The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Good afternoon. The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Before we move to the First Minister’s questions, it gives me great pleasure to announce, in accordance with Standing Order 26.75, that the Local Government (Wales) Bill was given Royal Assent on 25 November.
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to item 1, which is questions to the First Minister, and first this afternoon, Llyr Gruffydd.
The Renewable Energy Sector
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact of the UK Government's spending review on the renewable energy sector in Wales? OAQ(4)2613(FM)[W]
Some of it is to be welcomed, namely what they’ve done regarding district heating and energy efficiency. There is no clarity at present on how this will impact upon Wales, but, of course, we have concerns about what the United Kingdom Government’s policy is doing to undermine investor confidence in future renewable energy projects in Wales.
I share your concern, because the ambition of the UK Government in terms of renewable energy is clearly very different to the ambition that many of us hear in Wales would like to see achieved. We know that consents, or the right to consent, to major energy projects, are to come to Wales, or will ultimately come to Wales, we hope. But, of course, we also know that the national grid is a problem and that the lack of powers over some of the financial incentives is also a problem for us in Wales. So, would you agree with me that the time has come for us not just to settle for having the right to consent to major projects, but to ask for some influence in relation to the national grid and the financial incentives?
Yes, because I think it’s important that we realise, as the Member has said, that it’s one thing to have power over consenting to renewable energy generation projects, but, without any control over the grid itself, there is a UK Government veto as to how that energy is taken from Wales and, therefore, a veto on the project itself. Therefore, my view is that we should be in the same situation as Scotland, in that we should have control over the grid, and we know that the financial incentives that they’ve been able to put on the table there have been beneficial in terms of attracting projects and jobs to Scotland.
First Minister, I share your concerns about last week’s comprehensive spending review, which made no mention of the tidal lagoon project in Swansea. We’ve since seen that company announce redundancies as a consequence of the dithering and inept attitude of the UK Government. It’s an exciting project that offers both clean renewable energy and economic opportunities in south-west Wales for jobs and skills. Will you continue to press the UK Government for a rapid response on the strike price, so that we can see that project progress for the Welsh economy to benefit from?
There’s an enormous amount of foot dragging taking place in Whitehall. This is a fantastic project not just in terms of renewable energy, but in terms of the jobs that could be created for the maintenance and manufacturing of the kit that generates that energy. We’ve heard, of course, of the support that’s been given in the past by the UK Government, but there is no money on the table, no further decision, and it’s about time the people of Wales had a decision from the UK Government and were shown that respect.
First Minister, the renewable energy sector in Wales contributes significant funding to the Welsh Government through wind turbines being sited on the Welsh woodland estate. Can you confirm the amount of money made by this scheme, and can you provide assurances that this money is retained and spent within the renewable energy sector and environmental projects in Wales?
Where there are opportunities for revenue being made available to the Welsh Government, we’ll take that, of course, bearing in mind the relevant planning considerations that need to be taken into consideration. What we don’t have, however, is any kind of certainty from the UK Government as to what the energy policy that they want actually is. We don’t know what their view is on renewables. We know they attacked photovoltaic cells and the subsidies there; they’ve attacked wind turbines, which caused the closure of Mabey Bridge in Monmouthshire; we know that they’ve provided substantial funding for the nuclear sector at Hinkley; what we don’t know is what else they want to do. I know, from my conversations with investors, that this uncertainty is something that is wholly unwelcome to those who wish to invest in energy generation in the UK.
First Minister, as you know, there is a huge amount of concern in the Swansea bay area about the tidal lagoon and about whether that project is going to go ahead. I understand fully the Welsh Government’s commitment to that scheme and I’m very grateful for your support of it. Can I ask you what representations you envisage being able to make to the UK Government over the next few months to try to tie down their particular view of this lagoon, and whether or not they’re able to come to a conclusion on this, and how can we assist them in those deliberations?
Well, the message is, ‘Get on with it.’ We’ll be making that message clear to them both orally and in writing. It simply isn’t acceptable that one of the major projects in Wales is not being supported as it should be by the UK Government. But this is nothing different: we’ve also seen delays when it comes to electrification—no date given for that. And it shows that there is a tendency towards incredible foot dragging when it comes to job creation in Wales by the UK Government—something the Welsh Government will never display.
NHS Priorities (North Wales)
2. Will the First Minister outline his priorities for the NHS in north Wales? OAQ(4)2597(FM)
Yes. My priorities for the NHS in the north are as for the rest of Wales: to improve health outcomes, access to services and patient experience, to prevent poor health, and to reduce health inequalities.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. Today is, obviously, the first day of winter. We know that the health board in north Wales is cash strapped. It’s forecasting to be £30 million over budget by the end of the current financial year at present, and that’s in addition to a carry-over of over £20 million from the previous year. What are you doing to make sure that the financial crisis doesn’t impact over the winter, and that patients can still get access to the services they need? We know, for example, that referrals to Gobowen Hospital at the moment have been halted for people to be able to access some of the orthopaedic services there, all on the basis of finances.
No, the local health boards have their winter plans in place. We’ve been liaising with them for many months, and we expect those plans to be robust. We know that, despite the great pressure that was put on the NHS in Wales last winter, those plans were robust, and we did not see, for example, the situation that took place in England, where tents were being used to house patients who needed treatment in accident and emergency.
A review of maternity services is ongoing in north Wales, as you know—one in the short term and one in the long term—and one clear option is to reduce the number of maternity units led by medics from three to two. As you have decided that the SuRNICC is to be placed in Glan Clwyd Hospital, it therefore follows that the review will choose between Wrexham Maelor Hospital and Ysbyty Gwynedd. Is this a sensible and fair process for deciding upon the structure of maternity care in north Wales for the future, when one key decision has been taken outwith that context?
Well, I am surprised, as I was under the impression that Plaid Cymru were in favour of the SuRNICC. Members of your party have been robustly saying that we need such a unit in Wales and not in Arrowe Park. So, if you are now saying that you are not in favour of the SuRNICC, then that is a total departure from the situation some months ago. No, we are going to continue with the SuRNICC. That is what your party members wanted and supported. Also, of course, I understand that a report will be published by the local health board this evening on the plans, and, ultimately, on the maternity units in their area.
You mentioned that one of your priorities is to ensure that services are available. I have been in correspondence with the Minister for Health and Social Services for some two years now on prosthetics services in Wrexham, and, to be fair, the Minister visited the hospital with me some months ago. These services are managed by WHSSC centrally, but the provision is at a health board level. However, the grades offered to doctors in Wrexham are far lower than those for doctors in the north-west, and that means that the remaining doctor—the remaining prosthetist—has said that he intends to leave his post. So, can I ask you to look into that situation to ensure that the doctor grades are competitive, so that we can ensure that services remain available in north Wales?
Well, we know that we’ve spoken to WHSSC in order to understand the size of the problem. There have been some problems with the recruitment but, in terms of the correspondence that we, as Government, have received on WHSSC itself, they are addressing those issues. Staff are being recruited, and new members of staff will commence in the new year. Recruitment will continue to take place, or course, in order to ensure that any currently vacant positions will be filled while that recruitment is ongoing.
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to questions from the party leaders. First this afternoon we have the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, as world leaders meet in Paris for the climate change conference, we can all agree that governments need to do all that they can to tackle the threat of climate change. Now, the Conservative Government in Westminster is systematically unravelling any progress that was made on renewables under Liberal Democrat leadership. What representations have you made opposing the UK Government’s decision to end tax breaks for clean cars, abandon zero carbon housing targets and scrap support for renewable energy production?
Well, the zero carbon in terms of buildings, of course, is a devolved matter. In terms of scrapping subsidies, it’s something that we’ve been very vocal on. We believe that this is not the way forward. We are wholly opposed to the direction—well, if there is a direction—in which energy generation is going at GB level. It seems clear that energy generation is now being dictated by the Treasury in terms of what is the cheapest form of generating energy in the short term. Energy security is an irrelevant consideration in their minds. We made it very clear that there needs to be a mix of energy generation within the UK, there needs to be greater thought given to energy security, and the trend towards scrapping subsidies for renewables has to be reversed.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister, but let’s examine your Government’s record in this area. Wales lags behind the rest of the UK in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Why have Scotland and England managed to reduce emissions by about a third whilst, in Wales, we’ve managed just a decrease of 12 per cent?
Well, part of the reason is that we have a higher proportion of energy-intensive industries, and, as they have strengthened, so their emissions have gone up. That much is true, even though we have invested in reducing emissions. Secondly, of course, we don’t have the powers that Scotland and England have. Scotland has the powers that it needs over energy generation, it has the powers over grid connections, and it has the powers to incentivise renewable energy in a way that we have not. I come back to the point that was made by the Member, Llyr Huws Gruffydd: we need to see a level playing field between Wales on the one hand and Scotland and England on the other.
First Minister, it’s that old chestnut again. Last time I asked you these questions you gave the same answer. [Interruption.] Germany has a huge amount of energy-intensive industry, much, much larger than ours, and yet their record on cutting greenhouse gas emissions is commendable. Now, Labour leaders are full of warm words about these issues. Recently, 50 Labour councils in England pledged to reduce by 100 per cent by 2050 their emissions, and your shadow energy secretary stated:
‘Where Labour is in power we will push for a clean energy boom’.
Why, then, has your Government refused to lead with ambition by supporting a target of a 100 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in legislation before this House?
Energy-intensive industries are going through a difficult time, especially with the cost of energy in the UK, and we must balance, of course, any decision without prejudice in terms of the target against the effect that it might have on those energy-intensive industries. That’s the thinking. That’s the debate that’s taking place at the moment. But in terms of looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it’s something that we strongly support. I’m glad to hear that I gave the same answer to her in answer to the same question some months ago. It shows, at least, that we are showing consistency in terms of the answers that we give, and we need to see a level playing field in terms of powers as between Wales, Scotland and England.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to the leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, obviously, in all the news programmes and bulletins at the moment are the terrible scenes of destruction out in the middle east and, in particular, the vote that will take place later this week on whether military action should be undertaken in Syria by British armed services. You have given numerous interviews, as recently as 10 days ago, saying that you supported military action in Syria, and that there shouldn’t be a border or a recognised border between Iraq and Syria. Is that you personally speaking, or are you speaking on behalf of the Welsh Government?
No, it’s my view, speaking personally, and it’s a view that will be different to some in my party. Nevertheless, it’s my view.
Interestingly, all the articles obviously quote you as First Minister, and so people do take that as being the Government view, they do. It is important that people do obviously examine their constituency postbags and also the position that Britain finds itself in with a plea from the French Government to support their actions in addressing the atrocities in Paris two weeks ago. What action will you be taking? Because you do have a substantial role within the Labour Party. You are the most senior elected figure within the Labour Party. What will you be doing as First Minister of Wales to convey your own view, but also, I would suggest, the majority view that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies in France, and address the terrible scenes that we’re seeing in Syria.
It’s the job of the Prime Minister to provide the evidence in order for MPs to examine that evidence and decide which way they want to vote. It’s not my job to do that. I’ve expressed my view on this. I take the view that there needs to be a final plan. I don’t see that at the moment. I take the view there needs to be thought given to which ground forces are going to be supported. I don’t see progress on that at the moment. I do take the view that there’s no difference in reality between Iraq and Syria. The border’s effectively disappeared. But what troubles me, or what concerns me is that we should not do what happened in Iraq more than a decade ago, and that is to take military action without thinking about what the endgame is and how to bring peace to Syria. I do not see sufficient evidence of that yet on the part of the Prime Minister.
I disagree with you on the evidence from the Prime Minister, but I agree entirely with you that we do need the endgame in stabilising Syria because of the situation that is developing out in that country, and the immigration crisis, and people being forced from their homes, but, ultimately, the horrendous acts by ISIL in that country against every man, woman and child that they seem to come into contact with. It is a fact that, in Wales, 27,500 servicemen and servicewomen have families here and obviously reside here. There is a big defence estate here in Wales that relies on orders from the armed services. I do believe that it is important that the First Minister of Wales—and you have done that via interviews that you’ve given, offering your support—. But it does need to be clarified that that is personal support, not Government support. But you do have a role, do you not, First Minister, you do have a role in making sure that we speak with one voice and ultimately support our armed services when they are committed to ground offensives or air offensives in Syria. Do you not as First Minister have a key role to play in doing that?
Well, the leader of the opposition is now saying that he is in favour of British ground forces being used in Syria.
No, anywhere in the world. Anywhere in the world.
That’s what he’s just said, and I do find that worrying, because that’s certainly not my view, and certainly it’s not the view of the Prime Minister, either, but that is exactly what he has just said. The view that I take is that I would not want to see British forces being in a position where politicians had not given sufficient thought to what those forces were there to do, and it means ensuring, first of all, that we understand which sides are being supported in Syria, and which ground forces. The Prime Minister has not made that clear. Are we looking at the Peshmerga and the Free Syrian Army? Are we looking at any others? Because there are forces more moderate than ISIL in Syria, but they’re not people who we would regard as moderate in terms of the people who support them. He’s right to point out that Daesh—call them what we want, Islamic State—need to be eradicated, but air strikes will not do that on their own. They will target, it’s true, some in that organisation, but civilians will also get hurt. Now, it’s important to understand that air strikes are a part of what needs to be a far bigger and broader plan. They are not sufficient on their own. The only way in which you remove ground forces is to support ground forces, perhaps through air strikes, but, ultimately, thinking about what happens at the end. The reason why Syria has been destabilised is because there’s not been a coherent and consistent international view as to which side or sides should be supported in the ground war. Until that’s clear, it’s very difficult to see what air strikes would achieve beyond creating a situation where Daesh remains on the ground, but we see more and more civilian casualties. If there’s evidence to suggest that it would support ground forces in their objective of ridding that part of the world of Daesh, if there’s evidence to suggest that it would shorten the conflict, if there’s evidence to suggest that it would lead to a plan for peace in Syria, then, if that evidence is strong enough, as I have said, I would personally support air strikes. But that evidence is not yet there, and my concern is that too much emphasis is being given to air strikes and not enough to what needs to be done in order to bring peace to Syria.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Finally, the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
First Minister, you’ve gone on record with your views on the situation in Syria, and I think it’s entirely appropriate that you’ve done that, especially as Wales will be affected in terms of troops, in terms of the involvement of Welsh services in terms of dealing with the refugee crisis, and also the security risk to Welsh communities. You’ve gone on record as saying that you would only consider supporting UK airstrikes in Syria if there was a plan in place for peace and stability. Do you agree with me now, then, that the Prime Minister’s statement last week on proposals for UK airstrikes falls short of those tests?
As I’ve said over the last few days, I don’t believe that there is sufficient evidence there yet to support airstrikes.
Thank you for your answer, First Minister. As of 27 November, you said that you’d not been privy to any discussion at UK level within your party on the proposals for UK airstrikes on Syria. Have you been involved in any discussions since, and have you had any discussions with the Labour Party in Wales on this matter?
No. There’s a free vote on this issue at Westminster, so each Member of Parliament will make up his or her own mind as to how they wish to vote.
Okay. Well, thank you for your answer, First Minister. In your public remarks, you’ve said that we must learn the lessons from the Iraq war, and I would agree with you on that point. At the time, back in 2003, your predecessor said that he did not have a view on that war, and I welcome the fact that you, at least, have gone on record as the UK considers yet again intervening in the middle east. On this occasion, then, will the Welsh Government join other parties and other devolved administrations, if possible, in opposing the proposed bombing of Syria, and will you appeal directly to the Prime Minister to reconsider his Government’s plans to bomb that country?
First of all, it wasn’t my understanding that her party, nor indeed the SNP, who made the announcement some days beforehand, were actually against airstrikes in principle—namely that the evidence would be considered. It is clear from her views, and I understand that, that she doesn’t feel that the evidence is strong enough to justify those airstrikes, and that’s a position that I also share. Nevertheless, I do take the view that, as the UK Parliament considers this issue, it should consider the issue of how to bring peace to Syria in the broadest possible sense. Airstrikes, it could be argued, can suppress the capacity for terrorist attacks, but they cannot remove the capacity for terrorist attacks; that can only be done by removing the threat on the ground.
I have to say, at this moment in time, I don’t believe that there is sufficient evidence before Parliament, or, indeed, the people of Wales and the people of the UK, to suggest that airstrikes on their own would act in a way to shorten the war and remove the threat of Daesh, nor do I believe that there is sufficient information that would allow us to conclude that support is being given to a substantial ground force. The Prime Minister’s talked about 70,000; it’s not clear where those 70,000 ground forces are or which organisations they represent. So, at this moment in time, I have to say that I don’t think the evidence is there to justify airstrikes. That evidence may strengthen in the days and weeks to come, but at this moment in time it’s not there.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move back to questions on the paper, and question 3 is Lynne Neagle.
The UK Government Spending Review
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the potential impact of the UK Government's spending review on local government in Wales? OAQ(4)2611(FM)
Yes. We are currently considering the implications of the announcement. Further details will be provided on 9 December, with the publication of the provisional local government settlement.
First Minister, last week’s spending review delivered little more than smoke and mirrors for working families, another revenue funding cut for Wales, and signalled the decimation of local government in England. This Welsh Labour Government has always worked hard to protect local government, and in particular social services, recognising as we do that the health service and social services are inextricably linked and that you can’t protect one without looking after the other. What assurances can you give today that, despite the savage cuts over the border, protecting local government, and in particular social services, will continue to be a priority for this Welsh Labour Government?
We will look to protect local government and the services that local government provides to the best of our financial ability. But I don’t know whether talking about local government in England is actually a proper description anymore—I’m not sure local government will exist in England in the next few years. With the substantial cuts that are occurring in local government there, it’s difficult to see what councils will actually do. We know that council tax will increase substantially in England over the next few years to pay for social care. What’s pernicious about what the Chancellor has suggested is this: he is abdicating the responsibility of UK Government to pay for social services in England, and, secondly, he is saying that councils have to raise their own money if they want to provide social services in their own areas. That means that the poorer areas that don’t have a substantial council tax base will not be able to provide the services to a population that probably will need those services more. You begin to ask yourself, if there is no mechanism, or if the mechanism for redistributing money around the UK from the richest to the poorest areas is being eroded, where does that leave the concept of the UK?
Meanwhile, back to Wales. First Minister, given the increase in cash terms in funding coming to Wales over the next four years and the calls yesterday from the leader of Denbighshire County Council for you to apply the same principles to local government, what guarantees are you now able to make in terms of a fair settlement for local government budgets here in Wales?
Well, I can assure the leader of Denbighshire we won’t be applying the principles of the UK Government when it comes to English local government; I give him that assurance without any shadow of a doubt. Secondly, the Member is not correct in her assumption. This is a 4.5 per cent cut in our budget in Wales, not some sort of great increase in the budget. Only a Tory could interpret a 4.5 per cent cut as a good thing, or an increase, but there it is. Now, we will look at the financial settlement and the statement will be made on 9 December, but we will not be looking to slash local government funding as in England, and we will not be looking to transfer the burden of paying for social care onto local government in Wales, as is being done in England.
First Minister, I wouldn’t disagree with what you say about the impact of the Westminster cuts on the Welsh Government budget, but I would wish to hear what exactly your vision will be for local government in Wales. Do you view local government as something that will contract over the next decade, with services to people being reduced, or do you have a broader vision for local government in Wales?
With the right structure, and more devolution of powers to local authorities—not only to the counties, but also to town councils and community councils too—. So, no, I see devolution happening with the right structure in place over the next few years.
I was glad to hear your answer, First Minister, that you want to see devolution of more powers to local authorities. One of the powers we’ve discussed previously is to give them more control over business rates and enable them to incentivise economic development and grow additional revenues, given the very difficult circumstances. When will the Welsh Government, then, take steps towards this devolution of business rates and enable local authorities to do this?
Well, two points: as I’ve said before, the structure needs to be right first, and I don’t believe that it is. Secondly, I would be very wary of devolving business rates wholly to local government—I can see the Member nodding—the reason being, of course, that we estimate that 17 local authorities out of 22 would end up with less money. So, Monmouthshire, for example, would be £4.3 million down, if business rates were raised and wholly retained within Monmouthshire. So, there has to be a mechanism in place to redistribute money, rather than saying to local authorities, ‘You raise and you keep’.
First Minister, the most disgraceful part of the Tory spending review is the failure to make any financial provision whatsoever to support adult social care. In Wales, the Conservatives are arguing for a ring-fencing of health spending, but at the expense of social care. Do you believe that the Tories in Wales—? Is it your view that they have now abandoned adult social care in Wales and thrown our vulnerable adults to the wolves?
We’ve long learned that, when it comes to policy, pretty much, when you see the Conservatives in Wales, it’s ‘for Wales, see England’. They basically copy what happens in England. Then we see in England adult social care being absolutely destroyed. Despite that, of course, we spend more on health per head in Wales than England does. We spend far more on health and social care in Wales than the Government in the UK does in England. So, we know that we spend more on education, on health, and on health and social care combined. That’s what happens when you get a Labour Government, rather than the cutting instincts of the Tories.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the availability of bus services in Brecon and Radnorshire? OAQ(4)2598(FM)
We recognise the importance of effective and affordable bus services, and our commitment to improving the quality and accessibility of local bus services and community transport is set out in the national transport finance plan, which was published in July.
First Minister, your plan seems to be greatly at odds with the decision by Powys County Council at the beginning of November to cut substantially bus services. It means there is no longer a town service in Builth Wells leaving many elderly people isolated in their own home, unable to get into town for their shopping. If you live in Trecastle, now there is no public transport whatsoever through that village: you can’t get into Brecon and you can’t travel to Llandovery for services or for work purposes. What can your Government do to ensure communities like Builth Wells and Trecastle are not abandoned in terms of public transport, and what flexibility can you give to new ways of delivering publicly funded transport services in the community if large buses are no longer viable?
Yes, there are three things. First of all, that decision is for Powys to explain, because it is not a Welsh Government decision. Secondly, there are alternative modes of provision: the Bwcabus service has been widely used in Carmarthenshire and elsewhere now for some time in communities with a similar population density. I don’t know the extent or whether such a service exists in Powys but that is something the council needs to look at, it would seem to me, because others have done it successfully and that’s worked in very rural communities. Of course, in the medium term, powers over bus regulation will rest here, and that will make it easier in terms of being able to direct where bus services should run in the future.
First Minister, the Community Transport Association have highlighted the need for stable, long-term funding for the community transport sector and, in particular, the impact of the reduction in the minimum ring-fenced funding by your Government’s reduction of the bus service support grant by 50 per cent. Would you commit to looking again at this grant and, perhaps, devising an adequate strategy, which would give a much closer examination for bus services to all parts of rural Wales?
Well, it does surprise me when I stand here week after week and hear every Tory ask for more money in every area, ignoring the fact—. He is not a culprit normally, I would say that to him. But we hear it every week, don’t we: ‘More money here, more money there’ as if the cuts haven’t actually happened. I believe it is exceptionally important for local authorities to look at the most cost-effective way of providing transport in their areas. Indeed, Carmarthenshire have done that with Bwcabus and I know, for example, that the Grass Routes project in Monmouthshire has been very successful in terms of delivering transport opportunities for rural communities.
General Practitioners in Mid Wales
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on how the Welsh Government intends to incentivise GPs to practise in mid Wales? OAQ(4)2602(FM)
The actions that need to be taken to support GPs are set out in our plan for the primary care workforce. Those actions include work to incentivise general practice, both in terms of entry into training and taking up practice in areas where there are shortages of doctors.
Thank you for your answer, First Minister. There are currently five surgeries in Montgomeryshire which are attempting to recruit GPs. Over the past three years the medical practice in Newtown, for example, has spent thousands of pounds in recruitment trying to recruit, and not one suitable candidate has come forward. It is a very similar position in Llanidloes. There is a concern that surgeries are having to change their practices in a way that doesn’t allow patients direct contact with GPs. In addition to the efforts of Powys teaching health board, will you commit the Welsh Government to promoting local GP vacancies on its website? I’d be grateful for your wider views on what other measures can be taken to incentivise GPs, specifically to mid Wales.
First of all, of course, the mid Wales health collaborative is working well. It had its first meeting on 23 November, I understand, and that’s being supported in terms of the work that that is taking forward. I know that the health board is working with practices in Machynlleth and Newtown. A number of solutions are being implemented to support those practices, including workload support, through the deployment of pharmacists, advance nurse practitioners and physiotherapists, with clinical triage being undertaken by advanced nurse practitioners. I know that the health board has been working with the community health council and the local medical committee to ensure that applications through the GP sustainability assessment framework are assessed and addressed rapidly. So, good work is being done to ensure the sustainability of practices in Powys and, indeed, elsewhere. They are also looking at different models for delivering primary care services, for example, allowing GP practices to deliver different services, social enterprises—there are a number of ways in which they’re looking to vary the service as far as attracting GPs is concerned, but also, of course, to improve the service for patients.
6. What discussions has the First Minister had with the UK Government on the future of S4C? OAQ(4)2606(FM)[W]
I recently wrote him regarding S4C, calling for an urgent review of S4C, which had been promised by the UK Government. I have also written to him asking for an urgent meeting to discuss S4C and other broadcasting matters.
Thank you, First Minister. Last week, you will know that George Osborne cut 26 per cent of the DCMS budget for S4C, while the Secretary of State, John Whittingdale, who is responsible for that, was boasting that he had managed to retain the budget for the arts in England without any cut, but treated S4C in an entirely different way. You are the Minister with responsibility for the Welsh language, and I think it’s true to say that the future of Welsh-language broadcasting is in the balance at present, and therefore I welcome the fact that you have written, asking for a meeting with John Whittingdale. I think it is crucially important now that the Secretary of State accepts that request for a meeting and that that takes place, in order to overturn this decision and to provide a safe funding basis for S4C in the future. That’s what the Tories pledged in their manifesto prior to the election. It’s important that they keep to their promise and for you to hold that important meeting.
As regards the noise that I hear from the Tory benches—
They’re very quiet.
They are quiet, or they are denying that such a pledge was made. But they did hear that pledge being made. What’s clear is that we should have a sustainable settlement for the funding of S4C—which isn’t the case at the moment—and that we see the pledge on S4C being kept. So, we now await the response of the Secretary of State on whether we can have a meeting to secure the future of S4C.
Thank you to the First Minister for his words. Despite the excellent statement made in the spending review, we share Members’ disappointment on the proposals for a direct and disproportionate cut to the budget of S4C. We can assure you that the Welsh Conservatives will be making representations to the UK Government too, to make the case for not implementing those proposals. Do you agree that a united voice on this issue is likely to have the greatest effect, and that the objective is more important than making localised political points?
I see that Guto Bebb’s influence is very strong amongst the Conservatives in terms of what he’s been tweeting on this issue. I welcome the fact that there is strong criticism from the Welsh Conservatives about what is happening to S4C, and I’m sure that they would be very supportive to ensure that a meeting takes place with the Secretary of State in order to secure the future of Welsh-language broadcasting.
The United Nations Climate Change Summit
7. What message does the Welsh Government intend to take to the UN Climate Change Summit in Paris? OAQ(4)2612(FM)
We want to see an ambitious, legally binding global climate agreement, underpinned by transparency and accountability, which will deliver against the scientific imperative.
First Minister, you’re probably aware that the UN global compact survey of world leaders indicates that a majority are very positive about the growth and innovation that can come from addressing the climate challenge, and that increases to 70 per cent amongst the top leaders in the world’s biggest companies. Here in Wales, with the groundbreaking work we’ve been doing at the Low Carbon Research Institute, the development of the house as a power station and last week’s launch of the compound semiconductor centre for Europe, which is all about developing sustainable technologies and more efficient energy generation, can we not be bold and promise some really clear targets for the Welsh Government that we could take to Paris—some interim targets up to 2020 for the fifth Assembly Government, as well as that 100 per cent by 2050?
I think the important thing is that there is an international agreement. Whilst we can make our contribution in Wales, we are very small compared to the world’s major emitters. What is encouraging is that, in the run-up to COP 21, we’ve seen a groundswell of momentum from businesses declaring their commitment to decarbonisation, and that’s been the major difference between Paris and Copenhagen, where that wasn’t really happening in the same way. It’s one of the reasons why the UN now describe the transition to low carbon as inevitable and irreversible. As a Government, of course, we are committed to green growth and to maximising the benefits of the transition to low carbon for Wales. That was the approach that I outlined in ‘Energy Wales: A Low Carbon Transition’, and of course, we continue to look to deliver that.
First Minister, you have previously said it will be a challenge to achieve your own Government’s targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Welsh Government has cut its climate change budget by 6 per cent, and yet the UK Government has made a commitment to increase funding. Would you not agree that if the Welsh Government is to meet its target, then sufficient budgetary commitments do have to be attached to that target?
More money again—so how much money is going to be bid for in the course of the afternoon? DEFRA’s budget has been hammered—if the Member hasn’t noticed—in England, to the point that we are concerned about the services that DEFRA deliver in Wales. I do not see any commitment by the UK Government to promote renewable energy. I do not see any commitment by the UK Government to move to a low-carbon economy, otherwise why would they have cut subsidies to photovoltaic? Why would they have cut subsidies to wind? Why are they looking primarily to have more gas-fired power stations, importing the gas as they go? No, we need to make sure that we create more renewable energy, that we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and, of course, that we have more energy security than the Tories are prepared to allow us.
Not one of the nations that’s failed to reach its targets under the Kyoto protocol has faced any sort of sanctions, which, in my view, has meant that many nations have got away with not meeting their commitments. Now, you as a Government have a representative out there in Paris. Will that representative be making a case for the introduction of sanctions over those countries that can’t meet their targets under the current Paris negotiations?
Well, that’s fine in principle, but in practice, it’s very difficult, because you have to have the agreement of those countries in order to secure a global agreement. At present, what’s important is that an agreement exists, in the same tradition as the Kyoto protocol. Once that is reached, we must consider how that agreement should be policed. It’s true to say, of course, that you have to have an agreement that people can adhere to. So, securing the agreement is the first step, and then the second step is to ensure that there is a means of at least naming those countries that have broken the agreement and, hopefully, go further than that.
Budgetary Priorities (Health and Social Care)
8. Will First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's budgetary priorities for health and social care? OAQ(4)2608(FM)
Yes. We’ve invested more in the Welsh health service than ever before. In the last two years, we’ve invested an extra £1 billion in the Welsh NHS, despite the £1.3 billion that has been cut from the overall Welsh budget by the UK Government since 2011. We are not looking to local government to fund social care.
Thank you, First Minister. I’m sure you’ll join me in welcoming the historic funding floor introduced by the UK Conservative Government, set at 115 per cent, in line with the Holtham commission’s recommendation—a level that you yourself have previously called for—and the increase of £945 million to Wales’s consequential share of increased health spending in England. Will you now commit to protecting the health budget in Wales in real terms?
Well, first of all, the floor is fine in principle, but because there’s no commitment beyond 2020, it doesn’t work. So, we need to see a commitment to a floor beyond 2020, otherwise the floor is not going to be effective. If that floor is to stay in place, it needs to stay in place for a substantial amount of time, not for five years; that simply isn’t going to be enough. In terms of the consequentials—we’re not getting consequentials of over £900 million, I don’t know where she gets that figure from. I can say the consequential from the CSR is £110 million for this year. So, the suggestion that somehow we are getting consequentials for health alone is quite simply untrue, because as the party opposite full well knows, when we get consequentials, we get negative consequentials in other areas. So, what the Chancellor gives with one hand he takes away with the other. So, the consequential for the coming financial year is £110 million. It’s not more than that.
First Minister, as the Tories preside over the destruction of adult social care, do you agree with me that we must do all we can to maintain a comprehensive adult social care system in Wales? Do you share my genuine concern that Offa’s Dyke could become the dividing line between the failure and destruction of adult social care services in England, and the maintenance of a comprehensive package of adult social care in Wales?
I believe that if we look at the way things are going in England, in time, our border will become the difference between care on one side and neglect on the other.
First Minister, can you explain why the public health Bill makes no reference to child obesity at all?
Well, these are matters, of course, that can be examined as the Bill progresses through the Assembly, and I’m sure, if Members have ideas as to how the Bill might be improved, the Minister, I’m sure, would look to consider how that can be done.
First Minister, you recently commented on the recent figures that indicate that the spend in Wales per person on health and social care is actually greater than in England. Now, as the Member for Pontypridd and the Member for Torfaen have actually identified, the Welsh Labour Government believe that health and social care are inextricably linked together and, as such, we fund it properly. Do you believe that, with the increased delayed transfers of care in English hospitals and the blocking they create, it’s time the Welsh model was used in England?
Do you know what you find with the Tories? The more uncomfortable they get, the more they shout. And the less they understand, the more they laugh. That’s one of the things you find. Yes, Darren Millar’s right: record-breaking cuts in social care in England—record-breaking cuts in social care in England. People who are being neglected, people who will not get the care that they need, and the responsibility is being dumped on local authorities and his Chancellor and his party are abdicating their responsibility for older people. Insufficient funding for the NHS in England; we saw that from their own figures. Insufficient funding for education in England; we saw that from their own figures. And now we see older people who will be denied social care in the future because of an appalling—an appalling—attitude by the UK Government that will lead to the most record-breaking cuts for older people any part of the UK has ever seen.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, First Minister.
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I have agreed to an urgent question under Standing Order 12.66, and I call on Andrew R.T. Davies to ask the question. Andrew R.T. Davies.
Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s decision to withdraw funding from the West London Vocational Training College, in light of the on-going investigation into wider allegations of fraud? EAQ(4)0663(ESK)
Yes, I will, Presiding Officer. I issued a written statement on Friday last week. I’ve asked officials to pass to the police the information we have available today. Officials will also refer this issue to the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education and continue to investigate with the Student Loans Company.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. Obviously, the Welsh Government makes significant loans and grants available—£6,000 to students, and the student finance company pays out loans of £21,000 to students as well. As I understand it, there are few or no checks or balances undertaken by the Welsh Government over the legitimacy of students registered at colleges, like the college in question, the West London Vocational Training College. What assurances can the Minister give that this isn’t a wider issue around support that you offer to similar students in other colleges?
Presiding Officer, I can assure the Member that this is simply not true. Of course there are checks and balances, and the usual checks around residency and so on would apply and were applied in this case. It would be difficult to see that this particular problem, if it turns out to be an allegation with some substance, could have spread much wider as this is the only English-based private provider currently operating in Wales. My understanding is that the numbers of students involved is in the low hundreds—although it doesn’t matter: one would be too many, if there were any substance to the allegations of fraud, and we will, of course, work with partner authorities to get to the bottom of the matter and take whatever action is necessary.
Minister, during the Stage 1 debate of the higher education Bill, we expressed concerns by Cardiff Metropolitan University and others that there may not be sufficient safeguards in respect of provision delivered within Wales by private or alternative providers, and we said that a review was needed to see if there were any gaps in regulation of publicly funded bodies. Have any lessons been learned from previous instances, such as at Glyndŵr University, and have you put forward any spot checks or snap inspections that may prevent these issues from happening again?
Well, I refer the Member to my statement on Friday in terms of the checks that were undertaken earlier in the autumn. The Member will also be aware that I consulted earlier this year on proposals to strengthen criteria around specific designation and the applications for designation, and new and more stringent criteria are due to be implemented in the new year.
Minister, I think it’s fair to say that you accepted, during the discussions in committee, when the new arrangements were being debated, that the regulatory oversight—in your words—applied in the specifically designated courses was minimal. I understand there are 309 designated courses in Wales currently provided for, and yet the West London Vocational Training College doesn’t appear in the list of institutions, provided by the Government in January of this year to the committee, that we’re providing designated courses.
On that basis, can I ask whether or not that list is now a comprehensive list? Can I also ask, in the circumstances, whether you have now agreed with the UK Government to bring forward an Order under section 150 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, which you said was necessary in circumstances such as this, when there are English bodies providing courses in Wales? Can I also ask you to explain whether or not you have confidence in the quality and assurance systems operated by these private validation companies, given that, after matters were drawn to your attention, I think your written statement refers to a review undertaken by Pearson UK on 21 October, which indicated that there were no issues of concern, and it was only following further evidence from the investigative journalist that, in fact, you’ve taken the action last week?
Firstly, Presiding Officer, it might clear up a number of the Members’ questions if I were to relay to Members that the application for designation for this institution was received as recently as June this year. Although, this course and this college were both designated in England and had been validated through the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.
He’s quite right to say—and I’ll reiterate—we are moving towards a system in Wales that I think will give the maximum possible security around issues like this, because we will be demanding that all such providers are charities. That regulation has not worked its way through the legislative process as yet, and will be coming into force in the new year. Although, I would say this—and I cannot comment in terms of his questions around private validation companies, after all, we do not know, as yet, if there is any substance to these allegations—it is for the BBC to make those allegations, as we believe they will, and then to pass them to the police, as they should. But I would say that there would be no system of regulation, or it would be very difficult to contrive a system of regulation that could be 100 per cent proof against any planned or deliberate fraud.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move on to the business statement and I call on the Minister for Finance and Government Business, Jane Hutt.
Llywydd, there’s been one change to the business statement for this week’s business. The First Minister will make a statement on the metro, and business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the agenda papers available to Members electronically.
Minister, can I ask for a statement from the Welsh Government on the use of mobility scooters in Wales? I have become increasingly concerned about the number of accidents that are happening across the country and, indeed, many people are becoming seriously injured in accidents with cars, and, more concerning, with pedestrians, including people in my own constituency who’ve broken limbs as a result of accidents with mobility scooters. I wonder what action you might take. The British Healthcare Trades Association have suggested that there may be as many as 4,000 accidents with mobility scooters in Wales on an annual basis, and yet there are no proficiency tests required for people using such vehicles on our streets and on our roads. It would be helpful if the Welsh Government could outline its position on this and make a statement as soon as possible.
Clearly, there will be road safety issues and that is what we would possibly be able to reflect on in terms of the importance of ensuring safety for people who use mobility scooters, but within our powers, we would have to see what would be possible in terms of advice and guidance.
When can we have a statement or a debate on the extent of child sexual exploitation in Wales? On Friday, I was pleased to speak at an event organised by South Wales Police, the police commissioner’s office and Barnardo’s, which launched an important service of child advocates and trained professionals who can help children who’ve been victims of sexual exploitation in Wales. I’m thinking that we are coming up to Christmas—a time that is very stressful for families. Many children at that time do go missing and are more open to exploitation, so it seems very important that we look at this very important issue.
I thank Julie Morgan for that question. We are, of course, committed as a Welsh Government to do all we can to protect children from the heinous crime of child sexual exploitation. We have published statutory guidance to help practitioners identify children at risk. We’ve taken steps to not only protect them, but allow action to be taken against perpetrators. Also, with the assistance of Barnardo’s Cymru, we’ve published—and also with young people themselves—a designated booklet to provide children with the knowledge and skills they need to make effective decisions, empowering them to protect themselves from harm and risky behaviours, including, of course, online.
I ask for a statement by the First Minister on the use or political misuse of Ministers’ time and resources when conducting their duties. I make this request in the light of two visits to Ysbyty Gwynedd, one by the Minister of health on 30 October, and one by his deputy on 2 November. The First Minister has written to me claiming that both visits were political visits. Betsi Cadwaladr health board, however, on their website, were under the impression that they were being visited by the Minister of health and by the deputy, and an official car met at least one of them at Valley airport. I think the public need to be sure that Ministers are not abusing their positions to further party political interest while using public money to do so.
Well, as you know full well, Alun Ffred Jones, we would not undertake those visits in those kinds of contexts. I mean, we all make visits, which are, of course, non-ministerial, as Assembly Members and in our political roles. We have to ensure—clearly, as the First Minister did respond in his letter—that they abide by our code of guidance for Ministers.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Kirsty Williams—[Interruption.] Excuse me. Kirsty Williams.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. Minister, could I ask for two statements by the health Minister? Obviously, in the autumn statement last week the Tory Government in London announced the scrapping of student nurse bursaries. That decision will have an impact on Wales. I appreciate that the Government had no sight of that decision before they heard about it in the Chancellor’s statement, but it would be useful to have clarity from the Welsh Government about how it intends to take this issue forward for nurses’ training in Wales and the impact any changes across the border may have on nurse recruitment in the future.
Secondly, could I have a statement on corneal services? I’ve been approached by the parents of a 14-year-old boy in my constituency who has been diagnosed with keratoconus. He eventually will need a corneal transplant, because, in Wales, we have no access to cross-linking surgery, even though cross-linking has been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, it’s a relatively simple treatment, it can avoid deterioration and sight loss and it can avoid very expensive, complex surgery later on in life, as well as repeated visits to secondary care in ophthalmology. Will the Minister look at what can be done to ensure cross-linking is available for Welsh patients? It may be coming too late for the 14-year-old in my constituency—his parents will have to find the £6,000 to pay for private surgery, but if we could establish a service in Wales in the near future, other constituents would not be placed in such a terrible position.
Thank you, Kirsty Williams. I think, on your first point, you’re quite right, we knew nothing about the announcement that came through the Chancellor’s statement, which, actually, of course, as you recognise, only applies to England in terms of nursing student bursaries. But, of course, there are implications for us—inevitable implications. We’ve got very few details so far to go on from the information from the spending review, so it’s difficult to assess the potential impact of the Chancellor’s statement. We are now in discussion with the Department of Health and the Treasury to seek clarification.
Your second point does raise a very important area in terms of corneal services, and, of course, this is something I’m sure that the Minister for Health and Social Services will want to reflect on.
I wonder if the business Minister would ask the planning Minister for a statement on the planning management of the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is only a small area of my region, but I understand that, yet again, the appeals against decisions are mounting by—I almost said by large numbers, but, certainly, by considerable numbers with respect to the applications that are made. Yet again, these planning enforcements are being dismissed with costs against the authority, and I would ask that a closer examination be made of the way in which these enforcement notices are made—they seem to take sometimes up to four years to come to the inspector, and the inspector then dismisses them. There’s a long period there, which clearly shows that there is some problem. This was raised by myself and other Members some five years ago, and though the improvement has been considerable, there are, again, a rising number of decisions against the authority.
Of course, these are important issues for the national parks, and, indeed, it’s the responsibility of the Planning Inspectorate to ensure that it undertakes it in terms of process and decision making. But, of course, these are important decisions that have to be made, which reflect the importance of our natural environment.
Minister, in my region we’ve had a number of issues with cars parking dangerously, partially on the pavement and partially on the road. In one area, near a university campus in Pentwyn, there are persistently cars parked on the pavement, and residents and pedestrians are being forced to walk in the road in the face of oncoming traffic, which is obviously a danger. Under Schedule 7 to the Traffic Management Act 2004, there is a list of civil parking offences, but part parking on pavements is not one of them, so local police community support officers are not able to take enforcement action. I wonder if I could have a statement from the Minister for transport, addressing whether or not she would wish to add part parking on pavements to those civil offences, so that it can be prevented where it is obviously causing a danger.
This is a matter for enforcement in terms of the powers available, and indeed for the local highway authority in this respect in terms of your region. This would be a matter for that authority, and the Minister for transport would obviously reflect on any issues arising.
I’d like to raise two matters. Firstly, could I call for a statement on the need for an inquiry into the implementation and management of the north-south Wales journey improvement project, being delivered by Network Rail on behalf of the Welsh Government? Sir Peter Hendy’s report on the re-planning of Network Rail’s investment programme last week said that the overall enhancement programme had increased in cost because of the cost and timescales on a small number of significant enhancement projects increasing beyond expectation. We also saw a letter from Network Rail last week regarding the north-south Wales journey improvement project, which was supposed to reduce journey times, facilitate the ability to run more trains, and deliver significant safety improvements between Wrexham and Chester, being postponed, because preparatory testing, ahead of the commissioning, discovered that over 13 km of cabling needed to be replaced. I’m advised that, in fact, these matters should have been foreseen within Network Rail, and by their commissioner, at the start of the project, and this runs alongside many other matters, including months spent designing a bridge that they discovered they didn’t actually need, and issuing road closure notices that, in fact, applied to roads that were never closed.
Secondly, could I ask for a statement on how the Welsh Government responds to a local authority apparently acting in breach of its school organisation code, not just in respect of one school’s proposed closure, but the proposed school closures across a whole county? The code says that local authorities should place the interests of learners above all others, but campaigners in Flintshire are saying that the consultation documents on Ysgol Llanfynydd C.P. School and Ysgol Maes Edwin in Flint Mountain are based on old and inaccurate data; that the proposed closure of Ysgol Gymraeg Mornant Welsh-medium school would have a significant impact on the numbers of Welsh speakers in the area; and that the document on the proposed closure of John Summers High School avoids the impact that the proposals will have on the educational attainment of children from a ward that’s among the most deprived in Wales, yet achieves highly—98.3 per cent at level 2 at GCSE. It’s avoiding issues of equality, particularly relating to the Traveller community, and misrepresenting the numbers of children with special educational needs, where, in fact, over one third of the pupils fall into those categories. This isn’t just one school; it seems the local authority might need some wise guidance on how it should be complying with this code.
Well, thank you, Mark Isherwood. I can’t comment on that second point, in terms of the school organisation code and the guidance, because, of course, this may come before Welsh Ministers. But, you know, you’ve made your point this afternoon.
I think, on your first point, are you politely trying to say that you’re disappointed with your Government in Westminster, in terms of their failures? Because, quite clearly, there are failures in terms of the opportunities to progress with Network Rail, of course. Disappointed, I’m sure you are, that there was no mention of the electrification for north Wales, let alone electrification from Cardiff to Swansea. So, I think this must be polite disappointment in your Government, and its failure to influence the progression of the importance of the north-south Wales project.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to a statement by the First Minister on the metro, and I call on the First Minister, Carwyn Jones.
Thank you, Llywydd. Before the summer recess, Members were provided with an update on the significant progress that had been made on the metro. Since then, the work has continued at a rapid pace, and, yesterday, I visited Pontypridd to formally launch a campaign to raise public awareness of the metro project.
At its core, the metro is about faster and more frequent services on an extendable network, to link communities that are currently poorly served by regional public transport. It will have a positive social, economic and environmental effect. Some of the programmes that we think will deliver this vision are illustrated in the metro brochure, and on the metro pages of our website.
Llywydd, I want to see a turn-up-and-go experience across the region, with tickets that allow people to travel easily between bus and train. The network will also be completely integrated to link with active travel—walking and cycling—to provide a transport system that is befitting of a capital city region.
Better connectivity will enhance this potential to transform the prospects of everyone across the capital region—the whole of south-east Wales. The project will connect more people to more places, and will enable development and regeneration across the region. It will transform the country’s economic and social prospects, and provide a blueprint for integrated transport across the whole of Wales.
Llywydd, in order to deliver the scheme, we are taking an outcome-and-output-based approach, whereby we set out to the industry what we want to see, in terms of better access to jobs and services, in terms of long-term transformational economic effects, more frequent and faster services, better quality, and environmental improvements. The industry will help us develop the best way to achieve those results, and we believe that this approach will give us innovative solutions that may be better value, and deliver improved outcomes, than the original contractual model for the Valleys lines electrification proposals.
We have established the Welsh Government Transport Company, which is a not-for-dividend, wholly owned subsidiary company of the Welsh Government, to develop this work. That company was formally incorporated in April, and will provide the expert advice that we will need to take this work forward. Our immediate focus is on preparing for the procurement of the Wales and borders franchise and metro, possibly as a combined procurement. The Welsh Government Transport Company, and the transport strategic advisory board, will be providing expert advice regarding this process. Of course, public consultation will be fundamental to shaping our decision, in terms of the decision that needs to be made in this area, and we will get this under way in the new year.
Alongside this preparation for the future, delivery of metro phase 1 continues. On 11 June, I officially opened the new Ebbw Vale town station. We are also funding enhancements to the Ebbw Vale line that will allow for additional services to be introduced in the future, as well as improvements to bus corridors and train station facilities. It is absolutely critical that our public transport infrastructure is accessible to everybody, and we have a long way to go, of course, before this is realised.
Llywydd, the estimated total cost of phase 2 is £500 million to £600 million of capital investment. We are bidding for £150 million from the European regional development fund, and good progress is being made on identifying sources of funding for the balance of capital funds to deliver phase 2. And the UK Government, of course, must also now deliver on the city deal. The metro will not arrive overnight—there is a great deal of work ahead of us all. But, with a shared vision of what can be achieved, I firmly believe we can realise our aspirations.
May I thank the First Minister for his statement this afternoon, which was greatly welcome? The Welsh Conservatives have always supported this project from its inception, and we believe that there will be a substantial increase in speed and frequency of public transport right across south Wales, using a combination, hopefully, of heavy rail, light rail and bus rapid transit, although the First Minister’s statement gives no particular indication of his preference for each of those this afternoon. The infrastructure improvements are equally necessary, together, hopefully, with integrated ticketing. Could I also stress that one of the great improvements of this will be to add, yet again, to social cohesion throughout the area? Although, I would ask the First Minister to bear in mind that many rural parts, both east and west of the capital city, also require an adequate connection within the metro system. In that respect, the bus operation is absolutely vital in rural areas and on cross-valley links.
We request, in time, proper distinction on what will happen in terms of the modal form, whether it will be heavy rail or light rail—no doubt that will come in time. We’d also request from the First Minister some idea of the timescale. He will know that some of the suggestions in the press, I hope, are widely inaccurate. They’re talking in terms of 30 and 40 years. I’m sure that, in that time, not only will the system have been up and running, but it will also have been substantially revised.
He remarks upon Ebbw Vale and, again, that’s a great improvement, but I think that I would have to echo what I and other Members from Newport have said over the last 16 years—nearly 16 years—that the connection for Newport is still sadly missed and needs to be implemented.
In terms of the city deal, I’m sure that the First Minister will acknowledge that there was an agreement in principle by the Chancellor in the statement last week, and hopefully that can now be brought together by inter-governmental talks.
We greatly welcome further statements on this matter and acknowledge the necessity for further public consultation on what is a vitally important project for all the people of south Wales.
Can I thank the Member for his comments? Integrated ticketing will be vital, of course. We have started development of an initial smartcard project that will provide the foundation for a more ambitious programme in phase 2. In terms of the mix of transit systems, that is something that we continue to look at. It’s fair to say that I cannot envisage a situation where there will be an extension of the heavy rail network. Any extensions in the future will be either light rail or, indeed, bus rapid transit, according to circumstances. But, we continue to examine the mix in terms of what is the most effective and efficient means of delivery.
I hear what he says, of course, about the link into Newport. That is something that will need to be examined over the course of the next few years as the metro moves forward. I can say to him that, in terms of 30 or 40 years, ‘no’ is the answer; not that long. It would be quite some commitment by any politician to commit to that time period. What we are looking at, if things go as we want them to do, and if the procurement is complete, is for the contract award to take place in terms of construction and rolling stock in April 2017. So, metro phase 1 is ongoing. Phase 2, of course, then will begin beyond that. That is the timescale that we are looking at.
First Minister, first of all, in terms of the Ebbw Vale-Newport passenger rail link, as William Graham stated, it is long-awaited locally, as I know you’re very much aware of. I just wonder if there’s anything you can say about process and timescale that would give comfort to those who are very frustrated at the time it’s taking to get a clear commitment from Welsh Government to the necessary work, particularly, I think, in light of the recent opening of the Friars Walk development in Newport, which I think has given new impetus to the attractions of Newport as a place to work, and indeed to visit for leisure and social opportunities. Similarly, of course, there are many developments in Ebbw Vale set to take place, which make the linking of the two, I think, ever more important.
Also, First Minister, in terms of a fully integrated system, I wonder if there’s anything you could say about bus deregulation because I think a lot of people are very concerned that the ability of the Welsh Government to effectively plan and implement a fully integrated system does run into considerable difficulties around bus deregulation, and I wonder how Welsh Government will ensure those difficulties are overcome. Is there anything, First Minister, you could say about taxis, because a number of people have raised with me the way that, in some European cities, taxi services are very much part of the fully integrated transport system? They believe we perhaps should be giving a little bit more attention to taxis as part of this work. Finally, in terms of cycling, I know that a lot of people feel we need better provision for cycle storage on trains if we are to make sure that cycling is as much a part of the new system as it should be. We will also need to ensure effective implementation of the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 for those purposeful routes to ensure that transport does link with people’s access and opportunities.
I thank the Member. As ever, he raises issues of importance in terms of our consideration as to how to take forward the procurement, particularly of rolling stock. He mentioned storage for cycling. It’s important, of course, that the Active Travel Act is at the forefront of our thinking, and, as I mentioned in the statement initially, walking and cycling are very much part of the transport solution for the whole of the south-east of Wales.
In terms of buses, there need to be further powers in terms of regulation of buses in order to create a truly integrated system. Those powers have been promised. There’s no reason to suspect they won’t be delivered by the UK Government on this occasion. It’s the same with taxis, of course. Taxi regulation is included in terms of the Wales Bill itself.
On the issue of a direct service to Newport, there are technical issues, I understand, in terms of signalling on the triangular junction just to the west of Newport, but of course there will also be a need to designate a service to run on that stretch of track as well. That’s a matter, of course, that can be considered as part of the 2017 franchise discussions, and very much a part of the metro delivery in the future. I understand—I was there with him at Friar’s Walk, of course, when the shopping centre was opened—that for many people in not just the eastern and western Valleys, but the Ebbw Valley as well, the natural connection is to Newport. Looking to promote that in years to come will be important. I understand that.
Thank you for the statement today. The First Minister started by saying that, some months ago, we had received some news about significant steps forward on the metro. I’m not sure whether I agree with that. I think what we heard from the Minister for transport a few months ago was that electrification was a large part of the metro. I wouldn’t disagree with that, but I don’t know if that was a significant step forward.
The way in which the First Minister describes the vision today is entirely right of course—more frequent, quicker services, a wider network, a system that is fully integrated. I most certainly wouldn’t disagree with that. I’m also pleased that we do have a map available now, although it is surprising that we are coming to the end of phase 1 of the metro and it’s only now that such a map has been made available. It is, I think, one thing to have a vision and a map, but it is entirely another thing to know what kind of metro we are dealing with here. There are fundamental decisions yet to be taken. What forms of transport will be used, and where and how will that integration work? I do hope that the Government, in commencing this consultation and inviting ideas, will admit that we are a very long way from having the full picture.
I have some four questions. To refer back to what I said just a few moments ago, it was clear from the recent statement by the Minister for transport that the vast majority of the money available for the second phase of the metro programme was, in reality, funding for the electrification of the south Wales Valleys. Does today’s statement change that in any way? Also, will the funding that will be allocated for electrification be dependent on how much heavy rail and how much light rail will be used in the final metro programme?
In terms of sections of the metro that will be bus transit rather than rail, how do you see those being integrated given that they are not part of the rail franchise, and what specific rules or regulatory powers would you wish to use in order to secure that integration and to see it working properly? For example, would you want to see a bus franchise as part of the metro?
Finally, it is crucial that the metro encourages economic development in the Valleys and in areas outwith Cardiff, rather than just making it easier for people to travel into Cardiff to work. So, what studies have you as a Government carried out or which studies have you commissioned to demonstrate that the proposals, embryonic though they may be, will lead to job creation outside Cardiff and real economic activity outside the capital city?
First of all, as regards the next steps, the next step will be to look at the procurement process and then to move forward with a business case—I would expect that to happen over the next few months—before, of course, moving forward with the project itself. As regards which methods and which type of rail will be used to transport people, be that light rail, heavy rail or buses, that is something that we will consult upon, particularly with the unions representing rail workers at present. We will wish to speak to them and glean their views about how this project should move forward.
As regards electrification, funding has been allocated by the United Kingdom Government for that. More money will be required from Welsh Government, and that’s part of the deal—the city deal—too. So, we’d have to find new funding, and that’s what we’ve already got as part of the city deal.
As regards buses, the only way to ensure that buses are part of the system is that we have a way of managing and controlling the buses, and that we have the powers to do that. That should come under the Wales Bill, the new Bill, and then it will be possible for us to regulate the services that connect with the trains themselves.
As regards the next steps and whether this would be something that just absorbed people into Cardiff, the answer to that is ‘no’. We know that 11 million people use Cardiff Central station every year, and, if I recall correctly, about 40,000 people come into Cardiff from the Valleys every day. It’s true to say that it’ll be faster for people to come into Cardiff, but it will also be easier for people to depart. This will mean that it will be easier to attract investment to certain areas. We’ve seen this in Ebbw Vale, for example, with the investment that’s happened there with the new railway station and the investment in the area in relation to the archives, the college, the school, the funicular railway—the only one in Wales, I think; no, the second such railway: there is one in Aberystwyth—in Ebbw Vale. So, we see that connecting communities can draw investment out of the south up into the Valleys too.
Wrth gwrs, mae hyn yn enghraifft o beth allasai ddigwydd mewn rhannau eraill o Gymru. Rŷm ni’n gwybod bod yna gymunedau trefol ym mae Abertawe a hefyd gogledd-ddwyrain Cymru a fydd yn cael budd o’r math o system sy’n integreiddio trafnidiaeth yn eu hardaloedd nhw. Mae beth sy’n digwydd yn y de-ddwyrain yn mynd i fod yn enghraifft ynglŷn â beth allasai ddigwydd, wrth gwrs, mewn rhannau eraill o Gymru.
First Minister, I welcome the vision and the consultation that you’re launching. There are communities in my own region, like Gabalfa, for example, that are very keen on having a station, and I’m sure they’ll be very pleased to have the chance to contribute. I also welcome the very prominent mention of active travel, because it was notably quiet on this front in the transport finance plan that was published in July. There are issues around the implementation of the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013, such as the lack of bike facilities at Welsh Government facilities like Cardiff Airport.
Looking at things like the outcomes model that you’ve talked through, I think it’s a very interesting approach. I note it’s the reason that you’ve given, really, for moving backwards on the original Valleys lines electrification proposals and what might be considered as a strange choice not to electrify those lines that are not being considered for light rail—the ones that will remain heavy rail will, apparently, remain diesel as well. I do welcome the fact that the Welsh Government appears, at last, to be looking at the challenges of moving people in that strategic way, rather than looking at pet projects and what they’ll achieve, but this is at odds with the fact that the impact of the metro hasn’t been included in the Welsh Government’s case, for example, for the M4. Surely, a notable outcome of the metro is going to be modal shift, and I’d be interested in knowing from the First Minister what assessment the Welsh Government has made about the modal shift that can be achieved by the metro proposal as it moves forwards in its phases.
Another issue that hasn’t been mentioned in the statement is freight. Of course, the metro isn’t responsible for freight movements, but, clearly, the freight transport shares infrastructure with passengers on both road and rail and does need to be taken into account. This is, particularly, a critical issue in terms of rail safety and the decision as to whether to run light rail or tram trains on the heavy-rail network. If you run light and heavy rail on the same network, you lose many of the speed improvements because you’ll have to use heavy-rail signalling, and you’ll lose a lot of the efficiency savings because you have to reinforce the rolling stock for much higher levels of crashworthiness, so it’s heavier and uses more fuel. I wonder what expertise the Welsh Government is bringing in to advise on those safety issues, which are clearly a critical element, given that, I believe, in no other part of the United Kingdom are light and heavy rail using the same infrastructure consistently. I’m wondering what discussions the metro group are having with the freight operators to discuss the segregation of freight pathways through pinch points like Cardiff Central, for example, and whether that will mean that those lines that are proposed for light rail or tram trains will have to be brought onto the street in the city of Cardiff.
Another issues is, of course, ticketing, Now, we have been promised integrated smart cards in the past and, in fact, one of your officials, in my first year as an Assembly Member, handed one to the Enterprise and Business Committee members and said, ‘This is what it will be looking like’. Four years down the line, it has now taken so long to deliver that smart card in reality that it’s becoming, perhaps, a passé technology, and perhaps we ought to be thinking about people using their contactless credit cards and their mobile phones in the way they do on the London Underground. I’d welcome your thoughts on that and also on what infrastructure is going to be required in stations to enable those cards to work. The Oyster card requires staffing at all of the stations it’s used on, to my knowledge.
Finally, on funding, I have previously asked on a number of occasions whether the £580 million that you have offered to the UK Government as your contribution to the city deal, which is to deliver the metro, includes the £125 million that the UK Treasury gave you to electrify the Valleys lines. It is an interesting idea to ask the UK Treasury to match fund their own money. I’d be quite interested to know whether or not that is what is happening here.
No, it’s new money, and it’s money that we would expect to be match funded. It’s not quite as easy as saying the UK Government has given us money to electrify the railway; with railways, it’s never quite as straightforward as that. It’s to do with the way in which charges are imposed, rather than a cheque being presented.
In terms of the network itself, let’s take smart ticketing. That will only come in to the fullest possible extent when we have a seamless network. That comes with bus regulation, ultimately. It doesn’t need wholly staffed stations. If you look at the London Underground, for example, there are unstaffed stations there, particularly in the evening, where the Oyster card can be used. So, you don’t need to have staff at every single station, but you do need to have a means of revenue protection. In other words, there needs to be a barrier there for people to use their ticket to go through. It’s right to say that there are great examples, both in London and in Manchester, of what can be done with seamless ticketing. In Manchester, for example, the trains run on the heavy-rail network and also come into the city centre.
In terms of gauge sharing with freight, we have been speaking to freight operators. Clearly, the main line still has substantial freight on it, as does the Vale of Glamorgan line, as does the Cwmbargoed line as well, and there are other lines that still carry some coal traffic. They will need to be considered in terms of how that fits with our vision.
In terms of electrification, we’re looking, of course, to electrify the majority of the network at least. That much is true. The rest of it is something we’ll continue to look at. There are issues in terms of what choices you make with light and heavy rail. We want to have discussions, of course, with the unions that represent workers who are already on our existing system. It’s right to say that light rail is far easier to extend than heavy rail, and if we’re looking, for example, at light-rail links into parts of Wales, like Creigiau, as one example, going into Llantrisant, then light rail obviously is a way of doing it, rather than heavy rail. For other communities, particularly cross-valley, then bus rapid transport is probably, in most cases, the easiest solution.
But, from our point of view, we are excited about the project itself. Will it cause modal shift? Yes, I think it will create modal shift. If people have more comfortable trains that are more frequent, more people will use them. But, that will be true, I think, on the existing network to begin with. I’m not convinced it will mean that there are fewer cars through the Brynglas tunnels, because many of those people are coming from further afield, and I think that problem will remain. The immediate priority will be, of course, to try and create modal shift so there’s less pressure on the A470 particularly—although it’s not the only road up to the different Valleys—and that then, of course, will show that we are creating the modal shift that we need.
We have to bear in mind, of course, that, as with the network that we have, it exists in a part of Wales where the population is expanding. So, even as we see more people using the trains, of course, it may well be that we see more people as well on the roads. So, there will be challenges there to make sure that people see the trains as a natural first choice when it comes to not just travelling into Cardiff but travelling around the network as well, and, of course, that they use bus rapid transit services, rather than feeling that they have to rely on the car. I think it’s probably true to say, since the Beeching cuts of 1964, that many, many communities have felt that the car is the primary source of transport for them. That’s something that we plan to try to look to change as the metro first of all is modernised and then, of course, expanded.
First Minister, I agree with you that positive economic, social and environmental effects can follow from the development of the metro network. Can I ask you for an update on efforts being made to connect the town of Monmouth to the proposed metro network? There have been a number of different maps published over the years. Early ones, from what I remember, had Monmouth—I’ll let you turn to the Monmouth page in your briefing—on the map. It disappeared, worryingly, on more recent maps, probably down to cost. I believe it is now back on the map. It certainly is on the map on the Welsh Government website, which I’ve got in front of me—intriguingly, linked to the Celtic Manor and Malpas. Is the town definitely back on that map? If so, what mode and what frequency of transport is being considered? I presume it’s going to be bus. What frequency of services are being considered? And, finally, in a wider context, is the renewal of the new Wales and borders franchise being dovetailed with the metro development? Because it’s clearly important that the electrification process goes along with the purchase of new rolling stock.
Yes, as the Member will have heard me say in the statement, we are considering, for example, whether a combined procurement process for the two would be the most efficient way forward. But, yes, clearly, the two are connected. When I stood with my good friend and colleague, Mick Antoniw, on the platform—the longest platform in Britain, actually—in Pontypridd yesterday, I did look at the map and I did notice Monmouth there. And I noticed that because I knew that the Member would ask me about this. And, yes, he’s right to say that Monmouth is there. What mode of transport? Well, not heavy rail. I think that’s probably fair to say. It would either then be light rail or bus rapid transit. An assessment would have to be made of what is the most effective and efficient way for the people of Monmouth in terms of being connected with the network.
Like others this afternoon, First Minister, I’d like to welcome both your statement this afternoon and also the statement made in Pontypridd yesterday. I think, taken together, we’re seeing a significant investment in the connectivity of communities across south Wales and, certainly, I share very much the objective that you’ve set out for yourself in creating a single, coherent economic unit. I think that’s absolutely crucial, particularly for those communities that are, perhaps, on the periphery of the Cardiff city region. I’m concerned to ensure that with the investment that takes place—which you’ve referred to already this afternoon, and which is very much welcome in both Ebbw Vale itself, but also on dualling of the line to the south of Ebbw Vale to ensure that we have got more frequent services—that we maintain a focus on this as an inter-urban service as well as being a commuter service for communities closer to Cardiff. That places a very great emphasis then on journey times and also having sufficient services to serve the wider periphery areas. A station, for example, in Abertillery would be a key objective for ourselves in the north of the area. But, in terms of delivering this, I’d be grateful if you could outline to us in some detail—perhaps not this afternoon but at another time—how the electrification process will dovetail into this? I’m concerned to ensure that the Ebbw valley line is a part of that electrification project and that we are able then to have signalling on the main line to ensure that we do have the frequency of services that will be required in order to deliver the inter-urban service that we all wish to see.
I thank the Member for his question. The principles that govern the metro are comfort, speed, affordability and frequency. These things are important to people and these are all objectives that the metro will seek to deliver. We always look to see what is the most effective way of speeding up journeys on the different lines and that’s part of an ongoing process in terms of how we take that forward. But I return to the point that I made earlier on, and he will have seen it, of course, in Ebbw Vale—connectivity is not a one-way process; it can lead to investment being taken out of Cardiff as well. Where communities are seen as more easily connected with modern forms of transport, not with elderly trains, then it’s easier to attract investment to those communities. So, I very much see this as a process of properly connecting the entire area, and not a process of shifting people from around the north-west and eastern parts of the metro network into the capital city.
As far as I’m concerned, the issue of modal shift is an absolute essential for my constituents, too many of whom are having their lives foreshortened by the pollution from commuters coming into Cardiff by car, and so we absolutely have to have that modal shift. Whilst I welcome the 40,000 commuters coming into Cardiff Central by rail, it is as nothing to the 100,000 who are coming into Cardiff and Newport by car. So, I very much welcome the creation of the Welsh Government Transport Company to pursue both rail and the metro with vim and vigour, particularly as Network Rail is not spending the capital investment in Wales that they are proportionately spending in England, and I hope therefore it can be seen as a forerunner to a new Wales Network Rail.
But I wanted to specifically ask about the procurement process. We obviously are limited in our influence over the progress that’s going to be made on electrification, as it’s under the control of others, but I want to know what progress is being made on setting up a body to represent the 10 local authorities of south-east Wales, so that they can start mapping and compulsory purchasing the land that’s going to be required for delivering phase 2, so we don’t have any ransom companies or landowners who are going to hold up the project when we do have the electrification to connect all these areas up.
We’re not looking for local authorities to do that, nor indeed to make that kind of financial contribution; this is something that will be delivered through funding from ourselves. We look for match funding, of course, from the UK Government, but it’s not a burden that we would seek to impose on local authorities.
It’s absolutely crucial, of course, that the network is an integrated network run by one body, in the same way as Transport for London is in London, to make sure that delivery is seamless. So, in terms of procurement, we’re looking to launch the procurement process in the very near future, and there’ll be the opportunity for the public, of course, to examine what we propose. We also want to work closely, as I mentioned, with the rail unions because they will be concerned about the terms and conditions of their members, and we want to work with them to reassure them that this is a great opportunity for the future, and not something that they should be afraid of. We look forward to those meetings being organised in the very near future as well.
There are opportunities also, of course, for communities in the east of Cardiff, and, despite the name of her constituency, I know it goes out towards the east as well, where, historically, there’s been poor connectivity to the rail network—much of the network comes into the west and north of Cardiff particularly—and there are opportunities there for ensuring that there’s modal shift within the eastern part of Cardiff, so that people don’t feel they have to get in the car, go down Eastern Avenue and that is the only viable route for them to get to work. The latter phases of the metro will look at how we can properly connect the eastern part of the city with the rest of the network as well.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Finally, Mick Antoniw.
First Minister, can I first of all welcome your visit to Pontypridd yesterday, bringing with you the sunshine that you did on that wonderful day? I see it certainly recognises the position of Pontypridd as, really, a hub within the metro, but also the importance of the potential economic, social and cultural transformation that it actually offers. Can I also welcome the business Minister’s previous commitments in respect of financing of training and apprenticeships in the railway area—directly related to the metro, because there are many opportunities and jobs that are available there? Can I just raise the issue that I’ve raised on many occasions, which is the importance of the actual metro to the Taff Ely area and development within that area, and can I say how absolutely pleased I was that BBC and ITV got the right plan, although Wales Online seemed to have the wrong plan, because the BBC plan had, obviously, Llantrisant and that development in that area on the plan? I was initially concerned when I started reading first of all the Wales Online report, which seemed to indicate it wasn’t there. But it is absolutely vital, because, as we look to the development of housing and other opportunities in those areas, it is absolutely vital, I think, as Ministers have previously said, that we have some form of connectivity, some form of transport, and the only real opportunity that has offered that, and also in terms of the local economies, is actually the metro. I wonder, really, if you could perhaps just give an image as to how quickly you see the actual development of the actual plans and the models over the course of the next perhaps five to 10 years. How many phases do we expect to see and how soon will we actually start seeing a comprehensive, perhaps 10-year, programme as opposed to the current approach, which is in various phases?
Well, phase 1 is actually in delivery at the moment, because we’re already delivering a £77 million investment in phase 1. Ebbw Vale town station is one example I’ve given there, but also, of course, the capacity enhancements on the Llynfi valley line, the new station at Pye Corner, there are rail and bus station improvements across the region—Pontypridd is one, of course; we saw that yesterday—bus priority schemes as well, focused on the A470, and active travel and park-and-ride schemes.
In terms of phase 2, we are undertaking further work to design, develop and evaluate a programme of delivery that provides the most appropriate model solutions. A supplier event was held on 29 June to engage with the market as a precursor to the procurement process, and we do envisage that that procurement process will be split into three phases: specification, procurement and mobilisation. So, that process has already begun and we know that the metro presents an opportunity for both developers and local authorities to adopt a transit-orientated development approach, directing development and regeneration to metro transport corridors. In other words, where there are proposals for new housing estates, then, obviously, consideration will need to be given to how those estates are connected into the metro system, rather than saying, ‘As long as there’s a road there, it’s fine’.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, First Minister.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to a statement by the Minister for Finance and Government Business, Jane Hutt, procurement policy—driving improvement and engaging business. I call on the Minister, Jane Hutt.
Diolch, Lywydd. In June, I published a refreshed Wales procurement policy statement, strengthened from evidence gathered since its launch in December 2012, and developed to complement the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. Today, I am pleased to update you on the use of the new powers to develop regulations and give an outline of planned developments to improve business engagement in public procurement.
I’m encouraged that the Wales procurement policy statement has been increasingly adopted by the public sector. Our policies are opening doors for suppliers in Wales to win a significant proportion of Welsh contracts. Visibility of public sector contracts continues to grow, providing our suppliers with great access to these opportunities. Consequently, Wales-based suppliers win almost 70 per cent of all contracts awarded through Sell2Wales.
Our community benefits policy continues to drive further value from procurement for the Welsh economy and our communities. The first 84 projects completed under this policy, worth £783 million, have provided almost 1,200 job opportunities and over 25,000 weeks of training, with 84 per cent of the expenditure being reinvested in Wales. Seventy four per cent of the expenditure re-invested in Wales through community benefits policy is won by local suppliers through the supply chain. Community benefits policy provides the toolkit for the Welsh public sector to enable UK steel suppliers to access supply chain contracts. We’re actively engaged in sharing our policy knowledge to help shape the UK Government approach to improving access to public contracts for the steel sector.
Social partners have also supported procurement policy to help deliver better outcomes for the people of Wales. We have worked in partnership with Unite, UCATT and GMB to implement policy that prevents use of unscrupulous employment practices in delivery of public sector contracts.
In October, the Wales TUC launched their Better Jobs, Closer to Home campaign, which is totally aligned to our community benefits objectives. This new campaign requires a pan-Government approach to take a strategic view of the planned procurement contract pipeline, now transparently available through the establishment of the national procurement service. This gives potential for providing meaningful employment and training opportunities through public contracts.
We’re working in collaboration with the council for economic renewal and social partners to strengthen and utilise community benefits policy in support of the Wales TUC campaign. A working group meets for the first time tomorrow to progress this initiative.
I meet regularly with business and have often heard that aggregation of public sector contracts can preclude the involvement of small, local suppliers. I’ve listened to this important feedback and implemented changes to address these concerns and to help drive up application of policy by the Welsh public sector. I’ve commissioned work to establish a supplier feedback service to provide businesses with access to a responsive service to address policy queries and feedback. I will launch this new service in March.
Last month, I launched the lessons learned review of the joint bidding demonstration projects, which I announced in autumn 2013. The joint bidding guidance provides buyers and suppliers alike with practical support for advertising and tendering for consortia-friendly contracts. This innovative approach has been applied to twelve high-value demonstration projects. A number of new consortia comprising SMEs from Wales have secured significant contract awards. These awards include Allied Construction Consortium Ltd, which has won a £1 million contract through Caerphilly council’s housing maintenance framework, and two Welsh suppliers have won a place on an all-Wales fuel framework awarded by the national procurement service. I congratulate the suppliers and buyers on these successes, and I am grateful to the Wales Co-operative Centre and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action for supporting the delivery of these demonstration projects. I continue to focus on driving widespread adoption of the joint bidding approach across Wales.
It is important that suppliers to the Welsh public sector comply with our high standards of ethical behaviour. Fair payment of subcontractors is essential given the high volume of small and micro businesses who engage in public procurement through the supply chain. In October, I visited Burlais school in Swansea to receive feedback on the use of project bank accounts for payment of subcontractors. This project is a £7 million contract, and the project bank account approach has ensured prompt and fair payment of 75 per cent of the total value to small subcontractors. This approach has helped Welsh businesses avoid expensive borrowing costs, promoting greater supply collaboration and trust. My officials are developing a voluntary code of practice for suppliers, which will put Wales at the forefront of eradicating modern slavery in the supply chain. This code of practice will be launched next year.
The Welsh Government has continued to lead the UK in procurement policy development and implementation, providing strong leadership with innovative policy supporting public service reform and helping secure efficiencies. The national procurement service, launched in September 2013 and hosted by the Welsh Government, is now well established and is delivering savings to a wide range of organisations across Wales. Recognised by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply as the best start-up organisation in the UK in 2015, the national procurement service has reported cashable savings this financial year of £2.35 million, exceeding its target. The service has applied community benefits and joint bidding policies across its contracts, enabling many smaller, local suppliers to secure business. For example, recently the national procurement service awarded a framework for electrical, heating and plumbing services, and out of the 14 suppliers appointed to the framework, 13 have a presence in Wales. Six of these suppliers are small Welsh businesses and one of these is formed of a joint consortium bid of three south Wales SMEs.
I’ll now turn to our powers in the area of procurement as a result of the general designation I secured in August. I’ve made it clear that we will take a measured approach to ensure that procurement regulation is developed that supports efficient public services and reduces barriers for suppliers. Work is progressing to establish how the designation will accelerate adoption of the Wales procurement policy statement covering community benefits, open accessibility of contracts, application of ethical supply chain policy and reserving of contracts. I’ll be announcing our plans for consulting on this approach early in the new year.
The involvement of business in taking this forward is fundamental. The economic renewal council regularly has procurement matters on its agenda, and the chair of the procurement board has invited the chair of Commerce Cymru to propose how business can be more actively involved in the development and monitoring of procurement policy. I’m keen to ensure that the highest number of tier 1 contracts is won by Wales-based suppliers, both helping to develop their businesses further, building scale, turnover and profitability, and meaning more profits are kept within Wales. We’ll continue to work closely with Business Wales to adopt an even greater strategic planning approach to help suppliers develop and to enable them to compete effectively for Wales-based contracts, both now and in the future.
Can I thank the Minister for her statement today? We are getting used to procurement statements, and let’s hope we are making progress in this area. Can I also join with you in welcoming the work of the national procurement service? It’s clear that there is progress being made.
I’m pleased to see that the Welsh Government has reached agreement with the UK Government on securing additional powers to regulate public procurement in Wales. This should hopefully drive through change across the Welsh public sector—change that is so desperately needed. I’m also pleased to see, Minister that you’re engaging with stakeholders on the issue. It is absolutely crucial that this engagement takes place. However, Minister, the Federation of Small Businesses tells us that local authorities seeking to access the local economic benefits of procuring with SMEs should focus on capacity-building engagement events with those SMEs. Can you tell us what guidance your Government is offering local authorities to ensure that this engagement takes place at a local level across Wales?
You will be aware that the cross-party group on construction’s report into the impact of procurement policy in Wales reiterates that the income and expenditure from capital projects should, as far as possible, stay in the local community. Their report provides a strong case for more robust independent measurement and monitoring to take place, particularly in delivering community benefits. Is this something that the Welsh Government is considering in the future?
Turning to SQuID, the supplier qualification information database, we are broadly supportive of the SQuID framework and we further note that it can be inconsistent, both between and within local authorities—one of the main issues we have with it. Smaller companies have reported that SQuID can be a burdensome process and they’ve raised questions about whether it’s appropriate for all companies to use. I’ve raised previous concerns with you about the difficulty that some smaller local companies have had procuring Welsh contracts, and I know from recent discussions with you that progress has been made in meeting the concerns of some of those companies. I know you’ve thankfully helped to arrange some meetings with officials. Some progress has been made. However, can you tell us what work the Welsh Government is doing to ensure that SQuID is helping businesses cut down on the burden of preparing pre-qualification documentation?
If I can just ask you about food procurement and, indeed, supporting the farming industry in Wales, I’d like to see the Welsh Government do all it can to support our farmers in public contracts. How are you ensuring that there are robust supplier selection procedures in place for food contracts across Wales? Secondly, how are you ensuring that Welsh farmers are being supported through the Welsh Government’s procurement agenda?
In closing, Minister, I’m fortunate enough to represent a constituency that prides itself on its food and drink reputation, and rightly so. So much more can be done to ensure local produce is better promoted when it comes to public sector contracts. How are you ensuring that local produce really does factor highly in the Welsh Government’s procurement procedures?
Finally, Presiding Officer, in Scotland, the Minister there has presented the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act, which was given Royal Assent in June 2014. That Act established a national legislative framework for public procurement through placing a larger number of general and specific duties on public sector bodies involved in procurement. I’m not suggesting legislation for legislation’s sake here, Minister, but have you looked at what’s happening in Scotland and ways that we can better provide a more successful public procurement policy here in Wales?
Thank you very much, Nick Ramsay. I think your last and first points are very relevant to the new powers that I’ve secured with the general designation. We now have powers to regulate on public procurement matters through secondary legislation and that will enable us to give our policies the required impact.
I think, in terms of developing Welsh procurement regulation, I’m committed to taking full advantage of the provisions in the public contracts regulations to promote areas that are important to us in Wales, strengthening the adoption of the Wales procurement policy statement. You do draw attention to the importance of enabling the capacity building of our SMEs and I think the joint bidding guide and the pilot studies indicate ways in which we have brought together and given opportunities, as well as capacity building, for the consortia that I’ve described. But I think, also, the supplier feedback service, again, is directly responding to the representations and the engagements we have with business to ensure that public sector procurement does engage constructively with our supply base—critical for procurement to deliver for us in Wales. It’s giving a voice to our suppliers—a very important development. I will update this work on the feedback service in due course.
You talk about the importance of SQuID. It’s now widespread in use across Wales, so it has to be monitored, clearly, to ensure that it’s been used consistently. I think that’s the point you make—it’s the consistency that we require by all public sector organisations. But we also have that improved reporting capability of Sell2Wales that does mean that we’ve got greater visibility of the use of SQuID, and we do challenge those organisations that aren’t using the approach. We are very closely monitoring the impact of SQuID, for example, in the construction sector. We see evidence that it’s lowering barriers for suppliers. Welsh contractors then are winning 80 per cent of all major construction awards through Sell2Wales, and this is up from around 30 per cent prior to the introduction of the SQuID approach. The Federation of Master Builders have commended our approach in this area.
Clearly, I’m working very closely with the Deputy Minister for Farming and Food in relation to food procurement and the national procurement service, and, indeed, ensuring that we take this forward as a real opportunity for Welsh businesses like the ones in your constituency.
Can I welcome your statement today, Minister, and your ongoing commitment to work in this area? In particular, I welcome the work that you’ve done with the trade union movement, which has led to excellent policies preventing the use of unscrupulous employment practices, and long may that work continue. Your statement makes reference to the excellent Wales TUC campaign, Better Jobs, Closer to Home, which was something I was very pleased to welcome when they launched it in October. I’m really pleased that the working group that you’ve established will be meeting for the first time tomorrow. I would just like to ask, Minister, if you could share with us today any initial assessments you’ve made of how you can use your new powers to ensure that the TUC campaign is successful and how we can ensure that that campaign works to deliver benefits to people in the Valleys by ensuring that we do have those better jobs closer to home.
Thank you very much to the Member for Torfaen for those questions. Ethical procurement is at the heart of the Welsh Government’s procurement practices, but we are developing those policies through our partnership with particularly those trade unions that have engaged with us. We have shown how procurement can be used as a lever to influence businesses to behave responsibly, and that’s really evidenced through our stance on blacklisting.
In terms of the Wales TUC campaign and the forthcoming work, it’s aimed at building community, civic and political support for those interventions that can actually deliver decent work opportunities closer to home in Valleys communities. We do have proposed pilots in Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr Tydfil, Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen and Caerphilly. If this approach is successful, it certainly can be replicated across Wales. I think we need to say that procurement does play a role in this work, but it can go beyond procurement. We do need to have—and we’re engaging with officials and Ministers across Government—a pan-Government response if we’re to be successful.
Thank you for the statement. I welcome the comments on payments for subcontractors. You visited Burlais school in Swansea. This is a consistent complaint and a reason why smaller contractors often don’t apply for work on major contracts. I would like to see this understanding or agreement as part of all contracts, rather than being a voluntary code. I don’t think that’s good enough. So, can you tell us why you are not making this part of every public contract, in order to safeguard the interests of smaller companies? That’s the first question.
If I could move on, some of the other comments raise further questions. The work that you refer to with the trade unions is to be welcomed. You mention preventing unscrupulous employment practices. Can you explain exactly what you mean by that sort of behaviour, and do you consider privatising care homes, for example, by local authorities, as bad practice? An explanation of that would be very valuable indeed.
Then, the definition of ‘Wales-based companies’ raises questions. In talking of the electrical, heating and plumbing services framework, you mention that 13 companies, out of 14, that have won a place on that framework have a presence in Wales. Now, ‘Wales-based companies’ is ambiguous enough, but it is a term that has been used, but ‘that have a presence in Wales’ doesn’t tell us very much at all about the nature of these companies. And further to that, the Value Wales definition of a Wales-based company depends only on the postcode of the invoices, and a postcode doesn’t tell you anything about the company’s headquarters or how much of their services are provided in Wales. I’m very familiar with this in the television industry, where companies from London establish a small office in Cardiff in order to apply for grants and for specific contracts. So, can we have an agreement and a definition of what constitutes a Wales-based company to ensure that that definition does bring full benefit to Wales.
While we’re discussing that, usually in talking of contracts awarded in Wales, we refer to a percentage of public contracts that have been awarded to Welsh companies, and that figure, the last time we had a statement from you, was somewhere in the region of 55 per cent—an increase of just 3 per cent during this Government’s term. So, can we have an update on that figure too, please, so that we can compare like with like. Thank you.
Diolch yn fawr, Alun Ffred Jones. Thank you for your very helpful questions. I think if we start by looking at the project bank accounts, I did, as you know, issue an advice note and guidance on project bank accounts back in 2014, and that has demonstrated the delivery, in terms of evidence, and that it is actually helping sub-contractors who are involved in the delivery of construction projects such as that school in Swansea, to make sure they’re paid on time. It’s vital to help cash flow for many of our small contractors, and improve supply chain collaboration. So, ring-fenced bank accounts. Now, clearly—. And, actually, the PBA has trust status, so that means that the moneys in the account can only be paid to the beneficiaries, the lead contractor and supply chain members.
It’s a vital development, but it was a pilot, of course, in terms of that scheme. We need to have that evidence base to inform our way forward, and we will produce a lessons learned report. But, of course, we now do have those powers to move from advice and guidance to designation in terms of regulation, so we will follow through the lessons learned in terms of that very encouraging pilot.
I also welcome your recognition that the ethical procurement approach that we’re taking is making an impact. It’s sending a very clear message to suppliers that we want to deal not only with professional businesses that comply with the law, but that treat their workforce with respect. And, you know, we can show that we’re actually using this as a lever to influence businesses. Of course, it’s also to help protect vulnerable suppliers and employees—the fact that I issued a procurement advice note to ensure fair employment practices operate on publicly funded projects. This also covers issues of false self-employment and the use of unfair umbrella payment schemes. But, again, working towards the new opportunities in regulation, particularly in relation to fair employment practices and community benefit, we can progress with this in terms of those opportunities.
You also draw attention to not only the opportunities for Welsh-based employers, for Welsh SMEs, but also those contractors that are based in Wales. I just want to clarify the example of the national procurement service print framework. Of the 60 suppliers that responded to the contract notice, 40 will be successful in being appointed to the framework. It’s a four-year framework. Of the 40, 29 are based in Wales, 25 of which are Welsh SMEs. I think you made an important point in terms of an update on procurement expenditure. Analysis of the 2012-13 data illustrates that business in Wales now win 55 per cent of the procurement expenditure analysed, up 3 per cent from the previous analysis.
Thank you for the statement, Minister, and the level of detail within it. I wanted to ask about the adoption of your approach across the public sector. I’m very pleased to hear that there is an increasing adoption of this, and that the public sector are, in your words, largely on board. But I understand that there are those who are slower on the uptake, and, perhaps, one or two who are also not driving forward with the agenda as you would wish. And I’m wondering what the penalty for those public bodies that aren’t adopting your policies will be. For example, are you perhaps minded to name and shame those who have not got the success rate that you would wish, in terms of finding the community benefits that are useful locally, or those who are less successful in encouraging local businesses to bid for contracts? Is there a significant difference between the best-performing public bodies and the worst-performing public bodies, and are there any obvious reasons, for example, of locational rurality, where that might be a reason?
I welcome the fact that the statement is not only about driving improvement, but also engaging business. However, I understand that all the members of your procurement advisory board are from public sector backgrounds. Now, clearly, engagement is a two-way process, so it would seem that that would be a useful place to engage with businesses, to give them an opportunity to feed into the advisory process. I’m wondering what consideration you’ve given to including representatives of the private sector to ensure that the views of potential suppliers are also taken into account. Particularly, it might be interesting to include those who are SMEs within that, because we very regularly as Members, I’m sure, get representations from smaller businesses that are worried about the tension between community benefits clauses, for example, and ensuring that SMEs are able to bid for contracts. And things like pre-qualification questionnaires, for example, are also an issue that they regularly raise.
I was very pleased to hear your statistics on the improvement in the number of Welsh bidders winning contracts. But I wondered, in terms of the level of detail beneath that, what statistics the Welsh Government collects on the size of companies bidding, and then being successful in bidding, and whether you have any analysis of what proportion of the workforce of said companies—of those local companies, particularly—are actually in Wales. As Alun Ffred mentioned, it is difficult to identify what is Welsh enough to be a Welsh supplier. But perhaps actually looking at whether or not this is an isolated branch office, or a truly embedded Welsh business, would be an interesting thing to do.
You said in your statement that the community benefits clause provides a toolkit for Welsh public sector organisations to enable UK steel suppliers to access supply chain contracts. I wonder whether you can give us more detail on how exactly when this became the case, and how many contracts have included appropriate clauses to benefit the Welsh steel industry in this last year. I am very glad that we’re sharing practice from Wales with Westminster, and that, in the future, we hope that the Welsh steel industry can be in a better position than it is now, but there is—as you are very well aware, Minister—an urgent crisis in our Welsh steel industry, and many of the things that we’re talking about will take time to implement.
I have asked previously what practical steps we can do right now to make a difference, today, to whether or not Welsh steel industries are successful. Have we identified the points of differentiation between Welsh and British steel, and the rest of the world? Have we made sure that those kinds of things are required in all new contracts? Have we done a survey of the current contracts available on Sell2Wales to make sure that they are as beneficial to Welsh businesses as possible? And have we got any mechanism for sending those contracts back if they do not meet our standards? The economy Minister has said that she discussed those things with you—I wonder if they have happened, and what progress is being made in that regard.
Thank you, also, Eluned Parrott, for your very helpful and constructive questions. I want to go straight to respond on that very important question about our engagement in terms of steel. The key principles of our Wales procurement policy statement are in place to help address those barriers that may prevent UK suppliers of steel from competing effectively for public sector contracts. We engaged in the meetings in London. We were fully at the table in terms of showing how we were delivering on this. We have policies and tools in our Wales procurement policy strategy that do ensure sustainability issues relating to supply chains and that environmental, social and economic factors are assessed, understood and managed in all key decisions before the procurement process begins; and of course, going back to the community benefits policy, that provide the approach to lever social, economic and environmental outcomes through public procurement. We are sharing our knowledge in this area to support the UK Government to develop their policy approach for steel procurement, and we are taking a leading role, and an important role, in terms of safeguarding and we are ensuring that those barriers are addressed that stand in the way in terms of UK suppliers of steel from competing for those contracts.
You make important points about adoption across the public sector. I’ve given examples in terms of the monitoring, and the use of SQuID. The role of the procurement board is very important. It is a cross-public sector board chaired by the chief executive of a local authority. Indeed, representations that are being made are from business and, in fact, Peter Black has raised this more than once. The procurement board now is engaging with business to see whether it would be appropriate for them to involve themselves in the operation of the board. We’re doing this via the chair of Commerce Cymru, and it’s going to enable us to move forward in terms of that representation. I think it is important—again going back to the delivery and the monitoring of our Wales procurement policy statement—that we did undertake fitness checks of all the local authorities, all the public sector. That was driven through the procurement board. All of those fitness checks were published with action plans, and we are, of course, monitoring the delivery and the implementation of those action plans. But we, of course, can move from guidance, as I’ve said, to regulation in terms of delivery.
I also want to say, just going back to procurement expenditure, that as 99 per cent of all businesses in Wales are SMEs, and some 95 per cent are micro-SMEs, we do have to focus on standardising and simplifying the procurement process to help those businesses compete and to take advantage of our public procurement policies and opportunities to enable them to grow.
Thank you, Minister, for the statement. I want to start by placing on record the comments from a business in my constituency that the Welsh Government, and I quote, ‘clearly articulates a strong commitment to using public procurement to support the Welsh economy.’
I did have a number of questions, but I will curtail some of these now because of time. Firstly, the same employer, actually, has suggested a number of ways in which we could look at the procurement assessment matrix to take into account factors such as the wellbeing of supplier staff, a reduced environmental impact and staff development to better support domestic businesses. Does the Minister think this would be possible, and if so, is it something that the Welsh Government could explore?
Secondly, the cross-party group on women in the economy, which I chair, has discussed how procurement policy could improve gender equality in the workplace, for example by workforce audits, tackling gender pay gaps et cetera. How does the Minister think we can best utilise procurement to promote gender equality?
I thank Christine Chapman very much for those questions. I very much welcome the response from your employer and I would like my officials to follow that up with a meeting because, clearly, there is more to offer. That’s the engagement that we need with the private sector, as well as, of course, with those who are contracting. I think that there are new opportunities with the new EU procurement directives, particularly in relation to looking at fair employment practices, and also to looking at ways in which we can use those new directives to enable us to consider those issues around not just the wellbeing of staff, but gender and pay gap analysis. I would be very happy to follow this through. We have not only the new EU directives, but also the designation Order. But, of course, we have the policy basis with which we can take this forward with our new powers.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair.
I’d also like to congratulate you, Minister, for the work you’ve been doing on using public procurement to increase the amount of money in circulation in Wales. I think it’s absolutely excellent. I just wanted to ask you about the national procurement service and the progress they’re making on food procurement. I was particularly struck by the setting up of the food assembly for Llangollen, which I’m sure the Member for Clwyd South will be aware of, where people can buy food from within a 26-mile radius of Llangollen, and 90p of every pound stays in the local economy. Using that example, I know that Gwynedd Council has been leading the way on ensuring that their school food is, where possible, procured from local businesses. I wondered how that excellent example of both increasing the wealth of the local economy and also improving the health of our children can be rolled out to other local authorities, and what role the national procurement service is going to play in terms of having those hubs where people can acquire the food that they need for something as complicated as school food.
Well, I thank Jenny Rathbone for drawing attention to the opportunities that the national procurement service can provide in terms of food procurement. NPS is taking this forward through applying community benefits. NPS contracts and frameworks awarded to date have created 107 jobs in areas in terms of the pipeline of those contracts, which eventually will mean local supporters and businesses benefitting. I think that will apply to the food framework as we develop it. I think this does provide an opportunity again to say that customer engagement is crucial, and I will certainly want to feed back the importance of the local base in terms, particularly, of the food procurement opportunities for the NPS framework.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 5 is a statement by the Minister for Public Services on the fire and rescue national framework from 2016 onwards. I call Leighton Andrews.
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd. The new fire and rescue national framework will come into force at the start of next month. It sets priorities for fire and rescue authorities for the next three to five years. It also indicates how the Welsh Government will support them to meet those priorities.
Our fire and rescue authorities have achieved much in recent years. Fires and fire-related casualties have both more than halved since responsibility was devolved in 2004. That has allowed firefighters further to develop their prevention role in addition to fighting fires. This change in emphasis to embrace prevention activities must be sustained and enhanced, as the framework makes clear. This has to happen despite the UK Government’s austerity measures and the significant pressure on public service funding that they bring. Alongside that, the ageing population and greater focus on care in community settings means a potentially increased risk of fires in the home.
Preventing fires will always be better than responding to them. Prevention maximises safety and wellbeing while minimising cost. Prevention, and stronger partnership arrangements to support it, will become even more crucial in the medium term. There is no doubt that fire and rescue authorities have an excellent record already. Firefighters are highly trained to deal with a wide range of incidents, and have a high level of public respect. The reduction in the incidence of fire may free up some of their capacity to convey wider safety messages and respond to other incidents.
The framework thus proposes that fire and rescue authorities, and firefighters, should diversify from their traditional roles. The framework puts citizens at its centre and sets out how fire and rescue authorities can protect and improve their safety, health and wellbeing. Alongside their domestic fire safety work, they could also help address the risk of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, for example, which claims around 30 lives a year in Wales and England, or look at accident risks in the home. Of course, fire and rescue authorities will always need to respond effectively to fires and road traffic collisions. All FRAs also respond to flooding incidents on a voluntary basis, and the framework proposes formalising that role. It also proposes further support to the ambulance service in responding to non-fire medical emergencies such as cardiac arrest.
I welcome the work that fire and rescue authorities are already leading on in this field. There are examples in all three regions of collaborative work being undertaken or planned; for example, all three FRAs are undertaking some form of first-responder scheme, whether through well-established co-responding schemes in Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Authority or new pilots in north and south Wales, and all three FRAs are already planning to expand their prevention role. Indeed, The Welsh Government has provided invest-to-save funding of over £0.25 million for a trial scheme to look at a wider approach to prevention. The pilot will see Mid and West Wales FRA, Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust, Hywel Dda Local Health Board and Dyfed-Powys Police adopt a collaborative approach to reducing domestic hazards in the homes of our most at-risk citizens. North Wales FRA, likewise, has a trial programme in this area working with Denbighshire County Council. South Wales are working with Student Volunteering Cardiff and Torfaen Voluntary Alliance to provide extended home-safety advice to elderly vulnerable citizens in these areas.
Whilst these are positive steps, I believe the direction of travel needs to be more clearly structured and articulated at an all-Wales level, and the framework fulfils that need. Delivering this reform agenda will require commitment at all levels within fire and rescue authorities; strong leadership is needed. Firefighters and other fire-service staff will need the capacity, skills and equipment to discharge these roles, but, more importantly, they will need to be clear about their role and purpose. Commitment within fire and rescue authorities alone is not enough. Partner organisations, including other public bodies and third-sector partners, need to share the same vision to ensure joined-up, accessible, effective services are provided. Whilst not a matter for the framework, the Welsh Government clearly has a role in ensuring this shared vision is achieved.
The purpose of the fire service remains to keep citizens and communities safe. As part of that, they need to account clearly for the decisions they make and the performance they display. Citizens, equally, should understand what the service can do for them and the steps they can take to keep themselves safe. That sort of accountability can help to sustain the level of improvement we have seen so far. However, as the Williams commission noted, there is a case for reviewing FRA governance; I may return to that in due course.
That, though, is for the future. For now, it is a matter of building on the success we have seen and making the most of the capacity we have. I look forward to working with our fire and rescue authorities to that end.
Clearly, our fire and rescue services and authorities must be congratulated for more than halving casualties since devolution in 2004, enabling them to develop their prevention role in addition to fighting fires. This, of course, follows a trend since the peaking of fire casualties in 1985-86. Given that the last comparative UK figures—I think in 2013-14—showed that fire-related fatalities in Wales were 5.5 per 1 million people but only 5.1 in England, and that non-fatal casualties in England fell 7 per cent to 145 per 1 million but went up 16 per cent in Wales to 203 per 1 million, and that the 2014-15 figures, which are the first published on a single-nation basis, so are England only, showed a further 6 per cent reduction to the lowest number on record of fatalities and non-fatal casualties, what evidence base are you developing to establish why there appears to be this difference, and how that might advise the future direction of travel by our fire and rescue authorities and, therefore, the forces?
As you say, our firefighters have a high level of public respect; I fully endorse that, and we must have citizens at their centre. You refer to the risk of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, and how the authorities and, presumably, forces could help address that. You used the word ‘could’; how do you propose to take that forward to encourage and engage them in driving forward the accidental carbon monoxide poisoning reduction agenda—something I raised two weeks ago during Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week in this Chamber?
You refer to the welcome further development of support for the ambulance service in responding to non-medical fire emergencies, such as cardiac arrest, and the development of the first-responder and co-responder schemes. This is particularly sensitive in areas with retained firefighters—often our more rural areas. I wonder if you could comment on the approach being taken in the areas more dependent on retained firefighters in this context.
You referred to reducing domestic hazards in the homes of our most at-risk citizens. As I’ve argued many times, as has the charity Firebrake Wales, we should have a robust evaluation of interventions that work to prevent fire deaths and injuries undertaken for people who are most at risk due to circumstances, conditions, behaviours and lifestyle choices. I understand, early last year—and your predecessor shared this information with us—that the Welsh Government had announced some work with the fire and rescue services to establish where the interventions would be most effective in this context. Could you advise now what the outcome of that work was and whether it did involve something you mentioned, namely third sector bodies such as Firebrake, in establishing where those interventions might be most effective?
Finally, in your conclusion, you refer to a case for reviewing FRA governance. Coming from your lips, Minister, the case for reviewing things sometimes, I believe, causes interest and even concern in certain quarters. I wonder if you could expand on your view for how reviewing fire and rescue authority governance might develop, and whether you have in your mind any further development of clear, visible, local accountability, with devolution to the lowest level, or whether you have a different model in mind.
Dirprwy Lywydd, could I just start by thanking the Conservative spokesperson for his recognition of the success of fire and rescue authorities in reducing outbreaks of fire since the responsibility was devolved? He made reference to comparators with England, and I think we compare fairly well with England. It wouldn’t be the only area I would want to make comparison with. He will be aware that we have our own chief fire adviser, and both the most recent appointment and the previous appointment had been fire chiefs in England. They bring with them experience of operating systems there. I think they provide us with significant insight and capability to learn from other areas around the UK.
He made a number of references to the ways in which firefighters can diversify in support of carbon monoxide reduction, in support of other assessments around safety in the home, and so on, and I welcome what he says about the opportunities there. It’s fair to say, of course, that these are things that, in some areas, have been piloted already. We certainly recognise, as he said, the role that the third sector is already undertaking in providing advice on safety in the home. We certainly wouldn’t want firefighters to take the place of other highly skilled professionals, of course.
I think it’s fair to say that we have explored, through pilots, the ways in which firefighters can work as community first responders and, indeed, let me say, he referred to retained firefighters in this area; of course, the Retained Firefighters Union has always strongly supported this kind of diversification. Now, in the development of the community first-responder pilot, for example, in south Wales, there were issues in the past, which have been resolved, in respect of sharing specialised skills and terms and conditions. Clearly, for a long time, the Fire Brigades Union itself had opposed firefighters being asked or required to respond to non-fire medical emergencies. However, I’m pleased to say that it reversed its position at its annual conference last May, and FBU members are now able to participate fully in this work. So, I expect to see that whole area of work around first responders moving forward.
Finally, he asked about the issue of reviewing the governance of the fire and rescue authorities. Can I start off with an assurance that we will not be giving responsibility for fire and rescue to the police and crime commissioners? Therefore, we will not be following the route that is being taken in England. But, we will be giving further consideration to the issue of the governance of fire and rescue authorities, although I suspect this will be an issue for the next Assembly.
A gaf i ddechrau gyda’ch sylw olaf chi, Weinidog, a chroesawu’n fawr iawn nad ydych chi’n bwriadu trosglwyddo cyfrifoldebau’r gwasanaeth tân ac argyfwng i’r comisiynwyr heddlu a throsedd? Oherwydd mae yna duedd ganddynt i drosglwyddo rhai asedau lleol i drefniadau ar draws y Deyrnas Unedig, a hynny yn creu cwestiynau mawr ynglŷn ag atebolrwydd lleol a gallu’r gwasanaeth i ymateb i argyfyngau lleol. Rŷch chi’n sôn cryn lawer am y pwyslais ar atal tanau rhag digwydd yn hytrach nag ymateb i alwad oherwydd bod tân wedi digwydd. A ydy e’n eich poeni chi bod y pwysau ariannol sydd ar yr awdurdodau tân ac argyfwng yn mynd i arwain at sefyllfa lle mae llai o waith addysgu yn gallu digwydd? Ar hyn o bryd, mae’r gwasanaeth tân yn mynd allan i ysgolion, ac mae’n mynd at bobl hŷn, yn enwedig rheini sy’n byw mewn tai cysgodol ac yn y blaen, i sicrhau eu bod nhw’n cael pob cymorth i atal tanau rhag digwydd. Roedd yna drafodaethau yn ddiweddar ynglŷn â lleihau’r nifer o orsafoedd tân. A ydy hynny hefyd yn bosibilrwydd o hyd oherwydd y pwysau ariannol? A ydy hynny’n mynd i arwain at lai o bwyslais ar y gwaith ataliol a’r gwaith addysgiadol yma?
Rŷch chi’n sôn hefyd yn eich datganiad ynglŷn ag ymestyn cyfrifoldebau’r gwasanaeth tân ac argyfyngau i ddelio â rhwystrau a phroblemau eraill—‘other hazards’ yw’r term rŷch chi’n ei ddefnyddio. Hwyrach, y gallech chi esbonio i ni beth yn union sydd gennych dan sylw yn y fan honno. A ŷch chi’n cyfeirio at broblemau a allent godi oherwydd newid yn yr hinsawdd, neu a oes gennych chi rywbeth arall mewn golwg? Ac a oes yna enghreifftiau ar hyn o bryd, Weinidog, o’r gwasanaeth yn ymestyn ei ffordd o ymateb i sefyllfaoedd? A oes yna unrhyw waith mentrus yn digwydd o fewn y gwasanaeth y gallwch chi ein cyfeirio ni ato ef? Neu ai’r hyn rŷm ni’n ei weld gyda’r gwasanaeth yma, fel rŷm ni’n ei weld gyda chymaint o wasanaethau cyhoeddus ar hyn o bryd, ydy bod y gwasanaeth yn crebachu o dan y pwysau ariannol sydd arno ef? Rŷch chi wedi cyfeirio yn eich ateb i Mark Isherwood at eich bwriad i edrych, hwyrach, ar atebolrwydd y gwasanaeth. Wrth gwrs, mae comisiwn Williams wedi sôn cryn lawer am hyn. Ai dyna’r math o gamau rŷch chi’n gweld yn digwydd o ran sgrwtini o’r gwasanaeth ac atebolrwydd y gwasanaeth i’r gymuned leol?
Can I start by welcoming the comments of the Plaid Cymru spokesperson in respect of my statement that we will not be following the actions of the Government in England in as far as giving responsibility for fire and rescue to the police and crime commissioners is concerned? I think he’s right to draw attention to the impact of financial pressures on fire and rescue authorities and there’s no question that they’ve had to look at the way in which they deliver services within the community. It is the case that we have had to reduce our community safety budgets, but, you know, we did that in a context where we’ve seen very great success, as he is aware, by the fire and rescue authorities in reducing the number of outbreaks and I think we need to commend them on that. I think that most—well, all—of our fire stations and fire rescue authorities are engaged in educational activities. I would expect to see those continue. Although there have been financial reductions, I don’t think that we are going to see them withdrawing from that work, let me say.
In terms of taking responsibility for other hazards, I’ve set out some of those in my statement. For example, there are examples already—they’re involved in, obviously, first-responder schemes, well-established co-responding schemes in Mid and west Wales fire authority, and new pilots in north and south Wales, and they are looking to expand their prevention role. I mentioned that we have given invest-to-save funding of over £0.25 million for the pilot—again, in mid and west Wales—with the Welsh Ambulance NHS Services Trust, Hywel Dda Local Health Board and Dyfed-Powys Police in respect of reduction of domestic hazards. So, I think those activities are going on.
There are other areas in which new, innovative approaches are being taken up. For example, I visited Mid and west Wales fire authority recently to see them demonstrating their unarmed aerial vehicle, which will be used both in terms of fire detection and fire prevention, and I’m very pleased to say it was piloted by the son of the Assembly Member for Neath, and it was very good to meet him on that occasion as he was demonstrating it in action.
Finally, the Plaid Cymru spokesperson referred to the Williams commission and the whole question of accountability and governance. I don’t have any intention of bringing forward proposals in the immediate future; as I say, I think this is likely to be a matter for the next Assembly. But I do think that we need to start to look at the structure of accountability—not necessarily the structure of the fire and rescue services themselves, but the structure of accountability—in the context of a different approach to local government in the future.
I welcome your statement too, Minister, that you won’t be giving the running of the fire service over to the police and crime commissioners. But, anyway, moving on, with fire, as with health, prevention, as we’ve all heard today, is certainly better than cure. It costs less too, and the framework clearly sets out the severe pressures on public finances, and we’ve heard some more about that today. And last week’s spending review doesn’t offer, actually, any relief as far as I can see.
The framework also sets out the potential to expand the role of the fire authorities in regard to community safety, and one area where prevention and community safety do coalesce is domestic abuse. The framework highlights the progress the Welsh Government has made in taking forward the national training framework for violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. Every fire and rescue authority now has a workplace policy, and that is indeed very welcome.
You are keenly aware, I know, Minister, of the good work that the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service is doing, and the service was last year awarded white-ribbon accreditation, and it was the first fire and rescue service in the UK to achieve that level of status. It has also recognised the increasingly apparent link between arson attacks and domestic abuse. We often, sadly, see the tragic cases in the news. But I have to admit to being shocked, when speaking with chief fire officer, Hugh Jakeway, at the white-ribbon event here last week, by the sheer scale of the problem. South Wales alone receives 60 calls every single month. That is, indeed, a rather scary figure.
I want to pay tribute here to the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service in terms of moving on from having that accreditation last year to looking at monitoring the calls that they receive, and what they can do as a consequence of that monitoring and a consequence of negating any catastrophe that could happen. And, to that end, the service’s fire crime unit does work closely with partnership agencies to follow up every single case to make sure that potential victims don’t become victims, and that people feel safe in their own homes. Minister, I want to ask you if that is something that you could discuss with all fire authorities in setting out your priorities for this year and the years to come.
Can I thank my colleague the Member for Mid and West Wales for her comments in respect of the preventative work of the fire and rescue authorities? She specifically referred to the engagement of fire and rescue authorities in respect of domestic abuse, and, certainly, I was there last year when the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service got its white-ribbon accreditation, and she is right to pay tribute to them for being the first fire and rescue authority in the United Kingdom to achieve that status. She’s also right to draw attention to the fact that arson attacks are very often one of the ways in which domestic abuse and violence against women is carried out. Can I commend her on the work she has done in promoting the white-ribbon campaign, not least last week in the series of events in which she was involved, including the event within the Senedd and the vigil on the Senedd steps?
She’s right that the fire and rescue authority in south Wales has pioneered work in this area, that it does monitor calls, that it follows through through its fire crimes unit, and the work that it does is very much in keeping with the spirit and principles of our own Violence against Women Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. I will take on board what she has said and look to explore with the chief fire officers what is being done in other areas, and see whether there are lessons from south Wales that can be rolled out elsewhere.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can I start by putting on record my appreciation, and that of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, for the firefighters and their support staff and the work they do in protecting our lives and saving lives both through fighting fires, rescuing people from accidents, and a whole range of other work, particularly the preventative work that they do? Can I also welcome, Minister, the commitment in the national framework to taking forward sprinklers and carbon monoxide detectors as part of that prevention work? You say in the national framework that you will legislate for the installation of smoke alarms in the private rented sector and social housing, and, indeed, I think the Bills that we’ve recently discussed make that possible. However, you don’t refer to whether or not you’ll be looking to make sure those alarms are hard-wired, and you don’t refer, in that commitment for legislation, to carbon monoxide detectors, despite singling out carbon monoxide deaths as a particular issue. Can I ask you whether that is an oversight, or whether you will also—the Welsh Government; obviously, it’s not your personal responsibility—whether the Welsh Government will also be legislating in terms of carbon monoxide detectors in the private rented sector and social housing as well?
One of the valuable contributions that the fire and rescue services make is how closely they work with local communities, both in urban and rural areas. How would this framework seek to build on those links and enhance the relationships between local communities and the fire and rescue services that protect them? Also, a number of respondents to the draft revised framework consultation this summer questioned references to the proposed shift in emphasis from response to prevention, saying that the wording could imply less of a focus on responding to emergencies. I understand very much that the prevention work has been absolutely invaluable and very important in terms of helping prevent casualties. But these respondents highlighted specifically that a reduction in fires does not necessarily equate to a reduction in risk. To what extent have those concerns been taken into account in the published framework?
Also, you say in the framework that you will support development of a single mobile communications system for the emergency services. There are, of course, three fire authorities, four police authorities, one ambulance trust, and I think we also include the coastguard in emergency services as well. In what way would the Welsh Government be taking forward that single mobile communications system with all of those bodies? Will you be working with the UK Government on this, because, obviously, it’s not all within the Welsh Government’s competence? Will there be funding available to deliver this single communications system, and does this also imply that you’ll be looking to set up joint contact centres for all the emergency services? There is, of course, one in Bridgend in the police station there with the fire authority. Will you be looking to replicate that and include the ambulance service and other emergency services in that? This does imply that that is what you’ll be looking to do, so I’d be grateful for some more clarification on that, Minister.
Finally, you’ll be disappointed if I don’t raise this issue, I’m sure. The current pension—as you know; I’ve raised it before—penalises serving firefighters who have previously served in the armed forces. There’s a better system in Scotland, as you know, where they have some protection, though, obviously, England is way behind us and Scotland in doing that. Could I ask you whether you’ll be looking again at the regulations passed in the Assembly in March to consider further amendments and whether you can take account of the representations you’ve received from former service personnel who now serve in the fire service? Thank you.
Thank you. Can I, Dirprwy Lywydd, thank the Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson again for his support for what we’re doing in the national framework? He drew attention to a number of issues that lie within the portfolio of my colleague the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, in respect of carbon monoxide detectors and so on, and I will commit today to having further conversations with her about some of the points that he has raised.
He’s right to draw attention to the support that fire and rescue authorities get from local communities, whether they’re operating in urban or rural areas. I was with my colleague the Member for Cardiff North just a week or so back, just shortly after they had held a highly successful bonfire night activity for the local community. I think there are many ways in which local fire stations are engaged with local communities, with local schools and with others to take forward the agenda around community safety. He referred to concerns that the framework might signal a move from emergency response to prevention. I don’t think that is intended at all, and the framework, of course, talks about the importance of an appropriate balance between—‘an effective balance’ is the phrase, in fact—response and prevention. I think we have to acknowledge the success, in terms of the long-term decline in the incidence of fire. I think what we have done within the framework is to look at emergency response and prevention side by side as responsibilities for the fire service. But we do talk again in the framework, of course, about the need continually and sustainably to reduce risk, and I think that takes on board the point that he mentioned.
In respect of where we are with the single mobile communication system, there has been a series of exchanges and developments over time on that. I will write to him with the latest position and make that clear to him. Clearly, we want to encourage more joint contact centres. He’s right to refer to what’s happened in Bridgend. There have been other discussions in north Wales and elsewhere. Clearly, we think that there are benefits in taking that agenda forward, and that is a matter to explore further with colleagues in the other emergency services. It’s a subject on which I have had conversations with my colleague the Minister for Health and Social Services.
He’ll be well aware, I think, that the framework does not in any way impact on the firefighters’ pension scheme. He has raised a specific issue in respect of some firefighters who have accumulated service within the armed forces. I think there are issues further that we may wish to explore, but, at the present time, I remain with the policy that we adopted this year. He is right to draw attention to the fact that the pension scheme we adopted in Wales is significantly more generous than that in England, which I think has been recognised by the Fire Brigades Union.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 6 is a statement by the Deputy Minister for Farming and Food on the TB eradication programme. I call on Rebecca Evans.
Thank you. 2015 is the sixth year of our annual TB testing programme, and this has provided us with six years’ worth of testing data and associated learning. In response, we have been able to make decisions about how we effectively share the emerging data, as well as allowing us to plan specific local strategies and, importantly, to empower individual farmers and vets to become more involved in decision making at a local level.
In the interest of making information more relevant and understandable, we have developed a TB dashboard to present data, including open and new incidents; closed incidents; and reoccurrences. A headline dashboard indicator in the current release is a gauge that shows the percentage of herds that are TB-free currently stands at 94.4 per cent or 11,390 out of a total of 12,060 herds.
Our teams in the intensive action area have finished the fourth year of vaccination. They are now considering the impact of the project and reviewing the measures adopted in the area. I have been made aware that the supply of the BadgerBCG vaccine used to vaccinate badgers in Wales has been interrupted. Unfortunately, due to problems with the manufacture of the vaccine, it is unlikely that the suppliers, who are the only company in the world with the marketing authorisation to produce BadgerBCG, will be able to honour our order of BadgerBCG next year. It is not known when the situation will be resolved. If we were to continue to vaccinate badgers in Wales against bovine TB, in the absence of the custom-made BadgerBCG vaccine, we would have to use the human BCG vaccine, subject to some additional licensing requirements. The human BCG vaccine contains the same material as the BadgerBCG vaccine, but each vial of a single badger dose equates to about 10 adult human or 20 infant human doses. So, for obvious reasons, the global shortage of BCG means that human use must be the priority. I do not consider it appropriate to source human BCG vaccine for use as part of badger vaccination projects while the supply for use in humans is inadequate.
I recognise the importance of prioritising public health and endorse the view of Public Health Wales and the World Health Organization that the vaccination of humans must take priority. To put this in perspective, UNICEF reports indicate that there is a global shortage of around 70 million human doses worldwide in 2015, and predict constraints continuing next year. As such, I have decided to suspend the sourcing of BCG vaccine for use in badgers in Wales, until the supply situation for human vaccination is resolved.
The World Health Organization has called for vaccine manufacturers to rapidly increase the supply of BCG vaccine to the global market. Health officials have confirmed that there is currently no shortage of BCG vaccine in the UK for the NHS, and that health practitioners in Wales can order the supplies they need to protect at-risk individuals.
The decision to suspend sourcing BCG vaccine has implications for the fifth year of vaccinating badgers in the intensive action area, as well as the other vaccination projects under way in Wales. It’s important that I share this information with Members first, here in the Chamber, but this afternoon, my officials will brief stakeholders, including at the winter fair.
I have commissioned modelling work to assess the potential impacts of suspending badger vaccination and will investigate various scenarios. Following consideration of the modelling work, I will explore options for the next steps. Existing work to evaluate the impact of interventions, including vaccination, undertaken in the IAA will continue and I will provide further updates in due course.
We have just been notified that the European Commission has technically approved our UK TB eradication programme for 2016. This is the seventh year running in which we have received endorsement of our programme and we welcome the Commission’s support. One of the key requirements has been to address the potential risk of cattle grazing on common land. To address this we are removing the pre-movement testing exemption to and from common land from 31 December. A letter has been sent to all cattle keepers confirming the change.
We have been concentrating veterinary efforts on herds that have been under a TB breakdown for 18 months or longer. Over the last year, we have reduced the number of these cases from 90 to 45. Our national badger-found-dead survey is providing information on the level of infection in badgers and will assist in the formulation of policy at both local and national levels. Encouraging good animal husbandry is crucial. We have consulted on proposals to change the TB Order to reduce compensation for those who do not follow the rules, and to discourage risky practice. The consultation closed on 9 November and responses are currently being considered.
As I said in Plenary last week, eradicating TB will be much more difficult to achieve, unless we can provide the livestock industry and rural community with the information they can use to take precautions against disease spread. To aid this, under the authority of the revised TB Order, I will publish information on cattle herds affected, and the website is scheduled to be available by the end of March.
To help prevent the spread of disease, we have established a grant for livestock markets to upgrade their facilities to allow them to display TB information about the cattle on sale, enabling a more informed purchasing decision. That grant is available until 31 December. In April this year, we invested in the first ever gamma testing facility in Carmarthen. It has the capacity to test in excess of 1,000 samples per week; improving our understanding of individual breakdowns and removing infected animals faster.
Following a procurement exercise to formally contract private veterinarians, all TB testing and some other veterinary work is being undertaken by two local veterinary delivery partners. This supports the close working relationship between the farmer and their vet, which is reflected in the Cymorth TB programme that was launched on 3 November. Through it, we are seeking to enable private vets to increase their involvement in the eradication programme through specialist training and a programme of subsidised farm visits. The Cymorth TB programme was developed to enhance the management of new and existing TB breakdowns, and to support farmers and herd keepers during the period they are under restrictions, and when restrictions are lifted.
Figures show that we are making a real difference to the disease situation in Wales. The overall trend in new incidents and animals slaughtered due to TB control is broadly downwards. Between 2008 and 2014, there was a 29 per cent decrease in new incidents and a 44 per cent decrease in animals slaughtered. TB is a most serious animal health issue, but we continue to build and develop a programme that is robust and flexible, which involves working in partnership towards our goal of a TB-free Wales.
I’d, first of all, thank the Minister for her detailed statement this afternoon. TB, of course, continues to have a huge impact on our rural communities and, in particular, Welsh farming. I regularly meet with farming families who have been affected by this cruel disease, and I can’t emphasise enough the emotional upset that is attached to this disease across Wales.
I’ve listened carefully to your comments in regard to the supply of the BadgerBCG vaccine. Vaccination is, of course, a key plank of the Government’s eradication policy. So, I would ask for clarity on where this now leaves us. I also note from your statement, Deputy Minister, you point out that this vaccination is only available from one supplier and you’ve gone on to say that
‘it is not known when the situation will be resolved’.
So, I would ask: from the discussions that you’ve had on this, what is your understanding of why this has occurred in the first place? Do you feel that the supply will be permanently interrupted? Do you feel that this vaccination will be available again? Do you have any sense on that? Also, do you feel that the company has potentially stopped producing this vaccine because it’s not commercially viable? Any information and discussions that you’ve had on that—I’d appreciate some more detail in your reply.
I also, of course, recognise that the control of wildlife species is a sensitive issue and that no single measure is enough to tackle the disease on its own. But, can I say, as you have set out in your statement today—? Can I ask, in light of this information, what discussions you’ve had with the chief veterinary officer with regard to reconsidering the Government’s position on a controlled badger cull? I appreciate fully that there was a Labour Party manifesto commitment in 2011 not supporting such a controlled badger cull, but in light of this information and the changing circumstances, can I ask what consideration you’ve given to revising the Government’s position? The statement did also suggest, perhaps, at one point, that the Government wants to manage the disease, rather than eradicate it, so I’d appreciate your clarity on that.
I have a number of other questions. You’ve also said that the latest statistics show that there are over 12,000 cattle herds registered in Wales and 670 of those herds are designated not officially TB-free. This, to me, wouldn’t seem to be a ringing endorsement of the TB eradication programme, so what are you doing to improve this situation in that regard? Also, I understand around 950 herds are currently under movement restrictions due to TB incidence or overdue TB tests. Will the Deputy Minister be able to make a commitment to expediate the testing of herds to enable farmers to move their herds without restrictions?
I also am continually contacted by farmers who have expressed their concern about the reinterpretation of TB tests that have originally been deemed inconclusive reactors, but reinterpreted as positive reactors. It’s clearly distressing to lose any stock from TB; but it’s even more distressing to lose animals that are only made positive due to interpretations that are incorrect. Healthy, productive animals are being slaughtered, I would suggest, based on interpretations that are incorrect, and I’d be grateful for your view on how the interpretation of TB testing can be improved.
Last week, Minister, you mentioned in the Chamber that you would consider whether information on other species could also be published alongside the cattle data in the future. I wondered if you have received any representations on that since last week with regard to the TB eradication programme.
Finally, I would say that I welcome the launch of the Cymorth TB veterinary programme. Collaborating with a private vet who will often have a greater knowledge of a farm and its issues is clearly a hugely positive move and will improve confidence and rebuild trust. But I would ask what talks you have had with auctioneers regarding herd health statements being used at the point of sale, and also what sort of finance has been made available for the development of the advice service that you’ve mentioned in your statement today?
I thank you for those questions. I’ll do my best to answer as many of them as I can in the time allowed. With regard to the modelling work, I commissioned that work to better understand the potential, really, in terms of taking the vaccination project forward. We’ve managed to complete now four years of what was originally a five-year programme. So, the modelling work will seek to understand what would happen, for example, if we missed year 5 and then vaccinated in year 6 or year 7, and years 5, 6, 7 or 6, 7, 8, and so on. So, we’re looking at various scenarios in trying to understand what that would mean in terms of badger vaccination. I’m expecting the initial report later on this month and, obviously, I’ll be keeping Members as up to date as I possibly can on that.
With regard to the global shortage of the vaccine, you are correct: it is the only company in the world that was making the BadgerBCG vaccine. In fact, there are currently only four suppliers of the prequalified BCG vaccine for humans in the world as well. So, obviously, when one company finds itself in difficulties, or a batch is unable to be sold, that does have a dramatic impact, then, on what the global supply might be. I am aware, though, that the company that we had had our order in with for the BadgerBCG—it’s a Danish firm—is now under new ownership. I understand that there will be some investment in new technology and new kit within that factory. So, I’m hoping that, in future, we will be able to source the BCG vaccine for badgers.
You questioned some of the statistics, which are showing a fall in the number of new herd incidents and so on. Actually, there’s been a 51 per cent fall in the number of herds that were under restriction between 2008 and 2014, from 2,082 to 1,014. So, again, we are making some serious inroads in terms of tackling the disease. I completely accept that, for those 1,000 farms that are under restriction, it clearly is an emotionally difficult time as well as financially and so on. I’m not under any illusion about that at all.
The vaccination project was just one part of what is a comprehensive TB programme. I hope that I’ve tried to set out some of the other aspects of it today. Obviously, the vaccine issue will be the issue that people are most interested in today, because this is news. However, there is so much else that I updated you on in terms of Cymorth TB and so on. I think the thing that’s making the biggest difference in our ability to tackle the disease is our annual testing and our six-monthly testing within the intensive action area, because that allows us to find disease quickly and remove it from the herds. So, those are the things that I think are making the most difference, as well as our pre-movement testing and so on, and our movement restrictions. Those are the things that are really making the difference in terms of the disease picture in Wales.
Well, I have to say, Deputy Minister, this is quite shocking news with regard to the interruption in the supply of the BadgerBCG vaccine. It makes a complete mockery of the vaccination trial, and I’d like to know, really, how this could have been allowed to happen. Did you not have any contractual guarantees in place for the five-year trial? You know, there are big questions that need to be asked that haven’t been addressed. It seems to me that the five-year trial has now come to an abrupt end part way through, and that will certainly devalue a lot of the learning that could have been taken from the trial. You suggested the possibility of skipping a year; well, you know, that will leave a gaping hole in terms of the data that are available. We’ll lose consistency, we’ll lose continuity, and surely this is a further blow to the Welsh Government’s credibility amongst the farming sector.
Now, many of us, of course, as you well recall, argued for a different approach four years ago, but the Government was insistent on vaccination. Now, the risk is that we will have possibly wasted the last four years, because when I asked you about the effectiveness of the five-year trial, I was consistently told that we’d have to wait before we can make an informed judgment until the full five years were up. It seems now we’ll never get, possibly, to that point. So, I’ll ask you again, therefore, Minister, to confirm, as you consider your options and as you try to salvage what learning you can from this shambles, whether you will use this opportunity to revisit all the options and to consider all of the strategies available to remove TB in wildlife.
You refer to the Cymorth TB approach, which I very much support, and you are quite right to describe the role of private vets as being central to the delivery of an effective eradication programme. But can I ask you, Minister: if local vets came to you and told you, ‘We have done everything by the book. We have consistently met all requirements in terms of biosecurity. We have stuck to the movement restrictions that are imposed on us. We’ve done as much as we can to avoid more farms going down with TB, but still there are farms in our area that are going down with TB’—if they ask you, under those circumstances, for measures to remove infected wildlife, would you be willing to consider granting them a licence to do that? I’d be grateful if you would address that particular point in your answer.
Finally, Minister, you refer also to the dashboard. It has been raised with me that, while the Wales TB dashboard is useful in looking at tracking TB incidence in individual regions or counties in Wales, it’s very difficult to compare counties with each other, particularly the sparkline. It can actually be rather misleading. So, would you, for example, look at a system of presenting the data in a way that better reflects the low-risk status of north Wales on the dashboard? Indeed, I would urge you, and others I am sure would as well, to better reflect the low-risk status of north Wales in the Government’s general approach to TB.
Thank you for those questions. I will address your last point first, which related to the low-risk status of north Wales. You are absolutely right to recognise that, and I’ve recognised that. I’ve asked my officials to undertake some work to look at identifying a formal low-risk area in north Wales. That would be with a view to identifying some different controls and prevention approaches in that particular area, and I would hope that would be in the near future. The aims of that proposal, then, would be to eliminate the disease from the area, and also protect the area’s favourable status, which would be good news in terms of trade. It would also provide us with some criteria as to how we could expand that low-risk area as well. So, once we’ve identified that suitable area we’ll be reviewing all of the available controls and ensuring there’s a greater focus on prevention. We’ll also consider, then, whether the controls that exist in the area are proportionate to the risk that is in north Wales. So, I can confirm that that particular piece of work is going on at the moment.
You asked regarding the issue of licences. Of course, that facility is already there under the Protection of Badger Act 1992. Badgers and their setts are protected under the Act. However, there are circumstances under which a person could apply to either Natural Resources Wales or the land, nature and forestry division of the Welsh Government for a licence. So, those options are already there.
I’m grateful for your feedback with regard to the dashboard. Obviously we’ll take on board any feedback that people have. It’s fairly new. It’s up and running at the moment, so any feedback from you or members of the farming community more widely would have to give me, I’d be more than happy to consider how we can improve the service that we have. But I think the dashboard is a particularly useful tool for farmers and others with an interest in the trade.
First, I would like to congratulate the Deputy Minister on her statement. I am disappointed the supply of BadgerBCG used for vaccinations has been interrupted, but I obviously agree that human use must take priority. I’m not quite sure the last questioner agreed with that.
I welcome the removal of the pre-movement testing exemption to and from common land, starting on 31 December. I congratulate the Minister on the progress being made. I agree that good animal husbandry is important, perhaps more important than anything else, and I urge the Minister to do everything possible to discourage risky farming practice. Will the Minister continue to oppose the indiscriminate shooting of badgers?
I thank you for those questions. Obviously, any suggestion that there is illegal activity taking place with regard to the Protection of Badgers should be reported to the police. You recognise the importance of prioritising public health. Just so Members are aware, our order for next year was 5,295 doses. So, what that would mean, in terms of human doses, were we to go ahead and seek the human BCG for it, would be 52,950 adult doses or 105,900 infant doses. So, by not procuring those now, those doses are now available to meet the global demand as well.
I’m pleased that you welcome the work we’re doing to prevent risky practice. One of the previous speakers referred to late TB tests, which is obviously risky practice in itself. Since we’ve brought that into the cross-compliance regime, we’ve seen the number of late tests just fall away completely, so it does show that when you incentivise good practice and penalise risky practice, we can make some inroads there as well.
I draw Members’ attention to my register of interests; my husband is a partner in a farming business that, in the past, has suffered shutdowns from TB, but, touch wood, is, thankfully, currently clear. Can I thank the Minister for her statement, although I must say, Deputy Presiding Officer, I find her attitude towards the number of cases very, very complacent? The reality is there has been little change in the number of open incidents between quarter 1 and quarter 2 in 2015 compared to quarter 2 in 2014; in fact, new incidents and numbers of open incidents have increased by 5.5 and 12.4 per cent respectively. So, the Minister is very selective in giving figures going back as far as 2008; there has, indeed, been an improvement since 2008, but the rate of that improvement has slowed down dramatically.
The stats for the one-year rolling average are showing a general rise in the number of open incidents and TB across Wales, so we cannot afford to become complacent. That’s why the news that the Government is unable to continue with its vaccination programme will be an utter blow to the industry and those looking to her to help eradicate this disease. It does beg the question, Minister: when did your officials first become aware that the company that you had contracted to supply this vaccine would not be in a position to supply the vaccine? When did you know, as Minister, that that would be the case? Could you outline what steps your officials have tried to take with the company to avoid this situation?
Unlike what the Member for Swansea East tried to suggest, this is not a question of wanting to prioritise the health of badgers and cattle over humans, but it is the responsibility of this Government to deliver what it promised the industry it would deliver, which was a five-year TB vaccination programme, and you have failed to do that—failed miserably to do that.
Can I ask, then—you said that you would be updating the Chamber on alternatives; what alternatives are you asking your officials to look at? It seems to me you have set your face against any alternatives with regard to trying to control this disease, especially with regard to wildlife.
Can I then move on to the issue of common land? What impact will these new restrictions on pre-movement testing of cattle on and off common land have on pre-existing agreements, perhaps, for grazing on common land from Glastir commons agreements that people already had? They will have signed those agreements without understanding the impact and the additional work that pre-movement testing of common land would entail. How many cases of TB do you expect to avoid by bringing in this additional bureaucracy for pre-movement testing for common land?
Can I also then ask—? On the issue of compensation and the further discussions and consultation that you’ve had with regard to trying to penalise unsafe practices, sometimes, I really do think the Government is intent on believing that farmers actively look to have this disease break out in their herds. I can tell you there is no financial advantage to any farm coming down with TB. That’s not a case of just simply having compensation for the stock that is lost. The trading opportunities that are lost, and the additional costs of housing stock and of feeding stock, often, over the winter because you cannot sell and because you cannot out stock that which you expected not to have on your farm, outweighs anything that you’d ever get in compensation from a beast that is destroyed. Would you confirm today that no farmer will be penalised who has complied with your rules and regulations, and despite that, and through no fault of their own, has come down with this terrible disease, and that compensation will continue to reflect the true value of the beast that is lost?
Well, I’ll start by taking strong objection to your suggestion that this Government in any way thinks that farmers want TB. That clearly is wrong, and you might want to reflect on that suggestion afterwards. That, actually, is why I took the decision last year to introduce a TB compensation system that is fair to farmers and reflects the quality of the stock, and it’s why I didn’t go ahead with the suggestion of introducing a table valuation system. So, clearly, this Government is keen to reflect the value of the stock that has been slaughtered due to TB. Equally, I think that, when you’re considering statistics, most people appreciate you have to look at trends over time. So, I would suggest it’s not me who is being selective with the use of the figures in the Chamber this afternoon.
With regard to common land, the pre-movement testing helps us identify disease at an earlier stage and reduce the risk of it spreading. The TB eradication plan, which we’ve agreed with Europe, is very much focused on trying to do that, and the European Commission has previously asked us to look at the movements to and from and on common land, and so on. DEFRA has already removed the exemption last year, so we’re actually behind in this sense. So, we really need to catch up in terms of the common land pre-movement testing exemption.
I don’t believe that we’re adding bureaucracy, we’re just trying to make a system whereby we get rid of this disease as quickly as we possibly can. We’re trying to do it, as much as we can, in partnership with the industry, with individual farmers, with hauliers, auctioneers, and so on, which is another reason why I’ve extended the deadline for the information board grants, which we’re offering livestock markets as well, until the end of December. So, I’d welcome any further applications for that as well. The Government is completely committed to the eradication of the disease, and I object to any suggestion that we’re not. And, we’re committed to working in partnership with anybody who would work in partnership with us—so, that’s the industry, individual farmers, and all those others I have mentioned before, and I would hope the Liberal Democrats as well.
Deputy Minister, there was never any science behind the badger vaccine project, and now it seems that we’ll never learn anything from it, either, for the future. I cannot begin to imagine how demoralising your statement is for those farmers in the intensive action area of north Pembrokeshire today. Everything we have learned from the cattle measures has come from cattle measures. Everything you’ve outlined in your statement today has come from cattle measures, and I’d remind you that those cattle measures—and I’m sure I don’t need to remind you—were taken by the previous Government.
I absolutely agree with the Member for Swansea East when he says that human health should be the priority in this case. My question, though, is this: any basic internet search shows up the shortage of the BCG vaccine as a human vaccine and as a treatment for bladder cancer, and that has been campaigned for now for quite a while by cancer charities in the UK as well as elsewhere; how long, therefore, as a Government, have you known that the use of the BCG vaccine for badgers was in direct competition with the BCG vaccine for humans—both as a vaccine and as a treatment for bladder cancer—and that has been at a time of considerable shortage?
Well, earlier this year, Statens Serum Institut, which is the Danish firm—and the only one in the world, as I said—producing this BadgerBCG vaccine, indicated they had production problems. So, what officials have done this year is to seek an extension of the use-by date for our badger vaccine, which we’ve done. However, when you’ve got one company producing a vaccine in the world—and producing a vaccine is, by no means, an easy or simple thing to do—it’s inevitable that there will be some risk with that, when there is only one company in the world producing it. It’s extremely unfortunate that this has happened; however, we have to prioritise public health.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you very much, Deputy Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 7 is the supplementary legislative consent motion on the Valuation Office Agency provisions arising from the Enterprise Bill. I call on the Minister for Public Services to move the motion—Leighton Andrews.
Motion NDM5892 Leighton Andrews
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 29.6 agrees that provisions in the Enterprise Bill, relating to the sharing of non-domestic rating information by the Valuation Office Agency, in so far as they fall within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales, should be considered by the UK Parliament.
Dirprwy Lywydd, I welcome this opportunity to explain the background to this legislative consent motion. I’m also grateful to the Enterprise and Business Committee for considering the LCM and for the report it has produced. The committee considers there is no impediment to the Assembly agreeing the LCM.
The UK Government introduced the Enterprise Bill into Parliament on 16 September. Amongst its measures are provisions to enable the Valuation Office Agency to share information with local authorities to improve the non-domestic rates system for both local government and rate payers. As an executive agency of HMRC, the VOA staff are governed by data confidentiality provisions within the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005. These provisions restrict the non-domestic rates information that the VOA is permitted to share with local government. As a result, rate payers currently have to give information on their property and their business to the VOA for the compilation and maintenance of rating lists and then provide the same information to local government for the calculation, collection and enforcement of rates bills. To improve the administration of the ratings system, the UK Government has included enabling powers in the Enterprise Bill. These will establish a legal gateway to allow the VOA to share rating information with local government and, in certain circumstances, with the Secretary of State. As the VOA is a cross-border agency and local authorities in Wales have experienced the same difficulties with sharing rating information as those in England, I sought the extension of these provisions to Wales.
These provisions will reduce the administrative burden on rate payers of having to provide the same information more than once, avoid the duplication of work by the VOA and local authorities, and improve the effectiveness of the local authorities’ fraud investigation, collection and enforcement activities. I believe these provisions fall within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales. However, I am content that these provisions should be made in the Bill for both England and Wales for reasons of timing and coherence. The inter-connected nature of the relevant systems for administering the rates in Wales and England, and the cross-border operation of the VOA, mean that it is effective and appropriate for provision for both the Wales and England administrations to be taken forward at the same time, in the same legislative instrument. I, therefore, move the motion and request the Assembly agrees this legislative consent motion.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have no speakers. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 8 is the supplementary legislative consent motion on the small business commissioner provisions arising from the Enterprise Bill. I call on the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport to move the motion—Edwina Hart.
Motion NDM5891 Edwina Hart
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 29.6 agrees that provisions in the Enterprise Bill, relating to the Small Business Commissioner in so far as they fall within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales, should be considered by the UK Parliament.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. The legislative consent motion concerns Part 1 of the UK Government’s Enterprise Bill and its provisions relating to the small business commissioner. The provisions of Part 1 fall within the legislative competence of the Assembly on the basis that they relate to the promotion of business and competitiveness and, therefore, give rise to this LCM. The Enterprise Bill will provide the commissioner with two key objectives: firstly, to provide general advice and information to small businesses about their goods and services and relationships with larger business; and, secondly, to consider certain complaints made by a small business about their payment issues with a larger business, which is relevant to Members particularly in this Chamber with concerns that have been raised with me. Part 1 of the Enterprise Bill also gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations prescribing the types of complaints the commissioner may consider and to provide funding to the commissioner, and it places the Secretary of State under a duty to undertake a review of the commissioner’s performance. These are provisions of the Bill relating to the abolition of the commissioner where the office is no longer necessary or has not been effective. The UK Government propose that there’d be a duty to consult with those affected prior to any abolition of this office.
The activities of the small business commissioner could have a positive impact on our continued work to improve supply chains and the business environment for small businesses in Wales, and I thank the Enterprise and Business Committee who recognised this and I hope that the committee’s cross-party support for the legislative consent motion is reflected today in Plenary.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have no speakers. Therefore, the proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 9 is the Children (Secure Accommodation) (Wales) Regulations 2015 and I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services to move the motion—Mark Drakeford.
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
Approves that the draft The Children (Secure Accommodation) (Wales) Regulations 2015 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 23 October 2015.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I move the motion. The regulations before you support a process of implementing the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 from April 2016 onwards. They relate to placements made under Part 6 of that Act. A consultation was held on these as well as other regulations and an additional code of practice. The 12-week consultation came to an end on 31 July. A draft version of the code was published on 2 November. These regulations will apply to a relatively small number of children who are in care and have been placed in Wales, but, because these children are among the most vulnerable in our society, it’s extremely important that we have a robust framework to safeguard and promote their wellbeing.
Dirprwy Lywydd, the Children (Secure Accommodation) (Wales) Regulations 2015 are made principally under sections 87 and 119 of the 2014 Act, and under section 22 of the Care Standards Act 2000. Section 119 deals with those occasions when a child who is being looked after by a local authority in Wales or in England needs to be placed in secure accommodation in Wales. The decision to place a child in a secure children’s home should only be made where it is absolutely necessary, and other options have been fully considered and ruled out.
The Act is very clear about the limited grounds for these placements, and the regulations put in place further safeguards to ensure that no child is held in such accommodation for longer than is absolutely necessary to meet their needs, thus ensuring our approach is consistent with article 37(b) of the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child.
For example, the regulations specify the maximum period a child may be kept in secure accommodation without the authority of a court. They require specific approval from Welsh Ministers when a local authority proposes to place a child under the age of 13 in secure accommodation. And they require all placements to be reviewed after 15 days, and then every three months by an independent panel. Furthermore, they impose restrictions on who may apply to a court for authorisation to hold a child in secure accommodation, and they require local authorities to notify certain people when making such an application.
In this way, Dirprwy Lywydd, the regulations maintain the current framework for secure placements, but place that framework within the context of the new Act, supported by a statutory code of practice. The consultation on the regulations was supportive of them, and the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee has also considered them and raised no points for reporting. I recommend them to Members this afternoon.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have no speakers. The proposal, then, is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 10 is the Partnership Arrangements (Wales) Regulations 2015. Once again, I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services to move the motion—Mark Drakeford.
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
Approves that The Partnership Arrangements (Wales) Regulations 2015 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 23 October 2015.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I move the motion. These regulations before you assist in implementing the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 from April 2016 onwards. They relate to functions in Part 9 of the Act that, along with the guidance, were subject to a 12-week consultation that concluded on 31 July. A draft of the guidance has been published to contribute to the scrutiny process. The Partnership Arrangements (Wales) Regulations 2015 are published under sections 166 to 169 of the social services and well-being Act.
Dirprwy Lywydd, these regulations put in place partnership arrangements that will take forward the effective delivery of integrated health and social services in Wales. Their purpose is to improve the outcomes and wellbeing of people, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery.
The regulations require the establishment of seven regional partnership boards on the health board footprint. They also set out the objectives of these boards, their membership and the reporting requirements. Members previously considered regulations under section 14 of the Act to underpin the requirement for local authorities and health boards to undertake a joint assessment of care and support needs. These regional partnership boards will be expected to respond in a preventative way to that population needs assessment.
The regulations consolidate the requirement for integrated family support services, and extend their remit to cover cases involving domestic violence and cases where a parent has a mental disorder. That service aims to support vulnerable children and families by overcoming barriers to delivery across sectors, and to strengthen links between services for adults and children. The regulations deploy the new powers that the 2014 Act provides to Welsh Ministers to mandate pooled budgets. Thus, the regulations before the National Assembly today require the establishment of pooled funds in relation to the exercise of their family support functions, and to support the establishment of integrated family support teams. Partners are also required by the regulations to establish pooled funds in relation to functions they decide to exercise jointly in response to the population needs assessment. And, from April 2018, it will mandate the use of pooled funds specifically in relation to those functions that fall to the provision of residential care home and nursing home accommodation for adults.
Sixty-one responses to the consultation were received in relation to these Part 9 regulations. They were broadly supportive and produced some constructive proposals, which are included in the revised version before Members this afternoon. Thus the number of partnership boards has been extended to seven to allow a separate partnership board for Powys. The membership of the boards has also been modified to reflect the need for carers and individuals in need of care and support to be represented on them. Representation of the third sector has also been extended in response to consultation requests. I commend the regulations to Members.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have no speakers. The proposal, then, is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
And that concludes today’s business.
The meeting ended at 17:01.