The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) in the Chair.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Members will all be aware that the Presiding Officer is not present this week. I am sure you will wish to join me in sending your condolences to her family.
Trunk Road Maintenance in Brecon and Radnorshire
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on trunk road maintenance in Brecon and Radnorshire? OAQ(4)1223(FM)
Trunk road maintenance for Brecon and Radnorshire for 2013-14 is primarily routine maintenance activities, such as resurfacing schemes, and planned or emergency repair works.
First Minister, since June, roadworks have been in place on the A40 at Glangrwyney causing severe disruption to constituents in Crickhowell and those people in my constituency wishing to access services at Nevill Hall hospital. I wrote to the Minister about this issue and, at that stage, she was unable to tell me when actual work on that stretch of road will begin. When will maintenance begin at those traffic lights, and when will my constituents stop being inconvenienced by them?
It is a substantial piece of work that has to take place at Glangrwyney. The wall has been made safe after its collapse and the lights have been installed. At the moment, a number of design options are being considered in terms of taking the work forward. We understand, of course, that this is a busy road, but once a design has been settled upon, then, of course, the work can begin.
First Minister, in my experience, the maintenance of many of our trunk roads presently is patchy at best. What action have you and your Government taken to look at our trunk road network as a whole and to allocate appropriate resources to address further deterioration? Can you outline what proactive measures, rather than reactive, you are taking to stop and prevent the menace of potholes and severe deterioration? After all, I am sure you will agree that prevention is better than cure.
We have a rolling programme in place to deal with the trunk roads, whether it is improvements such as at Maes yr Helmau to Cross Foxes at the moment, or whether it is work that is required, be that emergency work or planned work. That contrasts of course with your party’s view, when, some two years ago, you issued a press release saying that you would postpone the entire trunk road building programme.
First Minister, if you recall, under the previous Government, there was significant investment in trunk roads in Brecon and Radnorshire, particularly along the A470. Residents will therefore be asking questions about the Government’s plans for the future, because it appears that you are now tied to a new M4 around Newport and are tying new borrowing for trunk roads to the new M4 alone. Can you confirm whether that is the situation, or are you seeking the right to borrow funds for trunk roads the length and breadth of Wales?
We want the opportunity to borrow money generally, and not just for one specific project. As regards the M4, it is not possible to construct a new M4 without borrowing money. That is not true of schemes in the major roads programme. We have delivered the work at Cwmbach Llechryd, where that stretch of road has been straightened, therefore assisting many of the residents of Brecon and Radnorshire to travel more quickly.
Railway Infrastructure in North Wales
2. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government’s priorities for railway infrastructure in North Wales during the next three years? OAQ(4)1212(FM)
We are committed to improving rail infrastructure in north Wales and we are leading on the development of a business case for the modernisation of the rail network in the region.
Thank you for that response. On the last day of last term, the Minister for transport announced a review of the doubling of the rail line between Chester and Wrexham. At the time, you said that there was a problem in terms of Network Rail’s timetable, but correspondence with Network Rail suggests that it could stick to the original timetable. If that is the case, is it a funding problem that you have, or can you explain exactly what sort of guidelines are at the heart of this review?
No. The review has taken place, and it has been completed. A statement will be made within the month.
First Minister, I am also very concerned not just about the north-south rail links, and the implications of the need for the dualling of the track around the Wrexham area, but about the east-west links. Earlier this year, the Minister responsible for transport suggested that work was being undertaken to improve the rail links and the infrastructure, to establish a direct rail link between Liverpool and the north Wales line. Has any progress been made on that, and can you bring us up to speed on it?
It is important to consider the works in that area in two ways: first, Wrexham to Saltney junction, which deals with the railway into Chester; and, secondly, the Wrexham-Bidston line, and the link therefore from Bidston into Liverpool itself. Work is proceeding with regard to seeing how such a service could be constructed, and, of course, we are looking as to how we can move ahead with work on the line between Wrexham and Chester. However, as I have said, there will be an announcement on that issue in due course.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Would the First Minister agree that it is very important that any decision on expenditure and investment in transport in Wales, and anywhere else for that matter, should happen on the basis of a thorough environmental impact assessment? Would the First Minister agree that the pattern of integrated transport, from north to south, and east to west, must be one consideration and, therefore, can he give us an assurance that the Welsh Government Cabinet will look at integrated transport in the same way as it was looked at by the excellent One Wales Government?
The position has not changed. That is why we, as a Government, have a national transport plan. We understand that it is important to look at not just one means of transport, but at all modes. That is why there is a Bill before the Assembly on the promotion of active travel, particularly in relation to the promotion of walking and cycling.
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I now call the party leaders to question the First Minister. I call first on the leader of the opposition, Andrew R. T. Davies.
First Minister, you told the Labour Party conference that the Government that you lead is a living and breathing example of what Labour does in power—God help the rest of the UK if you ever got in power up there, I have to say. However, if we look at the NHS as a living, breathing example of what Labour does in power, and as we are at the start of the new political year, perhaps you will make some resolutions about what your Government will deliver. We have the 36-week start time for treatment in the NHS that your Government sets as a target—that is a key Government target. That figure has gone up to over 11,000 people in recent months, yet the former Minister for Health and Social Services said in autumn 2011 that no-one would wait longer than 36 weeks by March 2012. Can you make a resolution today that your Government will hit that target in the next six months?
I can certainly give you an answer: as a resolution, we will continue to stand up for Wales. We know that we have had to struggle with a budget that is being hammered, with cuts of over £1 billion in a short space of time. There were those of us who protested against that and who told the UK Government that these cuts could not be absorbed properly in Wales, even though we have prioritised as a Government, as people would expect us to do. We were vocal; he was as vocal as a Trappist monk.
I have to say, in fairness to the public gallery, that we have quite a good turnout today. The people in the gallery, and Assembly Members, will have heard me ask you a specific question on the targets that your own Government set. They are no-one else’s targets—they are your targets, which you set at the start of this Assembly term. It was all about delivery. You could not commit to that. Try a resolution on a second point regarding our NHS. How about accident and emergency targets? They have not been met since 2009. Can you make a resolution today that, in the next six months, your Government will deliver on its own targets for accident and emergency?
That is our intention.
Is that a ‘yes’ or a ‘no? You are clearly not playing fair with people in Wales. You are clearly not playing fair with people in Wales who have given you their trust to be the Executive. You have set the target and, in your own programme for government, you have said that the target is to be better year on year. You are not being very good with your resolutions today, are you, to be fair? Let us try a third one, a relatively simply one again—the Welsh ambulance service—because you have not committed on the first two. Can you commit, so that people can have confidence that when they ring for an ambulance, they will hit the target for that critical call that goes in for eight minutes? Will your Government hit its own target by Christmas for the ambulance service to respond to emergency calls?
He talks about the eight-minute target being critical, but I do not know where his clinical evidence is for that. However, it is our intention to hit our targets. Let us put some background in here, shall we? This is the party that supported massive cuts to the Welsh budget. Then, they say you should spend £500 million or £800 million—it depends what day of the week it is—from money that you do not have. That is what they say. That is the deception that they practice on the people of Wales. We did get some transparency two years ago in the budget, when they did say how they would pay for the increases that they said they would put into the health service. They said they would cut education spending by 20% and they would cut spending on the economy and transport by 30%. Well, there goes the trunk road programme. In fact, they said that they would postpone the trunk road building programme. They proposed a 12.5% cut in social justice and local government; a 25% cut in housing, environment and sustainability; a 15% cut in rural affairs, hammering farmers; a 20% cut in heritage; and a reduction of 1.5% in the local government settlement. He asked me to commit and he asked me to be transparent. When will the people of Wales hear from him about how transparent he will be about the cuts that he plans?
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Order. I know that we are very excited as it is the first day back, but one good resolution I am sure the public would agree with is that we be a bit more polite to each other. I call the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
First Minister, a Labour Government in Wales has presided over youth unemployment of 48% in the Cynon valley, 39.5% in Blaenau Gwent and 35% in Torfaen. Is that a good example? Is that an achievement? It has presided over missed ambulance waiting targets for each of the last 14 months. Is that a good achievement? Is that a good example? First Minister, how can poor outcomes in health, education and the economy be taken as good examples of what can be achieved?
Her timing is questionable here, is it not? Only a few months ago, we saw enormous increases in foreign direct investment in the Welsh economy. We have seen unemployment go down, we have seen inactivity rates go down and we have seen employment go up. She asked a specific question about youth unemployment as if somehow we had caused it all, ignoring the fact that we are part of the UK economy and the wider European economy, as if we were exceptional. It is difficult, of course. What have we done about it? We established Jobs Growth Wales. There are 6,500 young people in jobs now because of a programme that was funded and put in place by the Welsh Government. That is what we have done. Apprenticeship schemes have been put in place. We talked about this at the time of the budget negotiations last year, and that money has been well used. When it comes to health, we have protected the health service budget at a time of massive cuts in England, where we see 20,000 people losing their jobs, 5,000 nursing posts gone in England and the English NHS in crisis. Yes, there are challenges in the health service, but if you compare us with what is happening across border, I know that the people of Wales will understand that we are doing what we can.
First Minister, you have to take some responsibility here. Can you tell us here this afternoon whether the Welsh economy, the Welsh NHS and the Welsh education system are better now than they were five years ago?
I believe they are. The crash occurred on 9 August 2007. If you look at what we have done to improve people’s chances in terms of their employment and skills, I do believe that we are going in the right direction.
I do not think that that is how the majority of the people of Wales will view the situation. First Minister, the shadow Secretary of State for Wales believes that Wales needs protection from the coalition Government. Does this mean that you can now guarantee all the votes of all your MPs in support of full devolution of powers to Wales, so that we never again have to find ourselves at the mercy of the Conservatives in Westminster, or would you and your MPs prefer to be ruled by the Tories?
As a party, we delivered—along with other parties—that ‘yes’ vote in 2011. No-one can question our commitment to devolution. I have, on many occasions, including last week, explained at great length what my position is on devolution. I do not know what hers is. I know that she is in favour of independence, but I do not know how she is in favour of independence. She talks about income tax devolution, but she does not say what she would do with it, what advantage it would be, or what Plaid Cymru would do with these things. This is the problem. Her party is good at demanding powers, but never explains what to do with those powers. We do both. Look at legislation. We fought hard, as did she and her colleagues on those benches, in order to get primary-law-making powers. Where is the Plaid Cymru legislative programme? Do we see a wealth of Member-proposed Bills coming forward? No. Was there a programme in the Plaid Cymru manifesto? No. We have that. That is the difference between us and Plaid Cymru. For Plaid Cymru, it is about wearing badges; for us, it is about delivering for the people of Wales.
First Minister, who do you agree with—your Labour leader, Ed Miliband, who said that you are doing an excellent job on the NHS in Wales, or the respected Welsh Labour MP, Ann Clwyd, who said that the Welsh NHS appears to be very bad?
Ed Miliband. [Laughter.]
Miliband and other senior Labour figures have been making some outrageous claims about what is going on in the Welsh NHS. Let us remind you of the reality facing Welsh patients: ambulance targets have not been met for over a year; cancer targets have not been met since you became First Minister; accident and emergency targets have not been met since you became First Minister. Carwyn Jones, what alternative universe are you and the Labour hierarchy living in?
It is always bad when she calls me by my first name and surname. You know what is coming then. [Laughter.]
Let us look again at the situation. We have never hidden the problems within the NHS, especially given the fact that our budgets are being hammered by your party in London. We have never hidden the problems; we have always said that we would prioritise. We have always accepted that there are difficulties and we have always said that we would strive to overcome them. There has been a massive increase in the number of people coming to A&E in the past 10 years. We know that there are demands in Wales that were unforeseen by anybody and we are looking to deal with those issues. Again, I come back to this point: her party has presided over the loss of 5,000 nursing posts, massive cuts disguised as efficiencies in the NHS in England and trusts going bankrupt, and we have a situation where, somehow, they are trying to say that, in Wales, things are worse. The reality is that the English NHS is in crisis. It is in crisis and it is getting worse. In Wales, things are moving in the right direction and it is being taken down the drain by the Tories and Lib Dems in London.
Let me remind you of something else that Ann Clwyd said about the Welsh NHS: Wales is behind England in every instance. Since you became First Minister, not only can you not meet your A&E targets and not only can you not meet your cancer targets, but the number of people waiting for treatment has almost doubled, from 227,000 people to 417,000 people. In England—something you are very fond of quoting—97% of people are treated within 18 weeks; in Wales, people are waiting nine months—twice as long—for exactly the same procedures. Ann Clwyd also said that people do not seem to be willing to admit that there are problems in Wales. Why do you not admit that today and outline what you are going to do about it?
That is quite clearly wrong. I have said, on many occasions, that we accept that there are still challenges in Wales in terms of addressing some of the issues in the health service. Those challenges are made many times worse by your party’s insistence that the Welsh budget should be cut. You cannot get away from that; you cannot pretend that it has not happened. You cannot pretend that there is as much money around now as there was four or five years ago. You must take responsibility for that, as we take responsibility for improving the NHS in Wales, which we do. You must accept responsibility for the hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts that you are imposing on Wales. I come back to this point— you criticise me for comparing Wales with England, but the Prime Minister does this all of the time, so I will not apologise for it—5,000 nursing posts gone, billions of pounds cut, and a service that is moving backwards in England. The difference between us and your party is quite simply this: we know that there are challenges and we are dealing with them. Your party in England is simply creating problems and is shying away from dealing with those problems.
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the effectiveness of the Delivery Unit? OAQ(4)1211(FM)
The way to measure the effectiveness of the delivery unit is to measure the effectiveness of the Government as a whole.
First Minister, the bitter experience of campaigners in Varteg has cast serious doubt over the effectiveness of minerals technical advice note 2 planning guidance—guidance that is meant to offer clear safeguards for Welsh communities from the negative impacts of opencast mining. First Minister, will you commit to looking at this whole issue again, whether through the delivery unit or through some other mechanism of Government, with a view to ensuring that clear Welsh planning policy is delivered on the ground?
This is a live issue, so I cannot discuss the issue at hand, namely the issue at Varteg, but we do have MTAN2, of course. The Minister for Housing and Regeneration is due to give evidence at the Petitions Committee on 22 October in response to petitions being put before that committee. If there are any suggestions as to how the MTAN might be improved in the future, I am sure that the Minister would be eager to hear what is said.
First Minister, you will be aware, as has already been mentioned, that ambulance response time targets continue to be missed and that targets for urgent treatment for cancer have not been achieved since you became First Minister. Can you tell us what the delivery unit has been doing while these targets continue to be missed?
This is something for the Minister to deal with, and Mark Drakeford is doing that, as I have said on numerous occasions previously. There has been pressure on the health service that nobody could have anticipated. That is true, of course, of other parts of the United Kingdom, but the difference is that we are tackling those problems. The problems are being exacerbated in England.
First Minister, when I saw that a question had been tabled by a Member of your own party on the delivery unit, I thought that we were going to get some light shed on the matter this afternoon. Every time that Members of other parties have questioned you, you have been very unwilling to respond. Are you saying that we have to measure the success of the delivery unit in line with the Government’s performance? May I, therefore, ask you a specific question? A consultation will close tomorrow on state aid for airports. This will impact upon Cardiff Airport. Can you confirm that the Welsh Government has responded to the Commission’s cunsultation on this issue? Has the delivery unit ensure that you have responded?
Of course, the Minister can answer that, but I can say one thing: no subsidy has been given to the airport. We have bought the airport, that is true, but I do not want to give the impression that any kind of subsidy has been given to the airport, as that, of course, would be illegal.
4. Will the First Minister outline the areas that the Delivery Unit will be evaluating this term? OAQ(4)1218(FM)
The delivery unit will be evaluating many areas of delivery of policy and will ensure that we have a co-ordinated approach as a Government.
First Minister, I have to say that you are terribly slippery on the subject of the delivery unit. You were last term, and you are obviously intent on being so this term. I have a very direct question for you, and it is about the levels of poverty in Wales. We have already heard the speech that you made so splendidly to the Labour Party conference in which you said that this was a living, breathing example of Labour Party policies, yet the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has just published another report on poverty levels in Wales, and after 13-or-so years of a Labour Government here, there is very little improvement. Will your delivery unit be taking a look at that? What will you, your Government and your delivery unit do to ensure that people in Wales do not carry on living at the same levels of poverty that they have done for the last 13 years? You cannot blame that on the coalition Government; it has not been around for 13 years, but you have.
First of all, I thank the Member for her praise for my speech. It is certainly very kind of her. Secondly, she will know of what we have undertaken in order to help people out of poverty in Wales. Flying Start is a fine example of such a scheme. However, she cannot say that it is nothing to do with her party, given the fact that we see people being plunged into poverty—it is now a fact of life in Britain that food banks are seen as an accepted part of life. It is a disgrace, because 10 years ago that would have been shocking, but under the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, it is now seen as normal. We know that, because of the bedroom tax, there are many hundreds if not thousands of people—40,000 households, in fact, in Wales—who will be affected. There will be 40,000 households worse off, some of which are in danger of being evicted. That is the reality of Tory and Lib Dem rule, and that is something that we will never accept.
First Minister, over the summer I spent a lot of time talking to housebuilders about why it is that Wales is falling behind in terms of the number of homes being built here. They say that, in terms of their priorities, the Welsh Government can help them with three things: financial support for buyers, reducing red tape and regulations, and simplifying the planning process. Are you and your delivery unit talking to builders to find out what they are doing? How are you taking their concerns into account as you formulate your policies and the legislation that will come to us later this term?
In fairness to the Minister, he has been in close contact with the builders. For example, he made an announcement just before the summer regarding building regulations, energy targets and, of course, sprinklers, which was widely welcomed by the construction industry. What would help more than anything else is stamp duty. When will we see the devolution of stamp duty? I accept what he is going to say. I heard what the Deputy Prime Minister said and I accept his words in terms of stamp duty, but the reality is that Scotland has its stamp duty. All that we have heard is excuse after excuse, and we have had delay after delay from the UK Government in terms of the delivery of stamp duty. If we do not get stamp duty, we cannot borrow and the whole package disappears—the whole of part 1. I cannot understand why something that is apparently fine for Scotland is not fine for Wales. I can only assume that there is an attempt to try to delay matters for reasons that we could only begin to imagine. We hear that it is to do with the McKay commission and what is simplistically described as English votes on English laws, but the reality is that, if we are going to be able to borrow, we need the tax revenues to borrow. Stamp duty is absolutely crucial to that.
First Minister, we have heard this afternoon that waiting times for treatment within the health service are getting worse, and as Assembly Members, we are becoming increasingly aware of people having their treatments postponed within the health service. In your response to Paul Davies, you said that this was a matter for the Minister for health, not the delivery unit. Are you seriously telling us this afternoon that your delivery unit does nothing to promote the achievement of your targets within the NHS?
The delivery unit is there to bring departments together—we must bear that in mind—to ensure that they collaborate so that the Government works as one. That is an important part of the delivery unit’s work. One thing that it does not do is to do the work of the Ministers. That is for Ministers. Therefore, in terms of targets, that is the responsibility of the Minister for health. Of course, where things have to be done to help him to secure improvements, the unit will assist.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the administration of the Green Deal Scheme in Wales? OAQ(4)1206(FM)
The Green Deal is a UK Government scheme. It is administered by the green deal oversight and registration body, which, in turn, was established by the Department for Energy and Climate Change.
First Minister, you may be aware that this is an important scheme. Many people have attempted to take advantage of it, but one of the net effects of what is currently happening in south Wales is that there are companies going around that have been getting people to make payments, with the company then going bust or disappearing, with many people—not just in my constituency but across south Wales—losing hundreds of pounds as a consequence of this scheme. Is there anything that the Welsh Government can do to give protection to south Wales people who are so dependent on such schemes?
Of course, it is primarily the responsibility of the UK Government, but I want to make sure that we, as a Government, do what we can to protect vulnerable households from being targeted by these rogue companies. My officials are in close liaison with trading standards departments. They are investigating the recent complaints. If there is any more information or evidence that can be provided to the trading standards, I would encourage people to come forward with that information.
I have been disappointed that the Welsh Government has not done enough to help to deal with public sector partners to raise awareness of the Green Deal scheme to the Welsh public. How is the Welsh Government linking the Green Deal scheme to its own housing energy efficiency schemes?
The schemes are slightly different. They dovetail well with each other. We encourage people who can benefit from the Green Deal to do so, and, of course, we have our own Nest and Arbed schemes, which have a proven track record of helping people.
In your reply you referred to Arbed, and there is no doubt that the Arbed scheme has been very effective in many communities. From our experience in one part of Arfon, in the village of Nantlle, the Arbed scheme there has been a bit of a disaster, because the company that has been acting as an agent for the Welsh Government, Willmott Dixon, has been misleading constituents and trying to blame the national park and the planning department—something that is completely inadequate and unfair in my view, and in the view of many others. I do not expect you to answer a question on that case, of course, but I am asking you to look in detail at that company’s operations in this respect, and am asking you to ensure that the relevant Minister looks in detail at that company’s operations, as I hope that that example is not replicated in other areas.
I have not heard of that problem in any other part of Wales. The Minister will, of course, have heard your comments, and I am sure that a reply will shortly be forthcoming.
Priorities for Flood Defences
6. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government’s priorities for flood defences? OAQ(4)1216(FM)
Yes, of course flood defences remain a high priority for us. We saw, just as one example, what happened in St Asaph in the early part of the year. We will be investing over £180 million in this term of office to support an ongoing programme of maintenance and capital improvement works to flood defence infrastructure across Wales, including schemes at Pontarddulais, Swansea vale, Rhyl and Fairbourne.
Thank you for that, First Minister. I am sure that you are aware that the report on the flood event at Glasdir in Ruthin was published this summer, on 27 August. One of the causes of the flooding there was identified as the method of construction used for the trunk road, the A525. Given that, and that there is a need for £250,000-worth of work to be carried out, will you be assisting Denbighshire County Council? Because of your responsibility for trunk roads, will you be contributing towards the £250,000-worth of remedial works required?
What I can say is that officials in Government are discussing the findings of the report with the council and, indeed, with Natural Resources Wales. The result of those discussions will form the basis of what plans there will be to resolve the situation in the near future.
First Minister, I am very grateful for the way in which you and your Government have gone to St Asaph to meet people who have suffered. It is now almost 12 months later, and I am very grateful to your Minister for Natural Resources and Food, as he has walked the riverbank with me and with a number of constituents, many of whom are still not back in their homes after being flooded out. I just wanted to know: can you provide us with an update as to how much preparation NRW will do, prior to the anniversary of the floods, so that those people who are not back in their homes do not feel forgotten? Often, there is the big hype about everyone wanting to visit while the floodwater is high, and everybody wanting to do something in the first six weeks, but in later months, the people who are affected feel forgotten. I just want assurances from you that the Government will do everything it can to reduce the one in 30 events, which are affecting Roe Park in St Asaph at the moment, and that we can improve that so that the insurance people will have no hook to wriggle off should there be further flooding for these people.
There are two assurances that I can give the Member. First of all is the assurance that strong consideration is being given to the report and to what might be done with it in terms of working with Natural Resources Wales and with the council. That report is being considered at the moment. Secondly, work is progressing on a new agreement for flood insurance. In the meantime, however, the insurance industry has agreed to abide by the statement of principle, which is our current agreement, to ensure that those who are most at risk from flooding can continue to access insurance. That is a very important issue, of course, particularly for those who have recently seen the effects of flooding.
It is important that you consider the financial question with regard to Glasdir in Ruthin, and I am sure that you will be doing so. A number of other questions, of course, remain unanswered, and we now have a situation in Ruthin where Denbighshire County Council, Natural Resources Wales, the developers and others are pointing the finger of blame at each other and so on. That is unacceptable because, in the meantime, local residents are still waiting for answers on a number of very important issues. What will you do as First Minister to ensure that the residents of Glasdir in Ruthin are given answers, fair play and justice?
It is completely fair to say that no-one benefits from continual squabbling. It is true to say that local people will be asking ‘Well, what’s happening?’ That is why we are talking to the relevant bodies, in order to secure answers, in the first place, and then to consider what priority should be given to any new scheme in the area.
7. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Cardiff Enterprise Zone? OAQ(4)1221(FM)
Yes, good progress is being made in the enterprise zone, with a number of new projects in the pipeline.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. I recently had an e-mail from Emyr John, who is in the department for enterprise, who indicated that only six applications had been forthcoming for support in the Cardiff enterprise zone, of which only two were successful. He also indicated that the performance to date has not been the best. As an Assembly Member, I have tabled many questions to try to ascertain exactly how many jobs have been created, how much investment has gone into Cardiff enterprise zone, and what the likely outcome will be in three or four years’ time. To date, I have no overall picture of where the Government is going with the Cardiff enterprise zone. Given this e-mail, which indicates that performance has not been the best, can you give an assurance today that the Government does have an idea of where it wants Cardiff enterprise zone to be, and that you will publish regular updates to indicate jobs created and investment going in?
More than 700 jobs are being created already, with the announcement by Deloitte of 100 jobs and Conduit of 600. Admiral, particularly, has seen the creation of 200 jobs, some of which are in the enterprise zone. We have seen the announcement of the new campus as well in the enterprise zone itself, so the enterprise zone is making good progress, as we see from the job announcements that have already been made.
8. Will the First Minister provide an update on Enterprise Zones specifically those in South Wales Central? OAQ(4)1220(FM)
I refer the Member partially to the answer I gave to the previous question. With regard to St Athan, there are already jobs that have been created—some 75. There are many new expressions of interest and, of course, work is ongoing to straighten the road between the airport and St Athan.
Just last week I asked your Minister for enterprise how many jobs had been created in the Cardiff central enterprise zone. I still have not received a substantive answer. Two years in, since the launch of this policy, we have no targets, no plans, no strategy, apparently we have no jobs yet and, frankly, First Minister, it looks like we have no idea either. When will you be able to tell us how many people are currently working in the central Cardiff enterprise zone?
I said earlier on that there are more than 700 jobs that have been created. That is an excellent start. It is right to say that we do not have targets in the same way that targets exist across the border, but of course those targets across the border are not being met by a mile. So, we can hardly look across the border at the enterprise zones there as a shining example of how things should be done. Nevertheless, Cardiff is certainly doing well in terms of the number of jobs created, and particularly in terms of the expressions of interest that have been received in terms of moving into the enterprise zone.
First Minister, the economy is the No. 1 priority for Plaid Cymru, and I am generally supportive of any initiatives that can replace some of the 45,000 or more jobs that have been lost since the beginning of this recession in Wales. I am sure that you are aware that many of our town centres, particularly in the Valleys, are struggling at the moment. Tonypandy town centre, for example, is already in danger of becoming a ghost town, as the number of vacant premises has almost doubled since 2009 from 19 to 35, according to the latest figures. What measures are in place within the enterprise zone initiative to ensure that communities outside their centres are not disadvantaged? Sorry, Deputy Presiding Officer, but I can hardly deliver my question here because of the noise.
The enterprise zones are not designed primarily for retail, so the enterprise zones should have no, if a little, effect on town centres and their retail capacity. There are other great pressures on town centres, of course; we know that. We know the pressures with regard to online trading and income—the money that people have in their pockets—and, of course, the planning Bill will be presented before the end of this year. You will know about the Morgan review of business rates. It is a significant challenge to ensure that town centres are viable in the future. Nevertheless, there are good examples of it. Carmarthen is one where the right decisions were taken in terms of planning to ensure that people come into the town centre. As far as the enterprise zones are concerned, I cannot see that the enterprise zones themselves would have a negative effect on town centres.
9. Will the First Minister provide an update on what the Welsh Government is doing to end the use of construction companies that operate blacklists? OAQ(4)1210(FM)
Yes. We issued guidance to all public bodies on 10 September, setting out how blacklisting can be addressed through public procurement.
First Minister, it was in 2009 that the Consulting Association was found to be operating a database of over 3,000 UK construction workers, a so-called blacklist that was subscribed to by 57 construction companies. In the two-year period between April 2011 and May this year, your Government used seven of the companies that used that database, making payments totalling £70.7 million. If we include a further two companies with very close connections to those that use the database, the figures would rise to over £100 million. First Minister, this is a damning indictment. Could you have acted sooner and how will you bring an end to your Government using such companies, as you outlined in your previous statement?
I think that I have just said that. We launched a new procurement advice note on blacklisting on 10 September. It has been issued to all public bodies. I met with the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians and Unite to listen to their concerns about three of the companies involved in the delivery of the Crossrail project, for example. Two of them responded, providing assurances that they condemn the use of blacklists. This is a policy that we are particularly proud of. It is right, it is morally the right thing to do and our trade union colleagues, acting on behalf of good trade unionists who have had their livelihoods destroyed by blacklisting, are content as well.
10. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Planning Bill? OAQ(4)1217(FM)
It will be issued in draft form before the end of the year.
Thank you for that answer. As you know, First Minister, local authorities are making controversial decisions on windfarms, responding to your Government’s policy, which firmly favours wind energy. The emergence of interest in unconventional gas extraction is presenting new challenges to councils facing related planning applications. In considering the planning Bill, what new guidance do you think councils need in helping them to prioritise different types of energy applications and, further, to balance them with other planning considerations?
With regard to fracking, the licensing system is of course a matter for the UK Government, not for us. When it comes to the planning system, it is right that local authorities are the primary deciders and the permitting needs to be done by Natural Resources Wales. There is guidance in place and that guidance urges a precautionary approach to fracking—that much is true. We are looking to see whether there is a need to re-examine guidance in the future. The Bill itself is not the vehicle to do that, rather, planning guidance is. But, it is useful to illustrate what the nature of the consenting and planning system is in terms of what level of government is responsible for what.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Before I move to the next question, I am delighted to welcome a new Member to the Assembly, Rhun ap Iorwerth, the Member for Ynys Môn. You have a most distinguished predecessor who made many great contributions to this Chamber and the work of the Welsh Government, and I am sure that we can look forward to a series of excellent contributions from you and we all wish you very well in the work that lies ahead of you. [Applause.]
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, for your kind words. I was given the honour on 1 August of being elected by the people of Ynys Môn to represent them in the National Assembly. It is my privilege today to take my seat here in the Chamber as a Plaid Cymru Member to represent the people of Ynys Môn and the rest of the nation.
The honour that all of us in this room have, in being elected to the Assembly, comes with a great amount of responsibility and I am determined, through Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, to do everything that I can to ensure that Wales and the people of Wales can achieve our potential. That includes grasping every opportunity to take control of our own destiny as a nation.
That is why my first question to the First Minister deals with a report on the latest developments in devolution, hopefully.
11. What discussions has the First Minister had with the UK Government regarding the second report of the Silk Commission? OAQ(4)1219(FM)
I welcome the new Member to this Chamber. It is extremely odd to hear him speaking in the Chamber, having had to deal with questions from him on ‘Dragon’s Eye’ and other such programmes over the years. At present, regarding the current phase of the Silk commission, we are in the phase where the commission has called for evidence. What we have done is focus on that evidence, and so there have been no meetings with the UK Government as regards phase 2. However, as regards the first phase, there were a number of meetings.
It has been 10 months, now, that we have been waiting for the response from the Government in London to the first report—a commonsense report on starting to take responsibility for our budgets in Wales so that we can get to grips with the economy of Anglesey and the rest of Wales. I note that the First Minister admitted over the past few days that he has lost influence within Britain compared to leaders in Scotland and northern Ireland. However, I wonder whether he can tell us whether he has the influence to ensure that his party’s next manifesto at a UK level will include the pledge to ensure that the recommendations in the first part of Silk are implemented in full.
I hope, of course, that we will not need to do that. I hope that the recommendations will have been implemented a long time before that, and that that will not be needed. That is why we are waiting for the response from the UK Government. We, as a party on this side, are very close to his party as regards where we stand on part 1 of the Silk commission. It is obvious to us that we must move forward on this. I have made the Government’s position very clear over the last few months. We are now waiting for the response of the UK Government. First, it said that the news would come in the spring, then it said during the summer, and now the autumn. I hope, of course, that it is talking about the autumn of this year.
Before I ask my supplementary question to the First Minister, I also take this opportunity, on behalf of the Conservative group, to congratulate and to welcome the newest Member of this Assembly. His victory was sizeable, and I am sure that he will do some excellent work in raising issues on behalf of the people of Ynys Môn. I look forward to future discussions with him in this Chamber. I wish him well in his new role.
First Minister, as you know, the work of Silk part 2 continues to review the powers of the Assembly, and I am sure that interesting recommendations will emerge once it reports. As you know, personally, I am in favour of a federal Britain that would recognise the sovereignty of the home nations. Do you agree that a real federal Britain would be the best constitutional settlement for the United Kingdom?
That is the direction, I believe, that we are travelling in; that is true. It is disappointing to see what is happening; I hope that it is not just an excuse to do nothing now. We must progress devolution in Wales. Then, as I have said many times before, we should look at what the constitution should look like in the long term. We know that the Secretary of State has turned his face against any kind of change to the constitution in Wales in relation to devolution. That is a great disappointment to many of us in this Chamber. It is important that we can tell the people of Wales that Governments can work together to deliver new powers in relation to devolution, and we have been waiting a long time to see what the response of the UK Government will be. However, I do not think that it would be relevant or a good thing for us to wait for some kind of a federal system, and that being used as an excuse to do nothing now.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, First Minister.
There are two changes to this week’s business. Statements have been added to today’s agenda on Hywel Dda service change plans and ‘best practice in public services: report on summer visits to local authorities’. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the agenda papers that are available to Members electronically.
I am grateful to the Minister for Local Government and Government Business for her statement this afternoon. Minister, the guidance issued by the ombudsman in relation to section 25 of the Localism Act 2011 does not appear to reflect the direction given in the Act with regard to predetermination and how councillors are able to campaign on local issues and participate in decisions relating to such matters. I ask the Minister to look into this and, if necessary, to publish revised guidelines on how section 25 of the Localism Act 2011 will be applied in Wales.
Yes, certainly. I have asked my officials to look into this and I will bring forward information when I have it to hand.
Minister, I would like to ask you for a statement on changes to the working conditions and pensions of fire service workers. We know that there is a possibility of a strike because the firefighters oppose increasing the retirement age and they are extremely concerned that firefighters in their late fifties would have to respond to emergencies. Firefighters’ pensions, of course, are entirely devolved to the Welsh Government, and the question that I would want you to address in a statement to the Assembly is why you are choosing to follow a regime for pensions that is entirely in accordance with what is being proposed by the Conservative Government for England, rather than drawing up a new regime here in Wales. We know that the SNP Government in Scotland is seeking to plough its own furrow in this area.
Thank you for that question. We are in a different position from Scotland. Firefighters’ pensions are wholly devolved, as you said, however, we have to look at the funding from the UK Treasury and we are constrained by that, while Scotland is not. I have had very positive discussions with the Fire Brigades Union. Obviously, there is the strike tomorrow. The First Minister has also met with the FBU and we are looking at what we can do around getting a national fitness standard for firefighters. My door is very much open to the FBU and I continue to have constructive conversations with it.
Minister, I ask for a statement on the UK Government’s lobbying Bill. While I recognise that it is a non-devolved matter, it is causing a tremendous amount of concern among charities, third sector organisations and their representative bodies. I think that there are very genuine fears that the Bill will hinder the ability of organisations to campaign effectively and to influence political change. Given the healthy relationship between the third sector and political parties across this Chamber, I would hope that there is appetite for such a debate from Members across the Chamber.
There is obviously clear concern in Wales about the impact of the proposals on the third sector and its ability to engage in policy debate, and I am sure that everyone in this Chamber has been lobbied by third sector organisations. These concerns are being raised in Westminster and we are very much looking to the UK Government to respond effectively as the Bill proceeds in Parliament, but we will be watching it closely.
Minister, as you know, we are still waiting for a statement from the Minister on the mortgage deposit guarantee scheme or NewBuy Cymru. This has been an ongoing saga and it looks as though we may now not get anything until the UK scheme kicks in in January. Is it possible for the Minister, who I see is in the Chamber and listening to me, to give us a statement on progress in trying to implement the scheme in Wales?
As you say, the Minister has heard that and he will bring forward a statement as soon as possible.
I call for two statements. The first is a statement on Brymbo heritage sites. You may have heard the good news that they have secured £100,000 in heritage lottery funding to preserve and celebrate the history of Brymbo, capturing memories of former workers and so on. There is also the good news of the approval of Brymbo Developments Ltd’s planning applications, allowing access to the heritage site. However, the heritage group is saying that everything now hinges on Cadw funding to preserve and safeguard the ironworks buildings. I would be grateful, as this is a matter that has been raised many times before, and as we are approaching another winter, for an urgent statement regarding Cadw’s discussions with Wrexham Council and its proposals to put that funding in place before we lose more of that priceless heritage.
Secondly, I call for a statement in relation to complaints and the charges and rising financial implications of those complaints against health boards in Wales, given the news that Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board could be facing claims costing, potentially, £58 million—a 32% rise—the majority of which relate to clinical negligence. We understand that this follows Welsh Government regulations for the handling of complaints by NHS bodies introduced in 2011, which followed the abolition by the former Welsh Government of the independent review forming the second stage of the complaints procedure.
We know that there has been a damning in-patient survey at Betsi Cadwaladr, saying, among other things, that patients receiving information explaining how to complain scored significantly worse than average, and we know that all three hospitals in north Wales, and all three hospitals in Abertawe Bro Morgannwg, where the chief executive is leading the response to the critical governance report in Betsi, have mortality rates at levels that, in England, would have put them into special measures. In this context, could we have a statement advising us how the Welsh Government proposes to deal with these rising levels of complaints and the cost implications?
Regarding your first question, it is certainly very good news about the funding for Brymbo and I am sure that discussions are ongoing with the Minister regarding Cadw. I am not quite sure what you were asking for in the second part of your contribution, but the Minister for Health and Social Services has heard you, and, if he thinks it is appropriate, he will write to you.
Further to Mick Antoniw’s question to the First Minister earlier, and subsequent to my request in June, I ask for a statement from the Minister for Natural Resources and Food on the working of the Green Deal in Wales. Like others, in June I had issues with constituents requiring refunds, but the situation has got worse since then. I have now been contacted by quite a lot of constituents who have paid over £200 for a survey to a company that is now being investigated by trading standards and appears to have ceased trading. However, more worryingly, a full explanation of cost implications was not given to my constituents. They thought it would be free after the survey, when, in reality, there would be further long-term charges. Most worryingly, my constituents have confirmed that the company’s sales representative constantly said that the funding came from the Welsh Government rather than the UK Government, and that helped to ensure them that it was legitimate, which it was obviously not. This is an unacceptable situation, and I would like to see action taken.
Thank you for that question. You are quite right, and the First Minister did say to Mick Antoniw that, while it is a UK initiative, as a Government, we need to do all that we can to protect the most vulnerable. Our position is that it is unlikely to be the best option for people on low incomes, for instance, and so the most vulnerable. If you have any information—you mentioned something specifically—I know that trading standards would be very interested. Perhaps you could write to the Minister and he would take that up for you with trading standards.
I listened carefully to your response to Lynne Neagle a little earlier. Unfortunately, I did not hear you say that there will be a statement or a debate in this Chamber on the implications of the lobbying Bill. I think that it is a Bill that has some very serious implications for how we carry out politics in Wales, particularly in the way that the third sector works with political parties, and I think it would be entirely appropriate that we should have a debate in the Senedd while it is going through Westminster so that some of the comments and opinions of Members and parties here could be made independently of the Welsh Government. Would you, therefore, be in a position next week, if possible, to say that there will be a debate held here so that we can consider what this Bill has to offer in terms of the way we do politics in Wales?
Certainly, it is something that we are looking at very closely, and, if we think that it is appropriate for this place to have a debate, we will do so, but I will come back to you next week on that point.
Minister, over the summer, I read two quite startling statistics. The first is that over-the-counter and prescription drugs now kill more people than heroin and cocaine put together. The second is that one in three young people between the ages of 18 and 24 are now taking over-the-counter pills every day. Bearing that in mind, I would welcome a statement from the Government on how you are promoting the safe use of easily accessed medicines and details of what support is available to people who are addicted to, or abusing, prescription or over-the-counter medication.
This is something that I know that the Minister for Health and Social Services has taken the opportunity to raise with the new chair of the advisory panel on substance misuse. I think it was yesterday—or it may have been last week—that he met with them. I understand that prescription drug misuse is being looked at by the UK Government in relation to the advisory council. The Minister has made it very clear that Wales needs to be able to pick up on the advice that emerges from that review.
I wonder whether it would be possible to have two statements, first from the Minister for Culture and Sport in relation to public access to the waterways. I, along with many other Assembly Members, have had extensive correspondence from a number of anglers who seem to be under the impression that the Minister is going to be seeking amendments to the Active Travel (Wales) Bill. There is a huge amount of concern among the angling and fishing community about the proposals that seem to be being talked about. I would like a statement from the Minister to clarify that he is not seeking to amend the Active Travel (Wales) Bill and that there will be a proper consultation and a clear process that will be followed in relation to that. I have checked with the Table Office and I know that amendments can be laid until 6 p.m. tonight. I am not aware of any amendments that would lead to that, but I think that it is important that others who have clearly been given that impression have that impression corrected and that there is a clear route-map, as it were, in terms of the consultation proposals that the Minister intends to take on board.
The second matter I wish to raise is that, yet again, in north Wales we have seen the tragic death of a motorcyclist on our roads. In north Wales during the summer there is a huge increase in the number of motorcycling accidents. I am aware that in other parts of the UK, on stretches of roads where there are fatalities on a regular basis, signs are placed along those roads to warn both drivers and those on motorbikes of the number of fatalities that there have been on those particular stretches of roads. Will the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport look at that? There is a high rate of attrition, if I can put it that way, on the roads in north Wales, particularly affecting motorcyclists, and it is of great concern that we have seen yet another tragedy this week.
I will just pick up on that point first. The Minister for Economy, Science and Transport has previously written to Members regarding this, but she is certainly happy to give an update in due course.
In relation to the Active Travel (Wales) Bill, next week sees Stages 3 and 4 discussions being debated in the Chamber, and, as you say, amendments can be laid. I am not aware of the issues that you raise, and I do not think the Minister is either, but amendments can be laid until 6 p.m. today.
Minister, you will be aware of the almost universal recognition of the importance of the contribution that was made by the Welsh Government to defeating the economic arguments put forward by the coalition Government in Westminster on the issue of regional pay. I wonder now, because of the quality of that particular work, whether we should carry out similar work, looking at the potential and possibilities around the issues of a living wage, zero-hour contracts and other broader terms and conditions affecting the quality of life.
Thank you for that question. We are already making progress and developing a package of workforce partnership and empowerment in the public sector, working with employers and trade unions through key fora like the workforce partnership council, and building on the strategic workforce framework. The living wage is a very important part of my portfolio. I am sure that you will agree that the workforce partnership council, which is the body that brings together trade unions and employers from the public sector, is a natural place for the living wage to sit because it can be progressed there in the context of wider workforce issues, with a holistic approach that focuses on the importance of work to people’s lives. Clearly, the Government condemns the exploitative use of zero-hour contracts.
Minister, you may well have heard of considerable anxiety in mid Wales, particularly in Montgomeryshire, concerning emerging plans in the Shropshire health authority to move accident and emergency and acute stroke services from Shrewsbury to Telford hospital. In that context, a petition of over 11,000 signatures has already been gathered by County Councillor Joy Jones and a team that she has put together in that regard. I am calling for a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services, in due time, to address this issue, because, although the decisions are being made within the English NHS, the additional half-hour emergency drive time would really and certainly cost lives. I would argue that we need to ensure that the Welsh voice is heard in this reconfiguration proposal.
You are right to say that it is a matter for the English NHS, but, clearly, some Welsh patients will be treated in both the hospitals to which you refer. The Minister has heard what you have said, and I am sure that, if the Minister thinks that it is appropriate, he will make the necessary representations.
Leader of the house, could I please have two statements, if possible—the first on enterprise zones. I thought that the First Minister was rather disingenuous to the Liberal Democrat Member for South Wales Central when he said that targets are not being met in England. If there is one thing that any Member—in this place, or in Westminster—can find out, it is exactly the level of investment that has gone into the English enterprise zones. There has been £229 million-worth of private investment, the number of new jobs that have been created is 3,000, and the number of new businesses that have been started is 126. I actually want to see enterprise zones succeed, but I have no idea of how they are performing in Wales. As an elected Member, I do not think that it is unreasonable that when businesses or individuals in my own area ask me about the Cardiff enterprise zone or about the ones that are located in the Vale of Glamorgan, as to exactly how they are performing—including the number of jobs and the level of investments—I say that you can get those figures in England, but that you cannot get them here in Wales. Could we have a statement from the Minister for enterprise indicating how Members are going to be able to benchmark the success of enterprise zones, and how the department is going to promote the successful uptake of enterprise zones? We want to see them succeed—this is not about trying to knock the Government, this is just about trying to see what is going on within the enterprise zones across the whole of Wales.
My second point is on rural buses, and bus services generally. Since the Welsh Government reduced its support via the bus service operatord grant in April, many services—in particular in the Vale of Glamorgan, and the Minister for Finance will be acutely aware of this—have just gone overnight. In July, many services ceased because of the actions of the Welsh Government. I would be most grateful if the Minister for transport could bring forward a statement that would indicate what actions you are taking as a Government to assess the impact of the changes that were brought in in April, which have seen such a dramatic decline in service provision across Wales, but in particular in the South Wales Central area. To date, I do not think that any impact assessment has been taken by the Government.
The Minister has clearly heard both your requests, and will update you in due course.
Motion NDM5308 Rosemary Butler
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 17.14, elects Rhun ap Iorwerth (Plaid Cymru) as a member of the Enterprise and Business Committee in place of Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Plaid Cymru).
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion.
I move the motion.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There are no objections, therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Change is unavoidable in the Welsh health service, but proposals for change need to be included in a considered and timely fashion. In a written statement on 17 July, I confirmed that agreement had been reached between Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board and the local community health council to implement the changes previously referred to be for determination in the north Wales area. I am now pleased to be able to update Members on the position on the service change plan for mid and west Wales—a plan that is proposed by the Hywel Dda Local Health Board.
In January, the Hywel Dda health board published its final proposals for service change. In accordance with our established guidance, the local community health council was able to refer any elements of the proposals to Welsh Ministers for determination if local agreement could not be reached on the change proposals. On 19 April, Hywel Dda Community Health Council made such a referral, relating to the health board’s proposals for accident and emergency services at Prince Philip Hospital in Llanelli, and neonatal services specifically in relation to Withybush and Glangwili hospitals.
An independent scrutiny panel has since been convened in the Hywel Dda area to provide me with advice and recommendations on these matters. The panel visited on 14 and 15 August, meeting the health board and the CHC, along with a number of key clinicians. The panel consisted of Mr Jim Wardrope, consultant in emergency medicine at the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield; Professor Neena Modi, professor of neonatal medicine at Imperial College London and honorary consultant at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust; and Dr David Salter, the retired former deputy chief medical officer for Wales with extensive knowledge of the Welsh NHS.
The panel submitted its report on 12 September, and earlier today Members received a copy from the Plenary business unit. Dirprwy Lywydd, I begin with the panel’s conclusions in respect of Llanelli. The panel strongly supported the case for replacement of accident and emergency services at Prince Philip Hospital. It unanimously proposed that an emergency nurse practitioner unit, supported by general practitioners, should form the future model of care at that hospital. I have carefully considered this expert advice and fully accept it. I have therefore determined that this form of service will be implemented. I am pleased to report that the health board and the CHC have already been working together on the detail of this type of service model for Prince Philip Hospital.
In 2011-12, the emergency department of that hospital saw 33,000 patients, of whom 6,500 were regarded as emergency cases. Four hundred and twenty two of these needed to be transferred to another hospital. The remaining 80% of patients were treated at Prince Philip, and the decision that I have made today means that this position will be maintained into the future.
Llywydd, I now turn to the panel’s conclusions in relation to neonatal services. Here, while the thrust of the LHB’s original proposals is endorsed, the panel was unable to reach a final conclusion until, it says, clear and definite plans for obstetric and midwifery services have been agreed for the Hywel Dda area. I have therefore determined that the health board must carry out a further piece of work in respect of its obstetric, midwifery and gynaecological services, explicitly setting out the way in which these services are linked to its proposals for changes to neonatal services. I expect this work to be completed by the end of this year, and for a final decision to then be made.
I must leave Members in no doubt, however, about the underlying model of neonatal services which the panel endorses. The panel’s report says very clearly that the provision of neonatal specialist care facilities across all Hywel Dda hospitals is neither safe nor sustainable. Rather, it says that there is consistent evidence from around the world that the regionalisation of services for low risk deliveries and the centralisation of high risk deliveries are effective in reducing neonatal deaths. It is on that basis that the panel supports the LHB’s proposals for a stratified service. If this approach gets the final go-ahead, at Bronglais, Withybush and Glangwili hospitals, services will continue to provide care for the vast majority of babies born in those communities. The panel’s report puts that level at around 90% of all births.
The report then specifically endorses the development of a level 2 neonatal unit at Glangwili. This would ensure that those babies in the wider Hywel Dda area who need more specialised care will receive it in a fully staffed, fully equipped level 2 unit operating to national clinical standards. Some of these births would have been identified in advance, with transfer to Carmarthen planned with the family concerned. Where the need for a level 2 service emerges on an unplanned basis, the panel proposes that the current neonatal transport service is extended to operate on a 24-hour basis. I have asked for the board’s response to this proposal as part of the additional work to be completed by the end of this year.
Finally, in this stratified approach, the panel confirms that a very small number of complex births—at around 1%, it estimates—will continue to need level 3 care, and that, for Hywel Dda residents, this should take place, as now, through services provided by the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg LHB.
I have outlined the model for neonatal services recommended to me by the expert panel. Its final conclusion, however, awaits the additional work that I have also set out. Once that has been completed, I will ask the panel to reconvene and provide me with its final advice. I hope to be able to bring the whole process to an end through a further statement to the Assembly when we return after the Christmas recess.
The process of change is always challenging, even when it is inevitable and necessary. The panel’s approach is consistent with that already adopted by the Welsh Government—retaining the bulk of services locally, while ensuring that care for those with greater need is provided in accordance with internationally accepted, evidence-based standards, leading to best outcomes for patients.
I would like to place on record my personal thanks to members of the scrutiny panel for all their hard work over the summer months in preparing their report, despite other heavy commitments. I commend the expertise and professionalism that they have brought collectively to their task.
Finally, I would also like to thank the health board and the community health council, who met together here with my officials in Cardiff yesterday and who will, I know, continue to work together in the interests of the local communities, to ensure the highest standards of care for the people of mid and west Wales.
I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon. It will come as no surprise that I will be focusing my comments and questions around the special care baby unit at Withybush hospital in my constituency. Even though the Minister has made it clear in his statement today that he wants further work to be carried out by the local health board, he still seems to affirm the board’s proposals to continue to establish a level 2 neonatal unit at Glangwili hospital, therefore advocating the closure of the special care baby unit at Withybush hospital. This continues to be a very worrying time for the people of Pembrokeshire, who have previously spoken loud and clear on this issue by staging protests, circulating petitions and attending public meetings against this proposal. This unit provides life-saving services to the people of Pembrokeshire.
Let me remind the Minister that, not so long ago, members of Pembrokeshire County Council, including Labour Party councillors, unanimously passed a motion that vigorously rejected Hywel Dda health board’s plans for service change in the area. It seems to me that those calls have fallen on deaf ears, because the inference in this statement is that the level 2 neonatal unit should continue to be established at Glangwili hospital.
Having reviewed the data and the figures in the technical documents received from the health board, I note that, for the year 2011-12, more babies needing special care were cared for in Pembrokeshire than in Carmarthenshire. If that is the case, could the Minister confirm that these figures will be taken into account prior to making a final decision?
The Minister is aware that Withybush hospital’s catchment area extends into deep rural areas. Can he, therefore, outline what geographical considerations will be further taken into account in forming this final decision? The constituency that I represent has challenging transport links and, therefore, travelling any distance to obtain emergency treatment will certainly lessen survival chances. In his response, perhaps the Minister could tell us what specific transport assessments he and his officials will further undertake before a final decision is made. Will the Minister ensure that none of these changes will be implemented until all other services, particularly transport services, are fully in place and proven?
I do not see how the decision to site the new level 2 neonatal unit at Glangwili hospital meets recommendation 13 of the Children and Young People Committee’s report on the provision of neonatal care in Wales, which states that,
‘the Welsh Government needs to ensure that local health boards take transport transfer times into account when assessing service reconfiguration plans’.
Therefore, could the Minister tell us that he will take this recommendation into consideration when making a final decision? There is also the issue of the effect of the potential closure of the special care baby unit on the ambulance service, which, as Members are aware, is already facing serious challenges. We have heard from clinicians who have referred to this potential relocation as ‘unthinkable’ for Pembrokeshire’s families. Travelling further for life-saving treatment will no doubt have an effect on ambulance services and on current neonatal transport services in the area. Perhaps the Minister could tell us what recent discussions he has had with the ambulance trust on the effect that relocating the special care baby unit to Glangwili will have. Can he reassure us that the ambulance service and the neonatal transport services will be able to cope with any proposed changes?
Closing a unit such as the special care baby unit could have a knock-on effect on other services at Withybush hospital. I have been told by professionals that establishing a new level 2 neonatal unit at Glangwili hospital could take staff away from the paediatrics department, which could make this department unsustainable in the future. The paediatrics department is essential to a district general hospital, given that 25% of admissions to an accident and emergency department are children. So, if the paediatrics department is taken away, then children will not be able to be admitted to accident and emergency, which, in turn, could then make the accident and emergency department at Withybush hospital unsustainable in the future. Can the Minister therefore confirm on record this afternoon that the final decision will not have a detrimental effect on the sustainability of other core services at Withybush hospital?
Will the Minister also give careful consideration to ensuring that there is further public consultation in relation to any changes that relate to obstetric, paediatric and neonatal services at Withybush hospital? The downgrading of some of these services will be disastrous for the people of Pembrokeshire.
In closing, Deputy Presiding Officer, we have continually heard the First Minister, the current Minister for Health and Social Services and previous Ministers for health talk about safe and sustainable services in this Chamber. The Welsh Government must surely acknowledge that the special care baby unit at Withybush hospital is currently safe, and I put it to the Minister that moving the special care baby unit would be dangerous and unsafe for the people of Pembrokeshire.
Let me begin by saying that I entirely respect the views that the Member puts forward and the job that he does in representing the views of his constituents on this issue in the Chamber. I equally take seriously those strongly held views of people who live in the locality and the strength with which they make those views known.
I must say, however, that I have not this afternoon affirmed the board’s proposals. I have reported to the Chamber the conclusions reached by the independent scrutiny panel. I want to be careful and to be clear, once again, that what I have said this afternoon is that the scrutiny panel requires further work to be carried out before it comes to a final set of recommendations. So, there are a number of important questions that the Member raises, which, I think, will be properly answered when we reach that point in the process, rather than the point that we have reached today.
I will make sure that when the panel reconvenes, it takes account of the figures to which Paul Davies has drawn attention. I have already said that, in relation to transport links, I will require the local health board to report on the panel’s very direct recommendation that there should be a 24-hour neonatal transport service to go alongside its clear preference for a level 2 unit at Glangwili hospital. So, I will ensure that both those issues are revisited and re-reported upon in the panel’s final consideration.
There is no getting away from the panel’s core conclusion, however, which is that the number of live births that take place in the west of Wales means that, in future, it simply will not be possible to go on providing specialist services at more than one site. The vast majority of births would continue to take place where they take place now under the panel’s proposals. For those babies and their mothers who need specialist services, the panel’s views are unambiguous. Those people will get a better service by providing concentrated expertise in one place. I do not think that talk of downgrading and dangerousness is a helpful contribution to the sort of service that we would all like to see for those sorts of families in those sorts of circumstances.
Minister, thank you for your statement. At last, we have a decision from you on the A&E service at Llanelli. You, as a Labour Minister, have decided to downgrade Llanelli A&E from what the people of Llanelli, very obviously, want. Some of us were warning before the 2011 elections that this could happen.
I have two questions for you on the situation in Llanelli. First, are you confident that the capacity is in place at nearby hospitals such as Morriston to meet any additional demand that could arise from this change? If I understand it correctly, the panel itself has raised questions on the issue of the capacity in Morriston to deal with the additional demand. Secondly, we know that there is a judicial review on the issue of downgrading the A&E in Llanelli. Following your decision today, will you as a Government be defending that judicial review or will it be a matter for the Hywel Dda health board?
On your statement on neonatal and maternity services, there is further work to be done, but your statement today cast some doubt over maternity services across the Hywel Dda region, not just in Withybush, but also in Bronglais. Therefore, I would like to ask you directly whether the panel will look at raising questions on the future of full obstetric services at Bronglais. That was not part of the full consultation and the full recommendations of the Hywel Dda health board, so are you today reopening the whole issue of the future of that service? If you are, I want you to ensure that the panel looks seriously at the link between distances travelled to services and how safe those services are and to look specifically, in the context of Bronglais, at the fact that Bronglais also serves south Gwynedd and western Powys. I see what you are saying about developing 24-hour, seven-days-a-week emergency patient transport, but if you are taking a pregnant woman who encounters complications from Bronglais to Carmarthen, whether it is 9 a.m. or 9 p.m., it is still a journey of at least an hour and a half from one hospital to the other, and two and a half hours from Tywyn to Glangwili. Therefore, may I ask you to ensure that distances and travel times are part of any further considerations that the panel is asked to take into account?
The report in relation to Prince Philip Hospital suggests that the recommendation that the panel has come to is likely to mean that there will be fewer patients needing to go to Morriston in future than now, because the panel is confident that there will be an extra ability to manage patients coming through the door of Prince Philip. It certainly does not expect there to be a greater need for patients to be moved elsewhere.
The matter of the courts is not a matter for me. I did consider carefully whether I should make the statement today in advance of a hearing that is now scheduled for 12 November, but I felt that it was important for me to do what I have said I always wanted to do in this area, which is to make decisions that fall to me and to make them when I was able to do that.
As far as neonatal services are concerned, the report does not re-open the issue of Bronglais hospital. The issue of services at Bronglais hospital has not been referred to me by the community health council because it has reached an agreement with the local health board on the future of services at that hospital. Nothing in what I have said today should be taken as casting any doubt on that agreement for opening up an issue that has not been referred to me for consideration. The issues of distance and time that Elin Jones referred to at the end of her contribution are important ones. It is why we want the 24-hour neonatal transport service, if that can be achieved. It is an issue referred to regularly by the panel. It was certainly highlighted to the panel members by many of those they met during their visit to Hywel Dda Local Health Board. They reached their conclusions fully in the light of awareness of those matters.
I begin by thanking the Minister for his statement this afternoon. I have a number of questions that I should like to raise, first of which is the issue of Prince Philip Hospital. The report of your independent panel states that, to facilitate the replacement of the emergency department at Prince Philip Hospital there needs to be a strong emphasis to ensure adequate education and training of the emergency care workforce. Could you outline to us the discussions that you have had with the local health board to satisfy yourself that that recommendation will be fulfilled?
Secondly, what steps have you discussed with the local health board to ensure that the local community is advised of the changes and of the replacement of the emergency department so that they can better assess where they need to present themselves if they are making their way to hospital? Also, the No. 1 action outlined in the report is the replacement of A&E signs in the locale, thus aiding people who are not so familiar with the services at Prince Philip Hospital, leaving them in no doubt that it is not an A&E department and, therefore, able to make the appropriate decisions as to where they go.
Finally, the report says that there will need to be clarity over the clinical governance arrangements for the services at the unit. Are you concerned that, even at this stage, there is a lack of clarity around clinical governance arrangements for the replacement service. One would have hoped—indeed, one would have been greatly reassured—for clarity around those points.
Perhaps I could now move to the issue of neonatal care. Paul Davies is right to draw attention to the widespread concern that there will be within the Pembrokeshire area if these changes are to go ahead. I am somewhat bemused by your reassurance to Elin Jones with regard to there being no issues around other services, particularly in Bronglais hospital, when paragraph 6 of your report says that there does indeed need to be clarity from the local health board about the services that will be available at Glangwili, Withybush and Bronglais hospitals, given the close interrelatedness of care for mothers and babies. They are not clear, as an independent panel looking at the plans coming forward, what services will be available at those hospitals. I would be grateful to learn from you when we could have clarity on that, to reassure people as to what services will be available in their local hospitals. Could you tell us whether there has been any indication of the capital requirements for such a change, to develop a level 2 service at Glangwili hospital, and are you confident that those capital requirements can be met? Do you agree with me that one of the issues around developing a level 2 unit is not only the provision of special care baby unit cots for the infants, but parents’ ability to stay in hospital alongside their premature babies? The demand for such services is going to increase if we take services out of Pembrokeshire. The travelling distances involved will mean that more parents will demand accommodation alongside their babies in a new unit in Carmarthen, and I am sure that you would want to assure them that, should they want to stay in Carmarthen, they would be able to do so, and that they would not have to face the prospect of leaving their premature babies alone while they travel the not inconsiderable distances going back and forth to visit them.
Paragraph 8.2 of your independent panel’s report mentions the development of a level 2 neonatal unit at Glangwili, if accompanied by appropriate changes in obstetric services. Could you outline what those changes are? Also, paragraph 8.3 states that the lack of an obstetric and midwifery lead potentially has the knock-on effect of the board not being able to drive these plans forward. What discussions have you had with the local health board about the need to appoint a midwifery and obstetric lead within the health board, so that the CHC can continue to work alongside that person to ensure that concerns are listened to?
Finally, given the difficult treatment that the CHC has had, and given some of the accusations made against it, would you like to take this opportunity to congratulate the CHC on sticking to its guns and providing challenge to the system and note that any attempts by outside bodies to curtail that challenge are not appropriate? We are proud that we in Wales have kept our CHCs, and any attempts to threaten them with legal action should be resisted. I would be grateful if you could take the opportunity to say how inappropriate such threats are.
I will deal first of all with the questions that Kirsty Williams raised about Llanelli. She is absolutely right: the model for emergency care that the panel has advanced, which I have accepted, represents what the text of the report describes as ‘a golden opportunity’ for training GPs in urgent care at the Hywel Dda Local Health Board, thereby providing stability in its workforce for the future. It draws attention to the opportunities that there are in working jointly with Singleton Hospital, where GPs already discharge the sort of responsibilities that the report envisages them holding at Llanelli, and it says that there are real opportunities for Hywel Dda in drawing on that experience and in making sure that its workforce is equipped to do the job that it wants it now to do. We will therefore make sure that those opportunities are created and that, as much as possible, that golden opportunity—not simply to provide the service that we want at Prince Philip, but to develop a new cadre of practitioners able to do more and to do it more widely in that part of south Wales—is taken.
I am grateful to the Member for raising the whole issue of advanced information and the signage issue. It is an important matter, and not one simply for Prince Philip Hospital; it is a matter for other parts of Wales where services are changing. Everybody is agreed that the current pattern of signage can be confusing. It is harder to get agreement from everybody as to what the alternative nomenclature should be. Indeed, the report itself has a choice of three or four different terms that could be used to describe what will go on at Prince Philip in the future. I have said previously in answer to letters from Assembly Members that I think that it is important that, in this area, we try as much as possible to have consistency across our border with England, where they are also facing exactly this issue. Sir Bruce Keogh earlier this year commissioned Professor Keith Willet to undertake a review of the names that are used in England for the different levels of emergency departments that they have. I am told that that report will be out for consultation at the beginning of October and I want to just have the benefit of the advice of that report before finally deciding on the terms that we should adopt here in Wales. I do not think that it would be helpful for us to adopt one set of descriptors here that were different to ones that were there for people immediately across our border. It would just lead to a further—and avoidable, if we can manage it—level of confusion. So, I accept the advice of the panel in this regard. It is important that we do not unwittingly confuse people about what is available. We do need a common set of terms. We do need to change the signs, and as soon as we are confident that we have an agreed set of terms that people will sign up to, and do it consistently across our health boards, and hopefully do it consistently across our border, I will want to do that.
On the question about clinical governance arrangements, the report says that current clinical governance arrangements are secure, if not ideal, and therefore wants to see a fresh set of clinical governance arrangements agreed for the new set of arrangements. I think those can be devised and agreed quickly. They can move to do that now that the decision is made. The panel’s report was a series of recommendations, not decisions; the decisions are for this Assembly, and have been made today. I think that those arrangements can now be made quickly.
Turning to the questions in relation to neonatal services, I did have a telephone conversation earlier today with Dr David Salter, as a member of the panel, just to make sure that I was able to ask him to check my understanding of a small number of points in the report. He was clear with me that, when the panel asks for the LHB to confirm its plans for obstetrics and midwifery services, it was not starting from a point that those plans do not exist—that there is not already a plan in place—but it just wanted some extra certainty and clarity about certain aspects of it, so that the interface between services for mothers and services for babies can be fully interpreted into the set of recommendations that it makes for neonatology. Those clarifications and confirmations can easily be accomplished between now and Christmas. In relation to Bronglais, again, I specifically discussed the matter with Dr Salter, and that was the basis of my reply to Elin Jones.
Capital investment for the level 2 unit at Glangwili is certainly something that I will want to look at, and look at positively. Here, of course, the panel is more forthright than the LHB itself had been. The LHB went to consultation on what it called an aspiration for a level 2 unit at Glangwili, and rather heavily caveated its aspiration around a number of challenges that it saw in achieving that unit. The panel clearly believed that a level 2 unit is achievable, that it can be staffed, that it will result in more babies being born in the Hywel Dda area than are born in Hywel Dda now, and for many people there will be a shorter travelling distance than there has been in the past. The point that the Member made about parental accommodation, of course, is a very important one; if we are to achieve a level 2 unit at Glangwili we will want it to be one that is wholly compliant with modern standards, both of service provided and of accommodation, too.
The report does not refer to an obstetric or midwifery lead; it refers to ‘leads’. I think that, by that, it means that there is a paediatric lead already for the Hywel Dda LHB, and there ought to be obstetric and midwifery leads at the three sites so that that interface can be properly negotiated. Finally, in relation to the CHC, let me say that I feel that, since I have been Minister, I have enjoyed a constructive relationship with the Hywel Dda CHC. I feel that its members have worked hard to try to find resolutions to service changes and that they are constructive in the proposals that they put forward. They are not always agreed by others, and some of their views are not agreed with by the panel, but I certainly think that they discharge a difficult job with care and dedication, and I am very happy to put that on the record this afternoon.
Minister, these issues were brought to you because the CHC could not support the plans previously. You have referred to the CHC several times this afternoon and you have said that it has already been working on the detail of the Prince Philip proposals. Can you clarify whether the CHC now supports the proposed way forward on both matters?
Turning to the scrutiny panel’s report, it says that patients sent to Prince Philip Hospital by their GPs as emergency admissions would be seen directly by specialist medical teams without having to go through A&E. Do you envisage that this will take some of the pressure off A&E and therefore reduce waiting times for patients in Prince Philip Hospital more generally?
The panel also says that the model you have agreed will result in fewer patients being sent to other hospitals, or other departments within Prince Philip Hospital, and more patients being treated in a single visit. How will you monitor that and other outcomes to ensure that some of the improved patient experiences described by the panel are actually delivered to patients?
I thank Rebecca Evans—
Minister, I do have some more questions, although several have already been raised.
I want to ask you, Minister, about communicating decisions with the public regarding reconfiguration. There are some false rumours circulating locally about Prince Philip Hospital that are giving people some real cause for concern, for example, it is reported that the critical care unit will be closing. Will you provide reassurances today that those rumours are entirely false and that the critical care unit will continue to be operational at Prince Philip?
Several of my questions about transport have been addressed, but the original health board consultation document referred to discussions taking place at an all-Wales level regarding the Wales air ambulance helicopter service and turning it into a 24-hour service to reduce some of the geographical challenges. Would you provide an update on those discussions, particularly as they affect the matters being discussed today?
Thank you very much to Rebecca Evans for those questions. She is right to point to the fact that the panel believes that the benefits of the model for emergency care at Prince Philip Hospital that it endorses and recommends will have a series of other benefits beyond the immediate provision of emergency care. It does indeed say that it will allow more patients to be admitted directly to the specialist care that they require, that there will be fewer patients sent to other hospitals and that more patients will be treated in a single visit. It also says that there will be a greater likelihood of dealing with more patients with more complicated medical needs, and that there will be better co-operation between out-of-hours services and the new department as it sees it. I want to make sure that we put those advantages clearly on the record today. Of course, I would expect the local health board to monitor the impact of the changes to test those advantages against the actual patient experience and to be able to demonstrate, once the new service has had a chance to establish itself, that it is indeed delivering the additional benefits that the panel says it will.
As far as the critical care unit is concerned, I think that the report is unambiguous there too. Its proposals take as given the continuation of the critical care unit at Prince Philip. The local health board has confirmed to me that it has no plans of any sort for that unit not to continue.
In relation to the air ambulance service, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to visit the air ambulance during the summer recess. I was almost strapped in to the helicopter, to have a look to see what it does, when an emergency call came in and I was turfed out so that it could go about its real business. I was able to discuss with the chief executive there the plans that they already have. Members will be aware of recent reports of the extra journeys that it has been able to undertake through the extended flying hours that its latest helicopter, based at Welshpool, is able to provide. It is important to say that the advice I have received is that air ambulance transport is not suitable for newborn babies; it cannot be used in that context. However, we continue to have close discussions with the air ambulance service about the contribution that it can make, of the sort that Rebecca Evans outlined.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I still have five Members who want to ask questions. Given the importance of this statement, I intend to call you. We are nearly out of our allocated time, so you will have one minute to put your question, please—you will have to be very focused.
First of all, I have to say that I welcome Hywel Dda getting a level 2 special care baby unit. It was a key recommendation of the Children and Young People Committee’s report. However, what I would like to challenge is why it has to be at Glangwili, when there are four hospitals that are within spitting distance of each other there; why can it not be at Withybush? I have looked at the numbers; I have crunched the number of live births versus the special care days that are required by each hospital. I read in the report that the scrutiny panel thinks that if the unit were not at Carmarthen, those mothers would go to Swansea rather than Withybush. However, an awful lot of mothers would go to Withybush, as it is on the borders. We have to look to the future, Minister.
My second question, which I would like to get in quickly, is that I do not understand why the authors of the report did not also look at paediatric services, because the two are so interlinked. I note that they believe that there is a model of special care baby unit that can be offered that does not need trainees, because at the root of all of this is the deanery changing its practice and methodology from a system that has always worked well to a system that can only be described as city-friendly, and certainly not rural-Wales-friendly.
I thank Angela Burns for those questions. The panel looked at those issues that were referred to me by the CHC. Its remit did not extend beyond that because those are not decisions that fall to me to make. The panel recommends that the level 2 unit be located at Glangwili for two main reasons, I believe. One is the point with which she ended her question, which is the issue of staffing. The panel believes that it is more likely to be able to recruit and retain staff for a level 2 unit at Glangwili than at another site in the Hywel Dda area. The second, and maybe more significant, reason is that some level 1 unit babies become level 2 unit babies because they need extra care, and some level 2 unit babies become level 3 unit babies because they need even more care. It does not make sense, I think that the panel has concluded, to move the level 2 unit further away from the level 3 unit when the close proximity between the two could well be important to patients.
In relation to Prince Philip Hospital, Minister, could you confirm that if a patient turns up at Prince Philip A&E, or whatever it becomes, after the new proposals are implemented, they can expect to receive all those services that they currently receive?
Moving swiftly on in my minute, I welcome, as Angela Burns did, the level 2 unit that is going to be provided in the Hywel Dda area, perhaps in Glangwili if not Withybush. However, I have to say that there is no getting around the fact that Carmarthen is a long way from some Pembrokeshire communities. The time can vary from an hour to an hour and a half to get a baby and its mother to a facility. I know that you are going to take care of the planned situation, and that you have done so already, but I am talking here about the emergency situation—you have heard me bang on about this, and I have not changed my mind. I want reassurances, Minister, that whatever is put in Withybush—I know that something will be put in Withybush—will be able to provide the level of care that will be needed in an emergency situation before a mother and baby, however they are moved on, are moved on, without fear for the parents.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Finish now, please.
Those will be the questions that people will be asking us.
I thank Joyce Watson for both those questions. She is right that the model that the panel proposed for A&E at Prince Philip largely leaves the current set of services as it is and able to continue. She makes the important point about emergency need for level 2 services for neonatology in the Pembrokeshire area. I have not yet had a chance to emphasise the recommendation that the panel makes that staff at the Withybush site would need to have extra training in stabilisation and resuscitation so that they can do exactly what Joyce Watson said, which would be to provide assurance to parents that, were an emergency to arise, they could do everything that was needed immediately, prior to transfer to a unit able to deal with that set of needs.
Minister, even the return of George North would not put a smile on the faces of the people of Llanelli today—they will be heavy-hearted and despondent at this news. Albeit that you have had a professional panel that has given you this advice, the fact that will be noted is that a Labour Minister in a Labour Government has done this.
May I ask you two quick questions? Why was no consideration given by this panel to a doctor-led unit to replace that which is available in Prince Philip? Having talked to emergency practitioners there, it was clearly their view of what could happen there. They would have supported that and I think that you would have had more widespread support in the local community for that. The second point is around how you are now going to organise things between Prince Philip and Morriston Hospital? The report does make it clear, unless you have misread it, Minister, that these proposals could have a significant impact on Morriston Hospital, yet the proposals in Abertawe Bro Morgannwg take no account of this happening in Prince Philip. There is no direct bus service from Llanelli to Morriston and your ambulances are not getting there on time. What arrangements are you going to make to ensure that this configuration with Morriston and Prince Philip will now work better than it does at present?
If the residents of Llanelli are heavy-hearted and despondent, that will be to no small degree because of the way in which they have been misled by some people who choose to interpret today’s report, which I think provides an extremely good outcome for services in Llanelli and leaves them where they are today, but in a sustainable way for the future. It ill behoves people to disregard the advice of experts who have looked at this, who have looked at alternative plans, who say that there is no case for them, they cannot be delivered, they cannot be sustained and they respond to a world that is no longer there to be responded to. What the panel does is to provide the people of Llanelli with a long-term solution that provides them with the service that they need.
As far as the relationship between Llanelli and Morriston is concerned, of course the panel points to the importance of that relationship. I have often heard from people at Llanelli of the importance that they attach to being able to use services at Morriston in the future. I will expect the LHB to work with its neighbour to make sure that those services are fully available to them within the terms set out in this plan.
Thank you, Minister, for this afternoon’s statement. As the only one in this Chamber to have been in the Prince Philip Hospital and in Morriston, what I have been asking for from the health authority for three years is to keep what we have at Prince Philip Hospital. When I was admitted there for a week, what we had were doctors, 24/7, which is exactly what the scrutiny panel has said. Also, having read the report, we are improving the situation, not making it worse. It is important that people living in the Amman and Swansea valleys know that Morriston and Prince Philip operate side by side, because that is where my family go—they either go to Prince Philip of to Morriston. I am pleased to see—and I hope that this will continue into the future, Minister—that Prince Philip Hospital is a part of Abertawe Bro Morgannwg, because the other thing that is clear from this report is that we have a university in Swansea that trains doctors who will be able to work with us in Llanelli, as well as in Morriston and Singleton. I am very pleased to see this today. This is the best thing that has happened to me in this Chamber in two years. Thank you.
I thank the Member for the comments that he has made this afternoon. Of course, the relationship between Prince Philip and Morriston in very important, and the panel recognises that. I completely agree with him. What we have today is something that will improve the situation for people in Llanelli, and I look forward now to the decision that I have taken today being implemented and improving the situation for people in the future.
You will have to forgive me, Minister, for not popping the champagne corks at the moment. Frankly, you are trying to suggest that what is going to be available at Prince Philip is the same as is available currently, and the reality is that it is not. You are attempting here to pull the wool over the eyes of the public in Llanelli about the future of their local hospital. You accused my party and other people in this Chamber of shroud-waving about the future of hospitals in Wales not too long ago. Yet, the reality is that today you have made an announcement to close an A&E department at Prince Philip, to downgrade services and, effectively, to put on death row neonatal services at other hospitals in west Wales. [Assembly Members: ‘Oh.’] Frankly, you ought to state very clearly what you expect will still be delivered at those hospitals in the future.
We know that the pressure is already great on A&E departments in west Wales—
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
You have 10 seconds left.
I have some important questions.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
You better get on with it.
I will be very brief and get to the questions. Can you tell us the timescales by which you expect to implement the changes at Prince Philip? Can you tell us how you are going to overcome the difficulties expressed by the scrutiny panel, which states that there are insufficient—
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
You are out of time. You are making a second spokesperson’s—
I have specific questions, Deputy Presiding Officer.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Order. Sit down.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Sit down. When I said I would go over time and call the other Members, I made it very clear that you would have about one minute to put one or two questions. I have been keen to call backbenchers and those who were not nominated today to make the principal party contribution. All the Members who made that contribution took some time, which we allow, but you need to take it up with the people who speak on behalf of your group if you want more time. You do not have the right, in injury time, to make a second party political contribution at that length. I call the Minister.
Dirprwy Lywydd, I absolutely deprecate the language used by the opposition party’s health spokesperson in the contribution that he made. How often do we agree across this Chamber that the process of change is necessary in the Welsh NHS and that it is difficult, and that we as politicians and leaders of opinion, in some ways, have a responsibility to try to help that process to take place? Some very important and proper questions have been raised across the Chamber, and I have no doubt that there were some things in Darren Millar’s contribution that were in that category. However, to describe the decisions that I have outlined today in the way that he did simply damages all our prospects of providing safe, sustainable and proper services for the future of patients in Wales, and I, at least, will not be deflected from the decisions that I have to make by that sort of deplorable intervention.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Sandy Mewies took the Chair at 15:33
In July, I gave Members an assurance that I would make a statement immediately on our return from recess to outline how I intend to take forward the development of support for the food industry. Today I want to share my thinking and to outline a timescale within which I will make my proposals for growth throughout our food industry.
Wales is one of the best performing countries within the European food retail market, with over 6% growth in food and drink sales last year. Agriculture, fishing and food manufacturing combined have an annual turnover in excess of £5.2 billion. The story is a good one, but there is more that can be done.
My vision is that by 2020 the quality of Welsh food will enjoy increased international recognition, and food businesses will be more efficient and environmentally balanced, with supply chains more integrated, and will be adding far more value to our products here in Wales. Consumers will be making well-informed choices about the affordable and healthy food that they need, leading to significant improvements in public health. My proposal is to deliver this growth through market development, job creation, increased sales turnover, and improved gross value added for Wales. Our food sector has many advantages, including high-quality raw materials and natural grass-based farming systems. However, there are also weaknesses, including the need to develop the domestic market, and to have a more integrated supply chain that both adds value and increases the contribution of this sector to the wider Welsh economy.
I see an urgent need to establish a Welsh food and drink forum or federation of people, drawn from across the industry, to provide strong leadership, vision and much closer working between Government and business. My strategy will consist of targeted actions to deliver sustainable jobs and growth for Wales that are both economically and environmentally sound. I propose building the strategy across seven key areas, allowing Wales the opportunity to position itself as a leader in the field. First, I want to promote market development and growth. Both the domestic and the export markets have scope for more development. Better market information will be needed to identify the best opportunities for business, and to make the right choices.
Before the summer recess, I outlined my plans for the future branding of food and drink from Wales. This will need to serve domestic and export market needs, as well as being vibrant enough to attract inward investment. We tested the ‘Food and Drink Wales’ identity this year, with a clear Welsh identity that has been well received by the trade. The consultation will be asking for views on the further development of the new identity, as well as on how to strengthen and sustain it. Export markets are rewarding but challenging, and establishing product recognition in new and competitive markets is not easy. Welsh lamb and Welsh beef enjoy the prestige associated with the European Union’s protected food name designation, and other products can, and, I hope, will, follow a similar route. New markets, including Russia and China, are showing a keen interest in Welsh lamb, and we will focus our effort on securing export health certification to open the door.
We must work much more closely with the largest food and drink businesses in Wales to understand their intentions and potential for growth. Small and medium-sized enterprises and microbusinesses dominate our food sector and are important at local, national and international levels. Their speciality products enhance Wales’s reputation for quality food. We propose to improve awareness of the business support available to encourage growth. Foreign direct investment is an area where I want to make Wales the first choice for international food companies to locate their manufacturing and value-added processing.
The second area that I want to address is that of food culture, heritage and tourism. The Welsh Government’s strategy for tourism highlights the importance of quality local food and drink. About half of our food businesses supply the tourism sector, but supply routes can be complex. We must provide support and guidance and get better at communicating what we do well. We should all take pride in presenting Wales and Welsh food to the world.
The third area is green growth. The challenge for the food industry is to grow significantly while reducing its environmental footprint, through achieving resource efficiencies in energy, water and waste management. Food sector road maps, and the ‘Towards Zero Waste’ strategy, will help businesses to become more competitive, by using fewer resources, saving money, and offering better-balanced products. In the consultation, I will ask how we can use support measures, including the next rural development plan, to ensure that this positive action is an integral part of capital investment.
The fourth area is supply chain efficiency. Businesses cite increasing costs, access to finance, and distribution as significant constraints. More innovation will add value, drive efficiency and create jobs, and we must use all financial instruments to best advantage.
The fifth area that we will tackle is the need for a more integrated food industry. Integrated supply chains, from farmer through to consumer, deliver fairer prices, improve communications, enhance quality, and build trust. The proposed food and drink federation could provide a lead on creating effective networks, for example, on skills, training and entrepreneurship, on innovation, or for export marketing.
Food assurance and resilience is another key area to address. I want to build on the good practice that we established with partners and government across the United Kingdom, but I believe that we can go further. I want to develop a food security and industry assurance network to improve our preparedness for incidents, and our resilience when problems occur.
The final area that I want to address is health and wellbeing. Access to quality food at affordable prices is vital for us all. We all need a healthy, well-balanced diet. I am working with Cabinet colleagues to address these issues. Tackling poverty is this Government’s highest priority. We need innovative thinking, and we must build on successful initiatives, such as community growing and food co-ops, to lessen the need for food banks. We need to ensure that people can make informed choices to support improved nutrition and healthy living. Working with the industry on product development and improving communications on healthy living and healthy eating will be the key to addressing this.
I want to take forward and lead this debate over the coming months, and I will be publishing a route-map to set out my proposed actions and timetable. I want to lead a discussion throughout Wales and will be speaking to industry and other stakeholders to create a rich and vibrant debate about the place of food in our society. I have briefly outlined my proposals to deliver sustainable jobs, green growth, improved health and wellbeing.
The strategy will set the vision for both Government and industry, ensuring that both are accountable for delivering results. I will be setting out the proposed targets and milestones in the consultation and will welcome widespread debate. I want the food industry, stakeholders and Government to work together to achieve results and I am confident that together we can set our sights high and reach beyond our expectations.
Thank you, Minister. I call the Conservative spokesperson, Antoinette Sandbach.
Thank you, acting Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, thank you for your statement. I am delighted to see your vision in paragraph 3 of your statement, and I think that there is very little in that vision that people could disagree with. I think that we all appreciate and want the quality of Welsh food to enjoy increased international recognition, and all the factors that you mentioned are clearly important. I am particularly glad that, in that paragraph, you identified, as one of your key areas to address, improved gross value added for Wales. The latest gross value added figures in the food, agricultural and fisheries sector, published in December 2012, show that GVA fell from 2.1% in 1997 to 0.3% in 2010. Clearly, there is real room for growth. Wales now stands as the lowest contributor in GVA in this area, compared to all the other nations of the UK. Scotland, Northern Ireland and England all do better than us in this area. Therefore, I am delighted to see that you are bringing that emphasis into the food sector because, clearly, there is a lot of room for improvement. Even with those GVA figures, the sector employs 21.4% of the working people in the Welsh economy. So, your aim to link that with jobs and tourism—[Interruption.] It is the food and agriculture sector combined. It is 17.7%, with a further 4.4% in the agriculture sector. I can show you the figures if you need them, Minister.
I would like to know whether you will regard the Welsh food and drink forum’s decisions or recommendations as binding, because, really, there is no point setting up another glorified task and finish group that does not have binding decisions or decisions that you will give proper and due regard to, in terms of considering how you take these things forward.
In terms of your foreign direct investment and your promotion of food and drink overseas, will you tell us how you are planning to partner with UKTI, particularly, as you have identified—and I agree with your identification—that the smaller and medium sized enterprises and the microbusinesses are particularly those that need access to help to grow? The largest food and drink businesses in Wales will already have expertise that is not available to those small and medium-sized enterprises and microbusinesses. When you publish the business support available, will you also make sure that it is available in a format that is circulated to all Assembly Members and that we can publicise? I went to the Mold food and drink festival last weekend, which was an excellent event, and I spoke to a lot of the producers there about some of the support that might be available from the Welsh Government and how they could access it. It is important to have that in a format that is easy to understand and that the application process is not too complicated.
Finally, Minister, Suzy Davies is going to deal with the link-up between tourism and food, so I will not cover that area. However, £4.25 million has been invested by the Welsh Government in the True Taste awards. I was very disappointed to see that those awards had been abolished in effect without consultation. That is a substantial amount of money. I know that you said that you have tested the food and drink Wales identity this year with the trade, but few in the trade knew that you were going to abolish the True Taste awards, and they are concerned about it. Will you be testing what the brand recognition is for the True Taste awards, and will your consultation include an option to keep them? Given that £4.25 million has been spent on them, you are writing off an already substantial investment, and one which is already linked to branding and products in terms of their packaging. So, there will be substantial additional costs for food producers who have been the beneficiaries of those awards and who will have to change their marketing.
Finally, one of the major areas that food producers raise with me is access to distribution, particularly for smaller producers. I am grateful that you mentioned access to finance and distribution in your fourth area as one of the key things that you will be looking at. For the smaller producer, that is the key element for getting their product out across Wales and internationally.
If I can just add, do not forget—
This is your fourth ‘finally’.
Do not forget the National Federation of Women’s Institutes’ Great Food Debate campaign, which indicates that when you are looking at food co-operatives and access to good vegetables and fruit that are available through those co-ops, people need the skills to be able to cook. If they have cooking skills, that enables them to have the potential to turn the skills that they have into new products, and to then set up their own businesses.
I certainly have not forgotten about the WI campaign—I have met the WI, as you know, and I am very supportive of the work that it does. I think that it is doing a great job, and I certainly want to help and support the work that it is currently undertaking.
I thank the Conservative spokesperson for her generally positive response to the statement with the vision that I tried to outline this afternoon. I will say to her right at the beginning that we will be setting very clear timetabled targets, so you can hold us to account for what we promise and what we say we will do. We will carry out those activities, and we will focus on creating targets for growth in different sectors. One of the conversations that we had during summer recess with the dairy taskforce that I have established was about the need to promote and stimulate confidence in the sector. One of the ways in which we can persuade people to make the necessary investments is to ensure that we have clear targets for growth, and that the Government backs those targets with actions. We will be backing those targets, working with my colleague the Minister for enterprise, to stimulate economic activity and the creation of wealth in rural Wales, and to ensure that we have integrated supply chains that add value to raw materials and products within our communities.
I thank my colleague the Minister for enterprise who set up the food and farming panel; I think that it was two years ago now. We have taken on board all the recommendations from that panel. From the documentation that we will publish, you will see all of those recommendations contained within the consultation package.
The Member raised some issues about partnership with UKTI. It is a matter that I discussed with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers yesterday, and it is a matter that we will continue to discuss. Again, my friend the Minister for enterprise was in Russia promoting our red meat and other Welsh products in June. The DEFRA Secretary of State was there last week. We are working together as different administrations to ensure that we maximise the efforts, structures, frameworks and resources offered by UKTI to enable us to do that. During my meetings with the European Commission yesterday, we also considered how the trade missions that are run by the Commission could also help support Welsh exports. We will be taking part in a Commission-led trade mission to the far east later this autumn. That is something we have been pressing the Commission to continue work on. The Member will be aware that the Commission is leading a lot of work at the moment in terms of opening up markets in different major trading partnerships—the United States is the obvious example at the moment—and we are supporting the work that the Commission is undertaking in opening up those markets.
I was in Abergavenny over the weekend, while you were in Mold. I am sure that all of us enjoyed the vitality of both those festivals and what they had to offer. I spoke in Abergavenny last Friday about what we need to do to ensure that we have a food culture and a place for food in wider tourism and other propositions. We will ensure that the levels of support available to businesses are well publicised, and we will try to do that through leading the debate about support for food businesses during this consultation event.
I will say a final word, if I may, acting Deputy Presiding Officer, on True Taste. You make the points on True Taste, which have been well made in the past. We have looked at True Taste and we have done the analysis. Others have seen that analysis, which you referred to in your questions. We understand the branding and the place of True Taste, but we also understand the need to move on. It is important that, when we make investments in the future, we do so using tools and identities that are relevant today and not to simply continue with what would have been relevant some time ago. Probably the biggest gathering of food industry and food businesses, which took place in the botanic garden last summer, made very clear that it wanted a new identity that stressed food and drink from Wales and a new Welsh identity. That is something that we have taken on board. We have created a new identity, which has proven very popular with both the industry and in trade fairs. Part of the success that we have seen in growth, sales and leads from these trade fairs has been put down to the identity that we are creating for food and drink from Wales.
Perhaps I could make it a bit easier for Members: ‘Chair’ will do, or ‘temporary Chair’ if you want to be formal. I now call Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Huws Gruffydd.
Thank you, temporary Chair. I thank the Minister for his statement. I do not think that there is anything much in terms of the main themes that one could disagree with, if truth be told. I note the fact that the Minister acknowledges that there has been growth in the sector over the past year and that the important contribution in terms of turnover is important. That reflects some of the previous strategies, which shows that, perhaps, the decision of the current Minister to plough his own furrow—something that he has every right to do, of course—was not as necessary as some would have thought, but there we are. There are aspects of this that reflect the current strategy, but it also expands upon that.
You refer in your statement to adding value. We all know that local processing can make a great contribution to that. There is a recommendation, as you know, by the food and farming sector panel, which suggests that we should increase the capacity to process Welsh agricultural raw produce. I would hope that that would be an important part of the work that the Government is doing in moving forward, and perhaps in response you could tell us about some of the progress that you have made in terms of laying the foundation for that growth.
Given that I have mentioned the sector panel, you refer to the creation of a forum or federation that will give a clear steer, provide a vision and will bring Government and businesses closer in this sector. Perhaps you could expand a little, therefore, on the differences between the forum that you are suggesting and the sector panel as it currently exists.
Reference has already been made to food festivals. They make an important contribution in terms of marketing and promoting the cultural heritage and food tourism that you mention in your statement. I was at Mold food festival over the weekend, and one clear message that has emerged from many of these festivals is this: whatever the strategy or strategic direction of Government, there needs to be assurance and consistency of funding. Many festivals had difficult experiences over the past year when the goalposts were moved in terms of funding. I see you shaking your head, but that is the feedback that I received from these festivals. Therefore, there is a need for assurance and consistency in order to allow long-term planning that will allow these festivals to prosper.
Many of the exhibitors whom I saw in the food festivals over the summer were very pleased to exhibit their True Taste certificates—the fact that they had been nominated or had won awards. That was on signage, on pamphlets, labels, and so on, which tells me that those awards had established themselves as some sort of food Oscars in Wales. I would agree, perhaps, that there does not need to be so much of a hoo-hah when those awards are made, certainly, but there is an important value, in my opinion, in rewarding producers for quality. It drives up standards and innovation, it helps with marketing and media coverage, and also to access new markets. Therefore, as you have said that we are to move away from these awards—I think that it was premature to announce that before the conclusion of the consultation, but, again, that was your choice—perhaps you could share with us what ideas you have to have some sort of system in place to recognise and reward the finest producers that we have here in Wales.
One other way of achieving many aspects of the seven areas that you have outlined is to increase the level of local food procurement, particularly in the public sector. You also refer to food assurance. As a parent of children in one of Denbighshire’s schools, I received a message from the local education authority at the time of the developments in terms of horse meat recently assuring me that all of the red meat provided in Denbighshire schools is procured locally from local producers, and that there was no need to be overly concerned about the traceability of that meat. I think that the Government needs to use that as an exemplar for other local authorities and other public bodies. This would assist in achieving many of the aspects that you have referred to.
I am sure that everyone would agree with many of the objectives. I had expected more meat on the bones, if you pardon the pun, but, certainly, it is a starting point, and we look forward to contributing positively to the consultation.
It is a starting point for discussion, and that is why I pose these questions and set out a clear direction. However, I do not want to answer every single question before we start this discussion either.
I agree with your point about procurement. That is important, but I would not place too much emphasis on that either. There are questions regarding how much we procure from Wales, and I believe that the Minister for Finance has published information on that in a report over recent months. I think that we have all agreed that we want to see that progress that you have spoken about. However, the vital thing when it comes to growth in the food industry and the creation of new jobs and economic activities in the food sector is access to the wider market. I do not think that we can lose sight of that. What I would emphasise here is that there should be certainty of reaching markets and that we create a supply chain that creates a wider industry than what we have at present. I want to see the growth that we have seen recently continuing and becoming more robust for the future.
You mentioned local processing—that is exactly what we have been emphasising. That was one of the issues that we discussed during the show, which is how we can persuade larger businesses to invest in Wales and in our food sector. We have seen that happening over the summer with the new and expanded Dunbia abattoir in Llanybydder. We have seen very important investment there, and I would like to see more of that happening. We, as a Government, are eager to act as a partner to businesses who wish to invest in Wales.
You have asked about the distinction between the sector panel and a food federation or forum. Of course, they are quite different things. The sector panel is something that the Minister established to provide her with advice via appointed members. However, a food forum would represent the industry as a whole, therefore it would be a much larger body and one that would carry out a different role.
In talking about the food industry, I agree that we need consistency when it comes to the funding of food festivals, but I must make it clear that we want to invest in the promotion of food from Wales. I am aware of festivals that are close to the border that promote food from both sides of the border. I am not making any value judgment about that, but I am eager to use our taxpayers’ money to promote food from Wales. I want to clarify that point. I know that we have changed the rules during the past year, but I would expect to have your support in doing this, Llyr.
On the last point about awards, I hear what you are saying and I acknowledge the point that you are making. It is quite a strong point, but I would also say that we need to get the basics right first. You can distribute awards at any time, and I have given some consideration to how we will go about doing that, but, at present, we must invest in the food industry’s grass roots as we need these to become stronger. It is then that I will give further consideration to the suggestions that you have made this afternoon, but I welcome the discussion that we will have during that process.
Thank you, Minister. Before I call on William Powell, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson, I should say that I have a considerable number of speakers and I do not think that they will not all get in. I am sorry, William, but I will give you a bit longer. I ask people to be far more succinct in their questions—I will do what I can—otherwise, I am afraid, some Members will fall out.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement today.
I also would like to extend my thanks to the food and farming sector panel. Its recommendations have played a big part in informing the statement that we have heard today and the direction that the Welsh Government is taking with regard to the Welsh food and drink sector. Over the summer, it has been interesting to see you, Minister, distancing yourself from the ‘Food for Wales, Food from Wales 2010:2020’ strategy as not being fit for purpose. Given the relatively little that has been done since it was launched in 2010, I suppose that that bears out some of the concerns that we have had over time. Having said that, however, I know how strongly you share the desire to develop the vision of fostering Welsh food and drink, and, indeed, you were present, as I was, at the prestigious Abergavenny Food Festival just last weekend, which was an excellent contribution to this area of work.
I particularly want to concentrate on the drinks side, which I would argue has marginally been overlooked in the past. While we have had some notable successes, such as Monty’s Brewery, the Waen Brewery and Rotters microbrewery in my region, we have also failed, sometimes, to foster similar success stories with other drink products, notably milk, which you have referenced, and we are all aware of and lamented the failure of Proper Welsh Milk, which went into administration on St David’s Day this year.
However, with those points in mind and the advice from the Chair to remain brief, I would like to turn directly to my questions. First, Minister, would you please give us a brief update on the further planning that has been undertaken around the Wales food and drink trade event that you recently announced? The food and farming sector panel recommended that steps be taken
‘to benchmark and significantly increase the capacity of Welsh agricultural raw material that is processed in Wales.’
What, in your view, is the most significant step that the Welsh Government has taken since this recommendation was made back in July 2012 to actually take this forward? Also, in that connection, could you please expand on your vision for Wales’s remaining small independent abattoirs and where they fit into the wider strategy?
Finally, Minister, could you please give us an assurance that you will be casting the net wide in terms of fleshing out this vision, and looking to our continental partners for the ways in which they may have something from which we can also learn? I am thinking, in particular, of Malmö in Sweden, for instance, which has achieved a cost-neutral transition to 100% locally sourced organic food in all of its public institutions. This is a major achievement, and while such a transition clearly cannot take place overnight, I would argue that we also need to be ambitious in this area. Diolch yn fawr.
I thank the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for his generally positive comments. I am surprised and somewhat disappointed that he thinks that I have been overlooking the Welsh drinks industry over the last few years. We all do our best in different ways. As the Member will be aware, I have just launched a new organisation to sustain vineyards in Wales, we have launched a wine trade in Wales in these last few months, and we had a very successful event at the Royal Welsh Show where a number of the businesses that he outlined were present to welcome the work and the investment of the Welsh Government in support of that particular sector. Perhaps if the Member spoke to some of those businesses, he would actually understand the sort of work that is taking place there.
We will continue to support small-scale independent abattoirs. Over the last two years we have been spending a considerable amount of time in conversation with the Food Standards Agency over some of the cost-recovery proposals being made that would lead to a significant challenge for many of those abattoirs to stay in business. We have made it clear that we do expect a network of small abattoirs to remain in place in Wales to serve the agricultural and meat-processing industry. We will continue to support that sector.
The wider points that have been made about public procurement are well made. We do recognise the points that are being made by the Liberal Democrats. That, of course, is one of the reasons why my friend and colleague, the Minister for finance, has commissioned reports on public procurement, which includes food in Wales. My friend gives the example of Malmö, but we are also looking at other places to learn lessons from them.
I will provide the Member with further information on the Welsh food and drink event on which we have made a statement. The planning is progressing for that. I will include that event in a further statement that I will make later this term on the delivery of a food and drink action plan. I wish to emphasise that I am not interested in creating strategies that gather dust on shelves or are lost in Google searches.
Thank you very much for that. I want to see action plans where there are clear actions tabulated, where resources are placed to sustain those actions, and that those actions are timetabled so that you and I and the industry will be able to hold us to account for what we are saying today and for what we will deliver over the coming weeks and months.
Thank you, Minister. I will now call Members, but I will ask you to go straight to your questions, and I am sure that the Minister will go straight to his answers.
I welcome the statement for the complexity that it captures when we are discussing food policy because this is not just about the way we market Welsh food products, welcome though that is. It is also about changing the food habits of our population so that we have a much healthier nation with less expensive interventions in healthcare. I am particularly interested in the health and wellbeing aspects. I am interested to know, for example, how we could reach the situation where it is not just the meat in the Denbighshire school food operation that we can locally source, but the fruit and the vegetables, changing the way in which people's palates understand what good food is and the harm done by the other end of the processing industry, which just loads food with salt and sugar and fat to increase profits. I am interested in how we can turn that around. My question is really this: how does the Minister envisage working with our schools and with our health centres to turn things around so that people seek out and welcome good food made in Wales?
I think that the food policy and food action plans have to be at the centre of policy, which impacts, as you have indicated, on a number of different sectors. This is a programme that will include actions to sustain economic activity. It will certainly depend for its success on our ability to deliver many of our messages and ambitions through the school system and through formal education, but this is also a critical part of our wider tackling poverty agenda. It is about improving public health, wellbeing and the place of food in society in Wales. So, the ambition that we are trying to describe today—and we will continue to do this over the coming months—is, yes, to sustain economic activity, to create jobs, and to create wealth, but it is also to do much more than that and to ensure that food, which plays a central role in our lives and in our society, becomes not only something that we enjoy, but something that enhances our lives and is able to nourish our communities as a whole.
Suzy Davies, your question quickly, please.
Yes. Diolch yn fawr.
Minister, I heard what you said about moving on with branding, and while there is a chance that momentum might be lost under these plans, it will depend on how you consult and deal with your new forum. I have to say, you are still ahead of the game compared with Visit Wales. My questions are these: can you expand on the conversations that you have had with the Minister for enterprise about how food and drink branding will be built into brand Wales, the lack of which is still hampering development in tourism and other aspects of the economy generally? If that delay continues, will you press on with your branding work regardless, or will you wait for the Minister for enterprise to catch up?
I have to say to the Member that I do not recognise her characterisation of those matters. We are working closely with Visit Wales on all of these matters. I shall be speaking to the chief executive of Visit Wales later this week to ensure that we continue that and to ensure that we have a clear, coherent and consistent message across all of our work. I really do not recognise the description that you have given this afternoon of where Visit Wales is or where my friend, the Minister for enterprise, is in these matters. We are working together on these matters. The branding materials that we are developing have been branded specifically for the home markets—the domestic market and the tourism market—and for international trade fairs and for developing our exports. We have a consistent identity being developed at the moment, which has proved successful in terms of increasing sales, increasing sales leads, and increasing momentum. We are not losing momentum, Suzy; we are gaining it, and we are moving faster now than we have done for many years.
Finally, I call Dafydd Elis-Thomas
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Minister, with Welsh wine, we will, of course, need cheese. Will the Minister ensure that he looks positively at plans to expand the South Caernarfon Creameries, where they are developing a business plan to supply the significant contract that the company has gained through one of the United Kingdom’s biggest supermarkets? Thank you, Minister. The answer is ‘big cheese’.
I am very happy to support the cheese industry in Wales, and I am happy to continue the discussion that we have commenced about South Caernarfon Creameries.
The Welsh public sector faces unprecedented and significant challenges. Successive funding cuts announced by the UK Government unfortunately mean shrinking budgets at a time when our public services are facing ever-increasing demands. We are all facing up to the challenge of doing more with less. The Welsh Government has set the framework to support a new, collaborative approach by putting in place the public services partnership council for Wales to provide political leadership, and the public service leadership group to turn this leadership into action.
Over the summer recess, I visited all 22 local authorities to meet front-line staff and service users and visit facilities, and I saw how authorities are turning the challenges into opportunities. Local government sometimes has a reputation of only being about roads and rubbish collection. However, there is so much more. It provides services to protect the most vulnerable in our society. It looks after us when we fall ill or are in need. It keeps us safe and makes our communities places we want to live in. Often it is only when we are in crisis that we experience the full extent of these ‘unseen services’, and feel the profound difference that public services make to our lives.
The commitment and dedication that I have seen from those working at the front line has been outstanding. Again and again, I saw staff who are extremely motivated to making the lives of individuals and their families more manageable, and to helping children and young people get the best start in life, all without any expectation of thanks for their hard work. Across all 22 local authorities, the service users I met had nothing but praise for the services they receive and for those delivering them. I also met many committed elected Members whose contribution to making public services better is key. Their role in ensuring strong local democracy, built on effective scrutiny and active engagement, ensures that this commitment is recognised and valued. It is important to recognise this contribution, and I want to say a huge ‘thank you’ to all those who play a part in delivering public services in Wales.
I want to talk about ingenuity, innovation, integration and entrepreneurship. I saw individuals and organisations looking at the way they do business, and coming up with new ways of delivering services, not only to save money, but to make real improvements to the experiences of users. I visited one-stop shops and call centres in Cardiff, Caerphilly, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Flintshire, the Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham. These hubs allow citizens and businesses to access information from their council on debt management, housing, health and social care provision, family services and welfare reform in a single place. This has enabled councils to make efficiency savings and, importantly, has led to a better, more joined-up service for those needing support.
Ingenuity and entrepreneurship were at the heart of the food waste and recycling projects that I saw in Wrexham, Gwynedd and Rhondda Cynon Taf. Rather than viewing European requirements to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfill as a burden, it has been seen as an entrepreneurial opportunity. Food waste plants are producing biofertiliser for use on agricultural land, thereby supporting our rural economy. The energy produced often generates income, while supporting the growth of the green economy in Wales. These facilities are also creating local jobs and supporting Welsh businesses.
In Blaenau Gwent, I met a group of young people benefiting from a project that focuses on how out-of-school-hours learning can support them to realise their full potential by improving the structure, planning and co-ordination of this provision. In Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Torfaen I visited road improvement schemes. These essential road projects are going the extra mile. For example, in Swansea, wild flowers have been planted along the verges. This is a boost to local biodiversity, as well as offering financial savings, as the wildflower verges require less cutting and are self-sustaining.
We are all aware of the stark demographics meaning that health and social care demand will soon outstrip supply. Existing service models simply will not be able to cope. We need a step change if we are to continue to offer adequate provision to those in need. Innovation and integration are at the core of the health and social care projects that I saw in Merthyr Tydfil, Gwynedd, Denbighshire, Anglesey, Flintshire, Bridgend, Monmouthshire, Conwy and Powys.
I saw examples of social services departments working with local health boards, as well as social housing providers, leisure services and the third sector to support people to live more independent lives and remain in their own homes or in community settings. These integrated approaches can both reduce the pressure on the NHS, by preventing hospital admissions, and the length of stay if admitted. More preventative interventions and policies can reduce demand.
At Park House in Neath Port Talbot and Serennu children’s centre in Newport, the innovative approaches taken have changed not only the lives of the child but of their whole family, allowing them to do normal things, such as play in the park or host a children’s birthday party at the cinema. Bringing resources together under one roof maximises the positive impact of these services. The enormous pressure that these families are often under is hard to imagine. These facilities give them time and space, offering the whole family support and allowing them to live fuller lives.
My summer tour offered a glimpse of what we should all be striving to achieve for our public services in Wales. However, there is a long way to go and this transcends any debate over organisational structures. The challenges ahead are evident: reduced finances, increasing pressures on services and shifting user expectations. The only way forward is for local government and public services in Wales to adopt different ways of delivering outcomes to services users. The public service reform agenda must now be framed differently, looking at different service, delivery and workforce models.
Local authorities across Wales should be sharing best practice and thinking about how they can improve delivery models on their own patch. I will be publishing a prospectus of case studies on the Welsh Government website today to support learning from the best examples I have seen right across Wales. Today also sees the publication of ‘Learning to Improve: An Independent Assessment of the Welsh Government’s Policy for Local Government’. I encourage all to reflect on the messages contained within that report.
Driving performance across public services is all of our business and should be top of all of our agendas. I have asked local authorities to support me in this challenge and would ask Members to do the same. I am sure that Members have all seen best practice in their own constituencies and regions, and I would welcome their contributions.
We will move on to the spokespeople, but I ask you again to focus on your questions.
I thank the Minister for her statement today. It has to be warmly welcomed that you actually did take the time and trouble to go out to visit all 22 local authorities. You visited the front line—the operational side of our local authorities—where no doubt you saw a lot of good work in action. I share in your comments about best practice being a bad traveller. Many local authorities do a fantastic job, but when it comes to sharing best practice and saying ‘Look, we are really good at this’ and ‘Why don’t you try that’, it does not always happen.
I also notice that your report covers case studies of collaboration, early interventions, innovation, practice and entrepreneurial approach across local authorities. Those, as you rightly pointed out, are the areas that, when finances are tight, need to be looked at. Your acknowledgement of that is to be congratulated.
However, we need to recognise that there are still some issues. There are six education departments in special measures and there is a lack of transparency and democratic accountability in some authorities. We are not there yet on those. You have looked across Wales, but have you also looked outside Wales, where there are models of good practice in other parts of the UK in service delivery in our public services?
I also see in your report that there is a section about examples of collaborative working. I notice the reference to the public services partnership council for Wales. Can you explain to Members how this differs to the previous partnership council for Wales in its remit, which the previous Minister used to so often refer to when I mentioned collaboration to him?
No doubt, as you have travelled across the 22 local authorities, you will be very well aware of where collaboration is working, taking place, running effectively and providing best value for taxpayers. Minister, I have asked on several occasions two questions of you. How many collaboration projects have we got effectively running across the whole of Wales? I have asked several times and I have not really had a cohesive response. Also, what is the extent of the efficiency savings that have materialised since the inception of collaborative working? I would really appreciate it if you could answer those questions. However, in short, I commend wholeheartedly the work that you have done in going out to local authorities. At the end of the day, it is the front-line, operational people who deliver those vital services.
I thank Janet Finch-Saunders for those questions. When I was appointed in March, I thought that it was very important that I should visit all 22 local authorities. I met the leaders and the chief executives, and told them that I would come back over the summer recess to spend some significant time in each area to see examples of best practice. I take my responsibilities as Minister very seriously. I think that it is really important that I see the examples of best practice for myself and then go out to highlight them, to shine a light on where that best practice is. I strongly believe that best practice is not a bad traveller and that we should be sharing it. If local authorities can look to other areas in Wales and see best practice and how it is being rolled out, it can only lead to better services.
Clearly, finances are tight—you referred to that—and budgets are very constrained. However, I do not think that we should just be looking at collaboration for collaboration’s sake, or just for the sake of savings and efficiencies. I certainly saw examples of collaboration where people would then be transferred seamlessly rather than having to go back to the drawing board, if you like.
I mentioned one-stop shops. Before, somebody would have to go to six different centres, perhaps, for information on housing and welfare reform. In Flintshire, I saw that not only were council services provided, but that the third sector and Jobcentre Plus were involved as well. It is really good to see that sort of collaboration.
You mentioned leadership, which is so important; that is why I have these groups. I chair the public service leadership group, and it is really important that those conversations take place at that level. You also mentioned the specific number of collaborations. There are so many collaborations. I am not quite sure what you mean by specific collaborations; I do not know whether you are referring to the regional collaboration fund, but I can certainly write to you with the specific number of schemes that we have within that fund.
On efficiencies, I saw an excellent example in north Wales, not actually on my summer tour, where all six local authorities got together to provide services for looked-after children. Some of these looked-after children have very complex needs. If you have one local authority with a child with a specific need, it is much more efficient to provide services—if Wrexham has one service and Gwynedd another—if they pool their resources. They could demonstrate efficiencies to me very clearly.
However, as I say, collaboration is not just about efficiencies; it is about providing better services for the people of Wales.
I will adhere to your request for brief questions, temporary Deputy Presiding Officer. I would like to warmly welcome this statement. I appreciate that you have been conducting a dialogue with local government—that is vitally important—and that you are looking at good practice in service provision. I would like to note one thing that it would be good to see being replicated across Wales, namely Gwynedd Council’s local procurement scheme, launched in 2011. Contracts worth some £40 million have been let within Gwynedd alone, let alone other contracts that have gone to other parts of north Wales. I would be very pleased to hear your response to that.
How do you respond to the situation in Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, which has decided to advertise for a new chief executive with a salary of some £140,000? Is it not time for local authorities to look at the possibility of sharing responsibilities, rather than trying to appoint people on such high salaries, when local services are under so much pressure?
Thank you for those questions. I think that you are absolutely right—it is important to have a dialogue with local government. As I said in my answer to Janet Finch-Saunders, I very much wanted to see examples of best practice, and I certainly was not disappointed. Local procurement is very important, and it is something that local government speaks to me about. You will be aware of the work that I and the Minister for Finance have undertaken in relation to procurement, and it is something that I am certainly taking forward in the variety of groups that I have with local government. You mentioned RCT and the new chief executive. I know that the issue of chief executive and senior officer salary is something that you are extremely interested in. I have certainly done all that I can and I know that my predecessor also encouraged local government to look at the sharing of these posts. Ultimately, it is a decision to be taken locally by locally elected members, and obviously that is what RCT has decided to do.
I call Peter Black, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson.
Minister, may I thank you for the statement? It is a very useful statement and I certainly congratulate you for making a point of going out over the summer and visiting all 22 local authorities. May I also echo the words in your statement about the commitment and dedication of local authority staff—not just the front-line staff, but those in the back offices as well? It is not always a well-paid job and it can often be thankless. Staff are often not appreciated in the work that they do. Clearly, a huge number of services depend on those staff delivering that work day in, day out. I think that we should acknowledge the work that they do as a part of this. I am grateful to you for drawing attention to that as part of your statement.
I am very interested in your tour around Wales. I am glad that you are not handing out T-shirts. It is important that we acknowledge, in terms of sharing best practice, that as important as that is, there are also differences between local authorities that reflect the character and the areas that they represent. We should not try to impose a uniform delivery model across the whole of Wales in terms of how those local authorities operate. Obviously, the way that they deliver services reflects the communities that they represent and the challenges that they all face.
I also think that we should acknowledge that many local authorities have been planning and preparing for changes in their financial resources over the last decade. Many of them have found savings year on year to try to meet the challenges that face them, not just in terms of service delivery, but also in terms of the reducing resources available to them. Again, we need to recognise the work of those who lead those authorities and local councillors in the way that they do that.
My question really relates to what you are talking about in terms of joint working. I think that that is very important. I am interested in what you found when talking to local council officers and councillors in terms of how local authorities work with other public bodies outside the local government sector. We often get Ministers coming to talk to us about how local government needs to collaborate, but very rarely do we get Ministers who are not local government Ministers coming to us and saying how health or education should be collaborating with local government at a further or higher education or health level. I have never been convinced that the drive is there in those ministerial posts in the same way that it has been at a local government level. I am interested in the reactions you have had from officers and councillors that you have spoken to about that particular issue, and how you are working with your colleagues to try to improve co-operation between all the public services within each local government area to try to get, not just a more efficient and more effective service, but also a more joined-up service along the lines of some of those that you saw when you were on your tour.
I thank Peter Black for those questions. I am certainly not handing out the T-shirts, but I would encourage all Members to download the prospectus from the website because I think that there is a great deal that we can learn from the case studies. You mentioned backroom staff—I suppose that I mean backroom staff as well as front-line staff—and you are right: certainly in the call centres, there are many staff who are never seen, they are just at the end of a phone. I listened in in a few places. I was in the Vale of Glamorgan—I think that that was the first call centre that I visited—and I listened in on several phone calls, and often the people on the other end of the phone were in distress. It was interesting to see how they were handled and passported to the correct place.
You mentioned that local authorities are different and distinctive. That is absolutely right. I am certainly not suggesting that the best practice that I have seen is some sort of one-size-fits-all model that can be rolled out across every area in every public service across Wales. That is clearly not the case. What I am saying is that every single local authority in Wales should be learning about the best projects that I have seen and seriously thinking about how they can improve their delivery models on their patch. When I asked to see best practice, that is what they showed me. That is why I feel that so much of the best practice that I saw was right at the top of the pile.
You mentioned collaboration and working with not just other local authorities, and I saw some examples of that. I visited about three extra-care facilities where local authorities work very closely with housing associations. There was one that I visited where I think that I could have gone, at the age I am. Some of them were different ages. I saw people living together. In one place, there was a gentleman of 96 teaching them all how to play whist. It was great to see those sorts of people still having their independence and still being able to get together with other people in their area when they wanted that.
In health and social care, clearly there is a huge amount of integration and collaboration going on. I am working very closely with my colleagues, the Minister for Health and Social Services and the Deputy Minister for Social Services, and we are meeting people in each local health board area and meeting the local authorities within that area to see how we can take forward much more integration of health and social care and social services going forward.
First, Minister, I also congratulate you on visiting each local authority in Wales. I know how well it has been appreciated by following Twitter and Facebook. I am sure that you have been impressed by both the breadth of local government provision and its quality, including services varying from dealing with wasp nests to individual, personal social services, from dealing with the mis-selling of goods to education and schools, to services that help to improve finesses and to increase life chances in our most disadvantaged communities. I am sure that you were impressed by the quality of the services and the satisfaction felt by many, or all, of the users of those services.
I have three questions for you. Will you promote the wild flower verges, as introduced by Swansea Council, which is an example of something that is environmentally good and saves money? [Interruption.] Thank you, Rhodri Glyn Thomas; I know that it is in the statement, but I was asking, ‘Will you promote it throughout Wales so that all other local authorities can also follow suit and have the benefits of saving money and promoting the environment?’
Did the Minister see any services that have benefited from the invest-to-save scheme, either via the Welsh Government scheme or by using council reserves? Finally, the Minister did mention that she was impressed by the commitment of the staff in different authorities, but was the Minister also impressed by the commitment to their areas and to public services of the councillors that she met?
I thank Mick Hedges for his kind words. I very much enjoyed going around all of the local authorities and seeing for myself the excellent services that so many of them provided. You mentioned trading standards and, last week, I was in Powys—that was my final local authority—and I went to a presentation by trading standards. I have to say that I was shocked at the fraudulent things that they showed to me and the copies of things that they had. It was pretty scary to see what is out there and to learn that people are using these things. That is a bit of an unseen service. We do not really know what they do, but it really brought it home to me the excellent work that they do. On service users, I went into several homes of people who use their local services, and it was really good to spend time speaking to them and hearing about their experience of using those public services.
The Deputy Presiding Officer took the Chair at 16: 38
I have already promoted the wild flower beds. I see Peter Black pulling a face. I know that he is not very keen on it, but I think that it is a really good initiative, and I went to Swansea quite early in the tour, so I certainly continued to promote that. I cannot think of an invest-to-save project that I saw, but I did see several local government borrowing initiative schemes, particularly around roads, which are very important. I did not meet a huge number of councillors, but I did meet 12 or so. Certainly, they are as committed as we are to ensuring that their areas offer the best possible public services to their local residents.
Motion NDM5248 Carl Sargeant
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 29.6, agrees that provisions in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill relating to the recovery of possession of dwelling houses, in so far as they fall within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales, should be considered by the UK Parliament.
I move the motion.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to open the debate on the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill and the housing legislative consent motion and memorandum in respect of recovery of possession of dwelling-houses. This is particularly relevant to the action that we are taking to tackle anti-social behaviour.
The proposals will help landlords to deal more effectively with the anti-social behaviour of some households through the prohibited conduct clause in every contract. The conduct to be prohibited includes anti-social behaviour, domestic violence and hate crime. A breach of the prohibited conduct clause could trigger proceedings for possession by the landlord.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Chair of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee, Christine Chapman.
This legislative consent motion was laid on 23 May and referred to our committee. We considered the LCM on 13 June and invited the Minister to attend our meeting on 17 July to clarify a number of issues. We reported on 17 September.
Consent is sought for provisions in Part 5 of the Bill that relate to the recovery of possession on anti-social behaviour grounds of dwelling-houses that are held either on a secure or on an assured tenancy. Consent is also sought for related provisions in Part 13 of the Bill, which deals with the procedure for subordinate legislation made by the Welsh Ministers under the Bill, and with commencement of the relevant provisions of Part 5 insofar as they relate to Wales.
There are three main areas that the committee addressed in its report. First, on discretionary grounds for possession, the existing grounds will remain discretionary, but will be modified by the Bill. This means that the courts will make an order for possession only if satisfied that it is reasonable to do so. During our evidence session, the Minister told us that he felt that amending the discretionary grounds for possession was proportionate, and he emphasised that possession would be the end point of a longer process.
Secondly, on mandatory grounds for possession, under clause 89 of the Bill, serious anti-social behaviour will become a mandatory ground for possession, and may be based on the conduct of visitors or other residents. The decisions on which ground to use to seek possession will be a matter for the landlord. The Minister told us that the absolute route for possession for anti-social behaviour will only apply when a court has already found a tenant or a member of the tenant’s family guilty of serious anti-social behaviour. The tenant is able to have the court consider their defence at the original proceedings, at the time that they took place, meaning that there will be a review period within that. The Minister told us that although the ground for possession is absolute, it is still subject to the Human Rights Act 1998.
Finally, in relation to requesting a review, the Bill will provide a secure tenant with the right to seek a review of the landlord’s decision to seek possession under the mandatory ground. Welsh Ministers may set out in regulations the process to be followed on review. This may include making provision that the reviewer must be more senior than the original decision maker. Assured tenants will have no such right to request a review, but would be able to request a review through their landlord’s complaints procedure on a non-statutory basis.
In the LCM, the Welsh Government states that using this Bill rather than Assembly legislation will ensure that the powers are available on a consistent basis across Wales and England simultaneously. It also states that stakeholders in Wales were eager to have the same tools to deal with anti-social behaviour as those available in England, and that this Bill will deliver that outcome quickly.
Looking ahead, the committee notes that Welsh Ministers intend, during 2015, to introduce a renting homes Bill. This Bill is intended to replace secure and assured tenancies, as well as other forms of tenancy, with two new forms of tenancy. The legislation will need to set out new rules for landlords who wish to recover possession, including on the grounds of anti-social behaviour. So, we would like to draw the issues outlined in our report to the attention of the Assembly.
Minister, I think that any legislative consent motion that relates to a Bill sponsored by the Home Office warrants a little bit of scrutiny here before it is agreed to, and I am very pleased that the committee was able to look at this. Consenting in this case is about repossession of rented homes on anti-social behaviour grounds. This is a sanction, of course, that will only apply to council and housing association tenants. It will apply if a tenant, another household member or even a visitor is guilty of causing a nuisance to the landlord or their staff, and not necessarily in the vicinity of the home. So, a tenant may have a possession order made against them for the conduct of someone else far away from their property. Most of us, I think, would rightly feel uncomfortable about holding somebody responsible for another person’s actions, especially when the sanction is the loss of their home. So, Minister, I would like to know what safeguards there will be so that the use of this sanction will be in the most exceptional of cases. Perhaps you would also explain why this sanction is applicable to social housing tenants and why they are singled out in this legislation. Homeowners and private sector tenants do not appear to run the same risk for conduct that may be identical, or at least comparable. Also, why has the criminal justice system been rejected as a route for this? Perhaps you would tell us whether the social landlords in Wales have been calling for this sanction at all, and perhaps you would comment on the monitoring of the use of this legislation to see whether its use is exceptional and proportionate.
I note from the report of the committee that this has general support across the country, so we will support the LCM today. However, perhaps you could tell us how you feel about the fact that the burden of proof for an anti-social behaviour order will now shift from beyond reasonable doubt to the balance of probability. If you find in the future that social tenants are losing their homes on the balance of probability of the conduct of others perhaps not even in the vicinity of their own home, I wonder what action you would be prepared to take. We know that, in the future, you will be bringing forward housing legislation that will relate to tenancies and I wonder why this route is preferable to legislation made here, where we could see statutory safeguards for tenants under these circumstances.
I support some of the points that Jocelyn Davies has made. It is important that, in implementing this proposal, the Minister is very clear in terms of guidelines to local authorities about how they are to take it forward. I note that there is some provision for guidelines and also some provision for the Minister to amend the legislation through regulation, but it is very important that we monitor how this power is rolled out and how it is used, to ensure that no injustices arise from it.
Having said that, having talked to housing officers in the past in relation to problems in my own area with anti-social behaviour, I know that housing officers will welcome some certainty and procedure in terms of being able to tackle very severe anti-social behaviour in a way that they have not been able to before, because the burden of proof has been very difficult for them in terms of getting a court order. So, that does offer some help. I note that this legislation will apply to the private sector, but only if there is an assured tenancy. As most private rented properties are on shorthold tenancies, most private sector properties will not be impacted by it. That raises the problem that, where an anti-social tenant is evicted from a social housing tenancy, they often end up in the private sector in a shorthold tenancy, where we do not have the same power to deal with them in the same way, and, often, the landlord is not interested in dealing with that issue in any case. So, there is an element of shifting the problem from social housing to private housing, which we need to take account of.
We will be supporting this legislation. In general terms, it is the right direction, but I think that we have to make sure that there are safeguards and guidance in place. I think that we need to make sure that social landlords who are implementing this legislation give proper warnings and that there is a proper process leading up to an eviction, and I do think that we need to have the monitoring that Jocelyn has just referred to, so that we can understand how it is being rolled out across Wales.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Minister to reply to the debate.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I thank Members for their contributions today, particularly the Chair of the committee. I am grateful to the committee for the advice and the scrutiny that was involved in taking this to it earlier in the year. In terms of some of the more detailed questions that Members have asked today, I must start by saying that, when this was presented to me, I did question the whole process of this and the scope and scale of the determination. Indeed, we did remove an element of a possession order: the grounds for possession in England include possession around the act of rioting. We have removed that in Wales, because I did not think that it was appropriate with regard to this Bill.
To give confidence to Members about what these powers are aimed at dealing with, I refer Members to Schedule 3 to the Housing Act 2004, which is due to be inserted subject to the successful passage of this Bill. These include anti-social behaviour and serious offences including murder, manslaughter, kidnapping and false imprisonment, and the list goes on. In terms of sexual offences, the possession order can be applied with regard to the keeping of a brothel, use for prostitution, indecent photographs of children, et cetera. So, these are at the serious end of anti-social behaviour and, I would hope, Members have clearly made reference to that.
In terms of Jocelyn Davies’s contribution seeking to understand whether landlords have been engaged in this process, my officials have been working on these proposals for around two years now. They undertook a consultation process between November 2011 and February 2012—a public consultation on the grounds for change—and there was widespread support for the proposed changes within the field of practitioners, including what you mentioned, so I hope that that gives confidence to the Member to support us today.
Alongside all of this legislation, I was very keen to make sure that the committee was comfortable with this process and the fact that the Housing Act 1985 has to be clarified with regard to the human rights of an individual. We have been very clear to ensure the convention rights within the meaning of the Human Rights Act 1998, and the tenant’s human rights should, therefore, not be affected in the provision and introduction of this new piece of legislation.
I am mindful of the comments of Peter, Jocelyn and Christine in terms of futureproofing a piece of legislation that is fit for purpose and I will look at that very closely, post the successful introduction of this element, subject to this motion being passed by this Chamber today.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There are no objections, therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion NDM5253 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 29.6 agrees that provisions relating to injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance, criminal behaviour orders and the community trigger contained in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, in so far as they fall within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales, should be considered by the UK Parliament.
I move the motion.
I would like to begin by thanking the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee for its work in scrutinising the Bill. I note that it has no objections to the provisions for which we are seeking consent in this LCM.
Although many of the provisions referred to in the LCM might not appear, in the first instance, to lie within Assembly competence, there are elements that have an impact on devolved legislative competence. For example, injunctions can be used to tackle violence against NHS staff and we have devolved responsibility for the NHS in Wales, so we could potentially introduce measures that would have the same effect. Similarly, criminal behaviour orders do not lie directly within competence, but an order could be made that would compel an offender to do something that lies within competence. This could include attendance at an alcohol awareness course that would be run by the NHS in Wales, or compelling them to muzzle their dog while in public places—an animal welfare issue, which is devolved.
We also consider that the community trigger is within competence. It is a mechanism for victims of persistent anti-social behaviour to request relevant bodies, such as local authorities, local health boards and housing providers, as well as the police, to work together to hold case reviews and therefore ensure that anti-social behaviour is dealt with in their area.
The functions of many of these bodies relate to devolved matters, therefore an LCM is required. I believe that this LCM should be supported. I think that we all agree that tackling anti-social behaviour and easing the associated impact on victims is a priority for us. Even though we do not have the power to legislate in this area, we do everything that we can to make Wales a safer place in which to live.
These measures propose to do this by reducing burdens on partner agencies. The number of powers to deal with anti-social behaviour has come down from 19 to six, and they focus on the needs of victims.
Finally, on a procedural point, on 25 June, a non-Government amendment was considered by the Bill committee and accepted. The effect of this amendment would appear to allow headteachers and principals of further education institutions to apply for injunctions under the provisions of the Bill. The UK Government has not yet confirmed whether it intends to allow this provision to remain in the Bill. It has been consulting on the issue over the summer. My colleague Huw Lewis has given consideration to what the effect of the non-Government amendment would appear to be and its potential impact in Wales. He is currently awaiting information about the UK Government’s view, following its consultation, but his view at this stage is that it should not apply in Wales, and his inclination, therefore, is to ask that it does not apply here. However, if the provision were to remain part of the Bill, we would lay a further LCM and motion in relation to it for Assembly scrutiny. We are clear that the amendment is not covered by the LCM and motion that we are considering this afternoon. It is not referred to in the memorandum and was not part of the Bill when it was laid, neither was it referred to or scrutinised by the committee. I commend the motion.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Chair of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee, Christine Chapman.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. This LCM was laid on 24 May and it was referred to the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee. We considered it on 13 June and subsequently invited the Minister to clarify a number of issues, and we reported on 17 September.
First, in relation to anti-social behaviour in general, the committee had some concerns in relation to how these proposals aligned with the Welsh Government’s approach to children’s policy. The Minister confirmed that she would expect any Welsh children to be dealt with in a way that respected their rights and that she had asked her officials to write to the Home Secretary to ask what consultation had taken place with children and young people.
In relation to injunctions, the injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance will replace some current anti-social behaviour measures and will be able to impose positive requirements as well as prohibition. Responding to concerns that the proposals might fast-track individuals into the criminal justice system rather than diverting them away, the Minister said that there was nothing to make her think that it would. She also said that while it would be for local authorities to ensure that the injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance were applied proportionately and consistently, she would be monitoring their use carefully.
In relation to Part 2 of the Bill, a new criminal behaviour order will replace some orders that are currently available where a person is convicted of a criminal offence. Courts will be able to impose positive requirements as part of these orders. In relation to the impact on local authorities of these positive requirements, the Minister told us that she had been concerned about this initially, but had been reassured that that would not be the case, because they replace existing powers. She said that she would continue to monitor the potential impact that this legislation would have on local authorities and, if needs be, make representations to the Home Office.
On the community trigger, part 6 of the Bill, which would give victims and communities the right to require agencies to deal with persistent anti-social behaviour that has previously been ignored, in relation to the provision for local authorities to determine their own thresholds for the trigger, the Minister told us that local authorities would be compelled to publish the thresholds that they set or any criteria process, which would make them more accountable to their local population and the people whom they serve.
We asked the Minister what impact the proposals in the LCM would have on the Welsh Government’s intention to bring forward legislation relating to youth offenders, and the Minister said that she did not believe that there would be any impact. In conclusion then, the committee would like again to draw the attention of the Assembly to these issues as part of its consideration of the LCM this afternoon.
While we all understand the need to bring in these new measures through the Bill and that anti-social behaviour is something that is a concern that our constituents raise with us on a regular basis, does the Minister have any concern about the fact that there has been a reduction in terms of the criteria for some of these anti-social behaviour orders, and that the proof has changed from being beyond reasonable doubt now to the balance of probabilities? Does the Minister think that there is a danger here that we are bringing more and more people into a situation where they are seen as criminals and that there is a danger in that?
I do not share that view. One of the reasons for that, I think, is because these orders amalgamate a number of existing orders. A whole plethora of orders were put in place by the last Government, and so these three orders are effectively bringing those together by these three orders, which will hopefully make the process easier to understand and use. My concerns, I think, lie around how we will apply these orders in Wales, and I did raise this issue with the Minister in committee. Wales has always had a different approach, particularly to ASBOs. We have far fewer ASBOs issued in Wales than in England, largely because we have gone through unacceptable behaviour contracts, working with offenders to try to avoid actually taking matters to that length. We have also done a fair bit on restorative justice in Wales, particularly around youth offending. Therefore, I am interested to hear from the Minister how that particular work will be carried on in relation to these new orders and how we will be making sure that we do not effectively penalise young people immediately and that we actually work with them to try to modify their behaviour and bring them back into the mainstream of society, rather than go straight down the route of issuing an injunction or a criminal behaviour order or community trigger against them. In particular, I am interested to hear whether we will be looking to put any funding into restorative justice as part of that process. Perhaps the Minister could address that particular issue as to how this regime will look in Wales, as opposed to England, and how it will fit in with our previous approach to anti-social behaviour across Wales, where we have taken a much more measured approach, working with offenders to try to modify their behaviour.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister to reply to the debate.
I thank the three Members for their contributions today. I have made it clear that I feel that this legislative consent memorandum is necessary in order to protect Welsh Government competence, but I do welcome their views and I hope that they will join me in supporting the motion. As Peter Black said, this is very much focused on speeding up processes, and it is very much focused on the needs of victims. It is certainly not my intention, or that of the Welsh Government, to make more and more people into criminals. That is not our intention at all. We do a huge amount of work around restorative justice and we support, via the youth crime prevention fund, certain projects that contain elements of restorative justice. However, I think that I have made it very clear that we cannot and will not fund additional projects as a result of any Home Office proposals. That funding would have to come from the UK Government.
In relation to the issues that were raised with me regarding the rights of the child, I did write to the Home Secretary asking what consideration was given to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child when the policy was drafted, and I have had a response to my letter from the Home Office Minister responsible for crime prevention, Jeremy Browne, which I am happy to share with Christine Chapman, as Chair of the committee, and other Members.
In relation to youth justice itself, I have been considering, over the summer, the consultation responses, and I have been looking at proposals. I will be making an announcement on this over the course of the next week.
I hope that Members will join me in supporting the motion.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is that we agree the motion. Does any Member object? There are no objections, therefore the motion is agreed.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 12.36.
Motion NDM5254 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 29.6 agrees that provisions of the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill which apply the framework of capital finance controls contained in Part 1 of the Local Government Act 2003 to Chief Constables in Wales in so far as they fall within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales, should be considered by the UK Parliament.
I move the motion.
I thank the committee for its work in scrutinising the aspects of the Bill relating to financial controls, and I note that the committee has no objections to the provisions for which consent is sought in this legislative consent memorandum. These provisions are within competence and make straightforward technical changes to the capital accounting regime in order that chief constables be subject to the same controls as local authorities in Wales. The provisions are a matter of common sense, and I believe that the LCM should be supported.
Members will also wish to be aware that the Home Secretary laid in the UK Parliament on 17 September a transitional provision order under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, so that chief constables in England and Wales are now covered by local government accounting practices. This is to ensure that staff pension liabilities are treated in accordance with accepted practices in the accounts of chief constables. Laying the transitional order now provides chief constables with the security to plan for the changes in accounting arrangements to be built into their budget planning for the next financial year. The modifications made by the order will be superseded when the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill comes into effect.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Chair of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee, Christine Chapman.
The LCM was laid by the Minister for Local Government and Government Business on 24 May and referred to the communities committee. We considered the LCM at our meeting on 19 June, and we reported on 17 September. As the Minister states in the LCM, using this Bill rather than Assembly legislation represents the most appropriate and proportionate legislative vehicle to enable these provisions to apply in relation to Wales to make chief constables subject to the same controls as local authorities. The committee therefore concluded that it has no objection to the use of this LCM in the manner proposed.
As the Minister has said, this particular LCM is a matter of common sense; it is a tidying-up process that needs to be done. However, as we are coming to the end of our deliberations on the LCMs and the Bill itself, perhaps I could ask you two general questions about the Bill. Are you at all concerned that this Bill will mean that if there is a miscarriage of justice, the person who suffers it would have to prove a clear case of innocence before they could get compensation? Are you concerned about the impact of that in Wales? Also, do you believe that these measures show, in terms of the way in which we enact the Bill in Wales, that there is a clear case for devolving the criminal justice system to Wales?
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Minister to reply to the debate.
I thank both Members for their comments. In relation to the LCM as a whole, Rhodri Glyn Thomas is right; it is a tidying-up exercise, and I just think it is regulising what the financial system should be. It is probably a bit of fallout from the election of police and crime commissioners. So, it is right that chief constables also have some controls in the new arrangements.
In relation to Rhodri Glyn’s specific questions, it is certainly something that will have to be monitored, and I know that my officials continue to have discussions with Home Office officials.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There are no objections. The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion NDM5259 Alun Davies
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 29.6, agrees that provisions in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill relating to the introduction of Community Protection Notices, Public Spaces Protection Orders, Closure Notices, and amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, in so far as they fall within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales, should be considered by the UK Parliament.
I move the motion.
Like others this afternoon, I would like to say that I am grateful for the work that has been done by the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee, which reported to the National Assembly earlier this month on this legislative consent memorandum. Clearly, we are covering here the final element of that, and I hope that Members will agree that what I am proposing this afternoon very much follows the written statement I made on 2 May, in which I dealt with how we will take forward our policy and our ambitions for dealing with dangerous dogs and other things.
The types of behaviour that a community protection notice could deal with will include persistent littering, graffiti and noise disturbance. These are currently not covered by the statutory nuisance regime. A community protection order could be used in relation to irresponsible dog owners and their out-of-control dogs, persistent distress in barking or growling, and indeed dog fouling. These issues are all within the National Assembly’s competence by virtue of a combination of paragraphs 1, 6, 9, 12 and 15 of Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006.
In relation to public spaces protection orders, the Bill will provide local authorities with the power to make such orders, which are intended to apply to a wide range of behaviours in public places. It will replace the current regime in respect of dog control orders under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, and gating orders. The new power to close premises associated with nuisance or disorder will allow the police or a local authority to act swiftly to protect the public by issuing a closure notice and subsequently applying to the court for a closure order. Although not all of the proposed provisions fall squarely within the legislative competence of the National Assembly, I do consider that certain elements of proposals that relate to nuisance are within legislative competence under Part 1 of Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006.
The Bill amends the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 by extending the offence of allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control to private property. It also creates an enhanced self-defence provision that will be available to householders in the event a dog on private property injures an intruder. It makes it an aggravated criminal offence for a dangerously out-of-control dog to injure an assistance dog. These provisions were originally envisaged in our currently suspended control of dogs Bill. The amendment also clarifies the dangerousness test a court should apply when considering whether to exercise its power to make an order for destruction under the Act. Part 7 falls within the National Assembly’s legislative competence under Part 1 of Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006 in relation to subjects listed under headings 1, ‘Agriculture, forestry, animals, plants and rural development’, 9, ‘Health and health services’, and 15, ‘Social welfare’.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Chair of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee, Christine Chapman.
This LCM was laid on 24 May and referred to the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee. We considered it on 19 June and reported on 17 September. The Environment and Sustainability Committee has also undertaken some work on the LCM and on the broader issue of the control of dogs, and a letter from the Chair of that committee is annexed to our report.
On some of the particular aspects of this, on the community protection notices the LCM provides some examples of how these could be used, including dealing with problems caused by irresponsible dog owners. However, as we set out in our report, it is not clear how useful a community protection notice will be in tackling either of these problems. On the public spaces protection orders, these are intended to deal with a particular nuisance or problem in a particular area that is detrimental to the local community’s quality of life, and such orders will impose conditions on the use of that area. The order will replace designated public place orders, gating orders and dog control orders. Thirdly, on the closure of premises associated with nuisance or disorder, this power will be applicable to licensed premises and private residential properties.
In relation to the Assembly’s competence to legislate in these areas, we know that it is the view of the Welsh Government that Part 4, chapters 1, 2 and 3 of the Bill generally fall within the Assembly’s legislative competence. However, community protection notices and public spaces protection orders are broad-based and may stray into policy areas that are non-devolved. We know that the Welsh Government acknowledges therefore that not all of the provisions in Part 4 fall squarely within the legislative competence of the Assembly.
As set out in the explanatory notes that accompany the Bill, the UK Government considers that chapters 1 and 2 of Part 4 fall within the legislative competence of the Assembly, but that chapter 3, on closure orders, does not.
In relation to amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, the LCM confirms that these are proposed to extend the criminal offence in relation to a dog dangerously out of control to cover private property, whereas the current law covers only public places. We know that, in relation to competence, the Welsh Government believes that provisions relating to amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 fall within the Assembly’s legislative competence. Based on the explanatory notes that accompany the Bill, the UK Government does not appear to agree with this view.
With regard to the advantages of utilising the Bill, rather than Assembly legislation, the Minister states in the LCM that the Bill will ensure a consistent approach to tackling anti-social behaviour across Wales and England. Specifically in relation to the control of dogs, the LCM does not make clear why, in relation to these particular provisions, it would be advantageous to use the Bill. The committee notes that, until recently, the Welsh Government proposed to bring forward its own Bill in this area. To conclude, the committee would like to draw the Assembly’s attention to the issues set out in our report as part of the consideration of this LCM.
I rise to oppose this legislative consent motion. I was among those who were disappointed when the Welsh Government announced that it was to cease it work on the control of dogs Bill, which had been published. Although it was not perfect, it was legislation that had the potential to make a very real difference, with the emphasis on tackling the control of dogs through prevention, education and raising awareness.
I was not the only one who was disappointed; animal and dog welfare organisations have expressed their disappointment, along with trade unions such as the CWU, never mind the groups and individuals across Wales who have done likewise. It appears to me that the Welsh Government has given up on its own legislation and is favouring legislation that, in my opinion, will be less effective. The community protection notices that we have heard about are not appropriate in tackling concerns about the conduct of individual dogs and their owners. The emphasis should be placed on preventative measures, as was intended in the original Welsh Bill, and not on punitive measures such as those set out in the Westminster legislation. Dog control notices, as was intended in the Welsh Bill, would be far more effective in allowing people to refer their concerns to an appropriate place where an expert could then provide advice and guidance regarding the specific circumstances of the dog concerned. A Welsh Bill for the control of dogs would ensure early intervention to protect the public and the long-term welfare of the animal by ensuring that action was taken before any serious incident could take place.
There is also concern about the public spaces protection orders that could undermine the welfare of dogs in some cases by limiting the ability of owners to tend to their dogs’ needs. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill does not adequately deal with some issues related to attacks on protected animals either. Passing this LCM today would put an end to the ability of Assembly Members to scrutinise and to bring influence to bear on legislation that will tackle issues surrounding the control of dogs in Wales, although animal welfare is a devolved issue. They tell me that 84% of people in Wales support legislation on dangerous dogs and irresponsible owners. As an issue that is devolved, it is reasonable for the people of Wales to expect their Assembly Members to be part of drawing up that legislation.
Wales has been in the vanguard of the animal welfare agenda in recent years, on issues such as dog microchipping and banning electric shock collars. Passing this LCM, in my opinion, would be a retrograde step. In proposing this today, the Minister is actually throwing the issue of the control of dogs into a mishmash of legislation that includes a broad range of issues such as forced marriages, terrorism and so on. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill does not achieve the objectives set out by the Welsh Government in its control of dogs Bill for Wales. Just two years after gaining legislative competence to deal with this matter, we are throwing it back to Westminster so that they deal with it. We and the Welsh Government must take responsibility here. We must legislate in a purposeful way for Wales, with a specific focus on this important issue of the control of dogs. That is why I will be voting the legislative consent motion this afternoon.
The Minister knows that I was disappointed when the Wales control of dogs Bill was suspended. I want to have some assurances from him this afternoon in this debate about the LCM. One of the concerns that I have is that there is no specific dog legislation—it is part of a much wider anti-social behaviour order. We have already heard about the many areas that are covered. The Minister himself spoke about how the community protection notices will cover graffiti, litter, fly posting and noise nuisance, as well as the issues related to dogs. It seems to be a lost opportunity in terms of specifically putting forward legislation that will cover Wales.
I have to put forward the disappointment of my constituents and the many people who signed a very big petition that went to the Petitions Committee. I became involved in this whole issue because of a six-year-old child who was badly mauled in my constituency, and I know that the Minister met that constituent.
I want an assurance from the Minister that if these proposals do not answer all of the things that we were proposing in the control of dogs Bill, he will then reconsider them, and that he will consider bringing forward our own legislation again. I know that he has suspended the control of dogs legislation. It is still there; a lot of work was done on it, and there was a big consultation process. I will vote for this LCM today, provided that we can have an assurance that if we do not get what we want, we will then bring forward our own legislation.
I rise to confirm that the Welsh Liberal Democrat group will be supporting the LCM, but we wish to put on record a number of serious concerns, some of which have already been outlined by colleagues around the Chamber. First, over the past years, Wales has led the way in improving animal welfare and finding Wales-specific solutions to dog-related issues. The introduction of compulsory microchipping, for example, has already been cited as an example of Wales being in the vanguard.
Since 2011, we have had competence over animal welfare, and the decision to suspend the control of dogs Bill seems to be at variance with the approach that is now being taken. Bespoke dog control notices would have enabled people to refer concerns about the behaviour of a specific dog or its owner so that a practitioner could provide advice and support to address the issues before any more serious incident would have occurred. That early intervention would have balanced support for the owner with the dog’s long-term welfare and the overriding concern for public safety.
In contrast, the community protection notices adopt a more punitive and reactive approach that is, in many ways, felt to be less suited to individual situations. We regret, therefore, in a similar vein to the comments made by my colleague Julie Morgan, that the Minister has decided to suspend the progress of the Welsh Bill. We note that he has, however, retained the option to reintroduce it, and it is on that basis that my group is supporting the LCM today.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister to reply to the debate.
I thank all Members who have taken part in the debate this afternoon. I would like to emphasise the point that the Liberal Democrat spokesperson made in his final sentence—we have not given up on the legislation, as suggested by the Plaid Cymru spokesperson. We have suspended it while we continue to have conversations, discussions and debate with the Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on these matters.
On this matter, I will say to Plaid Cymru that this is not a matter of us handing back powers, as was suggested by its spokesperson; the powers in the Government of Wales Act 2006 are substantial and remain. What we are doing is working with the UK Government to deliver a piece of legislation that will meet all of our objectives. Our powers in this matter are undiminished on the basis of where we are in statute. We are working on this specific issue and this specific Bill to achieve these specific objectives.
I thank the Minister for giving way. Could he outline what he gains from taking this path, rather than legislating here, remembering that his First Minister said today that we, as Plaid Cymru, were giving up on legislation?
I do not understand your final point. As to where we are, the explanation that I gave on 2 May was reasonable and clear, I feel. Members are absolutely right that we started this work prior to the UK Government starting work on it. The work that has been referred to by Julie Morgan involved a great deal of work in terms of consultation. That is informing our position as a Welsh Government, and it is being used to inform our discussions with the Home Office and with DEFRA. That work is not wasted; it is going to continue.
To directly answer the question asked by Simon Thomas, what we gain from this is a more comprehensive piece of legislation that will certainly include the elements that we wish to include, and which will go further. I recognise his point that it will go much further than that. Without testing the Deputy Presiding Officer too greatly in terms of time, I would like to make it very clear to all Members on all sides of the Chamber that I will continue to be available for scrutiny on my approach to this piece of legislation, so there will be further opportunities to scrutinise me on this. The legislation that we have stands in suspension; it has not been withdrawn. It may be useful, Deputy Presiding Officer, if I do make a further statement at some point to Members informing them of the conversations and the negotiations that we are having with the Home Office and with DEFRA in the delivery of this piece of legislation. It is something that we remain committed to, and our commitment to it is not diminished in any way. What we are trying to do is deliver the legislative objectives that we have through a route that we believe is most effective and will provide the most effective piece of legislation on the statute book.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Are there any objections? I see that there are. I defer all voting then on this item until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales in accordance with Standing Order 26.11:
Agrees to the general principles of the Further and Higher Education (Governance and Information) (Wales) Bill.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister for Education and Skills to move the motion.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I move the motion.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to open the debate on the general principles of the Further and Higher Education (Wales) Bill, which my predecessor introduced in April this year. I am grateful to Ann Jones and Members of the Children and Young People’s Committee, and to David Melding and Jocelyn Davies and members of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee and the Finance Committee for their thorough scrutiny and helpful reports of their findings. I would like to take this opportunity to clarify the rationale of the Office for National Statistics’ decision to reclassify further education institutions as public bodies for the purpose of national accounts.
Members will be aware that the UK national accounts are produced under internationally agreed rules and apply to all countries in the European Union. In the UK, the Office for National Statistics is responsible for the application and interpretation of these rules. The UK Government has chosen to base its departmental budgeting rules and fiscal statistics on national accounts principles. As a consequence, ONS decisions on how organisations are treated in the national accounts also inform the public sector boundary used in the production of the whole-of-Government accounts. If an organisation is classified as being part of the national accounts, then all of its transactions are included in the relevant Government department budgets.
Until recently, further education institutions were classified as non–profit institutions serving households. The ONS reclassified them in 2010, dating back to 1993, as ‘general government’ and, therefore, within the public sector. The ONS, in determining the classification of bodies for the purposes of national accounts looks at various indicators of control, and the decision by the ONS to reclassify FEIs was the result of various statutory controls that Welsh Ministers exercise over FEIs in Wales. Examples of the controls include: the ability to close the body; the ability to prevent the body from ending its relationship with the public sector; the ability to change the constitution of the body, or veto changes to it; the ability to decide what sort of financial transactions the body can undertake, or to limit them; the ability to prevent the body from receiving certain types of income from other resources; and the ability to exert numerous minor controls over how the body is run.
If the ONS classification is not reversed, all income and expenditure in further education institutions in Wales will have to be accounted for from within Welsh Government budgets. This will impact on all categories of budgets, as my predecessor has already detailed in his evidence to the Finance Committee and to the Enterprise and Business Committee. To avoid these budget implications, we must reverse the ONS classification and seek to reinstate colleges as non-profit institutions serving households. I understand that the four nations in the UK are progressing different routes towards this end. There is limited value in comparing ourselves to the other nations. Each of us is in a unique position. I believe that the route being proposed through this Bill is the right direction of travel for learners in Wales.
We must focus on the central fact. Would the ONS reclassification have a negative impact on Welsh budgets? Yes. We must recognise that, in Wales, our FE sector is a mature and responsive sector. In Wales, we have already achieved what other nations, such as Scotland, are still attempting to deliver. Our programme of regionalisation, through the hugely successful transformation programme, has succeeded in reducing the number of institutions in Wales, without compromising on the delivery of learning. It was achieved through partnership, not through tighter controls and legislation. Welsh FEIs have been evolving and developing over the past 20 years. We must ensure that the action that we take here in Wales aids progression, not regression. Let me assure colleagues here today that reversing the ONS reclassification does not weaken the Welsh Minister’s powers. My priority will still be to ensure that public investment results in better opportunities for our learners in Wales, and that FEIs remain central to the communities they serve.
I will now address some of the points raised by the committees. A number of the issues raised in the reports are valid and I aim to respond positively to the majority of them, giving Members undertakings in relation to these, where I can at this stage, and to explain where recommendations as a matter of policy or practicality cannot be delivered.
I agree that the explanatory memorandum would benefit from setting out in more detail, and with greater clarity, the risks involved and the approach that the Bill takes to mitigating the effects of the ONS classification. This I will provide. I can also assure you that the Welsh Government will keep under review the effects of the Bill on other parts of its legislative programme, and on wider matters, such as the provision for learners with additional learning needs, although any impacts are expected to be minimal.
Moving on to governing body membership, I am also content to bring forward amendments to make it clear that at least two members of the governing body should be student representatives, elected by either the student population or by an appropriate student body. This will also apply to two staff members on the governing body. I, therefore, propose to bring forward Government amendments on student and staff members. I am also content to place a broad duty on governing bodies to consult regularly with local employers, learners and communities about educational provision and curriculum planning, building I believe on the recommendations in the Humphreys report. However, I do not believe that it is necessary to legislate that governing bodies should include representatives of local employers or businesses. Governing bodies should use their professional judgment when identifying members, to determine the skills that they require for their institution. The ‘Guide for Governors’, which will be published in 2014, will provide guidance on the variety of skills required on a governing body, building on the good practice in existence in the sector.
On recommendation 3, I have instructed my officials to explore with Her Majesty’s Treasury the scope of modifying Government accounting rules to mitigate the effects of the ONS classification on Welsh Government. The committee will know of the very clear advice that we have had on this issue, but I will not ignore the request from the Chair for a final definitive answer direct from the Treasury on this. Working with the Minister for Finance, I have made sure that a direct challenge has been issued to it. I will update the Children and Young People Committee on this at Stage 2.
I am not content to retain section 139 of the Education Act 2002, section 7. This is a policy decision, as we do not foresee any implications associated with the removal of these powers. These powers enabling Welsh Ministers to regulate the HE provision in further education institutions have never been used, and there is no intention to do so. Our intention is that, in future, FE institutions delivering HE courses will be subject to the same controls as HE institutions. Those controls have recently been the subject of the technical consultation on the higher education (Wales) Bill. However, if there are specific concerns as to why Members believe greater controls are required on FEIs delivering higher education provision, compared with HE institutions, I am willing, of course, to listen to them.
At the same time, I reassure Members that regulations, funding conditions and the financial memorandum will continue to underpin the Bill, and that amended versions will be shared with the Children and Young People Committee at Stage 2.
In terms of the higher education element of the Bill, the provision allows Welsh Ministers to verify household income information to prove eligibility for student finance funding from the Welsh Government. The direct link with HMRC is one of the main drivers for the modernisation of Student Finance Wales. This link will deliver significant cost and efficiency savings for the Welsh Government, significantly speed up the service available to students, decrease the likelihood of fraudulent applications and deliver an efficient, end-to-end service for learners in Wales. The Welsh Government has already invested in the provision of a modernised student finance Wales service, and the link with HMRC is a key component to ensure an appropriate level of service in Wales.
I am content for officials to consider with the Student Loans Company how best to provide the most appropriate support for those applying for grants and loans from Student Finance Wales.
Regarding the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee’s recommendation on commencement of Acts, I understand that this matter is being considered by the First Minister, following correspondence between him and the Chair of the committee. However, in some circumstances, commencing Acts can be technically complex, and there can be a need to address the transition from the existing system to the new arrangements. It is for this reason that Bills often enable commencement orders to make provision that is, for example, transitional or incidental. However, to be clear, in such cases the provision that is transitional or incidental must relate to the act of commencement itself, and is therefore narrow in extent.
In opening, I have picked up on the main recommendations of the reports and discussed them. However, I confirm that all of the recommendations made have been carefully considered and will be acted on as appropriate.
In conclusion, I thank the committees for their constructive engagement and ideas for improving the Bill, and I am greatly encouraged by the general support shown for the Bill by key stakeholders during the Stage 1 committee sessions. I urge Members to take the same view and support the Bill today.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Chair of the Children and Young People Committee, Ann Jones.
In starting my contribution to this debate, I pay the usual tribute to other members of the Children and Young People Committee for their help and guidance in writing the report, the clerking teams and those people who came to give us evidence to help us prepare this report.
In presenting the committee’s views on the general principles, I want to talk first about data sharing on student grants and loans. We believe that the data relevant to student grants and loans should be shared with Welsh Ministers by HMRC so that the process for applying for a student grant and loan is simplified and made more efficient. It is a relatively uncontroversial part of the Bill, so we were broadly content with it. That might be the only time that we are broadly content with anything, I think. While not directly related to the Bill, we recommended to the Minister—I think that the Minister has accepted that, according to what he has just said—that the Welsh Government should consult and discuss with the Student Loan Company on how best to keep face to face contact and appropriate support for those students applying for loans who may need that face to face contact.
The Bill also includes provision repealing Ministers’ powers to restrict the provision of higher education courses within the further education sector. This is a power that has never been used, we are told. We accept that it is not good practice for Ministers to keep powers that are not needed, simply because there might be some need at a future date. However, as a higher education Bill is likely to be introduced, and as there could be other possible changes on the horizon for the governance of the sector, we were not convinced that now is the right time to repeal this power. We recommend that the repeal proposed in section 7 of the Bill should be reconsidered.
On greater autonomy for the FE sector, the objective is to give autonomy to FE bodies so that they can be reclassified by the Office for National Statistics as non-profit institutions serving households. That is the area that the committee spent some time on. The impact of this reclassification has yet to be fully felt, but the Minister has outlined the effects that it will have on Welsh Government budgets, particularly on capital budgets. The committee broadly accepts the Minister’s assessment of that. We also accept that changes proposed in the Bill will allow the ONS to restore the previous classification. This, we hope, will mitigate the adverse financial impact and allow for financial management arrangements for the sector to continue broadly along current lines. The committee was concerned that the greater autonomy that the Bill gives to FE colleges might lead to a greater fragmentation of the sector, particularly in relation to staff pay and conditions, and a more competitive approach to the delivery of educational provision, including greater use within the private sector.
We were also concerned about whether the Welsh Government will be able to continue to exercise effective financial controls over the funding that it provides to further education institutions. Ministers themselves have made clear that the approach being taken in the Bill would not have been taken except for this ONS classification. We are therefore concerned that policy is being driven by what are essentially accounting rules. We have heard from the Scottish Government that it is trying to pursue a different path to that set out in this Bill, which keeps FEIs directly accountable to the Scottish Government. However, we felt that this approach also carries some difficulties. There would still be a need to change FE colleges’ accounting arrangements and, more importantly, the UK Treasury would need to approve a relaxation of Government budgeting rules. The Welsh Government has decided against this approach, in the belief that Treasury approval is unlikely to be forthcoming. That is a matter of concern to the committee, not because the Welsh Government’s assessment of the Treasury’s response is necessarily wrong, but because it appears to have assumed what the Treasury response will be without testing whether that is the case. As far as the committee could tell, the Welsh Government had not written to the Treasury to clarify its views or attempted to talk to it about whether alternative approaches might be possible. In a letter to me as Chair on 11 September, the Minister still does not seem able to say. He said that he had been in contact with the Treasury and that it has confirmed that it is unwilling to make any changes that would allow a different approach to be taken. So, the committee might have expected policy to be based on formally establishing the Treasury position. We were uncomfortable agreeing to relax Government controls over the FE sector when the option of retaining direct accountability appears not to have been fully explored with the Treasury. That was our biggest concern, but we accept that the financial consequences of the ONS classification are significant and broadly undesirable. If the Treasury will not agree steps to ease these consequences, then the measures in the Bill may be the only way of avoiding the financial penalties that come from the ONS decision.
I will turn to recommendations to improve the governance arrangements. Looking at more detailed aspects of this Bill and how it will work in practice, we have made a number of specific recommendations based on the evidence that we received. I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying his position on those. We heard concerns that the staff members of the governing bodies may not be sufficiently representative of staff interests and that they could be nominated by senior management of institutions. We also heard that there was a need for greater representation from the student body and that student governors should be elected. To address these concerns, we recommend that Schedule 1 to the Bill be amended to specify that there must be at least two students and two staff members on each governing body and that these members should be elected by those whom they are there to represent.
We also heard arguments for the link between colleges and local employers and businesses to be put on a formal footing. Again, that is why we recommended, in Schedule 1, specifying that there should also be an employer and a business representative on governing bodies. I know that the Minister has some concerns about those and I hope that we can have further discussions as a committee, around that recommendation.
We also noted concerns about the impact of college provision on wider educational provision in an area. That is why we recommended that these links should be strengthened by placing a duty on colleges to consult regularly with local learners and communities, as well as employers, about educational provision and how it impacts on local curriculum planning. Our view is that, taken together, these amendments will improve the governance of colleges and they will strengthen learner and staff involvement. They will ensure that the needs of businesses and employers are heard on governing bodies, ensure that learner and staff members of the governing bodies are genuinely representative, and strengthen engagement with learners, business and the local community. We believe that these amendments are proportionate, reasonable and, importantly, will not put the ONS reclassification at risk.
Briefly, in concluding, I will say that the committee considered the implications of the Bill for particular user groups. We have made recommendations for the Government to consider a number of issues relating to the impact on provision for those with additional learning needs, and to ensure that this Bill does not have any unintended consequences on the provision of education through the medium of Welsh.
I hope that the Minister will agree to engage further—I think that he has done so—with the committee, as the Bill goes through its next stages.
Minister, I am delighted to be able to take part in this debate on the general principles of the further and higher education Bill. I would like to put on record that the Welsh Conservatives are extremely supportive of this Bill and I believe that Ann Jones, as Chair of the committee, has brought forward, very clearly and concisely, all of the recommendations that the Conservatives, as part of the cross-party group on children and young people, put forward. I was delighted to hear your response to those recommendations.
I was going to pick up on two of them. The first is recommendation 3, ensuring that we absolutely need to do this. Perhaps it is something that we should have explored before we came to Bill stage, but we were not necessarily convinced that that had been happening. I would also like to bring forward recommendation 11. I know that Ann has just touched on it, but of course there is an awful lot of change going on in the provision of educational services for people with additional learning needs and special educational needs. We have another Bill that is already out—the education Bill—and I know that you are looking at other provisions. We need to make sure that there is cross-compliance across all of this, so that this very vulnerable group of people do not get hit.
Sitting in some of the committee sessions, I heard some of the concerns raised by people about what the FE colleges might be up to once they get these additional powers. But, I think that you absolutely summed it up, and I would support you entirely in your comments, that this is a mature business. FE colleges are already trusted with millions and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. I believe that you have the checks and balances in place. I believe that FE colleges can pretty much do some of the things that people were concerned about now anyway, and they have not done so, because I believe that they are a mature industry and I think that to cavil at this point is unnecessary and unwelcome and does a great disservice to a very respectable profession that, in the main, carries out the most superb duty on behalf of Wales. So, I will be supporting you in taking this Bill forward.
I thank the Minister for responding to some of the concerns expressed in committee. I would like to thank him for that. May I say at the outset that Plaid Cymru will support the general principles behind the Bill today, but we have a number of concerns and a number of questions that persist, and it is worth airing some of those today?
If you go back three years, Plaid Cymru and the Labour Party had the same values and the same approach towards this sector, namely that we saw this sector as an important one, as a public resource that was shared by the state, the community of local learners and the staff and all those who were part of the colleges as well. We were eager to see something happening within the sector that would be similar to what was suggested by the Humphreys report to which the Minister referred. There is no doubt that we have lost sight of that particular vision because of the direct change to the definition of capital and funding within the sector by the ONS. I accept that. I think that if we were in a different financial position today, it is possible that the Minister would not be getting as much support for this Bill, even from some Members on his own backbenches, because the sum that we are talking about here, broadly speaking, is some £20 million. It is a substantial sum, specifically in terms of capital, but it does pose the question, ‘Is this a price worth paying to lose control of a public resource and to see it being entirely independent of Government?’ That is the question that is in the balance as we discuss this Bill and as we endeavour to ensure that the Bill is amended in such a way that the public benefit remains crucial to this sector.
I accept that the sector is a mature sector and is one that has behaved very responsibly recently, but it is also a sector that changes very swiftly. It is a sector that merges, it is a sector that grows and it is a sector where there is at least the possibility of seeing the number of key players developing over the next few years. With big players, as we have seen in the higher education sector, you get big egos and people with different ambitions. The way that I look at this Bill is with a view to ensuring that we have adequate checks and balances within it to ensure that the sector, as a whole, behaves in a way that is in accordance with our aims in the Assembly and with the Government’s broader objectives.
So, I welcome the fact that the Minister has stated today that he will move a number of Government amendments to the Bill on staff and student representation, and on a broad duty to be placed on colleges to reflect the views of their localities. I am disappointed that the Government has not yet accepted the principle that business and local employers should be represented on the governing bodies. I am sure that that is something that we will cover at committee stage and will return to.
However, what is clear in the discussions that we had at committee and in the way that the Government has approached this, is that much of what will happen now depends on trust—trust by Government and ColegauCymru. It depends, to an extent, on ColegauCymru still being ColegauCymru, to be honest, and the colleges still behaving as a body and still harbouring the same values. We cannot be certain of that and it is important to emphasise that we are not legislating with that aim as we move forward with this Bill. We are dependent on voluntary collaboration by bodies that relatively powerful and relatively wealthy as we progress. Therefore, it is important that there are checks and balances in place, such as staff and student representation and, I think, local business representation, to ensure that some of the concerns are addressed.
I was surprised that the Government had not ensured in the first place that the Treasury was not willing to accept some sort of change. After all, if the President of the United States and the President of Iran can actually meet today at the United Nations, then it is possible that even the Treasury may reconsider certain things. Who knows? The Minister has pledged today that that work is in the pipeline. I look forward therefore to seeing that reported to committee. With those few reservations and questions, I look forward to seeing this Bill progressing further through our systems.
May I also say that we will be supporting the Government in terms of this debate this afternoon, even though, as Simon Thomas said, we have some doubts about the details?In terms of the principle of the Bill, we feel that this reflects the fact that we have a mature sector now in Wales that has gone quite a way forward in terms of restructuring, even though we, as the Chair of our committee said, are also surprised—because the previous Minister made it quite clear that, without the decision of the ONS, the Government would not have gone down this path—that the Government, in the first instance, did not ask questions of the Treasury in terms of whether it was prepared to change the rules. To some extent, the Wales Audit Office considered that that was something that the Government should have done in the first place.
I feel that we have moved forward quite considerably this afternoon in terms of the Government’s response to some of the recommendations. Certainly, in terms of the way in which governing bodies and their members are appointed, I feel that the Government has move forward quite a lot. Also, in terms of planning the curriculum, some committee members had concerns about some of the movements—perhaps the Minister has taken us forward in relation to that.
Briefly, I have two concerns that have already been mentioned. The first concerns additional learning needs. I feel that the Government needs to look at this again and we will need to return to this in Stage 2. NDCS has said specifically that there is quite a lot of concern regarding the fact that the Government is relinquishing its controls in this area. I think that perhaps there is a means in the way that ColegauCymru deals with the Government in terms of budget but, of course, as ColegauCymru and the individual colleges see cuts in their budgets—there was a cutback in June, which was slightly unexpected, and there will be further cuts in the next few years—the Government must reassure us as individual Members that expenditure in relation to additional learning needs is actually safeguarded.
There are also other concerns. We have spent many years now trying to move towards a system whereby there would be a national agreement in terms of staff in Wales and some consistency regarding working conditions. There is concern, as we move to a situation whereby these individual institutions will be responsible for terms and conditions, that all of the work undertaken over the years will be lost. I would hope that the discussions regarding national contracts could be implemented before we move to the new system. Certainly, there was substantial concern—perhaps more so in some of the colleges in south Wales rather than those that I deal with in north Wales—that zero-hour contracts are being used quite frequently within those colleges. If we are going to move to this new system, some of us would like a lot more clarity from the Government regarding what is happening and our current position in relation to some of those discussions. I feel that we are quite comfortable in the way that the sector is moving, but that does not mean that some of these details will not need to be discussed further in committee at Stage 2.
Under this new FE HE Bill, the Welsh Government actually seeks to enhance the autonomy and decision making of these further education institutions by removing and modifying existing legislative controls over them. I am fully aware that these changes have been proposed as a result of decisions by the ONS to reclassify the institutions, and I understand the importance of autonomy for the further education sector, which already exists to a great extent. However, I also have some concerns about these changes. Minister, I asked your predecessor, when he attended committee, whether he would have made these changes without the ONS, as the driver in place, to which he replied ‘no’. In oral evidence, John Graystone, chief executive of ColegauCymru stated that when the Minister came to us, the committee members, he said that he did not really want to do this, but that the ONS, in a sense, had forced his hand. So, that is what is clearly driving this. I think that we are all agreed on the need to take action to protect our further and higher education sectors—primarily FE in this Bill. However, it is disappointing that we have to go down what I feel is a privatisation path to do so.
I have some concerns that I believe need to be addressed for the Bill to be achieved, and you have already tackled some of those points. First, I have raised a question on the size and use of the financial reserves held by FEIs. It is important that we ensure that these reserves are used for the purpose of enhancing student experience, and, in particular, their education and development. We must not encourage them to be banked simply to demonstrate the good financial management of college leaders—and I have seen that in place. The Bill’s accompanying explanatory memorandum explains that if we do not overturn this classification of FEIs as central Government, it will inhibit FEIs from carrying forward budget surpluses—you have already pointed that out. I recognise the need for FEIs to be able to develop reserves for a variety of reasons that benefit the student experience, and I support that, but autonomy can go further if not controlled in some form. I would also hope that strong guidance will be given to governing bodies to ensure this.
Additionally, I am concerned that we could end up in a situation where colleges could ignore national agreements—Aled Roberts has already mentioned the hard work that has gone into trying to put national agreements in place—on pay and change terms and conditions without appropriate negotiation, disregard Welsh Government policies and perhaps focus on profits rather than the quality of learning provided to the student community.
Your predecessor assured us in committee that there will be a revised financial memorandum. It is something that you have mentioned this afternoon, and I hope that these issues will be tackled within that memorandum. We also need to ensure that we continue to provide financial monitoring of FEIs to ensure that public money is used for the purpose it was proposed for and that it provides the best quality service to our learners in Wales. I am therefore pleased to hear you say this afternoon that the Bill will result in greater accountability. I look forward to seeing that in action.
My second concern is governance. You have responded to that, but, having previously been employed in the further and higher education sectors, I have a strong belief in the importance of staff and student representation on governing bodies. I am pleased that you have accepted principles of increased staff and student representation, which we as a committee recommended, and I look forward to seeing the amendments put in place. However, it is important to note that the role of those staff and student members in scrutinising the executive is critical. For them to do so, it is also vital that they be allowed to attend all meetings and be allowed to take part in discussions and vote on all matters. My personal experience demonstrated that this was not always the case. As a higher education governor, I was excluded on many occasions when certain topics were discussed and decisions made. I should not have been. That should not be allowed to happen, and I hope that guidance will be given to this end.
Finally, Minister, I will support this Bill, but I also look forward to the changes and amendments that you are making.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Minister to reply to the debate.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Obviously, I will not be able to get into the full detail of what everyone has contributed this afternoon, although all of it, I think, has been valuable. I will start by welcoming the support that has been given to the general principles of the Bill around the Chamber. Clearly, there will be points of detail that, as we progress through these procedures, we shall argue and debate, but I think that I have today conveyed the Government's desire to take on board many of the recommendations made by Members and committees.
I would say specifically in response to Ann Jones that while the HE aspect of the Bill is largely administrative, I think that obtaining powers to allow data sharing between Welsh Ministers and HMRC will mean that learners in higher education will experience a more effective and streamlined service.
On the observations on the FE provisions within the Bill, ColegauCymru has informed me that it is continuing to work with the joint trade unions to deliver a common contract for the FE sector in Wales, and we are at the stage of undertaking an equality impact assessment. I am very optimistic that rapid progress will be made.
With regard to the greater use of the private sector, this is by no means an automatic or default result of the Bill. Colleges, as autonomous bodies, already have the flexibility to work with the private sector to ensure that skills meet employer needs, thereby supporting one of the key priorities of this Government to improve jobs and growth in Wales, and that needs to continue. As I stated in my opening speech, effective financial controls over funding will remain, and I will share the relevant control documentation, of course, with the CYP committee at Stage 2.
To repeat: I will update the CYP committee also on the outcome of discussions with the Treasury during Stage 2. I have agreed to test the Treasury to formally establish its position. It is true to say, as many Members have commented this afternoon, that we are having to make legislation in this regard because of the decisions of others, but, if we did not, we would be abandoning our post, really, in terms of looking after the sector, and causing it great harm.
Angela Burns is quite right to say that the FE sector in Wales is mature, and something that we can all be proud of. Both Simon Thomas and Aled Roberts have referred to the status of the sector, and to them I would say this, very simply: are our FE institutions a public resource? Yes, of course they are. Are they a public service? Yes, of course they are, and we should police those principles. However, for the sake of avoiding damage to the sector we have to avoid the technical definition of them being inside the public sector, and, indeed, that is where we have been for some years—years in which the FE sector in Wales has gone through huge change and enormous improvement through partnership.
In terms of the comments on additional learning needs this afternoon, I think there is a shared, all-party agenda on that issue, and I intend to work alongside colleagues to ensure the greatest care in terms of making sure that we do no harm in that regard. There is a live agenda as regards ALN, as colleagues will know, in any case. We have to ensure compatibility, and we will return to that, I hope, at Stage 2.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There are no objections, therefore the motion is agreed.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion NDM5301 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, for the purposes of any provisions resulting from the Further and Higher Education (Governance and Information) (Wales) Bill, agrees to any increase in expenditure of a kind referred to in Standing Order 26.69 arising in consequence of the Bill.
I move the motion.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have no speakers, so I assume we can proceed. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There are no objections, therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Before I take the vote, are there three Members who wish for the bell to be rung? There are not.
Result of the vote on motion NDM5249
Motion agreed: For 45, Against 9, Abstain 1.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
That concludes today’s business.
The meeting ended at 18:08.
12. Will the First Minister make a statement on how the Welsh Government is using procurement advice? OAQ(4)1207(FM)
13. What action can the Welsh Government take to prevent charities being gagged on campaigning on issues of importance to them? OAQ(4)1214(FM)
14. What action will the Welsh Government take to improve NHS waiting times in the next Assembly term? OAQ(4)1205(FM)
Discussions with the Ministry of Justice
15. Will the First Minister provide an update on discussions he has had with the Ministry of Justice during the summer recess? OAQ(4)1222(FM)