The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Good afternoon. I call the National Assembly for Wales to order.
The Personal Independence Payment
1. What assessment has the First Minister made of the impact that the transition to the Personal Independence Payment is having on people in Wales? OAQ(4)1809(FM)
Like other aspects of the UK Government’s welfare reform, we are still awaiting detailed information on personal independence payments from the Department for Work and Pensions. When that is available, the impact will be considered by our ministerial task and finish group for welfare reform.
You will probably be aware that the Public Accounts Committee in Westminster recently described the PIP roll-out as a fiasco. In Torfaen, I have constituents who have been waiting six, seven, eight months and more for a decision on their PIP payments with no end in sight. Someone approached me recently who is having delays because the medical assessor failed to send their paperwork on to the DWP, and the contact e-mail address supplied by Capita regularly bounces back inquiries despite my office having raised this issue with it on a number of occasions. First Minister, what steps are you taking to monitor the impact of this change on people in Wales, and what are you doing to lobby the UK Government for urgent improvements to a system that is clearly failing people who really need support?
In February of this year, we published a report on the impact of the welfare reforms in Wales as a whole, and indeed at local authority level. That forms part of the programme of research commissioned by the ministerial task and finish group that I referred to. That research assessed the impact of 14 benefit and tax credit changes, including the replacement of the disability living allowance with the PIP. However, I note what Westminster’s Public Accounts Committee has said. Yes, is it nothing short of a fiasco, but the serious point is that some of our most vulnerable people in society are being let down by a system that is untested and failing.
The number of severely disabled people who have been given long-term unconditional support through the employment support allowance has increased—a scheme that was introduced by the previous Government. However, taking a more open approach, the cross-party group on disability, which has been co-chaired by me and my colleague Rebecca Evans, prior to her recent elevation, has been in dialogue with the DWP over personal independence payments for some time. Equally, Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales tells me that it has been working with DWP officers to influence this agenda. What dialogue therefore has the Welsh Government had, or could it have, with these third sector organisations that are actively working to address the problems with delays, and hopefully, therefore, deliver better services for the people that we all share concerns for?
The Member talks as if his party bears no responsibility at all for the shambles that we see before us. We will, of course, work with any third sector organisation to try to address the shambles that his party has introduced. I remind him that in 2018 it is expected that there will be about 42,500 fewer claimants in Wales under the new system compared to the DLA. The average annual loss for those who lose entitlement is estimated to be around £3,600. That is not the fault of this Government, or of the party that I represent; it is the fault of his.
First Minister, I appreciate and understand your exasperations and concerns with regard to the fact that the Welsh Government has no control over the United Kingdom Government’s switch from the disability living allowance to the personal independence payment. However, this switch is now happening and can you please tell us what the Welsh Government will be doing? I am more concerned about people suffering from serious mental health problems; how can you monitor and help them please, appreciating fully your genuine concerns about this?
As I mentioned earlier, there is a ministerial task and finish group. It is assessing the impact of the welfare reforms and we will continue to lobby on behalf of those most vulnerable, including those who suffer from mental health problems.
The Welsh for Adults Learning Budget
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh for Adults learning budget? OAQ(4)1803(FM)
Following extensive discussions, we have taken the difficult decision to reprioritise funding in order to boost the language in the economy and community. The Welsh for adults centres have been informed that we are reducing their allocations by an additional 7% for the 2014-15 academic year.
The loss is likely to be some £700,000, as I understand it. A few weeks ago, you were announcing an increase in expenditure on the ‘mentrau iaith’ by £1.5 million. Some would say that this is highly cynical and shifts money from one budget to another. On what basis was this decision taken, and how does the Government intend to reach its objective of increasing the number of Welsh speakers by cutting the budget for Welsh for adult learning?
First of all, of course, we must ensure that there are sufficient resources to teach Welsh to children. If I may say, I said in the Chamber during my recent statement that most of the funding was not new funding. I said that at the time. I said that it had been diverted from other places in the budget; I said that some of it was new funding, but not the funding for the ‘mentrau iaith’. The challenge that we face is ensuring that those who can speak Welsh actually do so, and that they transfer the language to the next generation. Bearing that priority in mind, that is the decision that I took.
First Minister, what sort of broad-ranging discussion did you have before cutting the Welsh for adult learning budget? Specifically, have you missed an opportunity to provide skills in the Welsh language to teachers in English-medium primary schools, to help them to use incidental Welsh in the classroom?
Well, no. The usual discussions took place within the Government, but, of course, as the Member knows, a review has taken place of the curriculum in Wales and Welsh as a second language is part of that. I have said a number of times in this Chamber that it is important that we create confident Welsh speakers in the English-medium schools too. It can be done and I have seen it being done in at least one school in Wales.
You have just admitted, First Minister, that this is shifting money from one part of the budget to another. However, I am sure that you would also accept that the ‘Cynhadledd Fawr’, which you held over a period of year, asking these questions, stated clearly that we needed to spend money on Welsh speakers and to support them in their communities, and to support adults to learn Welsh. It is very hasty to believe that you can move from one to another when these adult learners are often parents to children going through Welsh-medium education, and are people who are learning in their communities, thereby keeping the language alive in those communities. Will you therefore reconsider this strategy for the future?
Well, of course, the problem that we have is the financial position. If there was sufficient funding available, the decision would have been different, but that is not the position that we find ourselves in. Therefore, we as a Government have to prioritise those things that, in our view, are important at present, namely, of course, ensuring the future of the ‘mentrau iaith’ and ensuring the use of the Welsh language in the economy in parts of Wales, such as the Teifi valley, for example. Therefore, that is the priority at present.
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
First this afternoon, standing in for the leader of the opposition, we have Paul Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. For the record, can the First Minister give me the latest mortality figures for the Princess of Wales Hospital?
Could I welcome the Member back to his position, which I know that many in his group think he should have held in the first place? However, these are not maters for me.
I know that the mortality rates in the Princess of Wales Hospital certainly are not ones that give us cause for concern. What the figures are, off hand, I could not tell him, but I can write to him about that.
Well, let me help the First Minister, because he clearly does not know the answer to my first question. The mortality figure is 105 for the Princess of Wales Hospital. Let me remind the First Minister, and the Chamber, about mortality data in other hospitals. The latest mortality figure for Glangwili General Hospital is 130, and at Neath Port Talbot Hospital it is 127. Any figure over 100 should be a cause for concern. The report by Professor Andrews into events at Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board clearly showed that problems exist within our health boards. Now, even a member of your own party, First Minister—the highly respected Ann Clwyd—said, and I quote:
‘It is not surprising that people are worried about what is actually going on. This is horribly similar to the murkiness that surrounded the mortality statistics for Mid Staffs.’
Now, the First Minister whipped his Assembly Members to block her evidence twice. Tomorrow, she will finally appear in front of the Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee. Will he now listen to her and to her evidence?
Let us see what she says. First of all, the Member has to remember that he cannot selectively quote the Andrews report at me. The Andrews report was absolutely clear that it was not a Mid Staffs situation. He cannot refer to that report and then pretend that something is in it that is not in it. I have to point out to him that his party, as we see from the news reports across the border, is presiding over something critically bad as far as the health service is concerned there.
Here we go again. The First Minister obviously prefers to talk about the health service in England. Let me remind him that he is the First Minister of Wales. He clearly wants to talk about England because perhaps he is ashamed to talk about the Welsh health service. First Minister, it has now been exactly a year since we, on this side of the Chamber, called for a Keogh-style inquiry to take place in Wales. For a whole year, you and your Government have made excuses. You first stated that it would cost too much. Since then, we have had the Andrews report into the truly shocking examples of bad practice at the Princess of Wales Hospital. We have had some of the worst mortality figures in the UK. Even Sir Bruce Keogh has said that there needs to be further investigation. A year has been too long for patients across the whole of Wales, First Minister. Will you now commit to holding an inquiry and sort this mess out once and for all?
He has some nerve in accusing me of referring to England when his own Prime Minister went on and on and on and on about Wales, when the Secretary of State for Wales went on and on—sorry, the former Secretary of State for Wales; there is no need to grin on those benches—and on and on about Wales. His own Prime Minister debased himself by coming to Wales and saying that Offa’s Dyke is
‘the line between life and death.’
Yet, he accuses us of trying to divert attention away from the health service. The reality is that the situation in England is shocking and whenever they attack the health service in Wales, you can guarantee it is to move attention away from what they are doing as a party across the border. [Interruption.]
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
On and on they go about having a public inquiry. We have had the Andrews report. We know and we have been open about the challenges in the health service in Wales. It is a shame that his party is so secretive about what happens in England where they are in charge.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move on to the Welsh Liberal Democrats. This afternoon we have, standing in for the leader, Aled Roberts.
First Minister, back in March, in responding to Kirsty Williams, you said that you and the Minister for Health and Social Services were aware of the waiting times for psychiatric services for children and teenagers. Three months later, figures were published last Thursday saying that the situation is getting worse and that there is an increase of over 120% year on year in the number of young people waiting longer than 14 weeks for treatment. Why then can your Government still not provide assistance in good time for the most vulnerable young people when they need that support?
There are challenges, of course, as regards young people, and particularly with psychiatric services. We know that the health boards are aware of this issue and they are taking steps at present in order to ensure that matters improve. Having said that, of course, it is true to say that across the whole of the health service there is greater demand on services and we, as a Government, are ensuring that more funding is available in order to meet those challenges.
I accept that there is enhanced demand, but what I was asking was whether there was action by Government and whether pressure is being put on the health boards because there are other areas within the health service here in Wales where waiting times are deteriorating appallingly and where it is clear that your Government is failing to take action. Last week, there was a report by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales that discussed ophthalmology services in Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board. Across Wales, the number of patients waiting over nine months for their initial appointment has increased over 130% to 11,000. Why can you as a Government not ensure that there is timely treatment available to those people who need that service where there is a risk that they may lose their sight?
The problem with ophthalmology services is that an excessive number of patients is being referred to the specialists prematurely. There are too many people having to visit specialists in hospitals and seeing them and then nothing happens, and then they have to go to see them a second and third time. We must change the way that this happens and ensure that more people can be cared for by doctors and by optometrists, because they are the ones who have the ability to look after these people. Then they should be referred to specialists when the time is right. That is not the case in lots of areas of Wales, and it has to change.
It is not just a case of the initial appointments, which are of concern in certain areas. For example, research that we have undertaken recently indicates that children in the Hywel Dda Local Health Board area are waiting nearly five months for hearing tests. Ear, nose and throat referrals in Abertawe Bro Morgannwg are taking over eight months. Even if you manage to get into the system, if you need a hearing aid reassessment in Cwm Taf Local Health Board, you have to wait an incredible 17 months for your second appointment. First Minister, month after month, year after year, you stand there telling us to wait and that it will all get better. The question is how much longer the people of Wales have to wait before they see an improvement under this Government.
The Member will forgive me if I am sceptical of Lib Dem research figures. There are many of us in this Chamber who will know what it is like to be told that, as a result of a by-election, the Lib Dems will sweep the board in Wales. There are other parties that will have the same experience. He asks an important question; I understand that. I can say to him that Government officials will shortly be meeting with stakeholders across Wales to do a stock take of what is happening in audiology services, as the basis for establishing what may be needed to enhance service quality further. We are aware of the problems in Cwm Taf. The health board does have an action plan in place to reduce the number of patients waiting over 14 weeks for reassessment, and we expect that action plan to deliver.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move on to the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
First Minister, the UK Parliament is expected to rush through legislation today that includes wide-ranging powers for the state to intercept and retain communications. There are clauses in this Bill that have previously been struck down by the Court of Justice of the European Union. There is widespread concern that such legislation should not be rushed through. Do you believe, as Plaid Cymru does, that this legislation breaches individual civil liberties?
Well, any legislation must be compliant, in my view, with—I do not think that it is the European Court of Justice, but the European Court of Human Rights, and the convention rights that exist as a result of that. As we, in this Chamber, have to ensure that we do not pass legislation that infringes upon those rights, I believe that Westminster must be careful not to do the same.
I wonder, then, whether the First Minister could tell us whether or not this Assembly and his Government has been consulted on this legislation, and whether he believes that he should be consulted as a matter of course on emergency legislation of this nature.
No, we have not been consulted. I think it is good practice to ensure that the devolved administrations are aware of what is planned. We are consulted on non-devolved issues when it comes to the justice system, and I think it is good practice to do that for all matters such as this.
I agree with you, First Minister, because this legislation will affect every single citizen in Wales and the rest of the UK. As you keep reminding us, you are the leader of Welsh Labour. I wonder whether you could therefore tell us whether Welsh Labour MPs will this afternoon be voting for this Bill today. Also, I wonder whether you can tell us whether they will be voting for the amendment that includes the sunset clause.
Well, just to explain the way that things work in my party to the leader of Plaid Cymru, Welsh Labour MPs in Parliament are subject to the whip of the UK Labour Party, as Welsh Labour Members here are subject to the whip of the Welsh Labour leadership here. It is a long-established principle in my party that, when it comes to devolved matters, they are matters for me as the leader of my party. For non-devolved matters, they are primarily matters for the UK Labour Party leader, even though, of course, there is constant dialogue in terms of ensuring that the boundary between the two moves further in the direction that I would hope that it would.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move back to questions on the paper.
NHS Complaints Redress Procedures
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on NHS complaints redress procedures in Wales? OAQ(4)1799(FM)
Yes. The independent review was published on 2 July. We will set out our formal response to the review in the autumn, following a period of wider engagement.
Thank you. I look forward to that response. Last week, one of my constituents at last received answers about the care of her mother, some two years after she had first raised the matter with Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board. The process of working with the local health board to get some of those answers took over the lives of the family. Does the Government agree that such a long and convoluted process needs to be changed when you look at this particular complaints procedure, especially with regard to families facing brick walls and defensive managerial structures? Therefore, do you condemn the comments made by Professor Andrews recently, who observed that some of the campaigners and some of the families were a ‘vexatious minority’? They do not want to be campaigners, of course; they want to make sure that their loved ones are supported and respected, and, so far, many of our health boards have failed on that level.
No, I do not condemn Professor Andrews. Either you accept the report or you do not; you cannot accept parts of it and not others. The point that was made about the complaints system taking too long is a fair one in my view. I think that part of the issue with the complaints process has been is that it has been too strongly anchored to legal proceedings. I think that there must be ways of ensuring that people can have their complaints heard more quickly, without the fear that, somehow, dealing with a complaint in that way will lead to legal proceedings in the future. In my experience, that is not what most people want. They are not looking for compensation; they are just looking for answers and to make sure that such a thing does not happen again. Certainly, there are lessons there that we will consider as a Government in order to make sure that the complaints process is treated far more quickly, but also to move it away from the legal world, if I can put it that way, where there is no desire from either party for that to happen.
First Minister, not only are people waiting too long to have their concerns and complaints addressed in the Welsh NHS, but we also know that the review undertaken by Keith Evans concluded that there seems to be data showing recurrent themes and repetition of errors. What specific action do you intend to take as a Welsh Government to ensure that, when mistakes happen, the NHS actually learns lessons from those mistakes and does not repeat them over and over again?
Well, I have already said that there will be a formal response to the review. It would not be right now to deal with parts of it in isolation, rather than dealing with the review as a whole.
4. What plans does the Welsh Government have to reform leasehold tenures? OAQ(4)1796(FM)
It is unclear whether this is devolved, which is not a phrase that Members will be unfamiliar with in this Chamber. So, at this moment in time, there are no plans to reform leasehold tenures, given the ambiguity over whether they are devolved or not.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. You will be aware of the controversy in my region regarding the former Elba Works estate in Gowerton and the leaseholds there. Residents have found that their annual ground rent of £50 has been increased up to about £3,000. I understand that this is, of course, a local issue and I am not asking you to intervene in that, but will the Welsh Government review the lessons from that particular issue when it comes to look at future legislation in terms of leaseholds to see whether there are other instances where that occurs and whether it can be prevented in the future?
Well, I understand, in relation to the issue that the Member has raised, that no decision has been finalised and that there are discussions taking place with the council. That, clearly, must be welcomed. Of course, what is not clear is what the extent of the powers of this Chamber are when it comes to leaseholds. I asked the very same question this morning, and it is quite clear that there is, again, no clear answer. I hope, certainly when we see the second Wales Bill introduced after the next general election, that this and other matters will be clarified as quickly as possible.
In addition to leaseholders on the Elba Works estate in Gowerton, we understand that leaseholders of flats owned by Bron Afon Community Housing in Cwmbran have faced bills of between £11,000 and £30,000 for repairs to their properties. I know that these issues were raised with general support from Assembly Members and Members of Parliament in 2012 in a CentreForum think tank report, with general cross-party agreement on the actions required. The UK Government is looking at a redress scheme for leaseholders. What action will the Welsh Government take at a devolved level to address these problems?
Well, again, it comes back to the point as to whether it is devolved or not. I am sure that the Member will join me in welcoming clarification in any new Wales Bill. The difficulty is, of course, that the leasehold system is a capricious system. It can lead and has led to situations, as we see here, where there are substantial increases in ground rent that people have to face. It is very difficult for the Government or, indeed, the Assembly to give views on what they might do when it is not yet clear what the extent of the competence of the Assembly is.
5. What is the Welsh Government doing to promote tourism in Islwyn? OAQ(4)1802(FM)
Well, much is done to promote tourism in Islwyn and the wider area. Of course, the Member has the Cwmcarn forest drive, which is a proud part of the Islwyn constituency. He will be aware, of course, of attractions around Islwyn in the neighbouring constituency of Caerphilly and further north, which all contribute money to the economy of Islwyn and the surrounding area.
Thank you for that answer, and perhaps you have just answered my next question. With Cardiff and Newport being so close and my community being very close to these cities, what are we doing to promote the Welsh and the Gwent Valleys?
Well, the Valleys regional park seeks to co-ordinate, drive and promote activities relating to the environment and heritage across all the Valleys of south Wales. It has a £400,000 budget over a two-year period, and that is intended to help with marketing. There is a website and, certainly since 2009, the Valleys regional park has invested £18 million in the tourism infrastructure across the Valleys.
First Minister, you are right that there are lots of historical and, indeed, natural gems in Islwyn. I could, of course, refer to the mill at Gelligroes where Artie Moore picked up the first distress signals of the sinking Titanic. However, unfortunately, these hidden gems are actually just that—hidden, because we do not shout about them enough. Considering that Visit Wales spends only £7 million a year on advertising Wales abroad, compared to the £47 million a year spent by VisitScotland, how do you expect the wealth of historical and natural treasures in the Valleys to get the attention they rightly deserve?
Well, the total tourism spend in Wales is more than £20 million, not £7 million, if you take into account the spending on major events and the tourism grants, and that is not even counting the money that is being invested in the airport in Cardiff, which will all help to give those visiting Cardiff a far better experience of Wales. The total spend is well over £20 million if you take all of these things together. That is evidenced by the fact, of course, that we have seen tourism numbers increase in Wales and that Wales is now seen as a ‘cool’ destination, to quote a paper—I do not normally read The Telegraph—last week. We have seen Wales and parts of Wales, such as Rhossili beach, for example, being named in world guides. That is a sign that we are building a strong tourism industry in Wales based on the expenditure we have, which is £20 million and more.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the future of public transport in Wales? OAQ(4)1808(FM)
Yes. We are committed to improving public transport services in Wales.
Thank you. First Minister, I want to raise concerns that Age Cymru has. It is extremely concerned that local bus services remain vulnerable to spending cuts. You will appreciate, of course, that there is a danger that reductions to services mean that access to a whole range of things can become impossible for some older people. I believe firmly that cuts and changes to bus services should be subject to an equality impact assessment of the effect they will have on older people. Given that the Government has just u-turned on the funding cuts to concessionary fares following the High Court action, will you make a statement on the future of free bus travel and whether your Government will fund adequately to ensure a sustainable bus network to support many elderly, vulnerable residents, particularly in rural areas, who rely on their local bus services?
Well, of course, the free bus pass scheme in Wales is far more generous than what exists across the border. That is something that people have very much welcomed. There are 720,000 concessionary pass holders in Wales, and the three-year package that funds that is worth £189 million. It is one of the proudest achievements for those of us on our benches here. It is something that was done at a time when the powers of this place were particularly limited. I can say to the Member that the Minister has recently announced a £15.4 million funding boost for transport schemes in Wales. That has been done. We have allocated £350,000 to support the Bwcabus service between 2012 and 2015, and, of course, the Minister has established a bus policy advisory group, which will draw on best practice in order to ensure that we have the bus services we need to ensure that people are able to access the services they require.
Cardiff Council will shortly begin a consultation on the site for the new bus station in Cardiff, now that the BBC building is going to be based in front of the station. Would the First Minister agree that a well-connected, easily accessible, customer-friendly bus service is absolutely essential to help fulfil the Welsh Government’s policy of shifting people from cars to public transport, especially when the number of people using the bus service in Cardiff is reducing at the moment?
Very much so. I think integration is absolutely key to public transport. There are some good examples around Wales of where this has happened. Caerphilly is probably the prime example that comes to mind. It is important that people are able to come off a train and go to one place where they can catch a bus to anywhere in that city or town. My hometown of Bridgend was without a bus station for many years; it just did not work. Nobody knew where the bus stops were and, as a result, it was very difficult for people to negotiate the bus network. I think that it is important that there is a bus station, or at least one place where all buses leave to parts of a city, and that place, necessarily, must be next to a railway station.
The top priority for infrastructure investment in public transport in Wales now is rail electrification. Now, even before the new Secretary of State for Wales was appointed, a spokesman for your Government said that the Secretary of State was a man who you could do business with. You need to strike a deal with him very soon on rail electrification, after you failed to seal the deal last time. What is your strategy?
Actually, the deal would not be with him; it would be with Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport. The Wales Office has an observer role in that regard, not a role in which it can agree a settlement, but we very much welcome what we hope will be a new approach and a new attitude from the Wales Office. I have to say that I know that my colleagues have dealt with the new Secretary of State in the past and have found him to be pragmatic and reasonable, if I can put it that way—remembering the obvious political difficulties and differences that are there. I think that there is potential now to move forward with an agreement with regard to the rail network, with the support of the new Secretary of State.
I note that the Minister for transport yesterday released a formal feedback mechanism for rail passengers, which, I am sure that you will agree, was very well timed. However, one piece of feedback that regular passengers on the Valleys lines often give is that their services are overcrowded.
The completion of electrification projects, such as the Manchester to Liverpool line, which are due for completion this year, should release some diesel rolling stock into the leasing system. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with the rail industry to secure a short-term lease on some of this diesel stock to alleviate overcrowding, while we wait for our own electrification project to be completed?
Of course, these are issues that are always dealt with—where rolling stock can come from—but the franchise is coming close to renewal and it is important that there is a longer-term solution to overcrowding on the Valleys lines. We hope that electrification will be delivered to ensure that we have a transport system for the south Wales metro that is a twenty-first century system, rather than one from the twentieth century, which is struggling to keep up with demand.
First Minister, Guide Dogs Cymru is campaigning for public transport operators to introduce audio announcements on their services. These will allow blind and visually impaired people to travel more freely. Arriva Buses Wales is doing just that on some routes in north Wales this summer. So, may I ask, First Minister, what steps the Welsh Government are taking to encourage all bus and public transport operators to introduce audio services and services to ensure that people who have a visual impairment can travel as freely as you or me?
I can say that the Minister met representatives of Guide Dogs Cymru and the Royal National Institute of Blind People earlier this year to discuss the talking buses campaign. The Minister has asked the bus policy advisory group to advise on how to encourage a more sustainable bus network, which of course includes making buses more attractive to more passengers. That group has been considering a talking buses campaign, along with proposals for a charter for disabled public transport passengers and I can say that the group recently submitted its advice to the Minister, who is now considering the recommendations.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the importance of agricultural shows, such as the Royal Welsh, to Wales? OAQ(4)1798(FM)
The Royal Welsh Show is one of the finest events of its kind in Europe; there is no question about that. I am looking forward to attending this year’s show. It is an important showcase of what Wales has to offer. Of course, we must remember the county shows that take place around Wales and I was very glad to be at the Bridgend county show that took place last weekend.
I would like to thank the First Minister very much for that response. One thing that would enhance further the Royal Welsh Show, in terms of sustainability, would be to make it more accessible to those members of the public wishing to access the site via public transport. While it is welcome that Arriva Trains Wales lays on a bus shuttle from the Heart of Wales line at Builth Road station to Llanelwedd, no additional services are provided. First Minister, given the importance of the Royal Welsh, which attracts annually almost twice as many visitors as the Glastonbury festival, and given your recent engagement with Arriva Trains Wales, could you consider using your influence to urge Arriva Trains Wales to look at the commercial opportunities around laying on additional services, which would benefit the show and the wider travelling public?
Yes, I think that it is worth Arriva considering that. It does it with a special train that runs to Builth Road—it used to be from Rhymney—through the Swansea district line and then on the Heart of Wales line. I suspect that one of the issues is that most of the travel will take place at a certain time of day to the show. It would put that train on from the south, and it would need to assess whether it is in its commercial interest to lay on more services in the future.
I am also looking forward to attending Europe’s largest agricultural show next week. One of the key talking points of the show will be the long-term state of the red meat industry in Wales. We saw, just last week, the fall in prices for in-season Welsh lamb, which is concerning, on the back of the slump in Welsh beef prices. May I ask, First Minister, how the Welsh Government will be using the Royal Welsh Show to reiterate to retailers and processors the message to back Welsh farming and Welsh red meat?
Hybu Cig Cymru does a very good job in terms of supporting the Welsh red meat industry in Wales. The key has always been to ensure that there are more markets for Welsh meat. That is something that I started when I was Minister for rural affairs when I first went to Dubai to open the market there. Other countries have opened up now to Welsh meat as well. By having more markets available, it is possible to sell in those markets that offer the best price. That is simple market economics and something that increasingly applies to Welsh farming.
The Environment and Sustainability Committee holds an annual meeting that is usually a ministerial scrutiny session at the Royal Welsh Show and it is an important platform, I believe, to demonstrate democracy in action. It is also an opportunity to scrutinise the work of the Welsh Government in the presence of some of the most important stakeholders in the agriculture sector. I am aware that there have been ministerial changes over the past few weeks, but would you as First Minister ensure that the Minister of the Deputy Minister is in attendance at that meeting, because failing to do so would send a very unfortunate message to the sector?
This is something that we will have to consider. The changes last week were not decided or planned beforehand. I did not wish to bring anybody new into the Cabinet at this point, and, of course, these changes will be under consideration in future in terms of the fact that the responsibility for the environment has gone one way and the responsibility for rural affairs has gone the other way. I will keep that under consideration over the coming period.
Homelessness and Rough Sleeping
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government action to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in Wales? OAQ(4)1801(FM)
The Housing (Wales) Bill will significantly strengthen the duties on local authorities to prevent and relieve homelessness for anyone at risk. We will introduce national monitoring of rough sleepers this year, and we are exploring with our partners additional measures to help people into settled accommodation.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. In Swansea, we successfully recently lobbied the Halifax to remove so-called ‘homeless spikes’ from the front of its premises in the city centre. As rough sleepers are very rarely choosing to be on streets—it is a very dangerous place to be, anyway—it seems completely heartless and quite medieval to prevent people from taking what shelter they can find in a city centre. Labour councillors in Swansea today are hoping to get a motion through Swansea council calling on the Welsh Government to ban such spikes from suitable premises in the city centre. While we all agree that that is not the solution that we want for rough sleepers, it does seem to send the right signal in terms of the humanity of the situation. First Minister, would you comment on that resolution and the Welsh Government’s possible response to it?
I think that public pressure can be brought to bear here. I understand that the Halifax recently removed its anti-homeless spikes, following pressure and public opinion. The use of such spikes is not an appropriate way of dealing with rough sleepers. It does not solve the underlying problem. That is why the Bill will help to encourage organisations to work together to encourage rough sleepers to look for accommodation in their own interest and for their own safety in the future. The Bill looks to help that process by improving services for those people who are not in priority need, and for those who are found to be intentionally homeless.
First Minister, it is well documented that a significant number of younger homeless people, certainly, have been in the care system in one form or another and clearly have been let down by some element of that system—not the system overall but some element of it—leading to their current situation. Care charities have commended the UK Government decision to allow foster children to remain with their foster families until the age of 21, and the Action for Children and Fostering Network Wales have suggested that councils in Wales could have a statutory obligation in that. Have you made an assessment of what the cost would be of doing that in some way in Wales, so that children in care are cared for in some way until they are 21, and how that cost would be balanced with the benefits that would result in taking people off the street?
I know that the Minister is aware of what is proposed to happen in England, and I know that she is looking at the implications of that as far as Wales is concerned.
First Minister, I very much appreciate your response to Julie James’s question and the emphasis on the point that this is not the way to deal with people who are homeless. However, are you aware of the fact that steps have been taken outside the Labour Party’s headquarters in London to prevent people from sleeping rough there? It is true to say that I am not talking about spikes, but uneven paving that has been laid deliberately to prevent people from sleeping there overnight. Will you hold a discussion with Labour Party officials in London to ensure that they are not operating in the same way?
Well, I have to say that I was unaware of that. I have to say that I will consider that, having heard what the Member has said.
First Minister, I welcome the Housing (Wales) Bill and the aspects of homelessness contained therein. A constituent from Llanelli has been in contact with me recently who said that, because of changes in terms of welfare reforms, she is unable to gain access to council property, and that due to new rules regarding waiting times and the types of benefits available, it has proven difficult for her to find temporary or permanent accommodation with other providers. Do you agree with me that the Housing (Wales) Bill will be of assistance in such cases?
The aim, of course, is to ensure that we give assistance to people in that position, and to ensure that we can reduce the detrimental effects of changes emanating from Westminster.
Disclosure of Information
9. Will the First Minister provide an update on how many times the Welsh Government has been ordered to provide disclosure of information following an appeal to the Information Commissioner? OAQ(4)1806(FM)
Since 2011, 52 appeals have gone to the Information Commissioner, eight of which have resulted in the Welsh Government releasing further information.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. It is regrettable that, in terms of questions that are often tabled to Ministers that are then not answered, leading to Freedom of Information Act 2000 requests being put in and to information being disclosed, it appears that the transparent and open Government that you were hoping to achieve is not in fact in place. I asked you some time ago whether you would place in the library all of the material that had been relied upon for Sir Derek Jones’s report. Can you confirm whether or not you have now done that because that material has been requested under the Freedom of Information Act?
It is in the report. Everything that Members need to be aware of is in the report, and the report is in the library. The Member talks about the lack of transparency, but I will just say to her that, of the freedom of information requests that we receive, 0.2% have led to information being released further as the result of an appeal. That is a good figure; it compares with the UK Government figure, which, in fairness, is slightly lower at 0.7%. The Scottish Government figure is higher, at 2.24%. In terms of compliance I can say that, in terms of ensuring that requests are completed within the statutory time of 20 working days, we are ahead of anywhere else in the UK. In 2013, our compliance rate was 93%, while it was 91% in Whitehall, 74% in Scotland, and 79% in 2012 in Northern Ireland. That shows that we are indeed a transparent Government.
What guidance do you give generally as a Government to the public sector in Wales on the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and on the general use of data and information? It is becoming more and more apparent that some public bodies are using the Act in a way that was not intended—they treat every application as an application under the Act, and I would say that that is not appropriate. On occasion, information needs to be disclosed as a matter of course so that the information or statistics are available. Dealing with members of the public by stating, ‘If you ask for information, we will treat it as a request under the Act’ is something that precludes the ordinary Member and the ordinary citizen from seeking information, in my opinion. Will you look at this practice, which, I believe, is developing, particularly among our health boards?
It is difficult because what sometimes happens is that people request something, and if it not treated as a request under the Act, they complain about that, too. It would be easier if people were to say—and I understand that not everyone understands this—in the e-mail or letter that they submit to the public body whether this is a request under the Act or whether it is a general request for information. I understand that you cannot expect people to make that distinction, but, if they were aware of it, it would be easier for bodies to decide how to deal with any request, and, of course, it would be easy for Members to do so.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, First Minister.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister, Lesley Griffiths.
I have two changes to report to this week's business: the motion to agree the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Amendment No. 2 Regulations 2014 have been postponed from today's agenda, and, tomorrow, the Presiding Officer will make a statement on youth engagement as the first item of Assembly business. Business for the next three weeks is as is shown on the business statement and announcement and can be found among the agenda papers, which are available to Members electronically.
Minister, you will know that the Capital Wales office is to be closed at the end of this month. It had particular success in attracting over 120 companies to the south-east Wales region, safeguarding 3,000 jobs. This organisation has been successful and, as I said, it is to be ended at the end of this month. Could the Minister come forward, or could she ask her colleague, rather, to come forward with a statement, to show how these functions will be taken over by the various ministries, with particular emphasis on south-east Wales?
Yes. I will ask the Minister to make a written statement.
Minister, in light of the latest revelations of serious child protection failures at Pembrokeshire County Council, could we have a Government statement, please? The jailing of a former senior council youth worker for child sexual abuse does raise a number of urgent questions, foremost of which is this: is the Government satisfied that the work of the Pembrokeshire recovery board is indeed done? Does the case contain lessons for the council's whistleblowing procedures, and is the position of the chief executive of Pembrokeshire County Council now untenable?
Obviously, this is a very distressing case, and our thoughts are with those involved. The duty to safeguard and protect children lies with each local authority in partner agencies. We have taken the opportunity as a Government, through our Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 to further strenghten those arrangements to include vulnerable adults, but these are a matter for the authority and for the chief executive himself. I expect all matters, as do all Ministers, to be fully and transparently dealt with, and the safeguarding and protection of children and young people is central to those considerations.
Minister, one practice that has become increasingly common during this Assembly is for Ministers to release written statements between the final Plenary session and the end of term. Will you please liaise with colleagues and discourage this practice, because of what can be seen as an attempt to evade scrutiny of important announcements?
I think that it just shows how busy Ministers are. We put out written statements constantly—you will constantly get written statements from us.
Minister, if you are continuing the written statements during recess, perhaps you could increase the number of questions allocated to Assembly Members so that we can effectively scrutinise the Government through the recess.
In terms of the business statement, I ask for a statement on the Welsh Government’s plans to support young people in Wales. There have been two recent announcements that cut funding to two organisations, the first of which is Play Wales. It has operated for 15 years, supporting professional staff in the play sector in Wales and has assisted them in keeping up to date with the latest techniques and legislation, and it also provides professional development. I believe that it was informed last week that it would not receive funding in the last three years.
Secondly, you will be aware, no doubt, Minister, that Funky Dragon was here today. The children and young people Assembly for Wales was informed only on 30 June that it was unsuccessful in a bid for money through the children and families delivery grant and faces closure at the end of September if it fails to secure alternative funding. What is especially concerning about Funky Dragon is the short time frame it has to address this loss of funding and the fact that it is, in effect, the only national youth Assembly for young people in Wales. Therefore, it has a key role to play in engaging with this organisation, the Senedd, and with other organisations across Wales.
In response to your aside about the number of written questions Members can put forward over the recess, this was discussed at Business Committee. I think that every business manager, and me as Minister for business, were happy with that. If you are not happy with that, I suggest you take it up with your own business manager.
In relation to the funding for children’s organisations, you will be aware of the bidding process that organisations had to go through. Thirteen third sector organisations will benefit from the new grant. I understand that all organisations have received feedback from the assessment panel. We would obviously not wish Funky Dragon to close, but at a time when our budgets are being cut so significantly by your Government in Westminster, we have to prioritise delivering services.
Minister, you may be aware of the news that up to 40 jobs could be threatened at Swansea Bakeries Ltd because it has lost its contract with Hovis. Is it possible for the Minister to make a statement on what the Welsh Government is doing to engage with that company to prevent the loss of those jobs and mitigate the impact of that loss of contract?
Secondly, I support Antoinette Sandbach in terms of asking for a statement on Funky Dragon. It is important that the Welsh Government expresses its priorities in terms of young people. Up until now, Funky Dragon has been a flagship for the Welsh Government in terms of how it engages with young people and its belief that young people should have their own voice and be listened to. Cutting its funding—and I understand your reasons in terms of the budget—sends out a contrary signal. It is important that the Welsh Government is quite clear what its views are on future engagement with young people and that that is reflected in the decisions that it takes. Can we please have a statement on how that will be taken forward?
I do not have anything further to add to my previous answer to Antoinette Sandbach. Your party is also part of the coalition Government in Westminster.
In relation to Swansea Bakeries Ltd, I am not aware of the discussions that the Minister or her officials have had. The Minister is away on Government business today, but I will speak to her about that and ask her to write to you.
I call for two statements. First, I call for a statement on the Welsh Government response to the Alzheimer’s Society’s Right to Know campaign, launched at the beginning of this month, calling for all UK areas to reach a 66% diagnosis rate by 2017, with ambitions to reach 75%. It said that, of the 45,500 people in Wales with dementia, only 38.8% received a formal diagnosis. Over the last four years, diagnosis rates in Wales have increased by just 2.8% compared with 8.7% in England. Wales has the lowest national diagnosis rate in the UK. Those figures come from the Alzheimer’s Society, not from any other source.
Secondly, I endorse the two and, I hope, many more calls for a statement on the impact of the decision on the children and families delivery grant in relation to Funky Dragon and Play Wales. Funky Dragon told me that it is the only independent, user-led, young people’s voice that is advising Government and holding Government to account. The Welsh Government never came to it beforehand to say that it was not happy or to ask it to change. It asked why it did not hear anything beforehand and why it was not told if the Welsh Government felt it was not doing things as it wanted. I remind the Welsh Government of the problem we share collectively of such low young-people engagement in the political process, with just one in five voting.
Play Wales, like Funky Dragon, appreciates the situation regarding budgets, but the contracts have gone to generalist organisations—very good, respected generalist organisations, but not a voice representing young people and led by young people themselves, and not the specialist play organisations that are so essential at a time when play sufficiency is being rolled out by local authorities. Play and recreation are very different things that require local and professional understanding and delivery.
We are very lucky in Wales to have so many organisations that have an excellent history of and enthusiasm for working with young people. My understanding is that that is not correct: Ministers did have early conversations with Funky Dragon, I think as far back as last autumn. However, once again, I do not think that I have anything further to add to what I said to Peter Black and Antoinette Sandbach, and I do not think that we will be making a statement in Government time regarding your first question.
Minister, I have heard what you have said to others raising the issue of Funky Dragon and, while we recognise that a bidding process was in place here, it is disappointing from a strategic point of view, given the importance of citizenship for our young people in engaging them with the electoral process, that this particular project has lost its funding. Therefore, the statement that I would like to request would outline how the Welsh Government proposes to fill the gap if Funky Dragon is not to take this work forward, because it is an important gap to be filled.
Secondly, I understand that the ophthalmology unit at Ysbyty Cwm Rhondda in Llwynypia is to be closed for two months due to staff sicknesses, and patients are being asked to attend the Royal Glamorgan Hospital instead. Given that there has been a 130% increase in the percentage of those who are waiting more than nine months for eye clinic appointments, could I request a written statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services on how Cwm Taf Local Health Board will ensure that those patients will not face an additional delay as a result of this, and how it intends to ensure that patients who normally would attend Ysbyty Cwm Rhondda for routine appointments can be transported properly to Llantrisant, please?
In relation to your second question, that is a matter for Cwm Taf Local Health Board. Regarding citizenship, you are absolutely right: it is very important that young people’s voices are heard and it is very important that they can participate in decisions that affect them. That is absolutely a key theme of the new children and families delivery grant, and it will be a key feature of the work of Children in Wales, which was successful in its application.
Minister, I will spare you my question on Funky Dragon, save to say that I think that there is something that you can add, namely to give an explanation to the Assembly of the reasons beyond those that are simply financial about why Funky Dragon is likely to be in a position where it cannot assist us as Assembly Members to do our scrutiny work in the future.
I would like to ask you also for a statement—which may be covered by the First Minister’s statement this afternoon, so apologies if it is—with regard to an oral update on the heritage Bill. The Minister was kind enough to engage us very early on as Assembly Members in the development process for that, but things seem to have gone a little quiet. Perhaps when we come back in September, the Minister would be willing to bring an oral statement to the Chamber.
I understand that Funky Dragon has written to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, setting out its concerns, and he will respond in due course. Maybe then would be the most appropriate time, if he thought it appropriate, to update Members. The First Minister will be covering the heritage Bill in his statement, which will follow immediately after the business statement.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
I am pleased to announce the final 10 bills of this Welsh Government’s legislative programme. When I introduced the programme at the start of this Assembly, I said that we would bring forward Bills that would create opportunities for everyone and deliver our vision of an efficient, effective and accessible Welsh public sector. I believe that our legislative programme has already contributed significantly towards delivering on that commitment and will continue to do so through the 10 Bills being announced today.
We want our local communities to have the opportunities to influence the way that places grow and change and we want to remove the unduly regulatory obstacles that frustrate business growth. To do this, we will need a positive, enabling planning system that facilitates, rather than frustrates development; a planning system that will help us to deliver the homes, jobs and infrastructure that Wales requires. To this end, after the summer recess, we will be bringing forward a planning Bill to reform and simplify our current planning system. The Bill will provide the legislation necessary to ensure that planning becomes an enabling tool, supported by appropriate subordinate legislation, policy and guidance. It will provide for a modernised service delivery framework that will complement our proposed public service reforms.
Education reform has featured prominently in this Government’s legislative programme, and we will be introducing the fifth education Bill—the qualifications (Wales) Bill—at the end of this year. It will establish an independent body—Qualifications Wales—that will be responsible for the regulation and quality assurance of non-degree level qualifications available in Wales. In addition, we will bring forward before the next summer recess the additional learning needs Bill, which will be the sixth and final education Bill of this legislative programme.
In order to pave the way for our planned reform of local authorities in Wales, we will be bringing forward a local government Bill at the beginning of next year. That Bill will prepare the ground for reforming local authorities through a series of mergers. While the merger proposals themselves and other reforms will be provided for in a second Bill, to be introduced after the 2016 Assembly elections, the local government Bill will enable mergers to take place in a coherent and planned way. It will enable Welsh Ministers to merge local authorities that wish to merge voluntarily ahead of the main merger and reform programme. The Bill will enable the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales and the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales to start work in respect of proposed new authorities. It will provide a power to ensure that authorities co-operate for the purpose of jointly planning and preparing for merger, and it will include provision to prevent activities by current or shadow authorities that might bring financial or reputational harm to any new authority.
To further advance this Government’s three strategic priorities for housing—more homes, better homes and better services—we will bring forward, in the early part of next year, the renting homes Bill. The Bill will provide a fairer, simpler and more efficient legal foundation for the relationship between landlords and tenants. It will, for the first time, provide a legal framework tailored to the needs of supported housing. The Bill will draw on extensive recommendations produced by the Law Commission, which has helped to develop our proposals. It will, among other things, assist landlords to tackle housing-related anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse, give equal rights to local authority and housing association tenants, and ensure that every private tenant has a clear written contract.
The renting homes Bill will be followed by the introduction of the social services regulation and inspection Bill, being the sister Bill of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. Responses to the White Paper consultation on the future of regulation and inspection of care and support in Wales provided a rich basis for developing the policy of regulation and inspection of care and support in Wales. The two clear underpinning aims of the Bill will be to secure wellbeing for citizens and improve the quality of care and support that they receive.
We recognise that, in order to secure Wales’s future prosperity, we must value our natural resources and the services that they provide. We must manage them sustainably, support the opportunities to deliver jobs and sustainable growth within our transition to a low carbon economy, and tackle key challenges, such as the decline in our biodiversity. We will, therefore, bring forward next spring an environment Bill to establish a modern and innovative legislative framework for the sustainable management of natural resources. The Bill will establish a framework to prioritise natural resource opportunities and help to reduce complexity and enable improvements in resource efficiency while streamlining and clarifying processes for a number of existing regulatory regimes.
We also recognise the value of the historic environment of Wales—a rich resource that can inspire our citizens and visitors, and stimulate regeneration and economic growth. However, if it is to continue to provide these many benefits to present and future generations, it must be protected and sustainably managed. We, therefore, intend to introduce the heritage Bill, which will also come forward next spring. The heritage Bill will introduce greater transparency and accountability into decisions taken on the historic environment. It will include provisions that seek to give more effective protection to Wales’s listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments, by giving the Welsh Government and local planning authorities enhanced powers. The Bill will provide the legislation necessary to ensure the sustainable management of the Welsh historic environment, supported by non-legislative policy, advice and guidance.
Members will be aware that, over the past year, the Welsh Government has continued to pursue legislation as a means for improving and protecting health. In April, the Minister for Health and Social Services outlined a series of proposals for addressing specific health concerns in a public health White Paper. We were pleased that this exercise attracted a great deal of interest, and stimulated lively debate on a number of important issues. The consultation period closed on 24 June, and we will be considering the responses over the coming months, with a view to bringing forward a public health Bill before the summer recess next year.
The Wales Bill, which, as we all know, will confer significant new responsibilities on the Assembly in respect of taxation and borrowing, has now cleared the House of Commons and is under consideration in the House of Lords. While, of course, consideration in the UK Parliament has not yet been completed, I think it reasonable for the Welsh Government to make preparatory plans. I can inform the Assembly that, if the Bill becomes law—broadly in its current form—it would be our intention to bring forward in this Assembly term a tax collection and management Bill, which will confer the powers of tax collection and management in Wales. The Bill would establish a corporate body, operationally separate from Welsh Ministers, and vest it with the legal powers of tax collection and management. The legislation would also establish a legal process to ensure and protect taxpayer rights in the full and proper payment of taxes. This is an historic time for Wales: this will be the first piece of tax legislation that the Assembly has had to consider, and it will pave the way for the replacement of stamp duty land tax and landfill tax with new, devolved Welsh taxes from 2018.
However, the Government’s legislative ambitions do not end here. I would also like to inform Members that we will be working with the Law Commission on projects that we hope will be included in its twelfth programme of law reform, details of which will be announced shortly. I am hopeful that there will be a major piece of work on planning law reform, to simplify and codify the law relating to development control, which we would wish to see leading to legislation in the next Assembly, as well as, of course, working to address the issues around accessibility to Welsh law and the Welsh statute book—again, relevant to legislation in the next Assembly.
I commend to the Assembly this legislative statement.
May I thank the First Minister for his statement this afternoon, and for outlining the Government's legislative programme for the next year or two? Of course, there are issues in the statement on which we can agree and come to common ground with the Government, but there are also issues on which we will disagree with the Government.
The First Minister is aware that we as a party announced a number of proposed Bills in our manifesto prior to the last Assembly elections—a comprehensive legislative programme that tackled many issues. It included Bills such as an enterprise Bill, a young persons Bill, a creative industries Bill and a climate change Bill. In my opinion, introducing Bills such as these would have improved the quality of life of the people of Wales significantly, but, unfortunately, the Government has not included such Bills in its legislative programme.
Over the past year, I note that the Government has passed some seven bills. In his statement today, the First Minister has committed to legislating in 10 areas. Therefore, is he confident that the proposed legislation that he has announced this afternoon will be delivered and passed, as outlined in this statement, bearing in mind that legislation published in the past has been scrapped?
Unfortunately, we have seen announcements related to legislation being made in the past that have been blocked, for some reason or other. The planning Bill is an example of that; the Government pledged that the Bill would be brought forward last year. I am pleased that the Government is finally going to introduce a planning Bill after the summer recess. Perhaps the First Minister could confirm when the Government anticipates that this Bill will be passed. Can he tell us whether this Bill will lead to a fundamental and comprehensive overhaul of the planning system in Wales? Does he also anticipate that there may be problems with such a Bill, given that local authorities could be merging in the future? Is this going to cause confusion to current local authorities and, indeed, among the public?
As we are all aware, Wales is run by a minority Government, which means that the Government must work with other parties to ensure that its legislative programme is passed. Given this statement today, can the First Minister confirm that the Government will be willing to collaborate with opposition parties on the new proposed Bills in order to ensure that there is full consultation?
Due to the work of my colleague Angela Burns on additional learning needs, the Government agreed to scrap the section related to additional learning needs in the education Bill and look to bring forward a significant separate piece of legislation. I am pleased that the First Minister has announced today that he is going to introduce a Bill on additional learning needs next year. Can the First Minister expand on the scope of this new Bill and the specific timetable for it?
It seems that the Government, at one time, had intended to introduce a youth justice Bill, given that it published a Green Paper on that subject. However, last week, we saw the Government bring forward a strategy rather than considering legislation. Can the First Minister explain why the Government has decided to introduce a strategy rather than legislation in this area? Some, of course, would argue that legislation in an area such as this would be far better than publishing a strategy.
The Minister for Local Government and Government Business said that the public sector workforce Bill would not proceed because of the large number of changes in local government. However, in last year’s legislative statement, the First Minister said that the Government would table the Bill before the summer recess this year. Given that the Bill will not now go ahead, can the First Minister explain specifically why the Government has changed its mind, and is he confident that local government can survive adequately without it?
We saw the control of dogs Bill scrapped from the Welsh Government programme recently, because the Government felt that United Kingdom Government legislation is adequate in dealing with dangerous dogs at an England and Wales level. Does the First Minister believe that there is greater scope for collaboration with the UK Government in areas such as this, where legislation can cross over, thereby preventing legislation for legislation’s sake? Has he taken any steps to look at the measures announced today in this context?
We saw two Bills introduced last year as emergency Bills. There was much debate, of course, about what 'emergency' meant in that context and the process used to introduce these Bills. Given that at least one of these Bills was contentious, can the First Minister confirm that the Government will not use such a process in future, unless it is absolutely necessary, in order to ensure that this place has appropriate time for scrutiny? Can he also confirm that, if the Government does use such a process in the future, there will be a full discussion and consultation with opposition parties?
I am sure that the First Minister would agree that legislation passed by the Welsh Government in many cases places a financial burden on the Welsh budget. Of course, we on this side of the Chamber also welcome legislative proposals to create a Welsh treasury, which would administer any new taxation and borrowing powers for Wales. In light of this, perhaps the First Minister could confirm today whether the Welsh Government will establish an office of budget responsibility, or will it look to work with the existing office at UK level?
Finally, Presiding Officer, may I ask the First Minister about the standard and quality of the drafting of Welsh Government legislation? What is the Government doing to improve the standard of drafting, because we have seen the Government having to propose a number of amendments to many Bills recently in order to correct errors? We saw this, of course, with Housing (Wales) Bill. Therefore, what is the Government doing in this area, because it is clear that it must up its game?
Therefore, Presiding Officer, may I thank the First Minister for his statement today? I look forward to scrutinising the legislation that he has announced this afternoon. I hope that the Government will use its resources in the best possible way in order to produce legislation that will make a difference and will improve the lives of people here in Wales.
There were a number of questions in that speech. May I say first of all that I will, of course, expect to do this? The acting leader of the opposition has mentioned the fact that none of his party's Bills have come before the Assembly. Well, of course, that is what the election decided. The people of Wales decided that his party should not be in Government. Having said that, it is very important that, where good ideas are considered, they can be considered by all parties.
On the other questions that he asked, there are a number of Bills here, it is true—there are 10. Of course, next year, we would not expect to see a full programme anyway, bearing in mind that there will be an election the following year. In a way, this statement looks at the following year too, given that there will not be enough time for a full programme in that year.
Some Bills have been blocked. We know what happened last week, and in previous months with the Local Government Byelaws (Wales) Act 2012. That is something that we have to work with. It is very difficult to know what the UK Government’s attitude will be to any Bill that comes from this place.
The planning Bill will look to ensure that the planning system is speeded up, bearing in mind that it is important that decisions are made in the right way. With regard to having a Bill that takes a fundamental look at the planning system, I would expect that to happen following any review by the Law Commission, so that evidence can be presented to whoever forms the next Government to consider such a fundamental Bill. I do not envisage that it would have any effect on local authorities now or in the future, bearing in mind that any Bill would impact upon planning authorities, which, of course, change according to the local government structure in place at the time.
We are willing to collaborate. We must collaborate in order to ensure that Bills are passed. We all understand that.
He asked about the additional needs Bill. That Bill will be introduced in the Assembly before next summer. That is the intention. That keeps a promise that was made in this Chamber with regard to bringing forward a Bill to the Assembly on this subject.
As regards law making, where there is an opportunity to secure ministerial powers or powers for the Assembly as a whole by using a Westminster Act, we do that. May I give the example of smoking in cars when children are present? We had a choice: to ensure that part of the Bill at Westminster would empower Ministers in Wales, or to bring a Bill before this Assembly to empower Welsh Ministers. The decision that we made as a Government was that it would be easier and more sensible to ensure that there would be a motion before this Assembly to give that power to Westminster in order to ensure that Welsh Ministers have the necessary powers.
As regards emergency Bills, we would not expect those to be general things at all. We must remember that the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill had to be brought forward because of what happened at Westminster. That was not our timetable. It was extremely important to ensure that we dealt with the gap that would have appeared as soon as possible.
As regards the public sector workforce Bill, the decision that we have made is that we do not need that now. Everything that that Bill would have covered can be covered in alternative ways—in subordinate legislation, for example—and therefore that Bill will not be progressed.
Of course, we consider what the financial impact of any Bill would be on organisations and businesses, and also on local government. We do that through the regulatory impact assessments that are undertaken. Therefore, in my view, there is no need for any kind of office or quango with budget responsibility. In my opinion, it is the role of Members here to scrutinise the Government, and it is important that Members can do that. I do not believe that we need another body to ensure that that happens; I think that Members are already doing that, if I may say so.
As regards the standard of drafting, it is true to say that, in 2011, the drafting of Bills—it is true to say that Measures had been drafted—was a relatively new thing. We ensure that the system is continuously improved, and it is true to say that improvements have had to be made during the process of taking Bills through this place, but that happens in Westminster too; Westminster is not totally perfect itself. We have strengthened the number of lawyers available to the Government in order to ensure that this happens. It is important that we have a sufficient number of lawyers in order to ensure that we can draft effective. We would not want to think that having more lawyers is something that this Government would be criticised for, because we have to ensure that we have them in order to ensure Bills that are right not just for the Government, but for Members here too.
The potential tax collection and management Bill, which will effectively establish a Welsh treasury, is a significant development in Welsh politics, and I will ask some questions about that later on in my response.
I broadly welcome the Bills that the First Minister has outlined this afternoon. Plaid Cymru’s priority has been to strengthen the legislation that the Government has tabled, and our scrutiny has focused on whether and how the Government’s programme is fulfilling the stated aims in the legislation. On the Housing (Wales) Bill, for example, while it clearly retains the stamp of being a Labour Bill, there were areas where Plaid Cymru and the Minister agreed on issues for amendments, which in our view improved the Bill and dealt with additional housing issues such as second homes.
I will limit my wider questioning to two of the Bills mentioned by the First Minister as part of his programme today. On the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill, it is impossible to disagree with the six goals that have been set out as part of the Bill. That is not a criticism on my part, but it does mean that the delivery of those goals has to be paramount. Our concern is that the Government would argue that its current programme of work already meets those goals. Your Government would not, for example, agree that it has moved away from sustainable development, and I am sure that you would dispute assertions that you lack a commitment to the Welsh language or to the communities where it is most used. The evidence in both of those areas is that Wales is not necessarily moving in a more sustainable direction.
I see the commitment to resilience in tackling climate change and to healthier lifestyles, but I do not see that necessarily being reflected in the Government’s decision making. The same goes for cuts to funds for Welsh learners, which undermines your stated commitment to the promotion of the Welsh language. My question on the future generations Bill is whether the First Minister intends to change policy direction in those areas where evidence can be produced that his Government is not fulfilling the six goals.
Plaid Cymru can go on record today welcoming the action that is being taken to establish a Welsh treasury. You have called it a tax collection and management Bill, but the interpretation is that this creates that function. Following the first report of the Silk commission, Plaid Cymru called for the Welsh Government to start work on establishing the treasury function as soon as possible, and the Minister for Finance responded positively and agreed with the need to build capacity. I look forward to preparations already undertaken being reflected in the Bill. Will the treasury function fully encompass the capacity that we need in terms of expertise? Does the Government need to buy in additional expertise, and are we in a position to develop graduates in Wales who can work in the public finance area?
I would also like confirmation that, as we develop the capacity of the Government and the Assembly, measures will be put in place to retain more of our young graduates here in Wales. I think that that is a crucial angle that we can use when we promote the Welsh treasury and constitutional developments more generally to the public. I would welcome a view from the First Minister on that point.
I thank the leader of Plaid Cymru for her observations. With regard to the future generations Bill, of course the commitment remains to sustainable development, and it is an important part of securing the future as far as those who come after us are concerned. The same is true of course for the Welsh language, and these appear in the Bill itself, in terms of the goals that are on the Bill. The Bill will proceed through the Assembly and we will of course consider any amendments that are put forward by other parties.
In terms of the treasury function, I would expect expertise to be brought in from outside, because the expertise does not exist in the Welsh Government. It is not something that we have traditionally done. It is important that, where that function is developed, that expertise from outside is there, so that it can be developed in-house, as it were, in time to come. However, I certainly would expect expertise from outside to be available to us as we develop what is, as the leader of Plaid Cymru rightly says, a treasury function. The Bill, perhaps, is not the most attractively named Bill, but it does establish, nevertheless, a treasury function in that regard.
I think that the Government is becoming a more attractive place for young graduates anyway, and I think that any organisation that has grown in terms of its powers and responsibilities becomes a more attractive organisation for graduates to come to. Certainly, 15 years ago—. When I became a Minister in 2000, it was clearly the case that the old Welsh Office was not generally seen as an attractive place for young Welsh graduates. Part of it was shown in the fact that, at that time, only 5% of the staff in Cathays park were Welsh speakers. That has changed immensely over time. I have seen some very, very good young people—for me, that is anybody under 35, I suppose, these days—here who would not have been here actually in the 1980s and 1990s. It gives me great confidence and faith that the civil service that we will have in Wales in future will be one that has the highest level of expertise and the highest level of commitment. I think that it is absolutely right to say that, as the powers of the Assembly and indeed the Government continue to develop in future, even more young graduates will want to remain in Wales and use their talents here in Wales. It used to be said—and I remember this phrase being used by Professor Kevin Morgan in 1997 at the time of the first referendum—that the view had always been in Wales, ‘If you want to get on, get out’. I think that those days are long behind us and long may they remain so.
Thank you, First Minister, for your statement. I want to first of all deal with procedural issues. A year after you brought forward three emergency Bills as a Government, and after there has been so much coverage of the Bills on NHS finance, the agricultural sector in Wales and the control of horses, do you accept that many of us are very eager to adequately scrutinise any legislation and that the Assembly and all Assembly committees should have a proper opportunity to consider the views of external stakeholders? I believe that it has been a practice at times recently for us to be too subjective, and therefore I ask you whether you as a Government have had any discussions about definitive guidelines as to when the Government would consider bringing forward emergency Bills. Also, I would like to ask you, given the judgment last week on the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill, whether you intend to have further discussions with the UK Government on the way that the settlement deals with the whole programme in terms of legislation. It appears that you won the battle in terms of last week’s decision, but do you feel that there should perhaps be greater maturity from the point of view of the UK Government as a result of that?
We welcome many of the Bills that you have brought forward today. It appears, as you said in responding to some earlier questions, that details will emerge where there is no unanimity in terms of opinion. We have some questions about how the demand for housing is assessed in terms of the planning Bill and also the fact that, at the moment, you are not eager to safeguard the Welsh language in the planning Bill, from what we see.
Also, as we consider the response to the Williams commission and the Government’s view expressed last week, could you ensure that there is a way for us to find consensus and to have some kind of discussion before any Bill is brought forward in terms of the reorganisation of local government? Do you have any comments on the concerns expressed by the Finance Committee on some of the Bills in relation to a treasury function here in Wales and the fact that it is asking questions about the Assembly’s right to scrutinise taxation powers and the amount of any borrowing by Government?
May I also ask you about some Bills that have not been included in today’s statement? The Government consultation on the public service workforce Bill included a number of proposals for the provision of more effective and efficient public services. However, on 14 May, the Minister announced that a Bill was unnecessary and you have reiterated that this afternoon. So, do you have any plans, as a Government, perhaps not within a Bill, but within any guidance or regulations, to include issues such as staff training, professional development, and also support for employers, unions and the workforce, which was part of the consultation initially?
I welcome the statement yesterday on the Government consultation on allotments, but you will be aware that the Minister for Culture and Sport, in October 2013, announced that the Government would proceed with the consultation early in the new year, so we are now facing slippage of at least six months. You will have to consider, of course, the response to the consultation, but do you anticipate that there will be an allotments Bill in the last year of this Assembly? Is that still your intention?
Also, in terms of the education Bill referred to in the statement, there was a suggestion by the former Minister for education that children of school age who were taught at home would have to be registered with the local authority. The current Minister has said that he does not intend to legislate on that, but he did say that guidance would be put in place by, I think, May 2015. Do you think that that timetable is still appropriate?
Finally, in November, the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty stated that a children and young people Bill would not be included within the Government programme, but, rather, the Government would rely on the 2011 Measure. However, since the statement in November, a proposed children and young people Bill has been brought forward at a UK level that makes provision for free childcare, for example, extends children’s rights, and includes measures on health support for families. I wanted to ask you whether you have any plans as a Government—I accept that it is not included in the statement today—to proceed with proposals in those areas in order to ensure that young families in Wales do not lose out given the measures that are being introduced at the British level.
May I thank the Member? To deal with the matter of emergency legislation in the first place, we must bear in mind that the examples that he cited were those where we had to take a view and take the legislation through the Assembly quite swiftly. As regard the horses Bill, there were horses in a number of places in Wales that were running wild in cemeteries and into people’s houses, and so we had to ensure that something was done about that swiftly.
The same thing was true, of course, in relation to the agriculture Bill; that arose because of what had occurred in Westminster. So, I would say, as regards emergency legislation, that emergency legislation deals with an unforeseen situation and not something that is business as usual or perhaps can be planned for in advance. The Member used an interesting word, namely ‘maturity’, in relation to the United Kingdom Government. That is not a matter for me. However, as regards what occurred last week, there was a question, in my view, about where the powers lie in relation to wages in agriculture. That has been answered plainly—and most plainly, in my view. So, I am not criticising the fact that that has happened or that the United Kingdom Government took the steps that it did, but it does show where the flaws lie in the system of devolution that we have at present.
As regards the planning Bill, of course, what we must consider is where the balance lies between policy, guidelines and the law. Historically, what planning Acts have done is create a framework for the planning system, and policies and guidelines have followed on top of that. However, that is something that is being considered in order to measure the balance that needs to be struck with regard to any planning Bill.
As regards the Welsh language, I am not against any allusions to the Welsh language, but what I would ask for is for consideration of how this would be of benefit. It is one thing to have the Welsh language on the face of a Bill, but it is quite another matter to demonstrate that that makes a difference. So, that is the area where the work has to be done.
As regards local government, I do not see that that is a problem in terms of the Bill we have announced today, because we have made it clear that any kind of merger would have to be considered after the next election, and that would be a matter for the manifestos of the various parties. A number of the things that the Member has mentioned are matters for manifestos for the next election. That is true in relation to some of the Bills that have not been announced today. There is not room for all of them. I am sure that the parties will soon be considering what should be contained in their manifestos for the next election.
As regards the public service workforce Bill, may I say that it has not been considered as regards the two-tier code? The Ministers do have powers appertaining to that, but, as regards the points that were made about staff training and so on, those are things that can be considered in the process of developing Bills that build on the foundation of the Williams commission after the next election.
The situation as regards home schooling has not changed. The Minister has been clear on that and on the children and young people legislation. Once again, we will consider what is happening in Westminster, but there is a limit to what we can announce in any year here in the Assembly.
I congratulate the First Minister on this programme. At the beginning of this Assembly term, I think that the Government was criticised by the opposition for not bringing in legislation quickly enough. I think that has certainly not turned out to be the case, when you look at the planned Bills announced today and the previous legislative programmes.
Last week, we debated the future generations Bill in this Chamber and, today, the First Minister has announced in the legislative programme that there will be a planning Bill and an environment Bill. There are obviously very strong links between these three Bills. How will the First Minister ensure that there is a continuous thread between the three Bills and that there will be common definitions, so that they will complement each other? I think that there is a chance that there could be confusion between the Bills, so how can we ensure that there is a common thread?
The future generations Bill talks about long-term goals and long-term planning and it talks about acting for children and for our grandchildren. How will we ensure that those legislative goals are borne in mind when we make sometimes short-term decisions—short-term planning decisions, for example? ‘The Wales We Want’ consultation came up with climate change as the most important and No. 1 issue in Wales. How are we going to ensure that future legislation will take that into account? How will we ensure that we think internationally, because issues such as climate change and the environment obviously have no borders?
Will the First Minister assure me that the impact on children and young people will be meaningfully taken into account when every one of these Bills is considered, as is required by the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011, and not just when looking at education, housing and public health, but when looking at the other issues where it is not so obvious, such as planning, the environment and the treasury functions. It is vital that we look at these in terms of how they affect children.
Finally, I hope that there may be time to address the issue of physical punishment of children in the home. Brazil has been in the public eye a lot recently, and it was very good to hear that Brazil was announced as the thirty-eighth state to ban physical punishment in the home. With a child population of nearly 60 million, Brazil has become the biggest country in the world to do so. So, I want to congratulate Brazil and hope that Wales may follow.
I thank the Member for her contribution. I think that the difference between the planning and the environment Bills is that the planning Bill will seek, of course, to develop the structure of land use policy, while the environment Bill, of course, will look to provide some of the evidence that will seek to influence that land use policy. We know, of course, that environmental considerations are very much part of the planning system in any event, and the two of them work together in that regard. Climate change, of course, can be addressed through an environment Bill. It can be addressed through the future generations Bill, and it can also be addressed through such things as building regulations and through secondary legislation where, of course, the Minister has already announced plans—proportionate amounts, in my view—to move forward with, for example, energy efficiency to make sure that houses have a smaller carbon footprint in the future.
With regard to children and young people, I can certainly give the Member the assurance that the Measure will be fully observed as the Member would expect when legislation is brought before this Assembly. With regard to physical punishment, I understand that there are discussions taking place across parties at this moment in time with a view to examining a way forward. I know that those discussions are ongoing, and I will not say any more about them at this time.
First Minister, devolution has been hard fought for for the Assembly. I think that one of the concerns that I have in looking at your legislative programme is the removal of scrutiny from this Assembly and the concentration of powers into the hands of Ministers, with then the possibility of them making regulations, which, of course, have far less scrutiny than Acts. I can give you an example, Minister, because I can see that you are pulling a face. For example, the Well-being of Future Generations Bill has over 13 sections in it identified as, effectively, concentrating power into the hands of Ministers rather than of this Assembly. Looking at the proposals potentially arising out of the Williams commission and your local government Bill, there is a concern that power is being taken away from local communities and being concentrated into the hands of Government. I would hope, First Minister, that you can give us an assurance that that is not the case and that, in as much as you can, your Government intends to devolve power much more down to local communities rather than taking it away from them.
I would like to echo Julie Morgan’s concerns about the interaction between the environment Bill, the planning Bill, and the Well-being of Future Generations Bill. I think that there is a concern about how these three pieces of legislation are going fit together. I know that the Environment and Sustainability Committee has already done a lot of work in relation to scrutinising the decisions or the thinking leading up to these Bills. We clearly have had concerns, and there clearly is going to be a lot of work for the Environment and Sustainability Committee, given the legislative programme that you have just outlined. Are you confident that the Bills will complete their legislative passage, as it were, through the committee in the time that you have available?
I understand the aims of your Government in looking at the environment and also trying to bring forward sustainable development, but that, of course, has always been a key organising principle or key principle of Welsh Government. Sometimes I wonder whether legislation is really the best way to achieve it, or whether you actually get a lot further by bringing forward policies that support it, rather than legislating on it, particularly where, if there are uncertainties, that legislation then gets tied up in legal challenges. I am not suggesting that there will be some to these, but, invariably, when there is new legislation, there is a risk of legal challenge. So, I would ask you to bear those things in mind.
Well, there is always a balance to be struck in legislation between what should be granted to Ministers in terms of secondary legislation and what should appear on the face of the Bill. By and large, much of it has to do with flexibility. If it is intended that a part of a Bill is intended to last for some years, then it appears on the face of the Bill. If it is intended that there should be flexibility with regard to regulations, then Ministers, of course, having greater flexibility, are able to do that. That is the balance that we look to strike, and, of course, Ministers cannot obtain any extra powers through Bills without support in this Assembly, and we are very much aware of that.
In terms of the Williams commission, I have said many times that I want to see powers devolved downwards. I spend a lot of my time, as Members will know, arguing for greater devolution for this place. I cannot then argue that it should not happen, in the right circumstances, to authorities such as the new authorities that will be created, or, indeed, below that to town and community councils. I have said many times that it is important that any new powers are given to authorities that are able to exercise them, and that would mean the new authorities, when they are established, and, of course, it is important to consider what powers might be given, particularly to the bigger town and community councils that are, again, able to exercise them. I am with her in that regard.
I am not concerned about the dovetailing of the FG Bill with the environment Bill and the planning Bill. We know from experience that this has happened in the past, and each Bill team is aware of what is potentially in the Bills that will be partially relevant to their own work. That will certainly happen.
I am confident of the passage of the Bills—as confident as I can be—otherwise I would not have asked the Assembly to consider what I have said today in terms of introducing them.
With regard to sustainable development, it is the central organising principle. That is a vaguely Stalinist term, I grant you, but it is nevertheless the term that has been used in Welsh politics for many years. It is a concept that we have not lost sight of, and it is of course included in the future generations Bill and, indeed, in all legislation.
We do not consider legislation if something can be achieved without the need for legislation. There is literally no point in introducing a raft of Bills if there is no need for them. Similarly, we take the approach that where there is an opportunity for powers to be given to the Assembly, or indeed to Welsh Ministers via a Westminster Bill, and where those powers are not controversial, we will certainly look for the Westminster Bill to devolve those powers to Welsh Ministers or, indeed, to the Assembly. Primary legislation inevitably has to be a last resort, but primary legislation is important. There are many of us in the Chamber who will remember what it was like at one time, when there were real restrictions on what could be done, when it was not possible to do anything with regard to local government, and when it was not possible to change the structure of the health service, except with regard to the provider, if I remember rightly, that was on the face of the original Bill. They were restrictions that we did not need, and I am sure the Members feel that the powers that we have now are at least a little more flexible than the ones we had pre-2007 and certainly pre-2003.
Thank you, First Minister, for your statement this afternoon. May I endorse the comments about the centralisation of power in the hands of Ministers, which has been a recurring theme that has run clearly through your legislative programme as the various Bills have come forward? The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill is no different in that regard. Last month, I asked you about the Welsh Government's commitment to the One Planet Wales campaign, ensuring that we in Wales live within our environmental means. You said that that would be central to the future generations Bill. We have now seen that Bill, which talks about using resources more efficiently and proportionately. It does not say proportionate to what, and it is certainly not the unambigious statement and the strong commitment to the One Planet Wales campaign that everybody expected. Therefore, I will ask you to confirm that the Government will be open-minded to strengthening this as the Bill proceeds through the Assembly, and also to include a commitment to sustainable development at the international level, because living within our environmental means here in Wales is one thing, of course, but if we are doing that at the expense of other parts of the world, then that good work is undermined.
There was The Wales We Want consultation in parallel with this Bill, and that demonstarted that climate change is the single issue that is most important to the people of Wales in relation to future generations. Again, there is no mention of climate change in the Bill. Will you agree, therefore, that the Government should, for example, set statutory targets in terms of reducing carbon emissions in the Bill, to reflect the Wales that the people of Wales want in the future?
If we are to ensure that sustainable development permeates all the work of the Government and the public sector, and has a real impact on how people live their lives in Wales, then it should not be restricted to that Bill. I feel that, in relation to the planning Bill, for example, the opportunity should be taken to establish a statutory purpose for planning in Wales. Indeed, that is what is in place in many other countries across the world. Should sustainable development not be a central principle of the planning system in Wales?
I also add my voice to the call for including the Welsh language on the face of the planning Bill. I note from your previous answer that you are open to considering that if the case is made to justify it. Although seeing the Welsh language prosper is one of the aims set out in the well-being of future generations Bill, I struggle to see sometimes how that Bill will help deliver that in reality. We have a plethora of language schemes within the public sector in Wales. There are various strategies and plans in place. There are Welsh in education strategies by local authorities, of course, and we have technical advice note 20 in the context of planning. Again, we are not seeing the progress that we need to see in terms of the Welsh language. I have quoted the figure of 0.03% of planning applications having been subject to a language impact assessment, for example, in the last two years; that is one in every 3,000 planning applications. One would not expect every planning application to be subject to such an impact assessment, but there is certainly room for improvement. I have not seen anything in the new TAN that will change that. In responding, therefore, could you please spend some time explaining how the future generations Bill and the planning Bill, for that matter, will change the future prospects of the Welsh language?
Finally, I direct you to the proposed environment Bill. The White Paper that we have seen talked about the ecosystem approach for managing natural resource. Can you tell us whether that Bill will include targets for the protection and enhancement of biodiversity and ecosystems in Wales?
I thank the Member. The Member himself acknowledged that the problem is this: if you have regulations that are too restrictive on industry in terms of sustainable development, you will merely export the problem to another country where the regulations are far looser than the ones we have in Wales. Therefore, there is a balance that must be struck in this regard. For example, if sustainable development were on the face of the planning Bill, what would be the situation if the Port Talbot steelworks wanted to produce more products? Would the council say that it would not be possible to give any form of consent because it was not sustainable? There are legal problems in relation to doing that. This would have to be done in a very restricted way to ensure that that did not happen. We must realise that there are several industries in Wales that are very important but which are not that sustainable. They are sustainable in both a social and economic sense, but perhaps not in terms of the environment. We have to consider this in its entirety.
On climate change, this is part of what the Government is doing. We are doing this in relation to building regulations, for example. My problem with statutory targets is this: one of the biggest things that has the potential to create problems in terms of climate change is energy and the fact that we do not have sufficient powers over energy. It is very problematic for the Government to have targets without having the means of ensuring that those targets are met. That is the problem in that context. If powers over energy were to be devolved, the situation would perhaps be different. However, that is not the case at present.
In terms of the Welsh language, we have been wrestling with the system of language assessments and, of course, it is not easy to determine where the boundary should be. No sensible person would say that every planning application should include a language assessment. I understand that point, but where would you draw the line? How do you ensure that people do not try to get around those boundaries or find ways around any regulations or guidance?
It is evident to me, in terms of the language, that the biggest challenge is the fact that Welsh speakers are moving out of the Welsh heartlands and that non-Welsh-speaking people are moving in. That is an age-old problem. The way of ensuring that this problem is resolved is to ensure that the system of immersion—if I may use that word—in Ceredigion and Gwynedd, for example, ensure that children who move in to these areas are able get to grips with learning the language and become fluent as soon as possible. Of course, people are moving into old houses in some areas and, therefore, the planning system will not help in that regard. In saying that, I know that people have referred to the fact that some developments are having a detrimental impact on the Welsh language. In terms of ensuring that we are able to deal with those instances, we are open to any practical comments on how we can help the language, particularly in those parts of Wales where the language has historically been a community language. We know what the pressures are in several parts of Wales in this context.
Therefore, in general, I would not be in favour of targets without having in Wales the means of reaching those targets. In terms of the planning system and the language, it is very important that we move to a situation where this is not just something that is on the face of a Bill, but something that can help the language in a practical way.
Thank you, First Minister, for your statement today.
I would like to confine my questions to the abandoned control of dogs Bill, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill and also the once again postponed breeding of dogs and identification of dogs regulations.
The consultation back in November 2012 on the control of dogs Bill stated that it would
‘improve dog welfare by promoting responsible ownership to prevent dogs from becoming out of control’.
It stated that it would do this through a number of measures, including amending the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to make it an offence for a dog to be dangerously out of control anywhere in Wales, including on private property and by encouraging more responsible dog ownership through training and issuing dog control notices, DCNs, where appropriate.
As you will recall, First Minister, the then Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development stated that there were benefits to working with the UK Government on this and therefore work on a control of dogs (Wales) Bill was suspended. While I welcome the measures that have been taken by the UK Government in this regard through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, the proposed control of dogs (Wales) Bill envisaged at that time more preventative measures, focusing on both education and, crucially, early intervention measures where a dog displays signs of aggressive behaviour.
The Welsh Government’s decision at that time, as you will recall, dismayed a number of key campaigners, including Councillor Dilwar Ali of Llandaff North, who had brought a petition to the Assembly on that very matter. In the light of that, what plans are there now to pursue these preventative measures via other means to ensure that we get the right balance between the owner, the dog’s long-term welfare and public safety? In that regard, it is to be welcomed that we see already a refreshed approach from the new Deputy Minister responsible for these matters, and I look forward to your encouraging that tendency.
In terms of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill, it is intended to strengthen
‘existing governance arrangements for improving the well-being of Wales in order to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.
While I welcome the broad aims of the Bill, it is, in some important respects, still lacking in detail, direction and purpose. First Minister, how will the Welsh Government ensure that this Bill is sufficiently robust and measurable so as to make a difference to people’s everyday lives and the way in which public authorities go about their business? A critical weakness of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, in many people’s view, is the failure regarding enforcement. How will enforcement be built in to this Bill to give it the credibility that it requires?
Finally, on the breeding of dogs and the identification of dogs regulations, I have spoken on a number of occasions of the importance of, and, indeed, the dangerous flaws that both the breeding of dogs and those governing the identification of dogs regulations contain. Given that they have yet again been postponed on this week’s business statement, for reasons which I understand, will you please commit to two points in this regard? The first is that the summer will be used actively to have a second look at the error of excluding puppies from the staff ratio. As it stands, excluding puppies will make it legal for one single member of staff to be responsible for 20 adult dogs and all of their puppies at the same time. This has been opposed by over 800 members of the public in response to the most recent consultation, and it was supported by fewer than 20. Clearly, this matter needs to be given urgent attention.
Finally, First Minister, given the delays that we have had, will you please commit to ensuring that both sets of regulations are delivered before the end of this calendar year?
I thank the Member for his observations. With regard to the control of dogs Bill, he will be aware of the competence issues that arose at that time. The decision, given that the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 in Westminster dealt with dangerous dogs, was that the Bill here was withdrawn. Last week, however, may have shed light on what might be possible in the future, but we have to bear in mind that anti-social behaviour orders are specifically not devolved. You can argue whether that means the whole of anti-social behaviour, and we are back in the realms of the Supreme Court once again. So, the issue is never quite as clear as we would have hoped it could have been. With regard to the animal welfare regulations and the breeding of dogs regulations, he knows the issue with regard to the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee and the decision that we took in that regard. As far as the identification of dogs regulations are concerned, they will need to be revised anyway, given the fact that they have a coming-into-force date of 6 August, which clearly cannot be observed now. However, I can assure the Member that there are issues that will require more work in order to see how some of the concerns that have been raised can be met and managed in the future, so the summer will be used for that purpose.
With regard to the FG Bill, the Bill has not long been introduced, and there are opportunities for Members to put forward their views on the Bill and to look at ways of, as they would see it, strengthen the Bill as well, and I look forward to the contributions that are made at that time.
It would be remiss not to remind ourselves of the criticisms that came from the opposition as we started our legislative programmes that we were not bringing legislation forward quickly and fast enough. The net effect has been that we have had a rigorous testing of a considerable programme of important legislation, and we have come through, I believe, with flying colours in respect of the quality of work that has been done on those Bills and in respect of the scrutiny. Scrutiny is at the root of quality legislation, and I would hope that that would be acknowledged in respect of the commitment of Members from all parties on that.
The other thing, as we go forward with this legislative programme, is to recognise the success of the programme and some of the legislation that we have already brought forward that we are building on, such as housing, organ transplant, active travel and, in particular, the agricultural wages legislation and the consequence of that judgment, and of course, my own Bill on asbestos diseases. The importance of the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill should not be underestimated constitutionally, because I believe that that actually transforms the options that are open to us with our legislative powers for the future. Within the programme, First Minister, there are three particular pieces of legislation on which one of the committees that I serve on will be working, which are the planning, environment and future generations Bills. The co-ordination of those Bills, which overlap different portfolios, is fundamental, and that point has already been acknowledged. However, for me, the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill—and the Well-being and Future Generations (Wales) Bill, which will be coming forward for scrutiny over the coming months—could be one of the most radical pieces of legislation coming forward. The consequence of the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill enables us to really put the issue of ethical employment and ethical procurement, and the issue of a living wage, at the core of that Bill. For me, the important part, and the area that I will be arguing on, will be the issue that I think represents the ethos of this Welsh Labour Government, namely social justice. We are the only legislature that is actually bringing forward serious legislation to put sustainability, in its broadest terms, and social justice, at the core of our legislative programme.
I have one final point, regarding the comments that you have made in respect of the Law Commission. This is equally, I think, of considerable advantage and benefit to us as a new legislature. I was wondering what sort of discussions have taken place with the Law Commission and how you envisage the engagement with the Law Commission taking place over the coming months and years. To me, it appears that it is a vital addition to what I believe is the learning curve as a legislature that we are undergoing at the present time.
I thank the Member for his contributions. I am well aware of the time when we were criticised for not bringing forward enough legislation. I hope that Members have been satisfied, ad nauseam, that that is no longer the case. One of the things, of course, that is correct is that it does take time to bring legislation forward, and that is something, I think, that is a lesson for all parties, after 2016, and certainly something that we have dealt with.
In terms of the quality of the Bills, I think that there are two points here. First of all, nobody has criticised any of the Acts, as they are now, for being unsound in law or confusing. That is a tribute to all Members in this Chamber. I do not underestimate the pressure that exists in terms of the scrutiny, even though it has been 14 years since I have been in that position. I do not underestimate the pressure that exists on all Members in this Chamber in terms of scrutinising Bills, given the numbers that we have here. I think that it is a tribute to Members in this Chamber that we are producing legislation that is sound and is not being challenged for unsoundness.
The fact that two items of legislation have gone through the Supreme Court and have come out unscathed is a sign that the view that we have taken of our competence is the correct view thus far, and it is something that we very much welcome. The Member is absolutely right—the judgment last week is broad in terms of its application. I did note last week that the previous Secretary of State did not say that he accepted the judgment; his successor did. We were a little concerned last week that attempts would try to be made to plug what was seen, at that point, as a gap as a result of that judgment. That would be wholly wrong and wholly undemocratic. I do not expect that the current occupant of the Secretary of State’s role in the Wales Office will do that, because that, of course, would be wholly wrong.
In terms of the Law Commission, it is absolutely crucial that we have access to a body that can provide us with the means to review the law in Wales. It is not a Welsh Law Commission—it is the Law Commission of England and Wales, and it has engaged very well with us. We have worked very closely with the Law Commission in terms of identifying the areas that we think need to be examined, such as the area of planning. The role of the Law Commission is to look at particularly fundamental changes in the law, which, for example, a planning law reform Bill in the future would be able to do.
As I raised the issue of the heritage Bill a little earlier, during the business statement, I am grateful to you, Llywydd, for allowing me to ask a few questions on this.
First Minister, in your statement—with a little bit of a tease—you did say that the heritage Bill would be introducing greater transparency and accountability into decisions taken on the historic environment, but you then did not tell us anything about what that transparency might look like. So, rather than leave you with that irony, I will ask: can you tell us how the Bill will make the decision-making processes of Cadw more open to scrutiny by Assembly Members and members of the public, and to whom will the greater accountability be due? Can you tell us what thought has been given to the money that will be needed to follow this legislation, because sustainable management, to which you referred, cannot be done without sustained funding? Are you able to give us an indication of whether financial responsibility will be devolved to local authorities and civil society, and, if so, will they be playing a greater part in the sustained management of our heritage?
Finally, I have to dispute what you said that our law has not been criticised for being confusing. On a number of occasions during the passage of Bills through this place, these benches have criticised draft legislation for being confusing, in as much as it is strongly framework as a rule in its format. I would like to know what level of work is being done now on the heritage Bill to minimise the risk of yet another Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee report that says that while, obviously, there is the need for some regulation to follow on the back of primary legislation, ensuring that as much is on the face of the heritage Bill as is necessary would mean that, certainly on these benches, we would not be complaining how difficult it is to scrutinise secondary legislation.
I agree with what the Member has said about putting as much as is possible on the face of the Bill. That is something that we would seek to do in any event. I do not think that any of the Acts that have come through this place have been criticised as being in anyway confused or, indeed, unsound. That, of course, is because of the process of scrutiny that exists quite properly in this place. She asked particularly about the heritage Bill. I do not anticipate there being a particular financial cost. Yes, there would be a particular responsibility placed on owners, particularly of listed buildings, but I do not anticipate that there would be financial burdens put on local authorities, for example, to maintain buildings that are not theirs. That is something that the owners themselves would have to do.
I will expand a little on the heritage Bill in terms of what it would seek to do. I mentioned that it would look, obviously, to more effectively protect listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments. It would look to enhance the powers that Welsh Government and local authorities already have to intervene promptly, to prevent damage and to take action if historic assets have been destroyed or damaged by unauthorised works. That is one gap in the law that we have certainly seen in the past few months indeed. It will also aim to introduce greater transparency and accountability into decisions taken on the historic environment by putting in place a formal consultation and review procedure for the designation of historic assets and it will create an independent panel to advise on historic environment policy and strategy at a national level in Wales. That is not the whole Bill, but I hope that gives the Member some idea of what the Bill is meant to contain.
I am grateful for the opportunity to question the First Minister on some elements of his statement today related to the areas for which I am responsible, in terms of Plaid Cymru in this Assembly. May I first of all welcome the qualifications Wales Bill? I welcome the fact that there is to be a Bill. I encourage the Government to consider the report of the Children, Young People and Education Committee on this issue. This is the first time, I believe, that a committee has looked at proposed Government legislation. Although I am not suggesting that that should happen on each and every occasion, it has been a valuable exercise in this context, it has enhanced the work of the committee and has secured agreement from all parties on the committee as to how the Government should legislate in this area, and particularly how it should set its priorities in terms of establishing Qualifications Wales as a regulator, without rushing too much change through at once. I very much hope that the Government, as it brings forward the legislation and prepares the Bill, will look carefully at the committee’s report on this issue.
The second Bill on education is the additional learning needs Bill. I welcome the fact that there is to be legislation in this area. It was important that every party collaborated in this area to withdraw the post-16 section from the previous education Bill, because that led to enhanced consideration in the White Paper of this whole area. I particularly welcome what is said in the White Paper, but it is important that that is now reflected in legislation, particularly in terms of strengthening the individual child’s voice in this process, along with the parent’s voice, and by ensuring that there is an appropriate appeals system to a tribunal within this process so that everyone feels that the system is fair in this important area.
I am disappointed that the legislative programme does not contain any movement on banning the physical punishment of children. I am not aware of any negotiations between parties, but, having said that, I am aware that the Deputy Minister did say when we last discussed this, as part of the social services Bill, that there would be a further legislative opportunity during this Assembly to look at this issue. I am looking at the legislative programme and I do not see that opportunity to deal with the area of the physical punishment of children. Just this lunchtime, an event was held by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Wales that specifically mentioned the need to look at this in the Welsh context, given that more young people and children are abused in Wales than is the case more generally throughout the British isles. This needs to be looked at as a matter of urgency—as much as looking at smoking in cars, in my opinion.
I welcome the fact that you are establishing a treasury. This will not only be able to deal with potential taxes that will be transferred to the Welsh Government, but will also open the door for new and innovative things, such as a levy on sugary drinks, proposed by Plaid Cymru. I look forward to seeing the Welsh treasury bringing forward such a levy in due course.
The final point that I want to raise with you, First Minister, does not relate so much to primary legislation, which is what you have discussed today, but is does relate to legislation. We are expecting the language standards to come before the Assembly during this year. Will you confirm that the timetable for the first round of standards will be complete, and that we will see regulations in the autumn, so that they can be passed? If I could refer to your first Twitter spat—you have seen the trolls out there; welcome to the world of Twitter, First Minister—you were unhappy, I know, about monolingual English announcements in Queen Street station. Many of us are unhappy with a lot of things that Arriva Trains Wales do in this context. That said, First Minister, it is possible to deal with this, because language standards do bring train companies into the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011, passed by the previous Government. Therefore—and this is in your hands—it is possible to introduce language standards relating to Arriva Trains Wales services. In confirming that the first set of language standards will be discussed in the autumn, will you confirm today the timetable for the next round of language standards, which will mean that Arriva Trains Wales cannot be so impudent in future?
Yes, the trolls came out of their caves. One message came from Aberaeron; I saw that on the Twitter feed. That is how it is. It is very important that we ensure that we do get an answer from Arriva. As Minister for the Welsh language, it was important for me that that happened in public, and that is how it was. In terms of the standards, we are considering the next steps, and considering how much consultation there should be in the future.
In terms of qualifications, I welcome the committee's comments and I will welcome any comments by the committee in the future.
In terms of the additional learning needs Bill, what the Bill will do is look at what happens post 16, in order to ensure that we can refer back and deal with the parts of the last Bill that were not taken forward in that time, in order to fulfil the commitment made at the time.
In terms of the treasury, I think that I have answered the questions about that and how it would work. It is very important that we have a system that is where it should be in order to be able to collect taxes in the future.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, First Minister.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair at 15:48.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 6 is a statement by the Deputy Minister for Tackling Poverty on progress on the tackling poverty action plan. I call the Deputy Minister, Vaughan Gething.
Are you sure? You may have left Ken out. We do look quite similar. [Laughter.]
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I beg your pardon; we are on item 6 on my screen, which is obviously wrong. I apologise to everyone.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology, Ken Skates.
In January, I published a policy statement on skills, setting out the Welsh Government’s long-term ambition for employment and skills policy in Wales. The policy statement outlined the major challenges facing our nation over the coming decade and the actions that we can take now to develop a highly skilled, competitive and sustainable skills system for the future. I made a commitment within the statement to produce a skills implementation plan, setting out the key policy actions, and their timeline, in order to deliver our ambitious goal for Wales. I am pleased to present this plan to you today.
The plan focuses on the policy actions that will take place from now until 2016, working with employers, unions and our delivery partners. These actions are all part of the longer-term reform required to secure a resilient and sustainable skills system for Wales.
In developing the plan, I have met with a range of stakeholders, who have welcomed the approach we are taking in delivering the policy statement on skills. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all employers, unions, providers and other partners involved for their input.
Employer engagement will continue to be critical as we deliver our future plans. Our focus will be to increase the investment made by employers in the skills system. We are also focused on creating the right conditions for employers in Wales to grow and flourish. We will launch the skills gateway, a new single engagement, assessment and access point, in October. The skills priorities programme will enable us to work effectively with the further education sector to ensure that it is responsive to employer need. The flexible skills programme will enable us to encourage and enable the development of flexible, industry-led skill solutions.
The plan sets out the strategic approach to be taken in relation to regional skills delivery in Wales, informed by strong industry engagement. Effective regional skills delivery will require regional skills partnerships to become more inclusive and industry-aligned in order to have greater influence and impact. I will continue to work closely with the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport to ensure alignment with city regions and enterprise zones, so that we have a skills system that is responsive to regional employer needs and enables us to capitalise on local labour market opportunities.
At the heart of this plan is a commitment to ensuring that we have a competitive Wales that can rival the best. This will require us to raise the overall levels of skills investment taking place across Wales, working in partnership with employers and individuals. This action will be key to securing the financial sustainability of our skills system and to maximising the pool of resources available to support skills delivery.
In February, I launched a consultation on how we can strike the right balance between the responsibilities of Government, employers and individuals for investing in post-19 learning. Responses to that consultation provided a valuable insight into the best practice taking place across Wales in terms of skills investment and how we now deliver this in Wales. A summary report of the responses to the consultation is also being published today. We will use the consultation responses to inform our policy for co-investment between Government, employers and individuals.
Through our interventions, our focus will remain on delivering the skills that improve our competitiveness and raise productivity as a nation. I will, therefore, be exploring how a policy of skills utilisation can support making the best use of the skills available across the economy. Part of this work will include using labour market information to plan for the jobs of the future and using our programmes to support businesses to become more competitive.
Delivering skills for employment is a further element of our plan. I want to reduce barriers into work and tackle poverty by providing the opportunities for individuals to enter sustainable employment. To do this, I will be looking at ways to improve levels of literacy, numeracy and ICT skills among adults. I will also be looking to secure the best deal for the people of Wales in terms of the employment support available, aligned with that provided via the UK Government.
To raise our aspirations as a nation, I intend to publish a series of skills performance measures in September. As well as measuring our impact, they will also act as a mechanism for driving behavioural change among our stakeholders. The measures will centre on jobs and growth, focusing on the higher levels of skills needed for future jobs and making use of existing skills among the workforce through better utilisation of these skills; equality and equity by ensuring equality of opportunity for individuals wishing to access training support and tackling areas of low skills, particularly in terms of the gaps in literacy, numeracy and ICT skills; financial sustainability by ensuring that we have the level of skills investment needed to secure a skills system for Wales which is competitive and that costs are appropriately balanced between Government, employers and individuals; and finally, international skills benchmarking, focusing on the benchmarks needed to raise our skills profile and to prepare Wales for the higher-skilled jobs of the future.
The skills implementation plan represents a major programme of work that will enable Wales to develop a skills system that is resilient, competitive and sustainable. I look forward to working across Government and with our employers, unions and key delivery partners to deliver its ambitious goal.
The Welsh Conservatives welcome the statement from the Deputy Minister and broadly agree with the principles that he outlines in the statement. However, to sound a note of caution in a way, we know that, in the next six years, Wales will expect to have undergone a major restructuring of its skills base. In line with international trends, these changes will see an increase in the proportion of people in employment with high-level skills alongside a decline in the proportion of people with low or no skills. It is beginning already, and we note that the figures for people aged between 19 and 24 who are not in employment or training are continuing to rise. Since the creation of this Assembly, there has been a repeated commitment to liaise with business to ensure that students gain the skills and qualifications they require. Clearly, we welcome any initiatives that deliver real progress towards achieving this. We are grateful that the Deputy Minister refers to this as an investment. Investment in training is clearly absolutely vital to the economic future of Wales.
In terms of the actual measures that the Deputy Minister proposes in order to monitor whether what he intends is actually occurring, it is vital that these are judged upon how they increase gender diversity at the top of Welsh industry, organisations, colleges and universities, how they support opportunities for young people to succeed in moving from education to employment through effective careers advice and how they improve work skills to support the economically inactive and develop sustainable long-term opportunities. The Deputy Minister will know that, in evidence to the Enterprise and Business Committee, many employers have stressed the importance of providing future employees with adequate and necessary literacy and numeracy skills. I am sure that the Deputy Minister is well aware of this and we look forward to receiving further details of how the suggestions he has made are adequately performing in respect of employment in industry.
May I thank William Graham for his contribution? First of all, the point that he makes about the terminology—calling it an investment—is absolutely crucial, and we cannot ignore the fact that, in the twenty-first century, we are living in a global economy where there is a race for higher-level skilled jobs. We know that China, for example, is producing every year somewhere in the region of 280,000 undergraduate degree-educated engineers and that the undergraduate educated middle-class of India is now larger than that of the whole of western Europe. So, investment needs to be increased across the western world in skilled jobs.
In terms of figures of those not in employment, education or training for those aged 16 to 18 in particular, we have enjoyed in Wales the sharpest fall of any part of the UK recently. That is down in no small part to Jobs Growth Wales and record investment in apprenticeships, and we need to continue that investment. We need to make sure that we give young people in particular more opportunities to excel. Of course, what we have found through the UK Commission for Employment and Skills is that the No. 1 barrier preventing employers from taking on young people is a lack of relevant work experience. So, it is absolutely essential that we continue rolling out opportunities through Jobs Growth Wales but that we also deliver the enhanced employer engagement programme from later this year so that we give young people meaningful work experience and, more to the point, what I like to call ‘work exposure’ as well.
The performance measures, which are going to be critically important, will be devised over the summer and, in terms of careers advice, there is a very strong link between the skills statement and the skills implementation plan and also the youth engagement and progression framework, so that you have the post-19 skills system tied seamlessly with the tracking and offer of employment opportunities and training and the youth guarantee to those aged 16 and below and between 16 and 19. So, the link must be a solid one. I should put on record today my congratulations to one of my counterparts in Westminster, the Minister for employment Esther McVey, on her promotion. We are working closely together on resolving differences between the Welsh and UK Governments to ensure that we get the best possible opportunities for those who are looking for work and need skills training.
I am grateful to the Deputy Minister for his statement today. I welcome the steps that have been set out in the plan as outlined, but many questions still remain. As we have just heard, there is a skills gap in Wales—between Wales and the rest of Britain and between Wales and the western world. The Deputy Minister has just acknowledged that and has recognised that we need to invest in order to address this skills gap.
We know, in that context, that significant cuts have been made to the post-18 learning sector. You can view today's statement as an attempt to reverse the cuts made initially by the Welsh Government. As the Deputy Minister has recognised that we need investment in this area, may I ask him specifically what will happen under this plan if businesses do not contribute as is desired in the plan?
The Government has changed emphasis in recent months and has confirmed today that there is a requirement for businesses to contribute towards training, and not just the Government. How, specifically, will small and medium-sized enterprises in Wales achieve this? The business sector in Wales is dominated by a number of companies that are not used to making these kinds of contributions and may argue, given the current economic conditions in Wales, although things are improving, that they are unable to contribute. If that contribution is not forthcoming, what steps can the Welsh Government take to ensure that young people are at least able to receive, and continue with, training?
Apprenticeships are an important part of this. The Young Recruits programme has been exceptionally important in that regard also, by getting people to start the process of training. What can the Deputy Minister tell us today about maintaining investment in those programmes for the future, as he has acknowledged just how important they are?
He has just mentioned the disagreement between this Government and the Westminster Government, specifically about Jobs Growth Wales and how that relates to benefits and skills provision being made by Westminster. I am pleased that negotiations are continuing, but is there any update on settling this issue of European funding to ensure that young people in Wales get the best possible deal from the Welsh Government or the Westminster Government?
May I turn specifically to skills that are in short supply in Wales? Those are in technology, engineering, mathematics and so on, and in the Welsh language as well. The Government commissioned a report that demonstrated that many people in eight sectors had a growing interest in using young people who had Welsh language skills, especially for dealing with customers and so on. Simultaneously, the Government, as we have heard today, has withdrawn significant funding from Welsh for adults learning. How then does the Deputy Minister believe that that decision will impact upon enhancing Welsh language skills among young people and young adults in order to respond to the demand that has been identified by the Government itself?
The Deputy Minister has mentioned, in passing, the youth guarantee—the concept that every young person under the age of 18 has a right to training or education. Plaid Cymru, as the Deputy Minister knows, recognises and welcomes that. We believe that there should not be a single young person under the age of 18 in Wales who is not in some sort of school or college, training or job with training. The 24,000 NEETs that we have in Wales are 24,000 too many and we want to deal with each and every one of them, in fact, either by raising the statutory age for leaving education and training, or by providing some sort of guarantee, as the Government has suggested. What is in the plan today, therefore—which is only a two-year plan—to demonstrate that the number of people who are NEET will reduce in Wales?
This is my final question. Although this relates specifically to the next two years, everyone recognises that having some sort of system that ensures parity between higher education in universities and the vocational side is crucially important for skills in Wales. What further steps will the Government take, therefore, to promote higher skills apprenticeships? These were established very successfully through the agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Government to enhance the provision and the funding for that. The feedback that I am getting from employers and training providers is excellent. It is extremely positive and they want to see this developing within a Welsh context. I very much hope, therefore, that the Deputy Minister will confirm today that higher skills apprenticeships are still an essential part of the strategy that he has set out today.
Perhaps I should deal with that final point first. Higher level apprenticeships are critically important for the economy, and our commitment remains steadfast. I think that our commitment can actually be proven by the latest set of statistics regarding higher level apprenticeship frameworks and the number of people who have started, which shows that the number has increased from something in the region of 280 to more than 2,000 in the space of just one year. That is something that we should welcome and it certainly demonstrates our commitment to higher level skills and higher level apprenticeships.
This is not a two-year strategy; this is a 10-year strategy with an interim evaluation after the financial year 2016-17. While the Member is right that the level of investment in skills, traditionally, has been lower in Wales, that gap is closing, and I would very much say that employers are already co-investing. Employers are already investing considerable sums. For example, we know that most employers in Wales arrange or fund training for their staff: over three fifths have done so in the previous 12 months. What is also important here is that the total investment in training has increased by £100 million from £1.5 billion in 2011 to £1.6 billion in 2013. This is important, because across the UK there has been a decrease from £45.3 billion to £42.9 billion. I think that that demonstrates not just a willingness, but a determination on the part of employers in Wales to co-invest in the skills of their employees. While there may well be, in the short term, a slight drop in terms of investment as employers engage in this new culture of co-investment, we expect employers, in the long term, to invest more.
What is important, when we recognise the challenges faced by small and medium-sized enterprises, is that the skills priority programme will give further education a lead in responding to what those employers require. It is right that shared apprenticeship schemes are crucial in many parts of Wales. I was delighted to be able to announce the creation of the first shared apprenticeship in advanced manufacturing to be located in the Deeside industrial zone. There will be further discussions next week in the joint working group, comprising members of both the Welsh and UK Governments, concerning Jobs Growth Wales and the potential release of individuals for Jobs Growth Wales opportunities and also around skills conditionality. The Member will be aware that we are currently piloting a skills conditionality programme.
In terms of the specific challenges that certain sectors face—particularly the STEM sectors—that is the whole point of us devising the flexible skills programme. That is a programme that is industry led, that links to priority funds for enterprise zones and the activities of city regions, and that is aligned to the sectors themselves.
With regard to the demands for Welsh-language skills, I think, again, that this is something that regional delivery partners will be looking at very closely. Regional delivery partners will present their plans to the Government by next April and I very much expect that, in certain parts of Wales, an improvement in the use of Welsh within the workforce will be something that is desirable and invested in.
Deputy Minister, it is often the case, when we talk about these programmes, that we draw comparisons with what has been happening in England, particularly the failure in some of those areas. I will probably stay off that, but I do have two particular questions that I would like to ask you to deal with. The first one is with regard to the maximisation of the usage of the considerable skills that we have among our trainees and our workforce. What action are you taking to ensure that we are maximising the use of those skills among the workforce and apprentices, and encouraging and enabling employers to actually use those? The second question is: what lessons has the Welsh Government learned from the failures of the schemes in England?
I thank the Member for the two very important points that he makes, first of all in terms of recognising that this is not just about offering individuals new skills, it is very much about recognising the skills that people already have. We know that, for example, half of establishments in Wales report having staff with skills and qualifications that are actually higher than is required for their current role, which equates to something in the region of 240,000 workers, or more than one fifth of the workforce, having under-used skills. So, harnessing these latent capabilities, I think, could yield enormous benefits for the Welsh economy. That is why we are going to drive forward pilot schemes concerning two sectors in particular—construction and the creative industries—to recognise where skills can be identified within the current workforce and where there is a link to regional skills delivery, so that there are specific and economic opportunities at a local level.
In terms of high-performance working, which I think is very much linked to skills utilisation, only 10% of Welsh employers at the moment practice high-performance working. We wish to see that figure increase dramatically. As part of the skills gateway, we will be sharing best practice so that more employers operate high-performance working.
Our approach to co-investment is substantially different to that being taken in England. We have taken note of the systems that are being operated in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We have certainly learned from the failures in England where, for example, in terms of apprenticeship advanced learning loans, they predicted that they would have 25,000 applicants, but they had only 404. We do not wish to see the same mistakes occurring in Wales that we saw occurring in England. Therefore, we are not looking at a loans system. Instead, we want to work with employers to incentivise them to invest in skills. As I say, I have reviewed the approaches taken in other nations, and the offer to employers and individuals in Wales is at least consistent with or it represents an improvement on the current investment policies across the UK.
Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your statement today.
I also thank you for sharing the implementation plan with Members in advance of this statement, which was very helpful. I do not think that there will be much dispute in this Chamber in terms of the importance of providing our workforce and our businesses with the skills that they need to thrive. We know that we just cannot and that we should not want to compete with the world on cost. We need to be competing on quality and innovation, and that will require a high investment in skills across our workforce. The balance of who makes that investment, of course, is an important consideration.
Given that, I do welcome the publication of the plan today and the fact that it sets a framework and some milestones by which we can plot the plan’s progress, although clearly I must note that much of the detail is still to follow—for example, the plan sets timetables for actions, but performance measures are to follow in the autumn. It is surprising to do it this way around. The normal practice for a strategy would be to decide what you want to achieve and what path you have to take in order to achieve that. So, setting yourself on a path and then adapting your targets to meet it gives you a very different kind of process, I think.
I note that you are pledging to improve literacy, numeracy and ICT levels in adults across Wales. Clearly, Deputy Minister, if adults in Wales have problems with those basic skills, children in Wales have had those problems over a period of time as well. I wonder whether you can tell me how this plan will work alongside literacy, numeracy and ICT programmes in our schools, and whether you have consulted with schools on any of these issues in advance of developing your programme.
In terms of the skills gateway, I would like to have some clarification, if I may, on how its role will work together with the role of Careers Wales in this area. For example, how will they avoid crossover where their work is in similar fields? For example, are there some tasks to be removed from Careers Wales altogether? If so, which ones? How will, for example, the collection and use of labour market intelligence be split between the two organisations, and how will they make sure that there is continuity of approach towards those who are under the age of 19, who are, presumably, still going to be served by Careers Wales, and those who are over 19, who, apparently, will be dealt with through the new gateway? What is the future, for example, of the apprenticeship matching service that Careers Wales currently manages? If the new gateway will be tasked with a brokerage function, how does that compare with the work that is already being done?
I would also like to ask a little more about the development of the highest level of skills, given that the word ‘university’ is not mentioned in the plan at all. Clearly, for many of the top professional areas in the Welsh economy, particularly the high-tech areas and our engineering careers, a university degree, and often higher qualifications, are necessary. What consultations have you had with Wales’s universities in terms of how they can contribute to building provision for those higher-level skills?
Finally, I note that a number of the key documents are due for publication in October or September and, of course, many further education courses begin in September. Could I ask for your assurance that no courses due to start this autumn will be put on hold awaiting the outcome of any of those documents?
I would like to thank the Member for her contribution and I will begin by saying that no, nothing will be put on hold as a consequence of any details emerging. First of all, you are absolutely right that, when we talk about skills, we need to talk about quality and not cost. That is why I think it is very important at this moment that we recognise that the quality of many vocational qualifications, and, indeed, the frameworks that establish apprenticeships, are of a far higher quality at present here in Wales than in England. We know that completion rates right now in Wales are up to 86%, whereas, in England, they are at 72%, and one could argue that that is because the actual relative amount that is invested per apprentice in England has fallen over previous years.
First of all, I think that you need to engage before announcing, and that is why we have presented the implementation plan today and why we would prefer to engage with our external reference group before publishing the performance measures in the autumn. Secondly, on the point about linking with child education and schools education, yes, there will be a very strong link with primary education and also with schemes such as Communities First and Families First. There will be no duplication of services, as Careers Wales will be the host for the skills gateway for individuals. So, there will not be any duplication, as they are not different entities; Careers Wales will be hosting it.
In terms of university education, of course, many higher level apprenticeships and skills incorporate university education, so I would hope that it would be recognised that the role of universities within the skills statement is of paramount importance as well. Indeed, I have met Professor Donaldson to discuss the curriculum lately and will also be engaging with the Diamond review of student finance.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Deputy Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Minister, Mark Drakeford.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. The ‘Trusted to Care’ report by Professor June Andrews and Mark Butler was published on 13 May. It set out a 12-month programme to address the failures that it found in the care of older people in the Princess of Wales and Neath Port Talbot hospitals. At the same time, I set in train a series of immediate actions to ensure that four specific concerns in the care of older patients were address across the Welsh NHS. On the day of the report’s publication, I wrote to the chair of each health board and NHS trust in Wales to ensure that this was discussed at board level and that any necessary action was identified and taken urgently.
A four-week period was given to health boards and NHS trusts in Wales to satisfy themselves that their institutions were not responsible for failings similar to those noted by Professor Andrews and Mr Butler in the care of elderly patients at Neath Port Talbot and the Princess of Wales hospitals. After that, I wrote to Members on 20 June, advising them that all NHS organisations had published their immediate responses to the ‘Trusted to Care’ report.
When ‘Trusted to Care’ was published, I also announced that a series of spot checks would be carried out at all district general hospitals in Wales by a team of senior and independent individuals overseen by Professor Andrews, Sir Ian Carruthers and Professor Phil Routledge. I am particularly grateful to Professor Andrews for her continuing engagement in this process and for the insight she has brought to it.
The unannounced spot checks began on 15 June and have focused on the delivery of medication, the provision of hydration, the use of night-time sedation, and basic continence care. The findings of each spot check are being reported directly to me. By the time the spot checks are concluded, the teams will have visited 70 wards in 20 hospitals. I want to put on record my thanks to all those who have come together so quickly and for their commitment to this intense process. As of last night, 44 wards in 13 hospitals have been inspected in this way.
The spot checks are focused on understanding and observing all aspects of a patient’s day in hospital. They have therefore taken place at all times of the day between 6 a.m. and midnight. This has enabled the review team to observe all dimensions of care during each shift period. They have also been aligned with, and will inform, future Healthcare Inspectorate Wales dignity and essential care inspections.
I have been heartened to hear that the spot checks have been welcomed by staff, patients and their families. Each visit has included an opportunity for the team not only to observe practice but to talk to patients, staff and relatives about the quality of care on that ward at that time. I am very pleased to report to the Assembly that, to date, no significant issues of concern have emerged about patient hydration, continence needs or night-time sedation.
The spot checks have, however, revealed a need to make improvement to medicines management at the ward level. The issue that has been identified in the spot checks is not that of medicines being left in pots at the end of a patient’s bed, as was the case in the ‘Trusted to Care’ report; rather, the issues emerging from the spot checks relate more to the safe and secure storage of medicines than to their administration. This finding is consistent with findings in recent dignity and essential care inspections carried out by Healthcare Inspectorate Wales. In order to put it right, the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for Wales, Professor Roger Walker, will lead work to address these findings, and his work will be informed by the contribution of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. I am very keen to look at ways to improve the system and to make it easier for staff to do their job well and to care for patients in the most effective ways.
The spot checks have also identified some individual matters on a small number of wards where immediate action has been needed. Where any issues of concern are identified, these have been immediately reported to the senior officer on duty to ensure that they receive attention. This has then been followed up in writing and my officials have taken action to ensure that the necessary response has been forthcoming.
More generally, action has been taken to replace locks on medicine cabinets and to make changes associated with the signing processes when medicines are given to patients on the ward. These changes will provide consistency and compliance with best practice guidance and ensure all relevant documentation is kept fully up to date.
I am pleased to report also to Members that the spot checks have found numerous examples of good practice, far outweighing any examples where deficiencies or shortcomings in care have been identified. The care provided to older people in our hospitals continues, overwhelmingly, to be provided by dedicated, committed staff, brought up in the tradition of public service and the professional provision of safe and compassionate care.
It is now important that wards and health boards learn from each other. As far as good practice is concerned, it is my intention that these examples will be shared throughout NHS Wales when all the spot-check visits have been completed.
As I made clear in my oral statement to the Assembly on 13 May, the spot checks have been designed as a specific response to matters of real public concern. Now, we must make this activity part of the fabric of regular assurance in the Welsh NHS. Healthcare Inspectorate Wales’s enhanced programme of unannounced dignity and essential care inspections, which will draw on the feedback from the spot checks, will commence shortly.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement. Obviously, every Member of this Chamber was rightly appalled by the findings of the Andrews Report, ‘Trusted to Care’, when it was published, and none of us wants to see elderly patients cared for in situations such as the ones that were described in that report. So, of course, you had a welcome from these benches for the spot checks and for the assurances that you were seeking from each individual health board regarding the quality of care in their hospitals.
I would ask, however, Minister, whether you will publish the assurances that have been provided to you by the health boards, and whether those assurances, or, if they were not able to give assurances, the findings of the spot checks that were undertaken in the individual health boards, chime with the assurances that were given by the health boards themselves?
Obviously, the work that has been undertaken in terms of the spot checks has been confined to the district general hospital setting, but many of our elderly people are cared for in a community hospital setting, and I would like to see an extension of the work of the spot checks, given that it has obviously been a useful exercise from the statement that you have given today, into those community hospitals where elderly people are cared for.
You have referred, Minister, to some problems being identified in relation to medicines management and storage at some hospitals; those can be very concerning in themselves. However, I just wonder, Minister, given that these spot checks were confined to wards where elderly people are cared for, how you can have assurances that those same shortcomings in medicines management and storage have not been replicated on other wards in our district general hospitals, and what you are doing to ensure that the health boards are taking medicines management and storage seriously in all parts of their hospitals and, indeed, in community hospitals as well.
I would not have expected many problems to have been found, frankly, not only because I hear of positive experiences of patients, but also because every health board had four weeks’ worth of warning before the spot checks commenced that they would be taking place to get their houses in order. So, it is important that the HIW dignity and essential care inspections that will now follow, and will become a regular feature of HIW’s work, can follow up on all of these issues to make sure that we do not have a repeat of the problems at the Princess of Wales Hospital and Neath Port Talbot Hospital occurring in the future. However, Minister, I do wonder when and whether HIW will have the resources to be able to give you and the Assembly the assurance that it is able to visit on as frequent a basis as it needs to so that patients, staff, and, indeed, every Member of this Assembly, can have the confidence that there are no more lapses or systematic failures in the care of the elderly in our hospitals. So, I would be very grateful if you could answer those questions.
May I thank Darren Millar for the measured way in which he has made his contribution this afternoon? I will try my best to answer as many of his questions as possible. The assurances received from all health boards have been published. They have been available on their websites since 20 June. It is my intention to publish a report of the spot-check procedure as well when they are all completed and we have the full national picture.
Darren Millar asked whether the findings of the spot checks chimed with what was found in the documents provided by the boards, and I think that they broadly do. What health boards reported was their belief that there were no systemic failures in care of elderly people in their hospitals. They did identify individual instances where improvements were necessary—improvements in hydration in some cases, and improvements in continence care in others—but that they were individual and isolated incidents that could be responded to, rather than evidence of a systemic failure. I hear the point that the Member makes about community hospitals, and I will reflect on that once this current round of spot checks, which was always intended to be aimed at district general hospitals, has been concluded.
He asks about the issue of medicines management. They are essentially issues of the safe and secure storage of medicines. There is evidence on wards of situations to which make-do-and-mend solutions have been found; that could be improved and needs to be improved.
The teams have taken a broad view of care of the elderly, so they have visited many medical wards where other patients have been present as well. They have gone to acute medical wards, stroke wards, respiratory, cardiology, haematology, oncology and gastroenterology wards, wards providing inpatient chemotherapy treatment, rehabilitation wards and palliative care wards. So, it has gone wider than just a narrow focus, although on those wards too the predominant population is elderly.
I am grateful for what Darren Millar said about not expecting many problems to be found. That was my starting point as well. It is important that HIW is now able to follow up the spot checks and to systematise them in its work. HIW has succeeded since the start of this financial year in publishing all its dignity and essential care inspections within three months of them taking place. There is to be an enhanced programme of those inspections to follow-up the spot checks and HIW is properly resourced to do that.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement. I am also pleased to see the significant progress that has been made in terms of tackling some of these serious issues following the Andrews report. If the Mid Staffs experience taught us anything, it is the need for transparency in terms of information and data. So, I agree with the question posed to you earlier—and your response, to a certain extent—on the importance of publishing reports of this kind. I would like you to consider publishing reports of this kind, as well as Healthcare Inspectorate Wales inspection reports, on the site that is being developed, namely mylocalhealthservice.wales.gov.uk, so that that information is clear and that it is easy for any member of the publdic to find, at any point, any report that has been published on a ward in any hospital. I ask you to consider including this information, as well as the more general information on the healthcare inspectorate’s reports, on that website as an easy portal for people to access information on care in different wards in different hospitals.
Your statement this afternoon makes specific reference to certain issues in relation to the management of medication and medicines. One issue related to that that is not specifically referred to in this afternoon’s statement is the care of patients with diabetes, in terms of readings and the use of insulin. We know that this has created problems in certain cases, and that it has led to situations of inadequate care on certain wards. So, I would ask you whether this issue of diabetes care was addressed specifically during these spot checks.
Related to the care on the ward is the staffing level and ratio on the ward. Following on from your statement this afternoon, we know that NICE is currently consulting on nurse staffing levels on wards. I heard on the news that the NHS in England is to put specific guidance in place for hospitals and wards in England from today onwards. So, could you give an update on where you are at present in terms of giving clear guidance to health boards on your expectations in terms of nurse staffing levels on individual wards?
I also want to draw your attention to the fact that there is another concern related to hospital care, namely the concern about mortality rates—some of them are unacceptably high in my view and in your view. You published a report on a few of the hospitals where those mortality rates were particularly high. According to my understanding at that point, you intended to bring forward a report by June. Perhaps you would like to tell us where you are in the process of reviewing mortality rates in specific hospitals in Wales.
Thank you very much once again to Elin Jones for those comments.
I very much agree with what she said about publication. I hope that we will be able to not only publish an overall report of the spot-check programme, but also to provide specific information about the work that has been carried out in individual health boards through the online portal that we now have.
In relation to diabetes, the spot checks have taken place in wards where people have diabetes, including some wards that are devoted to people who have diabetes. So, there will be things coming out of the process on that score.
As to the staffing issue that she raised, NICE has published guidance today on a 1:8 nurse-to-patient ratio; we have had a 1:7 ratio policy in Wales since April of this year. The tool that NICE is drawing on is very much the acuity tool developed by the chief nursing officer in Wales, and her work has been very influential in the recommendations that NICE has made. The acuity tool has been available to all hospitals in Wales since April of this year. I announced an extra £10 million for staffing a year ago, so we are in a better position in Wales already than they are in the one that NICE is reporting on.
As far as Professor Palmer’s report into risk-adjusted mortality index data in Wales is concerned, its publication is imminent.
Thank you, Minister, for updating us on the results of the inspections in 13 hospitals so far. Your statement that the care being provided in hospitals is being overwhelmingly provided by dedicated and committed staff is very much confirmed by a recent visit I made to Heath hospital. I agree that patients really value the safe and compassionate care that staff are delivering.
However, my visit was planned, not unplanned; it would not be appropriate for an Assembly Member to simply turn up on the ward. Minister, in the correspondence that you have had with health boards following the ‘Trusted to Care’ report, has there been reinvigorated enthusiasm by members of health boards to do precisely what they are elected to do, which is to do such unannounced visits? The work being done by Professor Andrews and her team is very welcome, but we need to have substantive and enduring inspection methods undertaken by health boards and community health councils, which I recall was one of the weaknesses identified in the ‘Trusted to Care’ report. So, I would be grateful for that information.
I am very reassured that there has been a tightening up of the safety of medicines, because, Minister, you will be aware that there is a trade in prescription medicines for recreational purposes, and obviously this is a totally inappropriate use of NHS resources as well as being harmful to people’s health. So, I wonder whether you could give any indication at all as to whether this is an opportunity to which the door has now been closed.
May I thank Jenny Rathbone for that? What I get told by the teams that have been doing spot checks is that, just as there was a sense of shock in the Chamber on reading the Andrews review, that same reaction has been shared across the NHS by the staff who work in it. They too were taken aback to read of the failings that were set out in that report and absolutely determined to make sure that those failings were not being replicated in their own places of work. The reports that health boards provided do indeed show a reinvigorated level of unannounced visits by board members and senior executives and some very imaginative things being done in some health boards to make sure that there is peer review by allowing ward sisters to visit other wards unannounced to see what is going on in other hospitals within their own board area. Just to be absolutely clear, spot checks have been entirely unannounced. Even the teams carrying them out do not know until the day before where they will be going the following day. They have been entirely unknown to the people who are being inspected.
It is an important point that Jenny Rathbone makes about the trade in prescription medicine. My belief is that this trade is primarily in prescriptions that circulate within the community through primary care. There is no evidence in the medicines management issues that have come forward through the spot checks of medicines actually making their way out of the ward or out of the hospital. However, the general point she makes is an important one.
May I start, Minister, by welcoming the fact that the spot checks have found examples of good practice and that those far outweigh any examples of deficiencies or shortcomings? I think that we all knew that, by and large, the health service has a huge amount of good practice and that the bad practice that has come to light is not typical. However, of course, it is still a huge concern, particularly for those families who have been affected by it. May I also concur with your assessment that care in hospitals continues to be provided by dedicated and committed staff who are steeped in the tradition of public service? That is a very important point that we need to make.
Following on from that point, in the debate last May, you said that it was a cultural failure across a whole range of individuals and responsibilities and a failure not simply to be placed at the door of one particular group within that board’s operation in relation to ABMU. At the moment, most of the disciplinary action seems to be being taken against nurses. May I ask whether any other persons within ABMU have been identified as responsible and whether disciplinary action is being taken against staff other than the nurses who are on the front line as part of that?
In relation to the nurse ratios, I heard the answer you gave on nurse ratios and I very much welcome the fact that we are aiming for a ratio of 1:7 in Wales. However, in terms of the spot checks, have they found that those nurse ratios are actually being delivered on the ground? When I have spoken to nurses in the hospitals, they have told me that they are often rushed off their feet, struggling to cope and often short-staffed. It seems to me that part of the problem with that is that the resources cannot be found at a particular time to cover for sick or other absences. That seems to be part of the problem in terms of the pressure being put on that particular group of staff.
In relation to the spot checks, you will know that Healthcare Inspectorate Wales began conducting unannounced dignity spot checks in December 2011, and some of those were carried out in ABMU in 2012. It is of concern that, despite that, the problems identified in the Andrews report arose. So, the question really is: were the spot checks carried out in 2012 and 2011 of a different nature to the spot checks that we now see? In other words, are you content that these are actually getting at the problems that the previous spot checks may have missed?
The June Andrews report also recommended that ABMU should set clear standards for the care of frail elderly people in accident and emergency departments and general medical and surgical wards in the two hospitals within three months of the publication of that report and audit them quarterly thereafter. That three-month deadline is now less than a month away, so could you give us an outline about how that work is progressing?
Finally, Minister, in relation to how we take this forward, I very much welcome the fact that you have said that spot checks will continue as part of the fabric of regular assurance being given by HIW. Could you give us some more information on the nature and scale of the future programme of those spot checks, what the reporting mechanism will be, what the ministerial oversight of that will be, and how they will be published in the future?
I thank Peter Black for what he said at the beginning about staff in the NHS; they will have heard what he said. I agree with his comments in his opening remarks—the fact that good practice is the norm in the Welsh NHS is no comfort to those people who have been on the receiving end of bad practice. That is why we have taken all of this so very seriously.
In the reports that I have seen from spot checks on wards, nurse ratios are not generally raised as being problematic. I am relying a bit on my memory of what I have seen, but I think that it is fair to say that in those small examples where there have been problems, one of the things associated with it is deficiency of nurse numbers on that ward at that time. So, it is not surprising in the sense that that is why we want to have a ratio of 1:7. Generally speaking, it is getting towards being achieved and, where it is not, then sometimes we see those problems.
The nature of HIW’s dignity and essential care inspections post the spot checks will be different to those that were carried out before. One of the things that I have been impressed by in the spot checks, partly as a result of the influence of Professor Andrews in the way that she has helped us to shape them, has been that they have moved away from a simple audit way of doing things, in which you check that policies are in place and you would go down a checklist and things, and to rely more on the professional and clinical judgment of the team, thus encouraging them to go places, see it for themselves, talk to as many people as they can and make their professional judgments on the quality of the care that they see happening in front of them—see, look, listen, smell, learn. Those are the sorts of things that she has said to them and I think that that has brought a qualitative difference to these spot checks, which we want to see the DECI inspections carry out in future.
I hope that I did not mislead people earlier, Dirprwy Lywydd, in what I said. What I meant to say was not that spot checks would continue as a separate strand beyond this specific exercise, but that the work of the spot checks would be carried forward in the work that HIW will do through its own enhanced programme of DECI inspections. I will just make that clear now. They will be reported in the normal way, as I said. HIW is succeeding in reporting within three months of each DECI inspection. Those reports come to me as well as being published publically.
I want to be clear as well that today’s statement is about the spot checks. It is not about the wider implementation of the Andrews review. As Peter Black has said, there are deadlines in that review and, as those deadlines are reached, so we will report on actions taken against them.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I expect to make up time on the next item, so I will extend time for this one, but I ask for succinct contributions now, please. I call Christine Chapman.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. May I thank you, Minister, for your statement? I would like to commend the Welsh Government on its speedy response regarding the failures in the Princess of Wales and Neath Port Talbot hospitals.
One of the aspects of the spot checks is that they are about talking to patients and their families, but I am aware that some patients might, understandably, be wary of making comments on poor care if they are actually in hospital. So, I would be keen to know what work is being done around capturing the patient experience after patients leave a hospital setting. Do you think, Minister, that this would be useful in providing an accurate picture of hospital care? In addition, what work would be done to get beneath the raw data to make sure that any patterns or trends regarding care are clearly understood?
I was recently asked, Minister, to present awards to student nurses who had excelled in care and clinical expertise. That was in a ceremony in the University of South Wales. It is important that we note the excellent work that the majority of healthcare professionals do. As you said, these sorts of cases far outweigh cases of poor care, so, can you give an indication of the mechanisms by which the best practice would be disseminated across Wales?
I thank Christine Chapman for that. Talking to patients and families has been an integral part of the spot checks, and I think that it has been a part of the richness of that experience. I recognise what she says about how, sometimes, if you are in a hospital setting, you are reluctant to draw attention to things that you feel have been failures, because you feel that you are in a vulnerable position. I think that I said in an earlier statement to the Chamber that, as part of the response to the Andrews report, I have been in discussions with the organisation called IWantGreatCare, which provides an independent audit of patient experience in many hospitals in England and has done work in Wales in the palliative care field. We have now been able to firm up some of that. We are going to begin by using the IWantGreatCare system in two hospitals in Wales—in the Princess of Wales and in the Maelor hospital in Wrexham. It will apply its methodology, which it uses everywhere, which is designed to overcome some of those reluctances that patients may sometimes feel. It will be responsible for the analysis and the publication of the data as well, so it will be entirely independent of those hospitals, and I look forward to seeing the results of that.
The dissemination of good practice from the spot checks is an important part of our follow-up to it. There is to be a day-long meeting in August, drawing together all those who have been involved in it as well as staff from the NHS to learn the lessons at ward level, at hospital level and then at national level. We will publish the results of that. Part of my wish to do so is exactly to make sure that the good things that have been seen in hospitals around Wales are shared across the whole of the Welsh NHS.
Minister, thank you for the statement today. While I, too, recognise the elements of good practice, it is quite a sad recognition of the state of health service in Wales that we have to carry out spot checks on something as simple as hydration in our hospitals. I wanted to ask you whether you could tell me if the spot checks in the future will be totally random or whether they can be directed to wards or hospitals about which concerns have been raised by various patients or by family members. If we take the recent admission of missing blood sugar readings from Margaret Hoskins on ward 3 at Singleton Hospital, for example, would this new system be reactive enough to act on that or similar information? Furthermore, once it has carried out a check, can it recommend further investigations such as a full ward audit, because, while I appreciate that spot checks may give a short-term, frank and fundamental, first-hand analysis, there may be a need to delve deeper to see if there are any deep-rooted problems?
The other question that I had was with regard to how we will see community health councils move forward in relation to carrying out checks. I have raised with you previously in this Chamber the fact that ABMU did not have a very good record of going in and making such checks, and we need to be reassured that the councils will carry on with this role.
On the day that the Andrews report came out, sadly, I had a complaint with regard to ongoing problems with discharge policies at ABMU. Therefore, can you tell me not only that the solutions to the issues that have been dealt with in relation to spot checks, and which you have already discussed today, will be adhered to in future, but that there are pertinent discharge policies so that people are not left in their underpants or that 80-year-old people are not left at 8 p.m. to go home without any care plans in place? That cannot be acceptable in the future.
Finally, can we understand fully what HIW will be able to do within the constraints that it will face? When I met HIW representatives, they said that they would be able to take on board patients’ concerns and complaints as a basis for going in to do their spot-check work, but if it is true that HIW might be struggling for resources, we need to be sure that it is fully supported and that we are not going to be here in a year’s time with it struggling to perform that role.
I thank Bethan Jenkins for those questions. I will do my best to respond to most of them, Dirprwy Lywydd, while being clear again that this is a statement about the spot-checks process, not the wider system of assurance about everything that goes on in the health service.
You made an important point about hydration at the beginning, and I am sure that you will welcome the fact that of the four basic things that Professor Andrews identified in the Princess of Wales and Neath Port Talbot hospitals, three of them are coming back absolutely regularly as being done in a proper way across hospitals in Wales, and that included hydration.
She made an interesting point about random inspections. The spot checks have happened in all district generals hospitals, or will have by the time I finish, in Wales. However, the wards that were chosen within the DGHs were not chosen at random. The decisions drew on correspondence that we received as the Welsh Government and on serious incident reports that have been received at Welsh Government, along with earlier HIW dignity and essential care inspections. So, no, they do not have to be done at random. They can be done by drawing on the intelligence that we have about what is going on in the Welsh NHS, including the very important intelligence that we get from patients about things. They can be targeted in order to take account of that. My view, I think, is the same as hers in this way, that, if a dignity and essential care inspection were to uncover things that were of concern, that would need to trigger a fuller and wider audit of practice at ward level, or even beyond ward level if that were to be necessary.
The CHC point is one that was raised in the Andrews review. It has been taken up through the national board of CHCs, which have been in conversation with Abertawe Bro Morgannwg Community Health Council about what was said in the Andrews review, to make sure that CHCs do play the part that we all expect of them.
Finally, as far as HIW is concerned, I just want to be clear that the resources issue that we have discussed with HIW is about its ability to recruit the staff that it has needed. It has not been the money that has been the problem; HIW has underspent its budget in the past two years because it has not been able to recruit the staff that it has needed. Now, it is over that difficulty. With a new chief executive and a new team in place, it tells me that it has been able to recruit. It has the resources in place to do the job that we are asking it to do.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Now it is time for the statement by the Deputy Minister for Tackling Poverty on progress on the tackling poverty action plan. I call on the Deputy Minister, Vaughan Gething.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Today’s statement meets the Welsh Government’s commitment to report annually on progress with the tackling poverty action plan. We wish to be transparent and accountable for our actions. The report was published on 2 July.
Levels of poverty in Wales remain stubbornly high. We recognise that there is no quick fix, particularly against the background of UK tax and benefit changes. We do not want to hide from the fact that there is much that needs to be done to improve the lives of people in low-income families by the Welsh Government and our key partners in the public, private and voluntary sectors. We set targets in priority areas where we want to make a difference and have the levers to do so. The targets ensure a focus with our partners on our shared priorities. This report sets out that we are making very positive progress in some areas and need to do more in others.
Experiences in early life and pre-birth profoundly influence a person’s future, which is why reducing low birth weight is a focus for action with partners in local government and the NHS. Early development of language and cognitive skills are also vital, as is access to good-quality childcare, which allows parents to work or train. We are investing in early years and have today published figures showing that the number of children in receipt of Flying Start services increased by around a third in 2013-14. There is still more to do to improve Flying Start. We will continue to prioritise improving outcomes.
We are on track to meet our commitments to reduce the number of young people not in employment, education or training. Our approach as the Government is set out in the youth engagement and progression framework, which supports the success of Jobs Growth Wales, which has created 13,000 job opportunities so far, with nearly 10,000 of those posts already filled.
We are continuing to support people to find sustainable employment, and we recognise that this is hardest for those from non-working households. That is why we introduced the Lift programme, which is now operational in nine Communities First areas and already working intensively with over 260 people from workless households. There is a long way to go to achieve the target of creating 5,000 opportunities, but we are already seeing good examples of the difference it can make to people through projects such as that recently run in Blaenau Gwent by South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.
On housing, we expect to surpass our targets. The Minister for Housing and Regeneration has therefore increased the target for new affordable homes from 7,500 to 10,000 by 2016. We are also on target to bring 5,000 properties back into use by 2016. We recognise that good-quality homes do make a difference, but part of what we will do over the next year is to work with social landlords to identify and maximise the significant contribution that they make to tackling poverty beyond bricks and mortar.
We of course want all children to do better at school, but we want to increase the pace of improvement for those pupils eligible for free school meals, to narrow the gap between children in poverty and others. We are on course to meet our target for pupils aged 7, but we recognise that we have more work to do to achieve our target for pupils aged 15. The Minister for Education and Skills is investing significant resource in improving attainment for pupils from low income families through Schools Challenge Cymru, the pupil deprivation grant and ‘Rewriting the Future’. We also recognise that digital exclusion can contribute to locking people into poverty. The latest national survey for Wales shows that we are making good progress towards increasing the number of people who make use of the internet. We have updated our digital inclusion targets to be achieved by 2017, and these are now reflected in the action plan.
We acknowledge that we have some way to go to achieve our targets for improving healthy life expectancy and reducing the number of low birth weight babies. It is of course a challenge to change diet, exercise and smoking choices, as they require cultural change and will take a period of time to see results. However, pilot work on increasing the uptake of smoking cessation services by pregnant women in four health boards in Wales has achieved positive early results. We will learn from, and implement, the good practice identified, both here and in the inverse care law pilot projects in Cwm Taf and Aneurin Bevan health boards.
The action plan details our key objectives, but we will continue to consider the wider picture of poverty in Wales. That is why we have included specific sections on in-work poverty and rural poverty in the annual report. We acknowledge their prevalence and we detail actions that we are taking to address them. We will not achieve our objectives without joint working and a continued focus on those most in need. Communities First has a key role to play. We are working with departments across Government and other partners to ensure that policies and programmes are targeted at Communities First areas. Examples of joint-working include: in education and skills, the pupil deprivation grant match-funding and 750 targeted Jobs Growth Wales opportunities; in health and social services, the over-50s health check; and, with Natural Resources Wales, engaging people in healthier living, building skills and personal development.
We have said previously that welfare reform is the biggest barrier to tackling poverty. Virtually every children and families charity agrees with us. We cannot ignore the reality of welfare cuts that are being inflicted on us by the UK Government. The facts speak for themselves. The most recent research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies sets the average weekly loss from combined tax and benefit reforms at £11 per family in Wales. The UK Government regularly says that welfare reform is based on fairness. The choices made by the UK Government have the greatest hit on families with a disabled person and low-income families with children. Essentially, the poorest 40% of families are paying the highest price. That is not a vision of fairness that the Welsh Government shares.
In conclusion, our annual report sets out a range of actions that we will take to move forward, supported by partners across the public, private and third sectors. We aim to make best use of European funding, use the RDP to help to tackle rural poverty, and maintain our focus on the main areas of devolved responsibility to make the biggest impact on tackling poverty. The scale of the challenge is significant. Poverty will not disappear of its own accord, but this report restates the choice and the commitment of this Government to do all that we can to tackle poverty in Wales.
In the sixteenth year of devolution, Wales overall remains, sadly, the poorest part of the UK, with a rate of economic inactivity consistently above the UK average. Parts of Wales remain among the poorest parts of Europe, set to qualify therefore for a third round of EU aid, despite £4 billion of EU funds having been spent by Welsh Governments since 2000. Wales had the highest levels of child poverty before the credit crunch, rising from 2004, long before any change in the UK Government or welfare. Wales had record youth unemployment long before the credit crunch or the change in the UK Government, rising from 2005. Again, before the credit crunch and the change in the UK Government, Wales had over 600,000 working aged adults not in work—the highest level among the UK nations. The Deputy Minister says that the Welsh Government does not share the UK Government’s vision of fairness in terms of welfare reform. The UK definition is a fair welfare system. It is fair to those who need it and fair to those who pay for it, too.
Given that welfare reform applies to all parts of the UK, but only Wales has the Welsh Government, why do you think new figures last week confirmed that Wales still has the highest levels of child poverty, the highest of all UK nations and higher than all English regions except London? Why also are we seeing the numbers of working-aged people in Wales not in employment rising against the UK trend? Over the last measured quarter, the figures in Wales went up 15,000, to 567,000.
In the preceding document circulated by the Welsh Government on Monday, ‘Building Resilient Communities—Taking forward the Tackling Poverty Action Plan—Annual Report 2014’, the Deputy Minister expanded on the figures that he used in his statement. He said that:
‘the impact of welfare reform…estimates that annual benefit and tax credit entitlements…will be reduced by around £900 million in 2015/16. Even after taking account of the impact of changes to pensions and personal taxes, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimate that this loss will be still be over £700 million.’
Will the Deputy Minister welcome the news that the increase in personal allowance will, by next April, mean that almost £1 billion will have been put back into the Welsh economy, into the pockets of 1.2 million people, taking 155,000 out of tax altogether? By the time the universal credit has rolled out completely, an additional £400,000 million will have been added to the Welsh economy, making an estimated 200,000 households significantly better off.
In that document, the Deputy Minister referred to Remploy and the employment support grant—something I did welcome and still do welcome in the circumstances that apply. He referred to over 250 former Remploy workers having found new jobs with support from the grant. Can he comment on the situation in Wrexham? Does it include the Wrexham employees? Can he comment on the failure of Welsh Government due diligence, when the money was put in without proper commissioning arrangements having been put in place, which meant that those employees were hit for a second time when they lost their jobs for the second time because the contract with Wrexham County Borough Council could not deliver the volumes on which the business model was based? Can he confirm how Welsh Government is working with Remploy itself, which, through its Wrexham office, or managed out of its Wrexham office has delivered 450 disabled people into work over the last two years? Fourteen ex-Remploy staff asked for help, 12 of whom are now in employment. It also runs access to work mental health programmes with a 92% success rate of getting people in work after six months. I hope and trust that the Welsh Government is engaging positively with those programmes.
In terms of Jobs Growth Wales, he referred to over 13,000 job opportunities and nearly 10,000 posts filled. Can he explain what action or progress has been achieved on closing the gap between that 10,000 and 13,200—a 25% gap? Can he address the inadvertent recycling of figures, where one job opportunity recorded could result in both an early leaver and a completed six-month opportunity appearing in the figures?
In terms of the Lift programme, the preceding Deputy Minister, Ken Skates, referred to the work that he is doing with the UK Government on reconciling programmes. How are you ensuring that there is no duplication with the work programme? I know that the Welsh Government has a key role in its delivery and monitoring in Wales and it is only dealing with people who are furthest from the workplace who are mandatorily put on the scheme, unlike Jobs Growth Wales, who volunteer to go on the scheme where they can see its benefits to them.
On housing, you referred to the Welsh Government targets having been achieved and, therefore, revised targets being brought into place. Can you advise as to how many social homes have been provided, as opposed to affordable homes? An affordable home to a millionaire is a house that a millionaire can afford, and an affordable house to you is what you can afford, but it is social homes or homes at social rents that have been most hit by the housing supply crisis in Wales.
In terms of children at school, clearly we all want children to do well at school, but sadly Wales has been falling behind other developed nations in literacy, numeracy and science and with regard to its own performance targets. The study of modern foreign languages, science and engineering has been declining, in contrast to the trend in other parts of the UK. Therefore, how will the Welsh Government work with employers, industry, education providers and further education colleges to meet their needs and recognise their concerns about qualifications, for example, or changes to the way in which data are published, which prevents comparison?
The Deputy Minister referred to Communities First, which is, or was, the Welsh Government’s key community-focused tackling poverty programme. To take, as an example, Wrexham’s report from earlier this month—
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Order. Can you finish with this, Mark, as you have now taken longer than the Deputy Minister?
I had not appreciated that. Thank you very much indeed.
This refers to ongoing consultation and involvement in the programme prescribed within a community involvement programme embedded within each approved delivery plan. How will you ensure that it is not merely consultation, but genuine co-production, co-design and co-delivery, meeting what the Wales Council for Voluntary Action called for, which was true community ownership with a community-owned dimension? That does not mean names on deeds, but it does mean that people have real voice, choice and control.
I thank the Member for the statement, which had some questions in it. I will not be able to deal with all of them; I remember the Deputy Presiding Officer’s urging that I do not deal with every single question, otherwise we would still be here tomorrow, but I will try to deal with the point about Communities First, because this does matter.
Communities First is supposed to be about engaging communities, so we are doing things with and for them and not just to the community. Therefore, it is something that I take very seriously, as well as the way in which each cluster is set up. When I reviewed Communities First activity last year, it was one of the points that I was specifically interested in, so it is part of what we look for with regard to the figures and the outcomes. However, this is not an easy thing to measure. You can measure a number of outcomes by numbers and figures, but measuring the genuineness of community engagement is rather more difficult, but it is still very much a part of what the programme is there to do.
In terms of the Lift programme, it is important to point out that we want to work with Jobcentre Plus in particular with regard to how participants can access the additional support that we provide. A good example of that in practice was the Station 27 project that I referred to in my statement, where Jobcentre Plus enabled people to sign on in the morning, at an early stage, so that they were not disadvantaged with regard to taking part in the programme with the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. That is a good example of the sort of thing that we want to see more of right across the nine Lift clusters.
I will deal with the point about Remploy. I would like to make it clear that the figures provided are national ones, and I think that we have a good story to tell in the Welsh Government about our commitment to helping people to have real opportunities to re-engage in the world of work. I am proud of what we are doing as a Government; I only wish that we could have had a more constructive response on this from Mark Isherwood.
I will finally deal with the point about welfare reform, because it does matter. I know that you set out a number of points and asked me to welcome the personal allowance changes and universal credit, but if you look at the last piece of research done by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, you see that it stated that it does not believe that universal credit will actually have a poverty-reducing impact now, because of the changes that have been made. Therefore, we need to think about the whole suite of reforms that are being made. That is why I referred to tax and benefit changes. When you think about the personal allowance changes and everything else, you see that it is still the case that, on average, Welsh families will lose £11 per week; it is still the case that a disabled working-age household, on average, will lose over £33 per week; and it is still the case that a single-earner household with children will lose on average £32 per week. That is why I continue to say that that is not a vision that this Government will recognise as being fair.
There is a practical problem in going after Mark Isherwood to ask questions on a statement: there are not many questions left to ask. However, I sympathise with you, Deputy Minister, in failing to respond to them all.
In terms of the fundamental point about the effectiveness of your operational plan to tackle poverty, are you not prepared to recognise, and I welcome this statement and the efforts that you are making, that after 15 years of Labour being in Government in Wales—I will also accept the context of the impact of the policies of the coalition at Westminster—that you should have succeeded to a much greater extent than you have done by now in Wales, because the same problems face us?
In terms of people who come from underprivileged backgrounds, their hopes in terms of education and jobs are low, and there is a report today that says, very clearly, that people who come from poor backgrounds will die younger than people who come from more privileged backgrounds. Should you as a Government not have moved more quickly and further than you have done? In terms of that failure, is it the problem that you as a Government over the last 15 years have failed to link your policies on developing the economy sufficiently with child poverty, in order to ensure that those policies go together, and as you try to develop the economy, that you also tackle the basic problems that face people who come from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds? Is it not also true that your policies on tackling poverty, overall, are far too small to make a fundamental difference? I welcome the things that you are doing as a Government—I do not want to be negative about this—but, in truth, because the policies are not sufficient in terms of magnitude to make a fundamental difference, we will still be facing the same problems in terms of poverty in another 15 years as we are now. I hope that I have not been too negative, Deputy Minister. I accept that you are striving to try to make a difference, but I fear that that difference will not be visible.
Thank you for that more limited number of questions. I would gently remind the Member that he has served as a Minister in Government over the last 15 years and that a number of parties have had a hand in making decisions in this Government over the last 15 years.
I will respond to the two points, broadly, that are being made. The tackling poverty action plan recognises the scale of the challenge that we face, and, frankly, the need to be more effective. The scale of the challenge is such that you could take the approach that it is a counsel of despair—the problem is too big so do not try to do something about it. Some people would take that approach. This recognises that that is not an option, that we need a more effective approach from the Welsh Government and that we need a more effective approach that draws in our key partners. If we do not have a combined effort from public service partners, from the voluntary sector and the private sector, we are unlikely to achieve our shared ambition of reducing and then eradicating poverty here in Wales. I recognise the points that you make around the scale of the challenge that we face, I recognise the need to be more effective and I think that something like the future generations Bill could be helpful in drawing together the sort of activity that we want people to take on a much more joined-up basis. There is recognition from partners that part of the reason why we have not been as successful as we could and should have been is that we have not been as effective and as joined up as we should have been in the past. We have talked about what we needed to do together rather more than being able to achieve it.
The second point that I should address is your general point around the scale of what we do. This is a real challenge and concern for us. We are going to have a debate on the budget next, about how we spend money and how we prioritise it. It is a constant challenge for us to find the most effective areas to spend money and to then decide where not to spend money as well. It is a challenge for us that we tried to set out honestly in the action plan. That is why we have six key areas of focus where we think that we can make the biggest difference. Part of the choice that all of us need to make in this area is around what we are prepared to do to mitigate the impact of poverty in the here and now, what we are prepared to do to help people into work, and then how much focus we give to preventing future poverty. The honest truth is that the more we do on preventing future poverty, the less we have in other areas of action and activity. That is a difficult choice for us in Government. It is a difficult choice for any Member here who has a genuine concern about what we want to do and the type of country we want to be, where poverty is not so much of a feature of our everyday lives in so many communities right across Wales.
May I also welcome the statement, and may I welcome the intent to focus the activities very clearly, to try to make the maximum impact in terms of the resources that the Welsh Government has available to it?
Deputy Minister, you raised a number of issues in your statement that I would be grateful if you could answer some questions on. First of all, you say that you are on track to meet your commitment to reduce the number of young people not in employment, education or training, and, in fact, the report shows that that number of people in that position has declined. However, you will be aware of the Wales Audit Office report released last week that says that the Welsh Government can do a lot more in terms of NEETs. How are you addressing that particular criticism in terms of refocusing your programme and improving your performance—something that you have not managed to do so far?
With regard to the Lift programme, I notice that you are working with 260 people from workless households. It is very early on in this programme. I notice that you have a target of working with 5,000 people. What is the timescale for this target of working with 5,000 people?
In relation to Communities First, I have been asking for well over 18 months now for indicators as to how we can assess the impact of Communities First resources and the money put into it. I very much support the programme, but when you look at the available indicators it is clear that the levels of improvement in Community First areas are no greater than those in non-Community First areas. It is important that we are able to assess how effective the tens of millions of pounds that have gone into Communities First have been in terms of making a difference. I would be grateful if you could tell us when those indicators will be available.
In terms of housing, I think that we all recognise that a large number of people living in poverty and deprivation will be living in very poor private rented sector housing. Although the Housing (Wales) Bill will hopefully make some difference to that, could you indicate what action the Welsh Government will be taking over the next year or so to try to raise the standards of those private rented sector properties, using the tools available to you in the housing Bill, which is shortly to become a housing Act, which we debated only a week or two ago?
In relation to the discretionary housing payment, you will be aware, Deputy Minister, that I have been fairly critical of the way in which local authorities have been assessing people for discretionary housing payments by effectively treating disability living allowance and child benefit as income, which even the DWP does not do. I have raised this issue a number of times with Carl Sargeant and other Ministers. Has the Welsh Government engaged with local councils to try to get some consistency of approach as to how those are assessed, so that disabled families in particular that are in receipt of DLA do not miss out on the DHP as some of them have done because of the way that the assessment has been run?
Finally, Deputy Minister, in relation to Families First, the annual report quite rightly reports on the positive achievements of Families First. In terms of your evaluation, what are you doing to ensure that interventions in Families First are not time-limited and too short, as said in some criticism that has been made of it, and that there is no risk that families will become dependent on that particular programme? How are you making sure that that programme moves away from dependency and helps families to get back on their feet and to move on from that programme?
I thank the Member for that series of questions. I will deal with the Lift programme first, as it is the easiest: we expect to meet the outcomes for Lift by 2017.
With regard to Communities First, it is important to recognise, to start off with, that these are the most deprived communities in Wales, and they make up just under a quarter of the population. So, to improve outcomes in the most deprived communities with the highest concentration has the biggest element of challenge to it. It is not just the Communities First spend that we need to think about; it is also how other programmes and other areas of activity exist and provide their services with and for those communities. The Communities First programme is in many ways an enabler to do that. I have said before on a number of occasions during questions in the Chamber that I want to try to have a tighter framework and tighter outcomes for Communities First, and to have some shared outcomes with Flying Start and Families First where appropriate. I expect to make an announcement on that in the autumn, so bear with me because I should have more to say then.
On the housing Bill, I think that your question is more appropriately directed to the Minister for housing. On the points you make around benefits, if you could, write to me, because I should want to give that a more considered response. If you write to me, I or the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty will return to you on that point.
On your starting point about young people not earning or learning, the youth engagement progression framework sets out where we want people to be, because what we have understood within Government is that a lot of this is about how you use data effectively to identify people at an early stage to prevent them becoming young people who are not in earning or learning and who are dropping out of the school system. We can do that at a much earlier stage. So, these are data that, broadly, we already have within the system. Our challenge in doing more for over-18s is how we use data at that point and who has ownership of those data, and that is a conversation between us and the DWP about how we can properly access information on a really useful basis to try to properly direct those interventions at that point. That is where we will be able to do more with people before they reach the age of 18, and I recognise the honest challenge after that as well.
On Families First, we are keen to make sure that this remains an early intervention programme that intervenes and helps families to move on. I was really positive about the evaluation we had that was published recently, but as with Flying Start and as with Communities First, I recognise that there is room for, and a need for, improvement. We will have a national learning event for Families First this autumn, and there will be a very keen focus on those areas that have the best outcomes and the best results for families. I want to be much, much more demanding about best practice and to see that travel in different parts of Wales. I do feel that there are far too many occasions where local practice trumps best practice in a way that should not be appropriate. However, each authority has to take account of where its real areas of need are, so we will see different priorities. We will see different emphases in what Families First does, but I think that there is plenty of room for improvement and plenty of scale for us to do that and to be able to demonstrate the improvements we make for families.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Deputy Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
This item has been postponed.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister for Finance to move the motion.
Motion NDM5541 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the Assembly, in accordance with Standing Order 20.30, approves the First Supplementary Budget for the financial year 2014-15 laid in the Table Office and emailed to Assembly Members on Tuesday, 24 June 2014.
I move the motion.
Dirprwy Lywydd, I am pleased to present the supplementary budget that I laid on 26 June to the Assembly today. Although this supplementary budget is mainly administrative in nature, it does detail the small number of key allocations and reserves that have been agreed since the final budget was approved. In tabling this budget, I have continued with the practice followed in recent years in publishing two supplementary budgets that build on our overall record of transparency around our budgetary processes. Adjustments have also been made to the Wales departmental expenditure line budget to reflect the limited consequentials to our budget as a result of the UK Government’s autumn statement and March budget 2014.
This budget demonstrates our continuing commitment to use every Welsh pound to deliver better public services with a progressive reform agenda for health and education, boosting growth and jobs and tackling poverty in Wales. As I announced on 24 June, we are allocating £18 million in additional capital investment to a number of projects across the NHS in Wales to meet healthcare needs and developments, such as the needs to improve access to diagnostic equipment and to invest in a modernised health estate.
In line with our commitment to public services reform, the supplementary budget also details an allocation of £12.1 million to the education and skills portfolio to contribute towards the establishment of the new Schools Challenge Cymru programme. The budget also includes a revenue allocation of £17.4 million to the economy, science and transport main expenditure group to increase measures to support business with non-domestic rates. Other changes include adjustments to our resource and capital base lines as a result of consequentials and transfers received since the final budget, as well as revised annually managed expenditure forecasts.
As you know, consequentials are added to reserves to be allocated in line with Welsh Government priorities. As is our usual practice, an explanatory note providing a detailed description of all the changes, along with a detailed schedule of budget transfers, has been published alongside the budget motion. I hope that this has supported Members’ scrutiny of this budget and that it will aid scrutiny of the draft budget 2015-16.
Finally, I thank the Assembly’s Finance Committee for its scrutiny of the supplementary budget and for its report, which was published last Thursday. I very much value the Assembly’s role in scrutinising budget proposals, and I have written today to respond to the points raised when I met the Finance Committee on 2 July. I will also further consider the recommendations in the final report and will be responding accordingly. Dirprwy Lywydd, I commend the supplementary budget for debate.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Chair of the Finance Committee, Jocelyn Davies.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. The committee met to consider the supplementary budget earlier this month, and we have published our report, which makes a number of conclusions and recommendations. We considered the supplementary budget around our four principles of financial scrutiny: affordability, prioritisation, value for money and budget processes.
We looked at the links between the budget and the programme for government and we support the Minister’s aim to improve links between allocations and outcomes. Progress has been made in this area from previous budgets and the committee recognises that there are a number of difficulties in presenting the budget allocations against the programme for government. However, we still expect to see continual progress towards linking budget allocations to the Government priorities in each budget round.
One of the main areas of concern for the committee was around the presentation of the pupil deprivation grant and the additional 1% increase above the overall percentage change in the Welsh budget for schools, which the Welsh Government allocated in the programme for government. There is much confusion around this, which suggests a possible lack of transparency in the presentation of the Government expenditure and budget. The committee welcomed the clarification from the Minister that the additional pupil deprivation grant money is administered through the regional consortia directly to schools. However, we feel that there is still some confusion and misunderstanding around the 1% increase for schools and whether the pupil deprivation grant is additional to that money. We believe that a clearer explanation is needed with regard to what is meant by the 1% increase so that schools can plan effectively.
The committee expressed some concerns that the supplementary budget includes £18 million of health-related capital projects, but that each of these falls below the £15 million threshold for inclusion in the Wales infrastructure investment plan, so it is difficult to see how these relate to that plan. Projects valued under £15 million are still a significant investment and should be mapped, we felt, against the plan. The committee has recommended to the Minister that more information needs to be published on these projects, which we view as essential in order to be able to establish links between the infrastructure plan and the budget.
Deputy Presiding Officer, I hope that Members found our report helpful in their consideration of this supplementary budget.
I am pleased to take part in this debate this afternoon. Of course, I accept that this is largely a technical supplementary budget, which seeks to authorise an additional £17.6 million cash to be drawn from the Welsh consolidated fund by Welsh Ministers in this financial year. There are also some changes as a result of the autumn statement in 2013 and the UK Government’s March 2014 budget. The overall departmental expenditure limit has increased by only 0.4%, so the balance of income and expenditure has not drastically changed from what it was in December’s final budget.
I do, however, have concerns, and the Minister will not be shocked to learn that sufficient provision for health boards is one of them, particularly following the recent statement from the Auditor General for Wales. The Welsh Government tells us that health board finances are being successfully managed, but the very fact that three out of seven health boards have overspent in the last financial year and two have received multi-million pound bailouts is not exactly what I would call successful financial management. Last year, the Finance Committee warned that it would be difficult for health boards to continue to generate 5% savings year on year and we are still waiting to hear what action the Welsh Government will take.
The Minister confirmed during her evidence session with the committee two weeks ago that:
‘We are saying that we are not going to bail them out’.
So, if the Welsh Government is not going to provide extra funding, how exactly will health boards cope? Unless immediate action is taken, waiting times will continue to spiral out of control, the ambulance service will continue to fail in its performance and, ultimately, patients across Wales will suffer.
There are also concerns in this supplementary budget regarding the difficulty in identifying how the £18 million-worth of health-related projects actually relate to the Wales infrastructure investment plan. Once again, I put on record our broad support for the plan, but I note that there needs to be a centrally held list of projects. The Minister made it clear that the Minister for health’s allocation was clearly to support reconfiguration of health services across Wales. The Minister has, of course, already announced a £3 million package to support Hywel Dda neonatal services. However, I understand that the establishment of a level 2 neonatal service at Glangwili Hospital will cost some £12 million. Therefore, I would be grateful if the Minister, in her response, could tell us how the Welsh Government has arrived at that figure of £3 million and where the rest of the money will be found for this new service.
As the Chair of the Finance Committee said, there are concerns raised in relation to this supplementary budget over the Welsh Government’s commitment to the pupil deprivation grant. Clearly, the Minister for local government, in a letter to local authorities last year, implied that the pupil deprivation grant is included within the 1% spending commitment. So, there is clearly some confusion here over whether or not this 1% is additional or not. I therefore very much agree with the view of the Finance Committee that a clearer explanation is needed as to what is meant by the 1% increase in order to help schools across Wales to plan effectively. The Minister has made it clear that she has been working with her colleague the Minister for Education and Skills and that he will be publishing data very shortly with regard to the 1% protection. Given that we are almost at the end of the summer term, perhaps the Minister could tell us when we are likely to receive that information.
We also heard from some local authorities that are saying quite openly that they are not going to accept the Government’s priorities and that they will spend their money in whatever way they feel fit. Perhaps the Minister will use this opportunity to tell us how the Welsh Government is ensuring that local authorities use this funding for its proper purpose and that this money is supporting pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. In closing, Deputy Presiding Officer, we on this side of the Chamber made it clear last year that the final budget did not meet the needs of the people of Wales. This supplementary budget does not fundamentally change the final budget and, therefore, we will be abstaining on this motion this afternoon.
I endorse some of the points that have already been made and I will be brief. This supplementary budget is supplementary to the final budget that was passed as a result of the deal reached between the Welsh Government, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats. That deal introduced significant additional priorities worth some £100 million. It is appropriate, therefore, that we scrutinise to see how the Government is delivering the deal that was reached. I raise, as Jocelyn Davies and Paul Davies have done, the issue of the pupil deprivation grant today and I am pleased that the Finance Committee has made recommendations on that issue.
During the committee scrutiny, the Minister told us that the commitment of a 1% spending uplift for schools by the Government was not part of the deal, but it appears that that commitment is partially being brought forward by the additional grant spend. The Finance Committee called for clarity on that 1% commitment and the Minister told the committee on 1 July that the Minister for education would publish data on that as a matter of urgency. We would welcome such clarity and we would ask for the date for the publication of that analysis.
In terms of business rates, it is very good to see in the first supplementary budget of this year that £1 billion of income was generated through business rates and that that is an increase on last year and also on the previous year. However, one of the problems with business rates income, of course, is that it is variable, which creates a problem in and of itself and needs to be managed by an appropriate mechanism. So, can the Minister tell us how devolved business rates will be dealt with in relation to the block grant? This is a greater sum of money than any of the taxes to be devolved in 2016 and it is important, therefore, to understand how its unpredictability will be managed.
Finally, in terms of funding for the Welsh language, an announcement was made recently by the First Minister of an additional £1.6 million for ‘mentrau iaith’. I did not realise, although he has mentioned it today, that that money was to come from another part of the budget and we have heard recently of the £700,000 cut to the Welsh for adults budget. That was not the impression given at the time, and the announcement of the £1.6 million was made close to the time of the Urdd Eisteddfod. Certainly, nothing was said at that point that that would lead to a cut in another part of the budget related to expenditure on the Welsh language. So, the Finance Committee recommended that Ministers should state where their allocations come from. However, a broader statement from the Government on the exact resources available for Welsh-language projects, rather than statements related more to publicity, would be a good lesson to learn for the future. I would hope that the Government would listen to those comments.
The supplementary budget sees an increase in revenue spending of £36.5 million as a result of UK Government spending decisions, which includes over £25 million of Barnett consequentials from the free school meals announcement for 2014-15, and almost £5.5 million from apprenticeship schemes. There is also an increase of £17 million in capital spending from UK spending decisions, including £4 million from free school meals, £9.7 million from extra money for road repairs, and £3.5 million from extra money for flooding maintenance. We agree with the Finance Committee’s view that we do need greater clarity over the Barnett consequentials that the Welsh Government receives and how they are carried forward, and certainly echo the committee’s view and call for the Welsh Government to publish a list of Barnett consequentials following each autumn statement and UK budget so that we can more easily identify this additional funding within the Welsh Government’s budget.
Supplementary budget motions must also be more transparent in terms of tracking how this money is spent. While we support the Welsh Government in taking the decision on how consequentials should be used, it is important that we can judge the outcomes and value for money of these decisions in comparison with those of the UK Government.
I echo Paul Davies’s concerns about the financial solvency of the health boards, which is also an issue that was raised in the Finance Committee. I think that Paul said enough about that for me to avoid having to repeat his concerns. However, also in terms of money for schools, of the £25 million that I just referred to from the free school meals initiative in England, £12.1 million has been allocated to support the latest Welsh Government initiative, Schools Challenge Cymru. That scheme will support some of the poorest-performing schools in Wales. It is disappointing that not one of those schools is in Ceredigion, Brecon and Radnorshire or Montgomeryshire. That means that not a single school in mid Wales will benefit from this funding. So, while the Welsh Government is funnelling this money into some very deprived areas, there does not appear to be a very wide spread across the rest of Wales, and particularly rural Wales, which also has its own challenges in terms of the performance of its schools.
It is not clear where the remaining £7.9 million for that will be taken from. I know that my colleague Aled Roberts tabled a written question on this. The Minister said that he would be looking at a wide range of budget lines across the Department for Education and Skills main expenditure group, and that resultant moves would be included in the 2014-15 supplementary budget. I think that this again underlines the need for more transparency in the way that these budgets have been put together. Of course, the fact that this money has been put into Schools Challenge Cymru means that we are not able to replicate the work going on in terms of free school meals in England here in Wales, which I think is a shame, because I think that, in particular, has the potential to make a huge difference, particularly in deprived areas.
I also repeat and endorse the comments made about the pupil deprivation grant. The Finance Committee is very concerned, as am I, about the way that this money is being handed out. It is quite clear from what I have seen—we are, of course, waiting for the performance information data that the Minister has promised to publish—that that pupil deprivation grant is being monitored and is going to schools. What is not clear is whether the 1% extra, which is also being promised, is also going to those schools, or whether headteachers are, effectively, having to use some of that pupil deprivation grant to cover problems elsewhere in their budgets as a result of that 1% not going through. So, I think it is very important that we do have some clarity on that, and it is very important, therefore, that we do see the monitoring reports both for the pupil deprivation grant and also for the 1%, so that we can draw our own conclusions on that particular issue.
I very much welcome the capital spending and the £18 million on health-related capital projects, particularly the £9.5 million for Health Vision Swansea, in my region. I notice that there is also money for the emergency medical retrieval service, which was established in Scotland in 2010 to help to address geographical issues for those living in remote and rural areas; the Minister for health said in a written statement in March that detailed work would be taking place to accelerate the introduction of a new around-the-clock emergency retrieval service for Wales. Perhaps we could have some clarity on the accelerated timetable for the introduction of that particular long-awaited service.
Finally, I support the Finance Committee’s view that we need to have a centrally held list of projects that fall under the £15 million threshold for the Wales infrastructure investment plan, so that investment in these types of capital projects can be more easily monitored. On the day the Minister and the First Minister announced that we are going to be moving towards a Welsh treasury, I think that more scrutiny and greater transparency and accountability are going to be vital as we go forward. I very much welcome the fact that the Minister has addressed those issues that the Finance Committee has raised on this particular aspect, but we certainly do need to see that continue as we take on those extra powers in terms of finance.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Minister to reply.
I would like to thank all Members who have contributed to this debate, and I would like to specifically thank the Finance Committee for its work in scrutinising this budget. I do welcome the Finance Committee’s acknowledgement of the progress that we have made to improve the transparency and presentation of the Welsh Government's spending plans. Of course, that includes the progress that we have made to draw out the links between the programme for government and budget allocations—the all-important links to input the investment that we are making and the outcomes that it has for people's lives, the economy and our communities.
I am very glad to have the opportunity again, as I had at the committee, to clarify our spend in that spirit, particularly in relation to the pupil deprivation grant, which is so relevant to the previous statement made by the Deputy Minister for Tackling Poverty. The fact is that we are all signed up to and engaged in recognising that this spend tackles the link between educational attainment and poverty. In terms of the pupil deprivation grant, we have been completely transparent in this matter—the budget agreement was based on doubling the PDG, from £450 to £918 per eligible pupil, and we have honoured that agreement. However, as I highlighted at the committee, and as the Minister for Education and Skills has confirmed, we shall shortly publish the monitoring forms for 2014-15, which demonstrate that schools' budgets have been protected at a level greater than required in terms of the 1% increase in education funding. I can also assure Members again that the Minister for Education and Skills has been very clear that he will have no hesitation in directing officials to recover funding where the evidence is clear that the pupil deprivation grant is not being spent in accordance with its purposes. As we have said, it is about ensuring that the money gets to the pupils in the schools who need it.
It is important that those points made by the committee are ones that I have taken on board, recognising, as Paul Davies and Peter Black have said, that I have agreed to the request to provide additional information on capital projects under the £15 million threshold, and I am committed, of course, to write again to the committee, once I have given this further consideration. I have also replied to the committee in terms of Alun Ffred Jones’s point about the allocation of increased funding of £1.6 million for the Welsh language. I have responded in terms of how we are ensuring that that increased investment in the Welsh language, over the next two years, will be allocated.
It is also important to clarify, as Alun Ffred has asked for, the arrangements in terms of non-domestic rates. Of course, we did receive that consequential of £54.6 million. The supplementary budget allocated £17.4 million, and it is about ensuring that we are able to implement the same policy in Wales in the case of business rate relief. That view, in terms of that policy, is, again, shared across the Chamber. The cash funding compensates for the lower tax revenues of the local authorities and the amounts detailed in the budget are where we decided not to follow the UK policy in some areas, but to implement our own measures for the benefit of Welsh business. Of course, this will change with the new system, as the full devolution of non-domestic rates gives us the new flexibilities and puts Wales on an equal basis to Scotland from next year.
As we move into the second half of this financial year, in terms of in-year financial management, I am monitoring this year's budget carefully across the Welsh Government, and some careful reprioritisation may be needed to meet pressures. Paul Davies referred to pressures on health. Peter Black welcomed the £18 million spend in terms of that capital investment—capital investment that, of course, will help with the reform agenda. Of course, in this context, I have been considering the implications of the findings of the Nuffield Trust report on our budgets with our Minister for Health and Social Services, looking at that now and for the future as we prepare for the 2015-16 draft budget, which is to be tabled on 30 September.
I will also say that, as a Welsh Labour Government, we made the decision to invest in our schools as well as in health and education, with £12.1 million for the Schools Challenge Cymru flagship improvement programme to boost the performance of up to 40 secondary schools in challenging circumstances and that have a challenge in terms of delivery.
In conclusion, the supplementary budget I move today upholds my commitment as Minister for Finance, on behalf of the Welsh Government, to be open and accountable to the Assembly on the management of our 2014-15 budget. This is in line with shared goals in the budget agreement, in support of the doubling of the pupil deprivation grant and the innovative £50 million intermediate care fund. This budget is being implemented in the toughest of times for our public finances. I believe it accords with our values of social justice, investing in health and education, and delivering on priorities as a Welsh Labour Government.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? There is objection. Therefore, I defer voting until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Before I take the vote on the supplementary budget, are there three Members who wish for the bell to be rung? There are not.
Result of the vote on motion NDM5541.
Motion agreed: For 28, Against 0, Abstain 19.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
That concludes today’s business.
The meeting ended at 17:51.