The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Good afternoon. The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
1. What is the Welsh Government doing to promote fire safety in Wales? OAQ(4)1871(FM)
We continue to support the three Welsh fire and rescue authorities to improve fire safety. Their and our record in this area speaks for itself—fires and fire casualties have more than halved since responsibility was devolved.
Thank you very much for that, First Minister. I attended the Ring of Fire tour by the Fire Brigades Union last Thursday. It has published ‘Sounding the Alarm’, a document for the future of the fire and rescue services. I think that we should be seriously looking at what we expect our fire services to do. It is quite prepared to take budget cuts, but it still does not have proper funding for the other instances of special service calls, such as flooding. It is beginning to wear a little thin when politicians from the UK Government praise the service for the outstanding way in which it operates at flooding instances, but then refuses to actually look at changing the funding formula. May I ask that the next time you meet with the Secretary of State of Wales, you raise this issue on behalf of all the firefighters in Wales?
Yes. I am aware of the Ring of Fire campaign. It was a response in the main, I believe, to the significant reduction in funding in England. I will certainly ask the Minister to take the matter up with Ministers in Whitehall. This is a matter that will be of great concern to so many people. We have to accept that, in Wales, we have had a good record of reducing deaths from fires, and I commend the Member herself for the sterling work that she has done in ensuring that sprinklers are rolled out and even more lives saved.
I am sure that you would agree that policy should follow evidence. What robust evaluation of interventions that work to prevent fire deaths and fire injury has been undertaken? It is now almost five years since the Firebrake Wales charity called for such robust evaluation, stating that those most at risk were due to circumstances, conditions, behaviours and lifestyle choices. I understand that the Welsh Government did at last announce some work earlier this year with the fire and rescue services, but where are we up to and when will we find out what it concluded, and what involvement has Firebrake and other third sector bodies played in this?
We have seen a 53% reduction in the incidence of fire and a 35% reduction in fire-related casualties since responsibility was devolved in 2005. Over 90% of households across Wales have a working smoke alarm, and, since 2004, the three fire and rescue services have undertaken over 500,000 home fire safety checks. The Member asked what evidence there is of promoting fire safety; I offer him that evidence.
We all welcome the statistics that you have quoted, as they are very positive. What assessment has the Government made of the impact of any cuts to the fire service on the ability of the health service to deliver on its responsibilities?
It is for the authorities themselves to carry out such an assessment, and we would expect them to ensure that robust and safe services are available in their areas.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on improvements to the M4? OAQ(4)1867(FM)
We are carrying out a number of improvements to increase capacity and tackle pinch points on the M4.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. You will be aware, of course, of the controversy around the closure of junction 41 in Port Talbot at peak times and the impact that that is having on the communities in that particular area. I understand, of course, that the Welsh Government has given money to the local council to put some improvements in place, and I am monitoring that, but may I ask that you carry out a wider assessment, at a very early stage, of the impact on communities like Baglan, and other communities in that area, of the extra traffic that is being generated as a result of that closure to see whether any further work could be funded to try to alleviate the suffering that many residents are having to put up with?
I can assure the Member that we are still gathering evidence on the effect on the local transport network and the effect on local trade. It is too early yet to draw any strong conclusions. There are early indications that capacity and journey times have improved by around 10% on the motorway. You have to understand, of course, that that particular junction is well below the standard of what we would expect to see these days—it was originally the A48 at one time—and there are structural issues there that are difficult to resolve. However, I can assure the Member that we are looking very carefully at all the evidence, to make a full assessment when the time is right.
First Minister, I thank you for that information, because, clearly, we all agree that improvements need to be made to tackle the congestion, which has an impact on the economy and has an impact on anyone driving along those sections. I am one of those people, in a sense, who suffers as a consequence. However, the solutions are important. Would you agree with me that, if we are looking for solutions, it must not be to the detriment of other routes and that we therefore do not create a problem by solving a problem, and that we need to make sure that roads and routes around the towns that have the M4 congestion need to be reassured that they will actually be able to travel congestion-free as much as possible?
Yes. I know that the Member has made many representations on behalf of his constituents about this issue. There are some challenges that need to be resolved here, particularly access to the shopping centre and local traffic in the area, and, of course, the use of that particular slip road. That has to be balanced, of course, against the need to ensure that there is better traffic flow on what is an exceptionally difficult and narrow section of motorway, which has been inherited over many, many years. What is intended, of course, is that the evidence that is being gathered now will inform any future decision.
First Minister, I asked you last week about the environmental impact assessment that came out in the budget announcements last week, and you directed me to wait for the statement on the Tuesday afternoon from the Minister for finance. No answers were given as to when this impact assessment was going to be undertaken for the Government’s preferred route around Newport. Are you in a position today to say whether that environmental impact assessment will be undertaken between now and the Assembly election in 2016, or is it work that will be undertaken after 2016?
No, the intention is that that environmental impact assessment will take place before the Assembly elections. That would have to take place of course before any construction could begin. The Member will be aware that no construction will begin before 2016.
We note the agreement on the budget, which said that no construction work would start on the M4 in the Newport area until after the next Assembly election, although the Minister for transport made it clear in July that no work would commence in any case until that time. Given that delay—if that is the word to use— in construction, can the First Minister give us an assurance that he will give regular updates on the expenditure on the development of the black route, including the cost of fighting the judicial review, and on the environmental assessment work?
The costs will be open, as per usual. However, while there is a discussion of contracts, it would not be appropriate to give any indication of cost, because of ongoing discussions. However, once that is completed, Members will know what the costs of the project will be.
First Minister, in terms of the M4 around Newport, would you agree that early access to borrowing powers should be available for whatever the Welsh Government concludes is the best solution to those problems, and not restricted to an M4 relief road only?
Yes, I do agree with the Member on that. I think that a bit of flexibility would have been far better in terms of borrowing. We know that early access to borrowing is there solely for the improvement of the M4, and solely for the area that, of course, touches on his constituency. However, I think that we have moved on from the Scottish referendum and that further consideration will need to be given to loosening the restrictions on what projects can be financed through borrowing.
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
First this afternoon, we have the leader of the opposition, Andrew R. T. Davies.
First Minister, two weeks ago, I questioned you on the British Medical Association report that was laid before Members the week before that. The BMA then looked at your responses to First Minister’s questions and issued a letter to Assembly Members signed by nine senior members—all chairmen or chairwomen of the various committees that make up the governance of the BMA. They stand by the report, and they also make some very damning criticism in that letter of the actions of your Government. You based your evidence, to the contrary, on your six college friends, or the ones that you lodged with in Cardiff—when you ‘first moved to Cardiff’, I think was the term that you used. Who is right? Is the BMA right that the current state of the NHS in Wales requires an independent inquiry, or are your six college muckers right?
Oh dear, oh dear—I went to Aberystwyth, not Cardiff, for a start. He knows that better than anybody. Secondly, if he reads the transcript very, very carefully, he will find that that is not what I said. But let us return to the serious issue here, which is that the BMA is in a position that we do not agree with when it says that the NHS is in a position of imminent meltdown, although we are more than happy, of course, to talk to it, and I know that an invitation has been issued by the Minister for health with that aim in mind. We are more than happy to have the BMA as a critical friend. That is important in terms of the democratic process in Wales, and there will be issues from time to time on which we do not agree with it, this being one of those situations.
First Minister, I think that we all know that you went to Aberystwyth, but it was your terminology that addressed them as your college chums when you lodged here in Cardiff—
No, it was not.
I think that if you check the Record of Proceedings, it will show that.
Check it yourself.
If we look at the actual wording of the letter that was put forward by the nine senior individuals from the BMA, the one term that jumps out, which is quite disturbing for anyone with the interests of the Welsh NHS apart, is this:
‘the heavy-handed retribution of their own management structures’.
It is talking about the fact that, when clinicians raise issues of genuine concern with the management in the NHS, they fear retribution once those points are made to them. Do you think that that is a way to conduct the affairs of the NHS in Wales, where retribution is meted out?
Of course not, nor would we accept that that is the case. He does need to read the transcript, but there we are; that is a side issue now.
As far as the issue of complaints and whistleblowing goes, these are discussions that were already occurring between the BMA and the Government, which is why it surprised us that this appeared in the middle of those discussions. However, those discussions must continue. If there are concerns about complaints and concerns about whistleblowing, of course, the discussions that have already been taking place will continue.
I think from your more measured answers today that there does seem to be an acknowledgement that the points raised by the BMA are worthy of further consideration and dialogue as, ultimately, is the call that it has made for an independent inquiry here in Wales into the issues and challenges that the Welsh NHS faces. Do you accept the point that it is making, and in particular the nine signatories from the consultants committee of the BMA, right down to the junior doctors and students committee of the BMA, that what we need, to address these issues, whether in north, mid or south Wales, is a countrywide independent inquiry into what is going on in the Welsh NHS?
I can say that the NHS is at breaking point according to the BMA, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives—in England. That was a letter that was written on 6 October to his own party. So, I think that we have to accept here that the BMA, along with other organisations, have a point to make. That point will not necessarily be agreed by Government. I am sure that the UK Government does not agree with the letter that was sent to it on 6 October—an open letter from the BMA and others. I do not accept that an investigation is needed in Wales when, apparently, according to him, it is not needed in England, despite the fact that they say that the situation is exactly the same.
Secondly, I do not believe that it is in the interests of Welsh patients that money should be diverted from patient care to some kind of investigation. I know that the phrase used was ‘imminent meltdown’. I saw it. Well, three weeks on, the NHS is not in imminent meltdown, nor will it be next month, the month after that, or the month after that. Nevertheless, it is important, of course, to continue to discuss these things with the BMA, and the only appeal I would make is that our door is always open. The BMA has always made its point publicly when it has felt that it has needed to in the past. We have listened. We have not always agreed, and I am sure that that will be the case in the future. Above all, it is important that discussions continue so that the points that are made, and are strongly felt, clearly, by the BMA, can be dealt with by Government. The Minister for health and I stand ready to continue discussions with it.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
It is clear that there are specific and legitimate concerns that have been raised by BMA Cymru that need to be addressed by Government. Would the First Minister accept that there is a culture problem among managers in the health service in terms of respecting the role of whistleblowers who seek to speak out in order to improve services?
There is no evidence of that, but, as the ongoing discussions will no doubt seek to resolve, that is something that we want to explore with the BMA and others. Bear in mind, of course, that with the complaints process, there has been a recent independent investigation, published in July of this year, looking at that process and how it could be improved.
I welcome the fact that the First Minister at least recognises that more needs to be done on this question. As his Government seeks to rebuild bridges and address the concerns that have been raised, will he give assurances today that he will fully consider the proposals from the BMA for a comprehensive raising-concerns charter for the Welsh NHS?
These are issues that can be discussed, of course, as part of the discussions. The only thing that we could not accept is the need for an independent investigation and, of course, any suggestion that the NHS is at the point of imminent meltdown. There is an irony in saying that the NHS in Wales is at the point of imminent meltdown and then saying that there may be problems recruiting in the future. The two things are not unconnected, but these things have been said; let us make sure that, in the future, we get to the place that both the BMA and we want to be in. That is, of course, an ever-strengthening Welsh health service.
It is vital, First Minister, that you now demonstrate your willingness to consider fully proposals from medical professionals. Having had time now to fully reflect on the letter that was sent out to all Assembly Members from BMA Cymru and the debate that has followed, do you now regret in any way how you have handled relations with the medical profession in Wales?
No. I think a comment was made that was not wise. It was a comment that we disagreed with; we made that clear. We do not agree with the suggestion that there should be an independent investigation, and we note that other organisations are not calling for it. That is a disagreement. You cannot agree with people all the time, simply because of who they are. However, that has been the case in the past week. The point is that we, and I think this is also true for the BMA, want to make sure that we move forward now, and that means ensuring that we get to a point in the NHS where we see it strengthening ever more. Discussions have always been taking place between ourselves and the BMA, particularly with regard to complaints and whistleblowing, and we will always, of course, listen carefully and seriously to any complaints in that regard that it may have.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Finally, I call the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
First Minister, in March 2012, when I asked you to put on record your commitment to the target of getting Wales into the top 20 nations in the Programme for International Student Assessment by 2015, you said:
‘Yes, that is our target; in 2015, we expect to fulfil it.’
You said exactly the same last year when I asked you to commit yourself to that target. Will you now outline what has gone so spectacularly wrong with your education policy that you have abandoned it?
I do not think that it has gone spectacularly wrong. Of course, I know that the Minister for Education and Skills will be making a statement on this later this afternoon.
The question is, First Minister: when did you change your mind? You have repeatedly committed yourself and your Government to that target in this Chamber. From what I can see from your Minister for education’s papers, there is now no target for the 2015 Welsh PISA results. Will you outline this afternoon what exactly parents can expect from Wales’s PISA results next year?
There are many things that they can expect. First, we have been working hard with the schools involved to make sure that they take the exam seriously. That is an important thing. Secondly, we will be ensuring that students understand the importance of PISA in terms of Wales’s projection to the world, even though it may not affect them personally as individuals. Schools Challenge Cymru has also been a very good scheme in terms of raising the standard in many of the schools where that standard needed to be raised. There is also the pupil deprivation grant, which is something that she and I have discussed in the past and which we look forward to rolling out further in the future.
If we ever needed an example of the absolute poverty of ambition from this Government, then it came last week. One of your most staunchly defended targets in the Chamber has been ditched—although perhaps we should not be surprised, given that your own Government’s adviser described it as ‘plain stupid’. The response from your Minister is a new ambitious target to put us in the same place in 2021 as Scotland last year. That is hardly striving for ambition, First Minister. When can the people, children and parents of Wales expect to see a Government that is aiming for excellence instead of settling for mediocrity?
I must say, with due respect to the leader of the Liberal Democrats, that it is very difficult for her to lecture us on targets and changes when one of the first things her party did in London was to abandon a core commitment with regard to tuition fees; the ground was slightly shaky in that regard. The parents of Wales are already seeing improvements. We saw improvements in GCSE results in the summer, and we expect those improvements to continue. We have seen the great strides that are being made in schools as a result of Schools Challenge Cymru, and we will be working closely with schools and with students to make sure that they understand that PISA is important. That is a fundamental message. It is not something that is a sideline. It is important in terms of the way that Wales projects itself in the world, despite the fact that for students themselves, of course, it does not affect their overall grades. That is an important message and one that we will continue to push over the next few months and years.
3. What progress is being made to develop the Metro for south-east Wales? OAQ(4)1880(FM)
We recently published an update report setting out progress to date on the metro, including actions for the next phase of delivery. The Minister plans to update Members shortly with regard to further progress.
What chance do you give that work on the metro can start before 2016 and that at least part of it will be completed by 2020? You will be aware of the targets that will be set by the European Commission. Would that include the possibility of creating an urban development corporation in order to streamline the process?
A number of options could be looked at with regard to how the metro would be run. I can say that work is already under way on delivering improvements, such as the new station at Ebbw Vale town. There will be feasibility work over the next 18 months on a number of emerging interventions. There are two issues here, of course, that are outside our control. First, there needs to be an agreement on electrification; we hope that that will happen soon. Secondly, rail is not fully devolved, which means that we are not able to put in place the timetable that we want because, unlike in Scotland, rail infrastructure is still a matter for Whitehall.
As you will know, Professor Brian Morgan of the Cardiff capital region advisory board yesterday called for the creation of an urban development corporation to ensure that there is an integrated transport system in south Wales. Would you, First Minister, be thinking of something like the Manchester mass transit authority as a model and is this a way of really ensuring delivery of an integrated transport system in south-east Wales?
We are considering a number of models, including the model that the Member has indicated. What is important, of course, is that the model delivers a holistic and integrated service. That much we understand. We are looking at how this has been done in other parts of the UK and further afield in order to look at what the most effective provision might be.
First Minister, connecting our most disconnected communities must surely be the most important aim for the metro and, as you will be aware, in the east of Cardiff we have some of the biggest disconnected communities in Wales. It is two years this week since you gave a speech pledging to investigate the feasibility of opening a station in east Cardiff, perhaps in St Mellons, so when can we expect to see feasibility studies on that published?
Of course, we have to ensure that the issue of electrification is resolved first. As I say, we are hopeful—the UK Government has said the same thing publicly—that that will be done soon to the satisfaction of all. Of course, the feasibility studies will then be able to continue. However, the Member is quite right to say that the people of eastern Cardiff can often see the south Wales main line but have no real access to it. We understand that and we know that there are communities there that would wish to have their own rail service. That is something, certainly, that we are proactive in looking at.
First Minister, one of the exciting parts about the metro proposals is not only the opening of new lines but also the reopening of dormant lines. For example, for people in my constituency, there is Llantrisant, where there are proposals for a new line, but we still have the Pontyclun to Tynant, Beddau line. Is that something that will feature in the consideration of the metro project?
In principle, yes, but a case would have to be made for reopening the line. I am aware of it and the level crossing that exists, which would need to be upgraded; we know that. I remember the line when it carried coke from Beddau and from Cwm Colliery; it has not been used since then. The line is still there, and where rail lines are still in situ then, of course, it is easier to give consideration to reopening them. However, I stress that a full business case would have to be made.
First Minister, I was pleased to see the update on the metro, especially the extension at Ebbw Vale into the town and, of course, the new station at Pye Corner. If you cannot achieve a positive resolution to the funding dispute with the current UK Government, do you envisage that the new one coming in next year will be more accommodating? If not, would you consider using borrowing powers in order that this scheme can become a reality?
I thank the Member for her faith that there will be a new Government in London next year. [Laughter.] Ideally, we need to ensure that full control of the railways, with a proper financial settlement following, is devolved. I think that that is the easiest way of doing it. We must be careful of investing too much in areas that are not within the devolved control of the Assembly, because that means that it is a saving for Whitehall, and there are issues there. We do it sometimes, where there is a proven case, but ideally we would want to see devolution plus the finances following. That would then make it far easier to look at reopening some of the freight lines that we still have, and to expand the metro in the future.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the current capacity of the M4? OAQ(4)1879(FM)
I refer the Member to the answer that I gave to question 2.
Thank you, First Minister, and I am aware of the answer that you gave subsequent to that. I wanted to raise the point that I stood at the roundabout last Friday and witnessed, during the closure between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., the increased traffic along the A48, and the effect that it is having on local people—it is quite an effect. There is great concern about that. Local people are also raising the point that this has cost £1.3 million to date, and wonder whether you consider this to be a good investment. You also mentioned that mitigation measures would be introduced to junctions along the nearby A48 trunk road. Can you explain that, in simple terms, for them?
This is a trial closure at the moment. We are assessing all the evidence, and that will include traffic flows away from the M4. We cannot get away from the fact, however, that it is an exceptionally crowded section of the road with more than one sub-standard junction—something that has been inherited over many years, since the 1960s. Ensuring that traffic flows along the M4 while not increasing the burden unreasonably on people who live in the area is a balance that will have to be struck. In order to do that, we need the evidence of this closure, and that is something that we will look at very carefully.
First Minister, following on from this, I think that my colleagues in South Wales West are being quite modest in explaining the situation. From the videos that I have seen online, it has been creating traffic chaos in and around Baglan, notwithstanding people reversing their cars when they go up the wrong way because they do not realise that a junction is closed, because the signs are quite often wrong on those junction closures. I want to understand how you will be using not only the written observations by people to make a final decision, but also other evidence, such as these videos and the pictures that campaigners are taking day in, day out, because they are suffering from this current situation, First Minister.
We will look at all relevant evidence, but we cannot escape the fact that it has been quite common on that stretch of that road for traffic to tail back all the way to Margam, particularly on a Friday. That makes it very difficult not just for people travelling but also to ensure that investment goes beyond that section of the road. So, we are exploring ways of ensuring that traffic flows more freely on that section of road, while at the same time looking—we have the distributor road, fairly newly opened, past the steelworks to carry a lot of traffic—to ensure that local traffic is still able to flow.
Staying with the topic of the part-time closure of junction 41, back in May of this year I received a petition from a number of local residents—in fact, it ran to many thousands—promoted by the local business community and local celebrity, Captain Beany, calling on your Minister for a change of heart on this particular issue. In the most recent correspondence that I have received from the Minister, she indicated that the plan would be for the Traffic Wales website to capture, over a number of months, the evidence that has been accumulated, which we have heard about anecdotally today. First Minister, will you assure us that the Welsh Government, together with Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, will promote this evidence gathering and that this facility is up and running, in order to take this urgent matter forward?
Yes, of course. We need to ensure that the evidence is there, first of all. The only way to gather the evidence, of course, is to examine what happens with the trial closure. With regard to Captain Beany, I believe that the gentleman once stood as a candidate for this place, back in 1999 in Aberavon; he received, I think, over 700 votes. I know that he is a particularly committed, if unorthodox, activist locally. I can assure him and all the people who live in that area that we will consider all the relevant evidence before coming to a final conclusion.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government policy on providing choices to students completing their GCSEs when wishing to pursue post-16 education? OAQ(4)1874(FM)
The policy is that we provide young people with the advice, guidance and information needed for them to decide for themselves what post-16 options best suit them. That is supported by Careers Wales and through the new youth guarantee that incorporates a web-based searchable prospectus and application process.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. I am sure that you agree with me that as young people complete their GCSEs and look forward to further studies, it is important that they have the opportunities to realise their full potential. Some would benefit from attending a sixth form, traditionally within a school environment, while others would benefit from a more tertiary-type education, where they often have greater self-management. Will the Welsh Government ensure that local authorities have policies in place to ensure that that choice is available to pupils and that their choice is supported, thereby allowing every young person in Wales to follow the best pathway for them to realise their potential?
Yes. We would expect local authorities, of course, to look very carefully at any planned changes to education provision. We would expect them to follow any existing guidance, but it would be for them to decide how they wish to move forward. Under certain circumstances, of course, there is a possibility of a referral to a Minister.
First Minister, it is crucially important that the provision of post-16 education works jointly with the Welsh Government’s strategy for reducing the numbers of those not in employment, education or training in order to tackle exclusion among young people. So, can you tell us what progress the Welsh Government has made in developing a consistent modus operandi, and using early warning systems across Wales, in order to identify those young people who are at risk of being excluded from the education system?
If you look at what we are doing with the youth guarantee and with Jobs Growth Wales—I have mentioned that many times in this Chamber—and, of course, the work that is being done by Careers Wales, you have three examples there of what is being done to assist young people, and there are a number of other examples too.
First Minister, how are you going to maintain the range of options for pupils post 16 when you are cutting the 14 to 19 grant this year, in-year, of up to £4.4 million, which is going to make it extremely difficult, particularly in rural areas, to sustain those options, and when you propose in the budget a further cut of £26 million in this particular area?
The budget has been extremely difficult and painful cuts have had to be made. I must remind the Member that his party had an opportunity to be part of those negotiations, but they refused to be part of those negotiations.
First Minister, the Joint Council for Qualifications figures show that, of 36,000 applicants for A and AS levels in political studies in Britain this year, only 737 or 2% of those are in Wales. So, from those figures, only one in every 211 students in Wales actually studies political studies, as compared to one in every 46 in Northern Ireland. We saw during the Scottish referendum how important political engagement among our young people is. So, what steps can the Welsh Government take to tackle this lack of understanding of politics and the fact that pupils do not study the subject in our schools?
That is not an easy question to answer—we all know that as politicians ourselves. Political studies is something that is relatively new to the curriculum and so it is extremely important that it is studied as a subject of importance, and that can take a little time. Northern Ireland is different when you bear in mind its history. However, may I therefore ask the Minister to write to you on the point that you made on political studies? On the broader point that you made with regard to the ways in which we can ensure that young people feel part of the political system, I will ask the Minister to reply to you on that point as well and therefore, hopefully, you will receive a reply.
Complaints to Local Health Boards
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on how complaints to local health boards regarding inadequate or inappropriate care are handled? OAQ(4)1878(FM)
Yes. All complaints made to local health boards must be handled in accordance with the guidance set out in Putting Things Right.
First Minister, I am sure that you are aware of the tragic case of Timothy Cowen from my region who died following inappropriate care under Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board. The inquest was delayed by many, many months because of delays in dealing with the complaint put in by his family. It is clear that complaints to local health boards have risen in recent years with figures from between 2009-10 and 2012-13 seeing a rise of over 40% across Wales. I appreciate that work is being done with new complaints, but what is being done to address the backlog of complaints that there is in many health boards and to ensure that other families do not go through the kind of delay that Timothy Cowen’s family suffered before the inquest could be opened?
We have to make it clear that such events are unacceptable. That much has to be made absolutely clear. We are determined to ensure that such a tragic loss of life is prevented in the future. How are we doing that? Well, the care bundle for people with a learning disability in a general hospital setting was launched in January this year. It sets out the pathway to be followed when an adult with a learning disability accesses hospital care. Furthermore, a champion has been identified in each of the health boards to take the care bundle initiative forward in their areas, and progress will be audited in January 2015.
The Member mentioned older complaints and suggested that there was a backlog of complaints. I am not clear that there is evidence that there is a substantial backlog in all local health boards in Wales. Should there be one, we would, of course, expect that backlog to be cleared in a reasonable and appropriate time.
First Minister, the complaints and whistleblowing processes within the Welsh NHS are frequently issues of concern raised with me by constituents. The Welsh Liberal Democrats have previously called for a dedicated whistleblowing hotline to help deal with these issues effectively and quickly. What steps is your Government taking to improve the whistleblowing and complaints procedures for anybody who wants to raise concerns?
These matters are currently under consideration. The Member will be aware of the review in July this year that looked at this issue and of course, as I mentioned earlier, this has been the subject of ongoing discussions between the Government and the British Medical Association. That does not cover the whole health service, of course, but it covers one aspect of it. That builds on what has already been published in July this year.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on fair funding for Wales? OAQ(4)1883(FM)
Resolving the fair funding issue remains a key aim of the Welsh Government.
Fair funding means a change to the Barnett formula. The Prime Minister David Cameron has made no comment on the issue, Nick Clegg has said that he does not want to unstitch the formula—whatever that means—and the leader of your party, Ed Miliband, has said that he is willing to look at the issue. For clarity for the people of Wales, can you refer us to a note, a letter or an e-mail where Ed Miliband has said that he will actually put right this deficit of £300 million that you have identified in the formula?
If I recall, he stated in a public interview in the media. As the Member knows, I have said that a number of times in this Chamber and outwith this Chamber. What is important to us as a Government is that the funding that Wales deserves should come to Wales and the method of it getting here is not quite as important. The important thing is that the money should come here. Of course, that is not something that we can see continuing in the years to come.
First Minister, do you share my concern that the Barnett floor that is being proposed by different people at different times as a solution to the Barnett formula is fine to protect the Welsh budget at a time when the economy is growing, but it is not so good when economic growth is shrinking?
That much is true. It is a start, but it does not go far enough in terms of resolving the issue of fair funding. I hear what the Member says and I look forward to him and his party committing to ensuring that Wales gets the funding that it deserves.
Transport for Post-16 Learners
8. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's plans to support those who need transport to their place of post-16 education or training? OAQ(4)1873(FM)
Last week’s draft budget included an additional £5 million to fund a concessionary fare scheme to help more young people to access education and training or to enter employment. Officials are working to implement the new scheme by September 2015.
Of course, we welcome your announcement last week, but will the scheme be extended to allow learners free travel to Welsh-language or faith-school sixth forms? If so, would you expect some local authorities to reverse decisions to scrap free travel for those learners?
The Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008, of course, contains the law with regard to this. It makes it clear what local authorities have to do in law and what they are required to do in terms of encouraging, for example, students to enter Welsh-medium education. That Measure should be followed.
As we now, as a society, First Minister, accept that young people stay, and encourage them to stay, in education, training or some sort of workplace until they get to 18 at least, so that they are not idle, is it not appropriate for local authorities and central Government to ensure that transport is available to those people, be it for Welsh-medium education, apprenticeships or college education? It is extremely important that this should be a national objective, is it not?
That is why, of course, we have the new scheme, as per the budget, which is going to assist in this. As regards Welsh-medium education, local authorities must consider the duty placed upon them to promote education through the medium of Welsh and they must ensure that they understand that when they consider any issue regarding school transport. Having said that, more broadly, when the scheme that I have mentioned begins in September of next year, it will assist a number of young people in securing both education and employment.
9. Will the First Minister make a statement on the financial position of the health service? OAQ(4)1872(FM)
The health service in Wales, as is the case with every other public body, operates in a challenging economic climate. However, the Member will know about the additional funding that was announced as part of the budget.
First Minister, Ed Miliband recently pledged an increase of £2.5 billion for the funding of the NHS in England and said that that is partially to be funded by a tax on tobacco companies. You will recall that you had been critical of the Plaid Cymru proposal to fund an increase in the number of doctors and NHS funding through a tax on sugary drinks. Are you now in a position to agree with Ed Miliband and Plaid Cymru that there is room for Pigovian taxes on sugary drinks, alcohol or tobacco in order to ensure increased spending on the NHS?
No, I do not think that there is a link there. It is one thing to say that you want to tax alcohol or tobacco and use that funding. That is fine. It is quite another thing to say that you want to place a tax on something and then use that tax to do something specific.
Yes, but that is what Ed Miliband has said—£2.5 billion.
The situation is still the same for me. If you want to levy a tax on drinks—[Interruption.]
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Order. You are not having a conversation. I am sorry, First Minister.
If you are going to levy a tax on soft drinks, you must ensure that people continue to drink those drinks in order to ensure that the funding is still there to pay for something year on year. That is true of everything. It is always extremely difficult to make a link between a tax and a specific project. That is still true of anything.
The one way to suck money out of all our public services would be to follow their proposals for independence in Wales, which, of course, they fail to remember on many occasions. May I just ask you a quesetion, First Minister? The Welsh national health service benefited from some additional resource to extend the provision for veterans in the Welsh NHS. There was an additional £100,000, which was very welcome investment indeed, in the current financial year, but there has been no indication as of yet as to whether that finance will be sustained in future years. Can you put on record today whether that additional resource will be added to the resources that are already available on an annual basis for the veterans NHS Wales service, in order to reduce the very long waiting times in some parts of Wales?
We will never let our veterans down. I have made that clear on many occasions. Veterans in Wales will not be in a detrimental position compared with veterans elsewhere in the UK. That is a commitment that we make, and it is a commitment that I am sure that Members in the Chamber will share.
Smoking in Cars Carrying Children
10. What has been the outcome of the consultation announced in July on the decision to ban smoking in cars carrying children? OAQ(4)1865(FM)
A six-week public consultation was launched on 11 September and will close on 24 October.
First Minister, you will be aware that the medical profession is united in its bid to have smoking in cars carrying children banned as soon as possible. We really need this action to take place now, because, as with the ban on smacking, which is possibly the longest debate in world politics, I do not want to be talking about this issue in 12 years’ time, and we need action now, please.
That is the plan.
First Minister, I just wonder what consideration has been taken into account with the consultation as regards the ban and the enforcement of a fixed-penalty notice of £50, when one realises that if you carry a mobile phone now it is an illegal activity, and it is up to £1,000, yet we do see drivers using mobile phones. How can you build into any future legislation something that actually means that we can police this and that we actually do, once and for all, prevent people from smoking while children are present in cars?
Well, the £50 fine that is proposed is at the same level as the fine for smoking in a public vehicle. Of course, this is out to consultation at the moment, so this is not a final figure. However, that is the proposed level. We will look at any submissions that come in with regard to whether that level should be increased.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister for Finance and Government Business, Jane Hutt.
I have one change to report to this week’s business. Later today, the Minister for Health and Social Services will make an oral statement to update Members on the public health White Paper. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the agenda papers available to Members electronically.
Leader of the house, I was disturbed last week when the Government made a statement on the Thursday in relation to its aspirations for PISA targets. Also, it was heavily trailed in the press, so, obviously, the briefings must have gone on on the Wednesday for it to be in the press on the Thursday. However, it is only now, this afternoon, that a statement is being brought to the Chamber for Members to ask their own questions. As leader of the house, I would be grateful if you could explain exactly why the Government chose to ignore the opportunity last Tuesday to bring forward such a statement. We broke at 4.45 p.m. after voting on Government day, so there was plenty of time for that statement. Does it not show complete disrespect for Members in this Chamber when the Government trails things in the media first, and then chooses to bring a statement forward for Members to question the Minister on?
Secondly, is it possible to have a statement from the Minister for health in relation to the news—well, it is not so much news, as it has been around for some time, but a lot of people are unaware of it—of the ability to seek treatment in Europe if the Welsh NHS is unable to undertake a procedure in Wales. As I understand it, this has been a long-standing obligation or benefit—call it what you will—that patients can explore, along with their GPs, yet there seems to be no or little information around this made available to patients in Wales. Is it possible to have a statement from the Minister for health in which he can outline exactly what the Welsh NHS does to promote such a facility that will alleviate much of the waiting that some people find themselves put to, and that lasts longer than 36 weeks in some instances?
I thank Andrew R.T. Davies for his questions on my business statement. I think it is very important that the Minister for Education and Skills is bringing forward an oral statement on ‘Qualified for life’ this afternoon. It will give the Assembly a full opportunity to question him on that important statement. The point that you raise about EU cross-border treatment is important. I think that clarification would be helpful. Guidance has been issued to the NHS on implementing the directive. This is the cross-border healthcare and patient mobility directive, and it will be a matter for individual health boards to determine the level of reimbursement based on the same treatment being provided at home.
Minister, I would like to request a debate in Government time on the implementation and impact of universal credit in Wales. Despite the plethora of changes to welfare benefits that we have seen since 2010, this probably represents the biggest single change of them all. With Iain Duncan Smith last week setting out plans to significantly accelerate the nationwide roll-out of the scheme, despite the unmitigated IT disasters, despite the endless change of leadership at the Department for Work and Pensions, and despite the warnings from the Wales Trades Union Congress on the five-week benefit wait, it is essential that we in Wales are ready and prepared for these changes.
Lynne Neagle raises a very important issue, because it is an important issue in terms of the introduction, implementation and impact of universal credit. It is a huge issue in terms of the impact on our families and communities, but it also has an impact on the way that we deliver our services and policies nationally and locally in Wales. The Minister, I am sure, has agreed, and I am very happy as Minister for government business, to table a debate on this point.
Minister, you have stated that it is important that an oral statement is to be made this afternoon on the ‘Qualified for life’ programme. The programme states that other decisions will be taken in October on revamping the categorisation system for secondary schools. May I encourage you, therefore, to ensure that the Government does make an oral statement on that decision in October rather than a written statement?
I will certainly draw this to the attention of the Minister for Education and Skills. I know that this is a very important development that has received widespread interest and also recognition that this is a step forward in the right direction. I will, of course, raise this matter with him in terms of further statements.
We call for two statements. The first is on hospice care. This, as the Minister might be aware, is Hospice Care Week, when over 100 hospices across Wales and elsewhere in the UK are working to raise public awareness of the diversity of care provided. During recess, Welsh Government announced its latest funding package for hospices, which appeared, unless read closely, to be an increase, but was, in fact, a funding freeze. There had been a real-terms cut in the funding over five years. The sector wants to work closely with the statutory sector, health boards, Welsh Government and social services departments on the basis that they ask the sector how it can help the statutory services to deliver more with the resource available by maintaining and increasing their share of the funding in order to save more in those statutory services. I would, therefore, welcome a statement, particularly ahead of the 17 October meeting of the cross-party group on hospices and palliative care in north Wales, which will be attended by the north Wales hospices and, we hope, representatives of the health board and other key bodies as well.
Secondly and finally, but hugely importantly, I call for a Welsh Government statement, a response, to the history-making referendum in Flint last Thursday, in which 99.3% voted ‘yes’ in favour of returning NHS in-patient beds to Flint. We know from BBC polling that most people in Wales still think that the health service in Wales is run by the UK Government when we all know that it is run by the Government of which you are a member, and has been since 1999. We know that previous Ministers have found it appropriate to intervene in matters affecting community hospitals and local beds. We know that the loss of those of those beds has added to problems in terms of delayed transfer of care, hospital waiting times and ambulance queues. We know that local democracy has spoken and we know that delivering on this could be part of the solution to the problem. Please, therefore, advise how the Welsh Government will respond to this history-making referendum in the interests of the people of Flint and the others for whom they trailblazed across Wales.
I think that the important relationships that we have developed over the years, as far as the partnership with hospices is concerned, are pioneering. They are very importantly steered and guided by international experts such as the doctor and professor Baroness Ilora Finlay. Also, I think that you have recognised over the years, Mark Isherwood, that, despite the challenges that we face in terms of the cuts from your Government to our budget, which, of course, places all of our services under a great deal of pressure, we have excellent working relationships with our hospices. Of course, that is recognised by the Minister for Health and Social Services, as we acknowledge on this important day in terms of hospice services across Wales. It is a fact that, of course, we are ring-fencing hospice funding and I think that, actually, is a real demonstration of our commitment, given the pressures that we are facing in terms of public finances.
In terms of your statement, which, I would have to say, is ill-advised, about the situation in Flint, you are referring to a very important local matter for local people. The health board set out its plans for the future of healthcare in Flint on 26 September. That proposal on future services was not referred to any Welsh Minister by the community health council, which you acknowledge is the important patients’ voice in terms of health matters. What is very important for local people is that the new primary care resource centre in the town is an opportunity, and it is an opportunity where, of course, local people will be engaged in looking at prospects for a joint health-housing scheme and providing the integrated health centre with extra care provision.
Minister, first, could we have a written statement with regard to pension rights for on-call or retained firefighters? In my constituency, we have retained firefighters only. Although my understanding is that the English fire and rescue service issued guidelines and implemented them several months ago, enquiries to fire services here in Wales have been met with the answer that there has been no such guidance issued by the Welsh Government. I would be grateful for clarity on this issue.
Secondly, at present, significant roadworks are being undertaken on the A483 in Builth town centre. Luckily, the lower part of those roadworks has finished two weeks ahead of schedule, much to everyone’s delight. However, the second half of the road closure cannot go ahead for another two weeks due to the issue of road traffic closure orders. Is there any way that the Welsh Government could intervene to expedite the roadworks in Builth Wells and remove the traffic lights at Llanelwedd?
On the first point, I will draw the Minister’s attention to the issues regarding guidance for retained firefighters, in terms of their pension rights. I cannot imagine that the Minister for transport herself will be removing these traffic lights. However, this is a very serious point in terms of timelines, and, of course, I will draw it to her attention. It is very good that that stretch of the A483 has been completed two weeks ahead of schedule. That is good news.
I ask for two statements. The first is a statement from the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport on the A55 resilience programme, which is causing problems across the whole of north Wales, as a result of the damage being done to the economy. There are miles and miles of cones across the A55, but there appears to be precious little work taking place. Unfortunately, regarding the pinch points on the A55 that are experiencing these problems, there is insufficient advertising to motorists, frankly, so that they can change their plans if maintenance work is proposed. There are signs on some of the slip roads that go on to the A55, but they are not sufficiently descriptive to tell people exactly which days the traffic flows are going to be impacted. I would like a statement from the Minister to know precisely what her department does to ensure that the disruption to traffic is absolutely minimal and that it has as little impact on the north Wales economy as possible. It is not acceptable that people are not able to get to work. It is not acceptable that people are having problems in terms of customers being able to access their businesses either, but that is the reality of the situation on the ground.
Secondly, I ask for a statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services on the news today that there is now a police investigation under way into patient care on the Tawel Fan mental health ward in the Ablett unit in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. These are very serious matters. Patients will want to be assured, as, indeed, will their families, that the Welsh Government is fully sighted of the issues at Tawel Fan, and, indeed, that it is taking any necessary action to ensure that patients are protected, not just in north Wales but elsewhere as well. I can see the Minister shaking his head. I think that that is very disappointing. All I am seeking is reassurances that the Minister is fully sighted of these problems, and that there is an opportunity for him to address this house on the situation in north Wales and to tell us precisely what action he is taking, along with the board, to resolve the situation to everybody’s satisfaction. I appreciate that this is a police investigation, but there are wider implications for governance within health boards across Wales.
I take your point. Clearly, the roadworks on the A55 are disruptive, but of course they are essential. As you recognise, they are essential to enhance the resilience of the A55. So, I am sure that you will appreciate that, if they are essential, then of course, we have to address this in terms of the resilience. So, I will also say that our understanding is—and I am not sure whether you are aware of this—that work is being undertaken at night to minimise disruption, and there are some traffic management issues during the day. However, that again, I have to say, Darren Millar, is for the safety of the workforce and the public. You cannot have lane closures, in terms of the impact on workforce safety, without ensuring that you have those safety fence foundations. Of course, we regret inconvenience, but the resilience and the improvements will have a beneficial impact in terms of the economy.
On your second point, it is very important that you take account of the legal circumstances and the investigation into patient care at Tawel Fan ward at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. It is absolutely appropriate that the Minister does not comment on this at this stage.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sargeant.
Yesterday, I laid the Planning (Wales) Bill, together with the explanatory memorandum, before the National Assembly for Wales. This is a key piece of legislation for the Assembly, as it provides the first opportunity to amend planning law to provide a system that delivers for Wales. If passed, the legislation will provide the tools to achieve a fair and resilient planning service, enabling delivery of the homes, jobs and infrastructure required by all our communities. I am very grateful to the Environment and Sustainability Committee, stakeholders and individuals who provided thoughtful comments on the draft Planning (Wales) Bill, which have helped me to refine the Bill. I was particularly pleased by the degree of consensus that was reached on the draft proposals.
At its heart, the Bill has a number of objectives, which I will highlight today. First, the Bill enhances the role of the development plan as the key tool to support the sustainable growth of our communities, to protect our most important built and natural environments, and to support the use of the Welsh language. This will be achieved by introducing a national development framework to replace the Wales spatial plan, and by elevating strategic planning issues from individual local development plans, where they have been dealt with inconsistently, to a new strategic plan. Strategic development plans will ensure a consistent, effective and efficient approach to the consideration and resolution of cross- boundary issues, and they will be overseen by a strategic planning panel made up of local authority representatives and social, economic and environmental stakeholders.
The Bill is not about adding unnecessary bureaucracy; rather, these proposals are about redistributing existing activities, ensuring that key decisions are taken once rather than numerous times so that the best outcomes can be achieved. I do not expect strategic development plans to be prepared for the whole of Wales, but only where there is a clear need. The Bill also fine-tunes the local development plan process to ensure that those plans continue to be relevant, up to date and effective, and it provides a legislative basis to require joint plans to be prepared by two or more local planning authorities, where this course of action is appropriate.
Secondly, the Bill sets out a modernised service delivery framework for the planning system. I have made no secret of my view that a key ingredient necessary to improve the planning system is a reduction in the number of local planning authorities from the number 25. The Bill provides the legislative basis for effective collaboration at a local level, and existing powers have been updated to create more resilient local planning authorities with extended responsibilities and access to a wider range of specialist skills. This approach complements our wider proposals as a Government to reform the delivery of local services through the merger of authorities. I believe that the Welsh Ministers should take responsibility for the direct provision of planning services in clearly defined circumstances.
The Bill sets out a limited redefinition of roles and responsibilities with regard to the determination of planning applications, to ensure that planning decisions are made at the appropriate level of government. In future, Ministers will decide planning applications of ‘national significance’ to Wales within the confines provided by the current devolution settlement. The legislation makes full provision for local communities and their representatives to make their views known, ensuring that local concerns are considered to the full as part of the decision-making process. Local planning authorities remain the primary decision maker for the overwhelming majority of planning applications. However, where local planning authorities are consistently performing poorly, applicants will have the option to submit major planning applications directly to Welsh Ministers.
Thirdly, the Bill makes a number of improvements to the development management system, to provide an enabling approach to development, and to allow communities to influence what is built. The Bill provides a legislative framework to formalise pre-application discussions and community consultation on major development proposals, to ensure that any issues are resolved at the earliest possible time. This will result in planning applications being more robust and being approved more speedily, enabling the development that our country requires. Other improvements to the development management system will ensure a fairer system for all, including the proposals to standardise planning committee procedures.
Fourthly, the Bill will provide an effective enforcement system. Enforcement remains an important tool to maintain community confidence in the planning system. My proposed changes to the enforcement system will assist in securing prompt, meaningful action against breaches of planning control, while limiting the possibility of offenders delaying enforcement action, by closing the loopholes in the existing policy.
Finally, the appeals process provides an important backstop to the planning system, by allowing independent parties to consider the merits of the proposal. The Bill will introduce changes to the planning appeals process, to ensure greater fairness, clarity and efficiency, including a requirement for the appeal to be determined on the basis of the matters before the local planning authority when the decision was made.
The planning system is an important tool to deliver the objectives that are contained in a number of complementary Bills, including the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill, which sets out a series of long-term wellbeing goals for Wales. The planning system, through the preparation of development plans, which take account of community and stakeholder aspirations, provides the rational and consistent basis on which decisions are made about the future development and use of land. Existing planning legislation, and that proposed by the Planning (Wales) Bill, is fully supportive of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill legislative aspirations, and will be compatible with Bills yet to be introduced into the Assembly, including those covering built heritage and the environment.
A modernised planning system is not just about primary legislation. I will put in place a suite of supporting secondary legislation, policy and guidance changes. I will also continue to work with all participants in the planning system to promote a can-do culture, to ensure the comprehensive delivery of these important reforms. I look forward to the scrutiny and the debate in the Chamber today.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
May I remind Members that this is not a debate but a statement? I have a lot of speakers, and I would like to get through them all, so no long speeches, please. This is an opportunity to question the Minister. I call on Russell George.
May I thank the Minister for his statement, and the introduction of the Bill yesterday? May I also thank him for the pre-meeting that we had last week, which was very helpful?
I think that the power to legislate on planning here is one of the most powerful levers of change that this institution possesses. As the independent advisory group stated in its report back in 2012, the primary power of the planning system should be a devolution dividend, not a deficit. However, I would say that I believe that the Government has not done as much as it can do to utilise those powers over the last 15 years.
There are aspects of the principles of this Bill that I want to welcome today, Minister, for example, the move to enhanced engagement and a system of standardisation and improved enforcement. However, I am concerned that this is another framework Bill, with much of the policy meat following in secondary legislation, which, again, denies us as a legislature the opportunity to scrutinise much of your underlying thinking on how the legislation is to be fully implemented. Given the need for the profound overhaul of the system, can I ask why you decided that a framework Bill was the most appropriate vehicle to do this, given the difficulty for us to judge the impact of the new statutory arrangements without more information?
Of course, the need for clarity in relation to how the development process connects and works in practice is important. There was a lot of confusion among planning authorities, as well as businesses and developers, as to how the Wales spatial plan was to be interpreted, and how that fitted with ‘Planning Policy Wales’ and other statutory guidance. So, while I believe that a new planning delivery framework to rationalise that is required—and I agree with that—I do have concerns about the creation of strategic development plans, strategic development panels and the decentralisation of powers to Welsh Ministers, all of which, in my view, erodes local democracy. The fact is that trying to improve people's lives and changing the planning culture by imposing decisions simply does not work; it creates bureaucracy and it is a deficit in democracy. It also leaves no room for adaption to reflect local circumstances. So, why does the Government believe that in relation to developments of national significance, removing powers from local government is going to improve the planning culture, improve community engagement, and make the system more transparent and accountable?
Given that the threshold for developments of national significance are to follow in secondary legislation, can you give us some indication of what those thresholds might look like, Minister? You have identified five areas in the draft of the Bill, but do you anticipate going beyond those criteria in subsequent legislation?
One of the key underlying problems with the current system—certainly from your perspective and, I believe, from local government’s perspective, too—is a lack of expertise and capacity at the local level, which can lead to poor performance. That can be attributed to local authority offices or to elected members of planning committees. Yet, instead of directly addressing that challenge, you seem to prefer to bypass local planning authorities completely and going directly to the Welsh Ministers because that helps to streamline the system. Can I ask why? Does this not restrict the opportunities for local communities to have their say on a proposed development and influence an application's outcome?
I am also concerned that the creation of the strategic—
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Order. I have a lot of speakers, so can you come to your final questions, please?
Yes. I am also concerned about the creation of strategic development plans and panels—another layer of planning governance that will exacerbate the lack of accountability and democracy. Given the fact that the Localism Act 2011 in England swept away regional strategies, because local communities had relatively limited opportunities to influence them, how do you believe that the appointment of unelected panels will improve democratic accountability and ensure that the ambitions of those communities are properly addressed?
Thank you for your questions. I am surprised by some of the questions, as I know that the Member is also a sitting councillor, and some of these are relevant to the actions that he and other colleagues would take in a local authority. Let me start with the issue that he addressed regarding the policy objective. This is, of course, a framework Bill, and we purposefully created a framework Bill because we know that the system could be better. We believe that the policy objectives outside the Bill are very effective, and we still have the flexibility to amend them, without needing to amend legislation as we would if we put them into a legislation framework such as the Planning (Wales) Bill. So, this is an operational issue. The Member, I am surprised, does not recognise that there are issues in the planning system that could be better. I think that what I should do is place on record the fact that we have an excellent planning system in Wales, but it could be better, and that is what we should strive towards, namely getting more improvement into the system.
On the process that the Member says he has concerns about, I will say that I was really pleased yesterday that we had many businesses and organisations, such as the CBI, the Royal Town Planning Institute, housebuilders like Edwards Home, and developers like Bellerophon—major investors in Wales—saying that the planning Bill was something that they had been waiting for for a long time and that they were very pleased about the way in which the drafting had been brought forward. It is surprising that Conservative Members are not so sure.
On the specific issue of developments of national significance, I know that the Member has raised this with me before. This is about the whole process. You will not be short of papers to read—we issued the Bill and the explanatory memorandum yesterday. We also issued five consultation documents alongside that. It is our intention, in November and December, to issue some statements of intent, and these will answer the very questions that the Member has raised today, namely the issues regarding secondary legislation and how we intend to implement it, in a statement that will be issued prior to the development of secondary legislation and the passing of the Bill. That answers the question on developments of national significance. I do not want to pre-empt the consultation process. This is about understanding what communities believe is the right level for developments of national significance. We will listen very carefully during the scrutiny process and to the information that comes back from interested sectors.
Another point that the Member raised was on strategic development plans. As I said in my statement, we probably expect there to be around two of these. There are, I suspect, similar models currently working very well, and I hope that the Member would welcome them, in the same way as city regions. There will not be a democratic deficit with regard to this process; local authorities will be sitting on the boards with voting rights in order for them to have a view on the strategic vision for the region that they represent.
Finally, the Member used the term ‘democratic deficit’ during his contribution, but I do not accept that at all. I currently call in some 12 applications per year, in order for the Minister to take a view on the decision-making process. That is 12 out of 25,000 applications in Wales. Let us put this in context: it is about understanding the process and where it should be aligned. It will not stop local people from having a view on the application, whether that is at a local level or at ministerial level. I hope that the Member will engage with us through the process of scrutiny and that I can convince him in that regard.
I know that the Minister believes that this will build a better and more open relationship between communities and the planning system, and many of my constituents are concerned about what they see as the lack of enforcement of planning decisions and the lack of a voice. Therefore, could he tell us how the Bill will specifically address that? I support the decision about nationally significant development decisions going to Welsh Ministers, but, in that situation, could he tell us how the views of local people will be taken into account when decisions are made at a national level? The Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 requires Ministers to give due regard to the rights of a child in all circumstances and in all laws. Therefore, where would he see, in the planning process, children’s voices specifically being heard, as planning has such a huge impact on children, if we think about the importance of places to play and the way in which the planning system affects that? That is just one example where children are affected by the planning system.
The Minister knows that I have concerns about the proposals for town and village greens, which are covered under Part 7 of the Bill. I have experience of campaigning for a village green designation in my constituency of Cardiff North, and I am concerned about any plans to restrict my constituents’ rights. Can the Minister assure me that he will look very carefully at this proposal, as the Bill passes through the further stages, to see whether there is any way in which we can avoid restricting the rights of constituents in these matters?
I thank the Member for her considered view on the Bill, and I welcome her comments. I will start with the issue of the rights of the child. The Member is absolutely right that we have to get the planning system right and address issues for all of our communities. The Member is also aware that this is a framework Bill, so this is about how we do things and implement things, as opposed to the policy objectives. However, what it does do is to ensure that, for local authorities’ local development plan preparation, and also for large developments, there has to be a consultation process. We are therefore strengthening the community connection in terms of the way in which we do this. That is something on which I am careful to recognise the Member’s work in the past but also the work that she continues to do. We will continue to endeavour to engage all our communities, including children, in the planning process.
Planning authorities have to plan. That is my view. Some authorities are better than others. Over half of the authorities have an LDP currently, and there will be a review process as part of that, to take a view on local need.
On the strategic development concept, I would not worry too much in terms of that proposal. There will be a consultation process to see what we think would be the right level for what would normally be used as a call-in procedure. We could identify many applications now that would go to a local planning authority and where we know that, in eight or 12 months’ time, it is pretty certain that they will be called in. We are suggesting that that should be identified upfront, so that everybody knows that there is a transparent process. So, when an application of that scale comes forward and consulted upon, it would come straight to the Minister to save some time delay in that process.
Like many others, I have been contacted by Members regarding open spaces and village greens, and I have listened very carefully. I have met with the Open Spaces Society. I have met its representatives once and my team has met them on a second occasion. There is still dialogue ongoing with regard to what this means. I am hoping that we have a starting point in the Bill. I am happy to make Government amendments subject to agreement with the two parties. It is absolutely right—there is something in the conversation that we are having with the Open Spaces Society where we have to ensure that communities understand what their communities are. Early on in the planning stage, we need to understand better about how that is developed. I will listen very carefully to the scrutiny process. I have not closed the door on the development and I will listen carefully, of course, to the Member’s’ contribution as we move forward on the Bill.
I thank the Minister for bringing this Bill before us. It is not child’s play to actually grapple with planning in this area. I very much look forward to scrutinising the Bill over the coming months. However, there are some fundamental principles, of course, that one would hope to see reflected in the Bill. Indeed, the First Minister said just before the summer in an oral statement on the legislative programme that he wanted the Government, or that the Government, I should say, wanted communities to have a greater influence on how places develop and grow. I see recommendations here to create strategic development panels at a regional level, which, to me, feels like taking the decisions further away from those very communities, and, to a lesser extent, of course, Ministers making decisions. You have set that in its context this afternoon, but I would be grateful if you could explain what in this Bill would truly strengthen the voice of communities within the planning process and how you square, if you like, that shift of power up to the regional panels in that context.
I would also ask whether nominating a third of the members of the strategic development panels—that is, unelected people—raises a question on the role of democracy in the planning system in Wales, particularly given that these panels are going to be bodies corporate, and therefore, in my opinion, democratic accountability is entirely crucial. Does not making the local development plan subject to the strategic development plan, which, in turn, is subject to the national development framework, create a top-down regime rather than a bottom-up regime? I would be grateful for your comments on that.
We have already heard a difference of opinion in relation to policy considerations in the Bill. You, of course, have consistently said that you are creating framework legislation, but there is perhaps more agreement on the need to create a statutory purpose for planning in Wales. Certainly, when I asked a question of you on this issue a few months ago in this Chamber, you said that you were still open-minded on that possibility. This is something that exists in other nations, and, certainly, it was something that was recommended by the independent advisory group, which has provided much of the evidence base for this legislation, as well as by the Assembly’s Environment and Sustainability Committee—namely that the Bill should include a statutory purpose for planning that makes it clear that the aim of planning is to contribute to achieving sustainable development in Wales, which, in turn, includes elements such as the Welsh language, and that including that would be positive and a clear statement of the Government’s ambition in relation to planning.
You stated earlier that policy objectives were outwith this Bill but, of course, the explanatory memorandum states that
‘The NDF will set out area or location specific policies currently in ‘Planning Policy Wales’ (PPW) and Technical Advice Notes.’
Therefore, there is a suggestion there of some overlap between the Bill and policy. It suggests to me also that there may be implications for the technical advice notes and ‘Planning Policy Wales’ as they currently stand. Perhaps you could provide some clarity as to whether the Government has any intention to review those following the adoption of this Bill.
Finally, Minister, there has been consistent criticism of this Government's legislation because it has centralised too many powers in the hands of Ministers, as has already been mentioned. I have counted 66 examples in this Bill where Ministers would be empowered to introduce subordinate legislation, not to mention the introduction of additional guidance and regulations. Do you think that that is excessive?
I thank the Member for his questions. To start with the issue around strategic panels, he made reference to the possible change in the democratic process. Let me reassure the Member that there is no change in that process. Members of the public and communities will still have direct access to committees in terms of the submission of evidence required for developing plans at all levels. There is no additional tier here—we are not asking people to duplicate work; we are asking for work to be shared across the strategic area, and, underneath that, there will still be local development plans for local authorities in the strategic panel. What it will address are things such as housing needs assessments, travel-to-work areas and economic need in terms of how planning is operated. That is why a strategic view of an area is really important, and that can then be fed into the local development plan going down, while listening very carefully to the views of communities to those panels in terms of their deliberations. So, nothing has changed there—it is just that different people are doing that provision in terms of a regional approach as opposed to a local approach, but there will still be very close activity between the two.
I listened carefully to the Member’s concerns around a third of the board membership being unelected but with voting rights. The Bill is open for scrutiny and I will be listening very carefully to the evidence provided in order for me to want to change that and push for a Government amendment. I will listen again carefully to Members’ concerns.
On the issue around a strategic purpose for the Bill, I have met with several organisations regarding this issue. The Member seems to believe that this is being done in isolation to any other Bill. Actually, we have the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill, which, as the Member knows very well, has a particular goal element in there regarding a vibrant Welsh language, which is a linchpin for all legislation and the way that we develop actions not only in Government but across the broader public sector. To suggest that it needs to be in the planning Bill as well is something that I do not accept, and there is the fact that we have the well-being of future generations Bill and a raft of policy around technical advice note 20 and the toolkit that was established alongside that, working with local authorities to make that implementation through guidance.
I can also assure the Member that there is no planning policy that I am aware of in this Bill; this is a framework Bill. There is no overlap, and the fact is that planning policy will remain outside of it. Technical advice notes give us the flexibility and agility to change, subject to economic or environmental change. ‘Planning Policy Wales’ underpins all of our developments, with technical advice notes supporting that. The purpose of this Bill is to ensure that we can get smooth delivery of activity across our communities in order to grow the economy across Wales.
I thank the Minister very much for issuing this important statement today, and also for his courtesy in clearing diary time last week for a comprehensive briefing of all party spokespeople in this area. This is a large and complex piece of proposed legislation, and I look forward to being involved in the scrutiny process over the coming months in the Environment and Sustainability Committee and the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee.
Minister, as I am sure that you will agree, the planning system is very much a central pillar of our Welsh economy. It defines our capacity to create jobs, to foster economic growth and to ensure sustainable investment in our country’s future. Given this, it is important to acknowledge that the impetus for this Bill has been the recognition that the present planning system, although not fundamentally broken, has failed in several respects to enable the sustainable growth that we need as a nation. It has been marred by its slowness and its complexity and, above all, by inconsistencies across the 25 different planning authorities that currently exist. I will out myself as having served in my time on three different planning authorities simultaneously within Powys and the Brecon Beacons National Park. I must have been very sinful in a former life.
It is for these reasons that I welcome the publication of this Bill. Although it is not without its controversies—you have been upfront about the fact that it is a framework Bill without major policy content—I think that it is fair to say that the general response has been favourable from the business community. Hopefully, this can be built upon to deliver a much improved planning system. Perhaps the obvious controversy is around a new category of developments of national significance—DNS. While it may be a little cynical to point out that ‘DNS’ is an established sporting acronym for a non-starter, I fear that this is just how the idea may be interpreted across some of our communities, which fear that this is a sign of over-centralisation, reduced public input and, indeed, an increase in the democratic deficit that has already been referred to in this Chamber today. Given this, Minister, I was surprised to read in the Bill’s explanatory memorandum that the adoption of this idea is viewed as having a neutral impact on the role of communities and interested parties. Minister, please, will you outline why you believe this to be the case, particularly given that there is clearly a reduction in the voice of local government in this area and particularly given the limited capacity of the crucial tier of town and community councils? They may have the theoretical right, but do they have the capacity, to take that up? Further to this, Minister, will you also outline why you have chosen to avoid using this Bill as an opportunity to enhance the role of communities in the wider planning process?
Staying briefly on the issue of DNS, given that the documentation is fairly explicit about it being a reaction to how some local authorities have dealt with onshore wind projects in the past, to what extent do you intend to make the forthcoming definition regulations Silk-proof when Silk 2 is implemented, as it will be implemented, and energy consents are raised to 350 MW? Would you agree that the lower limit should be increased from the indicative 250 MW currently and that such powers should be returned to established local authority powers as a result? Pushing this point further, when Wales does secure responsibility for larger projects, be they energy or indeed any other potential DNS category outlined in annex B of ‘Positive Planning’, I would be grateful if you would outline also where you would see the role of Natural Resources Wales fitting into this new regime. As you will be aware, key decisions with regard to permitting and licensing are presently made by NRW rather than local authorities. Do you envisage these powers remaining with NRW under the new regime or do you intend to bring them in-house, under your control?
Finally on DNS, there is the controversial issue of fracking. I know that you share some of my concerns about the fracking process. So, I hope that you also appreciate that the impacts of the process are spread across the geological strata and that, as such, they will not be limited to single planning authority areas, especially here in south Wales. Given this, Minister, are you minded to include all fracking applications on the DNS list at this time? Finally, I would like to point out the importance of the issue of retrospective planning permission. As we have previously discussed, this Bill will act to provide a disincentive to those who try to take advantage of the present system. How do you see that working in practice, Minister?
I thank William Powell for his comments. I agree with many of the statements that the Member made, but not all of them.
If I may start with the issue he refers to regarding the link to the economy, there is a clear link between planning and the economy. That is why we advanced the Bill—in order to ensure that we could bring this Bill forward to ensure that it has the impact we wish it to have in developing a better Wales. Two words that I have used throughout the consultation process are ‘enabling’ and ‘fairness’. We believe that those words describe the Bill very clearly in terms of the fact that, whatever side of the planning system you sit on—whether you are a developer or part of the community—we believe that that is what we should have. People should be treated fairly.
The Member makes light of comments around DNS—developments of national significance. Let me say that this is a very important process that we are taking forward. The Member will be very aware—as he sat on, I think he said, three or four planning committees—that this is about leadership and opening the opportunity to ensure that we make decisions based on planning. I am not suggesting that the Member was involved in any of those processes, but it is sometimes much easier for a local planning authority to say, ‘We can’t make a decision on this planning application; it is too politically tricky. Give it to somebody else.’ It then comes to the Planning Inspectorate or to the Assembly to make that decision and everybody is happy until we make a decision.
Now, I am saying that if you are a planning authority, you plan and make the decisions that you are supposed to make; if you will not, I will make them for you. The fact of the matter is that developments of national significance will be consulted on, in terms of what that level is, with communities and engaged parties to ensure that we get the level right, so that people, externally, understand the process around fairness, openness and transparency about where those determinations will be made. I do not mind being criticised for making a decision by a party, but what I do not like is having it pushed upon me for political reasons by people who are not leading the way in their planning authorities. It happens right across Wales; we see it all of the time.
I will not make a decision on whether fracking should be a development of national significance. Again, that is a policy objective and I would be interested to understand what the consultation process comes back with and whether it should be in or out.
How are we engaging communities? One example is pre-application consultation—making it statutory on major developments. Developers must go and talk to their communities and demonstrate, before their application is submitted, how they have done that. That is about engaging the communities that you represent.
I have a final point, if I may, Presiding Officer. The Member asks about futureproofing; Silk 2 is on the Member’s mind. On permitting and licensing, again, and changes to the DNS, that is why we are using secondary legislation, so that we can make amendments to that process subject to the listing of what should and should not be on the face of the Bill, to give us flexibility should changes happen regarding Silk or any other devolution settlement. We are futureproofing the Bill for some time to come.
Minister, could I welcome the aims of this Bill to achieve a fair and resilient planning system? I also offer you my support for your aim of reducing the number of planning authorities; I think that that will be welcomed across Wales. I think, to be resilient, we have to look at the number of planning authorities and, certainly, 25, in my opinion, is far too many.
Could I ask how you intend to convey the criteria that will determine whether a local planning authority has consistently poorly performed? How will you convey that to people who may want to submit a major planning application directly to you as Minister, or to Government Ministers?
I thank the Member for her concise questions. The Member is right; I am not hung up on numbers, regarding structures. I think that what we need to aim for is a resilient service. As we have fewer applications and less funding going into the planning system, we have to ensure that, across Wales, wherever you are, you will be dealt with fairly. We currently have 25 operational systems in the planning system. That is not good for business in Wales and it is something that we must address. I will address that through the Bill process. We will seek to merge some planning authorities as we move through the legislation process.
The issue that the Member raises—sorry—
It was about how people will get the criteria for poorly performing authorities.
Thank you. I appreciate the leniency of the Presiding Officer; I had not noted that down.
On the issue regarding annual performance reports, local planning authorities will have to issue a report regarding how they are performing against criteria set out by us. That will be a public document and will enable us to assess whether a planning authority is failing or otherwise. Therefore, we will look to the customer—as I like to call them now—being able to submit applications directly to Welsh Ministers, subject to an acknowledged failed local authority, moving forward.
Minister, the statement talks of the framework supporting the use of the Welsh language. The First Minister promised to take every practical step to reinforce the Welsh language within the planning system. Julie Morgan has mentioned this. The Welsh Government accepts that due regard is a practical process in terms of considering the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in its activities, so why is due regard not a practical process in our planning system, or at least less practical than a framework?
I do not recognise the Member’s question with regard to the suggestion that we are, effectively, doing nothing in the planning system to support the Welsh language. As I mentioned earlier on, we have technical advice note 20 and the toolkit associated with that, which we introduced last year, which is a strong toolkit, operated by local authorities in terms of implementing the advice note. Alongside that, we have the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill, which is key to ensuring that the Welsh language is a goal; I know that the Member scrutinised me on this very issue yesterday. The fact is that we are recognising this as a fundamental issue that we have to address across all our policies, including the Welsh Government and other parts of the public sector. We would be isolating the Welsh language, actually, if we were to include it in this Bill, when we have a much broader approach that encompasses the Welsh language. The Welsh Language Commissioner, introduced by the Government, is something that we should be very proud about, in terms of the actions that we have taken to support the Welsh language. We will continue to do so in a more wide-ranging way that the First Minister is very keen to pursue in terms of the future generations Bill, to ensure that it overlaps in its interaction with this Bill, but not specifically titled, as the Member was hoping to see, by the sounds of it.
The difficulty, Minister, carrying on with the same point, is that the language commissioner you have just praised has pointed out that only half of Welsh councils use the local development plans to make reference to the Welsh language and how they are going to support the Welsh language in their communities. You have relied, in your statement today, on these local plans as the vehicle to carry Welsh language policies, and it is clear that that is failing at present. So, what steps over and above this Bill will you take to ensure that the language is part of the considerations within the local development plans and also at the strategic level that you have just mentioned? If you are talking about travel to work areas, housing figures and new housing developments, you are having an impact on the language, and the language needs to be part of the considerations, not only locally but also at a strategic and national level. For me, today's statement does not achieve what the First Minister said in his policy statement, namely that every practical step should be taken to strengthen the language in the planning system. I think that there are other steps that you could take.
You have mentioned several times in your statement today the wellbeing of future generations Bill, which is also a Bill of yours as Minister. The Welsh language is on the face of that Bill—not only the Welsh language, but several other things: 'a more equitable Wales', ‘a prosperous Wales’ and ‘a resiliant Wales’. What is omitted from the statement and the Bill as it stands is that you want a framework and a process, but it is not clear what values and purposes you might have for the planning system in Wales. You refer in other Bills to the Government’s purposes and values, but not in this Bill. I propose that you should at least state on the face of this Bill some of the aims and objectives that you as a Government have for the planning system. Okay, do not put the details and the technical advice notes et cetera in the Bill—that is fair enough—but this Bill should introduce the Government’s objectives as well as the planning procedure.
I am not sure that I agree with the Member. I think that we have a great record in terms of the promotion of the Welsh language and that is something that we should all be incredibly proud of here in Wales, particularly in this party. The fact of the matter is that the wellbeing of future generations Bill has a specific role in terms of encompassing all legislation and all activity about sustainable development. The whole purpose of the Bill is to ensure that our policies, and those of the broader public sector, are strengthened in their view of how they deal with the Welsh language as one element of community wellbeing. I do not see that we need to put that in any shape in terms of a line within the Bill for us to understand the strategic purpose of this Bill, because it is defined within the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill very clearly, which encompasses all legislation that we move forward with.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister for Education and Skills, Huw Lewis.
Presiding Officer, the Welsh Government has successfully implemented a wide range of reforms, such as the literacy and numeracy framework, reading and numeracy tests, and rolled out the Master’s in educational practice. This summer we had a good set of GCSE and A-level results. To put this in context, the statistics published last month show the biggest jump in 15-year-olds achieving the level 2 threshold, including a grade A* to C in English or Welsh first language and mathematics, since records began in 2006-07.
While credit must go to pupils and teachers, I am convinced that the policies that we have implemented in recent years are now beginning to bear fruit. These are the policies that were set out in ‘Improving schools’, published in October 2012. The ‘Improving schools’ plan comes to the end of its timeline of actions at the end of this year. I have always intended to refresh the ‘Improving schools’ plan, and it was timely to receive ‘Improving Schools in Wales: An OECD Perspective’ in April 2014. We commissioned the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to undertake an assessment of education in Wales, taking into account the PISA 2012 results.
‘Qualified for Life—An education improvement plan for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales’ sets out our vision and aims for education up to 2020. It sets out what we will do over the course of the next six years, which, in part, responds to the criticism in the OECD’s review that we need a longer term vision for Wales. The document is structured around a clear vision that learners in Wales will enjoy teaching and learning that inspires them to succeed, in an education community that works co-operatively and aspires to be great, and where the potential of every child and young person is actively developed. Our vision is supported by a single aim: that every child and young person should benefit from excellent teaching and learning.
Along with a clear expression of our long-term vision for learners’ success in Wales, we are setting out a clear plan of action to turn our objectives into reality and to secure sustained improvement across education. These are set out in a delivery time line. We will regularly monitor progress and will publish an annual report card to evidence this against a range of performance indicators.
PISA is one of the measures of how our education system delivers, and I continue to emphasise its importance. Schools should prepare students for their working lives. We know that today’s education influences tomorrow’s economy.
I have given serious thought to the PISA target that was set back in 2011, which was to be in the top-20 performing countries in PISA 2015. This target was the subject of much criticism by the OECD. In its view, the challenge with this type of target is that the absolute level of student proficiency that we are aspiring to is unclear. Educators and learners cannot connect with an ambition phrased in these terms and do not know what they need to do to help achieve it. I have therefore decided to set an absolute ambition for PISA that can be clearly understood by the education profession. Therefore, I have set our ambition within ‘Qualified for life’ to achieve scores of 500 in each of the three domains tested by PISA—reading, mathematics and science—in the PISA tests of 2021. This ambition is hardly less stretching than the target that we currently have. To be ranked twentieth in 2012, we would have had to have scored 501 in mathematics, which was the main domain tested at that time.
As well as aiming for membership of the 500 club, we will aim to significantly reduce the percentage of learners achieving PISA proficiency level 2 or below. This is absolutely right. It is critical that, alongside raising attainment for all, we focus attention to reduce the long tail of underperformance too often associated with deprivation. The OECD is clear that the minimum level of proficiency that allows young people the best life chances is PISA level 2. For those young people who score below level 2 in mathematics, the OECD considers that they are unable to participate fully in modern society.
We can see the scale of the challenge and the ambition when we look at our performance in PISA 2012 in mathematics. Some 29% were represented in this group of underperformers—more than a quarter of our young people assessed. By adopting the new 500 target, teachers will be provided with the descriptors of the proficiency levels so that there will be clarity about what it is that is expected that our young people can do.
Let there be no doubt that this ambition is incredibly challenging, particularly as the main domain in PISA in 2021 will be mathematics, which is historically our weakest domain. To achieve 500 in mathematics, we will need to secure improvement of the magnitude of around 7% across the board. This will be the true test of the success of ‘Qualified for life’: to educate a generation of young people who are equipped with the skills necessary for successful and fulfilling lives. Excellent teaching and learning should be the right of every child and every young person.
I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon and for the written statement and the documentation last week. We on this side of the Chamber share the vision for learners across Wales to be qualified for life, as improving the Welsh education system is integral to strengthening the Welsh economy. Of course, the document highlights four key objectives, alongside indicators in areas where the Welsh Government plans to improve and implement various actions. That is something that I welcome.
Now, most of today’s statement, of course, talks about the Welsh Government’s new target of achieving scores of 500 in the PISA assessments in 2021. Even though the Minister talks a lot about changing this target, I am still not clear as to the rationale for changing the target in the first place, given that it was only last year that he said that ditching the target was the easy way out. As has already been said in the Chamber today, this new PISA target would, assuming other UK nations stand still, improve Wales's UK ranking from the worst to the second worst in the UK. So, how does this new target sit with the Minister’s comments that he did not want to lower pupils’ ambitions? Can he guarantee that he will not change this target once again? He claims that this ambition is no less stretching than the target that we currently have, but, clearly, he has downgraded the target now.
The first of the key objectives in this improvement plan relates to the workforce and the need for high-quality teachers so that students’ learning needs are fully addressed. I note that the Minister has already introduced the new deal for the workforce, which encourages teachers to take more ownership of their own professional development. Can you tell us how the new deal is being monitored to ensure that best practice is adopted and shared among the profession?
It is also imperative that teachers are fully prepared to handle children with additional learning difficulties, and I am pleased that the report recognises the importance of individual development plans. There is a suggestion that these could be extended to all learners in Wales and, therefore, perhaps the Minister could tell us whether the Welsh Government is considering this in the future.
Naturally, it is important that the curriculum is as engaging as possible for learners. I appreciate that Professor Donaldson is currently looking at these arrangements, but I would be grateful if the Minister could update us on the progress of the youth engagement and progression framework, which identifies and provides support to those disengaged with the system.
It is essential that any engagement framework works with any not in education, employment or training reduction strategy, so I am pleased that the Welsh Government is introducing a youth guarantee to ensure that all young people are offered some kind of provision post 16. However, perhaps the Minister would agree to publish an annual update following the launch of the guarantee, so that we can monitor the progress in this specific area.
Any qualifications that our pupils achieve in Wales must be meaningful and provide young people with cast-iron guarantees that their results will be recognised across the UK and further afield. I understand that the Welsh Government will be establishing Qualifications Wales, which we welcome, as an independent body to monitor the qualifications system, but it would be useful to know when the establishment of Qualifications Wales is likely to take place. Is it something that we are likely to see during this academic year, for example?
We, on this side of the Chamber, welcome the fourth strategic objective, which effectively calls for more collaboration and mutual support to raise standards in schools. I note that the Minister will indeed be very busy in this area, according to the report. I am particularly pleased that the governance framework will be reviewed to make it more flexible, and I note the good work of our governors. Therefore, any movement to enable bodies to appoint the right people with the necessary skills is important. Perhaps the Minister could update us on what work the Welsh Government has done in this specific area.
In closing, I would like to add our support for the publication of a Wales report card. It will be essential that the monitoring of this new policy is conducted efficiently and effectively. The Minister has recognised the importance of monitoring the system, and I look forward to constructively contributing to the monitoring and scrutiny of this new policy.
I thank Paul Davies for what sounds like a broad welcome for the principles that I have outlined in ‘Qualified for life’. He asked specifically about the rationale behind the alterations to the PISA target, and the rationale behind it is simple: it is an offer to the teaching profession, in particular, of a more useful means by which it can measure the progress of young people in its charge. To set a headteacher or any teacher, really, a target of simply saying, ‘Be in the top 20 of PISA’, well, that is an unmeasurable aspiration, as it is difficult to know what that top 20 is going to be from one round to the next. There are no measures by which classroom teachers can rate themselves against such a target; it is a rhetorical target. However, to say, ‘Score 500 as the target for your young people,’ that is a measurable aspiration. In fact, I have made available mock PISA tests to schools up and down Wales, via which they can measure exactly where they stand at any point in time in relation to the 500 target, and measure exactly where they are in relation to schools across the world. Therefore, every school will now have something to get its teeth into, in terms of the measurement of progress. In terms of the ambition of the target, let me just say this: no home nation has ever hit a score of 500 in mathematics—none of them have, ourselves included. There is no lack of ambition within this target.
Paul is also quite right to point out, of course, that the document is about a great deal more than a PISA target. This is about high-level strategic objectives for Welsh education and our schools over the next four years up to 2020. He is quite right to emphasise the importance of the first priority, or the first strategic objective, which is to aim for an excellent professional workforce. To answer his point on the new deal, the new deal has really barely begun. What the new deal will entail is a new regime around professional development. As part of that, I will shortly be calling a social partnership body together to construct that new deal, as we aim for a gold standard of professional development around teachers, with clarity and access for every teacher, in a structured way, as they progress through their careers, from qualification to retirement.
I have to say that I agree with you, Minister: PISA is one test, but it is not the only way in which we should benchmark the progress that we are making. Any teacher can teach to the test, but it does not necessarily mean that it delivers inspirational, innovative and embedded learning, and that is, at the end of the day, what we need to develop in our young people. We need people who can think for themselves, solve problems and use creativity to get to where they need to be.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair at 15:29.
I would congratulate the Minister on the very clear document, ‘Qualified for life’, which, I feel, could be read quite easily by any of the people who are involved in the leadership of schools, that is, teachers, teaching assistants, parents who wish to get involved in a more detailed way in their child’s education and, most importantly, governors.
I note that there is some mention of governors in your outline of what the Government is going to do. However, I wonder whether you could say a little bit more about how you are going to review and strengthen the existing governance framework to make it more flexible to enable governing bodies to appoint governors with the necessary skills. I have to say that I have already used the categorisation of primary schools tool to target intervention and support and I find it really clear and a very good way of assessing what level of support the regional consortium needs to deliver to that particular school rather than another. So, I think that that is definitely a step forward from the simple naming-and-shaming approach that happens in England. We need to ensure that all of our schools are delivering better education for all of our young people. I wonder whether you could just say a little bit more about the role of governors and how you see their role in developing schools and the leadership skills that they all need.
Jenny Rathbone is quite right to point out that PISA is just one aspect of what we should be concerned about here, but it is, and I will continue to stress this, an important aspect. It does give us a unique insight into how young people in Wales are attaining across their education in an international context. There is not anything quite like it in that regard. Therefore, it is important, but it is certainly not the only measure by which we will gauge our success. For instance, that commitment that we have in Wales to the rounded education of every young person is just as importantly spelled out through our commitment to the Welsh baccalaureate as it would be through our commitments in terms of targeted improvements in attainment at PISA.
In terms of governance, governors remain an essential part of a healthy school system and governors having the tools to do their job is a critical aspect of that. You will notice that the fourth strategic objective within the document talks about a self-improving system in terms of our schools. That depends very much on a new level of leadership and a new level, I suppose, of critical friendship on the part of our governing bodies up and down the country, recognising, of course, that they are volunteers. I intend to continue that new regime of support and training around governors to ensure that they do have the tools that they need to do their job in what is becoming a different context, with new pressures, and support for them will be at the forefront of my mind.
I will deal with PISA first of all, Minister, before moving on to talk about and ask a few more questions about the improvement plan itself. First, may I welcome the fact that you have dropped that target of being in the top 10? It would be hypocritical of me not to do that, because I asked you to do this 10 months ago, just before Christmas. I said at the time that this target was unrealistic. I am pleased to see that you now agree with me. It is not unrealistic in the sense that we should not be ambitious; it is unrealistic for the reasons that you have set out to a certain extent today, Minister, in that it is a moving target because nations improve—and decline, unfortunately—as things develop, and it is unrealistic target for someone to take into the classroom or school as a school leader. Adding points to our scores is far more real and far more practicable, and gives clearer guidance as to what we expect from the system. Therefore, I welcome the fact that we now have greater clarity on the way forward within the system for planning and improving our education.
What is missing perhaps is some sort of further concept as to where you would expect us to be by the outcome of the next PISA tests—those happening in 2015—as a threshold for future attainment. So, can you explain to the Chamber what you expect in the Welsh scores and what sort of progress you expect to see so that we can know that we are on track to join the 500 club as it were?
The second thing I would want to ask in relation to PISA is: how will you deal with that tail of pupils who are underperforming very significantly? You have spent almost half of your statement talking about that tail, and it is true to say that the OECD, in its report on education in Wales, also put its finger on that particular problem in the education system. It is partially related to the gap between the most disadvantaged and the more privileged pupils. However, it is also partially true to say that those nations in Britain that have improved in terms of PISA—particularly Scotland—have closed that gap, and have seen perhaps that that tail is reducing, and that there is less drag therefore on educational outcomes more generally.
Therefore, what specifically will you do to tackle these pupils who are underperforming significantly? You have mentioned this in your statement, but what sort of specific steps do you have in mind?
I will turn briefly to the plan itself. I very much see this plan as a crystallisation of the work that has already been undertaken in various places by the two Ministers over this Assembly Government term. There is nothing completely new in this plan, but that is not a bad thing, because we did not need any completely new things. What we needed was an actual screwed-down plan that showed how improvement would be delivered. However, there are one or two things that are still missing or weak, I believe.
The OECD is very clear that one of the failures of Welsh education is the difference in teaching within schools—not between schools, which is why banding did not work very well, and why I am pleased you got rid of banding, which is also what I told you that you should have done, but there we are. We all know that this is a key factor that the OECD has put its finger on, namely the lack of consistency, as well as too much mediocre teaching in schools. You have set out, quite rightly, the way that you are going to work with the profession to improve that. However, I want to ask you in particular whether you think our teacher training in Wales is up to scratch in this regard.
We have improved teacher training to look at, for example, numeracy and literacy. However, we have not improved teacher training, I do not think, to look at behavioural problems and class discipline, or the kinds of techniques that are really top-notch for dealing with the link between poverty and low attainment, which must go hand in hand with any sums of money that you then provide to the schools. We also have an outstanding issue around the large number of supply teachers in Wales that are provided by agencies. There is no ongoing professional development within those agencies, and that is a weakness in our system as well that the OECD is also aware of.
What the OECD has also seen very clearly—and the Children, Young People and Education Committee had a very useful visit to the OECD in Paris a couple of weeks ago—is that you need to track individual pupil performance in order to ensure improvement. That is a feature of the best education system in Wales—which is Ceredigion’s—but it is also a feature, I think, that we should be looking at more clearly within this education improvement plan. Again, I would like to hear a little more about how you think we might achieve that.
The final point that I would like to make at this stage is that, although the education improvement plan is to be welcomed, and although there is much there that is a positive response to what the OECD put its finger on in its own report, there are still the ongoing issues of in-year cuts, this year, to your schemes for school effectiveness and 14-19 learning pathways. There are also cuts next year in your budget on a number of actions around literacy and numeracy. We also have a new curriculum coming in, and no new money for that. We also have Qualifications Wales coming in, and no clarity about money for that. We have the General Teaching Council for Wales—now the Education Workforce Council—and no new money for supporting that work and its ongoing role in the highest levels of professional development. I have to ask you, Minister, although you have the ambition, and although you have a vision, do you really have the resources?
I thank the Plaid Cymru spokesperson for those points, and for some very insightful questions to go along with them. I am also glad to hear his welcome for the change in targeting for our progress through the PISA rankings. He says that the previous target was unrealistic; I do not necessarily agree actually that it is an unrealistic target—we are still dealing with a target here that is hardly less ambitious than the one that went before. My criticism, I think, of the target as it was is not that it was unrealistic, but that it was not useful. It was not useful really except to politicians in terms of the exchange of rhetoric. The new target is useful to educationists, and I think that that gives it much greater weight, as well as much greater clarity, in terms of what we are actually asking our schools to deliver.
He is quite right to point out that I really did emphasise in my statement the importance of driving down that long tail of under-attainment across Wales at, as PISA would measure it, sub-level 2, if you like, in terms of its attainment. However, this is reflected in any measure, whether it is GCSEs or any other measure. One of the distinguishing features, unfortunately, of Wales’s historical inheritance in terms of educational attainment is that there are far too many young people caught up in those statistics of under-attainment, and being caught up in those statistics can affect the life chances of a young person throughout their life. This is something that we really have to target. Hence, of course, our commitment to such things as the pupil deprivation grant, which is to be enhanced through the draft budget. Hence also the changes in the categorisation of schools. Now, Simon Thomas may have disagreements with me in terms of banding, but I hope that he will dig a little deeper in taking a look at how categorisation is going to work. The fact of the matter is that schools need to very rapidly understand that, if they let down the most deprived pupils in their school population—be that group of pupils ever so small within the general school population—they will not be categorised as a green, top-level school. It will not be possible over that three-year rolling look at school progress to be categorised as a top school in Wales unless the children on free school meals within your school population are progressing at least as well as the general school population. I have also asked Estyn to emphasise the progress of children on free school meals through its inspection regime. What it boils down to, of course, is that it is better teaching that will deliver for that group of young people and, indeed, for young people in the round.
He asked whether teacher training is up to scratch in Wales. No, it is not. We are nowhere near where we need to be in terms of what our higher education institutions are delivering for us and for schools in terms of the quality of training that we need to see happening. There will be major announcements coming shortly about a historical revamp of how we deliver teacher training in Wales, which will connect to a new regime around continuing professional development, so that we do not regard becoming a newly-qualified teacher as the end of one’s training, but that it continues throughout the career of a teacher, using the Master’s in educational practice as a model—the backbone, if you like, or gold standard—for how we should proceed. Issues around discipline and delivering for children in poverty will be critical aspects of the practical, pedagogical training delivered through, for instance, modules in the Master’s in educational practice.
Minister, could I begin by thanking you for your statement this afternoon? I have listened very carefully to the explanation that you have given, both to Paul Davies and Simon Thomas, about the Government’s decision to scrap the 2015 PISA target. You said that you have done that because that target was not measurable and not useful. Could you pinpoint for me when you discovered that? Was it after the First Minister said in 2011 that that was the right target to be judged by? Was it after the First Minister said that in 2012, and, indeed, in 2013, when he said it was the right target to be judged by? Or did you discover, after you committed to that target last year, that it was neither measurable nor useful? At what point? I am just curious as to what point that target took on the characteristics of being not useful and not measurable. They are, after all, the targets that you asked us and asked the people of Wales to judge you on.
May I move then to the new target of 500? What assurances can you give me that you are confident that that new target is useful and measurable? I would be grateful for an understanding as to how that has been set, because I would not want us to be here in three or four years’ time with a new target, having been told that this target was not the right one. Therefore, if we could have an understanding as to why this target is the right one, I think that we would all feel very much more reassured.
Your document says nothing about what we can expect in 2015. I appreciate that those tests have yet to be set, but could you give us an indication, please, as to what your expectations are for Welsh schools with regard to those tests so that we can see whether we are indeed making progress in line with your expectations?
You repeatedly said in your statement that this new target is ambitious, and we are all ambitious for our children. What we know is that the Welsh economy, for too long, has been dogged by low levels of skill, and that makes it difficult to attract the inward investment and to create the jobs that we need. It is by having a highly skilled workforce that we can transform our economy and, with that, improve our health outcomes and do all the other things that go with having a well-qualified workforce and prosperous economy. If we share that ambition, why is it that we are hoping to score only as highly as Scotland did last year by 2021? A whole cohort of secondary school children—your children and my children—will have gone through the education system over that period of time. Are you truly saying to me that the best that we can do, the best that Wales can do, and the best that our teachers and our kids can do is be at the same stage in 2021 as Scottish children are already?
One of the criticisms that is often made of the Welsh education system is that we are far too accepting of mediocrity. How will you ensure that those children who are gifted and talented are stretched within the new system? For those children who do have additional learning needs and need extra support to make their educational careers a success, could you confirm to me that, when looking at teacher training, we will make all classroom teachers experts in additional learning needs, so that, for all children, regardless of whether or not they have very severe needs, their needs can be identified early in their careers and addressed without the need to move them out of their mainstream classroom?
Your Government has relied very heavily on consortia to deliver and drive improvement. Could you tell me how many vacancies currently exist for challenge advisers within the consortia arrangements, and how many vacancies currently exist for subject advisers within the consortia arrangements?
I note your commitment to bring forward new announcements with regard to teacher training. Are you satisfied that the qualifications threshold for those currently embarking on teacher training is high and stringent enough? What we see from other countries, specifically Scandinavian countries, is that the qualifications required to embark on a teacher training course are as high as, if not higher than, those demanded of those seeking to do medicine and other courses that we, in this country, would usually consider to require very high grades to enter. Will we see from your Government any announcements on the threshold for qualifications for those wishing to embark on initial teacher training courses?
I thank the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats for her comments, but I regret that she reverted to the use of the rhetorical, so useful to politicians, and immediately engaged in rhetoric on the new target that I am setting for PISA attainment. Let me retort in kind. It was her spokesperson, Aled Roberts who, last December, in relation to the top 20 target, as it was, accused me of ‘making grandiose statements’ and ‘setting wildly unrealistic targets’. I cannot see how those comments from her spokesperson square with her own comments this afternoon. They do not seem to come from the same basis of philosophy at all. I would suggest that the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats urgently catch up with the thoughts of her education spokesperson in this regard. If the Liberal Democrats hanker to go back to the top 20 target, they should make it plain, and if they do not, they should welcome the new target as it is. She asked ‘How do you measure?’ I thought that I had already laid out very practically how, right down to classroom teacher level—certainly at the level of a headteacher who is planning for their young people to take part in PISA—it is possible to directly measure the score of your young people in terms of PISA-style attainment right now, by approaching the Welsh Government for mock PISA tests and running through them. That level of practicality is absolute.
In terms of her charges surrounding ambition, I would say this. Is 500 the best we can do? No, it is not. Of course, 500 should not be the best that we can do. To score 500 in 2021 is an aspiration, but I would regard that as a floor to our aspirations—but it is realistic. When you consider that, in mathematics in particular, Wales scored 469 in PISA in 2012, we are talking about a leap to scoring 500. If you study these things, you would know that that would have been a leap achieved by very few nations in the history of those PISA tables. Very few, only a handful of countries anywhere in the world, have managed a rate of progress of that degree. So, I am realistically rooting this target in terms of where we are now and not where we might wish to be. However, there is no limit to our ambition. The 500 target is not a ceiling, but a floor.
She is quite right to ask questions about more able and talented young people, as well as those with additional learning needs. Of course, time will forbid here this afternoon during this statement a full discussion of those questions. However, there will be much to say when I flesh out those announcements that I have made around the new regime, the new deal for teachers concerning continuing professional development and, indeed, initial teacher training. There are very fundamental questions to be asked of how we deliver initial teacher training in Wales. We need to ask them, and we need to be fearless in terms of asking just what our higher education institutions’ expectations are in terms of their intake, the training that they provide, and the type and quality of courses that are actually being delivered. All those things need, in my view, a fundamental revamp.
Minister, I welcome the statement today and the publication of ‘Qualified for life’. I am pleased to hear that a great deal of regard has been paid to the advice from the OECD and in particular from Andreas Schleicher. As others have mentioned, the committee had an interesting and productive meeting with Andreas and other people from the OECD. It is obvious that their key recommendations are now reflected in your plan. Like Simon Thomas—and I do not want this to seem as though I will ever accept that the ‘One Wales’ agreement is something that we should still be working to, or the daughter of ‘One Wales’ then, Simon, just for you—I have always said that if we set targets that are not realistic and are considered to be overly ambitious, we will demoralise teachers. Not achieving those targets that cannot be realistically met is as bad as not setting any targets at all for them.
A lot of what I was going to say has been said, but I would like ask you just a couple of questions, Minister. You will know that I have been critical of local education authorities in the past, including my own, for being slow to adapt to change and not doing enough to support their schools and teaching staff. One of the messages that I brought away from the OECD visit was that headteachers should concentrate on what is happening in their classrooms as a way of providing a good educational experience for those pupils. How are you going to ensure that the LEAs and the consortia will be up to speed? In particular, I share Simon Thomas’s concerns around teacher training but also around supply teaching. How are you going to ensure that they are able to deliver this ambitious and focused plan, and how will you tackle those LEAs that want to shrug their shoulders and say that they cannot do it because there are not enough resources?
Those LEAs that are currently judged to be not delivering are in measures of one kind or another, and, following that kind of categorisation, there are means by which we intervene to make sure that LEAs really do understand the job of work that has been entrusted to them by their communities. It all boils down to the quality of learning and teaching. I think that it was Simon Thomas who pointed out that one of the fundamental issues that we face here in Wales is variation in the quality of teaching, not just between schools but also within them. So, with regard to the refusal to accept on any occasion the isolation of any teacher in a particular classroom or the isolation of any particular school within a community of schools, peer-to-peer working and school-to-school working is an absolute prerequisite of being judged as a good local authority in terms of educational delivery. Those local authorities in special measures at the moment have to get their head round that as one of the most fundamental changes that they need to make.
I also want to point out—because this point has arisen at a couple of points during the debate—that I do intend for the new deal around the continuing professional development training that is available to our professionals up and down the country to be as available to supply teachers as it is those who are full-time employed within the school at this point.
Minister, thank you for your statement. I just wanted to ask you a question on one part of that. You said in your statement:
‘We know that today’s education influences tomorrow’s economy.’
An essential observation of the OECD’s is that our young people in Wales are not particularly adept at applying their knowledge, and understanding that their skills are transferrable. Are you able to say how this particular plan will help teachers—and I heard what you said to Simon Thomas—and young people to develop their skills in other languages, first those in English-medium schools becoming more competent in their Welsh, with the growing opportunity there for young people within the Welsh economy, and secondly those in all schools becoming more competent in one or more modern foreign languages, because we operate in a global economy as well? I am sure that you will agree that spoken and written competence in more than one language demonstrates the kind of mental agility and creative thinking that helps problem solving, and the sorts of things that Jenny Rathbone talked about in her question to you. It also sends a message, certainly in my view, that Wales is a good place in which to do business and that we want to engage with the world as a whole. So, if there is anything specific in ‘Qualified for life’ that helps to progress that, could you give us a brief indication of it today?
Suzy Davies asks very important questions here, and the answers to many of her questions will be echoed through announcements that I will be making through the rest of the autumn, winter and into the new year. Most particularly, those announcements around changes in the curriculum will impact very much on all our concerns around the acquisition of modern foreign languages and the acquisition of Welsh in those parts of our English-medium system. We have a system here as regards modern foreign languages and Welsh second language, but it is not working, frankly, and young people know that it is not working because they are not being attracted to it. They are not being attracted to it because they know that it is extraordinarily difficult to succeed in those subject areas, given the set-up as it is. This needs an overhaul. I have to remind people that Professor Graham Donaldson, who was involved in an independent review of the curriculum, will have much to say about these aspects of our concerns.
She also asks about the application of knowledge, and she is right to say it. The OECD does say that it is the application of knowledge that many of our young people have problems with, for instance in those PISA-style questions, and that is the reason we are making those PISA-style questions available to every school so that young people can be tested against them. It is also why, for instance, we are introducing a new maths GCSE in numeracy, which is all about the application of knowledge in the real world through mathematics. Of course, those numeracy tests that are being taken throughout the pre-GCSE years within our school system are again about the application of mathematical knowledge in real-world terms.
Minister, thank you for your statement today. Other Members have mentioned teacher training, which I think is the key to delivering the objectives outlined in the strategy, so that we can give focus to the developments that are outlined. However, Minister, you will know from discussions that we have had on my Financial Education and Inclusion (Wales) Bill—although I am not going to talk about it in detail here—that we need to understand that you have resources and budgeting so that we are able to achieve those training outcomes. It is absolutely crucial that we understand how they are achieved. So, I will move on to my questions. While a literacy and numeracy framework provides a framework for training teachers on improving literacy and numeracy, there is no framework for providing teachers with training on breaking the link between poverty and low attainment, as Simon Thomas mentioned earlier. So, what are your plans for training teachers on this priority? What consultation have you had with the teaching profession to inform this document and how do you plan to work with the profession on its implementation as we go on? Can you give us some up-to-date costings on initial teacher training and continuing professional development in terms of ensuring that the ‘Qualified for life’ objectives are actually met? Following on from that, will you outline the reporting process that has been put in place for teacher training, because how will you know, and then how will we know, as an Assembly, if public funding and resources devoted to achieving improvements have been used effectively? We need to understand the link-up here. Last week in evidence to committee on my Bill, your officials said that it was too early to judge the effectiveness of the LNF. So, do you have a timescale in mind for when the LNF and this additional support for teacher training can be assessed? I have a few questions—
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
You must hurry, because you have now had two minutes.
Right. Well, I am sorry. I have been waiting to be called.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
If you take 30 seconds, you will be fine.
I have two questions on PISA. For those young people who you said in your statement score below level 2 in mathematics, the OECD considers that they are unable to participate fully in modern society. Obviously, this is shocking. May I understand why, therefore, you did not take part in the PISA financial education test and why you will not be doing so in future? I would like to see, if this is a priority to tackle, that we would become part of those testing systems so that we can track change and monitor change in future.
Deputy Presiding Officer, Bethan Jenkins asks fundamental questions, as many have this afternoon, about the quality of our teacher training, and I share their anxiety around these issues. She asks about what resources might be available for us to overhaul the system. Well, of course, resources are going to be a problem. Resources in the current climate, given the pressures that the coalition Government in Westminster is putting upon us here in Wales, are going to be an issue. So, it is likely that we are going to have to overhaul the system within the resource envelope we already have. However, that is a considerable investment of public money, which we hand over to our higher education institutions up and down Wales, asking them to deliver.
I think that the fundamental question that needs to be asked, before issues of resources, is: are we asking for the right things to be delivered? In other words, are we describing what we want to our higher education institutions in terms of teacher training? I do not think that we are. I think that we have to fundamentally rethink what it is in connection with our ambitions, for instance, within this document that we will expect of our workforce. Let us remember that there will be other demands upon this workforce very soon. We will have a made-in-Wales curriculum for the first time ever. We need a workforce that is qualified to deliver on that curriculum, which has never been taught before. Assumptions about how the national curriculum used to run are all going to be outdated. We are going to need a new workforce in that regard. So, we have to be clear about what we are asking for, and I think that we are going to have to be much more rigorous about the quality that we expect. I have been conducting discussions, for instance, with Estyn about a new inspection regime around initial teacher training that will be necessary given the kind of revamp system that I am describing here. It is a system, perhaps, that would require not just the expertise of Estyn, for which I have great respect—and it does a very good public service for us here in Wales—but perhaps benchmarking things like our new ITT system against an international measure of excellence and a gold standard there, perhaps inviting advice and expertise from further afield, from outside Wales on occasion. I will leave it there for the moment.
Thank you, Minister. Before I move to the next item, the Chair makes every effort to call as many Members as possible. I think that it is important that backbenchers are called and I do not like imposing restrictions on people when I call them, which is why I let time run on today. However, I do expect courtesy at all times from Members. May I assure you all that discourtesies are never ignored and do have a consequence at some point?
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, Edwina Hart.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. In my written statement in June, I said that I would provide a further update to Members in the autumn on the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission. I have been consulting with a number of my Cabinet colleagues over the summer, given the cross-Government nature of the recommendations. I have been pleased with the positive response and commitments.
A number of recommendations are the responsibility of the Minister for Education and Skills, who has made clear his commitment to learning from the co-operative sector to embed co-operative principles of democracy, transparency and learning and concern for the wider community in schools.
New legislation has now been introduced to encourage greater federation of schools, which will enable the sharing of good practice and resources. The Minister remains committed to the stakeholder model of school governance, which ensures that all stakeholders, including parents, staff, pupils and members of the local community, will continue to have a say in what happens to their school. A toolkit for schools to assist them in developing innovative and creative strategies is also being developed to support this objective.
The Minister for education also advised that the new Welsh baccalaureate will focus on four challenges—community, enterprise, global citizenship and a personal challenge. These have been designed to enable learners to develop skills and understanding that reflect many of the co-operative values and principles, including teamwork, personal responsibility and activism.
The Wales Co-operative Centre, along with a range of other employers and public sector and third sector organisations, participated in a two-day event arranged by the Welsh Government earlier this year to develop challenges. These challenges may be used by learners who undertake the revised, more rigorous Welsh baccalaureate, when it is implemented from September 2015.
The Wales Co-operative Centre has developed two draft challenges for the enterprise and employability component of the revised Welsh baccalaureate and will be working with WJEC from November 2014 to finalise these challenges. Many of the education-related recommendations require cultural change in the medium to long term. Professor Graham Donaldson, who has been appointed to lead an independent review of the national curriculum and assessment arrangements, will consider the findings of the commission in the context of his wider review.
The Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty has also responded positively with regard to the assets of community value to advise that she is actively considering the best way to take this work forward. She believes that there is scope to develop a better approach than that taken by the UK Government that will be more closely aligned to the Welsh content and priorities. The Minister has confirmed that she will be issuing a written statement about this.
The Minister for finance has reported good progress against the recommendations that fall within her responsibilities, in particular she highlights progress on the development of specialist expertise in co-operative procurement, where the joint bidding guide developed by Value Wales and the Wales Co-operative Centre is being piloted with a number of companies in the Haven Waterway enterprise zone. Funding has also been made available for further pilot projects, once identified. In addition, a training course on how to get the most from the joint bidding guidance is under development and will be available to public sector procurers later this year. Work is also underway to update all procurement guidance in light of the new EU procurement directives, which responds to another recommendation of the Commission.
In terms of health, this work is gathering momentum and there is already recognition of the benefits of encouraging social enterprise in the provision of social care. The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 introduces a duty on local authorities to promote social enterprise and co-operatives in the design and delivery of services. I understand that the Minister for Health and Social Services is meeting with the Wales Co-operative Centre and Social Firms Wales later this month.
Last month, the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism hosted a major conference to inform thinking and raise awareness of the options and benefits that the mutual model could bring to the future provision of leisure services. It provided an opportunity to share examples of good practice across the range of models that are being considered to deliver leisure services across Wales.
I have also had an update with regard to housing. The new Housing (Wales) Act 2014 intends to facilitate the further development of co-operative housing by lifting the bar on fully mutual co-operatives to be able to grant assured tenancies. Doing so should provide much greater security for members and tenants.
In terms of energy, grant funding for a fuel syndicate co-ordinator is being piloted to help increase the number of fuel syndicates across Ceredigion. Based on a co-operative model, the project helps households in off-gas areas to reduce the price they pay for oil. Additionally, we have the Ynni’r Fro programme, which is currently supporting 48 renewable energy projects throughout Wales and spin-out enterprises such as TGV Hydro. So far, the scheme has led to the establishment of 24 new enterprises.
I am committed to providing the right business support and advice to enable the growth of this sector. Alongside our mainstream Business Wales provision, I am continuing to provide grant funding for the Wales Co-operative Centre. The centre delivers the £8 million-social enterprise support project and the £1.2 million-business succession and consortia project as well as providing advice on policy matters with regard to the sector. Our Business Wales service is also working closely with the centre and other support bodies to enhance the provision of the volunteer mentoring service. In addition, a social enterprise feature is being developed as part of the Business Wales website, to be launched in early 2015. The centre is also working with us on a comprehensive mapping exercise that will increase our intelligence and understanding of the sector. The resulting information, due before the end of this year, will help to identify and strengthen supply-chain opportunities and highlight any further work that is needed in this area.
This is a summary of the progress being made by the Welsh Government to date, but the commission was clear in its report that the co-operative and mutual sector itself must also play a greater role. It is important that the sector does not underestimate the challenges before it. I will be meeting with David Jenkins, chair of the Wales Co-operative Centre, tomorrow to discuss this further. The enthusiasm and commitment generated by the commission’s report must continue. There is also a need to monitor progress. Therefore, I have asked Professor Andrew Davies to reconvene the commission to meet in six months’ time to review the steps that have been taken to implement its recommendations. I will provide Assembly Members with a full update on progress following this.
As somebody who previously spent his career in the mutual sector, I am clearly somebody who is very committed to it, with 22 years working in the building society sector and fighting off demutualisation to go forward. However, like the non-mutual banking sector, many building societies, including my own, fell sick of the general disease where we replaced qualified accountants and bankers with people who did not have those qualifications, but who did have short-term contracts with big tail-end bonuses linked to market growth and market share, rather than risk management and capital adequacy. My point being: do you agree that, although the mutual sector is something that we should celebrate and support, it is not a magic bullet, but rather it is a social business that is at as much risk from bad management and failure of corporate controls as any other business?
You referred quite rightly, as the commission did, to the important role that the education sector can play. I wonder whether you could also comment on the reference in its report to higher education and, in the context of enterprise in the baccalaureate, respond to calls from non-mutual business sectors, through the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses and others about the need to promote understanding of business and entrepreneurial activity in the social and non-social sectors within our schools and educational establishments.
You make reference to assets of community value being looked at by the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty. Are you able to comment on progress with regard to implementation of the UK Localism Act 2011 provision for community right-to-bid for assets of community value in Wales, which Ministers have powers to introduce here, and in relation to protecting valued community facilities such as pubs, by listing them as assets of community value? Clearly, it would not only be pubs, as there are some excellent examples where community mutuals have taken over successfully those community assets and turned them into something much more than just the local watering hole. You referred to procurement. Again, do you concur with my understanding that, although there must be a level playing field for tendering on procurement exercises, a mutual has no more advantage, other than on European Community clauses, than a non-mutual bidder, and that the tenderer cannot favour them any more or less simply because they are a mutual?
In terms of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, you might recall that I called for the co-operative and social sector to be used as care agencies in the delivery of direct payments and independent living. Again, are you able to comment on the progress of that, engaging this sector as a way of removing risks for citizens who want to exploit the opportunities for citizen-directed support?
I have commissioning versus co-production. Co-production is breaking down the barriers between service provision and service user. How do you respond to the call by many organisations, such as hospices, bereavement counselling providers and energy advice providers, that public sector commissioners can actually deliver more for less, particularly at a time of constrained budgets, by commissioning, designing and delivering more with some of those third sector bodies, exploiting the professional expertise that they have and making the public pound go further?
Finally, in terms of the commission’s call for significant strengthening of business advice and support to co-operatives and mutuals, and for a grants and loan fund—co-operative and mutual finance Wales—I wonder whether you could respond to that, as I think I missed that in your statement.
I think that I would agree with Mark Isherwood that it is important to celebrate and support the roles of co-operatives and mutuals, but also to recognise, importantly, that they are a business. They are just as at risk if they are not well managed and if they do not get the best advice as any other business. I think that we have to understand that in particular.
In terms of the education sector, I think that the response of the Minister for education has been first class in wanting to deal with the wider issues around co-operatives and mutuals. Like you, I think that it is important that, within education, particularly with older and younger students, they do actually understand what business is, not just in the context of mutuals and co-operatives and so on, but the world of business and the world of entrepreneurship and design. I think that this is now starting to feature quite clearly in discussions within the education sector and the development of what we are doing within the education sector.
In terms of the assets and community value, this is an issue on which I knew that my colleague the Minister would be issuing a written statement. Obviously, she knows what the issues are around the localism agenda in the UK, and she also understands the role that businesses like pubs and others can play within the community and whether they should be community assets. I know that that is still under discussion in terms of what issues will be covered in her statement.
On procurement it is important to recognise that many of the new provisions are in line with Welsh Government policy and they support the work to make it easier for small and third sector firms to bid for public sector opportunities. We accept that there has to be an even playing field on this, but we also need to know what help and assistance we can give.
In terms of social services, I know that my colleague the Minister for Health and Social Services is very keen to see new models of care emerging. Also, I fully understand the points that you make in terms of hospices and others, how we procure and what we do with services across Wales. We want to maximise the money that is available in the public purse with the expertise that can come to us from the third sector. Also, in terms of business development, I think that you need to recognise that, in terms of what we are doing, we are trying to have a strand within Business Wales that can help specifically in these areas. Some of the ideas that people have for co-operatives and mutuals are quite small, and they need some specialist advice. We are seeking to try to undertake that within the overall role of the organisation.
Minister, I thank you for your statement, and for the tone of it. What it is talking about is really embedding the values and the principles of mutualism and co-operativism within much of what we do, from education to business. What greater role model could there be for young people in Wales than the idea of working collectively for the public benefit, for public service, not just for the concept of profit and getting wealthy, but for the community benefit that arises from working together? As chair of the 10-member strong Co-operative Party group within the Assembly, I will be heading off to the Co-operative Party conference this weekend. So, I think that there is an awful lot for me to report on.
I will not go through all of the matters that you raise, because there is no time, but I will particularly welcome the part of your statement dealing with the co-operative ownership of land and assets, because that is something that you will know a number of us as Members have raised with Government. The one question that I would particularly like to ask about is the issue of not only the devolution of rail powers, but the issue that we have discussed on a number of occasions of a not-for-profit rail franchise. Is that something that features within your thinking and Government policy in terms of how that might develop?
Thank you very much for welcoming the statement, because I think that it is important that we embed the spirit of mutuals and co-operatives within the policy of Government.
With regard to your particular point on rail, it is one of the issues that I will be considering, because I think that it is important, if and when we do have the devolution of rail powers, that we look at a not-for-profit model. A not-for-profit model would be widely welcomed in discussions and I have started to commission some work in this area.
Certainly, Plaid Cymru has welcomed the Government’s decision to establish this commission and we have also welcomed the commission’s report. We appreciate the fact that the Minister has taken the time since publishing the report to consult across the Government, given that there is so much useful input that could come, as we have heard from the Minister this afternoon, from fellow members of the Cabinet.
I have a few brief comments in relation to some of the things that the Minister has raised. We welcome the changes to the baccalaureate to include the four challenges. We also welcome the work of the Wales Co-operative Centre in schools. I think that things are moving in the right direction, but more work is needed—I hope that the Minister would agree—to promote the co-operative model specifically. We could compare, for example, the work that has been done on promoting entrepreneurship in schools, and therefore I think that there is room to give similar status to promoting co-operative businesses or to working along those lines. There is a need to integrate that kind of work and to talk about the possible benefits of co-operation. We have heard about the excellent international examples, such as MONDRAGON in the Basque Country, employing some 80,000 people in 250 companies and organisations, and there are models that we can look at in Wales.
In terms of finance, we welcome the positive steps, but, once again, more needs to be done. Plaid Cymru recently specifically spoke about the possibility of introducing some kind of fund for local communities that want to buy pubs that are facing the prospect of closure. I cannot fail to use the opportunity to mention the Iorwerth Arms in Bryngwran, as I have done before. I would like to thank those bodies that have contributed to ensure that that pub has now opened as a community venture—organisations such as Menter Môn and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action.
I would also like to appeal that we build on some of the examples of good practice that the Minister has mentioned this afternoon, when it comes to increasing the role of co-operative businesses or consortia, particularly in procurement.
In terms of energy, I want to congratulate Ynni’r Fro, and the fact that it has led to very successful spin-offs. We need to continue to improve on our work here in Wales in terms of using co-operative models in energy generation. We often talk about Germany and Denmark as good examples of where energy projects offer a large stake to the communities that they serve. There are good examples in Wales, too. I know that Swansea bay lagoon offers dividends for local people. Lessons need to be learned from that, because it offers an excellent platform for increasing the amount of clean energy that we generate in Wales at the same time.
We welcome the update from the Minister. I realise that you are going to reconvene the commission in six months. All that I will say is that I hope that it works quickly when thathappens. We do not want to spend too much time revewing a review. We have the ideas; what is important is action.
I can assure you that I am calling the commission together to ensure that we are getting the work going, rather than for it to do a review. It is probably trying to mark us out of 10 on everything that we have indicated. It is quite important that we have that external look at what we are doing as a Government across portfolios.
I agree with you: we should talk more about ourselves and some of the things that we have done in Wales on the energy agenda. We have some very successful projects, and we need to ensure that those projects are not just embedded in the communities where they are now, but that good practice is expanded elsewhere. I am particularly keen on the work that my colleague Jane Hutt has done on procurement to make it easier for groups to come together to act as consortia, so that we can develop this agenda further. However, the issue, of course, is finance. What type of financial model could we put in place to encourage further development? This is an area where I intend to do some further work. There is no doubt in my mind that more work is needed—I think that the Minister for education agrees—within the education sector itself to show not only the benefits of being an entrepreneur, but also on the issue of co-operatives and mutualism, how they work and how they can benefit the community. This is about how we can inspire young people to look at where they want to go in life and what they want to be a part of in the future.
I thank the Minister for her statement. I think that we all recognise the value of mutuality as one of the business models available to entrepreneurs in Wales, and that diversity in terms of business models is a real strength in an economy. However, we have to be very careful not to conflate mutuals with social enterprises, because they are fundamentally different things. While the principles of mutuality should, by definition, you would hope, lead to a more open and democratic way of working, an organisation’s ethics are down to its beliefs and its practices, not its organisational structure. We need to recognise that. We are doing social enterprises, in particular, an injustice if we conflate these two terms, because we are fundamentally misunderstanding what they are there to do and, potentially, restricting the options for social entrepreneurs as well. Many social entrepreneurs, when they first start out, are very small. Potentially, they are sole traders or partnerships of two or three people, for whom mutuality is not necessarily an obvious business model to pursue. I think particularly of some of the small, education-based providers that provide support, such as Science Made Simple here in Cardiff, which is a wonderful social enterprise. However, it is a business; it is not a co-operative, and it is not a charity either.
I note that the social enterprise support project is delivered by the Wales Co-operative Centre. I wonder whether the Welsh Government monitors the level of support offered to different models of social enterprise through the centre. What specialist support is offered to sole traders, partnerships and those who seek to set up a charitable organisation? Are there specialist mentors from those backgrounds available to offer support and advice to those following a different path other than a mutual one?
What a mutual structure is, of course, fantastic at enabling is the kind of community-led project where, by working together, local people can really feel that they have a way of driving a common goal. I am interested in the example that you give of the renewable energy sector. Could you give us an idea of the geographical spread of these projects, and whether the Welsh Government is doing some research to establish whether these smaller, community-led projects enjoy a smoother passage through our planning system than some of the projects directed by other organisations, where local communities feel that an energy project is being done to them rather being done by them or for them? Research of that nature would be very interesting.
I particularly welcome the increased focus on the potential role of mutuals in delivering things like social care and other public services, where a more open democratic structure would be particularly welcome, not just to the public and the public purse but also to service users. However, one thing I noticed that was mentioned in the report but not in your statement at present was a recommendation to introduce something along the lines of the Bristol pound here in Wales. Could you tell us what the Welsh Government’s response to that suggestion is?
On the Bristol pound, there is still some work going on within the department, and I would be happy to update Members in due course. You made a very thoughtful contribution. We need to realise what we are talking about here, and what the differences are between organisational structures. There is a good point about mutuality and ethics; it is particularly important.
In terms of the Wales Co-operative Centre and the work that it is undertaking in that area, I will deal with that with David Jenkins in my meeting tomorrow to see if more information is forthcoming that I can share with Members, because I think that you made some good points about whether we have specialist people, mentors, et cetera, and how it is running.
In terms of renewable energy, I thought that the comment about the planning system was quite interesting, because you are right: a lot of communities feel that a project is imposed and they are not part of the project or the essence of it. I will certainly ask my officials what work has been undertaken in that particular area, but it probably crosses two portfolios.
In terms of social care, I think that you are absolutely right. In social care, it should be an open, democratic structure, not just for the benefit that the people who provide it, but actually for the users of the service, as I think that they might have a lot of confidence in a service that is delivered in that way. So, I will get back to the Member and the Chamber on the outstanding points.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services, Mark Drakeford.
I am pleased to be able to update Members about the recent public health White Paper consultation. The White Paper was published in April and I said at the time that it was my ambition to use the powers available to this Assembly and to extract the maximum contribution from new legislative action to meet the public health challenges of our time. The consultation opened for a period of 12 weeks and ended on 24 June. Today, I wish to focus on some of the emerging themes from the consultation. I do so to provide some essential context to the publication of the responses to the consultation and the Government's summary report, which I intend to publish within the next month.
Wales has a strong and proud record in public health legislation. We have long understood that collective action provides the best basis for improving and protecting the public’s health. We only need to look to the smoking ban in public places to see a good example of how the law can make a real and positive contribution to people’s lives.
The public health White Paper builds on this radical tradition, making full use of this fourth Assembly’s legislative capability. The need to do so is real and urgent as we address the complex health challenges that we face in Wales. Only last week, the chief medical officer’s annual report again emphasised the need to focus on prevention. We have a responsibility, I believe, to create an environment in which people can make positive health decisions and where, as far as possible, those preventable health problems that blight the lives and prospects of so many can be avoided. In the age of austerity, the imperative to prevent avoidable harm is even more urgent, as finite resources meet a tide of increasing demand.
The proposals in the White Paper draw on the principles of prudent healthcare by intervening at those points that have the greatest potential for long-term benefit in the health of individuals, young and old. They are based on the need for a strong partnership with the public, on reciprocal action and a renewed sense of shared responsibilities. Against that background, I am very pleased to report that the White Paper generated a high volume of responses, lively debate and strong general support. Of course, no single proposal produced unanimity. Each has its powerful supporters and, in some cases, its detractors. In every case, there were those who argued that the proposals in the White Paper should be extended and taken further, just as there were some who argued for more modest reforms.
The proposal for a national tobacco retailers’ register had very broad support. There was recognition of its role in reducing the sale of tobacco products to children aged under 18 and in helping trading standards officers to enforce the ban on the display of tobacco products in shops. Suggestions were made about how we could maximise the effectiveness of a register and minimise any burdens for retailers. Helpful practical suggestions were provided in relation to smoke-free open places and internet sales of tobacco. We will draw on these suggestions further as we move into the next stage of the legislative process.
The proposal for a national special procedures register for cosmetic piercing, tattooing, semi-permanent skin colouring, acupuncture and electrolysis was also well received. That included a number of practitioners who already operate to the highest standards in this field and who wish to see standards raised across the whole of their industry. Some called for the scope of the register to be extended to cover, for example, dermal fillers. The Government will give careful thought to these additional suggestions.
The plans set out in the White Paper to extend mandatory nutritional standards to care homes and pre-school settings were very broadly welcomed. Once again, responses were characterised by a series of suggestions for further extending the scope of such standards to, for example, day-care settings and leisure centres, among others.
Maximising the contribution of our community pharmacy network to public health through the introduction of pharmaceutical needs assessments was powerfully endorsed in the consultation process. I am grateful to those individuals and specialist organisations that provided expert advice about how such needs assessments might best be carried out in a way that captures and enhances the contribution that community pharmacies make to the public health agenda.
Proposals to place a statutory duty on local authorities to develop a strategy for the provision of toilets for use by the public received a very positive response, although the local government sector itself had some understandable reservations. I appreciate the hesitation it feels at taking on new responsibilities at a time of resource constraint. The regulatory impact assessment that will follow now will explore these considerations in detail. I remain heartened, however, at the clear recognition in the consultation of the public health case for a local strategy on this matter.
The proposal to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol was, once again, widely endorsed. There remains opposition from some quarters, particularly from the industry itself. While I am happy to explore the issues causing concern, I do not believe that this is a sufficient reason to step aside from the very direct public health benefits that we are confident minimum unit pricing will bring.
Finally, we come to electronic cigarettes. Just over half the responses on this matter were copies of a single letter opposing the proposal. Let me be clear once again: there are no proposals in the White Paper to restrict the sale of electronic cigarettes. There are no proposals in the White Paper to ban the use of electronic cigarettes in their entirety. There are no proposals in the White Paper that would interfere with the use of e-cigarettes as an aid to giving up smoking. The White Paper simply proposes bringing the use of e-cigarettes into line with the use of conventional cigarettes. It does so in order to help prevent the renormalisation of smoking; to reduce the risk of e-cigarettes becoming a gateway to smoking itself; and to prevent e-cigarettes from undermining the ban on conventional cigarettes in enclosed public places.
We received the strongest support for our proposals from those organisations with the most direct experience of these matters. All local health boards, Public Health Wales, local authority enforcement teams and their representative organisations supported the proposal. The British Medical Association in Wales voiced its strong support. In the period since the White Paper was published, I believe that the evidence in support of the Welsh Government’s position has strengthened. Most prominently, the World Health Organization has recommended that e-cigarettes be brought in line with smoke-free regimes, just as we intend for Wales. I remain convinced that anyone charged with safeguarding the future health of the Welsh people would wish to put in place precautionary restrictions on the use of these cigarettes in enclosed public places, as the White Paper proposed.
I look forward to publishing the summary report and the White Paper consultation responses within the next month, and to continued discussion of these important proposals as we bring forward our Bill next year, for its scrutiny by this National Assembly.
I thank you, Minister, for your statement. As I have said in this Chamber before, I believe that the overwhelming majority of the actions that you intend to bring forward as a result of the proposals in the White Paper have the potential to deliver significant improvements in public health in Wales. That does not mean that I am content with all of it and there are some issues that I just want to refer to in response to your statement if I can.
First of all, I fully support the need to ensure that there is an adequate network of public conveniences around Wales. As you referred to in your statement, there are financial challenges that local authorities are facing. Of course, without a direct duty to provide a specific network of public conveniences—which is quite prescriptive—I do fear, if you will forgive me for the pun, that it will fall between two stools and that you will not get the desired outcome that you are hoping for with that particular policy initiative. I wonder, Minister, whether you can shed any more light on the discussions that you and your department are having with local authorities in order to overcome the significant issues that they face in terms of their financial challenges.
I also, as you know Minister, have personally been fully supportive of the need for minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Wales. That is something that I still fully support on a personal basis. However, I am concerned about the competency issues surrounding that. As far as I understand it, the National Assembly for Wales does not yet currently have the competency to be able to legislate on that matter. I wonder, Minister, if you can provide us with information on any discussions that you and your officials have had, both with the Wales Office and the wider UK Government, on whether there is a mechanism for devolving a set of powers. We have, obviously, the Wales Bill on the table at the moment in Westminster. That may well be an opportunity for the National Assembly to secure those powers so that we can do with them what we will in Wales.
With reference to tobacco control, I fully acknowledge and support the need for a tobacco retailers register. I think that that is a very positive development. It is something that many organisations have been calling for for a long time. However, the jury is still out on the long term impact of e-cigarettes. As you know, I am not yet persuaded that there is sufficient evidence of harm from e-cigarettes. In fact, to the contrary, there are many people who have come out supporting e-cigarettes as a form of harm reduction and as an opportunity to support smokers to be able to quit. I am not convinced, Minister, that banning their use in confined public spaces in the same way that tobacco smoking is controlled is going to help us to reduce harm from smoking in Wales. If you send people to the smokers’ hut in order to vape, as those people who use e-cigarettes would describe it, it will put them in temptation’s way, among other people who are smoking, and expose them to second-hand smoke risk.
You have made reference to the advice of the World Health Organization, but you did not make reference to other research and other articles published in medical journals over the summer recess. People such as Robert West and Jamie Brown of University College London and Ann McNeill, who is a professor in the National Addiction Centre at Kings College London, have all come out and said that there are thousands of lives that could be saved in the UK—hundreds of which would be here in Wales—if smokers made the switch from smoking tobacco to using e-cigarettes. The research that we know is out there suggests that there are one-twentieth of the toxins in e-cigarettes that there are in tobacco cigarettes. As we know, it is not the addiction to nicotine that kills smokers; it is the tar that they also inhale during the course of their smoking. I know that you have some concerns that e-cigarettes will renormalise smoking, particularly for young people. However, the Smoking Toolkit Study in England, which is a monthly survey of the adult population—6,000 people every single month are surveyed—shows that the rise in the use of e-cigarettes has been accompanied by an increase in smoking cessation rates in England and a fall in smoking prevalence. So, some of the information that you are using to shore up your arguments for a ban in some places on the use of e-cigarettes does not fall into line with the evidence that is currently on the table. I admit that further evidence still needs to be gleaned and that still more research needs to be done, and I would far rather see the Welsh Government commission that sort of research before it goes heavy-handed and has an all-out war on e-cigarettes, because I do not think that that is necessarily the right way forward.
On smoking cessation, the latest research suggests that the use of e-cigarettes in a quit attempt is associated with a 60% increase in abstinence rates compared to other programmes to cease smoking. I think that those are very stark figures, Minister, and we cannot ignore them. So, rather than continue to pursue the view and listen only to certain voices in the e-cigarettes challenge, shall we say, I think it would be much more prudent of the Government, rather than making a knee-jerk legislative response, to commission much more research on this subject so that we can get a better handle on the impact of e-cigarettes, particularly over the longer term. All the evidence to date shows that they reduce harm and that they can reduce the number of deaths. There is very little evidence to suggest that young people are actively taking up smoking as a result of using e-cigarettes too—very small numbers indeed.
I thank Darren Millar for much of what he said. He has in the past and again today expressed strong general support for a range of these measures. I was very grateful earlier in the summer to see his strong personal support for minimum unit pricing.
The Government believes that we do have competence in this area; we would not have brought the proposal forward in the White Paper if we did not believe that the competence already existed. However, in the post-referendum circumstances in which we find ourselves, he makes a very valuable suggestion about further discussions with the UK Government to see whether the belief we have can be further underlined.
I do not want to spend the whole afternoon dealing with just one strand in the White Paper, but let me say that a good part of what Darren had to say about e-cigarettes I thought was very measured. We have a further year to go before the National Assembly will be discussing the detail of the Bill that we will bring forward, and there will be 12 months of further accumulation of evidence. I was grateful to hear what he said early in his contribution about following the evidence and seeing where the evidence takes us. We are not going, even in that time, to reach a position where there is absolutely definitive evidence on e-cigarettes as to whether they do more harm or whether they do good. The Welsh Government’s position is this: where they can do good, we want to make sure that that good is harvested and that we use it here in Wales. However, where there is evidence that e-cigarettes can do harm—and I believe that that evidence is strengthening all the time—as a Minister for health there is only position that you can take, and that is to be precautionary. You may not be wholly convinced because the evidence will not be there to give you that definitive answer. However, if the risk is there—the risks led the World Health Organization in its authoritative advice to say that e-cigarettes should be legally banned indoors, especially where smoking itself is banned, and that this should be done, as it said, ‘as soon as possible’. That is authoritative advice. If you are charged with the responsibility for protecting the long-term health of the Welsh population, I do not think that it is possible to ignore advice of that sort. It is not advice that is not based on very strong scientific analysis. It is the BMA’s science committee that has led it to support a ban here in Wales and across the United Kingdom. It is the accumulating research evidence of the harm that e-cigarettes can do to children that leads it in that direction. It is why I believe that the balance of evidence is pointing in one direction. We will continue to pursue that evidence over the next 12 months. I hope that Darren will do as he said and continue to pursue that evidence too and continue to keep the dialogue on this important issue going.
May I join others in very much welcoming this statement today? It is very, very important that we move more securely on to a preventive health agenda in Wales and create the sort of environment that encourages and facilitates sensible health decisions, and I think that this is very much on that ground. I believe that the statistics on minimum alcohol pricing and what that means in terms of fewer hospital admissions and fewer violent crimes, for example, are absolutely compelling, and, obviously, the case on tobacco control has long been made and is beyond dispute. So, with just those two examples, this agenda is very much along the lines of what Wales badly needs to see. I would like to ask just a couple of questions on those issues. First, in respect of tobacco, would the Welsh Government consider extending the approach in terms of restrictions regarding smoking in open spaces? Many people believe that some examples of further progress might be restrictions in terms of smoking in outdoor areas of cafes and restaurants, for example, where I think that many people find, in the summer particularly, that eating and drinking outside in an atmosphere of smoke is not particularly pleasant. Further restrictions in that area of activity and also perhaps in city centres would help to move the agenda on in terms of the social acceptability of smoking and further restricting that social acceptability, as well as setting the most productive environment in terms of the preventive health agenda.
In terms of alcohol, I think that many people are angered by the sort of promotions and special offers that currently blight our city centres and encourage people to binge drink—for example, paying a certain amount of money and being able to drink as much as you like within a certain period of time—as well as the more I suppose long-standing happy hours and so on. I wonder whether the Minister might consider further restrictions, even if it again involves working with others such as the UK Government and local authorities in terms of where competence lies.
Finally, in terms of tattooing, I think that the register is a very good development that would deliver much in terms of more responsible practices within that field of activity. I know that many people under the age of 18 have permanent tattoos, and some of them, at least, later regret having had those tattoos and then find, of course, that it is a very, very expensive and, indeed, further painful experience to have those tattoos removed. So, anything that deals with that underage element would, I think, be very valuable.
I thank John Griffiths for those three suggestions. He will know that the White Paper proposes extending a statutory ban on smoking into new areas, particularly hospital grounds and children’s play areas. The consultation drew out a whole series of other possible areas where people would like us to consider moving to a ban on smoking: bus shelters were mentioned regularly in consultation, particularly where they are enclosed with a roof over them and where people are waiting for a considerable time and levels of smoke rise in a concentrated way. There are people who would like us to give local authorities the power to ban smoking on beaches where they would choose to introduce such a ban. We will look at all of the suggestions that have come forward as part of the consultation. We are firmly committed, as a result of a strong endorsement of the proposals that we put in on hospital grounds and play areas, and we will see whether there are ways in which we might be able to go beyond that, but we are not committed to that yet.
As far as alcohol is concerned, he is absolutely right that competence is a real issue here. Silk did not go as far as recommending that we should have some of the powers in this area that we sought, and suggested that they should instead be part of a further conversation. Well, I think that we are into that further conversation. I would be very keen—I always have been—to be able to make the public health impact one of the considerations that local authorities are able to take into account in making planning and licensing determinations. Local authorities in Scotland are already able to do that and the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey are also able to do that, but local authorities here in Wales do not have that power. I do not argue that public health should be the overriding consideration, but I do think that when an application comes in for yet another fast food outlet, yet another off licence, or yet another tobacco sales area, the public health impact of that ought to be one of the things that local authorities are entitled to take into account in making their determinations.
On tattooing, I think what the public health consultation showed is that there are very responsible people out there in the industry and, as so often happens, they are in favour of better regulation and in favour of the register. They see other people who cut corners and who do not do things in the right way, undercutting them because they do things with proper advice and proper equipment, and they want to see the best suppliers in the market made the ordinary suppliers.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Clearly, half an hour is not going to be sufficient for this statement, so I will extend it by the time needed to call everyone. However, I do remind Members that succinct contributions are often the most effective. That is no judgment on anyone who has spoken so far. I call Elin Jones.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I thank the Minister for his statement, although it is a little frustrating responding to a statement that is a response to a consultation on the White Paper when those consultation responses have not yet been published. That aside, there is much that is positive about the statement and the White Paper. I refer specifically to what you had to say this afternoon about a minimum unit price for alcohol. That is to be warmly welcomed as part of the White Paper and the legislation that will follow in due course.
May I ask three questions on three different areas? First, I have a question on something that is not included in your statement this afternoon, namely physical activity, and the importance of that in dealing with obesity. That was in the White Paper specifically, but physical activity is important far more generally in promoting the mental health and physical health of individuals. Among the responses that I have seen—I have seen copies of some of the responses from some bodies—there are responses that state that greater consideration should be given to physical activity in the legislation that is to emerge in due course. So, I would ask you specifically whether you intend to look at that particular area. In that context, your response to John Griffiths was interesting in that you are looking, possibly, at health impact assessments in terms of planning decisions. That could perhaps be a means of ensuring that decisions taken by local authorities in the context of planning would be a means of promoting physical activity, and certainly not of reducing the opportunities for individuals to undertake physical activity.
On e-cigarettes, very briefly, I am of the opinion that we need to regulate e-cigarettes, certainly in terms of their marketing, their content and their sale to young people and children, and that targeting. I have yet to be persuaded of the need for a ban on their use in public spaces, even after having seen some of the comments made by the World Health Organization. Some people of authority have a different perspective to that, and I am sure that we will discuss that when the legislation is before us.
I think that it is useful, Minister, that you have outlined three tests for yourself and for this Assembly in taking a decision on whether to ban e-cigarettes in public places. Those three tests that you have outlined today are around preventing the normalisation of smoking, reducing the risk of e-cigarettes becoming a gateway, and preventing e-cigarettes from undermining the ban on conventional cigarettes. I look forward to hearing your evidence and the evidence that the Assembly receives on those three tests in particular.
I have one issue in concluding, Deputy Presiding Officer, on an individual’s diet and the use of sugar particularly within that diet. You referred to the annual report of the chief medical officer in your statement, and, in that report, she was very clear about the damaging impact that the overconsumption of sugar can have on public health. Her recommendation was to look at taxation and legislation to reduce the consumption of sugar. Bearing in mind that we do not have taxation powers in this place and neither do you as Minister at present to introduce a tax on sugar, the chief medical officer's advice is to look at that. Can I ask you specifically what steps you are taking to bring pressure to bear on the Westminster Government in the short term so that it takes greater steps to reduce the consumption of sugar in the diets of individuals in Wales?
Thanks to Elin Jones. I have also read the evidence that has come in from people who argue that more could be done in the field of obesity and physical activity. I have asked my officials to go back to the people who have put forward that evidence to ask them specifically what they think we could do through legislation. A lot of the suggestions that have come in are matters of policy and practice. I have not yet received the answers to see exactly what we could do through legislation to promote that agenda. There are a great many things that have come in that we could use, but for the Bill, what exactly are they suggesting? We have asked them to help us to see whether it is something like that.
On e-cigarettes, I have heard what she has to say. In the evidence that we received through the consultation, what the people of Wales are concentrating on is the third aspect. A lot of evidence has come in from people working in the field and who say,
‘We are having problems already in enforcing the ban on conventional cigarettes, because it is so difficult to distinguish e-cigarettes from conventional cigarettes’. There has been evidence from some trading standards officers in Wales where prosecutions have failed. They have tried to prosecute people for using cigarettes in taxis, for example, but the person was able to claim that they were using an e- cigarette and not a conventional cigarette, and given the length of time that had elapsed between the event and the court case, the court decided that it was not able to make a finding of guilt. There is an accumulation of evidence in the consultation responses that focuses on the difficulties of enforcing the existing ban. It is why we have organisations right across Wales already enforcing the ban, such as the Millennium Stadium here in Cardiff and the Swansea Liberty Stadium. Why do they do it? It is because, in the concentrated period of times that they have, they cannot afford to have confusion over whether people are using conventional cigarettes or e-cigarettes, because it is making the ban less effective. We have evidence on all three tests, but there is very practical evidence on that one.
On the final point, on sugar, as Elin Jones was saying, we do not, as a Government, have any powers at the moment to tax. I have written more than once now to Jeremy Hunt on this issue, to try to persuade him to do more through what they call ‘the voluntary deal’, which exists between the industry and the Government at Westminster. I believe that there is more that he could do with the powers that he has. I have not yet spoken or written to him on the issue of tax, but I would be perfectly happy to do so.
I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon, and I welcome very much indeed the focus on public health as a very important, longer-term strategy for addressing some of the pressures that undoubtedly exist within the NHS. It has been interesting to hear the Minister talk about the need to pursue evidence. I am slightly concerned to hear him talk about some of the ways in which he may extend the role of the state, so to speak, into some personal behaviours. Undoubtedly, evidence is very important to follow, but I also think that we have to be aware and be wary of the Government’s extension of its role into personal freedoms and liberties. That is something that I am very watchful of, and I guess that that is why the Minister stands over on that side of the Chamber and I stand here. However, I hope that we can work together in a sense of mutual respect from those points of view. If we are to improve public health, compulsion sometimes is not the right way to change people’s behaviour and attitudes. It can be, in some cases, but I think that, sometimes, we have to be wary of that.
With regard to the point that the Minister makes on cosmetic procedures, I note that he has said that, with regard to a register for that, he has had additional representations made with regard to dermal fillers. Not that I would know much, from personal experience, about dermal fillers—not yet, anyway—but undoubtedly this is an invasive type of procedure with potentially harmful substances that can have a knock-on effect. So, I welcome that. However, there have been some suggestions in the past that the register should be extended to hairdressing, because of the nature of some of the techniques that those professionals use, which I am probably slightly more familiar with. They can have some significant consequences if they are not handled appropriately. I wonder whether you have had any responses to the consultation in that regard.
With regard to nutritional standards, much of the focus of the public health White Paper has been on obesity, which is perfectly understandable, but with nutritional standards also comes the opportunity to address the issue of malnutrition, something that was highlighted very recently by the Commissioner for Older People in Wales. What evidence does the Minister have that nutritional standards could actually assist with regard to malnutrition, given the potential savings that that might have in terms of the health service, as well as, of course, reducing personal harm?
With regard to e-cigarettes, would the Minister acknowledge that there is no consensus of opinion with regard to the evidence yet? He is quite correct in his statements regarding the World Health Organization, but would he not agree that evidence produced this summer, for instance in the journal ‘Addiction’, does point to e-cigarettes being a useful tool for harm reduction? What analysis is the Minister able to ask his officials to carry out with regard to the benefits of e-cigarettes in reducing harm from traditional tobacco as compared with the threats that e-cigarettes pose to public health, which the Minister himself outlined? Is there a way of trying to measure those two factors against one another? However, I would agree with him that we need to continue to look at the evidence and follow that evidence.
One thing that was not addressed in the public health White Paper—and I do not want to pre-empt the work of the Health and Social Care Committee, but it is currently looking at this—is psychoactive substances, which are legal and can be extremely harmful to human health. I wonder whether the Minister will use the opportunity between now and the publication of the legislation to ask his officials to look especially at the issue of psychoactive substances, and at any competency that the Minister may have in this area to take action on that particular issue.
I thank Kirsty Williams very much for that. I want to assure her that I share her general belief that any extension in the role of the state is something that you have to think of very carefully indeed. You do not do it lightly and you do not do it without being persuaded that the greater good of a greater number of people will come about as a result.
These debates happen every time a public health advance happens. I spent a bit of my summer reading some Barbara Castle material, from the time when she was Minister for transport and was introducing the breathalyser test and seat belts at the same time. You cannot imagine the abuse that she faced from people who believed that her actions in insisting that people not drink and drive was an assault on human rights and an invasion of the state into areas that the state had no right to go. Yet, we would not dream of going back to the days when people were able to cause deaths on the road in the way that happened then. So, we think about it very carefully, but it does not mean to say that we do not think that there can be times when it is the right thing to do.
On cosmetic procedures, there is a very interesting contribution to the consultation from the British hairdressers’ panel—I am trying to remember its exact title. It is the statutory body that regulates the industry, sets the wage rates, and so on. It referred to dermal fillers and the need to regulate there. There are people who want us to include colonic irrigation, whatever that may be—I certainly do not know—and all sorts of things that, I hope, Members in the Chamber are not familiar with. [Laughter.]
You are absolutely right to point to the older persons’ commissioner. Her contribution to the consultation focused on residential care, malnutrition and what she described as a tension between the need to have mandatory standards and yet the right for people to make decisions for themselves about their own diets, in their own homes. It is about managing those two things together.
We will continue to look to see whether e-cigarettes are a useful tool for harm reduction. There is nothing in what we propose that would stop that from happening.
On legal highs, I look forward to the Health and Social Care Committee report. I met this morning with Judge Kyrie James, chair of our advisory panel on substance misuse in Wales, and I pointed out to her the work that the committee was doing and asked whether the panel, which is an expert panel, would take a look at the committee's report when it is published and help to give the Government some advice on it. If the committee's work or that advice points us in the direction of legislative things that we could do, then this would be a very good time to be taking account of that.
There are two areas that I would like to speak about. One is the important role that pharmacies play, and my question to you, Minister, is this. Will the proposals for a pharmaceutical needs assessment contained in the public health White Paper encourage new entrants in those areas where pharmacy services are weakest?
The other point that I want to raise is this. As an ex-licensee and a virtual teetotaller—as a consequence, I have to say, of seeing the ill effects that excessive alcohol consumption has on people—but also as somebody who understands the industry as it is now, my plea is this: when we are looking at the impact of alcohol consumption and the likely effect that it will have on health services, if we look only at licensed premises, we are missing the problem. At the moment, as things stand—and I have observed this behaviour—people go to the supermarket to buy most of their alcohol in bulk. They do not go to happy hour in the pubs because it is still way more expensive than it is in the supermarket. So, my plea to you, Minister, is to understand the problem, and to try to provide—or to persuade people to provide—some better understanding on the current labelling system. I do not know whether everybody in this room can understand how the strength of a beer or wine translates into the units that you can drink every week safely. If they do, they have managed to get their heads around it better than most people. It is utterly confusing. It is okay to say, ‘You can have a unit’, but what is a unit, and what is the strength of the beer? My feeling, which is backed up by the feelings of other people, is that we would do well, where we can, to influence youngsters by educating them about the dangers of alcohol, and that if we do not do that in a way that speaks to young people, we are missing a trick. It is all very well and good for people to go home and think that they can have one beer every single night of the week. The next thing is that they are having two beers, then three beers, and then four beers. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that. However, to just hit pubs and leave supermarkets alone would be to completely miss the target.
On pharmaceutical needs assessment, I believe that it will encourage new entrants in certain places. What health boards will be able to do is to focus not only simply on whether there is sufficient dispensing of prescriptions capacity in an area, but on whether community pharmacies are able to provide a much wider range of services, which we know that they can do very effectively: emergency hormonal contraception, work in substance misuse, smoking cessation—a whole range of things of a public health nature that pharmacies can do very successfully. If those services are not available in an area, the first thing that they will do is go to existing pharmacies and see if they are willing to undertake those extra duties. If they are not, they will be able to allow new entrants into the marketplace to ensure that those pharmaceutical needs are supplied.
In relation to minimum unit pricing, it is not simply aimed at licensed premises; it will affect supermarkets as well. They will be captured by minimum unit pricing, anywhere that alcohol is sold. If you buy alcohol in the very cheapest part of a market where the most problematic drinking is concentrated, you pay around 33 pence per unit. It is as little as that, and that is where the harm comes from. A BMJ paper published last week by the University of Sheffield, which is advising us on our proposals, said that, in England, if a minimum unit price of 45 pence was introduced, it would save 624 lives every year and reduce hospital admissions by 23,700. There is a really massive impact to be had from minimum unit pricing, properly applied.
I will be quick because most of my colleagues on the Health and Social Care Committee have asked all the questions. Minister, I am very pleased with this statement, and I am also very pleased with the fact that we are driving the preventative agenda forward, which is critical today, to avoid the situation of pressures upon the health service. I am also pleased to hear that you are looking at the physical activity side of obesity, because this is about addressing dietary needs and about addressing the physical activity side. One point I wish to ask about is whether the Government has looked at the EU side of things and at the tobacco products directive. I am disappointed that the e-cigarette industry and the tobacco industry are challenging that. What impact would that have on the due process of this Bill and the preventative health measures that we are taking? I always say that smoking is still one of the major factors that we have to address in terms of the dangers to our health today.
I thank David Rees for that. The European Union tobacco directive was a product of the Irish presidency. I was able to discuss with the Irish Minister for Health, Dr Reilly, the very major effort that it had to make to secure the passage of that directive through the Commission and then through the Parliament. It takes a bit of gall on the part of major tobacco companies, when I read them saying to me, in their evidence through consultation, that I need not worry about the tobacco retailers register and that I need not worry about some of the measures that this Assembly is, I think, very supportive of in reducing smoking among children, because the tobacco directive will take care of it, without saying a single sentence in their evidence that they themselves are funding massively the legal challenge to that directive through British and European courts. I thought it a great shame yesterday to see major e-cigarette companies join in that. They took a judicial review through the UK courts yesterday and will go to Europe next in order to prevent some of the safeguards that the tobacco directive will allow us to implement for smokers on the one hand and e-cigarettes on the other—safeguards which I think were agreed on across the Chamber in relation to age restrictions for children and in relation to e-cigarette flavours and so on. We simply should not be surprised that the industry, from its history, resists, resists and resists in every way it can the measures that are taken in the public health field to reduce the harm from smoking, and it is at it again.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister for Finance and Government Business, Jane Hutt.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. This afternoon, I am pleased to announce the launch of the next invest-to-save funding round. Members will be familiar with the fund and some of the excellent work that it has helped to facilitate across all areas of the public sector in Wales. Before I provide Members with the details of the next round of bidding, I first want to draw attention to some of the achievements of the scheme. The facts are these: to date, the total value of investments made by the fund stand at almost £100 million; independent research has shown that the fund delivers a gross return of £3 for every £1 invested; and the fund has delivered real improvements in front-line service delivery across all areas of the public sector—better services at a reduced cost to the taxpayer. Improvements to public services include the implementation of electronic records in parts of the Welsh NHS, better asset management arrangements that allow the reallocation of resources to front-line services, and the development of new and improved ways of working between different service providers that share the same objectives.
The Welsh Government is in the process of embarking on the most significant reform of public services and public service delivery we have seen in a generation, and standing still is not an option. The invest-to-save fund can, and should, continue to play a key role in enabling change to take place and help to ensure that first-class services are delivered across the whole of Wales. The fund is one of the tools at our disposal to assist in the implementation of the public sector reform agenda set out by the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery, and we will be exploring the opportunities for using the fund to support this programme. The outcomes that the fund has enabled demonstrate that there is no reason or benefit for organisations to continue working in isolation, for them to struggle to maintain an asset base that is unsustainable, or for them to continue working with outdated and ineffective systems. The invest-to-save fund provides a win-win scenario for the Welsh Government and public services across the whole of Wales. The unique way in which the fund operates allows us to deliver far more than the initial investment would suggest, and public services have access to interest-free funding and support.
The fund has been the subject of a review by the Finance Committee and the subject of an independent evaluation, the results of which were published in May. Both reviews found the fund to be an effective, useful and worthwhile tool to assist organisations in achieving their ambition of releasing savings and improving services. The processes for this bidding round have been adapted in the light of the recommendations made by both reviews. The bidding round I am launching today sees the Welsh Government with £21.3 million available for new investments in 2015-16. This year, I am extremely keen to see bids that demonstrate collaboration and innovation, demonstrate the learning and spread of good practice, and promote energy efficiency and help to reduce our carbon footprint. For the latter, I am ring-fencing an additional £1.5 million on top the fund in 2015-16 and providing a further £1.5 million in 2014-15. I will be working with the Minister for Natural Resources to ensure that these funds are used in the most effective way possible.
I see spreading good practice as a key part of improving services to the public. Over the summer, my officials have been working with the Public Policy Institute for Wales to assess how we can encourage the implementation of good practice in one area to other areas of the country. It makes sense for us to seek out the circumstances where organisations face the same challenges so that we can share ideas that will lead others to resolve their problems.
Tailoring services for local needs can be a good thing, but variability that is solely for the sake of local identity and is of no benefit to local people is not what we wish to see. A major part of our effort this year will be concentrated on picking up ideas and disseminating them, and breaking down the barriers that lead to improvements beginning and ending in isolated pockets.
This morning, I visited an energy efficiency scheme in the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital for Wales. This project is an extremely common sense example of how the provision of an upfront investment of £250,000 by the fund can deliver not only cash-releasing savings estimated to be more than £600,000 in total, but other benefits such as a reduction in carbon emissions of an estimated 250 tonnes per annum. It is very easy to see this scheme as a pilot project that can, with a little investment, be rolled out across every health board, local authority and sponsored body, increasing the value of the efficiencies generated by one scheme many times over.
To date, the invest-to-save fund has provided support for a total of 94 projects since 2009. The portfolio of projects ranges from the more efficient management of land and assets, to maximizing the use of ICT so that working practices are streamlined and improved and to the joining-up of health and social care service provision. Changes such as these make sure that it is not artificial organisational boundaries that drive delivery, but the needs of the vulnerable members of our society who rely on these services.
Some of the examples of the collaborative schemes the fund has assisted include a collaborative project in north Wales that is led by Conwy County Borough Council in partnership with Anglesey, Gwynedd and Flintshire. The project delivers a 24-hour bilingual call service to support vulnerable people in their own homes. From an investment of £300,000, the project is expected to deliver savings of over £1.46 million by 2015. This is an excellent example of how collaboration combined with new technology delivers valuable services to the vulnerable and generates efficiencies. There is also the development of a mental health rehabilitation and recovery project in mid and west Wales, which demonstrates what collaboration can achieve. The project was a partnership between Hywel Dda Local Health Board and Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion local authorities. The project generated savings of over £540,000 per annum and allowed the creation of more bed spaces so that patients could be close to their homes and families and benefit from the support that such an environment can bring.
We have numerous other examples of good practice being developed. Projects include the implementation of one-stop-shop models of service delivery that illustrate how different functions from different public sector organisations can be co-located to provide better services at a reduced cost. We are also seeing the implementation of electronic patient record management systems by Cwm Taf and Betsi Cadwaladr health boards. Each board has thousands of patient records that require storage and transportation. If either of these systems failed, then this could have extremely serious consequences for the patient and, at the very least, be an inconvenience through wasted journeys and wasted time.
The cases I have referred to above are just a few examples of the types of collaborative projects the invest-to-save fund has supported. They demonstrate what can be achieved by collaboration, innovation and the use of good practice. The deadline for submitting expressions of interest to the fund is 7 January 2015, and I will be announcing details of successful projects in the spring. My officials will be constantly engaged in the process of raising awareness of the scheme over the next few weeks and months to help ensure that good-quality and well-worked-up bids are received. This fund is a major success story for Wales. It is a unique model for maximising the value of the resources of the Welsh Government and of the organisations that receive funding. I look forward to continuing this story with this next round.
I thank the Minister for today’s statement. I think that we all here would support the basic principles behind the invest-to-save funding scheme, but I am sure that the Minister would agree that we also need to make sure that it is properly monitored and evaluated and that we are getting true value for money.
You have mentioned two reports of note: the independent evaluation of the invest-to-save fund and the 2013 report by the Finance Committee. You have also referred to the figure regarding the savings that the completed projects are expected to deliver, namely £3 of gross saving for each £1 of fund resource invested. In your statement, you said that, since 2009, over 94 projects have received investment from the fund, with a joint value of £77 million. Given that investments through this scheme are fully repayable, how much of the joint value of £77 million has been repaid since the launch of the scheme in 2009? Also, how many of the 94 projects that received money from the fund have generated real cash-releasing savings? I would imagine that, behind that headline figure of £3 for every £1 invested, there are some projects that have not done so well. What would those be and what is being done to make sure that those projects are brought up to have the same type of return as some of the better-performing ones?
The Finance Committee in its report on invest-to-save recommended a lower threshold of £100,000, instead of—I think that I am right in saying—the £200,000 that was established after round 3 of the scheme. The Finance Committee was concerned about missing good projects because they did not achieve the limit. Given that the key point of invest-to-save is how much you save after the investment, not how much money you have to apply for to put in, have you considered the committee’s recommendation of a lower threshold? What is your strategy for supporting smaller projects that could have a big impact on services and a good prognostic of cash-releasing savings, but which might fall short of the threshold?
You have gone through a long list of projects and collaborative schemes in your quite comprehensive statement. Within that list of projects, you will know that reports have identified areas that have been under-represented in previous rounds of giving out cash. I think that I am right in saying that education was picked out as an under-represented area, compared with NHS schemes. What have you done and what do you propose to do in the next round to better involve underrepresented areas, in line with recommendation 8?
How is best practice being spread? Collaboration is clearly producing some dividends. How are you making sure that the best practice in those projects is being spread across other projects to make future rounds of funding even more successful?
The interim evaluation published by the Welsh Government in 2012 highlighted that most of the awarded projects and applications came from the NHS and local government. As I say, I do not think that education factored as successfully in that. Can you tell us what you are doing to resolve that?
The independent evaluation of the invest-to-save fund report highlighted some possible weak points of the scheme. I think that the weak points that were a top priority for that evaluation were the repayment methods, the risk balance, the monitoring and the project rationale. Clearly, the payback model that you have outlined minimises the risk to the Welsh Government, which is good in some respects, but it can lose the financial trail of the project. There can be disconnect at the project delivery level between the practical and financial management if the savings generated are not monitored. Recommendation 6 of the 2014 report says that we need a better balance of risk between the funder and the recipient, taking part of the risk away from the delivery organisation. Can you tell us what you are doing to make sure that this is happening?
In closing, invest-to-save clearly has many merits to it. It is clearly of massive importance that, if savings can be made and if a small amount of money upfront makes it possible for organisations to make that saving, we should do what we can to provide that. However, I think that you would recognise that invest-to-save is no substitute for funding where funding is necessary anyway. One criticism of the scheme is a fear that the Welsh Government has relied a little too much on invest-to-save when a bit more funding from the Welsh Government would help. What are you doing to make sure that it is not a substitute for proper funding, and that invest-to-save is being properly used and will be properly used in the future, so that efficiencies can be made and that more organisations can benefit from it in the future than have in the past?
Thank you very much, Nick Ramsay. I am glad that you welcome the statement and the annual report that lays out the scope and breadth of the scheme. As I said in my statement, I welcome the Finance Committee’s report and the independent evaluation.
I think that it is important, in terms of responding to your points, that we recognise—and this picks up on one of your last points as well—that this scheme provides a very essential cash flow for many organisations through transitions to new delivery approaches and particularly some of the transformational projects that I have mentioned in relation to integrating health and social care but also changes that involve collaboration. It often provides funds to help short-term dual running of service models. It is very clear that it is good value for money in terms of the requirement to incentivise the need to deliver savings. Looking at the key points you make in terms of the financing, £96.5 million of repayable funding has been invested in 94 public service improvement projects since 2009. Repayments last year were £16.7 million—that was reinvested in new projects—and £14.6 million is being repaid and reinvested this year. The budget for next year is £21.3 million.
I think that it is important that we recognise that every project is carefully and closely monitored. You made a point about ensuring that we learn, and not just through independent evaluation, to support those projects in terms of the risks they may be taking in terms of setting themselves forth on an invest-to-save recyclable loan arrangement that we have offered them. It is important to look at the issues relating to the return of £3 for every £1. It is based on an analysis of fully completed projects. I think that we may, in fact, benefit more in terms of the outcome. We are expecting savings to increase significantly from the £104 million figure that was quoted, because more projects are going to be completed and savings will come forward.
Learning from previous investments is crucial in terms of the way forward. It is very important in terms of the next round that we reach out to those organisations that have not taken on board the opportunities with invest-to-save. What are we going to be doing? We are obviously very clear about case studies and making sure that, through them, there is understanding through networks in local government, the health service and now increasingly, for example, in education. We are going to hold invest-to-save seminars over the next few months, speak directly to organisations and produce quick guides to the scheme so that people can access those guides communicating features of the scheme and see that as an opportunity to learn and then come to us in order to develop their applications.
In terms of the opportunities for invest-to-save and the next round, there is no question that, in many ways, it provides a new opportunity in terms of the funding base. When I went to the children’s hospital this morning, I was told that it had changed its contract halfway through to include LED lighting. It was able to change the specification. I have given you the figures about the savings. It now wants to spread that to the whole of the hospital. Well, look at the efficiencies: there is the reduction of the carbon footprint as well as the financial savings that have been made. It said that, without the invest-to-save project, it probably would not have even thought of a way that it could release those sorts of efficiencies and those sorts of savings. So, what we need to do is get that message across from that particular project today.
I welcome the statement. As many Members know, I am a strong advocate of invest-to-save. As budgets come under greater pressure due to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at Westminster cutting the Welsh budget, invest-to-save becomes more important. We are going to have to provide services with less money, and that is likely to last at least another year.
I have three distinct questions. What auditing is done to ensure that each invest-to-save project produces the savings predicted? I am well aware of what happened in the botanic gardens when there was a change in Government policy and the payback period moved from three years to five years. I also accept that there will be some schemes that do not fulfil what they promised and that some will over-fulfil it. If we do not take chances on some of these schemes, inevitably, good schemes will be left out. It is not about everything having to be successful and if it is not, we will go and give the Government a kicking for it, because all that that will do is make people more and more risk averse and it will not be to the benefit of Welsh people.
My second question is how many invest-to-save projects have been carried out by local authorities using their reserves? Back in the days when I was involved in the local authority in Swansea, we actually used our reserves to fund invest-to-save and that money was paid back into the reserves. That was a much easier way of doing it and we had greater control. This was something that we started back in the late 1990s.
My third question is: how many invest-to-save projects carried out by health boards—I have read them and some of them appear to be very successful—have been replicated across all health boards? If it is working in ABMU, why will it not work in Betsi Cadwaladr? One of my concerns is that we have areas of very good practice—we have some invest-to-save projects that show expectations of very high savings and some that have produced much higher savings than they predicted—but it does not seem to have been done the following year in the rest of the health boards. I would have thought that, if it had worked really well and saved hundreds of thousands of pounds in one health board, the other health boards would be rushing to do exactly the same the following year. I think that the Minister can confirm that that has not happened and that has to be a matter of concern.
I thank Mike Hedges. He is a strong advocate for invest-to-save, which I very much welcome. It is important—in fact, I promised the committee this on Thursday—that I will provide a note on the investments and repayments on each project. It is a large spreadsheet, but it is very important that you can transparently see. Obviously, they are very carefully monitored in terms of our oversight of all of the projects. We are talking about 94 project files, but it is crucial that you can hold me to account to ensure that we are clearly scrutinising and monitoring them.
However, it is important that we do look at the independent research on the fund, which was published earlier this year. That report does say that an aggregate of cash-releasing benefits identified by the evaluation across the completed projects amounted to an estimated £55.5 million delivered by the end of the 2012-13 financial year. That is just one snapshot in terms of that timeline.
Your point about local authorities and how many of them are using reserves for invest-to-save is something that I cannot answer today, but I am sure that, as we extend our engagement with local authorities about the opportunities, we could talk to them about that and assess it. The health service is the biggest user of invest-to-save and I certainly do not need to go through all of the projects that are identified in this year’s annual report again, but you will see across Wales the numbers of health board models in terms of invest-to-save. What we have to drive through is the sharing, the transfer and the travelling of the practice across Wales, but you will see that some of those healthcare projects are actually all Wales projects, involving all health boards.
Invest-to-save is clearly a very valuable scheme. The trick, of course, is to prove that it does two things, namely improve the service for the people and save money at the same time. These loans—that is what they are: loans—are to be repaid, of course, and so far, some 50% of the money has been repaid. Do you consider that to be satisfactory as a percentage, to date, accepting Mike Hedges’s point that some of these schemes are bound to fail to achieve their aims.
In terms of the independent evaluation, with some schemes the money is to be repaid after the savings happen and with others, the money has to be repaid more or less straight away. Why differentiate between schemes like this? Given that you are going to provide a list of schemes and their success to the Finance Committee, why will you not publish that list so that the public can see what happens to this money that is being invested in public services?
You have referred to the fact that the majority of these projects are now in the health service, very few of them are in local government, and yet, according to the latest budget, those savings are needed just as much in local government. What is the reason why so few projects come from local government, keeping in mind the fact that in the first year of this scheme local government was taking the greatest advantage of it?
The evaluation report says, in paragraph 3.38,
‘It is not within the remit of this evaluation to analyse in detail the performance in terms of financial repayment’.
I wonder why this was not included in the terms of reference of the evaluation and when you will be commissioning a repayment analysis.
I think that it is important to say that invest-to-save is about improving services and saving money at the same time, but it is also about opportunities to trial new ways of working, particularly because of the criteria in terms of innovation and collaboration. It incentivises change and it incentivises the transformation of public services, particularly when you see some of the collaborative projects, not just between health boards and other public service providers, but between local authorities as well. I brought in a new and additional theme, with a bit of extra money, in terms of focusing on energy efficiency. That has come directly as a result of looking at the kinds of savings that have been achieved. Sometimes, if you look at energy efficiency incentives funding—. This is going to provide the kinds of opportunities that I have described from my visit to the children’s hospital today, which are going to have a very beneficial impact in terms of the running costs of the children’s hospital and the Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board.
It is important that we are very clear in terms of the repayments profiles in the business cases that come before us, before we approve an invest-to-save project. They are approved by a panel. That is a panel from across the Welsh Government. We have to approve and identify that those repayments are going to be manageable, working with the beneficiaries. Of course, lessons have been learned over the years since 2009 in terms of supporting projects and recognising where there may be risk and not taking those projects forward. On occasion, we have deferred approval of a project in order to try to come up with a more satisfactory repayment profile, as well as being clear about the criteria and outcomes of a project. Those profiles are agreed.
Obviously, I have already said, in response to Mike Hedges—and you know that I gave my commitment to the committee—that I am going to be providing you with details of all of the projects that have received funding through invest-to-save and their repayment details, and, if you like, an account of their position financially in terms of repayment and progress. That will be in the public domain. It is important that we discuss how we progress with that kind of information in terms of its transparency.
I think that it is worth looking at the annual report, on pages 21 and 22, and this is for only this past year, to see some of the progressive ways in which local authorities have made use of invest-to-save. It is a whole range of things, from workplace transformation in Blaenau Gwent to asset projects by Cardiff Council, and there is a school modernisation programme in Powys County Council.
I think that the point was made earlier on about issues relating to smaller projects, and smaller projects have received funding. I think that one of the first projects that I went to see was at Wrexham County Borough Council, perhaps when Aled Roberts was there as a councillor. I remember looking at the carbon emission and energy use reduction and how important that scheme was, but Lesley Griffiths probably showed me around as the local AM. I think that it is very important that all Assembly Members look at those projects in their constituencies. I hope very much that we can deliver in terms of the next range of projects, which we will be receiving in terms of applications, and that we can extend them to ensure that we reach wider swathes of the public sector, particularly education.
I welcome the statement, Minister, and I acknowledge that the invest-to-save programme is valuable and certainly has produced many savings in many ways. Of course, you have referred to Wrexham, but there are many other examples of that happening, which I think are outlined in the report.
I cannot put words in Mike Hedges’ mouth, but one of the reasons why the committee asked for the details of each project is that some of us are sceptical that you are able to actually monetarise some of the savings that are being made as a result of these invest-to-save projects. In your statement you refer to the improvement of storage and transportation of the patient record management system by Cwm Taf Local Health Board and Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board, and you also refer to collaborative projects, collaboration, innovation and the use of good practice. They are all very valuable in terms of the efficient and more effective delivery of services, but it is also sometimes very difficult to actually identify what they save in terms of cash and to actually pull that cash out and pay it back to the Welsh Government. Can you therefore give us some assurance that, when you are using this money on change management projects like that, you are able to identify the monetary savings, and that those monetary savings are then coming back to the Welsh Government as part of that? Some projects are clearly more about efficiency rather than specific savings. Although that is not a bad thing, I think that, in terms of the terms of reference of the invest-to-save programme, it does not necessarily fit into what you are trying to do, particularly in terms of recycling those savings for subsequent years.
I notice that some of the questions that Nick Ramsay asked you were not answered in full. So, may I ask you in terms of the recommendations of the committee whether you accept the recommendation in terms of the threshold, that that threshold should be returned to £100,000 for bids, so as to ensure that projects with a potential to make significant savings are not lost to the system? If you did accept that, has that been applied to this current funding round, so that those smaller bids can come forward?
I notice also that the committee recommended that themed bidding rounds were not always the best approach, but that bidding rounds should support the best bids irrespective of content, yet part of the statement is talking about themed bidding rounds. How does that marry with the recommendations of the committee in terms of how you are taking this forward?
In terms of evaluation, the committee also recommended that schemes should be evaluated after six or 12 months, or when repayments began, so as to try to learn lessons from those schemes and also to try to improve on them. Is that also being built into the current bidding round so as to improve it and to learn those lessons?
Finally, Minister—and a number of Members have touched on this—the types of schemes and bodies that are applying for these invest-to-save schemes are very much health-centred, and there are some education schemes, et cetera. There are very few in local government. How are you expanding the use of the invest-to-save fund outside those traditional areas so that other public sector bodies are able to make better use of it?
It is important to recognise again, just in terms of the objectives and the outcomes of invest-to-save, that it is fulfilling a whole range of needs in terms of innovation and collaboration. This is delivering efficiencies that can also be recycled and can reduce costs. If you look at it, you will see that a lot of it is about change management, but it is also about the management of assets, new ways of working, service delivery, the use of new technology, and very inspiring projects. The key thing, of course, is how we translate those outside one provider to other providers across Wales, particularly in the same sectors.
In terms of procurement business transformation, as we have developed the scheme—and year on year with the funds and new rounds for the funds—we have looked at ways in which we can build on the best practice and what works. In the early days, we often mentioned the Gwent frailty project, which seemed to be the only project that we were supporting with invest-to-save. That project actually included all the local authorities and the health board in the Gwent area. However, of course, now we have similar projects across the whole of Wales, some of which have been adjusted slightly, and I mentioned one of them today in north Wales. However, many lessons have been learned and transferred in terms of practice and innovation across the whole of Wales.
If we look at the repayments, we will see that, last year, as I mentioned, £16.7 million was reinvested in new projects, with £14.6 million being reinvested this year. It is a very innovative way in which we are managing our public finances, with the buy-in of the public sector at a time of reducing budgets. This is a point that Mike Hedges made. In fact, we are using this at a time when we are £1.5 billion short in terms of our budget this year as a result of UK Government cuts. However, we are using this fund imaginatively and innovatively and we are taking it forward, I think, in a very important way in terms of delivering efficiencies so that the funding can go to the front line.
We are looking at all of the recommendations of the Finance Committee very carefully. I have already mentioned that we are looking at the threshold. However, we do want to make sure that we can deliver innovation and collaboration through invest-to-save and I know that the committee recognised that.
This year, I have looked at this particular issue of energy efficiency; that, if you like, is the kind of theme that we are looking at. However, clearly, the public sector is very much up for this and it is seeking ways in which it can fund energy efficiency schemes. So, I hope that Members would recognise that this is an important way in which we can extend and expand invest-to-save. It is going to be very important in this round, and I think that it is a lesson learned from the Finance Committee and independent evaluation, that we go out with the fund to start to welcome and draw in bids, so that we can learn the lessons of invest-to-save, ensure that all networks are reached and ask every local authority and every health board, as they put in expressions of interest, ‘Have you ensured that you’ve engaged with those who have already developed projects of this kind?’, in terms of recognising the value of invest-to-save and the lessons learned from it.
I congratulate the Minister on this statement and on the launch of the next round of bids. I took part in the Finance Committee inquiry and, like Mike Hedges, I am a great fan of invest-to-save and was particularly impressed with the project that I visited as part of that inquiry—the NHS prescribing invest-to-save project in Cardiff and Vale LHB.
The Minister mentioned the independent evaluation that has been done of the scheme and one of the comments made in that research was that there was not any evidence that the schemes that were approved by the Government had sought financial assistance elsewhere before they got to the stage of applying to invest-to-save. I just wondered whether she had any more information about that and whether she would think that the people seeking the funding should be looking elsewhere as well as to invest-to-save.
The other points that I wanted to raise were how she sees the future funding of the scheme and how she sees the scheme developing. It just seems to me that all preventative work, really, would qualify for invest-to-save—certainly all of the public health measures that we talked about this afternoon in the Chamber. Does the success of invest-to-save not signpost a shift towards preventative spending in a much wider sphere?
I think that the other questions that I had have all been asked—sharing good practice, how proactive the Welsh Government can be and how the funding can be shared between different sectors.
I thank Julie Morgan for her questions on this statement and also recognise the important work that members of the Finance Committee undertook in terms of that inquiry and the report that came out of it, which is not, for me, something that we debate and that is it. It is a living document, with recommendations that I am working on and that are certainly informing the next round. I think it is important that we look at why a project decided to come to invest-to-save, and what other options or routes of funding they would consider. It goes back to a point that, I think, Nick Ramsay made about, ‘What about grant funding as opposed to invest-to-save?’—I think he was making that point. Well, if only. Unfortunately, we are facing extremely difficult budgetary circumstances, with reducing budgets. That is one reason why people are looking to invest-to-save. They want to make changes and they know that they can release savings, and we can give them the interest-free loans and the support in order to make a bid for invest-to-save. This is a point that Mike Hedges has often made, in terms of other sources—indeed, for local authorities, in terms of using their reserves. It is an important issue to look at as we move forward in terms of the evaluation of invest-to-save.
In terms of the future of the fund, as I have said, because of the repayments, we are able to have a new round—a £21.3 million round, which we are launching today. You will see the profile, as you get the detail from all of the projects, as I provide you with that, as promised. You will see that we have a clear repayment schedule, which will enable us to use the savings for future rounds of invest-to-save. In terms of invest-to-save, we need to learn from the fact that organisations are looking at it as a way of releasing savings, transforming service delivery, and as preventative spending. I think that is where we need to take this forward, in terms of invest-to-save.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, Lesley Griffiths, to move the motion.
Motion NDM5589 Carl Sargeant
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 29.6 agrees that provisions in the Deregulation Bill, relating to Chapter 4 of Part 6 of the Housing Act 2004 (Tenancy Deposit Schemes) 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.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Chair of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee, Christine Chapman.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. The LCM was laid on 30 June and was referred to the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee. We considered the LCM on 17 September and decided to write to the Minister to seek clarification on how the amendments accord with the Welsh Government’s policy intentions in relation to tenancy deposit protection and the forthcoming renting homes Bill. The Minister stated that the amendments followed a Court of Appeal decision that interpreted existing tenancy deposit legislation differently from its original intention and could mean that landlords may be unable to evict a tenant, or be at risk of court action and financial penalties despite following Government guidance. The Minister confirmed that the amendments fit in with the Welsh Government’s overall policy, as they will ensure that the tenancy deposit legislation works in the way that was originally intended, without disadvantaging tenants or landlords. The committee therefore has no objection to the motion’s being agreed.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister to reply.
I thank the committee for scrutiny of the LCM and ask Members to support the motion.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There is no objection. The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
That concludes today’s business.
The meeting ended at 18:03.