The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Good afternoon. I call the National Assembly for Wales to order.
1. How is the Welsh Government working to improve road safety in Wales? OAQ(4)1699(FM)
Our ‘Road Safety Framework for Wales’ sets out the measures that we are taking to improve road safety, and, of course, to reduce the number of people who are killed and seriously injured on Welsh roads.
Following the very worrying news that Wales has the highest rate of teenage drivers who are injured or killed on the roads and that the level is particularly high in Dyfed-Powys, how is the Welsh Government working with partners to ensure that young drivers are able to handle cars on rural roads, where accidents are most severe and most common?
We have established an all-Wales young driver working group to identify the approaches that are needed to reduce the number of young casualties on Welsh roads. In addition, of course, we provide funding for young people—this year, for over 2,000—to receive Pass Plus Cymru training. This provides additional, practical and theoretical training post driving test, to improve skills and driving behaviour, and is a factor when calculating insurance premiums for young people as well. Although, of course, the issue of driving standards is not devolved, nevertheless, we take seriously the issue of ensuring that road safety figures continue to follow the right direction.
First Minister, recent tragic events in Corwen have reiterated the dangers that are faced by our motorcyclists on Welsh roads. In 2012, motorcyclists were 70 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured in a crash than a car driver. However, despite the idea of young adults being at most risk since 1998, it is actually those over the age of 30 who are more likely to be casualties, with men making up approximately 90% overall. Could you advise what you are doing in particular as regards educating and looking at ways to prevent the frequent numbers of deaths that we hear about now on our roads due to motorcycling accidents?
There are two issues here. First of all, a number of motorcyclists these days are people in middle age and older—they are people who you see on a Sunday, in their expensive kit, and, of course, their polished, expensive motorbikes. Of course, they want to enjoy their motorbikes, but we have noticed that some of the magazines have been saying, ‘Come to Wales to open the throttle’, and that means that they are speeding. No matter how good you are as a motorcyclist, if you lose control, you have very little protection and you are at risk. So, I think that there is an emphasis here—and we are talking about people who are mature in age—to ensure that people ride safely, and, regarding the magazines, to make sure that they do not promote irresponsible riding.
With reference to a similar problem, there is also the fatal accident in Pontblyddyn and another one on the A470, all of them involving motorcycles. What discussions has the Government had with the police and crime commissioners to see whether a campaign could be established to try to change the habits of some these drivers?
I think that that is something sensible and something, I am sure, that the Minister would want to consider. Of course, we have to remember those who have been killed, especially recently. However, it is very important that the police consider once again, and work with us as a Government, in order to ensure that the safety campaign ensures that fewer motorcyclists are killed over the next years.
First Minister, one of your targets is to see a 40% reduction in the number of young people who are killed or seriously injured on our roads by 2020. Could you give us an update as to whether you believe that target will be reached? Would you also agree with me that one reason why young people in rural areas are killed in higher proportions is because, often, there is a lack of public transport alternatives for young people and that, therefore, they have to be driving their cars? What can we do to improve the opportunities for young people in rural areas to access affordable public transport?
If that were the case, then we would see an increase in accidents across the age groups, not just for young people. We know that the overall rate of casualties on Welsh roads has been falling, and it fell again in 2013. The number of motorcyclists and young persons killed or seriously injured does remain below the 2004-08 average and, indeed, there has been a general trend towards fewer people being injured on the roads over the years in any event. So, I think that the 2020 objective is perfectly reachable. However, what is important is that young people, when they learn to drive and pass their test—even though the test now is far more difficult than the test I tried 30 years ago, I have to say, especially the theory end of it—realise that there is still more to do in terms of learning how to drive and learning road sense. That is what Pass Plus Cymru intends to do, with the added incentive, of course, of providing a potential reduction in what are very hefty insurance premiums.
2. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the RAC Foundation report on accident rates for young drivers? OAQ(4)1691(FM)
I refer the Member to the answer that I have already given. It is an important issue, of course and, in terms of how to encourage young drivers to drive more safely, that has been encapsulated in the previous answer.
Thank you for your previous answer, which I note, First Minister. You will be aware that the report has shown that, in Gwent, for example, the rate is more than half as high as the United Kingdom average, giving it the second highest casualty rate of anywhere in the United Kingdom, topped sadly only by Dyfed Powys. The United Kingdom Department for Transport has agreed to commission research into how telematics can help change the attitudes and behaviour of learner drivers, undertaking focus groups with parents, young people and employers to get a better understanding of the issues from their perspective. I am sure that you would like to assure the house that you are fully behind a measure of this kind and anything that can be done to reduce these terrible casualties on our roads.
Of course, I should add that £4 million in capital funding and £2 million in revenue funding has been set aside for road safety in this financial year and that we have prioritised schemes and projects that work to reduce casualties in what are still, unfortunately, high-risk groups.
First Minister, Tredegar Comprehensive School in 2009 produced a powerful video outlining the risks and horrendous consequences of texting while driving. The video has now had over 80,000 hits on YouTube. We need to encourage more comprehensive and widespread education of the risks associated with such dangerous driving practices. Do you have any plans to work with local authorities to do this, especially considering that, as my good friend Bill Graham said, Gwent has the second highest rate of accidents among young drivers in any part of the UK?
Yes. We will work with the police in order to reduce the number of accidents. Texting while driving is illegal; it is as simple as that. I cannot imagine anything that would fit more into the category of driving without due care and attention at the very least. It is widely appreciated that making a phone call without a hands free system in the car is illegal. It is clearly the case that more work needs to be done in terms of texting. Although it is not clear how many of these accidents texting has actually caused, it is self-evident in my view that texting is, by its very nature, dangerous while at the wheel of a car.
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to questions from the party leaders, and first this afternoon is the leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
First Minister, are there enough intensive care beds in Wales?
Yes, we believe that there are. If you look, for example, at the number of beds per head across Wales, that figure is higher than it is in England.
Regrettably, you will be aware today of news stories that point to 29 patients dying prematurely because of their inability to access cardiac services at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff or Morriston Hospital. One of the doctors involved, Dr Paul Morgan, has identified a failure to have enough intensive care beds available here in Wales to address some of the conditions that these patients are presenting with. The 29 patients who died prematurely represent a 70% increase in the number of premature deaths during the previous year. You have clinicians saying that there are not enough intensive care beds available to meet the demand and, this afternoon, we will have a statement from you on the programme for government—there are 490-odd pages of it. It is clear that clinicians are saying that there are not enough intensive care beds here in Wales. Why are you not delivering the goods to meet the demand in terms of addressing these premature deaths?
It is very difficult to comment on a programme that no-one has seen yet, but I note the comments on the website and the comments of Adam Cairns in terms of what he said about what is being done to reduce the number of people who are on cardiac waiting lists. People do unfortunately pass away across the UK when they are waiting for cardiac operations. That is of no comfort to their loved ones; I understand that. Occasionally, there will be times when people are not able to have that surgery. However, what is clear is that the number of people waiting for cardiac surgery in south Wales has dropped over the last year.
That drop has as a contributory factor your accessing treatment across the border in Bristol and Birmingham, I believe, by commissioning capacity in the independent sector. We have no ideological problems on this side of the house—so long as the patient can have treatment free at the point of delivery, we believe that that is a sensible course of action. As I said to you in my second question, clinicians are saying that there are not enough intensive beds available to meet the demand; there has been a 70% increase in premature deaths because of cardiology problems within these two hospitals. Do you believe that the families of people like Ron Jones deserve an apology from you, as First Minister, for not putting the resources into the Welsh NHS, because they are dying prematurely because their conditions cannot be met?
It is very difficult to comment on an individual’s case. What we know is that the numbers waiting for cardiac operations are dropping. If it were the case that the numbers were increasing, one might expect to see an increase in the number of people dying. It is not clear where these figures are from; it is not clear how sound they are. I looked at the BBC Wales website, which said that there had been a halving of the number of people waiting for cardiac operations since August last year in Cardiff. The Swansea figures, which made no sense at all and, possibly, had been cut and pasted, said that, in March 2013, there were 323 patients waiting for cardiac operations—an increase of 57 since last year. 2013 is last year, so I am not sure where those figures are from or whether they make any sense at all. There will be occasions when people do, unfortunately, pass away when waiting for cardiac operations—that happens in England, in Scotland and in Wales. What we need to ensure is that the trend towards a reduction in the waiting times and waiting lists for cardiac operations continues. That is exactly what we have done.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
First Minister, today we have seen very promising early results from new skin cancer drugs, and we can be really proud of the role that Swansea College of Medicine has played in those trials. Could you outline what steps your Government is taking to support clinical trials in Wales?
We are very supportive. Melanoma is a disease that is quite close to my heart as it is the illness that took my mother. I know that it is a disease that is exceptionally difficult—or impossible, effectively—to treat once it has spread, so I very much welcome our role in Wales and the work that has been done in terms of providing what appear to be some very good results thus far for two drugs for melanoma. As the leader of the Liberal Democrats will know, we are very fortunate, for example, in the research facilities that we have, particularly in the University Hospital of Wales, which have contributed so much to dealing with an illness that everyone in this Chamber will be familiar with.
First Minister, we know that clinical trials improve the quality of care and outcomes for many patients and that they encourage and motivate the workforce and can help us to retain internationally renowned clinicians within Wales. Will you ensure that the ability to run clinical trials for cancer drugs in Wales will not be jeopardised by clinicians being unable to prescribe treatments regarded as the accepted standard of care? If they cannot do that, it can mean that they cannot take part in a clinical trial.
If treatments are the accepted standard of care, they will be approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and, therefore, I would not expect there to be a difficulty in terms of being able to prescribe those drugs. In terms of clinical trials, of course, they are set up in various different ways. For example, for many, many years, the University Hospital of Wales has been part of the leukaemia trials—for more than 20 years—where, effectively, people arriving at the hospital were immediately part of a trial. That was certainly the case 20 years ago. That has led, of course, to tremendous improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of that illness. I am not aware of there being restrictions on the prescription of a particular drug as part of a clinical trial.
Perhaps, First Minister, you would agree to meet with clinicians at Velindre who have concerns about this. You have taken a very strong stance here in the Chamber about Welsh patients not being prevented from accessing up-to-date cancer treatments. In that case, will you look again at the Welsh NHS’s decision not to provide SIR-Spheres radiotherapy in Wales and also the inability of the Welsh NHS to commission peritoneal metastases cytoreduction surgery—not drugs, but surgical surgeries and radiotherapy techniques that have been accepted as being successful. Will you look again at those decisions so that Welsh patients have access to both those technologies?
I think it best that I ask the Minister for Health and Social Services to write to the leader of the Liberal Democrats about those particular procedures. As with all cancer treatments, the difficulty is knowing how effective they will be, because no two people are ever alike in terms of their response to the way that drugs or new treatments are administered. I will certainly ask the Minister for Health and Social Services to write with regard to those specific instances so that she can have the answer.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call the leader of Plaid Cymru.
Both the First Minister and the leader of the Conservatives in Wales took to the radio this morning to proclaim that economic recovery had taken root. Does the First Minister in all honesty believe that people in this country are feeling an economic recovery?
I think that there is some way to go yet, but we know that there has been great success in terms of unemployment figures. Youth employment, Jobs Growth Wales, the fact that more and more people have the skills that they need, modern apprenticeships: all these things come together to ensure that we are laying the foundations for a robust economy in the future. However, of course, we are not in the situation that we were pre 2008.
It is almost as if the First Minister has not spoken to people who are seriously struggling in these difficult economic times. The deputy governor of the Bank of England said a few days ago that, here in Wales, it looks like growth started six to nine months ago, whereas for England, it is more like a year since growth got back to reasonable rates. There is still an element of catch-up here. Does the First Minister agree that growth is lagging behind in Wales? If he does agree, does he take any responsibility for it?
What the deputy governor said is self-evidently wrong. First of all, you cannot compare the whole of England—the north-east of England, London, the south-east—with Wales. However, even with that comparison, our unemployment rate is lower than the rate in England. We have the best job creation scheme for young people in the world, I would argue; I do not see another that is as successful. We see youth unemployment dropping. We need to make sure, of course, that gross valued added continues to rise. We have been hugely successful in attracting investment—Pinewood being at the pinnacle of that. We have worked very hard to rebuild our presence overseas and, of course, to make sure that we bring investment into Wales.
That is not to say that the economy is where it was eight or nine years ago. That is clearly not the case, and is true of every country in western Europe and North America. Nevertheless, given the circumstances that we find ourselves in, to be in a position where, for example, unemployment is lower than in England is extraordinary. Usually, Wales was always at the tail end of an economic recovery; this time, we are at the front.
Those figures take absolutely no account of the type of jobs that people are in, the number of zero-hour contracts, the low pay and the difficulty that people are finding to make ends meet, even to put food on the table. Llywydd, if we are to reverse this historic underperformance of the Welsh economy and improve living standards here, we must take responsibility as a country, and the First Minister must take responsibility as a First Minister, too. Yesterday, the Scottish Conservatives unveiled proposals for devolution of income tax to Scotland without a lockstep. I know that the First Minister agrees that a lockstep should not apply to Wales. Therefore, will his colleagues in London back Plaid Cymru’s renewed bid to remove the lockstep from the Wales Bill, or will those MPs be backing the London Tory line?
Is it not amazing that there are two simple answers to the economy as far as Plaid is concerned? One is to tax property, and the other is to tax people. The fact that you have income tax powers does not mean, unless you have explained how you are going to use them, that they will be of any help at all in terms of the economy. Having the power is one thing; using it is another. It is incumbent on Plaid Cymru to explain exactly how it would use those powers for the benefit of the economy. Plaid talks about procurement; what I have seen of its procurement ideas is actually unlawful, under EU law. That is a small item that Plaid has not thought of.
We are always open to suggestions in terms of how we can upskill our people, and how we can ensure that we create more jobs, but to suggest that Wales is in some way doing exceptionally badly is quite simply wrong. Unemployment, as a fact, is lower than the UK average. That is a fact. We are getting more highly skilled jobs into Wales. Pinewood is an example of that, and there is more interest beyond that as well. These are not rubbish jobs; these are jobs that are sustainable and long term and highly skilled. That is the future direction of the Welsh economy. To try to pretend that somehow everything is very dark is completely wrong. We take the view that we will talk Wales up. We are happy that the Welsh economy is moving in the right direction. There is more work to be done, but the fantasies of Plaid Cymru, which says that the answer to every issue and problem in the Welsh economy is to get the lockstep removed, show how out of touch it is.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move back to the questions on the agenda.
Welsh Government Workforce
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government workforce? OAQ(4)1683(FM)
That is a matter for the Permanent Secretary. He has responsibility for that.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. You will be aware that many people have expressed concerns about the appointments process for the Welsh Government workforce, particularly given that the former nursing director at the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board has been appointed as a project manager on a fundamental standards of care review. This is the individual who was responsible for the nurses who were at the health board at the time when Professor Andrews deemed there to have been serious failings in patient care at two hospitals within that health board area. We know that 13 nurses have now been suspended as a result of the inquiry into the allegations surrounding falsification of patient records. How can you be assured, as First Minister, that appropriate people are appointed to very important roles in our NHS so that people are not let down by the appointments system through the appointment of individuals like this person? Can you tell us whether you have confidence that this person can fulfil the role that she has been given?
Yes, and I draw on what the report prepared by Professor Andrews actually said, namely, that no one individual or group of individuals should be the subject of a witch hunt. It is quite clear from the report itself that she felt that the board certainly was able to take forward the proposals that she took forward. The individual that the Member has mentioned was part of that team. She has now moved on, but there is no reason to suggest that in some way she is not capable of undertaking the job that she has taken on. The reality is that the report made it quite clear that there should not be a vendetta against the staff, and he is pursing that vendetta now in the Chamber.
First Minister, I asked people online this morning what issue was most important to them, in terms of Welsh Government jobs and jobs through Welsh Government sponsored agencies. Again, the most important point for people is that of zero-hour contracts and contracts where people are on wages that are so low that they do not have the same kind of protection as other people—for example, those people who work at National Museum Wales who face losing their premium pay for working on weekends. What will you, as First Minister, be able to do to ensure that people across Wales who work for Welsh Government sponsored agencies have the security that they deserve for their jobs?
We expect all bodies to consider whether they have people on zero-hour contracts. No-one working for the Welsh Government has a zero-hour contract. We have looked at this. In addition, there must be UK legislation to ensure that this does not happen at that level either. Therefore, the Member and I agree on the principle, but we must ensure that this is dealt with at a Welsh and British level.
4. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government’s policies to improve public health in Wales? OAQ(4)1687(FM)
They are to be contained in various documents, particularly in the public health White Paper, which was published on 2 April.
Since the 1990s, the British Medical Association has been saying that health impact assessments should be put on a statutory basis. The Green Paper on the public health Bill referred to health impact assessments and proposed that health boards should have early sight of planning applications accordingly, but there is no reference to health impact assessments in the White Paper. Why is that?
The issue that he refers to is a planning issue, I would argue. Any kind of impact, whether it is an environmental impact or a health impact, are more properly contained within the planning system and within planning guidance, and that will be the area where consideration will be given to matters such as that.
First Minister, one of the biggest responsibilities of Government is to protect the health of children. You have the powers to ban smoking in cars where children are present. Are you confident that you, as a Government, have enough time to legislate to ban smoking in cars carrying children, if the evidence that you are currently considering supports doing that and if you have the will to do so?
Yes; if that is what the evidence shows, I do not see that there is a major problem in looking at this in the future, bearing in mind the views of the majority of Members in the Chamber regarding this issue.
First Minister, many believe that an opportunity was lost some five years ago when public health was retained within the health service. Do you believe that, as part of the discussion about the Williams commission, we should look at whether we can restructure public health and move it back to local government?
That has been raised. We would have to be very careful to ensure that local government was able to deal with public health. It cannot do that at present, in my opinion. Therefore, we must ensure that the structure is in place before we consider what powers can be given to local government. I have said many times that, with larger bodies, it is fair to consider how many powers they should have in the future. This is one thing that can be considered once the restructuring has been done.
5. What is the Welsh Government doing to protect and enhance biodiversity in Wales? OAQ(4)1686(FM)
We are developing a nature recovery plan, which defines the actions needed to halt and reverse the decline of biodiversity. The environment Bill will ensure that we have the legislative framework in place to manage our resources in an integrated way.
Thank you for that, First Minister. Over the last three years, as a member of the Environment and Sustainability Committee, I have visited a large number of impressive projects that both protect and enhance biodiversity across Wales while also enhancing food production, energy production and flood protection, for example. First Minister, can you assure me that the suite of Bills that will be forthcoming over the next two years of this Assembly will protect those initiatives, allow us to have more of them and, in particular, develop a system for paying people who provide such eco services to the people of Wales?
Yes. It is bringing together what already exists, to an extent. For example, with the Tir Gofal scheme, farmers are incentivised to ensure that they are able to provide environmental resources, and that will be the case in the future, because we know that pillar 1 payments will decline in the future, and pillar 2 payments are likely to have more emphasis. That means that farmers will be in a position where they will be paid to do things, particularly with regard to the environment. This started off some 10 years ago. The issue then, of course, is how we ensure that, for example, flooding continues to be dealt with, and we have invested heavily in flood protection schemes. We have seen, of course, what has happened in Wales. We had very few incidences of flooding, compared to what happened to the Somerset levels and, indeed, the Thames, despite having the same weather patterns. Therefore, we can go so far in terms of legislation, but the money has to follow, particularly with regard to flood protection.
First Minister, one issue that has arisen in committee is that of data, and particularly baseline data against which progress on biodiversity can be measured. A lot of local records offices hold those data, but it is not clear whether it is Natural Resources Wales or the Welsh Government that is co-ordinating the new data hub. Can you clarify whether it will be done by the Welsh Government or Natural Resources Wales? Will you tell us when that hub will be available, because without those data, we cannot measure progress?
It is a Welsh Government information hub. Work is being undertaken at the moment in order to ensure that the hub is as robust as possible and, of course, that it fits in with the nature recovery plan.
First Minister, will you reaffirm your Government's commitment to one planet Wales and to Wales living within its environmental limits? How is that reflected in your governing programme?
That will be one aim of the future generations Bill, and I am sure that Members are looking forward to seeing that Bill shortly.
6. What assessment has the First Minister made of the performance of the construction sector in Wales? OAQ(4)1695(FM)
The figures published in April show that the construction sector in Wales is outperforming that of the UK. The index of construction for Wales shows a 6.9% increase when comparing the latest four quarters with the previous four quarters, while the UK output increased by 1.1%.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. I very much welcome the increase. Of course, 16% of the businesses in my constituency are construction businesses, with many job opportunities and apprenticeships. One of the issues that concern me is that we want people to have those jobs and to be able to work safely. The Tory Government has cut £80 million from the Health and Safety Executive and proactive inspections of construction sites have fallen by 35%. While health and safety may not be a devolved matter, the consequences of accidents at work are. Will you consider making representations to ascertain precisely what is planned with regard to the quality of health and safety services within Wales, with a view to making a statement in the near future?
Yes. We do not know what is in the Queen’s Speech, but we know that it is not going to be very long. There may be something in it—we do not know—but we have to wait and see whether there are any proposals this week. Every year, I proudly take part in Workers’ Memorial Day, and every year there are people who are injured and killed at work. The answer to that is not to weaken health and safety legislation to enable more people to be killed and injured at work. We have had a proud record over the years in the UK of making sure that people have a very good chance of coming home after they have been to work. Given our industrial history, that is something that we should very much prize. Any suggestion that there should be any deregulation or lack of inspection when it comes to health and safety can only lead to more people being injured and killed. That is something, as a Government, we deplore.
First Minister, small construction firms who renew older properties remain at a disadvantage under the Help to Buy-Wales scheme, although the scheme is starting to help larger developers of new properties in my region. However, constituent correspondence suggests that some developers’ sales divisions are unclear about the relationship between the scheme, mortgage valuation and various purchase incentives, or are creative with that relationship. Can you outline how your Government is monitoring the correct implementation of the scheme so that it can continue to support improvements in construction in Wales?
I know that the Minister recently appointed a consultant to examine the issues around the potential for a system of regulation of domestic builders in Wales. In terms of Help to Buy, 105 developers have applied to register with the scheme. Sixty-six of them are currently offering Help to Buy. To date, over 700 applications have been approved for Help to Buy. That shows that the scheme is working, it shows that there is general awareness of the scheme among developers, and it shows that there are first-time buyers who are now able to have a roof over their heads as a result of the action of the Welsh Government.
First Minister, is it true that your Government recently slashed the target for reducing carbon dioxide emissions in building regulations from 40% to 8%, and pushed back the deadline for meeting the European Union target five years later than the rest of the UK? Will you tell us if sustainable development is still your central organising principle?
It is, but so is ensuring that people have a roof over their heads. This announcement was made by the Minister last year, or indeed the year before that. It is certainly some time ago now when we allowed the sector more time in order to meet the new set of building regulations. Given the situation with regard to the housing market, that was something that we wanted to do at the time, because there was a real danger that we would end up with fewer houses being built because of not giving enough time to developers to adapt to the new regulations. I believe that we have reached a very acceptable compromise that has not compromised our position with regard to sustainable development, but has allowed more houses to be built and more first-time buyers to have a home.
First Minister, figures produced by the Treasury at the end of May indicate that of the 7,300 homes sold under the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme, which is the UK scheme, about 5% were sold in Wales and the majority of which were in south-east Wales. Given that you have just given figures on the Welsh scheme in terms of the 700 homes, can you say how many of those homes were built outside south-east Wales, particularly to the west in the areas where they are needed most? What is the Government doing to try to encourage the use of these schemes to build new homes in areas outside south-east Wales, around the rest of the country?
I can say to the Member that around 20% have been built in the north of Wales; it is not the case that they are entirely in the south-east. With regard to the UK Government scheme, 5% is a little more than our population share in terms of the scheme working there. The two schemes dovetail with each other. When I have travelled around Wales, I have seen houses being built all around Wales, not just around Cardiff and not just south of the M4. It is quite clear that the two schemes, in fairness, are having an effect that is not leading to a housing bubble—there is a danger of that in London and the south-east of England—but is certainly having an effect in terms of enabling people to get a home.
First Minister, last week I had the pleasure of hosting the official launch of the south-west Wales shared apprenticeship scheme, otherwise known as Cyfle. With Welsh Government support, in just a few years, the scheme has grown from a local training partnership with Carmarthenshire County Council to become the biggest employer of construction apprentices in the UK. Will the Welsh Government look to recreate this success in other Welsh regions?
We have published a shared apprenticeship protocol to guide the development of shared apprenticeship scheme in Wales and we are focusing our support within enterprise zones in order to aid economic growth and jobs. It outlines the need for private sector contributions, for sustainable jobs and the targeted use of shared schemes, to intervene only where we can clearly identify that there is a market failure. I can say that we are currently in discussion to assess the requirements of construction in the north of Wales, but of course it is important that we ensure that shared apprenticeship schemes always add value to the mainstream programmes, rather than create unnecessary competition.
Meeting with the First Minister of Scotland
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
7. When will the First Minister be having his next meeting with the First Minister of Scotland? OAQ(4)1682(FM)
On the plane on Friday on the way to Normandy, I would imagine.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Well, we rejoice that the First Minister will be representing us in Normandy and carrying out his duties. I am sure that he will have an opportunity to discuss with the First Minister of Scotland his idea of establishing a constitutional convention for the UK, to look at its future. May I urge him to try to persuade the Scottish First Minister that this convention should be established whatever the result of the referendum in Scotland? It is clear to me, from looking at the parties at Westminster, that they are offering almost everything that Scotland wants before the referendum takes place.
If I were to raise the matter of a constitutional convention with the First Minister of Scotland at the moment, I am sure that his response would be, ‘Well, independence is the answer for Scotland’. Therefore, now is not the time to raise this. Whatever the result may be in September, we will of course have to consider the constitution of the United Kingdom to ensure that the constitution is more robust in future.
First Minister, when you meet the First Minister of Scotland—obviously, Scotland is hosting the Commonwealth Games in August and I think it is the intention of the Government to explore the possibility of a bid for Wales to host the Commonwealth Games sometime in the 2020s—do you intend raising the matter of what we can learn in the preparation of such a bid? In particular, what interaction would there be between Government officials if a bid were to go forward, given that they would be the most immediate country to us that had recently hosted the Commonwealth Games?
I have already discussed the issue informally with him over the past few months. We will have officials examining very closely how the Commonwealth Games are taken forward in Scotland. It is not cheap; it is an expensive project. I would caution Members about that. To host the Commonwealth Games, it needs to be done on the basis of it being a regeneration project, which is what has happened in Glasgow. Nevertheless, we will look to see how things have been done in Glasgow and officials are doing that. It is something that I discuss with officials on a regular basis anyway and, once those games are over, we will assess once more the practicalities of a Welsh bid.
Health Services in Pembrokeshire
8. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government’s policies for the future of health services in Pembrokeshire? OAQ(4)1684(FM)
The document ‘Together for Health’ outlines our policies for the future of health services in the whole of Wales. Of course, we expect Hywel Dda Local Health Board to provide services that are safe and sustainable for the people of Pembrokeshire, and services that lead to the best possible outcomes.
I am grateful to the First Minister for that response. I am sure that he would agree with me that, in order to ensure the highest quality and appropriate services for Pembrokeshire, we must ensure that correct assessments take place. You as a Government have decided to close the special care baby unit at Withybush hospital and, it seems, without having an assessment of the impact on equality. These were only prepared in draft form by the health board. In the circumstances, can you tell us how your Government has come to this decision without having full assessments of the impact on equality? Are you willing to reconsider this decision and to review the situation, bearing in mind that full assessments did not take place?
I do not accept that. This matter is before the courts at present, so I cannot say much about it. I can say that our commitment to Withybush hospital is clear. Some £7.58 million has been invested to create a renal dialysis unit on the site in Withybush. We have stated that we will make available funding in relation to the health technology fund, which will have an effect in Withybush hospital in relation to scanners. Some £4.7 million has been given to Hywel Dda health board to improve resources in relation to blood sciences in Withybush and also Prince Philip Hospital. Of course, on top of that £2.5 million has been given to ensure the renewal of blood science services in Withybush itself, which is part of that figure. We have shown the commitment that we have to the hospital, but, of course, we have to ensure that services are sustainable and safe.
First Minister, how do you respond to concerns raised locally that the Withybush midwife service and A&E have been given reassurances about a future level of paediatric cover that some practitioners feel is not borne out by the proposed paediatric model?
It is clear that there are differences of opinion among paediatricians on the service level that is being proposed. I am aware that there are several clinicians within Withybush who are not happy with the proposals. There are other clinicians in the region who welcome the health board’s proposed care models and are enthusiastic about the midwife-led unit at the hospital. As I have said many times in the Chamber, on the basis of the advice that the Minister has received, among other relevant factors, it is clear that there needs to be a change and a change in order to ensure patient safety. At the end of the day, this is what this is all about and the change is supported by a significant number of clinicians.
But, First Minister, the night-and-day paediatric service is an integral part of maintaining the emergency service and the A&E department there. Why is the Government not committing, therefore, to retaining 24-hour paediatrics at Withybush hospital as part of national benchmarking?
We have to ensure that whatever is done is done in a safe manner. There is no way of having a level 2 service in Carmarthen and in Withybush. It is one or the other; that is the choice. So, if it were not in Carmarthen, it would be in Withybush and, then, the people of Carmarthen would be expressing a view. We have to ensure that we have a unit to deal with the very small number of babies concerned to ensure that they receive the treatment they should have as soon as possible from the people who have the specialism to do that. It is not an easy decision—we all understand that within the Government—but it is something that has to be done to ensure that there is a service available for the babies who need that service and to ensure that that service is delivered by the people who have the specialism to do that.
First Minister, you may be aware that there have been concerns expressed about staffing at Tenby surgery. From the end of this month, there will be only three GPs serving a 60,000-plus summer population. However, the good news is that Hywel Dda health board is working with the practice and is apparently on top of that. However, may I ask you to discuss with the Minister for Health and Social Services the need for the health board to find long-term solutions to ensure patient access to health services in the Tenby area?
Yes. In the interim, I can say that locum cover has been identified. This will commence at the beginning of June. A nurse practitioner has been employed until the end of August to support the GPs. I know that the health board is working with the practice to ensure that the service level continues in future. So, as far as the summer is concerned, and taking into account the proposals for the minor injuries unit, that is something that will be overcome. However, there is a need—and the health board is doing this—to plan for the longer term level of service provision in the town.
9. Will the First Minister make a statement on the benefits of Wales remaining a part of the EU? OAQ(4)1689(FM)
It would be a disaster if we left. It provides 150,000 jobs and £260 million to farmers. For any country that has a large manufacturing sector, leaving the EU would see many thousands of jobs leave Wales.
First Minister, I am very grateful for that response. I think that it is fair to say that the past couple of weeks have not been particularly salutary for those of us across the continent who remain committed to the principles of the European Union and want to ensure that Wales remains best placed to contribute to it as well as to derive maximum benefit from it. Given our shared commitment to Europe’s future, it seems to me particularly regrettable that the European Parliament has an office presence in London and in Edinburgh but does not currently have any such facility to support the work of Welsh MEPs. I think that Welsh MEPs across the parties over recent years have worked in a positive pro-Welsh, pro-European mindset. In that context, First Minister, and given that disparity, what can the Welsh Government do to address this deficiency and to support a greater and more intelligent debate about the importance of the European Union, which you often advocate in this Chamber and elsewhere, across the whole of Wales?
Well, the Commission, of course, has an office. Parliament does not. That is something that I am prepared to take up with the new MEPs. I think that it is worth emphasising the points I made earlier about the importance of Wales’s access to that large single market. Within the first three questions that I am asked when I go abroad is: how can we access the 500 million strong market of the EU? Anything that interferes with that is bad for Wales; it is bad for our farmers and it is bad for our manufacturers. That said, there is a real need to reform the way in which the structure of the EU operates. My judgment—some may share in it and others may not—is that many people see the European elections as a way of registering a vote, because they do not believe that it matters, because they do not know what the European Parliament does. That is a matter of regret. There is a great deal of work, I think, that needs to be done on the part of the European Parliament, as well as building on the good work of the Commission, to explain to people what the EU actually does. Time and again, people say to me, ‘It is all to do with the European Court of Human Rights’. That has nothing to do with the EU; that has as much do to with the EU as UEFA. It just happens to share the title ‘European’. However, that does show that there is an enormous amount of work to do in order for people to understand what the EU does.
With regard to your remarks, First Minister, would you not then agree that the Conservative policy of having a vote on Europe is the way forward for those on either side to express their view, and then the debate is finished and we can go forward with trying to make things better in Wales?
Well, I think what you have done is to have three years of utter uncertainty, because I can say to the Member that I have spoken to companies that have been reluctant to come to Wales because of that referendum. It is the uncertainty. They are saying, ‘We don’t know whether the UK will be in the EU or not, so how can we look at Wales as a place to invest?’ That is because of that uncertainty. The same thing applies in Scotland. You cannot on the one hand say that the Scottish referendum is creating uncertainty, but the UK referendum on the EU is not. Of course they are. The two of them are causing uncertainty and that is the nature of things. I do not know what the Prime Minister’s position—. Well, I do not know whether he will be Prime Minister in 2017, but I do not know what the position of the UK will be. I do not know what he sees as appropriate reform. Some of the things that I have seen mentioned by the coalition Government would be bad for Wales. Any idea, for example, of transferring common agricultural policy payments to the UK Government would mean that that £260 million will either be skimmed or not given to Wales at all. I would rather that the money came straight from Brussels, thanks, than see it skimmed in London. So, it is not in Wales’s interest at all for that to happen. Nor is it in Wales’s interests at all for anything to be done that interferes with European structural funds via a filter in Whitehall. That is not something that is in Wales’s best interests and it is something that I would resist to the greatest degree.
First Minister, I agree with you entirely that creating uncertainty at present could be extremely damaging to the Welsh economy and could mean that companies may be unwilling to invest and to locate in Wales. However, your party also has a policy of renegotiating the relationship with Europe. Looking at the bigger picture, you have made it very clear how important it is for Wales to be within the EU. Is there not scope for us to seek means to ensure that people better understand the importance of that? I accept what you say about this particular election, but, having said that, it is clear that that message has not got through to the people of Wales in terms of how important it is that we are at the heart of Europe.
He is entirely correct that there is a duty on all of us, in all of the parties, to ensure that people understand what happens at the European level. However, there is a duty on the European Union as well to explain what it does, and to consider that the tendency towards greater integration has reduced a lot, looking at what is happening across Europe as a whole. The irony, of course, is that the United Kingdom has followed the European trend in terms of voting in numbers for a party that is anti-Europe. That has happened not just in the UK; it happened in Ireland last week. Sinn Féin is now the largest party, not just on Belfast council but on Dublin council as well. That would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. That also happened in France, in Hungary and in Greece. There was a trend in the majority of European countries that the European Union and the Commission has to consider to ensure that it gets the support of the people of Europe once again.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, First Minister.
I have no changes to report to this week’s business. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the agenda papers that are available to Members electronically.
First, may I call for a statement—I know that this will be developed by my colleagues later—on the flooding of the A55? I will not develop that further now; I will leave that to colleagues.
Secondly, could I call for a statement on national health service waiting times, particularly in the context of the story of Diana Hannam, published in the ‘Daily Post’yesterday? She, a former mayor of Rhyl, chose to go public on this. I have been supporting her. We have received correspondence from the acting chief executive stating that all patients should be treated within 52 weeks from the commencement of the referral to treatment pathway. When I clarified that further, they said that that applies to most areas of surgical and dental services, which happens to include all general surgery, orthopaedics, ear, nose and throat, breast care and very much more, although they are working to reduce that. Mrs Hannam has been waiting for over a year since she first went to a doctor. Her waiting time kicked in, she was told, from last September. However, she is not alone. Only last week, I visited another constituent who had been waiting over 40 weeks, aged 77, in agony. These are human stories. Could we have a response that reflects the reality and advises how the Welsh Government is going to address this, rather than simply passing the buck, once again, to the health board?
I obviously cannot comment on individual cases. A great deal of work is being undertaken by health boards right across Wales to ensure that their waiting times are meeting the targets. In relation to the flooding to the A55 last week, you will be aware that those difficulties were due to exceptional localised rain, which fell within a very short space of time and caused a significant amount of debris to block the pipeworks under the road. The incident is being fully investigated to determine the cause and how further incidents can be prevented.
The NSPCC has revealed that, UK-wide, it has to refer more than 5,000 children to social services because of parental neglect and emotional abuse, including being bullied, ignored, and so on. So, I would be keen to have a statement from the Government outlining how the Welsh Government is ensuring that social services are well equipped to recognise and deal with this problem; how it is supporting good parenting across society, because this is not something that is geographical or restricted to one socioeconomic group; and, finally, details on the Welsh Government’s approach to the so-called Cinderella law, which would update the criminal offence of child cruelty to include emotional neglect and abuse as well as physical abuse.
Safeguarding children is, obviously, a key priority for the Welsh Government, and we continue to work very closely with statutory and voluntary agencies to help ensure that children are kept safe. You will be aware of the recent Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, which received Royal Assent last month. That will deliver a strong statutory framework to improve the outcomes for children and their families. However, we do not underestimate the impact of neglect on many children around Wales, which is completely unacceptable. We have yet to receive the details of the UK Government’s proposals to update the law to include emotional neglect in the definition of child cruelty, but we are fully supportive of the principle of its proposed approach. We recognise too that parenting support is crucial for families and, obviously, we invest significantly in this through programmes such as Flying Start and Families First, whereby we provide a range of parenting interventions, which help parents to cope with demanding situations and then, hopefully, the families can develop resilience.
Minister, I wonder whether we could have an update from you in relation to the discussions that you have been having with the Westminster Government in relation to pensions for people working in the fire sector? I, and other Assembly Members, I believe, have received an e-mail from a member of the Fire Brigades Union saying that there is an impasse with the Minister Brandon Lewis and that he is going back to the old situation with the pension rather than taking the ideas of the FBU forward. So, I wonder whether we can have some kind of statement from you so that we can understand what exactly is happening. As far as I can see, they are not receiving the information in a transparent and open manner and I would want to understand, on their behalf, what is happening at present.
We are obviously committed to collective pension arrangements that follow approaches similar to those being taken elsewhere in the UK. We cannot diverge from those because of the way that we are funded from the Treasury. I have corresponded and have met with Brandon Lewis, the fire Minister in the UK Government, regarding pension issues and other issues around the ongoing industrial action. I know that the executive council of the Fire Brigades Union is meeting today. I have urged Brandon Lewis to continue dialogue with the FBU. I would certainly maintain that dialogue with the FBU. I am due to meet it again next week, I think, to ensure that it gets that message of the commitment that we have to public service pensions. I last met with the FBU on 7 May. It certainly thinks a workable solution is there. Again, I met with Brandon Lewis, gave him that message, and I look forward to meeting the FBU again next week.
Minister, would you ask your colleague the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport to provide a statement on what the Welsh Government is doing to protect the 42 jobs that are under threat at Benson Heating in Knighton? They are much-valued, high-quality manufacturing jobs. My colleague the Member of Parliament and I are urging AmbiRad, the British owners of the company, as well as the new American owners, Nortek, to review and reverse their decision to ensure that those jobs continue in Knighton. They have acknowledged that the workforce is excellent. They are looking to cut costs, however. Having spoken to the person who owns the building, he is prepared to negotiate on rent levels, but we would be really grateful to hear from the Minister what assistance she can gave to retain those jobs at Knighton.
The Minister for Economy, Science and Transport’s officials are working very closely with the company to explore all potential options to secure the long-term future of the site and, as you say, the highly-skilled workforce employed there. The Minister will keep Assembly Members informed and update us very shortly.
Minister, may I call for a statement from the Minister for heritage on funding for military museums in Wales? There has been some concern expressed in north Wales regarding the future of the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum in Caernarfon, which, apparently, has not had its funding signed off for the current financial year and is having to rely on its reserves. I wonder whether we could have a statement on this matter as soon as possible, please. Also, could we have a statement on access to cancer medicines, and updates from the Minister for Health and Social Services? The Minister will be aware that a number of new drugs have made it onto the cancer drugs fund list and are eligible for funding under the cancer drugs fund in England that are not currently available in Wales. That includes a drug called Abraxane, which is a new drug for the treatment of pancreatic cancer, which, of course, can have a very short survival rate once diagnosis has been made. This drug prolongs life expectancy by a significant margin—something that has not been achieved for many years in terms of the cancer survival rates being pretty static for the past 40 years. So, perhaps we could also have an update on that. Thank you.
The Minister for Culture and Sport and his officials are currently working through the details regarding the funding for the museum to which you referred. You will be aware that, when it comes to drugs, we have our own system in Wales, through the individual patient funding requests system. I am sure that it will look at any new drugs that come forward.
Minister, could we have a statement about the importance of volunteering to Wales, bearing in mind that this week is Volunteers’ Week? Yesterday, I was pleased to attend the fiftieth anniversary of Voluntary Community Service in Cardiff. I know that other Assembly Members will also be supporting it this week. This was the first local volunteering service to be established in Wales, in 1964.
Thank you for that question, and for highlighting the events that will be taking place, as you say, right across Wales to mark Volunteers’ Week 2014. I certainly would like to join you in congratulating VCS Cardiff on its notable anniversary. You will be aware that, in Wales, we have a long tradition of support around volunteering, and I know that the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty has had a review of the relationship that we have with the third sector, which was published in January, and we are looking at volunteering policy. I think that, when that has been published, that is probably the best time to have a statement or a debate in the Chamber.
A statement by the First Minister on the annual report on the programme for government is to take place in a few minutes’ time. It is a very lengthy document, hundreds of pages, full of facts and claims. Why is this document not released in adequate time so that we have an opportunity to read it, in order for us to have a considered debate on it, and will you commit to have a full debate, soon, on this report, once we have had to consider it?
As you say, there will be an oral statement from the First Minister following this business statement.
Could I ask the Minister whether we might have a statement from the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport regarding plans for the NATO summit in Wales? We have discussed on a number of occasions the positive economic benefits for Wales, but there are rumours that there will be significant road closures and travel disruption during the period of the summit itself. Local businesses are keen to know when those will be, and how they can make plans for them. I recognise that it is difficult, perhaps, to give very detailed information, but could we please have a statement outlining the timetable by which people will be informed, so that they can make plans to make alternative arrangements?
As you say, it is very difficult at the current time to give those details. You will be aware that this is a UK Government summit—it happens to be in Wales, and we are very grateful that it is in Wales, and we will certainly be taking advantage of the fact that it is in Wales. However, it is too early to give out those sorts of details.
Minister, you are the lead Minister in this respect, but I am asking this question in your role as the leader of the house. The veterans’ card is something that we have promoted on this side of the house, and I know that the previous Minister who had responsibility for the armed services here in Wales commented extensively on the introduction of such a card, and pushed it into working groups that the Government has looking at this across Government. Are you in a position to update Members as to exactly what stage the Government is at in bringing forward the prospect of a veterans’ card? On Friday, we have the D-day commemorations, in August, we have the start of the first world war commemorations, and, obviously, people are very conscious of current serving activity coming to an end in Afghanistan. I think that it would be wholly appropriate if we could have confirmation as to whether it is the Government’s intention to bring forward such a card, which would benefit living personnel from the armed services.
You will be aware that I was very keen to have a look at this, and I got my expert group to look at having a pilot scheme. The next meeting of the expert group is this month, and, following that, I will be in a position to update Assembly Members.
I would like to ask for a statement regarding a trunk road issue. A significant problem has occurred, over recent weeks, on a stretch of the A483 at Penarth corner near Newtown. A temporary road was put in place some weeks ago, but, over the bank holiday weekend, that temporary road was closed because it threatened to collapse due to heavy rain. Now, with the current traffic issues in Newtown, you can imagine the misery caused to residents, businesses and tourists. I also understand that a wedding took place over that weekend, and that guests were not even able to attend the wedding in Newtown town centre. All of this is unacceptable, especially when it seems that there is very little being done in the way of work actually taking place on that original section of road. I would like to know why the road was temporarily closed, whether it was appropriately designed, who is monitoring the works and, most importantly, when will the works on this important section of trunk road be completed? I would be grateful for a statement from the Minister on that.
You will be aware that the works were being undertaken to replace a culvert under the A483 that had collapsed. They have fallen behind schedule due to problems with the contractor and, unfortunately, they were unable to open up the A483 fully for the bank holiday. However, every effort will be made to minimise the use of temporary traffic lights, and to complete the remaining work after the end of this week, and the scheme should be completed by the end of this month.
Minister, I would like a statement from the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport. I am very grateful for the letter that she wrote to Assembly Members today about her roadside verges for plant life. You will be aware that this is something that I raised last year in response to the action plan for pollinators and the ‘State of Nature’ report. I would welcome if the Minister, in that statement, could outline what steps she will be taking to encourage local councils to adopt the same view as the Welsh Government in terms of roadside verges and the importance that they can provide in terms of wildlife corridors. Her letter talks about potentially creating new areas with wildlife in them, and, again, it would be useful to know whether those local councils will be able to take advantage of that initiative and put bids in to create those areas.
Yes, I think that local authorities will be able to take advantage. This work is in hand and the Minister has updated Assembly Members.
Ydw, rwyf yn credu y bydd awdurdodau lleol yn gallu manteisio arni. Mae'r gwaith hwn ar y gweill ac mae'r Gweinidog wedi rhoi’r wybodaeth ddiweddaraf i Aelodau'r Cynulliad.
On the economy, we are securing the recovery and growing jobs by making Wales a key business destination, while supporting home-grown enterprises and maximizing the impact of European funding. On the NHS, we are modernising and reforming to ensure that every patient receives safe, high-quality care, as close to their homes as possible. On education, we are relentlessly focused on driving up standards and skills, adding rigour and challenge at every level of the system. Social justice is at the heart of everything that we do, firmly based on a belief that no Welsh citizen should be left behind, and that everyone should be able to fulfil their potential.
The annual report is in four parts. First, I have published data and commentaries on 335 outcome indicators and performance measures. Also, for the first time, I am reporting on a subset of indicators that show the state of people’s wellbeing in Wales. That fulfils the commitment that I made to publish wellbeing indicators. I have also provided information on progress against 550 Government commitments. These arise largely from our original programme for government in 2011. Finally, I am publishing a progress report that highlights the achievements of this Government over the last period. Taken together, it represents a transparent and comprehensive account of the progress that this Government, and indeed our country, are making. For all those who have made a contribution to public services in Wales, there is much to be proud of and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the public service workers across Wales who have played their part. It is also to the credit of public service workers across Wales that the national survey shows that people are making a positive assessment of the wide range of public services that they use, despite the pressures of rising demand and the challenging financial environment.
I am also serious and focused about the challenges that we face as well. The people of Wales are right to have high expectations of the services that they receive. I acknowledge that as resources shrink and demand for services goes up, questions will need to be asked about how public services will deliver. It is incumbent on everyone in the Chamber to treat this challenge with the seriousness that it deserves. However, the people of Wales do not deserve to be told that their country is bottom of the pile time after time. To those who wish to talk our country down, I say that the indicators that we are publishing today are clear evidence that the Welsh economy and Welsh public services are moving forward despite tough times.
On growth and jobs, the Welsh economy and labour market have grown strongly over the past year, closing the gap in employment with the UK. This programme for government annual report shows that the Welsh Government is using all of the levers at its disposal to create jobs. Our flagship Jobs Growth Wales programme has delivered more than 13,200 job opportunities to date, with well over 9,500 young people—9,978 at the last count, if I remember—taking part, and a significant number going on to secure long-term employment. Our Young Recruits programme continues to be hugely successful, exceeding expectations by supporting well over 5,000 places against a target of 2,000 for this year. The apprenticeship success rate continues to show steady improvement, reaching 86%.
Despite the cuts coming from London, we are putting hundreds of millions of pounds of extra funding into our NHS over the remaining years of this Assembly. This will help ensure that it delivers the highest standards of health and wellbeing, which the people of Wales expect of it. The improvement in the outcomes for cancer and circulatory disease is testament to improving technology, hard-working staff and extra investment making a measurable difference to patients’ lives.
On education, the programme for government 2014 shows improvement too. I believe that the Welsh Government’s reform programme—and the extra investments, such as that in Schools Challenge Cymru, which accompany these reforms—will support education professionals as they deliver the step change that we want to see. The Welsh Government and its partners are supporting children, families and deprived communities. The continued expansion of the Flying Start programme demonstrates that we are investing in those communities that need our help most. The annual report marks the halfway mark of this administration. It demonstrates that we are on track to keep our promises and to deliver better outcomes for the people of Wales.
I welcome the opportunity to respond to the statement that the First Minister has laid before us this afternoon on the programme for government. Obviously, it is a nice, weighty document this time around, and I am grateful to the First Minister for making it available this year before Members heard the statement. As Members recall, last year, the statement was finished before it was made available to Members. So, this shows that the Government is slightly more efficient 12 months on, but that is about the only complimentary comment that you can make about this Government’s performance to date. I also note that the document talks about bus services, which is something that, as a regional Member, has occupied my mind considerably. When you correlate the evidence in this document to the data, you will see that it says that the data were taken in 2010. Many of my constituents in the Vale of Glamorgan, in particular, have no bus service at all to access because of the measures that the First Minister’s Government has undertaken over the 12 months to withdraw much of the subsidy for those bus routes. I do not think that constituents across Wales will find much favour with some of the information that is contained in this weighty doorstop of a document.
It is also my intention to focus in my reply on asking questions to the First Minister on the three key areas, if I may: health, education and the economy. Obviously, we could spend a considerable amount of time on that, but today’s statement is only down to be debated for an hour. Regarding waiting times, we talked during First Minister’s questions about cardiac services and the report that Professor Andrews brought forward on Abertawe Bro Morgannwg’s way of running its hospitals. We could have looked at Betsi Cadwaladr in the north as well, and the report that came forward last summer. It is not a rosy picture at all, First Minister. It clearly shows that your Government is not delivering on health outcomes in Wales. Ambulance response times and cancer targets, for example, are constantly being missed. Above all, my colleague to my left and many colleagues across the Chamber are dealing with the closure of hospitals and service downgrades across the whole of Wales. Your document is not giving any comfort at all to the citizens of Wales about the certainty that they require for a fit and proper NHS for the twenty-first century. I note the comments from the First Minister this morning, when he was talking about treatment within the NHS. He said:
‘I'd rather see people get their treatment elsewhere rather than have to wait.’
Hallelujah to that. We agree with that—so long as people can get their treatment, it is of no concern where that treatment is commissioned. First Minister, is that now a change of direction from your Government? Will you start commissioning provision out of the independent sector to get to grips with some of these horrendous waits that are costing people their lives? I also note that, with GP access times, there is a passing reference in the document that accompanies the main document about GP access times. In questions that I have posed to the Minister for Health and Social Services, I note that only 49 surgeries are offering post 6:30 p.m. appointments across Wales, out of 466. Weekend appointments are not even collated by your Government, as the response from the Minister for health indicated to me last week. So, how can we measure one of the key targets that you had in your manifesto? Are you in a position to say whether all surgeries will be in a position to meet that key part of your programme for government?
On education, we had the debacle about the GCSEs back in January and February, which not only knocked pupils’ confidence, but also knocked teachers’ confidence. Regarding the Programme for International Student Assessment results that have come through, is the First Minister in a position to confirm whether it is still the ambition of the Government to be in the top 20 of PISA by 2015, as was outlined by the previous Minister for education, or has that ambition now been lost because of the slippage in the delivery of standards? We have heard the chief inspector from Estyn saying that we are going to have to wait at least another four years before we see another significant improvement in education here in Wales. What is the difference between this Government and previous Labour Governments in delivering improvement in education here in Wales? We have heard it time and time again, but when the analysis is put into the education system—independent analysis—your policies are found wanting, and the improvements that we all want to see in the education system here in Wales are sadly lacking because of the lack of direction that you Government is offering.
On the economy, First Minister, I had hoped that I would find some key statistics about jobs created in enterprise zones, for example, which is something that we on this side of the house support. You would have thought that, in such a weighty document, you could turn to a page and find where the jobs are being created, which enterprise zones are pulling ahead, what the new jobs are and which are just the recycled jobs that are relocated. If I look at the Northern Irish Executive’s programme for government, or the Scottish programme for government, I can find that type of information out quite easily, I can. I can also find the level of investment that has been attracted in that particular year. Again, your document does not have that, and I would be grateful if the First Minister would indicate whether he is prepared to make that information available clearly and concisely, so that people can measure whether the Government has a successful enterprise project on its hands.
On inward investment—
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I think that you have now spoken for longer than the First Minister, so can you bring your questions to a close?
This is a substantial document.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Can you bring your questions to a close?
Well, if you do not want any more questions, then I shall—
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I do not want you to go off in a huff; I am just saying—[Interruption.]
Eleven minutes into a key statement.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call the First Minister.
I think the leader of the opposition went on for longer than I did in the original statement. Let us see if I can deal with some of his issues.
He is right, of course, about the fact that the statement arrived late last time around. There was an IT problem, and this time the statement has arrived at least a little earlier, in terms of Members being able to read it.
I did cast a wry smile when he talked about bus services in his area. I wonder when it was, the last time that he was on a bus. I can tell him I was on a bus three weeks ago. It was the No. 6 bus, actually, from the bay.
Saturday it was; the X2.
The X2—well, I will keep an eye out for him, because it goes straight past my house, and if I see him on it, I will let him know.
As to some of the issues that he raised, such as cardiac services, there is no doubt that the number of people waiting for cardiac operations in south Wales has dropped, and even the 'Week In, Week Out’ figures seemed to show that—even though the figure that it put out for Swansea does not make any sense whatsoever, it is quite clear that it is true at least of Cardiff. Yes, he is right to say that we have historically—and we said this in February—paid for cardiac operations outside of Wales in order for people to receive particularly specialised treatment. We make no apologies for that. It is right—and this is what I said this morning—that where there is the possibility of somebody being treated, particularly for a specialist operation, it is right that they should have that treatment, rather than be in a position where they have to wait a little longer if that treatment was not made available to them. I think that that is a humane way of operating a health service.
When it comes to cancer waiting times, things are far better in Wales and they are in England. If you look at England's figures, England's targets are a lot lower for a start, but they cannot even meet those targets, whether it is 31 days or 62 days, Wales’s performance for cancer waiting times is better than is the case in England.
If we look at GP figures, I do not know where he gets those figures from, because I can tell him that when it comes to GP access, 76% of practices are now open for the full daily core hours of 8 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. on Monday or Friday, and that 95% of practices now offer appointments at any time between 5 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. on at least two days per week. That is the figure as far as GP access is concerned. Some 76% of practices offer appointments at any time between 5 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. every weekday, which represents an increase of 14% between 2011 and 2013. We are well on track to deliver what was a core part of our manifesto, and I do not know where he gets his figures from, and it would not be the first occasion that that is true.
With regard to the issue of PISA, it is a serious matter and schools and local education authorities must treat it seriously. It is a point that I will be making, together with the Minister for education, next week at a conference that we will be holding. He has not given the full story as far as what the chief inspector of schools has said about PISA. She said that there is good progress being made. We have the national literary and numeracy tests in place, of course, and they will certainly move us towards ensuring that we have better results next time around in PISA.
With regard to the economy, all the information has been published about the enterprise zones. We take pride in the fact that the Welsh economy is recovering more quickly than is the case elsewhere in the UK.
First Minister, one of the most important things about the Government’s programme and the report is how it relates to our constituents. In my constituency of Pontypridd, there is now a 30% increase in apprenticeships, and 91% of apprentices are entering permanent employment within three months. The rate of apprenticeship completions is 86%, which compares with a rate of 72% in England, and Pontypridd has the highest rate at 91%. We have also had a number of important pieces of legislation that have come through the Assembly and have had a direct impact on the quality of life and services within the constituency. There is not time for me to go through all of them but I will just mention, for example, a simple piece of legislation: the food hygiene legislation, which has resulted in a 200% increase in score-5 premises and an 87% increase in score-3 premises. It is simple legislation, using the powers that we have, that has had a dramatic impact. If we look at economic growth in construction—of course, I raised concerns earlier about the health and safety executive—there has been 6.9% growth in Wales compared with a 1.1% growth in construction in the UK. Why is that important to me? It is important because, in my constituency, there are 300 constructions businesses—16% of the total number of businesses are in construction, which is the highest proportion in the whole of Wales. The important point is that a place like Pontypridd, which has traditionally suffered from high unemployment and low business creation, is bucking the UK trend, which I think is a really important development.
We cannot, of course, exclude what happens within Wales from what happens within the UK context, and, whereas we can use our powers to benefit the people of Wales to the best of the powers that we have, we cannot ignore some of the legislation, or lack of legislation, that is now going through in the United Kingdom. For example, there is now a paralysed and moribund UK Government with what is likely to be the smallest legislative programme since the second world war. With this Government, quite frankly, if it were not for legislation, we would be having a general election now. First Minister, what impacts on people within Wales and has consequences that impact on how the Welsh Government responds to socioeconomic circumstances within Wales is the things that are not being legislated on in the United Kingdom. There is no abolition of the bedroom tax. I heard the Liberal Democrats on the ‘Sharp End’ the other night and, of course, they did not mention the bedroom tax at all.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Mick Antoniw, this is questions on the First Minister’s statement.
On the report, First Minister, do you consider that there is an impact, and importance, on the gap in UK legislation in the way that it affects the Welsh Government programme, particularly the failure to have any abolition of zero-hour contracts and issues to do with a living wage?
I do not know what the Queen’s Speech will say, but I do not think that Parliament will be over-taxed in terms of its work over the course of the next year. What we do see, of course, in Westminster, is a Government that has completely run out of steam and unity. It is very difficult to describe it as one Government any more, rather than competing factions within the same Government. I do not expect to see anything in the legislative programme at the UK-level that helps with fairness, social justice or the creation of opportunities for our people. We can be proud of what we have done in Wales with apprenticeships, with the Young Recruits programme and with Jobs Growth Wales , and with all that they have done the ensure that our young people get the opportunities that they deserve, However, in many ways it is difficult to answer what the Member has asked. We do not know what will be in the Queen’s Speech. I do not think that it will take up an enormous amount of time in analysis in the Queen’s Speech but I do not think that we can expect from the current UK Government any move towards the abolition of zero-hours contracts or, indeed, any socially progressive legislation.
I thank the First Minister for his statement this afternoon and for the effort in getting the document to us slightly earlier than previously. I think that Mick Antoniw is important in one regard: what is important is to ensure that this document has some relevance to the people of Wales in how it gives a picture of the kind of public services they are receiving. That would be greatly enhanced, I am sure—because none of them are going to have the document that we have—if they were able to access that information online. I note from looking at the Welsh Government’s programme for government website that many of the indicators are at least 12 months out of date. There is not a rolling programme of updates, and I am sure that everyone with an interest would appreciate more up-to-date and comprehensive information on the Welsh Government’s website. I am sure, now that this document has been published, that the First Minister will be able to commit to ensuring that the online information will be updated.
Presiding Officer, I will turn first to the issue of education. The First Minister in his statement said that the programme for government demonstrated that there were improvements, and the First Minister made great play, and not for the first time, of the fact that the benchmark for this was that he was educated in what he described as a shed and that Welsh children no longer have to endure that. I welcome very much the fact that there are schools that have been rebuilt, but could the First Minister give an update on where we are in ensuring that all children are educated in twenty-first century schools—schools that are fit for purpose? If he is unsure whether such places exist, could I ask him whether he would visit my local high school, which is in desperate need of being, let us face it, knocked down and rebuilt? I am sure that the staff there would be very pleased to see him and hear about what plans his Government has to ensure that all children have a school that is fit for purpose.
Estyn’s latest annual report, published in January, said that standards of education in Wales have not improved in the main. I wonder how the First Minister reconciles his narrative in his document with that of the chief inspector of schools, who, just a number of months ago, was able to make that statement. She went on to say that
‘We have been using the same framework in inspections over the last three years and I had hoped to see improvements in performance by now. It is disappointing that excellent schools remain in a small minority and that so many secondary schools are in need of follow-up inspections.’
I wonder whether the First Minister could give us any indication of when he expects to see the number of secondary schools that are classed as unsatisfactory beginning to drop. Actually, the trend is that the number of schools in that category is increasing. The Minister says that the new resources being put into education will make a difference, and the Minister is setting great store by the Wales Schools Challenge programme as a vehicle for driving improvements. Is the First Minister confident that we have sufficient leadership skills in the Welsh education system for a model that relies on those skills being transferred? Do we have enough capacity in the system? That is, do we have enough people within the system to be able to make that model work successfully? I think there are some doubts in the education community about whether that is the case.
If I can move to the issue of the health service, Presiding Officer, the First Minister says that hundreds of millions of pounds are being put into the health service. They are, and I recognise that. When does the First Minister anticipate that the results in terms of waiting times for elective surgery, waiting times for ambulances and waiting times for diagnostics will reflect the amount of investment he has said in the statement is going into these areas? Again, if you look at the programme for government, there are a number of indicators where the First Minister said there would be improvements, and, actually, the travel is in the right direction. Money going in is good, but we have to get outcomes for those resources across the piece in the NHS, not just picking selectively some of the indicators. We need improvement across the piece.
I thank the leader of the Liberal Democrats for her questions. One of the reasons why I came into politics is because of what I saw in the education system in the 1980s. There was nothing wrong with the teaching. We had good teachers in school, but I went to a school where, in one of the classrooms, the floor had come away from the wall and there was a plant growing up the inside of the wall. There was no money to replace it. If windows were smashed, they stayed smashed, or they were boarded up. In the school library, there was nothing younger than 30 years old. We did have ‘Paris Match’ and ‘Soviet Weekly’, but there is a limit to how much you can get out of looking at people talking about the five-year plan for growing wheat in the Ukraine at that time. We had nothing. We did not have the resources that schools have now. One of the things that drove me into politics was to make sure that that never happened again. I am proud of the twenty-first century schools programme. I am proud of the fact that we see comprehensive schools—which, 12 years ago, people thought we would never build—and primary schools being built.
In terms of Brecon, it is a matter for Powys, as the LEA, to put in a bid to the capital programme. I do not know whether a bid is being made or what the progress of it is. However, I have seen some excellent examples. The last comprehensive school that I went to was St Teilo’s Church in Wales High School in Cardiff, which has a fantastic new building. Coleg Cymunedol y Dderwen, which is just outside of my constituency, and others across Wales are example of where there has been fantastic investment in facilities as far as school students are concerned.
A question that she asked that I thought was particularly pertinent was: am I certain that there is consistent leadership across Wales, in terms of delivery of education? The answer to that is ‘no’. The reason for that is I do not think that we have it across all local authorities. If we have six local education authorities in special measures, no-one can argue that there is the right level of consistency, in terms of delivery, in local education authorities. That is why the Williams commission has published its report for future consideration by the Assembly. However, where we have authorities—Wales’s only Conservative-run local authority is one of them—that are in special measures, nobody can be satisfied with that situation, and that has to change. Until that structure is dealt with, I could not be fully confident that the consistent level of leadership is there.
Nevertheless, in order to improve things in the interim we have Schools Challenge Cymru. That has identified the schools that are not doing as well as we would want them to. It has given them money in addition to the pupil deprivation grant, and that will help us to ensure greater consistency. We have some very good schools, some very good leadership and some very good teachers in Wales. What we do not have is the right level of consistency across the board, and that is what Schools Challenge Wales is designed to help to do.
With regard to what the chief inspector of schools said, much of it was very positive. There are some issues that we need to examine, but she was certainly saying that much is now on track, as far as the Welsh education system is concerned.
With health, we would expect to see improvements in the course of this financial year. In terms of diagnostics, we have to say it in terms of ambulance waiting times. We have seen improvements with regard to, for example, cancer waiting times, and that consistency needs to be achieved across the board. It is absolutely crucial that all local health boards understand that now they have, or soon will have, the ability to budget for three years instead of one, the people of Wales will expect them to deliver the services that they wish consistently across the whole of Wales. However, I have to say, in relation to what the Conservatives have said, that it is not good enough on the one hand to say that we need to see improvements in the health service and then block every single potential change that is proposed. There have to be changes. [Interruption.] I am not talking about the leader of the Liberal Democrats; I am talking about the Conservatives at this point. There has to be change in the health service in order for there to be proper, safe and sustainable services across Wales. I know that the leader of the Liberal Democrats shares the view that that is the common aim, but when looking at health and education across Wales over the course of the past year, it is my strong belief that we have put in place all that we need to do to ensure that services continue to improve.
With education, school buildings are now vastly superior to what existed to when I was in school under the administration of Margaret Thatcher. We have funding in place. We have national literacy and numeracy tests. We have helped the schools that need the help the most. We have not channelled money into free schools and deprived schools of the money that they need. That is exactly what has happened under the Conservative administration in England. That is not something that we will do in Wales.
The report of the commission on public service, governance and delivery, the Williams commission, states that the programme for government should constitute the apex of the performance management framework in Wales, but
‘At present it does not do so well enough’.
Does this not, then, require a change of direction?
In my response to last year’s annual report, I raised four areas of concern: health, education, the health of the Welsh language and infrastructure. On infrastructure, there has been progress, insofar as the Minister for Finance announced investment using what Plaid Cymru referred to as the ‘build for Wales’ model in our previous manifesto. I welcome the announcement that was made recently, although we know that specific infrastructure projects, such as the Valleys lines electrification and the M4 around Newport, remain subject to debate. It would be useful to know when we can have more detail about those projects and what projects we might expect to see in other parts of the country, too.
With regard to health, education and the Welsh language, progress is disappointing.
First Minister, last year, when I raised the need to act on the language, you said that the ‘Cynhadledd Fawr’ was the first step to respond to the challenge facing the language. Today, a year and a half since the census, you said on the radio that you are still trying to find the answers in terms of policy. You have had ample time. Why does the draft planning Bill not talk about the Welsh language? Why is Welsh as a second language not considered in the review of the curriculum? Last year, you promised to publish an assessment of the impact of all Welsh Government expenditure on the Welsh language. Can you tell us when that will be published?
On education, in April, we had the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s report, which, once again, did not make for easy reading and, today, the head of Estyn is reported as saying that an improvement in the PISA rankings can only realistically be expected in 2018. That would represent the Welsh Government failing to meet its target of achieving a top 20 placement in December 2016. We know that the education of today shapes the economy of tomorrow, and I am sure that my concerns will be shared about the economic impact of, in the First Minister’s words, our taking our eyes off the ball. Is that still a target, or is that a target that will be dropped?
I would like to address the welcome fact that unemployment in Wales has returned to its position below the UK average. I know that the First Minister recognises this, and it is positive, but outside a recession, is it not normal for Welsh unemployment to be lower than the UK rate as a whole? Current employment figures are showing the normal trend for the Welsh economy, and nothing beyond that. The number of young people claiming jobseeker’s allowance for over a year has more than quadrupled since the current Welsh Government took office—rising from 870 to 3,120. Fewer than half of those who begin the six-month Jobs Growth Wales programme complete it and find employment. How will we ensure that more people can find employment at the end of that six-month programme? Outside Jobs Growth Wales, how will that situation be improved?
This country has all the raw materials needed to deliver high-quality public services and a strong, sustainable economy. That outcome is not being realised and today’s annual report really does confirm the need for a change in direction.
Well, let us turn to infrastructure. She will know, of course, that we are awaiting the go-ahead in terms of being able to borrow with regard to the road project around Newport and the M4. With regard to the Valleys lines, that is still under discussion. We have all heard what the Prime Minister has said regarding the fact that the UK Government—he said—was going to pay for the Valleys lines. You should bear in mind that the rail budget is not devolved and we do not hold a budget for railways. If, however, the UK Government wanted to reconsider the devolution of the railways and transfer the budget, then that is another issue that can be discussed when the time comes.
On the language, what I said this morning is that some people think that there are easy fixes to this situation. A policy statement will be made in a fortnight and the work on standards is continuing. It is not true to say that Welsh as a second language will not be considered. A review has been undertaken of Welsh as a second language, and I have said in this Chamber that we are not creating confident Welsh speakers in English-medium schools. We must change the system to ensure that that happens in the future. Therefore, it is not true to say that nothing has been done about that.
In terms of the language, the Government has been supportive of the language. It is one thing to say that the Welsh language should be included on the face of the planning Bill, but what would that mean without any resulting practical steps? That does not mean anything. We must ensure that that would mean that practical steps were taken to benefit the language. It would not be enough to include it there and then to forget about it, obviously. Therefore, we must consider how that could be considered in detail.
In terms of education, PISA is still there as a target. Next week, Huw and I will be emphasising the importance of PISA to schools. Increasingly, the Welsh education system and teachers are being judged on PISA results. It is imperative that all in the system take them with the seriousness that they deserve, and that is a point that I will be making very clearly next week. They are not the be-all and end-all, but that is what we are judged on; therefore it is important that we ensure that our peformance improves in the short-term, particularly, and over the long-term definitely.
I was struck by the phrase that the leader of Plaid Cymru used in terms of unemployment, as to whether it is ‘normal’ for unemployment to be this low, as if we should be returning to normal times where unemployment should be higher than the UK average. That is the implication of what she was saying. I am quite happy with this new normality, to be honest, where unemployment in Wales is lower than the UK average.
Then she chooses finally to attack Jobs Growth Wales. Of all the programmes that we have created, this is the one that has been the most successful. If you look, for example, at the UK Government’s youth guarantee programme, 6% of the money has been spent in two years. That has been the success rate of that programme. In our programme, 81% of the young people who complete the six-month opportunity move into employment, apprenticeship or further learning. We are way ahead of the target; it has performed far better than we had dared hope. Let us not forget that this was put in place because of the removal of the Future Jobs Fund by the Conservative and Lib Dem Government. I invite the leader of Plaid Cymru to go to businesses, as I did yesterday, visiting Hydratech in Swansea, to see the 10 young people who received an opportunity for a job or further training because of Jobs Growth Wales. That is replicated across the whole of Wales. I expect there to be criticism from parties in this Chamber, but I am surprised that Plaid Cymru has chosen to attack a programme that is, in terms of job creation, the envy of Europe.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I still have a very long list of speakers, so I ask Members to come to questions.
First Minister, today you have laid out how you believe the Welsh Government has performed against the programme for government agenda, that laid down the road map for this Government during this term in 2011. Despite having no realistic targets, let us turn to some of the key headlines of the Welsh Government over the past year.
Regarding the health situation in Wales, we have seen tragic headlines week after week, poor performance, cancelled and delayed operations and treatment and poor response in ambulance waiting times. Only yesterday, and despite repeated claims that things are improving in Wales, embarrassing headlines showed that over a fifth of all Welsh patients are waiting more than 26 weeks for treatment, compared with just 2% in Scotland, and that the Welsh Government is significantly below its own target for patient waiting times. The shocking findings recently of the Andrews review into care at hospitals within the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board sadly show that it joins the list of health boards that are really struggling to get to grips with the constant cuts to the health budget. Putting money in on an ad hoc basis is too little, too late. You accept the points of that report, yet rule out a pan-Wales Keogh-style inquiry. We ask ourselves: ‘Why?’
In education, we quite often tell you how you are getting it wrong. In procurement, despite the national procurement framework, we know that you are not delivering value for money. These are pretty serious failings. However, rather than taking responsibility for these, all you do is blame everyone else, even the statistical identifiers themselves—
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
May I make a point? You have been speaking for two and a half minutes. Can you come to some serious questions to the First Minister please?
Is it not the case, First Minister, that this year’s programme for government annual report is simply another page in 15 years of Welsh Labour failure? Is it not the case that you are simply in denial?
‘No’ is the answer to the question. I remind the Member of several salient facts about her own party. She criticises us, as is her democratic right to do in this Chamber—thankfully we have this Chamber now, despite those who opposed it in the 1990s. She says that there are tragic headlines every week in the health service; that is not the case. She talks about the Professor Andrews review; that has been dealt with. She talks about constant cuts in the health service; that, again, flies entirely against what has been announced over the past few weeks. Let us examine her party’s policies, shall we? On education, they were tweeting two days ago that the answer to education was grammar schools—a fragmentation of the education system that would see lots of new buildings built, it would seem, trying to reorganise a system that last existed in my part of the world 40 years ago. That is the answer: grammar schools. I know that they are chasing UKIP votes, but they do not have to follow UKIP policy in quite the same way. The people of Wales expect to see something a bit more substantial than that when it comes to education policy from the party opposite.
Let us look at what would have happened. Let us imagine for a second what would have happened if the Conservatives had been in power running Wales. There would have been a 30% cut in economy spending, a 20% cut in education spending, a 12% cut in local government spending and a 12% cut in housing spending. What we would have seen is an enormous package of cuts across the board. We would have seen the council tax spiral or local government services lost and we would have seen very little money spent on promoting Wales abroad at a time when it needs to be promoted. There would be no Jobs Growth Wales, there would be no programme to attract investment from abroad, there would be no Young Recruits programme and there would be no apprenticeship programmes. There would be no money for education. They talk about education, but they would be slashing teachers all over the place. They would be closing schools and taking money away from the classroom. I know that it embarrasses them; I know their alternative budget was one page of A4 and I know they wish they had not done it, but they have shown the people of Wales that they are exactly what they have been for the last 30 years: a party that cuts. They are a party that cuts services for those who need them most, a party that cuts education, a party that has no real interest in health and a party that would send the council tax up by 20% or more. The difference is that the people of Wales have a party committed to fairness, justice and opportunity. They do not have a party running Wales that wants to cut spending and destroy the services that so many vulnerable people rely on.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I am sure that Elin Jones will be asking direct questions to the First Minister on the report, as we are here today.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, the health service is entirely within the control of the Welsh Government; it is not local authorities or the Westminster Government that control it. May I ask you therefore, as the head of Government, how you explain performance that has deteriorated over 12 months in terms of the targets that you have set yourself? Briefly, there has been an increase in the percentage of patients waiting over 26 weeks for treatment, from 16% to 23.5%; in terms of those waiting over 36 weeks, there has been an increase of 3,000 people to 9,000 people; and in terms of diagnostic tests, there has been a 20% increase in the number of people waiting more than eight weeks. I am not comparing with England or Scotland or creating any sort of league table, but comparing your performance with your own performance 12 months ago. Therefore, I am asking you how you can explain the decline in the performance levels in the health service in the context of your own targets. In order to take steps to improve performance over the next 12 months, you need to be able to explain the decline in performance figures over the last 12 months.
It is true to say that this is something that is under the control of the Welsh Government, and it is true to say that everything in the report does not make comfortable reading for the Welsh Government. The question is entirely fair. The response is this: the demand for health services has increased over the past year and we have to ensure that we meet the challenge head on to ensure that those figures fall over the coming year. It is true to say that there are some parts of the report that we would want to see being better than they are. In relation to what the Minister for health has stated, to deal with some problems in relation to the numbers in the health service, we are confident that those numbers will fall and that, for example, the number of ambulances that will arrive within eight minutes will increase in the future and that fewer people will be waiting in the future for some treatments. In the case of cancer, for example, things have improved. With some kinds of treatment, things have gone, we believe as a Government, in the wrong direction. The challenge now is to ensure that things move in the right direction over the coming year, and that is why the report is crucially important—so that we can measure ourselves as a Government to see how things can improve. However, the Minister himself has considered what the problems are that have arisen over the past year, and I am very confident that they will be solved.
First Minister, no matter how much gloating you do about the national health service in this very weighty report, the reality is that all we have seen under this Government are cuts, closures and cancellations in our national health service. We have seen patients waiting longer for treatment. We have seen a situation where our ambulance service now only responds to roughly half of those people that it should respond to within the waiting time targets. We have seen report after report about governance failures within the national health service and about a lack of dignity and care and respect for patients in our hospitals. We have had reports from the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales and, indeed, from Professor Andrews recently as well.
May I ask you, First Minister: when are we going to see the improvements that you have promised? When are we going to see the manifesto commitments that you made actually fulfilled? There is the manifesto commitment, for example, that you would institute annual health checks led by GPs, practice nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals to everyone over the age of 50. Do you know what? It is a promise that you have broken and failed to deliver to date. You promised to offer care with dignity and respect. It is a promise that has been broken for those people in ABMU who suffered at the hands of the poor patient care in those two hospitals that were the subject of Professor Andrews’ report. When are we going to see the improvements in ambulance response times that you have promised time and time again from that very lectern in this Chamber? We have not seen them yet, and I doubt that we will see quick progress being made in the near future either.
Can you tell us, on GP access—because you seem to rubbish the figures that were provided by the leader of the opposition earlier—. Just let me put on record the fact your Minister for health, responsible for measuring progress against your commitment on weekend access to GP appointments has said this: the access statistics that you collate do not include the number of GP surgeries that offer weekend appointments. That is the answer that your Minister for health gave, an answer that you should be aware of, particularly in view of this statement today. We know that only 49 out of 466 GP surgeries offer appointments in the evenings after 6.30 p.m.. For most working families, that sort of access is essential. Forty-nine out of 466. If you think that that progress is good enough, you have got a lot of explaining to people to do in the run-up to the general election next year. When are we going to see the promises—[Interruption.] If the people—[Interruption.] If the people of Wales cannot rely—[Interruption.] If the people of Wales cannot rely on a Labour Government here in Wales to deliver on the promises that you made in a manifesto, how on earth can anybody else rely on promises made by other Labour Party politicians?
The Member seems to think that whatever happens in here is entirely designed as a dry run for the general election. There are those of us who are sufficiently committed to devolution to see 2016 as the important election as far as this Assembly is concerned, and we do not see this place as some kind of dress rehearsal for the general election next year. He gives away, of course, what his party thinks about what happens in Wales. It is all to do with what happens in next year’s general election and not about delivering services to the people of Wales and the election in 2016. He talks about GP access. GP access has improved mightily, as I have already mentioned in terms of the figures that I have given him. On and on he goes about the health service. We can argue this all afternoon, but let me just put three things to him. First of all, why is it then, on the surveys that we have seen, the Welsh Government is more popular than his UK Government? Why is it that the vast majority of people in Wales are content with their health and education services? If what he says is actually true, if there were an iota of truth or credibility in that, those figures would not be borne out as they are. The reality is that we recognise—unlike his party because, in England, it is all about blaming someone else if there is a problem in the health service—. In Wales, we recognise the problems. We say, ‘Yes, there are problems’ and we say, ‘We will deal with those problems’ and we are open about those problems. That is why the people of Wales trust us. They would no more trust the Tories with the NHS in Wales than they trust the Tories to run a submarine across the Atlantic.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Submarines. I do not know where submarines came from, but there we are. I call Simon Thomas.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I would like to return to this Government’s programme and hold the First Minister to account for his own programme. The First Minister has already said that he wishes to stick to the target of reaching the top 20 in the PISA results league, but I would like to remind the First Minister that that is not included in the programme for government. It is not a target contained therein at all. I would like to invite him to reconsider that, as I have done with the Minister of education. Rather than aiming for a particular position; look at the count; look at the grades; look at the 580 and above that will show that Wales is on the road to improving its education system. That is the kind of temperature testing that PISA does and that is what Ann Keane suggests in her interview in the ‘Western Mail’ today. She suggests that we should reconsider that and see progress over time, rather than setting a disproportionate target. Therefore, I am asking the Government to retreat from that target, without Plaid Cymru criticising it for that, and instead to set a more considered target for the whole education system.
The second question I want to ask of the Government is why has the Government found itself in a situation where it is reviewing the curriculum after reviewing the qualifications and examinations. I think that that is an unfortunate way of planning an education system, and it suggests that it is being driven by external processes rather than the core Government strategy. If you look again at your programme for government, you will see that that is not how you explained this process at the outset. I suggest to you that you have not co-ordinated the most sensible way of looking at the education system as you are looking at the curriculum now having already put in place the core examinations for mathematics, English and Welsh. The curriculum will follow the qualifications and there is something strange with that approach. Could you speed up, improve or at least be clearer in the programme for government in terms of how those two things are going to dovetail in the next half of your term of Government? As you have just reminded us, you are half way through it.
This is the final point that I want to raise with the First Minister on his report. In the full report, you have 10 objectives that I have discovered that relate to the Welsh language, and they range from language transfer and language outside school to the relationship between the language and affordable homes, and, of course, increasing the number of people who speak the Welsh language more generally. It is very disappointing that the summary report makes no reference to these whatsoever. I think that it does not refer to these because there has been no progress. There has been no policy development and there have been no policy solutions put forward, as Leanne Wood said, despite the fact that you did stage the ‘Cynhadledd Fawr’. I urge you, if you are not willing to say it today, to bring these policy solutions forward swiftly as they are so important to the future of the Welsh language in Wales. The Welsh speakers of Wales are expecting the Welsh Government to do one thing for them, and that is to put the steps in place that will protect the language as a living language for us today.
In relation to PISA, I am not going to change the situation today in relation to PISA. It is important that we have targets and I expect to see improvement. It is true to say that things cannot happen overnight but, in my opinion, what we have now is going to ensure improvement in the future.
In relation to the curriculum, of course, no-one had thought that England would withdraw from the general system that was in place between England, Wales and Northern Ireland. So, things have had to be changed as a result of that, in relation to the curriculum and qualifications, in order to ensure that we have a system in Wales is a robust system. It is very important that we consider new qualifications and ensure, almost simultaneously, that we consider the curriculum. However, that is not the timetable that we would have chosen at the beginning of the process. We have to do this to ensure that we have a system in place.
I want to make a statement in relation to the Welsh language in the coming weeks. I wanted to ensure that the statement was something that was robust and comprehensive. I did not want to come back to the Chamber and make a statement that stated nothing. To do that, a great deal of work has been done to ensure that the statement itself is a comprehensive one. I am confident that it will be considered that manner. There are other ways to consider the situation of the Welsh language, especially in the planning system. We have TAN 20. That is not to say that that is the end of the matter in relation to the ability of the planning system to help the Welsh language, but it is very important that we consider practical ways of doing that, and ensure that we are not in a situation where something is being said and nothing happens afterwards. So, there will be a statement, and it will be forthcoming in the coming weeks, and I am confident that that statement will be one that makes statements that are of benefit to the Welsh language.
Various Members have already spoken about concerns to do with education, so I will not repeat their questions. However, I was very struck, First Minister, by your earlier comment that your Government is pursuing a relentless drive on education standards, and, obviously, I listened to your responses to other Members. The School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013 has been in place for about a year now, and you will know from complaints in your own constituency that the local authorities failed at the first hurdle, namely compliance with the code that was issued under that Act, which tells them how to consult on school closures. Now, with that in mind, as well as the reference that others have made to Estyn’s comments on disappointing standards, what evidence can you provide that this legislation has raised standards in schools, improved leadership in schools—Kirsty Williams mentioned that—and in local authorities, and simplified school reorganisation?
With just under half of our pupils demonstrating poor numeracy skills, obviously we all welcome the renewed focus on literacy and numeracy in teachers’ training and practice. However, it is not clear to me from the report today that teachers’ training courses really cover issues such as pupils’ behaviour and mental health. With so many children excluded for behavioural problems presenting with additional learning needs, we have a succession of reports and policy announcements over many years now, but still very little achievement on this agenda. So, why has your Government continued to miss this opportunity, in this year’s programme for government, to do something useful on that?
I for one am not particularly saddened by your announcement of the loss of the short course GCSE Welsh as a second language. However, what can you tell us about your pilot projects in the 11 primary schools, with pupils from years three and four being introduced to Welsh across the curriculum, as a language skill rather than a subject? What can you use from that pilot to introduce children to modern foreign languages, perhaps, at that early stage, because Wales certainly needs the edge in language skills in order to attract inward investment and to sell Wales to the world?
To conclude, I am pleased that something is happening, at last, in relation to the first tranche of the Welsh language standards. However, I recognise Leanne Wood’s concerns about the lack of progress following the ‘Cynhadledd Fawr’. For example, where is the commitment to introduce Welsh language skills through Flying Start, particularly as you have committed to doubling the programme, without strong evidence in the national evaluation report? May I also ask you personally, as the champion of the Welsh language in Government, whether you support the concept of introducing the principle of appropriate consideration of the Welsh language as part of the planning process? I have heard your response to others here, but, personally, what do you think?
In relation to the planning system, it is very important that anything that is considered is practicable. There is no point having something in principle if nothing happens as a result of that. So, it is very important that the planning system is considered in such a way that practical actions can be taken on the Welsh language, not just putting something in place as a sort of token gesture. We have to ensure that it leads to something else. That is the debate, of course—ensuring that we consider in what way that can be done, and what the practical ways forward are.
In terms of the issue of school closures, I am not aware of an issue in my own constituency, I must say, with regard to school closures. However, with regard to schools reorganisation, the Act is clear. It has not been in place for a long time yet, so it will have some time to have its fullest effect.
In terms of teacher training, we would expect institutions, of course, to be able to provide the fullest level of teacher training to make sure that teachers are able to deal, particularly, with behaviour issues—that is a fundamental part of teaching.
In terms of the ongoing pilot projects, they are, of course, ongoing. We will see what the result of those projects actually is before considering what the way forward is.
She makes, I think, a fair point on modern foreign languages. I agree with her that this is something that we need to look at, and the introduction of an MFL at an earlier age. However, of course, room has to be found in the curriculum, and that is the challenge—where do you find room in the curriculum in order for a modern foreign language to be introduced at a young age, and then to be continued through past the age of 14 as well, past key stage 3? That is important to make sure that we produce the linguists that we will need in the future.
You state that social justice is at the heart of everything that you do, but housing is at the heart of social justice and you failed in your statement today to refer specifically to that, although I know that there is reference on the Welsh Government website. How will you finally deliver a housing recovery programme? The number of social homes for rent increased in the 1990s, but fell from the beginning of devolution in 1999—not from 2010, or some miraculous political date in the diary. The number of social homes for rent fell by 29,000 in the first three Assembly terms, and, in the four years since the 2008-09 recession, barely 3,000 new social homes to rent have been built compared to 10,000 in the four years following the previous recession in the early 1990s in Wales. I also note that the National House Building Council figures show that Wales, not only last year, but in the first quarter of this year, was the only part of the UK to see house building going backwards. I welcome the Welsh Government implementation of Help to Buy, which it did only because the Government made funding conditional on using it for that purpose, and I also welcome the fact that builders tell me that this is driving development now and will reflect in future figures. However, that is not a strategy on its own and it is only a short-term stimulus. So, I call for your comment on the need to tackle what is still described by the sector as a crisis.
Secondly and finally, if I may, you refer to Jobs Growth Wales delivering 13,200 opportunities. I wonder whether we could have greater clarification now, or in a further statement in writing, or verbally to Members. We know that 25% of those opportunities were not filled. In previous published figures from the Welsh Government, 21% had left early and destination figures had been recycled so that one job opportunity could result in both an early leaver and a completed six-month opportunity.
As I mentioned, Jobs Growth Wales is without peer as a job creation scheme for young people. I have seen the results of it in many parts of Wales and the reason why it is successful is because we talked to business first and asked, ‘What sort of scheme would help you?’ Businesses were saying to me and to others, ‘What we need, really, is a way to take people on and train them. We haven’t got the time or the money to do it, but we would be able to employ them.’ That is why, of course, the success rate in terms of employment is so high, because what we are doing is providing a service to businesses that enables them to grow, but also enables them to take on board young people who are enthusiastic to work for them.
In terms of housing, I can say that, during 2011-12 and 2012-13, a total of 4,474 affordable units were delivered across Wales, which is 60% of the previous target. That target has now been increased to 10,000 for this term of Government, and a housing supply pact has been agreed with Community Housing Cymru in order to deliver. It is also true to say that we know that Help to Buy has boosted the housing industry and has supported the construction of 5,000 new homes in Wales. That means that there are more and more people who will now be able to have a roof over their heads because of that scheme. There are 135 completions already in place, with a further 576 applications for finance received. As I mentioned earlier, 66 developers have already been accepted into the scheme. It shows that it is widely supported by the construction industry and we know that construction figures have improved well beyond the UK average over the course of the last year. We also know that young people are benefitting from Help to Buy, as well as the programme of social housing that is already in place, as evidenced by the fact that we have not just kept the target that we originally intended of 7,500, but increased it to 10,000, such is our confidence in terms of being able to deliver.
There have been a number of significant developments in science across Wales since I last updated Members. I was heartened to read the independent report on research in Wales. Jointly commissioned by the Welsh Government, with Higher Education Wales and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and published in February, it followed internationally recognised standards of assessment. It paints an encouraging picture of Wales’s comparative performance. With 0.14% of the world’s scientists, we produce 0.30% of published articles and, most impressively, 0.70% of the most highly cited publications. So, scientists in Wales are active, efficient, and in many cases, world-leading.
They are keen too on translating their science into potential impacts on society through commercialisation. This is demonstrated by the fact that they produce 0.86% of publications associated with patents and are the most efficient of the UK nations in creating business start-ups and spin-outs from research.
The report also shows that scientists in Wales are outward-looking. Sixty per cent of Wales’s science is collaborative in nature. Indeed, some of our best papers come from major international collaborations, in which Welsh scientists lead or have a strong role. So, the picture of Welsh science, in practice, is a positive one.
However, what this and other reports, including Professor Robin Williams’s 2013 paper on research, show is that we have too few scientists in Wales. Consequently, our ‘Science for Wales’ strategy focuses on increasing the numbers of scientists working in Wales and also on creating the environment for those already here to succeed and grow in future. We are already having an impact on these targets. The report gives Wales a field-weighted citation impact figure, meaning that it is adjusted for different types of research, that is 58% above the world average. Wales is clearly a good place to do high-impact research.
In the last year, we have secured three recognised world-class academics in Professors Barde, Durrant and Barron through the Sêr Cymru programme. I reported on these appointments in my written statement of 14 February and referred to the three national research networks in each of the ‘grand challenge’ areas that ‘Science for Wales’ identified. I am pleased to say that we have appointed talented directors for these networks, with Professors Chris McGuigan and Malcolm Mason jointly leading on life sciences and health; Professor David Thomas for the low carbon environment and energy; and Professor Javier Bonet for advanced materials and manufacturing. The Sêr Cymru appointments and the research networks’ directors have the central aim of significantly increasing our research capacity and gaining greater success in securing the competitively awarded funding that we need to expand research portfolios in our universities and elsewhere. We are currently considering how best to support and develop these positive moves, especially how to make the best use of the funding opportunities afforded by Europe through Horizon 2020 and structural funds and by the UK through the Technology Strategy Board.
It is important that we foster a strong ambition for science in Wales, and we are taking active steps to ensure that Wales benefits from a variety of opportunities and investments, such as the Launchpad programme, the small business research initiative, and work with the current and future Catapult centres. I will soon be appointing a chair and vice-chairman for our new innovation advisory council, who will be assisting me in forming the new council, which will provide advice on innovation and oversee our ‘Innovation Wales’ actions. Publication of this and the formation of an advisory group effectively conclude the actions on innovation contained in ‘Science for Wales’.
We have specific concerns about a number of issues relating to women in science. Full and continued participation in science by women is of vital importance to our research and economic interests; we simply cannot do without half of our talent pool. There is, at present, an unacceptable attrition rate, whereby talented females—academics and other researchers—are not progressing to long-term careers in research. Not enough are reaching the senior levels in university research and governance and other leadership roles in science. There is also a problem that girls are not progressing to study science subjects post the age of 16, particularly physics. The figure for girls studying physics at A-level is consistently low—some 18% of the cohort—yet those female candidates who do progress to physics A-level do better than their male counterparts on average. So, we need to increase the number of women coming into science. We have to focus on the problem with determination, encouraging and widening opportunities for women, and we need to facilitate access to the best learning, research and development to ensure their success.
I am pleased to announce today that the chief scientific adviser will set up a task-and-finish group of influential and senior women in science. It will address the issues and develop approaches to resolve them. Further details on the group will be forthcoming in due course. Professor Williams has also been working with the Daphne Jackson Trust, which has achieved over 90% success in re-establishing researchers after a career break. As part of our strategic actions to promote STEM education and engagement, the National Science Academy has funded a number of activities that give girls an experience of science and engineering, seeking to persuade them that further study and a career in these stimulating and well-paid fields might be something that they would choose.
There are also a number of employer-led initiatives run by businesses such as GE and Airbus, striving to achieve the same ends. Resulting from its autumn 2012 grant scheme, up to the end of June 2013, the NSA provided 491 STEM engagement activities, attended by over 35,000 students, as well as 38 continuing professional development events, attended by 193 STEM teachers.
The chief scientific adviser and my officials are working closely with those in the Department for Education and Skills, as work progresses towards a new curriculum and qualifications in science and more widely.
We stated in ‘Science for Wales’ that we wanted to
‘ensure that our curricula for STEM subjects are in the vanguard of modern, challenging curricula for the students of Wales.’
Professor Donaldson has been appointed to lead the independent curriculum and assessment review, which is covering STEM subjects. I look forward to having sight of his proposals for making this a reality towards the end of the year. Professor Julie Williams has also acted to bring together a number of our Welsh Government scientific and technical staff to discuss areas of mutual interest. She has also fostered strong links with Sir Mark Walport, the UK Government’s chief scientific adviser, and his support department, the Government Office for Science, as well as Professor Anne Glover, chief scientific adviser to the EU Commission and its President. Professor Williams is putting together a network of expert advice that she can access readily for scientific matters of concern, for both horizon scanning and emergencies.
Excellence in science has a direct effect on the economy, for example by creating new jobs. On average every established researcher creates two jobs at any one time. The economy also benefits through the discovery of new medicines, technologies and new approaches to addressing major problems, like climate change.
Finally, I can announce that the annual report on ‘Science for Wales’ will be published on our website on Monday 9 June, providing more detail on our programmes and progress towards our strategic aims.
I am most grateful to the Minister for her statement today. I wonder whether I might just begin by referring to the passing of Professor Colin Pillinger, who I had the privilege to host when giving a presentation to the Assembly some nine years ago on the Beagle 2 mission. Professor Pillinger studied at Swansea university and, of course, it was Aberystwyth university that was responsible for the robotic arm sample retrieval system used on the Beagle 2 spacecraft. I am sure that his pioneering spirit and desire for scientific innovation will always be retained by our scientific community in Wales.
The Minister has, as always, correctly identified that Wales has developed a global reputation for producing world-renowned scientists, together with innovative research and development. This is reflected in Welsh research being increasingly referenced in patent applications. Sadly, however, Wales produces a low number of patents in both absolute and relative terms, which is, sadly, well below the level of the United Kingdom. We need to understand that Wales is a mobile and international research community, which suggests that Wales is an attractive region for high-quality researchers to relocate. However, it is vital that we recognise that a substantial percentage of our research base is transitory, with often short stays of fewer than two years.
The Minister’s statement touches on some of the excellent, innovative and ambitious schemes that she has put in place in terms of the Launchpad programme, the small business research initiative and Catapult centres. I suppose, in some ways, I should not chide the Minister, but I wish that she had given just a little explanation here on the wonderful work being done by the Enterprise and Business Committee exactly on the points that she makes in this statement. They really coincide remarkably well. We have looked, in particular, at exactly the remarks that she made, particularly by guiding girl students into science subjects. We have received some really excellent evidence. The report, when it is published, not even dwelling on that evidence, will make some very substantial recommendations, which I believe that the Minister has already indicated, within this statement today, that she will look at, with interest, and hopefully take forward.
The expansion of the science block, as it were, within Wales is to be greatly welcomed. The Minister has shown that she really does intend to make this a cornerstone of her policy. In terms of trying to recruit people generally into science subjects, I recently had the privilege of addressing the Royal Society of Chemistry and I touched there upon what will now be a modern Harrison prize. I think that we ought to forget that Harrison took a great deal of time to actually achieve the money for his prize in achieving the chronometer, which enabled the effective establishment of longitude. However, it gives the idea that people can come forward with an idea to solve some of the six pressing problems that face the world. They do not have to be scientists to do so, but if they were able to take advantage of what the Minister proposed today, they certainly would be achieving a great deal for Wales and for humanity generally.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
I call the Minister.
I begin by saying how much I am looking forward to the report of the committee. I think that there is a general consensus across the Chamber about the importance of science to the economic wellbeing of Wales and the importance of developing a very strategic science policy in the context of Wales. I, like William, believe that it is incredibly important that we target the missing element within the population who do not go into science: girls and women. It is very important that we ensure that they understand what good quality careers there are, and how they can lead the world in the development of some of their interests and dreams. Some of this is about dreams, achieving them and what we can achieve. That is important to recognise.
I also concur very much with your comments about the distinguished professor. Of course, he will be a great loss. I remember—it must have been about nine years ago—when you hosted that event.
In terms of what we publish, we have been quite pleased with the findings on the quality of the research that we publish, and that we punch above our weight. We are also very pleased about our international collaborations because we are a small nation. We have to look at collaborations, even outside the UK. We have to look further afield, to other international centres of excellence, so that we can take the work forward. However, the work that we are doing now under the guidance of the current chief scientific adviser and the previous one has a real focus, not only within my own department, which links to the economy, but also within the Department for Education and Skills. Importantly, the dialogue with higher education and the schools sector is also integral to the development of this particular policy agenda, which is important to all of our futures. I listed climate change, and there are so many other areas that we need to look at, such as resistance to antibiotics and the change happening there. It is about how we can encourage the best brains to look at some of these issues.
I congratulate the Minister on the strides that have been made in science. I am very pleased that she is making such a determined effort to tackle the under-representation of women in science, and about all of the points that she makes in the statement. Does she agree that science should be made attractive at a very early age—in fact, when children are toddlers—so that they can get to understand the wonder of science? Does she agree that children should be given as many opportunities as possible to visit places like Techniquest, for example, so that they grow up with a knowledge of science, and so that this will play out later on and perhaps help address the issue of girls dropping out of science?
Looking at the Elsevier report, there are some very positive points there, and William Graham has gone through most of them. It also says that there is collaboration between the academics and industry, but that this could be improved and extended. Does the Minister have any comments on that? William Graham also mentioned the transitory research base, which is a very important development in Wales. Does she have any other ideas about how we can encourage people to come? They stay a short time—two years—but it is very important for the development of science in Wales.
I will start with the last point first. The Sêr Cymru programme, with the encouragement of international professors—who also bring their researchers and other people who are also attracted—is the start of ensuring that research is really grounded within Wales and Welsh higher education. I have had the opportunity of meeting the three individuals. They have been very pleased about the response that they have had in Wales. They have settled in Wales, and they are looking forward to working long-term in Wales, and that is something important that we need to recognise. Once we get these individuals and they sell their story about coming to Wales, it will help with grounding the research. Also, we have to be a lot smarter in ensuring that those who have good ideas that emanate from Welsh universities stay here: what more we could do to encourage them to stay, and how can we help them to link into companies, which is a very important point, so that they have the intelligence to produce the product? How is that manufactured, and what links come in to companies? We are doing a substantial amount of work in that area. We will all see, with the work that we have done with life sciences in attracting companies, graduates and people who are interested, that this is a good start for some of those areas.
The report made for good reading in some parts. There are other things that we have to learn from the report that I think are particularly important. I was very much taken with the issue that you raised about the fact that the younger you are, the better you are at understanding what science is. If you make bread, you add yeast. There are all sorts of things that can be done in a relatively simple manner through the system to encourage people to understand things. I know that my colleague the Minister for education is very keen on the science curriculum within Wales, and what we can do not only at secondary level but at primary level to ensure also that science is seen to be fun. It is about finding out about things and doing things. It is not about just looking at a book or looking at a screen; it is something practical, and I think that that is one of the points that I will ask the chief scientific adviser to have a look at, because I know that she is very interested in early-stage engagement with young children.
I thank the Minister for the statement. It is clear that the link between scientific research and economic success is entirely crucial if Wales is to make progress and become economically successful in the future, and it was good to celebrate science in the Assembly a few weeks ago and to see the enthusiasm of the educators who came here that day.
It is also good to be able to celebrate the success of the research that is taking place in Wales, as has already been noted, but we are still short of the Government’s target to gain a fair share of UK research funding here in Wales. I would be grateful to hear from the Minister what is being done to ensure that we become more successful in the future. It is also good to note the international collaboration that has proved successful in our universities, and that that brings success to scientists and to the universities themselves.
With regard to questions, I would like to ask the Government this: how is the Minister encouraging universities to improve their performance in this area? Also, how can we turn more of the good research that is happening into entrepreneurial businesses? In that regard, I would appreciate having more statistics on the success of programmes—for example, the life science programme that she referred to. I would like to see more statistics about the number of businesses that have been established and to what extent they employ people.
In terms of encouraging young people, of course, there is a particular problem, as she notes in her statement, regarding attracting women to science. What support can the Government give to plans to encourage more young people to take science subjects at A-level and then to do what she mentioned, namely to enjoy those subjects and see this whole area as one that they can enjoy and have fun with, as well as an area that they can make a career of? There have been cuts in some of those programmes that encourage competitions in schools, and I would like to know what support the Government is to give in future in order to create those situations where young people can be creative in studying science subjects.
I think that it is very important that we continue to work with the universities and encourage them to improve the issues that you have raised. I think that there is awareness now, particularly with the vice-chancellors and in the departments, about the importance of their links to industry and the importance that they have in developing the Welsh economy, while at the same time using the talents of their students and their postgraduates. I think that we are seeing real progress in that area in the level of dialogue, and given the interest that has been taken across the sector, it is important to recognise that this has to be focused across all our higher education institutions, as it cannot be a function that comes directly out of Cardiff. We have to involve an awful lot of people.
It is very interesting, when we have been looking at some of the issues to do with science, to see the success of universities outside south Wales in terms of being able to look at what projects they can develop in the future. I would also say that, in terms of the research, about it going into entrepreneurs and looking at what spin-offs there are, I will give consideration, if I may, when I perhaps update the Assembly in the autumn, to what is going on with science, as I shall be looking for some statistics around this that might be of help to Members. I shall ask my statisticians and my officials to look at what we could give to you as really solid examples of how some of these issues are working.
Like everyone else, you have raised the issue of women and girls in science, and there is a real issue here. Spearhead science Wales helps to retain scientists and engineers who might presently drop out from research careers in science, many of them women. It does work in that area, but I actually think that we have to look at it almost before that area, to get the enthusiasm for these subjects at a very early stage, perhaps at school, and I know that my colleague the Minister for education is looking at this issue across the piece. He is looking at options to support science delivery in education as well, with regard to what more can be done currently.
I would like to thank the Minister for this statement. I am always glad to hear the success of Wales’s scientific community praised. I am very proud that many of those most eminent scientists are based in my own region. However, I would very much agree, Minister, with the assessment in your statement that we have too few scientists here in Wales. Clearly, the future of the Welsh economy is to compete on the basis on innovation, not cost, and for that to be realised we need to ensure that we are developing those scientific skills at all levels across the economy and not just relying on the very top level to filter through.
I have been very pleased to see Sêr Cymru successfully attracting some very exciting research stars to Wales but, obviously, unlike actual stars, research stars cannot exist in a vacuum. For those research stars to become embedded in academia in Wales they need a supportive research environment. That is in terms not just of facilities, but of people and of ensuring that there is a sustainable pipeline of people to provide the research stars of the future and for those research starts to be home grown. Perhaps you can tell me what the Welsh Government is doing to ensure that there are opportunities for the next generation of researchers to stay here in Wales, given that we know that there are currently more graduates from Welsh universities at work in England than there are at work in Wales. For example, can you tell me what studentships and post-doctoral opportunities are being created as a result of Sêr Cymru? Can you also tell me how the delivery of taught post-graduate courses are being matched to those research stars, especially, perhaps, where institutions do not necessarily have a strong history in that particular area of research previous to a Sêr Cymru appointment? Certainly in my own degree, it was very inspiring for me when I was studying at Cardiff to be taught by some very famous, world-renowned experts. If we are bringing those people in to teach scientific disciplines, can you tell me what input you are expecting Sêr Cymru appointees to have into undergraduate teaching? Will undergraduates in Wales have the opportunity to be inspired by these incredible people?
Moving on to some other issues that you raised, the Science for Wales strategy outlines actions to encourage children and young people to enjoy science and pursue it further in their lives. You discussed in your statement getting younger women into science and, of course, we all recognise the importance of that and of trying to balance the cohort, but the size of the cohort as a whole is not currently big enough. That is something that you have not addressed in your statement. Can you tell me what actions you are taking to encourage young men to go into science or the cohort as a whole? Can you also tell me what actions the National Science Academy is undertaking to make this happen?
I want to ask you a couple of specific questions about the National Science Academy, if I may. You will be aware, as you have said, that the Enterprise and Business Committee is undertaking an inquiry in this area at the moment. Last month, some people gave evidence to our committee that showed us how confused the work of the National Science Academy has become. One of the NSA hubs—one of the delivery arms—told us that it had never been told what a hub would actually do and that it had never been given any strategic objectives. I find that, frankly, astonishing, because if they do not know what they are supposed to be doing, how on earth can anyone else? Can you tell us whether the National Science Academy has a fully iterated strategy? Is that published somewhere? Has it shared that strategy with stakeholders like the people tasked with delivering it, such as the hubs? Can you tell me what its specific and measurable strategic objectives are?
The funding of programmes is obviously an important role for the National Science Academy but, as the Minister will be aware, we have had complaints from applicants that they did not know what the judging criteria were and that they did not have very full feedback after they had made unsuccessful applications. May I ask you whether you will make an undertaking to publish clear criteria so that potential applicants can understand what they are being judged against? It appears, from an outsider’s perspective, that the National Science Academy really lacks the strategic direction that will allow many science educators and communicators to coalesce around it. We are really lucky in Wales in that we have world-leading communicators like Techniquest, Wendy Sadler’s Science Made Simple, and Chris North from ‘The Sky at Night’. We are not making the most of those opportunities because there is so much confusion about the strategy.
It is interesting that you raise these issues about the strategy, because Professor Williams is about to undertake a review of the NSA in the coming months to look at the potential for a more focused approach and a more focused use of its resources, which I believe will deal with some of the issues that might be emerging in evidence to you as a committee, and which Professor Williams has already identified herself, and which will give an opportunity to have clarity and transparency in terms of role and functions. I think that we can look forward to receiving that within the next few months, and I will be more than happy to share with Members any revisions that will be made in terms of the approach that we will be taking in relation to the NSA in the coming months. I hope that that is helpful to the Member, because I think she has raised issues that have already been raised in other areas for discussion, and that will ensure that the review takes place sooner rather than later.
In terms of some of the other issues that you raised with me, I think there is an issue about how we attract more people into science across the piece; it is not just women into science, percentage-wise. It is actually an issue as to how we must make science exciting to the wider population and especially to children in primary and secondary schools. That is an issue that, I know, my colleague the Minister for Education and Skills has given a lot of thought to—how we actually start to deal with these issues, which are key in terms of a modern economy.
In terms of how we deal with other issues, we have the Sêr Cymru national research networks now, and we have funded each network with some £7 million over five years—about £21.3 million in total. The three national research networks are currently pulling together the existing Welsh scientific research into a collaborative and interdisciplinary group, and this will create a critical mass that will help to deal with some of the issues that you raise. Each network director has been appointed for their significant experience. I have outlined their names. The life sciences one is led by Chris McGuigan, and the focus is on drug discovery and development. In the low-carbon one, we are looking at the provision of food and energy production, and, in advanced manufacturing, we are looking at a whole range of other areas. However, these networks exist to ensure that the best come in, in terms of PhD students and researchers. Of course, there is bound to be a role in the long run linking the stars of Sêr Cymru with how they teach, how they attract and how they deal with particular issues. This is an ongoing policy development in this area that is led by the chief scientific adviser, and I will of course report back in due course about the review of the NSA.
I am grateful for the statement today, and I am particularly pleased with the publication of the Elsevier report, which I think has a great deal to welcome in it, especially in terms of recognising our strong research output and the increasing quality of our research. Close working between academia and industry can reap enormous rewards. While the report found that there is some evidence of knowledge exchange between academia and industry in Wales, cross-sector flows of people remain limited. The report found that, although this kind of collaboration is not frequent, when it does happen it has a high impact. How does the Welsh Government intend to further support and promote knowledge exchange between academia and industry in future, particularly in terms of developing the kind of cross-sector flows of people that the report looks at?
My questions on research ability and women and girls have, I think, all been asked by other Members, so my final point is this: for the first time, Wales now has its own base of comprehensive bibliometric evidence relating to research performance. How does the Welsh Government intend to carry out further research to measure progress against this new benchmark? Do you have any specific targets for progress relating to the various factors discussed in the report?
I do not have any targets that I can share with Members today; that is a subject of further discussion. However, I think that the point you make about the link between academia and how those issues also go into industry is very important. We are obviously very supportive of the Alacrity programme that is run, which takes young graduates and gives them ideas on intellectual property, and helps them to create products. That moves on from university and then into industry. We think we have a lot more work to do in that area. We also need to do a lot more in the field of innovation in how we take these things forward. I very much hope that the innovation advisory council for Wales, when it comes into place, will start to tackle some of these issues, which are crucial to the development of the economy.
Minister, I, too, very much welcome your statement today. Science is a key part of your portfolio and I would welcome more statements in relation to science here in Wales. I would like to pick up on the point that Eluned Parrot made about embedding science right from the bottom up, and the danger that this might be a top-down initiative and not a bottom-up initiative. I wondered whether you had talked with your colleague the Minister for education about the opportunities that there are for teachers to go out to CERN. I know that this was raised by a number of Assembly Members previously, where there are summer training programmes available for teachers at CERN, and the information that is in the public domain would indicate that there are no state school teachers from Wales who have been on that programme, and it seems that a small amount of funding could result in a big win, if teachers were supported to do continuing educational professional development out there.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair at 16:09.
In terms of physics, I know, Minister, that you are aware that there is a particular problem with physics teaching. For example, in my region, in Wrexham, not a single girl has taken physics A-level in the last five years—not one. Even here in south Wales, in Merthyr Tydfil, for example, only five girls have taken physics A-levels. Therefore, in relation to physics A-level, what specific steps are you taking to ensure that there is a greater take-up, particularly given the fact that failing to take that A-level cuts off further university study in those subjects? Finally, are you looking—
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
There is no ‘finally’, as I have two other Members to call. I call on the Minister to reply.
It is important to recognise that there are issues particularly with physics. We have to look at the work that Professor Graham Donaldson is doing, looking at the assessment of the curriculum. He will be looking at key stage 3, in terms of how we develop it. It is important that we take this work forward, and that is being undertaken by my colleague the Minister for education, and he will be making decisions about any learning opportunities in CERN, not me.
Much of what I wanted to say in praise of this statement has already been said. Therefore, I will limit myself to saying that I hope that you will draw the attention of Professor Julie Williams’s working group to why there is such an attrition of women out of science once we have them in, even though we do not have the numbers in in the first place. I hope that you will draw her and her group’s attention to all the research on unconscious bias, which was brought up in my short debate, which Rebecca Evans mentioned in the first place, and for which there is a wealth of research on why women do not stay in male dominated professions and what we can do about it. Here in Wales, in such a small nation, we could innovate on this front.
In terms of unconscious bias, I have already had a discussion with various individuals to look at whether we should do some further work in this area, and that would be not just within science. However, it is interesting sometimes to see the response of male colleagues in academia towards women, particularly in science. They are prepared to shout at them and bully them. It is incredible that someone of the same status could behave like that, but it is such, some days, in politics as well.
I will not talk about much of what I have written here, just to say that I very much welcome the report. However, one of the things that I want to talk about is what has happened in terms of the collaboration between universities in Wales and abroad—David Rees and I were at Cardiff University last week, and I visited Swansea University prior to that. I think that that is crucial. I was pleased to see that Rhodri Morgan and the vice-chancellor of Swansea University were in Texas last week seeking to build on those things.
However, the most important thing that I want to say is that we need a greater focus on universities working with teachers at all levels, encouraging skills. We are talking about girls not doing physics. Fifty years ago, the same thing happened: there were no girls doing physics at A-level. Therefore, it is important that we also look at GCSE, because some schools offer double science and, if you offer double science rather than chemistry, physics and biology, it is harder for you to do an A-level. Also, when I went to an engineering department at Cambridge University, if you wanted to do engineering, you were asked for mathematics, further mathematics and physics. If you look at the figures in Wales on how many children study double maths, they are very low. Therefore, Minister, I hope that you can ask the people who work for you to look at both of those things—what happens with GCSE as far as women are concerned, and what happens with A-levels as far as mathematics are concerned.
I can assure you that the problems are well understood within Government and among the people who work across Government, from the chief scientific adviser to senior officials in Huw Lewis’s department, namely education. I am extremely concerned that, in this century, with regard to the skills that we require to be available in the economy, we are not utilising the total resources of Wales to get the best in terms of what we can produce for Wales. If we continually ignore a certain percentage of our population so that they do not make progress, these problems will continue. However, I can assure Members that, when I report back in the autumn—if I am allowed to do so, Deputy Presiding Officer—on science, I will address more fully some of the issues that have been raised by Members today. However, it might be also be helpful, if Members wished me to do so, bearing in mind the level of interest in this matter, and I would be delighted to do so, if I were to ask the chief scientific adviser whether she is prepared to brief Members on some of the work that has been going on in these areas. Perhaps she could do so towards the end of this term. I believe that it would be very helpful to hear, from such a distinguished academic, some of the answers to those questions.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1 and 2 in the name of Aled Roberts, amendments 3, 4 and 5 in the name of Paul Davies, and amendment 6 in the name of Elin Jones.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Deputy Minister for Social Services to move the motion—Gwenda Thomas.
Motion NDM5515 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Notes the actions taken by the Welsh Government to improve and further integrate primary, community and social care in Wales.
I move the motion.
Comments on the health service frequently tend to be on hospitals, although the first and regular contact for most people is primary and community care. People often refer to 'my GP’ and ‘my dentist’, and there are many other professionals, such as practice nurses, district nurses, midwives and health visitors, pharmacists, optometrists, podiatrists and physiotherapists. Together, they offer a great deal of the continuum of health promotion, disease prevention, diagnosis, treatment, disease control, rehabilitation and palliative care throughout the life of every person in Wales. Similarly, there is an enormous diversity of people responsible for meeting the needs of people for social care. These include social workers and care management officers, occupational therapists, day centre staff, care home staff, home care staff, adoption and fostering carers, adult centre staff and others.
People want more control over their care and support as they know what they need and what is right for them. People, particularly older people, tell us that they would rather not to go to hospital and would prefer to receive their care and support at home, or in a community setting.
We support the amendment by Paul Davies on investment in primary care. The Welsh Government’s policy, through prudent healthcare, is to focus on prevention and early intervention and a move from over-dependency on statutory services. Our aim is to shift resources towards multi-disciplinary primary and community care teams, working closely with social care, to meet people’s needs at, or close to, home.
We support the amendment by Paul Davies in relation to GP recruitment, but reject the amendment by Elin Jones. Welsh Government is taking action through its national programmes to promote Wales as an attractive place to work and live. There are also specific discussions taking place in relation to GP recruitment. We are also looking at how we can deliver new models of integrated care.
We already have some excellent examples of integrated working across Wales. The integrated family support service model has been one of our flagship intervention models, and I have heard first hand from families how this has transformed their lives. We also have models such as the Wyn campaign run by Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board, which focuses on promoting a model of self-care for older people to enable them to regain and retain independence. There is also the use of virtual wards in Hywel Dda, helping to prevent unnecessary admissions to hospital. The Minister for Health and Social Services and I issued a joint written statement in July last year, setting out our intent to integrate health and social care services. In December, we published guidance on integrated assessment, care and review for older people. We have also published the delivering local healthcare plan and the integration framework for older people with complex needs. Local partners have developed statements of intent, setting out how they will work together to deliver integrated services for older people.
We welcome the proposed amendment by Aled Roberts on the establishment of the intermediate care fund, which was a key part of the Welsh Government’s 2014-15 budget agreement with Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats. This £50 million fund, which includes £5 million from the regional collaboration fund, is investing in services to support older people to maintain their independence and remain in their own home. It will help avoid unnecessary hospital and residential care admissions, and prevent delayed discharges from hospital.
Modern technology offers huge opportunities to deliver services differently, and the Welsh Government’s health technology fund of £9.5 million for 2014-15 is supporting a range of schemes and initiatives to deliver more care closer to home.
We oppose the proposed amendment by Paul Davies in relation to the NHS budget. We have announced an additional £570 million over the next three years to ensure that the NHS in Wales is able to maintain delivery of services. This represents an increase of 1%.
We have recently seen the successful passage of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. This will transform the way that services are developed and delivered. Greater collaboration, partnership and integration are a fundamental component of this Act. The Act aims to improve wellbeing outcomes for each individual according to their specific needs. Members will be aware of the findings, notably of the Leonard Cheshire Disability group and the Kingsmill review, into the prevalence of 15-minute care visits in England. We must focus on the quality of care provided to the individual, not simply the amount of time. This is why we oppose the amendment by Aled Roberts on this issue.
Next year, I will be bringing to the National Assembly an inspection and regulation Bill. This will ensure our regulatory regime not only focuses on services being compliant, but also their quality. It will establish a national institute of care and support. This body will have the power to co-ordinate and lead improvement in care and support, and will be a major step in our commitment to more professionalised and higher quality services.
I do not underestimate the challenges we face to improve and further integrate primary, community and social care. I can confirm that the Welsh Government remains committed to ensuring that this is delivered. If all partners work together, I believe that this can be achieved.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have selected the six amendments to the motion. I call on Kirsty Williams to move amendments 1 and 2, tabled in the name of Aled Roberts.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Welcomes the additional funding agreed by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government for the Intermediate Care Fund in the 2014/15 budget.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Regrets that the Welsh Government voted against amendments to the Social Services and Well-being Bill that would have ended the regular practice of 15 minute care slots and calls on the Welsh Government to take action to end this practice.
I move amendments 1 and 2.
As Liberal Democrats, we believe very much in the core principle that care should be delivered as close to people’s homes as is clinically safe. The primary care setting and services delivered by local authorities via social services departments should be the very foundations on which the rest of the NHS is built. We believe that because that is what constituents tell me that that is what they want. They want to receive their care in a community setting that they are comfortable with, feel safe and secure in, often with care delivered by people with whom they have had lifelong relationships and who themselves are part of a community. Not only is it good news for patients, it can also be a more cost-effective way of spending the resources that we have within the NHS and the care sector.
However, we need to acknowledge that the continuation of the services is dependent on recruiting and retaining personnel within those services. I will be supporting the amendments that draw our attention to the concerns about the recruitment and retention of GPs. Some of those retention and recruitment issues are particularly acute in some of our rural areas, where practices can advertise for month after month and receive no suitable applications. Of course, GPs cannot work in isolation; their ability to do their job is heavily influenced by the right numbers of community-based nurses, as well as other community-based staff.
The other crucial thing about primary and community care is that it cannot be a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., five-day-a-week service. I would urge the Welsh Government to take steps to ensure that these services are available in a timely fashion, outside of normal working hours, and are as available on the weekend as they are in the middle of the week. Only by doing that are we going to see the demands that are being placed on our A&E departments beginning to fall.
I was really pleased to see, over the weekend, the comments by the new director of the NHS in England about the issue of community-based care and the role of community and smaller hospitals. I hope that the new director of the NHS in Wales will make a similar statement and recognise what my constituents have known for many years, which is that community hospitals have a crucial role to play in modern healthcare.
Amendment 1 focuses on the establishment of the intermediate care fund. The projects that have been announced are projects that will, indeed, make a huge difference to those people able to avail themselves of them, as well as having a wider impact on the NHS. I think that it is absolutely right that we focus on service delivery, rather than on costly, bureaucratic and time-consuming structural changes between health and social care, which are incredibly complex. What we need to do is not focus on structures, but use what powers and resources we have to drive collaboration without getting involved in another reorganisation.
If I could turn to 15-minute care slots, the Deputy Minister has once again reiterated that it is not the time that is important, but the quality of the care. My fundamental belief, Deputy Minister, is that it is nigh on impossible to give good-quality care in a house visit that only lasts 15 minutes. You cannot separate the two. It is not only me that believes it; it is not only campaigning organisations like Leonard Cheshire Disability; it is not only the staff who have to do this and the recipients of the care. It is Ed Miliband, who has said that he is going to end the scandal of 15-minute care and clock-watching care. He said that, should the Labour Party win the next general election, he is going to get rid of it. You have an opportunity to get rid of it right now. We can take an important step forward. I am not saying that, in some circumstances, if it is simply a case of watching someone take medication, it cannot be done in 15 minutes. However, let us face it: there are very few care packages that are just about watching someone take their medication. It is about the most intimate details of a person’s life: washing, dressing and eating food. It cannot be done in 15 minutes and we cannot say that good-quality care can be delivered in those time slots. We need to end them now. Let us lead the way. Let us put pressure on the Westminster Government to do it now and lead the way.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on Darren Millar to move amendments 3, 4 and 5 tabled in the name of Paul Davies.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Notes the concerns of the Royal College of GPs regarding the need for additional investment in primary care services as highlighted by their Put Patients First: Back General Practice campaign.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Calls upon the Welsh Government to improve primary care workforce planning arrangements and take urgent action to address GP recruitment challenges across Wales.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Regrets that the Welsh Government's real terms NHS budget cuts will make it more difficult to achieve improvements and further integration of primary and community and social care in Wales.
I move amendments 3, 4 and 5.
I am very pleased to be taking part in this debate. I think that it is a very timely debate. I know that I, for one, have been concerned about what appears to be quite a significant looming recruitment crisis in the GP workforce, certainly in north Wales, in and around my constituency, with patients having to wait two, three or even four weeks in order to access a non-urgent appointment with their GP. It is symptomatic of quite a deep problem that we have with GP workforce issues at the moment here in Wales. I was very pleased to hear that the Welsh Government will be accepting our amendment on the need to plan more effectively and take action to address workforce challenges for GPs, because I think that it is absolutely essential that we get to the root of the problems and address them. There is no doubt in my mind that everybody in this Chamber would agree that we need to have a more integrated approach to care, particularly health and social care, but also primary and intermediate care. Unless we have a more integrated approach, that is going to mean less value for money for taxpayers and probably worse experiences for patients and service users.
I said that this was a timely debate; it is particularly timely given that, today, I had a meeting with the British Medical Association regarding GP workforce pressures. Everybody in the Chamber will be aware of the Royal College of General Practitioners’ current campaign, ‘Putting Patients First’, which calls for an increased share of investment to be focused on primary care, rather than on secondary or tertiary care. Nobody is arguing that we should take money away from our hospitals, but I think that we need to re-emphasise, if you like, the important role that primary care has in preventing people from needing to access secondary and tertiary care. If that means a rebalancing within the NHS budgets, that is something that should be carefully considered. So, I am very pleased again that the Welsh Government has taken note of that campaign and I look forward to seeing and hearing a little bit more about the response of the Welsh Government to it.
The Deputy Minister for Social Services made reference to older people. Of course, we know that, very often, it is older people who end up in hospital and it is older people who are using intensive social services. I was very taken with Age UK Cornwall’s pathfinder project, which allowed for some joint working between the third sector, GPs, the NHS and social services on an invest-to-save basis and which integrated those services. The pilot programme was tested with around 100 patients across two GP practices. Two personal independence co-ordinators and a team of trained volunteers were recruited and it actually delivered significant savings. There was a 30% reduction in acute admissions to hospital and about £4.40 was saved for every single pound that was invested in the scheme. I think that it is that sort of innovation and good practice that has been proven to work that we need to be quick adopters of Wales. Let us face it, it is easier for us to adopt a change in Wales with a smaller number of health boards and being a small country with good communications than it is elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
I just want to touch a little bit more on the GP recruitment crisis, if I may. I have a little bit of time left. What the GPs who were talking to us today were saying was that there is an immediate crisis that is going to require some short-term action to address it and there is some longer term action that needs to be put in place as well. I wonder, Deputy Minister—you may not be able to answer this, but, certainly, if it is possible to give some information it would be really helpful—. I know that there was a Work for Wales campaign that embarked upon bringing clinicians into Wales from overseas, and indeed from other parts of the UK, in order to plug some of the recruitment challenges we have in the Welsh NHS. However, it would be good to know what the outcome of that has been because certainly GPs across Wales are not feeling the benefit of that campaign. They have suggested to us today that there needs to be a Wales-wide campaign and an overseas campaign to recruit more GPs into Wales and then a fast-tracking of those GPs who come from overseas in order to help them to overcome the obstacles and barriers that are put in the way by the current system. Even experienced GPs and experienced clinicians face these barriers and difficulties in coming to work in Wales. In the longer term, the problems appear to be more acute in north Wales and west Wales. I am not sure whether it is just rurality that is an issue. Certainly, there are problems in Wrexham that we were told about today, for example. That is certainly not a rural area, but we do know that certain parts of Wales face more pressures, and I just wonder whether the training rotations that the deanery operates on an all-Wales basis rather than on a north-west/north Wales basis might be something that ought to be considered.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call Elin Jones to move amendment 6 tabled in her name.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Notes the increasing numbers of GPs nearing retirement age, particularly in our most deprived communities, and regrets that no clear plan to replace them has been adopted by the Welsh Government.
I move amendment 6.
We all understand the importance of primary and community healthcare and the clear links with social care. This debate today actually encompasses all three aspects of care. One could argue that these services should be fully integrated rather than just requiring or encouraging collaboration across the administrative and institutional boundaries that exist by creating a fund such as the deal done between us, Labour and the Liberal Democrats—the fund referred to in amendment 1, the intermediate care fund. That is an important step forward in the work of integrating services, but perhaps it does not go far enough and we need to establish full integration and create a clear budget line to develop this work and to separate the budget and the responsibility from the general and specialist hospitals. At present, there is a tendency for general hospitals and specialist hospitals to take over the budget from the primary and community sector, and that is one of the reasons why communities are so often so opposed to losing full A&E services as they do not have confidence that the primary and community care services are comprehensive and accessible enough to meet the needs of communities.
When primary care and an appointment with a GP are not available relatively swiftly, the next port of call for an individual is the A&E service. We must create a better system where GPs can provide emergency appointments to patients within 24 hours and do that consistently throughout Wales. Although GPs are independent contractors, as they have been since the establishment of the NHS, we must bear in mind that they are paid almost entirely from the public purse. We need, therefore, for the Welsh Government to create an appointments framework for GPs that is consistent across Wales, and not leave it to individual health boards or practices.
Another role where primary and community care services should be used more effectively to reduce pressures on acute hospitals is by caring for older patients with acute health complications—these are people who are nearing the end of their lives and who tend to fall and suffer all sorts of medical infections. If GPs, community services and social services could provide 24-hour care for those individuals, we could possibly reduce significantly the intensive use made by this cohort of the population of the ambulance services and A&E services and acute hospitals more generally. We know that the Royal College of General Practitioners, for example, is now giving specific consideration to recommending that GPs start to provide 24-hour care of this kind in this sector.
Also, beds in community hospitals are important as is the ability of GPs to refer individuals to a community care bed for a brief period, rather than a bed on an acute ward. So, there is more that GPs, practice nurses, community nurses, care workers and re-enabling health workers can do, but they need resources and they need the capacity within this sector to develop this work. The factor that can undermine all of this, of course, is the issue of not having the necessary capacity, staff or workforce in place when the demand for these services becomes part of public policy.
In this regard, we have already heard about the crisis in terms of recruiting and training adequate numbers of GPs. Currently, 23% of GPs in Wales are over 55 years of age and 31% of GPs in the Cwm Taf area are over 55. This is not just a rural factor; it is a factor in urban areas and in the Valleys in particular. Therefore, Plaid Cymru has a concept of creating a proactive programme on a national level to recruit and train 1,000 additional doctors for the health service over the next 10 years. I did not hear the Deputy Minister outlining what the proactive approach of Government is to be to recruit greater numbers of doctors. I would like to hear more details to convince me that something at least is happening within Government to recruit and train more of this workforce that is going to be increasingly important for the health and care sectors.
I think that this is an interesting debate and there is a danger of consensus breaking out, which is a good thing. I am a little puzzled as to where this evidence comes from for the crisis in the number of GPs. It may well be that the age profile of GPs is, of course, a future concern, but at the moment we have the lowest number of patients to GPs that we have had for a decade. The number of patients per GP is just over 1,500, which is quite low compared with other areas that I have worked on—
Will you take an intervention?
I will take an intervention.
Thank you. Just to clarify, they are not my words that this is a crisis in terms of GP recruitment. They were the words of the chair of the local medical council only today, in the Assembly, to not just me, but a number of Assembly Members. One of the issues that he referred to in terms of patient ratios was that, in his own practice, it is one GP to over 3,800 patients, I think, which is obviously significantly higher than the figure you quoted.
That would certainly be very significant, but I do not think that that is the case across Wales and, therefore, we need to drill down into the statistics. The ratio of 1,500 patients per GP is deemed to be adequate to good, so I am still unclear as to where that particular anxiety is coming from, although there may be particular problems in particular places. Both rurality and deprivation may be an issue and a challenge for us in ensuring that we have the right number of GPs across Wales.
However, as Darren Millar already referred to, the fact that we have integrated health boards is a real opportunity for us to get it right and to ensure that we have the right balance between services in the community and services in hospitals. Darren Millar, you say that no-one is arguing for taking money away from hospitals, but in the real world, there is always going to be a limited pot of money, and in my experience the age-old conundrum is always how to liberate money from hospitals that is not necessarily best spent there and ensure that services are there in the community to prevent people having to go to hospital unnecessarily.
I just wanted to use this opportunity to talk a little about the way that we care for people with diabetes, because it is a burgeoning problem. We now have double the number of patients with diabetes that we had 10 or 15 years ago. If we do not do anything about it, we will have double that number again in the next 10 to 15 years. To me, it is essential that we spend more time and money on prevention, not just on treating people in primary care, but on preventing people getting type 2 diabetes in the first place. The European commissioner for health pointed out recently that the developed world eats too much and the developing world eats too much of the wrong thing, just because it is cheap. That would also apply to poor communities in Wales, as well as the rest of the developed world. Unless and until we have concerted political will to tackle food manufacturers who systematically adulterate food to increase their profits, more needs to be done now to ensure that we promote good food and that people understand what food is good for them. There is great work going on in schools around Appetite for Life, during lessons, through the eco-committees that pupils have established and through things like the community food schemes that are funded by the rural development plan, but there is an awful lot more that public health could be doing to get the message across.
In the diabetes cross-party group this lunchtime, we had a presentation from somebody called Kamila Hawthorne, who is a GP in Butetown, about the HeartLink project. It was a three-year health inequalities project that was funded by the first and second Assemblies to target 13 primary care practices around Cardiff with significant numbers of ethnic minority communities, where there is also a high prevalence of diabetes. What we learned is that we need to do a lot more work with communities to promote healthy lifestyles. They are really hungry for information to make sure that they are doing the right thing. The referrals to podiatrists and nutritionists that the project’s outreach work generated indicated the numbers of people who can see those sorts of professionals, who are not then falling into diabetes or the complications of diabetes. We also learned that link workers are effective peer supporters and that you do not have to have health professionals to do that sort of health promotion work. It underlines the fact that we need not just good GPs who are good at working with their patients, but multidisciplinary teams that work alongside those health professionals to ensure that, where possible, people are prevented from having to go to hospital and having the complications from diabetes that lead to—
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Finish with this, please.
[Continues.]—blindness and amputations, which, in most cases, lead to premature death.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I am very proud of the services that we have, but we need to do a lot more.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on Mark Isherwood.
Thank you. As previously indicated, BMA Cymru hosted a briefing session in the Assembly this lunchtime to hear from the chair of the north Wales local medical committee on why general practice in north Wales is in crisis. They said that,
‘several practices have been unable to fill vacancies and many GPs are seriously considering retirement because of the current expanding workload’.
They added that
‘this is a huge issue for the NHS in general and your constituents in particular’.
So, the timing of this Welsh Government debate on improving primary and community healthcare might seem to some coincidental or even diversionary.
The Royal College of General Practitioners Wales ‘Put Patients First: Back General Practice’ campaign reports that real-terms spending on GP practices in Wales has dropped by more than £27 million over three years. It highlighted a major concern in primary care, with the average age of GPs in north Wales now over 50, described by the royal college as ‘a ticking time bomb’.
After meeting a group of north Wales GPs in January, I wrote to the Minister for health, outlining their serious concerns. They talked about their inability to recruit primary care staff and doctors, about community services having deviated over 10 years so that they now cannot contact community nurses, district nurses and health visitors in the way that they could previously, as part of a team. The GPs talked about the shortage of beds at the remaining community hospitals because of a shortage of staff, and about the need for improved communication with secondary care, about the damage to cross-border services, about waiting lists and about constant changes, which are disruptive to their provision of healthcare. Instead of responding to these concerns, the Minister’s reply passed the buck back to the local health boards charged with implementing his Government’s policies.
As one north Wales GP told me:
‘over 90% of NHS contacts take place in Primary Care yet funding from Welsh Government into Primary Care keeps falling, in real terms, every year…. If the Welsh Government wants to transfer more services into the community, then they have to ensure manpower and resources in place. It’s all very well paying lip service to this, but the stark reality is that Primary care is at breaking point in Wales…and expecting more from a demoralised and overstretched workforce is a recipe for failure.’
Those are a GP’s comments. There has been anger at community hospital closures. At the request of campaigners, I formed CHANT Cymru—Community Hospitals Acting Nationally Together—during the last Assembly, promoting at national level the role of community hospitals in providing quality healthcare.
The Royal College of Nursing in Wales had expressed its concern that primary and community health services required further investment to develop the community and district nursing service, independent prescribing, palliative care and respite care alongside primary care resource centres and nurse-led community hospitals with beds. Then, as now, Labour Ministers pointed the finger of blame at local health boards for the consequences of their own policies.
This Minister has stated again recently in the press that the decisions to close the community hospitals at Flint, Llangollen, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Prestatyn were supported by the local community health council. However, a letter that I received from the community health council last August stated that:
‘when Mr Drakeford says Betsi Cadwaladr Community Health Council (CHC) supports the Health Board's proposals for the closure of a number of community hospitals in North Wales, he fails to mention that the CHC has recently written to him expressing concerns about the robustness of the information provided by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) and which we used to inform our decision making process.’
Campaigners in north Wales described the consultation on these closures as ‘a sham’. Flint campaigners said, ‘They’re picking the figures that they want’, despite thousands marching in protest at the proposals. Llangollen campaigners expressed fury that the analysis dismissed thousands who signed petitions. E-mail evidence proves Labour Welsh Government direction behind this.
Speaking at packed Flint community hospital group meetings in Flint town hall, I emphasised that hospital beds were needed in Flint because of high bed occupancy rates in surrounding hospitals. We heard several tragic stories about local people already affected by the hospital closure, and about the negative experiences of residents denied closer health services in England that they had previously accessed. Flint campaigners want, as a minimum, a replacement—a primary care centre with beds.
As the new head of the NHS in England said last week:
‘Smaller community hospitals should play a bigger role, particularly in the care of older patients’.
I think I am, well I know I am, very proud of the way that the Welsh Government set out its primary care strategy way back in 1999, when we all first joined the Assembly. I see the Minister for health sitting there now, but I think that he was very much involved in the background; perhaps he will tell us that. However, I thought that we had looked at that and that we were taking the two-pronged approach of saying that we would look at primary healthcare, but we would look at the causes of why people in Wales, in areas such as my own, have great inequalities in health, and that we must address that, so that people do not just keep on going around the revolving door of a district general hospital.
I think that that was the strategy that we took and embarked on. A lot of that had to revolve around the GP surgeries, and GP surgeries understanding that that was the message that was coming from the Welsh Government. I have had a number of GP surgery closures in my patch, as many other Members will have had. The score stands at 2-1 in my favour. I have had three practices that have wanted to close branch surgeries and to do so unilaterally, with no consultation whatsoever. The very last one, which I lost, I still have not given up hope on. I still think that the health board may want to look at ways in which we can provide a service for people in their own town. It is not good enough for GPs to say that there is a problem and to unilaterally want to go and close branch surgeries without discussing it with the public or their patients. It is not good enough to say to people, ‘Well, you will come to the main surgery, irrespective of that.’ If you have a sick child and you have two other children who are not well, you cannot do two bus journeys with the sick child. You cannot do two bus journeys with an elderly relative who needs to get to the GP. GPs have to bear some of that responsibility as well. However, as I say, I am 2-1 up, and it is still extra time on the third one, so I am still hoping that I will get a resolution.
I am very proud as well to see that this Welsh Government is working hard to get that commitment from GPs that we will improve access to surgeries, and that we will look at the way in which out-of-hours services work. Minister, I know that you accompanied me—or I accompanied you; I do not know which way around it was, but anyway we were both there—to the new emergency quadrant, which is what they call it now, at Glan Clwyd Hospital. I think that it goes live on Thursday. I was very impressed with what they were telling us. The ethos of that will be ‘access to admit’ rather than ‘admit to access’—no, sorry, it is ‘assess to admit’, rather than ‘admit to assess’. I knew that I would get that wrong. I was impressed with it, and I have remembered it, but I still get it wrong. I think that that is the answer to how we tell people about how we use GP surgeries. It is no good my GP surgery holding a diabetic clinic on a Tuesday afternoon, thank you. Where am I, as a diabetic? I am down here. End of story. They have to accept that, if they want to do these things, they have to look at their patient books and patient numbers, and they have to fit it all around the patients, rather than around what suits them best.
I did not attend the BMA briefing at lunchtime. I was elsewhere doing other things. However, there are times when GPs have to come in and be a part of what we are trying to do here, as a Welsh Government. I would like to see some more emphasis put on salaried GPs. I know that GPs are probably sitting there, thinking, ‘Crikey, what is she on about now?’ However, in those areas where it is difficult to recruit and where we have the ticking time bomb of surgeries that are still single-handed—those surgeries with GPs, predominantly men, who are reaching retirement age—we should be doing more with salaried GPs. There seems to be very little said about salaried GPs. Salaried GP posts offer women an opportunity to promote themselves within the medical profession.
I just want to very briefly mention the new north Denbighshire project that is, hopefully, about to come online. That will provide some community beds. What it will not do—hopefully, it will not—is just replace the community hospital for the sake of replacing the community hospital, but it will instead offer a service to those members of the community who will need to operate or to go there to have blood tests or a nurse-prescribing event, rather than trailing up to Glan Clwyd. I welcome that, and I would like to know more from the Minister about how—
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
[Continues.]—we take forward primary care.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Minister for Health and Social Services to reply to the debate.
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd. I thank all those Members who have taken part in what has been an interesting and thoughtful debate. Ann Jones opened her remarks by reminding us that anyone who has followed health policy making in Wales in the devolution period will know just how hard it has been to shift the terms of the debate to persuade people that health is far more than hospitals, and far more than doctors, too. Around the Chamber this afternoon, there is clearly some work still to be done in that regard. Today’s motion has been a conscious attempt to focus on those parts of the system where patients have the vast majority of their contacts with health and social care. The scale of activity undertaken in such services is absolutely striking: there were 19 million appointments in primary care alone in Wales last year, without taking into account the 0.75 million eye tests carried out, the more than 1 million appointments in dentistry, and the tens of millions of contacts in community pharmacy, where the vast bulk of the 74.2 million items prescribed by GPs in Wales alone last year are dispensed. Against the background of activity on this industrial scale, we have a system that continues to command the widespread support and admiration of those who use it. What commercial organisation would not give its eye teeth to be able to say that more than nine out of 10 of those people who use its services remain highly satisfied with it?
We have quite rightly talked this afternoon about the challenges faced by the service, and they are real, but let us not forget the achievements of primary, community and social care in Wales, because they are very real too. Over recent years, we have seen a sustained reduction in the use of residential care, despite the growing numbers of very elderly people in our population. We have seen sustained reductions in emergency hospital admissions, and re-admissions too, for chronic conditions. These successes have been achieved by bringing services together. I very much agreed with what Kirsty Williams said: integrated services are about services working closer together, and not about imposing new structural solutions and upheavals on services that simply get in the way of their being able to go on doing what they have already begun to demonstrate their ability to do.
We have also heard a great deal this afternoon about challenges in GP recruitment, and there are parts of Wales where those challenges are real, and I will say something in a moment about what is being done to address those challenges. However, it is important to put some basic facts on the record: the number of GPs working in the Welsh NHS continues to rise, not fall. It rose again in 2013, and last year, for the first time ever, the number of GPs working in the Welsh NHS went through the 2,000 barrier. As Jenny Rathbone has told us, the number of—
Will you take an intervention?
Thank you, I am very grateful. I accept that the number of GPs working in Wales has increased, but, given the demographic changes, given the age profile, and given that more people are living with chronic conditions, do you accept that the pace of growth is being outstripped by patient demand?
It is a sensible point that the Member makes, in that you have to balance increasing demand with supply, but the relish with which some Members of the Conservative party have used the word ‘crisis’ really—
They are not my words; I was quoting other people’s words.
Yes, well, it is with relish that they use that word, and it simply is not borne out by those basic facts, because, as Jenny Rathbone said, the number of registered patients per GP is falling in Wales, not rising, and that helps to address the point that Darren Millar made about the nature of demand.
Will you give way?
Thank you. The term ‘crisis’ is not one that we used; it was one that was used to us, and we are simply quoting it. The figures that we were given are that, in the home counties, four GPs apply for each vacancy, in the north of England, it is one for each vacancy, and, in north Wales, it is just 0.3 of an applicant per vacancy. That is why they are describing it as a crisis.
Well, I would like Mark Isherwood to think about how he reconciles some of the things that he has said with the fact that there are more GPs in Wales today than there have ever been in the past. If there is that much of a recruitment crisis, how is it that there are more GPs year-on-year than before? Let me also say that the incomes of GPs in Wales have been growing at a time when GP income in Scotland and in England has been in decline.
While the GP age profile is an important point for us to take seriously, the number of GPs aged over 55 in Wales is within a percentage point of those in England and in Northern Ireland. It simply is not a Welsh issue. Nevertheless, there are places where GP recruitment is a challenge. The Welsh Government’s response is being led at the highest level because it is being directly led by the chief medical officer. Among the actions we are taking are: making the GP training programme more attractive to doctors, particularly to bring them into rural Wales; expanding the GP retainer scheme; simplifying GP returner processes; making locum recruitment easier; adopting new GP contract models to encourage, for example, new federations of GP practices; making it clear to the deanery that there is absolutely no objection from this Minister to them organising GP rotations on a cross-north Wales and north-west basis, where that will help; and providing more salaried GPs, to answer Ann Jones’s point.
Alongside all the efforts to secure the services of more GPs, we also need to remodel the primary care workforce. The way in which primary care services are provided in the future will not be identical to the way in which they have been provided in the past. Ann Jones pointed to what we saw in Glan Clwyd last week, where I was definitely accompanying her, rather than the other way around. [Laughter.] We will need to bolster GP practice with a wider range of professional workers who are able to undertake things that GPs have needed to do in the past, thus freeing up GPs to do what only GPs can do. We have a new series of drivers in the system to help us to do that: the new three-year planning framework for the NHS, and the new GP contract, negotiated for this year, putting new powers in the hands of primary care in their 64 clusters. There is the additional investment, which, even in these really difficult times, we are able to provide through the Welsh Government—extra investment in revenue and extra investment in capital. There is extra investment in innovation, including examples such as the one that Darren Millar used of Age UK’s work in Cornwall. Dr Bernie Hughes, who worked here in the Welsh Government at the time when Jane Hutt was the Minister for health, is leading work in Age Cymru in Wales to make sure that we learn exactly those lessons and, as Jenny Rathbone said, to provide a new relationship between the service and the public. The NHS is free from charges at the point of use, but it is not free of obligation. We have to do more to help educate patients to use the services that we have in a fully co-productive way.
This Government recognises, as has been agreed in many parts of the Chamber, that the future of the NHS lies in a stronger set of primary and community services, closely linked to social care and delivered in new ways by a widened professional workforce. The age of austerity makes that shift more urgent and I am glad that we have had the opportunity to address it here this afternoon.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister. The proposal is to agree amendment 1. Does any Member object? I see that there is objection. I defer all voting under this item until voting time.
Voting deferred until voting time.
The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1 and 2 in the name of Aled Roberts, and amendment 3 in the name of Paul Davies.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on the Minister for Culture and Sport to move the motion—John Griffiths.
Motion NDM5516 Lesley Griffiths
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Recognises the current and potential value of Wales’ designated landscapes to the environment, economy, health, well-being and quality of life of the people of Wales.
2. Notes the forthcoming review of governance arrangements for designated landscapes in Wales.
I move the motion.
In 1949, 65 years ago, as part of our post-war reconstruction, an Act of Parliament established our designated landscapes. The intention was twofold: to preserve and enhance our areas of natural beauty and to provide opportunities for public recreation. In Wales, we now have eight areas with landscape designations: three national parks and five areas of outstanding natural beauty. All share the common purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty that makes them so special. Our national parks have a second purpose: to promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of their special qualities. These purposes have served us well. Our designated landscapes and seascapes are iconic and loved at home and abroad. They are important national, natural and cultural assets, underpinning our wealth and helping to define us as a nation, projecting Wales on the world stage. Some 18 million people visit them each year, generating over £1.5 billion pounds, spent across Wales, contributing to the national economy and local communities. This is reflected in the 95% of people in Wales who consider designated landscapes important to them, and the 96% of people who think that children should experience a national park first-hand. Also studies have highlighted benefits to mental and physical wellbeing from taking exercise in the natural environment.
So, we have to understand this importance and ensure that our strategy and structures are effective and fit for purpose. The Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery put forward three recommendations regarding national park authorities, and I am considering these at the current time. I am also committed to undertaking a governance review of Wales’s designated landscapes, carried out by an independent body appointed by me and supported by officials from my department. Given this ongoing work, it would be premature to accept amendments 2 and 3, but we will support amendment 1.
I will be asking this review body to consider the purposes of our national parks and our areas of outstanding natural beauty. I want to ensure that they are equipped to meet the challenges we face now and in the future. There is a direct link between the purposes and Welsh Government’s commitment to sustainability—environmental, economic and social. An integrated ecosystems approach to landscape, marine conservation and socioeconomic issues can be used to further organisational planning.
It is crucial to maintain the values and integrity of these important places, and the wellbeing of those who live in or use them. Given this, we will consider the possibility of creating a single type of designation for Wales—a designation encompassing both national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Following this, I will ask the review body to consider different governance arrangements to best deliver statutory purposes, promoting collaboration and joint working and avoiding duplication and waste. It will examine how relationships with local authorities, Visit Wales, Natural Resources Wales, third sector groups and others can be made more effective in delivering for the people of Wales.
Will the Minister give way?
I will give way.
I thank the Minister for giving way. I very much welcome what he just said about the possibility of unifying designations in Wales. Although this debate will be a lot about governance, does he also accept that many of those areas, particularly areas of outstanding natural beauty, do have depressed wage levels at the moment? One of the things that we need to do is work better together to make the link between the area that people live in and the economy and how they can benefit from the promotion of that area. Is that something that he will take on board when looking at governance arrangements?
Very much so. It is very important that we consider sustainable development in a rounded way when we look at these matters, and, of course, economic benefits and the needs of a rural economy are central to a rounded approach of sustainable development. That will very much be at the forefront of the work that takes place.
I intend that any review of governance will ensure that these living, working landscapes will be preserved for future generations. They must be exemplars for sustainability, and as I have just said, they must foster vibrant rural communities as well as providing those extensive recreational opportunities, thriving ecosystems and a rich biodiversity. There should be effective participation in decision making and sustainable management.
These designated landscapes will be areas where new solutions to environmental issues are tried, tested and shared, with consideration of the challenges for rural areas in driving innovation. Action for the environment and rural communities will exemplify that true collaboration, reducing regulation and targeting investment appropriately.
Managing positive landscape change for the benefit of people and landscapes will be evident in plans, activities and communication. To function effectively, they must adapt, be flexible and strive to link together to meet national priorities, statutory purposes and local community interests.
We have achieved much in the last 65 years. The time is now right to revisit the ideas that drove our predecessors to designate these areas, to build upon what has been achieved and to make sure that we put in place the structures and ideas that will enable the people of Wales to be as proud of the parks of the next 65 years as we are today.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I have selected the three amendments to the motion. I call on William Powell to move amendments 1 and 2, tabled in the name of Aled Roberts.
Insert as new point 1 and renumber accordingly:
Celebrates the contribution of Wales’ three National Parks to our heritage and supports the role they continue to play in fostering Wales’ unique identity.
Insert as new point 2 and renumber accordingly:
Believes that increased democratic accountability would lead to the betterment of National Park governance and enhance the relationship between park authorities and the towns and communities which fall within their boundaries.
I move amendments 1 and 2 in the name of Aled Roberts.
I am grateful to the Minister for indicating Government support for one of those two amendments. However, I am somewhat disappointed about his reserve with regard to our second amendment.
It gives me great pleasure to contribute to this debate today, as a long-term resident of one of Wales’s national parks, indeed as a former member of the relevant national park authority, and as a regional Member for a region that contains the vast majority of the land mass of our three national parks and several of the AONBs. It remains clear to me that while reform is necessary, the arguments for the continued existence of these protected landscapes are more important than ever.
To understand the value that sites such as our national parks add to our economy, history and heritage, we need to look no further than what has already been stated in the ARUP report ‘Valuing Wales’ National Parks’, which was published recently. It reminds us that unlike those in many other countries, our national parks are places of human habitation and have, within their boundaries, many hundreds of established communities and businesses that must be allowed to sustain and to thrive. Such interests contribute more than £0.5 billion pounds to Wales’s gross value added and represent 1.2% of the overall Welsh economy. More than 80,000 people have their homes in our national parks, and almost 30,000 are employed within their boundaries. They are visited by more than 12 million people from the UK and much further afield every year. They cost the Welsh taxpayer less than £5 per person per year to fund. With such figures in mind, it is easy to understand why our national parks are considered so important and why it is that I have continually called for reform of their governance arrangements. However, in doing so, I have also stressed how important it is that we do not throw out the baby with the bath water and fatally erode our hierarchy of protected landscapes, to the point where they are no longer capable of being protected and where the enhancement of the environments that we hold so dear is not possible. It is interesting, indeed, to hear the proposals that the Minister is coming forward with today in connection with this.
In calling for these reforms, I very much welcome the contribution so far made by the Williams commission. While I may not agree with all of its recommendations, it makes it abundantly clear that the present system can and must be improved. In a climate where we are seeing changes across the whole local government sector, there is every argument for our protected landscapes to be part of that wider process.
I have been campaigning on this along with Liberal Democrats across the UK for a number of years, and it seems that we are, possibly, within sight of real progress in this area. As things stand, our park authorities are made up, as we know, of a combination of Welsh Government appointees and local government representatives who are chosen largely on a basis of political balance, and regardless of whether they live within or without national park boundaries. In making this point, I am not casting doubt for one moment on the important contribution that is made by Welsh Government appointees. Indeed, over the years, I have worked with a number of them and I have been impressed by the contribution that they have made. However, we must ensure that our national park authorities include a proportion of representatives who are directly accountable to the communities that they serve and that they are responsive to the views and life experience of local citizens. What level of direct election would be best is not a matter for today. However, at the very least, we should enact reforms that ensure that representatives come exclusively from wards within national park boundaries and that they are elected for fixed terms, thus banishing forever the prospect of park authorities being influenced by the whim of political balance and crude horse-trading.
Turning to national park structures, it is clear that much remains to be established as a result of the review that the Minister has referred to today.
In terms of areas of outstanding natural beauty, it is essential that we highlight the role that they play and that that role is better understood. Potentially, the reforms that the Minister is advocating could help to foster that, and that is to be encouraged. This is an important debate, and I am very glad to have contributed to it today.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call on Russell George to move amendment 3, tabled in the name of Paul Davies.
Add as new point at end of motion:
Notes the recommendations relating to National Parks in the report published by the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery and believes that a comprehensive package of reform needs to be implemented as soon as possible.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I move amendment 3.
There is not a great deal that I can disagree with in what the Minister said in his opening remarks, nor is there a great deal to disagree with in what William Powell has said, either. Therefore, I believe that we are in danger of breaking out into consensus this afternoon. There is no question that our designated landscapes—our three national parks and our six areas of outstanding natural beauty—are national assets that we must cherish and enjoy. However, they are also assets that need to be strategically utilised not only to lever in a range of additional benefits for our citizens, but to deliver a range of key public policy objectives.
I am sure that many here attended the Why Landscapes Matter event organised by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales back in March, which focused very much on the health and wellbeing agenda that a range of organisations are pursuing in order to try to use our national landscapes as part of a therapeutic process to aid healing and improve mental wellbeing. The Government is looking to bring forward a public health Bill for Wales with the principal aim of improving the health of the nation, yet there is no mention of the natural environment as a vehicle to do that. Therefore, I hope that the Government will re-evaluate that point before it brings the Bill before this Chamber.
In terms of economic benefits, there is a natural high-level economic value that our designated landscapes provide in relation to being a tourism draw. That is something that has benefited Wales considerably over the last seven decades and will no doubt continue to do so in the future. However, we also have to remember that our national parks and, as Visit Wales describes our areas of outstanding natural beauty, their six little brothers, are more than just tourism destinations or weekend retreats from our urban areas, they are living areas where people live and work on a daily basis, and they have their own social and economic capital. Therefore, in terms of seeing their future potential, we must also keep that notion in our minds, because national parks have a duty to seek and foster the economic and social wellbeing of the communities within their boundaries. However, from the many that I have spoken to across all three national park areas, there appears to be a strong view that that is not being done—either because they are not properly geared up to fulfil that function, or they have become overly cautious, hedging on the side of protection, rather than development.
The areas need to be carefully managed, and they need to grow, develop and prosper, and they need to be properly enabled to do that, or effectively reformed to do that. Williams, in his report on public service governance and delivery in Wales did a pretty good job of analysing some of the key issues affecting our designated landscapes, particularly the three national park authorities. Critics of the three authorities would say that they are unrepresentative and overly bureaucratic bodies that fail to deliver key targets and are prone to duplicate work that is being done by neighbouring local authorities, other organisations and delivery bodies. However, their advocates consistently stress their unique value and expertise in protecting the parks as national assets while also being flexible enough to respond to local needs. What is clear to me is that the governance structure and arrangements for NPAs cannot continue as they currently are. There must be coherent and streamlined governance arrangements within properly facilitated and effective collaboration with various multi-agencies, and there must be strengthened local accountability. Their performance in areas such as planning and compliance must also drastically improve, and I think that the majority of Williams’s recommendations addressed those concerns.
Williams states that there is no overt desire to abolish our national park authorities, but the debate needs to be had against the backdrop of local authority reform, and I think it is right to have that debate now. However, the elephant in the room in relation to the future of local authorities is whether national park authorities should retain their current planning functions when reorganisation takes place. I have pushed the Minister and other Ministers about that in the past, and I have had some fudged answers on that.
I welcome the comments made by the Minister in opening this debate today. We have heard from many quarters now about the undoubted environmental and economic value of the designated land that we have in Wales, but, before any changes are made, we need to be clear on where there is scope for better working, and the Government, with the assistance of others, needs to be clear about the case for change. We have heard from many quarters how national parks are often seen as an obstacle to planning. If you look at the statistics, they grant just as many planning applications as other planning authorities. There is an accusation that there is greater bureaucracy and that procedures are more cumbersome. To a great extent, that is no different to many other planning authorities, and we are looking to the planning Bill to address many of those issues.
The Minister referred in opening the debate to the concern that exists about duplication of work. People talk about duplication in the field of planning, promoting the areas for which they are responsible, visitor services, countryside management, and development between the parks, local authorities, Visit Wales, Natural Resources Wales and others. The truth is that more can always be done in order to collaborate. However, we must also acknowledge the level of collaboration that is already happening in the Snowdonia National Park in my region. We are aware of the collaboration on water, on peat bogs, on tackling rhododendron and in the field of tourism, with the Eryri Centre of Excellence, the sherpa service, and so on. In some cases, it is the park that acts as a catalyst for collaboration. Therefore, we need to acknowledge that as well.
On the issue of lack of accountability, I agree that having direct elections to national park authorities would be a positive step, or at least it would ensure that local authority members on those authorities represent areas that are within park boundaries. As we have heard, the Williams commission has made representations to that end. However, we should not lose sight of the core functions and why these designations were established in the first place. It is a matter of how they are managed and governed, rather than what we are trying to achieve.
All this is not to say that there is no scope for change; there is scope for change, and it was a Plaid Cymru manifesto commitment for this Assembly to set up a commission to look at our designated landscapes in their entirety. Therefore, I welcome the confirmation by the Minister regarding the governance review. I am very pleased that that review will be independent, because we need to develop the discussion and consider the options in full. Is the model inherited by Wales from the United Kingdom as a result of devolution appropriate, or is it time for us to have something more specific to Wales? We have seen what happens in Scotland, and we know about the regional parks in France and that there is a specific economic development role in some of those contexts. That is something that we need to consider in Wales. The reference to the creation of a single national authority or body is also something that is taking us in the right direction.
However, let us not forget that the areas and communities that we are talking about are living areas that are home, as we have heard, to more than 80,000 people, more than 5,000 businesses and almost 30,000 employees who work, either directly or indirectly, for those businesses. Therefore, there is a need to strike a balance between the people and the economy and the nature and the landscapes, and that balance will vary from area to area. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. If we look at one national body or entity, it is necessary to ensure, within the decision-making structures, that the local voice is as strong as possible, that the decisions made are taken as close as possible to those communities and that, therefore, there is local accountability. Those communities will pay the price for any failures, but they will also, I very much hope, enjoy the social, environmental and economic benefits and prosperity that will follow if we get it right.
We will support amendments 1 and 2. With regard to amendment 3, we are also impatient about the need to address this issue, but I feel that we need this independent governance review first in order to have a fuller discussion before we proceed to introduce reforms.
I am really pleased to speak in this debate today. I have all three national parks in my region, as has been mentioned by Bill Powell, who shares that region with me in covering it. Our national parks do indeed cover—I think it is worth noting—20% of the land mass of this country. I suppose I could have asked the Research Service to calculate the proportion of Mid and West Wales that they cover, but I know that it will be hugely significant. They are, as has been mentioned, our natural heritage, our gift and our responsibility. That is really what we are talking about here today.
There will always be tensions and competing interest where conservation meets everyday life. The American writer John Steinbeck described the parks in his country as nature’s Disneyland. However, our parks are not playgrounds. They are living communities and they have within them thriving businesses. It is the case that national parks support, through the planning system, the growth of the economy, where people can come along. The Bluestone venture in Pembrokeshire demonstrates that extremely well; it is a holiday development that brings in significant numbers of visitors to that area, who then also go outside the national park area and spend their money—which is very welcome, of course—in the wider economy of Pembrokeshire, where there is an opportunity gained to other businesses in that area to showcase and promote what they do. So, I do not think that I can agree with some of the comments that I have read and heard about the planning process within the national park always being a negative and always standing in the way of development. That is why I cite that particular issue.
The governance review that the Minister, John Griffiths, has announced will consider whether there is a need to improve the accountability of national park authorities and how that might be achieved. In terms of that governance review, about which I understand you quite rightly cannot say much today, the governance structures of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty do set the policy framework, and not self-interest. I am somewhat astounded to hear that Bill Powell does not think that political balance is important, yet the Liberal Democrats agree with proportional representation, which serves them well to ensure that they have seats around here. So, I am just a little bit confused by that statement.
I do think that we cannot pre-empt any conclusions that the review might reach on the matter, but I do ask the Minister to consider two issues as part of the inquiry. I believe that the importance of transparent and democratic oversight and the days of web casting play a big part in that. I mentioned only last week, I think, that Brecon Beacons National Park enables members of the public to watch proceedings online, while Snowdonia and Pembrokeshire coast park authorities do not. I will suggest, Minister, that it might be worth your looking at that.
On housing, constituents have contacted me expressing concerns that the Brecon beacons authority could withdraw from an affordable housing partnership run by Powys County Council, which links registered social landlords and the park authority. Given that Powys County Council is the housing authority for the area, such a move would be problematic, and I hope that the review panel will also look at that role within the review.
However, I certainly welcome this debate. I will hold my hands up as one of those people who very much enjoys the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. You only have to look at my Facebook page to see that.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
It is a great pleasure to return to the National Assembly to speak on the very issue that I spoke on when I left this place before the recess, in the short debate brought forward by Bill Powell. I spent that time in Snowdonia and Llŷn, and I want to very briefly mention that and the key personalities who are now responsible for the park and the area of outstanding natural beauty.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
However, before that, I want to thank the Minister, once again, because when there was reorganisation in the area that I represent and I became the elected Member for Dwyfor, as one who had lived over the years in Snowdonia, and one who continues to do so and to represent most of the park area, I realised that I had to be in favour of having the same sort of resources for the area of outstanding natural beauty in Llŷn, and other similar areas in Wales, as were available and as I had seen used so effectively in the national park itself. The Minister has done that today. He has announced today that the inquiry that he has put in place will look at this issue. It is almost an emotional thing for me. One of the main reasons why I wanted to see devolution was so that people living in Wales could manage their own resources. I have had to give evidence, express my views and take part in debates over the years—from the Reverend Lord Sandford’s consultation onwards—on the national parks to all sorts of organisations and people who did not truly understand the difference between living in Snowdonia and living in any national park outwith Wales.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Getting to that point gives me great pleasure. I am confident therefore that we can persuade this review that the way to move forward is to simplify the designations and bring people’s activities together. I refer to the activities of people such as the excellent Emyr Williams, who has been appointed chief officer of Snowdonia National Park. His whole career has been in environmental issues and I know, because I have had a number of discussions over the past few weeks, that there will be a warm welcome for the leadership that he will bring not only to the park but to north Wales and the whole of Wales.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
Also, people like Bleddyn Prys Jones and Elin Wyn Hughes, with whom I endeavoured to work on Sunday morning as part of the work of the area of outstanding natural beauty in Llŷn, with the support of Lee Oliver of Keep Wales Tidy, to clear Holy well at Rhiw in Llŷn. I am not saying that I am the best person at clearing wells, but the water was running clean by the time we finished. This is one of the wells on the pilgrims’ path and one of the projects that the AONB is responsible for. Bringing the resources and the enthusiasm of these people together across Dwyfor Merionnydd and the whole of north Wales would be an entirely successful venture.
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-Thomas
The other thing that I want to see is confidence and pride from all of us that our parks are different. I carry this booklet with me everywhere I go. There are some 100 national parks in Europe and they all have different governance and different objectives. Some have responsibility for planning—we will not go there this afternoon—but they are all different. There is an opportunity for us to pick the best of the parks of Europe and bring it to Wales as something that will be appealing and attractive to everyone. That has been my mission in environmental politics for years and I am so grateful that I have heard the Welsh Minister—I know that he spoke on behalf of his fellow Ministers—progressing in this direction. On behalf of the people of Llŷn and Snowdonia, thank you, John; keep up the good work.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
I call the Minister to respond to the debate.
Diolch yn fawr, Ddirprwy Lywydd. May I begin by thanking Members very much for their contributions? It is very encouraging and heartening that there is so much agreement in terms of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, as we embark on a period of significant and important work that will shape the structure, functions and governance for a considerable period to come. I think that we will draw on the views of Members as we take this work forward and progress it.
A number of Members, Dirprwy Lywydd, made clear that they see sustainable development as very important to the future work of our designated landscapes and striking the right balance will obviously be absolutely crucial. I think that we have some good examples of work taking place in our national parks and our areas of outstanding natural beauty that are very much based on the principles of sustainable development. If we look at some of the hydro power schemes, for example, particularly in the Brecon beacons, and the way that they have involved and empowered communities to understand how they can help support a rural community and a thriving community cohesion picture, that is a very good example indeed. There are many others right across our national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
A number of Members understandably raised issues around accountability, democratic accountability and scrutiny and I think that, obviously, those matters will be very important and central to the governance review. In terms of those members nominated by local authorities and the need to have them representing wards wholly or partly, at least, within national park boundaries, there is an existing memorandum of understanding in place with local authorities by which that should be the case. However, it is not universally observed across Wales, and those are matters to which we need to give some thought—the reasons why it is not universally observed and how those issues can be overcome.
I hear what Members say about the importance of direct elections and, obviously, that will be considered as we take the governance review forward, and will be a very important element of it.
Dirprwy Lywydd, other matters such as webcasting, for example—I know of many examples of what is currently taking place and might be introduced in the future—will be considered again as part of taking forward democratic accountability and proper scrutiny. Members rightly pointed out that there is considerable collaboration taking place currently between national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and many other organisations, but, of course, there is considerably more that can and should be done. That will also be an important part of future work.
When it comes to the scope for change, there is significant opportunity to drive forward the sort of change that I think Members would like to see, and upon which many Members touched. However, we have to go through these important processes. The First Minister will respond to Williams and set out the across-Welsh-Government response. I will take forward the governance review and I think that it would be wise to do it in two stages, dealing very much with functions, initially, recognising that there are important decisions to be made with regard to planning, for example, and to have a second stage that deals with governance, when we have clarity on functions. That is the approach that I intend to take.
I think that sustainable development will be at the heart of all of this work. I think that there is a great deal of agreement in this Chamber and across our national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty as to the need for that prominence and that focus.
It will be very useful to look at international comparisons, as Dafydd Elis-Thomas stated, and I think that we will want the work that will take place to look way beyond our borders at examples of what might work in Wales and how we can draw on that best practice.
The physical activity executive group that I sit on, along with Mark Drakeford, as the Minister for health, and with Public Health Wales, Sport Wales and a variety of other organisations, as well as other Ministers, as we take the work forward, very much understands the importance of our great outdoors and how it can deliver on health and wellbeing. That will be an important element of the week as we go forward. Therefore, I very much recognise the points made as far as that is concerned as well.
In essence, Dirprwy Lywydd, I think that it is clear from today’s debate that there is a bedrock of agreement on much of the work that needs to be taking place, much of the new focus that we need to strive towards, and much of the collaboration and important work that is already taking place. We know that these organisations have not stood still: our areas of outstanding natural beauty and our national parks have forged new partnerships and new networks. They have understood the challenges that face them and that face Wales since devolution. However, there is much more that can be done, and it is timely, in reflecting on the 65 years that we have had these designations, to look at the progress that has been made and the new challenges that devolution has brought and then set in train the work of the governance review and, indeed, the response to Williams. Therefore, I can give this commitment today: I will continue to work very closely with Members across this Chamber, as we take this important work forward and build the future for the next 65 years.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
The question is that amendment 1 be agreed. Is there any objection? There are no objections, therefore amendment 1 agreed.
Amendment 1 agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Y cwestiwn yw bod cytuno ar welliant 2. A oes unrhyw wrthwynebiad? Mae gwrthwynebiad, felly gohiriaf bob pleidlais arall ar yr eitem hon tan y cyfnod pleidleisio.
Voting deferred until voting time.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Voting time now follows. Before I conduct the first vote, are there three Members who wish for the bell to be rung? There are not, so we will move straight to voting time.
Result of the vote on amendment 1 to motion NDM5515.
Amendment agreed: For 37, Against 11, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 2 to motion NDM5515.
Amendment not agreed: For 13, Against 35, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 3 to motion NDM5515.
Amendment agreed: For 48, Against 0, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 4 to motion NDM5515.
Amendment agreed: For 48, Against 0, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 5 to motion NDM5515.
Amendment not agreed: For 10, Against 29, Abstain 9.
Result of the vote on amendment 6 to motion NDM5515
Amendment not agreed: For 23, Against 25, Abstain 0.
Motion NDM5515 as amended:
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Notes the actions taken by the Welsh Government to improve and further integrate primary, community and social care in Wales.
2. Welcomes the additional funding agreed by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government for the Intermediate Care Fund in the 2014/15 budget.
3. Notes the concerns of the Royal College of GPs regarding the need for additional investment in primary care services as highlighted by their Put Patients First: Back General Practice campaign.
4. Calls upon the Welsh Government to improve primary care workforce planning arrangements and take urgent action to address GP recruitment challenges across Wales.
Result of the vote on motion NDM5515 as amended
Motion agreed: For 38, Against 10, Abstain 0.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
We will now vote on the debate on the governance of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Amendment 1 to NDM5516 has already been agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Result of the vote on amendment 2 to motion NDM5516
Amendment not agreed: For 23, Against 25, Abstain 0.
Result of the vote on amendment 3 to motion NDM5516
Amendment not agreed: For 14, Against 34, Abstain 0.
Motion NDM5516 as amended:
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Celebrates the contribution of Wales’ three National Parks to our heritage and supports the role they continue to play in fostering Wales’ unique identity.
2. Recognises the current and potential value of Wales’ designated landscapes to the environment, economy, health, well-being and quality of life of the people of Wales.
3. Notes the forthcoming review of governance arrangements for designated landscapes in Wales.
Result of the vote on motion NDM5516 as amended.
Motion agreed: For 48, Against 0, Abstain 0.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
That concludes today’s business. Thank you, team.
The meeting ended at 17:46.