, which are important in a Welsh context, and also changes to how the rules operate when a new lease is granted, but the date on which it is to commence is backdated. All of these things are intended to be consistent with our ambitions for greater simplicity, consistency and fairness, but they do arise directly from our experience of leases and leaseholding here in Wales.
Where did they all come from, these two particular taxes? Well, they come from the Silk commission, and from the work that the commission did and its very thorough examination of all the different possibilities of taxes that could be devolved to Wales. The principle that we’re establishing, Dirprwy Lywydd, just to end with, is of course the principle that we are able to take responsibility for taxes that affect people in Wales directly through the National Assembly. But it’s a wider principle than that, and it’s why we are right to focus on it and to celebrate it to an extent. And that’s the principle—that a body that expends revenue should take some responsibility for raising the revenue that it expends. We’ve never been in that position in the National Assembly for Wales to date. We will be in that position once this law and the landfill disposals tax come into being, and that’s the journey that we’re embarking on this afternoon.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you very much, Cabinet Secretary.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
We move on now to the next item on our agenda, which is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure on major international sporting events. I call Ken Skates to introduce the statement.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I welcome this opportunity to reflect on what has been an extraordinary year for sport in Wales. I’d particularly like to mention the incredible performance of Wales’s men’s football team in the European championships, and the strong Welsh presence in the record-breaking Team GB Olympic squad. It is now great to see our Paralympic athletes continuing our medal-winning success in Rio.
As our football team successfully begin their World Cup qualifying campaign, it is good to be able to stand here and think that Wales has a realistic chance of qualifying for 2018. In France, the team achieved more than we could have imagined, and those magnificent fans who went to Europe to support the team set a standard for behaviour and sportsmanship that most other countries would struggle to emulate.
We continue to support grass-roots and community sport as the foundation for sustaining sport success. For example, the Welsh Football Trust receives nearly £1 million a year of Welsh Government money to support the development of grass-roots football. This year, they used the European championships as a catalyst to get more people to play football, holding 100 community football recruitment days across Wales and continuing to engage with schools through their Play More Football programme.
The success of Welsh athletes in the Olympics is something that we can all take pride in. Although the Welsh contingent made up just 7 per cent of Team GB, they produced 11 medals, including four golds. Of course, UK Sport are responsible for developing potential medal winners to the point where they can compete successfully at the highest level, but the responsibility for talent spotting and development rests with home countries.
Sport Wales invests over £10 million a year to support national governing bodies’ efforts to develop talent pathways and to provide elite support for promising athletes in Wales. Consequently, we have achieved our best ever results—first in Glasgow and now in Rio. I’m pleased say that ministerial colleagues and I are supportive of the current chair’s review of Sport Wales. It’s vital that we have a sports body that can not only build on past successes but also confidently face the challenges ahead of us.
Just as our sportsmen and women are achieving record-breaking feats on the world stage, at home we have been hosting a thrilling programme of major international sporting events, further demonstrating Wales’s pedigree as a world-class events destination. In March, some of the world’s best long-distance runners pounded the streets of Cardiff in the World Half Marathon Championship, one of the world’s top three athletics events. In May, Velothon Wales returned to the roads of south-east Wales. In only its second year, the event received largely positive coverage, and organisers are currently in conversation with relevant partners about 2017.
In June, we welcomed back the UK leg of the Extreme Sailing Series. Once again, Cardiff Bay provided a stadium backdrop for one of the world’s most spectacular sailing events. In July, the Principality Stadium hosted the British speedway grand prix, part of the speedway world championship. This is one of the great sporting weekends in our capital city, attracting thousands of overseas visitors, and last week, the UK’s biggest professional cycling road race, the Tour of Britain, travelled through Wales with Olympians Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and, of course, our own Owain Doull competing. Our 2016 programme of supported events will come to a close at the end of October with the final round of the World Rally Championship—Wales Rally GB.
These global events provide a significant boost to the Wales economy. These events alone will attract around 330,000 visitors to Wales, spending an additional £44 million and supporting over 1,000 jobs. They also raise Wales’s international profile through global media coverage, and promote participation. Let’s not forget that we also support a thriving portfolio of arts and cultural events. This year, we are supporting 20 events across Wales that offer a rich and diverse range of cultural experiences. They include: Machynlleth Comedy Festival, Focus Wales, Hay Festival, Gregynog Festival, Pride Cymru and Roald Dahl’s City of the Unexpected, and today it is 100 years since Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff.
Exciting times lie ahead as we prepare to host some of the biggest and most prestigious sporting events in the world. Following the success of our national team in strengthening Wales’s position in world football, next year the Principality Stadium hosts the UEFA Champions League final. This will be another historic first for Wales. With the tournament already under way, the ‘road to Cardiff’ is now very much alive. A few days later, Glamorgan Cricket will host matches in the International Cricket Council Champions Trophy. And a summer of sporting legends will continue as Royal Porthcawl Golf Club stages the Senior Open Championship for the second time. The 2014 event was hailed a huge success, earning praise from world-class golfers, including Tom Watson.
In 2018, the Volvo Ocean Race will arrive in Cardiff for a two-week stopover. This nine-month around-the-world human adventure is one of the longest and toughest endurance events in the world, and Wales will host the finish of the highly prized transatlantic leg. And in 2019, Glamorgan Cricket will once again be in the spotlight with the Cricket World cup—cricket’s most prestigious global tournament.
We cannot rest on our laurels. If we are to continue to build Wales’s reputation as the destination of choice for global event owners, we have to be proactive and strategic about our approach. With that in mind we are currently undertaking a horizon-scanning exercise to identify new opportunities for attracting more major international events to all parts of Wales. We are actively engaging with key partners and stakeholders in the public and private sectors in Wales and beyond to secure their views. This includes all 22 local authorities, Sport Wales and UK Sport. At an international level, our work is being informed by intelligence gathered from our network of contacts representing the entire spectrum of the international sporting event industry. We have identified a range of potential hosting targets and we are continuing to assess the relative costs and benefits of these events. We remain ambitious in our outlook and committed to attracting more major international events to all parts of Wales, but we have to temper that ambition with a touch of realism. We face some stiff challenges. The current financial climate and pressures on public sector budgets is a big challenge for all of us, and we need to work with event industry partners to develop more commercially focused business models and identify new innovative funding streams such as Crowdfunder and Kickstarter.
The other big issue for us is the lack of venues capable of hosting major international events—a key reason why the Cabinet reluctantly decided not to bid for the 2026 Commonwealth Games. The feasibility work that we did for the Commonwealth Games highlighted the need for significant investment in, for example, athletics, aquatics and velodrome facilities. I have announced that we will undertake a review of sports facilities in Wales to help ensure that Wales is in the strongest possible position to bid for and host high-profile sporting events in the future. Taking account of that work we will continue our positive dialogue with Commonwealth Games Wales and the Commonwealth Games Federation in relation to a potential bid for Wales in the future. We want to continue to work with both organisations to explore flexible options for a bid that delivers value for money and benefits for the whole of Wales.
Wales is clearly punching well above its weight in the international events arena. In a short space of time we have become a serious player in a fiercely competitive global market, and we remain committed to attracting more major international sporting and cultural events, which improve the lives and well-being of people and communities across Wales.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you very much. I’ve got a number of speakers. I will attempt to get you all in but you rely on your colleagues to be brief as well. Neil McEvoy.
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd. I’d like to start by congratulating our Welsh Olympians on the way they represented Wales, showing yet again the winning mentality of our country and, of course, I’d like to congratulate the Paralympians currently competing in Rio. I’d like to also congratulate the Welsh football team for their really impressive win over Moldova to get the World Cup qualifiers under way. The players and the fans have already won over Europe this summer with their passion and skill and let’s hope that we can go on to the World Cup—the world’s biggest sporting event. I have high hopes for the women’s team also as they begin their campaign for the World Cup, and I look forward, like everyone, to the Champions League final in the millennium stadium.
Of course, there are some in the Chamber who view our independent football team as petty nationalism, and they’re happy to risk our status as an independent football nation based on their own ideological UK nationalism. It’s time for everybody to get behind our team and our country—Wales. There is no greater honour—no higher honour—than playing for Wales and representing our country. To do what our Olympians and footballers have done takes ambition, which they certainly can’t be getting from the Welsh Government. I’m still astonished, really, that Labour turned down the chance to bid for the Commonwealth Games. It is one of the biggest international sporting events there is, and if you speak to Welsh athletes—Welsh sportsmen—the event they most look forward to is the Commonwealth Games, because they wear the jersey of Wales and the vest of Wales. You can talk about horizon scanning all you want, but the Commonwealth Games is the major sporting event you should have bid for. If there is a lack of venues—as there is—then it shows how much your Government has failed and is still failing. It’s incredible, really.
There are a number of serious questions, actually, that are left unanswered. First, the last time you made a statement like this, I asked you to come down to Grangetown to meet the kids who can’t afford to play football on the council pitches. But, you didn’t actually reply to that, so I will extend the invitation again. Will you accompany me to Grangetown and speak to the children who are unable to afford grass-roots football? [Interruption.] Yes, I agree; there are other places as well. But, in this constituency, just a stone’s throw away, a walk down the road, you can see the reality faced by our communities.
Secondly, while I welcome the success of our elite athletes, I’m concerned about the Government’s support for some of our other sports—or the lack of it, really—and I’d like to see greater support for sports like rugby league and baseball, which is so unique, really, in Wales. I would like to find out what initiatives or support you have for maybe supporting these other sports. In these sports—and I will just talk about rugby league—there are some all-time greats: Billy Boston, born in Tiger Bay. I think we should be doing something to remember people like him and people like the late Gus Risman as well. There is potential in boxing to get some huge events in the city, but I will ask some questions on the Commonwealth Games.
I would like to know: when was the decision made not to bid for the games? It’s interesting that you mentioned Glasgow because, for the Glasgow games, a significant part of the cost was met by local authorities. So, did the Welsh Government specifically ask local authorities if they would be prepared to make a contribution towards the Welsh Commonwealth Games? Did the Welsh Government ask the UK Government for any financial support, given that the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that they would provide financial support for any successful UK city bid? When did the Welsh Government let the Commonwealth Games and Sport Wales know of the decision not to bid?
Finally, I want to touch on an event—Pride Cymru. It was our friends across the road again, Cardiff council, who cancelled the event in Coopers Field without actually telling the organisers. I met with them the day before yesterday. I would ask you if you would support requesting that Cardiff council give over a specific date for a Pride Cymru event in the civic centre, and whether or not you would be prepared to add some financial support for that event. It’s a brilliant spectacle for the city. It’s a great event, which breaks down barriers, and it should be supported. Diolch yn fawr. Thank you.
I’d like to thank the Member for his questions and say, first of all, with regard to Pride Cymru, it is a fantastic Welsh Government-sponsored event. We are very proud of that event. It attracts a huge number of people to Cardiff from right across Wales and the UK as well. We wish to see it continue and to grow. In terms of its position on Coopers Field, I have already taken this matter up on the back of a letter from my colleague the Member for Delyn, Hannah Blythyn, who rightly identified that location, in my view, as the best location for the event in our capital city. So, I took it up with Cardiff council. It’s my view that the event should remain at Coopers Field. I’ve been told they have no intention of moving it from Coopers Field, but I would urge the council and the organisers to make sure that a satisfactory conclusion to talks can be reached—one that includes a mutually convenient date for the event to be held in summer, as it always has been. It’s a magnificent event that is attended by a huge number of people. I wish to see it continue on Coopers Field, where it has always been most successful, at the time of year that it is most successful. I’m sure the organisers are the best people to be able to designate when it should be staged.
In terms of spending and cost, let’s just deal with, first of all, sport in general. This Welsh Government, and previous Welsh Governments, better protected spending on sport through Sport Wales, and therefore through the national governing bodies, than was the case across the UK as a whole. But it’s not just about formal sport that we’re here to consider the future today. There are numerous forms of informal sport and physical activity that this Government has funded and is proud to fund, such as street games, or such as those physical activities like walking football that may not be considered immediately a competitive sport or an elite sport, but which make an incredible difference to people’s lives, particularly those with limited mobility, or those who are old or frail.
In terms of the Commonwealth Games, the decision was reached in the summer, after a considerable piece of work was undertaken by people who were at the very centre of the Glasgow games—people who have immense credibility and who have a full understanding of the costs and benefits of hosting an event such as this. That decision was taken in Cabinet in the summer, and we subsequently informed Commonwealth Games Wales. Local authorities have been part of our steering group throughout, but are unable to contribute to the cost of the games at this stage. In terms of UK Government, we received in writing from the Secretary of State confirmation that in those areas that it has responsibility for—such as visas—it could provide support, but there was no indication of willingness to spend money to actually build the facilities that are necessary for the games.
I do believe that a bigger ambition for Wales would be to influence change at a Commonwealth Games Federation level, so that not only Wales, but other small Commonwealth countries could host the event where currently they are unable to. It would be fantastic to see not just a Welsh Commonwealth Games, but perhaps a Commonwealth Games of the Caribbean islands taking place, but right now that is simply not possible. So, I’ll be working with other Commonwealth countries to influence change at the highest level so that the games can be bid for and secured not just by us in the future, but by those countries who are yet to host them.
Thanks to the Minister for his statement. The success of Welsh teams and performers in the international arena is very welcome and is to be applauded. Such success is a great advert for Wales and will initially have an effect in encouraging greater sporting participation here. There is also much commercial merit in Wales staging major international sporting events. However, there is sometimes a major disconnect between what a nation achieves in elite sport and the lack of general participation at grass-roots level. By ‘grass roots’ I don’t refer to aspiring Olympians, but rather to ordinary people who are never likely to grace an international arena.
Here in Wales we produce world-class footballers like Gareth Bale, we have Olympic-medal-winning cyclists and swimmers such as Becky James and Jazz Carlin, and many other notables, but at the same time, like other regions of the UK, we are facing unprecedented levels of child and adult obesity. Clearly this is a major contradiction. Clearly the one thing, international sporting excellence, does not lead automatically to the other thing, a generally high level of health and fitness. Does the Cabinet Secretary acknowledge this seeming paradox, and how does he seek to deal with it?
In Wales as a whole, more and more councils are putting leisure centre management out to privately run companies. We must ensure that this policy doesn’t impact on the ability of ordinary people to access gyms, swimming pools and badminton courts at reasonable cost. How is the Welsh Government helping to ensure this? We need to encourage more sporting participation among the young, beginning with actually getting them to walk to places rather than always going in their parents’ car. I appreciate that these are fairly fundamental problems of the UK as a whole.
We need, too, to encourage the middle aged and the old in their sporting endeavours. There has been a shocking rise in bowling club fees in Cardiff in recent years, which is surely counterproductive. If old people become more inactive, they end up costing the economy more in terms of medication and treatment in the long run.
The First Minister has earlier today given his reasons for withdrawing a Welsh bid for the Commonwealth Games, and I appreciate that there may be some sound reasons there. I’m not going to criticise that. I also agree with your own statements about joint bids because there was a Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica in 1966—now, it would be impossible for Jamaica to host it. And, the Commonwealth Games tends to go on a sort of triangle between the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and that’s it. So, we need to encourage more participation in that sphere. So, I welcome your efforts at the Commonwealth level.
Perhaps we could also consider making moves towards ring-fencing some of the funds earmarked for the Commonwealth Games project, now abandoned, and put them into encouraging grass-roots sport instead. Thanks.
I’d like to thank the Member for his well-informed contribution and I would agree entirely with it. I think, in terms of the triangle of movement of the games, he’s absolutely right; that needs to be addressed. In my view, as I’ve already said but I’ll repeat, in my view, big ambition is about having the determination to innovate. That’s why I wish to see change take place, not just so that we can capture the games just for once in a lifetime, but potentially on many occasions over the course of a lifetime.
The Member is also right when he talks about the games—or for that matter, elite sport in general—not necessarily leading to an increase in levels of physical activity across a population. In order to achieve this, we need an entire culture change, which is why we’re developing the Getting Wales Moving physical activity strategy and why the chair of Sport Wales also wishes to review the remit of the organisation to make sure that the organisation doesn’t just focus on participation in sport but general physical activity.
Some of the activities that the Member highlighted are those that we support at present. Through the emerging programme for government, there will be a Wales well-being bond that will be piloted, as well as social prescription, and of course a challenge fund. The challenge fund is being specifically designed for community arts and community sports organisations.
But for those who say we should have progressed with a £1.5 billion bid for the Commonwealth Games, I’d say, ‘Just take a step back; you may have talked to elite athletes, but have you talked to those children who can’t access those sports facilities?’ I would certainly go to those sports facilities with any Member and invite you to explain to them why you’d rather see £1.5 billion spent on facilities designed not for the people of a country, but for an event that is for just two weeks. Our view is, you first of all look strategically at what the nation requires in terms of facilities and then you shape the games around your own facilities. You don’t do it in reverse.
Because there are too many examples of games, be it Commonwealth or Olympic, that are littered with facilities that were glitzy when they opened, but which now stand rotting. Why? Because they were designed not necessarily for the population, but they were designed for the event. You have to get it the right way around, which is why I announced a facilities strategy and said that a future bid for the Commonwealth Games is very much on the cards. But we also need, as I repeat, we also need to see, in my view, some innovation and change at the highest level to enable, potentially, joint or multi bids to be received, and also national bids. I’ve heard some say that it was wrong that this Welsh Government should have considered an all-Wales bid or a north-south bid. Why? If you’re going to spend £1.5 billion as a Government on an event, it should benefit the entire population and all four corners of the country and everywhere in between. So, we make no apology for wishing to see a major event benefit all of Wales.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you very much, we have about six minutes and I’ve got four speakers. So can I appeal for—
We haven’t had a spokesperson yet.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Just saying we haven’t had a spokesperson yet.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
No, I’m coming to you now. I’m just saying, ‘Can we appeal for some brevity and some brevity from the Minister in answering as well?’ Andrew R.T.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Cabinet Secretary, thank you for your statement. I’d like to put on record my appreciation and congratulations to all the sporting men and women who have performed on various pitches in various cities in various sports, across the globe in fact, throughout a summer of sporting excellence and brilliance that I think we all thoroughly enjoyed. And that really is the point, that the sporting dynamic behind all these major events has radically changed over the last 20 years with the advent of satellite tv and cable tv, which does demand these multi-venue destinations to obviously portray that platform for which tv dollars or tv pounds—call it what you will—pays into the coffers of those respective sports.
It is disappointing that, regrettably, we will not be bidding for the Commonwealth Games. I’ve heard what the Secretary has had to say this afternoon. I would ask if perhaps the Secretary could make available a briefing session for Assembly Members with the consultants who provided the report so that Assembly Members can question them in some depth over some of the conclusions that came forward. I would say to the Cabinet Secretary that, in my conversations with Ministers and Secretaries of State up at the other end of the M4, there was support for a bid coming from Wales and that support would have materialised in financial backing as well. They did have to have some idea of what the finances were that you were going to be seeking and, as I understood it, no requests or no detailed responses were put before Secretaries of State or Ministers at the other end of the M4 for them to consider. So I would ask the Cabinet Secretary to give it some consideration, because, as I understand it, it is not too late to submit a bid for the Commonwealth Games. That window is still open, and I do believe that there is an opportunity for this decision to be revisited—albeit that I do hear what you say about the impact on grass-roots sports, and that is a consideration that does have to be taken by Government, because my next point that I was going to make about the statement you’ve made today is, highlighting on grass-roots sports, which you mention in the statement, that many councils across Wales have taken double- or triple-digit increases in the sporting fees that they levy on amateur clubs to play on a weekly basis, and this, in many instances, has made those clubs either have to amalgamate or shut their doors. So, I would be grateful for an indication of what discussions you have across Government as to how the Government can work with local authorities to make the fees affordable to many voluntary clubs the length and breadth of Wales. This isn’t one specific area, this is happening across all local authorities for obvious reasons—financial constraints on their budget.
I do note that you do, in your statement, list a series of events that have gone on around Wales. One of the jewels in the crown, I would suggest, of facilities that we have in Wales, which isn’t naturally considered as a sporting venue in the first instance, is the Royal Welsh showground in mid Wales. That has increasingly been used as either a stopover or a start or a finish point for many of the rallying type of events. I noticed last week that the chief executive of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society was talking about trying to attract more of this type of event to mid Wales. I’d be grateful if the Cabinet Secretary could give an indication: are the Government engaged with stakeholders like the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society in developing what wouldn’t traditionally be seen as a sporting venue to add to the armoury of destinations that we do have to offer international and domestic organisers of these events?
I would also ask the Cabinet Secretary to try and inform us, as regards the horizon scanning he talks about in his statement, as to what type of events he believes, going forward, in the next 18 months to two years, we might reasonably expect Wales to be in a position to bid for and, indeed, secure the rights to host those events.
Importantly, my final point is around infrastructure more generally. I had a conversation with the FAW recently, at the last international, and they were talking excitedly about the Champions League final that’s coming next May, but obviously they were highlighting the real issues around simple things like hotel beds, for example, and the availability of the local infrastructure to accommodate such big-ticket events. Many people will be leaving straight after that event because the local infrastructure will not be able to accommodate the mass of people who are coming, and in fact they’ll be pushed back over the Severn bridge to Swindon, to Reading, to Bristol, because those cities have a bigger infrastructure to support provision for travelling fans. So, it is important that, from a Government point of view, you work with operators, you work with providers to provide that infrastructure just on transport as well as hotel accommodation and sporting promotion. Thank you.
I’d like to thank the Member for his questions. First of all, with regard to the Champions League, of course, one of the big challenges there is that we won’t know which two teams are going to be in the final until about three weeks before the final takes place. So, depending on which teams are in the final, there will be very different dynamics at play in terms of people accessing Cardiff, and also in terms of how long they stay here for. We do have a steering group that’s established—in fact, the next meeting, I believe, is on Thursday—to look at all of the challenges that are being presented in terms of infrastructure. Hotel rooms are one of the major points that we have been examining, rail as well, as I’m sure the Member will be aware, as well as road access and hospitality at what is a very busy time of the year right across Wales and beyond. So, these are issues that we’re exploring with key stakeholders, all of whom are very keen to see that the Champions League final is a great success.
In terms of the types of events in our horizon-scanning exercise that we could expect bids for in the future, we’re looking at those that offer the biggest return on investment as well as those that drive up participation in sport and physical activity, as well as those that are spread out equally and fairly across Wales. This is why I think the Royal Welsh showground has great potential, because, in mid Wales, it’s one of the primary facilities for the visitor economy. I think as we look at the—and I don’t want to make any promises, but, as we look at the facilities strategy alongside the horizon-scanning exercise for major events, I certainly see the potential of mid Wales to host more. In terms of those specific events, I think it’s reasonable to expect a bid for a European grand tour, and, for those Members who aren’t sure what that is, it’s a cycling event, be it a grand tour of France or of Italy.
In terms of pitch fees, the Member raises a query that is also being shared by many Members in this Chamber, and it’s one that I’ve raised with the WLGA. It’s one that has been addressed in some parts of Wales but I am aware that in certain regions there are greater pressures for sports clubs and organisations than in other areas. In this term of Government we will be introducing, as I mentioned to the Member earlier, the Wales well-being bond and social prescription, which I would hope will see an increase in participation levels, not just in informal forms of physical activity, but also increasingly in formal sport. That will then ensure that sports clubs and organisations are more sustainable as well. One of the big challenges that sports clubs and organisations face at the moment is reducing numbers of members in many sports. This is a problem particularly—. I think it’s fair to say golf saw its heyday perhaps a decade ago, but in terms of membership now of clubs it’s been on the fall. We need to arrest that and so it’s important that golf clubs are flexible, that golf clubs innovate as well, and that the game innovates to attract more new members.
I would be happy to facilitate briefing sessions. I believe that a briefing session is already being organised with Commonwealth Games Wales, and I believe that it is next week. If the Member is dissatisfied following that briefing session then I’d look to arrange one with the consultants. In terms of the cost of the event, I detect from what the Member is saying that there might actually be a new willingness to support a bid with money by the UK Government. This is certainly something that I would like to explore with them, because, based on correspondence that we received over this, that wasn’t the case prior to Cabinet reaching the decision. If there is a change of heart, if there is a willingness to support it with money, then that would be very much welcomed.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Okay, thank you. Julie Morgan.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Very swiftly, because I know we’ve got very little time, I want to congratulate all our women and men sportspeople who’ve made us so proud. I’m very pleased that the Cabinet Secretary is emphasising grass-roots and community sport, and can he assure me that any money that is given from the Welsh Government will be used equally to benefit women and men? Because I think he mentioned in his statement that £1 million a year of Welsh Government money has gone to encourage grass-roots football. I spend quite a lot of time on football fields on a Saturday morning and a Sunday morning and I don’t see many girls playing, to be quite honest. It’s mainly boys and just the occasional girl. I know there is much more emphasis on girls’ football now and women’s football and much more publicity and much more acknowledgement that it is very important that women and men benefit from sport, but I wondered what monitoring is actually being done by the Government to ensure that the money that we give from the Government is going equally to both sexes.
On the Commonwealth Games, I was very disappointed that we didn’t bid for the Commonwealth Games, because I felt it was a huge opportunity. I went to Glasgow and you could see the transformation of the city that happened during that period and through the lasting legacy, so I’m pleased to hear that in the future we would consider bidding for the Commonwealth Games, and hope that we would be able to involve the local authority members to do a bid that could bring so much to Wales.
I’d like to thank Julie Morgan for her questions, and, with regard to women’s sport, actually it’s a fact that with regard to women’s football there are more than two under-18 women football players registered with the Welsh Football Trust than adult women players. With regard to men, it’s one to one. There are actually more girls playing football—double the number of girls playing football—than women. There’s about the same number of boys as men. So, actually, in terms of the growth in football, it is going to be driven by the women’s game. It’s something that Sport Wales and the national governing body has also recognised. There is a need to ensure that funding is made available equally for men’s sports as well as women’s sports, but also made available through Disability Sport Wales for people of limited mobility.
In terms of the £1 million that we spend each year through the Welsh Football Trust, they offer 4,000 training opportunities every single year, and this is incredibly valuable for those people who wish to acquire the employability skills and social skills required in adult life.
I think, in terms of the Commonwealth Games, I’ve pretty much given all answers as far as the current bid is concerned and any future bid, but what I would reiterate is that in the future I think it would be very helpful—and I think it would be very beneficial to the Commonwealth Games Federation—if national bids could be considered and potentially dual or multi-centre bids.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Okay, thank you. I will call the final two speakers, but if they can just have questions, because I think all your spokespeople or people have spoken from the parties. So, Suzy Davies.
It’s slightly tricky one here, but thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd. Cabinet Secretary, I appreciate that this statement is about major sporting events, but I wonder if you could give us some indication as to where there’s common ground with major cultural events, particularly in terms of sustained legacy, and on which I hoped your statement would have been a bit more detailed, actually; you only really mentioned it in reference to the Commonwealth Games, and that in a rather negative way.
Legacy, of course, isn’t purely financial and, to demonstrate that, perhaps I could draw your attention to the first of the annual Kynren events, which took place in County Durham this summer. It’s a colossal adventure organised in conjunction with the town of Puy du Fou in France, and, as a result of their work, there’s an inclusive economy—not just a short-term tourism economy, but an inclusive economy and social fabric that’s been secured by this sort of event. I think that it’s a principle that could be extended to the sporting events that you’ve been talking about today. I think in terms of—. While it’s great that the Welsh Government supports these sporting events, I think, like sportspeople themselves, we need to be ambitious about creating opportunities and seizing on those opportunities to fulfil ambitions.
The Member’s right—there is actually a great crossover between sporting and cultural events, and many of our biggest sporting events also have a cultural event attached to them. For example, the Champions League final will have numerous activities of a cultural nature promoted around the city next year. In terms of some of the major events that are classed as cultural, we have some of the most successful in Europe, such as the Hay Festival and the Green Man Festival, which give enormous opportunities again for people to volunteer. So, the crossover is there, but it’s something where we are promoting growth directly and through the national sponsor bodies—Sport Wales and the Arts Council of Wales—and I am aware that talks have taken place between the leading chairs of both organisations to ensure that, where major events are taking place with a particular focus either on sport or the arts, there are opportunities for the other side and other organisations from the other body to be able to participate and to promote what should be a mixed event for all ages.
In terms of looking at the future as far as sustainable major events are concerned, we also wish to see our domestic events family grow. We have a good number of major events operators in Wales, but through funding smaller events strategically across Wales, we are able to place them on the escalator of growth and make sure that we have a good number of Welsh-based major events companies that grow and take advantage of the larger events in doing so.
I should also have added that the target list of major events moving forward includes a cross-section of sport and cultural events and will also be placing a particular focus on women’s events as well, be it in sport or in culture.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you. Finally, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd. I am grateful that you’ve allowed me time. I’ll keep it brief—just one question with a little bit of context before. There are several reasons, of course, why we want to hold major sporting events. First, there’s the sporting legacy—the participation, which we would all support. Secondly, there’s the showcase Wales, if you like—the bells and whistles showing Wales on television screens around the world; showing us in good light. And the more of these events that we have, the merrier, apart from the fact, of course, that it’s a limited budget that the major events unit has and we have to be very, very careful. It’s not great looking at the 2016-17 list of major-events-unit-sponsored events; they’re spread around Wales—you know, north Wales isn’t particularly well represented. The other one is the economic impact at the time—the money spent in hotels and so on when an event is on.
The other point, which is what my question is about, is the longer lasting economic effects. We have to look, I think, at how we use the major events unit budget in order to bolster our own industries here. Many of these events that you’ve talked about are put on by companies who come from outside Wales with their own staff and resources, lock, stock—major multinational companies like Lagardère, for example. What ambitions do you have, as a Cabinet Secretary, to use moneys from within the major events unit budget, to make sure that we invest in our own events companies, to make sure that we develop our own home-grown events industry that we can then export and leave a lasting economic impact?
The Member raises a really important point, actually, in the context of the Commonwealth Games, as well, because, in many instances, when we attract major events to Wales, we don’t own those events. Therefore, the event’s owners will stipulate who takes part in terms of arranging the logistical solutions to the problems that the events can often present. So, it’s essential that we also grow and attract not just events that are equally spread around Wales, but that are also of varying size as well, so that our indigenous events organisers are able to take advantage of them at every level, and, as I said in my answer to the previous questions, are able to get on that escalator of growth, as well, and take advantage, year on year, of bigger major events.
In terms of north Wales, I think, actually, this again highlights why we took the right decision on the Commonwealth Games. We’d have loved to have been able to host Commonwealth Games that would benefit the whole of Wales, but had we proceeded with a Commonwealth Games that is geographically confined to the south-east, then, of course, that would’ve had an impact on north Wales. I know that the Member is very keen to promote the potential bid of Island Games and also the Sandman Triathlon as well, which takes place in my colleague’s constituency. It’s absolutely imperative that we share the wealth; that we make sure that major events benefit people right across Wales. But in utilising our precious resources for just one event in one area, we simply will not see that.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thanks very much. Thank you, Cabinet Secretary for that.
The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1 and 2 in the name of Paul Davies.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
We move on to the next item on the agenda, which is the debate on the substance misuse delivery plan of 2016-18, and I call on the Minister for Social Services and Public Health to move the motion—Rebecca Evans.
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Notes the Welsh Government priorities for Substance Misuse as set out in the Substance Misuse Delivery Plan 2016-18.
Thank you. I’m pleased to open today’s debate proposing that the National Assembly for Wales notes the Welsh Government priorities for substance misuse as set out in our new substance misuse delivery plan 2016-18.
The Presiding Officer took the Chair.
Substance misuse is a major health issue that affects individuals, families and communities. The Public Health Wales ‘Making a Difference’ report published in July this year highlighted the scale of the problem of substance misuse, which shows the continued challenges that we face.
The report highlights the threat alcohol misuse poses to public health in Wales, as it’s a major cause of death and illness with high costs to the NHS, society and the economy. For example, alcohol is associated with more than 6,000 cases of domestic violence each year. As well as rising concerns about the impact of alcohol misuse, the fast-changing nature of the drug misuse landscape presents new challenges to policy makers, commissioners, and treatment agencies.
As a Government, we invest almost £50 million annually to deliver the commitments in our 10-year substance misuse strategy, ‘Working Together to Reduce Harm’, which was published in 2008. The Welsh Government approach in our strategy is rooted in a harm-reduction approach, which recognises addiction as a health and care issue, as opposed to one that’s solely related to criminal justice. Our overarching strategy is built around four key aims: preventing harm, support for substance misusers, supporting and protecting families, and tackling the availability of substances and protecting individuals and communities via enforcement activity. Our overall aim is to ensure that people in Wales are aware of the dangers of and the impact of substance misuse in order to help make informed choices and to know where they can seek information, help and support, if they need it.
Since our strategy was launched, we have seen sustained improvements in waiting times for drug and alcohol treatment and other outcomes for this vulnerable and hard-to-reach group, and it’s vital that we maintain this momentum. We cannot make the progress that we want without the support and the expertise of others. We therefore work in strong partnership with the third sector, health, local government and the criminal justice agencies. The latest delivery plan sets out in detail the specific actions that will be undertaken over the next two to three years in support of our strategy to make the further progress that we want to make on this challenging and fast-moving agenda.
This is a plan that has a greater emphasis on prevention, tackling alcohol-related harm and recognising the role that wider primary care services can make to detecting and responding to individuals dealing with substance misuse. Working in partnership will be critical to successful implementation, and our seven area planning boards are key to taking this work forward as they continue to commission and deliver the range of services in their local areas relating to tackling substance misuse.
This plan continues to build on the range of awareness-raising initiatives that we have established, such as DAN 24/7, our bilingual substance misuse helpline. We have also rolled out a national training programme on new psychoactive substances across Wales to ensure that professionals who come into contact with individuals using or considering using these substances have the knowledge they need to provide the necessary information, advice and support.
Early intervention and education are critical in this agenda, and through our all-Wales schools liaison core programme, we are working with the four Welsh police forces to educate pupils on a range of personal and social issues, including substance misuse, domestic abuse and sexual exploitation. The programme is run in all primary and secondary schools across Wales and is well regarded by headteachers and others in local areas.
Recent developments suggest a growing concern about the use of image and performance-enhancing drugs. Therefore, education relating to the implications of using these drugs is also important, particularly in relation to sport. We’ll be holding the first cross-agency symposium to highlight the problem of the misuse of drugs in sport and the wider related social issues shortly. This will also link to the wider work Public Health Wales is undertaking, which is aimed at evidencing the nature, scale and harms associated with steroids and image and performance-enhancing drugs.
Following extensive engagement with stakeholders during its development, our delivery plan was formally consulted on between January and March of this year. Forty-nine responses were received from a wide range of organisations, and these have informed the final plan that you see before you today. As the plan illustrates, we are clear about the contribution that tackling substance misuse can make to achieving the goals set out in the Well-being of Future Generations Act, and we have developed this latest plan very much in line with that groundbreaking legislation. High-level substance misuse outcomes have been mapped against the relevant goals so that the links are clear and explicit.
The plan is underpinned by the principles of prudent health and care, and this is an area that can demonstrate good examples of prudent healthcare in practice. I am grateful to those Members who have previously served on the Health and Social Care Committee, who carried out two inquiries on substance misuse, and the new plan incorporates all the recommendations from those inquiries.
As a result of the collaborative and inclusive partnership approach taken in developing the plan, responses to the consultation were very positive. The vast majority of respondents agreed with the outcomes described under each of our aims. A number of responses highlighted areas that could be addressed in order to further strengthen the delivery plan, and an example of this is the need to ensure that services are accessible for all potential service users, including those with protected characteristics. In terms of reducing harm, some felt that there was a need to ensure that further work is undertaken to train all professionals who come into contact with the general public to recognise the signs of substance misuse issues. Also, addressing the cultural change needed to reduce harmful drinking was seen by some as a priority. Respondents also commented that more action was needed on preventing a drug overdose in the first place. We have rolled out our naloxone programme, but it was felt that other harm-reduction approaches should also be promoted, such as helping people who misuse substances to understand the risks, the signs of overdose, the dangers of poly drug use, and encouraging the use of less risky drug administration methods. These and more other helpful suggestions were received during the consultation process and they have been incorporated in order to further strengthen our plan.
So, to conclude, I commend this motion to the Chamber and I support the amendments tabled by Paul Davies. On the first amendment, I agree that we must recognise the problems inherent in the delivery of substance misuse services, given the complexities of supporting somebody with these issues. This is illustrated by the fact that not all individuals may be free from drugs or alcohol at the end of their treatment, as, for many, it will be a lifelong battle.
On the second amendment, we will be reflecting on the latest data. We use and continue to use the data from the substance misuse national database in order to work with area planning boards to put in place plans to address any concerns or areas of development. Therefore, we’re also pleased to support this amendment.
So, I look forward to contributions in the debate. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I have selected the two amendments to the motion. I call on Mark Isherwood to move amendments 1 and 2 tabled in the name of Paul Davies.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Recognises the problems inherent to the delivery of substance misuse treatment services across Wales, given that the latest statistics from the Welsh National Database for Substance Misuse show that only 13 per cent of individuals were deemed substance free by the end of treatment from all referrals to drug and alcohol agencies in Wales.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Calls on the Welsh Government to reflect on the latest data on NHS Wales Substance Misuse and bring forward proposals that will ensure substance misusers access timely and effective treatment.
Amendments 1 and 2 moved.
Diolch, Lywydd. Our amendments 1 and 2 reflect the latest statistics from the Welsh national database for substance misuse, showing that only 13 per cent of individuals were deemed substance free by the end of treatment from 6,084 referrals to drug and alcohol agencies in Wales. The number of deaths from drug-related poisoning and drug misuse hit record levels in England and Wales last year. Deaths from all drug poisoning were up 65 per cent in England, but 153 per cent in Wales since records began in 1993. Whilst drug misuse deaths in England rose 192 per cent, the increase in Wales was 409 per cent.
Alcohol also remains a major cause of death and illness in Wales, with around 1,500 deaths attributable to alcohol each year—4.9 per cent of all deaths. Mortality rates are higher in Wales than in England.
I was pleased to introduce North Wales-based CAIS drug and alcohol rehabilitation charity to Living Room Cardiff, the community-based recovery centre for Cardiff and south Wales, and then to speak at their official merger launch to become one of Wales’s largest addiction therapy providers here in 2014.
The Welsh Government’s substance misuse delivery plan 2016-18, which we are debating today, does acknowledge that the partnership working between the statutory and third sectors is at the heart of delivering its key aims, but this will only happen when this is co-produced, designed and delivered with the third sector. Area planning boards were established some five years ago to oversee commissioning and delivery of substance misuse services. The governance for these bodies was never properly established and they’ve evolved in very different ways, leading to variations in practice across Wales. Latterly, the divergence has grown, with some all but disappearing, in favour of statutory agency leads. The third sector, by omission, is now largely absent from strategic planning.
The delivery plan is fairly silent on area planning boards, and we therefore need to know the Government’s view on the expected governance arrangements, inclusivity of membership, joint commissioning and plans for the future.
The Welsh Government accepted the recommendation in the health committee’s 2015 inquiry into alcohol and substance misuse that it maps the provision of detoxification centres in Wales, identifies gaps and sets out how these will be addressed. The then Minister also said that this delivery plan will consider what further actions are needed centrally to support tier 4 residential detoxification and rehabilitation services nationally. However, the delivery plan instead talks only of local health boards and local authorities working with partners to set out a plan on how they intend to address gaps in services, with tier 4 listed last. In fact, it’s nine years since the Welsh Government-commissioned report on substance misuse tier 4 treatment services in Wales was leaked to me and made public after they tried to bury it. It identified numerous reports of people reoffending, so as to be able to be detoxed in prison, and of hospital admissions because of the unavailability of in-patient detoxification and residential rehabilitation. The report called for a substantial increase in capacity, for a central referral unit for the whole of Wales and for the development of three drug and alcohol detoxification and rehab units across Wales, working with third sector providers.
A further report in 2010 reinforced this message and the then Welsh Government stated that it was taking forward work on development of the three units. Instead, the Welsh Government residential detoxification cuts a decade ago remain in place, and although a Wales tier-4 framework was produced after the previous health Minister issued a letter advising commissioners to support Welsh facilities, the number of rehab places in Wales has significantly reduced over the last five years. So, what is the Minister’s view on this, and, given that 50 per cent of the residential rehabilitation placements funded were in facilities outside Wales, how is the framework launch in 2015 affecting this?
The health committee’s 2015 inquiry described silo working, and only last week, the chair of the north Wales safer communities board told me that too much is being spent on firefighting and not enough on intervention and prevention, where approximately 75 per cent of those with substance misuse problems, including over 50 per cent with alcohol problems, also have mental health problems, but the continuing gaps in dual-diagnostic provision I was highlighting a decade ago mean that the revolving door persists, with huge consequent costs for health and social services and criminal justice. Unless these issues are addressed at last, this delivery plan will remain the latest chapter in a long history of betrayal.
Substance misuse is an issue that takes its toll on individuals, on families and on communities across Wales. It affects the health of those who misuse substances—or worse, of course: the number of deaths in Wales as a result of drug misuse has trebled in 20 years. There’s also an effect on the economy, of course, in terms of loss of income for individuals and businesses through employee absence. The burden on the NHS is a heavy one evidently, but also for social services and the criminal justice system. And local authorities, through their cleaning work every Sunday morning if nothing else, also shoulder a very heavy financial burden.
Compare and contrast that cost with those who profit, be they those who sell drugs illegally or, more out in the open, if you will, the drinks industry, which is a lobby trying to persuade Government not to take steps to tackle misuse by setting a minimum unit price for alcohol, for example. Even though this lobby has succeeded in persuading some political parties in the Siambr, we must not shift our focus from the need to tackle substance misuse.
Many initiatives have been put forward by the Government on this issue, of course, but we must evaluate their success against the results, against what has been achieved. Unfortunately, the mortality rates as a result of alcohol misuse have remained the same for a decade. There has been an increase in the number of deaths due to drug misuse. We heard a number of figures quoted by Mark Isherwood. It’s worse in some areas than others. I was reading an article in the ‘South Wales Evening Post’ published over the weekend raising concerns about the situation in that particular city. So, the facts show us, certainly in terms of preventing loss of life, which has to be a priority, that the previous strategy has failed and that it therefore needs to be updated.
Why are we failing to make progress on this issue? The lack of full powers with regard to alcohol is certainly one barrier. We in Wales cannot put a series of measures in place, such as setting a minimum unit price, preventing advertising or changing the drink-drive limit, for example, as a strategic effort across Government to tackle that problem.
The Welsh Government’s leadership has not been sufficiently robust in implementing strategies. Provision has varied too much from area to area, especially in terms of residential services, services exclusively for women and so on. These are not just Plaid Cymru’s findings either—I remind you of that; these are the findings of the previous health committee too. So, I’m very pleased that that committee’s recommendations have been accepted by the Welsh Government and that the recommendations have at least influenced this new scheme that we have before us.
I have a few comments and questions on the scheme, the first of which echoes what we heard from Mark Isherwood. The scheme involves an intention to map substance misuse services, but it doesn’t mention residential services specifically. So, will the Minister please give an assurance that the mapping process will include this and make a commitment to fill the gaps that exist in terms of service provision at present? The scheme mentions, and indeed boasts about, spending around £50 million annually on substance misuse services, but given the size of the problem and the implications for public spending on other services from not tackling the problem, does the Minister genuinely feel that that amount is sufficient to lead to the decrease in drug misuse that we all wish to see?
Even though I welcome the fact that the action plan puts forward indicators to measure success or failure, I would have wished to see greater detail in terms of targets, for example. There is no intention to state how quickly we should see improvement and no dates set for hitting targets. We would want to see more specific targets and timetables in place, and I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that.
Finally, we note that the scheme fails to mention the need to ensure that more powers are available to the Welsh Government to develop a more holistic scheme—the lack of powers that I referred to earlier. Where there is clear evidence that the weak devolution settlement that we have harms the people of Wales physically—the previous health committee agrees with this, by the way—then we in Plaid Cymru strongly believe that it should be the Welsh Government’s duty to press for the powers that we need—to demonstrate the limits of the current settlement and draw attention to the true costs to the living standards of our citizens, as well as the financial cost, of poor devolution. It is worth noting, of course, that we’re having this debate here today, the day after the House of Commons failed to take the opportunity to strengthen the settlement in a genuinely meaningful way with the new Wales Bill.
The Plaid Cymru manifesto earlier this year contained a commitment to establish a network of residential centres for those who misuse alcohol and drugs, more training for NHS staff and a minimum unit price. You can rest assured that Plaid Cymru would not tolerate a poor devolution settlement and we will always campaign to ensure that Wales receives the powers it needs to deal with important issues such as drug misuse. Of course, we will—
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
You need to draw your comments to a close.
Thank you. We note this report today and we’ll support the amendments put forward by the Conservatives. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to some of my questions, but primarily I look forward to looking back at success in this field after too much failure in the past.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this important debate. Substance abuse affects every section of our society and communities. Thirty four per cent of men and 28 per cent of women drank more than the recommended limits on at least one day during the last week. Adults living in households in the highest income bracket are twice as likely to drink heavily as adults in the lowest income bracket. Older people tend to drink more frequently than younger people, and young people are more likely to take drugs than older people. One in 16 to 24-year-olds have taken illicit drugs during the last year compared with just over one in 50 in the 55 to 59-year-old bracket. Middle-aged males are more likely to be addicted to prescription-only painkillers, and women are more likely to be addicted to over-the-counter medication.
The number of people being referred for treatment for substance misuse has risen sharply in the last 12 months, and the number of drug-related deaths is at a record high. It is therefore essential that we have the right policies in place in order to reduce the harms associated with substance misuse. UKIP welcomes the Welsh Government’s latest delivery plan, particularly the emphasis given to tackling co-occurring substance misuse and mental health issues. Mental health teams are reporting a rise in the numbers of patients taking new psychoactive substances, and NPS use is endemic in the prison population, where up to 90 per cent of prisoners have some form of mental health issue. There is a problem with the revolving door, and these issues don’t seem to be resolving as quickly as we’d like.
The decision by the UK Government to outlaw so-called legal highs is extremely welcome, but we must do more to advertise to the public the dangers of NPS. Cabinet Secretary, what is the Welsh Government doing to raise awareness about the harms associated with new psychoactive substances among the public? Your delivery plans involve training for staff, and, whilst this is welcome, we need to educate the public if we are to reverse the increasing use of NPS and its associated harms. We also need to work with the Ministry of Justice to tackle the influx of NPS in our prisons and ensure that we can deliver adequate mental health care for Welsh prisoners. We hope that the delivery of your substance misuse strategy matches its intentions, and we hope that the strategy will reverse the rise in substance misuse and that the number of drug-related deaths decreases. Thank you.
An ONS survey found this year that almost 14 per cent of adults in Wales admitted to drinking the same amount of alcohol in a day as experts advise you shouldn’t exceed in a week. So, strategies to deal with substance misuse are to be welcomed. The Government has gone to great lengths to control or make unlawful all sorts of substances, including tobacco. However, the last Labour Government in Westminster saw fit to do the opposite with alcohol, one of the most potentially damaging and addictive substances, and liberalise licensing laws to such an extent that alcohol is now available on practically every corner. Walk down the high street into the supermarket, corner shops and even petrol stations and it’s there, available 24/7. The police didn’t want the liberalisation, communities didn’t want it and responsible pub landlords didn’t want it. The only people who did were the drinks companies, the chain pubs and of course Gordon Brown at the Exchequer. So, for the sake of the tax take, a Labour Government, the fellow travellers of many of the people currently sitting in the Welsh Government now, created a twenty-first century version of Gin Lane, forgetting that the parts of the community likely to suffer the most were the children of alcohol-dependent parents. We should remember this when the Welsh Government are patting themselves on the back over how they are dealing with the symptoms of that insane liberalisation.
We can’t put the egg back in its shell for the people who are damaged by their own or others’ alcohol abuse, but we can find ways to make alcohol much less accessible. So, what is the Welsh Government doing in Wales and at Westminster about this? Thank you.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
And I call on the Minister to reply to the debate.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. I’ll do my best to answer as many of those points as I can in the time remaining to me. Mark Isherwood began by talking about reducing drug-related deaths, and every single drug-related death is of course tragic, but the numbers are so low that we have to be very cautious about interpreting year-on-year fluctuations in those figures. We are looking very closely with Public Health Wales at the latest statistics. We believe that the increased purity of heroin and the fact that older people are taking it, who might already have some pre-existing conditions, might be a factor in this, and also poly-drug misuse—so, taking heroin alongside other drugs as well makes things much more complicated. We do continue to fund the naloxone programme, which is the drug that temporarily reverses the effects of opiate overdose, across Wales and in our prison settings as well, and we’re currently working with all custody suites and accident and emergency departments to roll it out even further as well, because this is an initiative that has been used by hundreds of people already and I do believe is saving lives.
You refer to the importance of co-production, and I’m completely with you there on that. Particularly, actually, we have to co-produce with service users themselves. So, our service user framework requires that area planning boards actively involve service users as well, because we believe that they have the lived experience and the expertise in order to help us deliver successful substance misuse services.
Mark Isherwood and Caroline both referred to co-occurring mental health problems alongside substance misuse. Our substance misuse treatment framework, which is called ‘Meeting the needs of People with Co-occurring Substance Misuse and Mental Health Problems’, has been revised to encompass just that and encompass the key developments that have taken place since its first publication—talking about things like poly drug use and new psychoactive substances and so on as well.
Mark Isherwood said that intervention and prevention are absolutely key and he’s right there. Our all-Wales school liaison programme operates across all of our primary and secondary schools in Wales and this is a crucial part of our strategy. We regularly review the content of that to make sure that it’s fit for purpose and reflects the current trends in drug use, focusing currently on new psychoactive substances and educating children in schools about the dangers of that.
Both Rhun ap Iorwerth and Michelle Brown mentioned minimum unit pricing—or mentioned alcohol, and Rhun mentioned minimum unit pricing—as a way to deal with the problem of alcohol misuse, because there’s significant evidence that the price of alcohol actually matters and our proposal to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol is a high-impact proposal for tackling the health harms associated with alcohol misuse. It would set a floor price for alcohol, meaning that it couldn’t be sold below that level. We know that this would help us deal with the problem of alcohol misuse in Wales, but there are problems. There’s a similar proposal currently in the courts in Scotland, so we’re watching that very closely to understand what the powers might be here.
The further concern that Rhun outlined is that the draft Wales Bill also includes, as a reserved power, the sale and supply of alcohol, which would provide a major obstacle to us achieving our ambition. So, we’re looking at the timescales involved in this to see what might be possible in terms of our public health Bill and the Wales Bill there. But I share your concerns. You raised the issue of powers more widely, so that would include alcohol licensing. Welsh Government position remains as it always has been—that the licensing and sale and supply of alcohol and provision of entertainment and late-night refreshment should not be a matter that is reserved to the UK Government. We believe and have advocated strongly that the consideration of public health should be a consideration of the Licensing Act 2003. We continue to press the UK Government for the devolution of alcohol licensing powers to the Assembly.
Caroline mentioned older people. Our substance misuse strategy fully recognises the importance of tackling substance misuse amongst older people and including those who are dealing with alcohol issues. We’ve published some specific guidance for practitioners to improve the identification of and access to substance misuse treatment services for older people. We’ve also included alcohol in the online health checks that we have for the over-50s. I’ve asked the advisory panel on substance misuse to look at substance misuse issues in an ageing population as well. That work will bring in specialists in substance misuse together with experts on older people, and that will report in the near future as well.
You also mentioned prescription and over-the-counter medicines and how they are often abused. We’ve developed an e-learning package for pharmacy staff to help them identify and offer brief interventions to people who are misusing prescription and over-the-counter medication. Prescribing data are made routinely available to local health boards and GPs in Wales, allowing prescribing practices to be monitored. So, this supports local health boards in identifying variations and changes in practices and that helps target support to improve the safety and efficiency of prescribing as well.
New psychoactive substances were referred to in the debate, and, of course, the UK Government’s Act, which we were broadly supportive of, came into force on 26 May this year. The Welsh Government has taken a range of awareness-raising initiatives through our service DAN 24/7. We’ve also created support materials for parents and carers regarding NPS as well and also considered all of the recommendations made by the Health and Social Care Committee’s report into this. That’s very much been incorporated into our plan. It certainly informed the thinking on that. Following the Health and Social Care Committee’s report, a national training programme has also been developed and provided to stakeholders in Wales. I’m also considering e-learning modules on NPS and other drugs so that the prevention of and response to substance misuse can be more integrated into the mainstream of our healthcare provision in Wales.
Finally on this, we know that having a suitably skilled and knowledgeable front-line workforce is key to improving education and the prevention of risks associated with NPS. So, a bursary scheme is also available via the Welsh Government to further develop the workforce.
So, in concluding, I hope that Members will join me in thanking all of our dedicated stakeholders who have worked with us on this agenda. It’s a challenging agenda, and their hard work, commitment and compassion is vital as we aim to tackle substance misuse across Wales. Thank you.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree amendment 1. Does any Member object? If not, amendment 1 is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Amendment 1 agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The proposal, therefore, is to agree amendment 2. Does any Member object? There are no objections, and therefore amendment 2 is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Amendment 2 agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The remaining proposal, therefore, is to agree the motion as amended.
Motion NDM6082 as amended
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Notes the Welsh Government priorities for Substance Misuse as set out in the Substance Misuse Delivery Plan 2016-18.
2. Recognises the problems inherent to the delivery of substance misuse treatment services across Wales, given that the latest statistics from the Welsh National Database for Substance Misuse show that only 13 per cent of individuals were deemed substance free by the end of treatment from all referrals to drug and alcohol agencies in Wales.
3. Calls on the Welsh Government to reflect on the latest data on NHS Wales Substance Misuse and bring forward proposals that will ensure substance misusers access timely and effective treatment.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Does any Member object? There are no objections, therefore the motion is carried.
Motion as amended agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
That brings today’s proceedings to a close.
The meeting ended at 18:21.