The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Good afternoon. The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and question 1 is Eluned Parrott.
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on plans for the M4 relief road around Newport? OAQ(4)2507(FM)
Our proposal for the M4 corridor around Newport is the sustainable, long-term solution to the current problems associated with that route, and it forms an essential part of our vision for an efficient integrated transport system for south Wales.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. I wonder if you could confirm for me how many millions of pounds the former leader of Plaid Cymru spent on buying up land to enable this road to be built, back when Plaid still thought that building a new M4 was a good idea, and could you confirm for me, again, for the hard of understanding, that the budget agreement between the Welsh Government and the Welsh Liberal Democrats was that while environmental assessments would take place, no building contract would be awarded during this Assembly term?
I can confirm that that remains the case, of course, as per the agreement. I can’t answer for the previous leader of Plaid Cymru, but nevertheless, as a Government, we have outlined our plan for how to take this issue forward.
First Minister, may I confirm, as you well know, that we are firmly in favour of a relief road for the M4 around Newport? Could I ask you particularly: on the present consultation, it says that every pound spent on the motorway will equal £2 in benefits? Would you care to enlarge on that?
Firstly, I am grateful to the Member for confirming that the Welsh Conservatives are indeed all in favour of the relief road. He will know, from the assessments that we have made, that removing what is an extremely difficult area for traffic congestion around Newport will make it easier to access businesses and, indeed, properties further west. We know that the situation is not going to get better. We know that there is an adverse effect on air quality as a result of cars idling on a regular basis around the tunnels. We know from what the Confederation of British Industry have said, for example, that the benefits for south Wales are enormous if we can make sure that this traffic bottleneck is dealt with.
Planning for the M4 Relief Road
2. What is the total cost so far of planning for the M4 relief road around Newport? OAQ(4)2495(FM)
Since July 2014, or since the 2014 decision was taken, costs were £4.2 million in 2014-15 and are forecast to be £19.8 million in 2015-16. That expenditure is what is necessary to correctly inform the statutory decision-making process.
Thank you, First Minister, for that reply, but the question I asked was what the total cost is. Now, in addition to the nearly £20 million spent this year, a total of £12 million has been spent on buying properties, and a further £20 million on consultant fees, giving a total of at least £52 million, and not a single inch of tarmac has been laid yet. We know that you have purchased 15 properties for £20 million and you’ve already resold seven of those. What steps will the Welsh Government be taking to make it clear to landowners and homeowners on the Gwent levels as to whether their property is likely to be blighted by this proposed black route? First Minister, it’s the wrong route—ridiculously expensive; reject it now.
Let me remind the Member of what the blue route would mean—30 residential properties would need to be demolished, more than double that of the black route. We know, from the strategic appraisal of alternatives, which Members can access, that, for example, just at one roundabout, the junction between the A48 southern distributor road and the A4810 steelworks road, 20 commercial premises would need to be demolished just at that roundabout. So, a number of commercial premises would need to be demolished in order for the road to be built. It’s also a situation where it would be a dual carriageway, not a six-lane highway, which creates the same problem with the funnelling effect that already exists at the Brynglas Tunnels. It also creates the same problem that existed between Coryton and Cardiff Gate, where the road had to be widened in order to deal with the traffic.
There are also adverse effects on junctions, particularly for the Glan Llyn development, and there are negative effects in terms of access to Tata Steel. So, we can’t pretend the blue route was somehow problem free—it clearly isn’t. Now, that said, the Member surely must accept that we can’t actually build a road of this magnitude without going through a proper statutory consultation process. There will be a full public inquiry, in the autumn of next year we expect. That process can examine all the evidence, with the final decision being taken in 2017. I don’t think the Member would really want us to, in some way, shorten the consultation process with a view to getting the road built more quickly. It’s important that there is a proper process that’s followed.
Can I remind the First Minister what the black route will actually mean for the area around the south of Newport? It will cut across at least five sites of special scientific interest, it will sever the north dock from the south dock of the port of Newport, and, of course, it will increase average journey times for some commuters along the existing motorway, which you are planning to de-motorway. Will you now accept what is blatantly obvious, First Minister: it’s time to review all of this, look at all the route options—not just the black route—including the blue route, and get on with providing a solution that will actually work and is acceptable?
I seem to be living in a parallel universe here, as is he. I mean, not five minutes ago, I heard one of his own frontbenchers say that they’re in favour of the relief road. Now, we know that there are well-known and documented public differences between members on that side of the Chamber—we saw them on Twitter, didn’t we? And we know that there is a great deal of disunity on this issue. Well, again, I come back to the point that I made earlier on, and that is that we have already conducted an assessment of the blue route. Members can find it at gov.wales/M4Newport. That strategic appraisal of alternatives report is there, and that informed our decision to adopt a plan in July 2014.
As I say, the blue route, I know, finds favour with some Members. It would cost between £600 million and £800 million. It could not be delivered more quickly, and it would deliver a dual carriageway, which wouldn’t resolve the problem at all. We’d end up in a situation where we’d have to widen the road at some point in the future to deal with the problems. There are more residential properties that are potentially affected, far more commercial and industrial properties that are potentially affected. There are 4,000 homes at Glan Llyn, which I’ve seen, and which, again, would be right slap-bang against the motorway, so they would be adversely affected. And, indeed, we know that many junctions would need to be closed along the existing route if the blue route were to be adopted. So, there are huge problems with the blue route.
We understand, of course, that the situation is controversial—and we’ve heard views within the Chamber. But we’ve made the assessment, and we’ve taken the decision that the black route is the way forward. But, of course, there will be a proper statutory process that we have to follow.
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, the Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, Kirsty Williams.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, can you explain to the people of north Wales why it is that only 60 per cent of them receive urgent radiotherapy within 14 days, whereas, in south Wales, the figure is almost 100 per cent?
Yes, it’s because, of course, of the need to replace a machine in Glan Clwyd. That is something I know that the health board is looking at, and I believe it forms the subject of their meeting today.
Indeed, First Minister, perhaps one of the reasons why those figures are so starkly different for patients in north Wales to those in the south is because we need an additional new linear accelerator at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. Now, the charitable sector has pledged to fund the capital costs of buying that machine for north Wales patients, and the health board is, indeed, debating today whether they can afford to staff that new machine. Of course, this is the same health board that had to reject new prostate cancer equipment, which was agreed between your party and mine as part of a budget deal, because they couldn’t afford to run the machine. What are you going to do to ensure that people in north Wales get access to that linear accelerator?
Well, we’d encourage, of course, the health board to look carefully at the proposal. We stand ready to help them. It’s right to say that the level of access is different between north and south, and that cannot be allowed to continue.
Thank you, First Minister. Sometimes, all of us here in this Chamber can be guilty of focusing relentlessly on targets, but a recent Institute of Welsh Affairs event that looked into patients’ experience of cancer services in Wales highlighted some of the real concerns that those patients and their families had. They included worries over how they would physically get to their hospital appointments, how long they would have to wait in the hospital once they got there, and there was real confusion over your Government’s promise that everyone would have a key worker. What steps are you taking to ensure that these very real concerns—but sometimes the concerns that aren’t debated fully here in the Assembly—are addressed when developing cancer services in Wales?
Well, this all forms part of the cancer delivery plan. We do know that the Wales cancer patient experience survey, which took place in 2013, showed that 89 per cent of respondents rated their care as very good or excellent. We know that the 31-day and 62-day targets are there and we know that we have a good story to tell in terms of those targets. And we know, of course, that, for the first time, over 70 per cent of people diagnosed with cancer are now surviving for at least one year. Five-year survival is also increasing. And that is something to celebrate. It is also true that the number of urgent suspected cancer referrals has increased by 12 per cent over the last year, but the service has been able to manage the continuing improvement in terms of the service that it delivers even with that substantial increase in the number of referrals.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to the leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, under your Government, the adult part-time education budget has been cut by 50 per cent. There are now 90,000 fewer adults in part-time learning than there were 10 years ago. Your own skills Minister has said that the decisions that have been made have been awful decisions. Do you agree that the decisions, which she has taken in this particular area, and your Government more generally, to cut 90,000 places and 50 per cent of the funding for part-time adult learning are awful decisions?
He is spinning like a whirling dervish when he says that because, as he knows full well, what the Minister said was that they've been awful decisions to make. And they have been awful decisions to make, because of the cuts we've received from the UK Government—from his own Government. We have nevertheless, of course, introduced Jobs Growth Wales, which has enabled many young people to get a job—over 17,000 job opportunities created. And he does have some nerve in complaining about this when his own party, his own policy, is to cut education spending by at least 12 per cent. So, if he came here and suggested we should cut education more, that would be in line with his own policy, but for him to turn round and say that more money should be spent on education runs counter to his own policy and the cuts his own party has made.
First Minister, we would empower people to actually learn and develop as they go through their lives. Ultimately, it's about balance and it's about decision. Your policy seems to be ageist, First Minister, in that the older you get in Wales, the less chance you have to educate yourself and retrain yourself. Do you not think, therefore, that the policy decisions that you have taken do need revisiting and that you do need to re-address the imbalance that exists in the training provision that is available to older people in Wales, especially when they seek that retraining in later life?
Yes, of course we want older people to have access to training, but we know, in particular, that people need to acquire skills young as well, which is why we have Jobs Growth Wales. We're not in the business of attacking young people, as his party is. We've seen that, of course, in the benefit system. We see that in all the benefits that have been taken away from young people and now, of course, we know he wants to increase tuition fees, just the same as England—I mean, it's not even a different policy in Wales but, ‘Whatever England does, we want to do in Wales’—so our students pay £18,000 more per year. Well, he has to explain how it is that he wants to improve access to education yet make it more expensive.
First Minister, I believe that, if someone is approaching a vocational course in further education, they deserve the same level of support as someone going to higher education. I appreciate I never went to higher education. I didn't have a free education like some people sitting around here. I actually went out and earned a vocational trade, I did—
I didn’t go to boarding school.
What I'm saying to you, First Minister, is that, as the older person’s commissioner pointed out on the weekend, your position seems to be ageist in that the older you are, the less chance you get to have support from the Welsh Government, and, as I’ve pointed out, 50 per cent cuts and 90,000 fewer places available. You can only deduce from that that you do have an ageist policy when it comes to supporting older people retraining in the workplace. We have a clear policy of supporting people across the education estate. We believe that you shouldn't discriminate against one sector over another. Will you revisit your policy or are you going to stick to your ageist policies?
What we won't do is launch a war on the young, as he has done and his party has done. He says he wants people to have support in FE. Does he support the Assembly learning grant, then? [Laughter.] Is that something that he fully supports? No, no, no, he doesn’t. I thought not. He didn’t think of that when he was on his feet. And why is it, then, that he fails to support the tuition fee grant? Why is it that he says, ‘Whatever England does, we must follow in Wales’? We don’t agree with that. We have Welsh policies for Welsh issues. And I have to say to him that he mentions free education as if it were something abnormal. I didn’t go to a boarding school; that’s true. I went to a comprehensive, like most people in this Chamber. I don’t see free education as something that we should see as a privilege; it’s a right to have a free education. We want to make sure that people have good free education in schools, a good free education in FE colleges, and reasonable access to cheap education in universities—all the things that his party opposes.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Lywydd. First Minister, there are reports today of you having held constructive discussions with the Secretary of State for Wales on the draft Wales Bill. Are you in a position to share with us the contents of those discussions, please, today?
Yes. I made the point to the Secretary of State—and it’s a point that he has accepted publicly, so I’m not saying anything beyond the meeting—that trying to construct a reserved-powers model within one jurisdiction of England and Wales is exceptionally difficult. There will need to be a great deal of work to ensure that any new Act is something that does not restrict the powers of this Assembly and, of course, doesn’t make it more difficult for the Assembly to operate.
Thank you for your answer, First Minister. It’s welcome that the Secretary of State for Wales appears to be rowing back on withdrawing some of those powers that the Assembly currently has. It seems that the main stumbling block remains the issue of the Welsh legal jurisdiction. Were there any indications from the Secretary of State to revisit that question, please?
He won’t revisit it. Now, the easiest way to resolve the reserved-powers model issue is via a single jurisdiction. It can be done without one, but it’s immensely more complicated and more vigilance needs to be exercised to make sure that powers are not inadvertently removed from this Chamber. That is something that officials will continue to discuss with Wales Office officials over the coming weeks and months.
First Minister, I know that you would agree with me that the issue of a distinct legal jurisdiction is crucial for a working devolution system that delivers for people here, and you and I have both repeatedly made the point that Wales is the odd one out on these islands on this matter. For whatever historical reasons, the democratic maturity of this country now means that a jurisdiction is vital. The entire St David’s Day process has been a race to the bottom. It’s been called by some the ‘lowest common denominator’ approach; it started with Whitehall departments being asked what they would be prepared to devolve rather than consideration of what’s in the best interests of people here in Wales. So, we can now expect a weak Bill that will, undoubtedly, lead to the need for another Bill almost immediately.
So, if current talks prove futile again, would your party be prepared to join with mine to defeat the Bill and seek a new one after next year’s Welsh general election, when a new Welsh Government is elected on a new mandate for the next stage of devolution?
That depends, of course, on what’s in the Bill. At the moment, it’s right to say that the Bill needs a great deal of work before it can be regarded as acceptable. I think that’s generally understood. To be charitable to the Secretary of State, I don’t believe that it’s his intention to restrict the powers of this Assembly, but I think that the consequences of the current Bill—I know Members haven’t seen it—there’s a great danger that that would happen. It’s right to say that Whitehall departments were asked what they thought was devolved, and, of course, they will naturally tend towards a minimalist model of devolution.
One of the things that does concern me is the implication that somehow, because there will be a single jurisdiction, there is some kind of limit on how much separate Welsh legislation there can be, as if there was almost some kind of quota. Now, the Secretary of State assures me that that isn’t the case, but the difficulty with a single jurisdiction is that there are some in Whitehall departments who will take the view that that is exactly what should happen. Now, we can’t—. We’re not going to roll back to the days before 2011. The people of Wales have spoken; they want us to be able to legislate in those areas that are devolved. They don’t want artificial restrictions placed on that. They don’t care what the jurisdiction does, bluntly, whether it’s a single jurisdiction or a Welsh jurisdiction. I honestly cannot understand what the hang-up is about the jurisdiction. Yes, it’s right to say there are issues about the penal system, the prison system, probation and the costs associated with that that would need to be resolved. But Northern Ireland is a jurisdiction, so is Scotland and so is the Isle of Man, as I said last week. There are at least 51 in the US and the US hasn’t fallen apart. I don’t quite understand what the adherence is to the single jurisdiction, given the fact that Northern Ireland, with 1.8 million people, has been a single jurisdiction since, I think, 1921.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move back to questions on the paper and question 3 is Suzy Davies.
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on ambulance response times in rural areas of South Wales West? OAQ(4)2506(FM)
Yes. The latest published data show the standard emergency response time across the South Wales West area—including rural areas—for August was among the best in Wales at six minutes and 48 seconds, with more than 70 per cent of the most serious calls responded to within eight minutes.
Thank you, First Minister. Of course, that time won’t apply to rural areas, where co-responders are responsible for providing an invaluable first response to emergency calls in areas where the eight-minute response time is virtually impossible to meet. Nevertheless, it can still take the actual ambulance a considerable amount of time to arrive—longer than you might expect, actually—with 13 cases in Gower waiting more than an hour over just seven weeks in the summer, and that included one case where there was a fatality. Do you agree with the policy of ring fencing whereby ambulances are retained in the centre of Swansea city and not permitted to respond to emergency calls to Gower, despite being available, and so constituents in Gower have to wait for ambulances to arrive from Cardiff or Tenby to meet emergency calls?
I’m not aware of that being the case, but I will write to the Member and investigate it for her to see whether that is the case and, if it is, why it is.
Related to the question just asked, one of the problems in terms of the availability of ambulances in areas such as Ceredigion is that ambulances travel with patients to areas in the south-west, in Swansea or Carmarthen, and then respond to calls in those areas, rather than returning immediately to Ceredigion. That has an impact on the availability of ambulances and response times in Ceredigion. Do you believe it is now time to look at the model that has been trialled in Cwm Taf to retain ambulances, and for them to return to the areas where their shifts are so that the availability of ambulances is in place for those communities? Because the reality is that there are too many occasions when ambulances aren’t available in various areas of Ceredigion.
The pilot in Cwm Taf is part of something that we’re looking at as a Government. We want to see what the effect of that model is, and to see whether there is a way of rolling that model out across the whole of Wales to ensure that the service improves. That’s something that is being considered at the moment.
4. What is the Welsh Government’s strategy for creating more affordable homes in south Wales? OAQ(4)2505(FM)
We support the delivery of affordable housing in a number of ways, including maintaining investment in our social housing grant programme and expanding the housing finance grant scheme. For example, this year, £21.3 million is being invested through the social housing grant to support the delivery of affordable housing across the south of Wales.
That’s excellent news, but, obviously, there’s a great deal more we need to do. The environment committee visited the SOLCER house in your constituency, I believe, near Bridgend, which is a house designed as a power station. It offers really exciting opportunities for delivering affordable housing fit for the twenty-first century, because not only does it produce more energy than it uses, but it only costs £1,000 per square metre, which is well within the envelope that social and council housing providers generally allow for. So, I just wondered how we can take forward this fantastic Welsh invention, led by Cardiff University’s school of architecture, and ensure that we have Welsh housebuilders using Welsh materials and Welsh installers to build the homes that we need so much for our communities.
I’m aware of the SOLCER house and it is an exciting and innovative prototype. It has the potential to offer substantial benefits in terms of tackling fuel poverty, for example, and creating Welsh jobs. I know the completed house is going to be the subject of detailed monitoring over a 12-month period, so it’s still early to say whether it’s capable of being replicated, but I look forward to seeing the results of that monitoring.
Although increasing housing supply is the best way to make housing more affordable, successive reports, most recently from the Bevan Foundation, have said that Wales is only meeting the requirement for half the new homes needed, with the biggest shortfall in social housing. Given the UK announcement of 200,000 starter homes for England, as part of an ambition for a million new homes by 2020, what discussions has your Government had with registered social landlords, with builders and with local authorities to explore the possibility of a starter homes initiative appropriate to the needs of Wales?
I don’t think it’ll work, because, of course, it’s designed to ensure that people can buy houses, not rent them. We know that, for many people, being able to raise the deposit to buy a house, even with the schemes that we have in place, and servicing the mortgage is a problem. So, to suggest, as the Prime Minister does, that you can somehow replace social housing for rent with starter homes, we think, is not going to be effective, nor do we think it’s effective to actually seek to resolve the issue of the supply of social housing by selling it off, which is what the UK Government is trying to do.
First Minister, your Government’s projections for the 20 years up to 2031 shows the number of Cardiff households increasing by 47,000, and that’s about a third of the figure for the whole of Wales. Do you consider this desirable?
Well, there are two questions here. First, what can you do in order to control the growth of a city that’s successful? We know that people will go to where they think the jobs are and will try to live as close as possible to where they think those jobs are available, and Cardiff is growing at a rate of knots. You can’t say to people, ‘You can’t live in Cardiff; sorry, you’ve got to live somewhere else’. That said, it is important that local authorities work together to provide solutions across the whole of what you’d call the capital region, I suppose, to make sure that there are alternatives available in other local authority areas that are well connected and provide the opportunity for people to live outside of the boundaries of Cardiff, and yet still be able to access work effectively.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government policy to support public transport in Newport East? OAQ(4)2502(FM)
Well, our policy is to support public transport across all parts of Wales, including, of course, regional priorities that are outlined in the new national transport finance plan. I trust that Members were provided with an update on the plan on 22 September.
First Minister, I receive a lot of concerns from constituents regarding local bus services and a lack of a comprehensive planned strategic approach to the provision of adequate services. Would you agree with me that the Welsh Government should have further powers so that they can properly regulate bus services in Wales, which I believe would also help deliver the step change of the proposed metro system?
Yes, I do, and it’s something that the UK Government has agreed on, of course: that this needs to be devolved. I was surprised to see the comments regarding the establishment of a Welsh traffic commissioner last week. There are many of us in this Chamber who will have experience of dealing with the traffic commissioner in Birmingham, and I think it’s fair to say that it is not a worthwhile experience. I’ve had several experiences of it, and they have done nothing to resolve problems locally. We do need a traffic commissioner based in Wales, not one that sees Wales as a kind of annexe to the west midlands of England. It’s true to say that, in many parts of Wales, what we effectively see now is a private monopoly of bus services. On some routes, of course, there’s competition, but mainly not. Now, we know, if we look at the railways, that where there is a private monopoly along a certain route, regulation is involved. The same principle applies to buses.
First Minister, Newport City Council has cut funding by 12 per cent since 2010. In addition, cuts by your Government to the bus operators grant have resulted in bus services in Newport East and elsewhere in South Wales East being reduced gradually and, in some instances, totally cancelled. Given that bus services are vital for the most vulnerable in our society, will the First Minister confirm that his Government will take no further action that will result in cuts to bus services in Wales?
Well, that rather depends on your friends in Westminster, doesn’t it, and what happens in the comprehensive spending review? Again, the Member stands up conveniently forgetting that his own party wants to cut spending on transport by 30 per cent. That’s what they’ve said. I commend their honesty, I have to say, but that’s what they’ve said. So, he cannot stand up with any real presence in this Chamber and complain about cuts to bus transport imposed by the UK Government when his own party thinks those cuts don’t go far enough.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on GP services in Aberconwy? OAQ(4)2496(FM)
Yes. The provision of GP services in Aberconwy is the responsibility of Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board. The board is working to ensure that people continue to have access to primary care, including where some contractor GP services have given termination notices.
Thank you, First Minister. The Royal College of General Practitioners has already highlighted that prolonged underinvestment has had a significant impact across Wales. In Aberconwy, we are now down to locum provision only in what was once a very busy GP-led practice, and a partner in another local surgery advises me now of an imminent meltdown facing us as some of our local GPs look to retire in fewer than 12 months. What are you actually doing, as First Minister, with overall responsibility for any service provision in Wales? Or is this just another example of your poor governance and a case of Nero fiddling whilst Rome burns?
Well, first of all, there are more GPs now. Their numbers have risen in the past few years. We know that in some parts of Wales, for example, where the contractor model no longer applies, the health boards have run services perfectly adequately. If we look, for example, at Meddygfa Gyffin, which you will be aware of, a GP practice in Conwy, it has been run by the board since 1 April 2015, and now a provider has been identified to take that practice over, with a start date of 1 February next year, without any effect on the service made available to local people. The difficulty is, of course, that most GP practices are self-employed. They are, effectively, private practices that operate within the NHS, I suppose, if you look at it from that perspective. Quite often, little notice is given by surgeries as to what their intentions are. However, when that notice is given—for example, in Denbighshire, surgeries have worked with the local health board—then services can of course be preserved.
You say that there are more doctors now than there have been in the past, but, of course, we also know through research by the BMA that 30 per cent of doctors are either suffering from burn-out, or will suffer from burn-out, and that 41 per cent, further to that, fear that they will face burn-out in the near future. Can you tell us, therefore, how many doctors you think are required in Wales in order to ensure that people have a proper service?
Well, we want to ensure that there are more GPs, of course. It’s very difficult to say how many brain surgeons we need, or the number of those in specialist areas. But we want to ensure that the growth in the number of GPs continues in the long term. That’s why, of course, Betsi Cadwaladr has been working with Pendyffryn, for example, and the other surgery in Prestatyn, to ensure that the service does continue, despite there being changes in the circumstances of the doctors themselves.
First Minister, given that so many surgeries in north Wales are facing this situation, there is an integrated mid-term plan by Betsi Cadwaladr that has been in preparation since March of this year. Are you content, given that the board is under special measures, that they are dealing with this with sufficient urgency? The minutes of July state that they won’t be in a position to deal with the final plan until April 2016. So, there will be a delay of some 18 months before that workforce plan is discussed by the board.
Well, the board has to discuss that and take action in detail and quickly. May I say that we do have a sustainability framework as a Government, and surgeries can ask for support to help them, where they think there is a risk to their particular practice? Of course, earlier this year—and this partly responds to what the Member for Aberconwy said—details were passed on about a fund that is worth £40 million for primary care, which was established to ensure that funding was available to assist GPs to develop their practices.
Good afternoon, First Minister.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on superfast broadband in west Wales? OAQ(4)2498(FM)
Yes. Good afternoon. To date, the Superfast Cymru project has overseen almost £23 million worth of investment into fast broadband provision in the west, with over 80,000 premises receiving access to superfast broadband as a result of the project.
Minister, as you will know only too well, more and more businesses, in particular from a commercial point of view, rely on having good broadband availability, whether it’s from doing VAT and Inland Revenue and Companies House returns, to sales and marketing drives, to paying staff, paying suppliers and, indeed, receiving payments. And yet, throughout my constituency, I have significant areas—not all of them particularly rural places—like Pembroke and Saundersfoot, where we are struggling to get a superfast broadband project to come on-stream quickly enough. BT are pushing back the timescales again and again and again, and the e-mails I have on this issue are legion. I wonder, First Minister, if you could direct your delivery unit, or look at some method for your Government, to see what account you can be holding BT to, to ensure that this project is spread equitably throughout Wales, because cities such as Cardiff are constantly being upgraded and having all the latest stuff, and rural areas are being left out and it's hurting our economy.
Well, first of all, we expect the delivery of Superfast Cymru to be on target. Secondly, the Member is right: we do need to make sure that businesses have access to superfast broadband—some 60 per cent in Pembrokeshire do, only 40 per cent so far in Carmarthenshire, and she may have heard me say in the past that I take the view that broadband in the twenty-first century—or superfast broadband in the twenty-first century—is the equivalent of the railway lines of the nineteenth. You have to be connected in order to be successful as a business. In Cardiff, of course, and much of the southern coast and the north-east, it's a commercial roll-out. There are sufficient people there for the companies to be able to justify their investment. We know that's not true of a lot of Wales, which is why Superfast Cymru exists in the first place. We know that those 80,000 premises would never have superfast broadband if it wasn't for the investment that's been put in. What I can say to you and your constituents is we expect this to be taken forward as quickly as possible, but we do understand, of course, the importance of superfast broadband to businesses.
First Minister, the experience of Ceredigion is very similar to the experience outlined by Angela Burns, with some communities, whole villages, being informed now that they won’t be part of the superfast broadband roll-out as they had anticipated. How, then, do you as a Government provide clarity for communities and for villages, and towns for that matter, as to whether or not they will be part of the Superfast Cymru project for May 2016, or even 2017, and if they are not, what specific plans can the Welsh Government offer in order to ensure that these communities are not left behind?
They are not being left behind. I understand that the majority of people who are part of the Aberystwyth exchange now do receive broadband the same as Borth, and just over half in Rhydypennau. But, of course, there is work to do. We expect that BT will hit the target of 655,000 of locations by next summer, and they must ensure that they do deliver according to the contract itself by June 2017.
Following the concerns expressed around this Chamber, First Minister, would you agree with me that it would be useful, as has been suggested by the Countryside Alliance, to have a notspot summit, so that areas such as Ceredigion, Carmarthen East and other parts of west Wales that are so badly affected in this way, could share good practice, consider options and also bring to the fore quite how serious the economic impact is of the plight of not having the broadband that you’ve quite rightly described as being essential for doing business in the twenty-first century?
Well, the answer to the question is ‘Superfast Cymru’, in my view. The target will be hit by the summer of next year. I can say, of course, that the contract with BT has been extended to cover over 42,000 premises identified as not scheduled to be addressed under the Superfast Cymru project, or commercial roll-out. So, it is been extended in that way. It's not a question of if it is a question of ‘when’, and I know that BT are working hard to make sure that the target is hit. I expect the target to be hit in the summer of next year and, of course, for the contract to be completed satisfactorily by the following year.
8. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with the UK Government regarding the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon? OAQ(4)2492(FM)
We have regular discussions over what is an ambitious project that we fully support—a project that we believe will bring significant, projected economic benefits, not just to Swansea bay, but beyond. There is a huge amount of foot dragging from Whitehall on this, and we are no further forward in terms of understanding what the strike price will be and what the commercial atmosphere will be for the investors.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. I raised with the natural resources Minister last week my concerns about the one-year delay in constructing this lagoon, simply because of the foot dragging that's taking place over the feed-in tariff. Can I ask whether you've had any indication from the UK Government of whether the timescale they've set down in terms of the feed-in tariff by the end of this year will be met, and are you concerned that, if that continues past the new year, it will put this project in jeopardy?
We've had no indication of the time frame, I have to say to the Member. We have asked for it, but there's no indication of it. I think it's there for all to see that UK Government is not supportive of renewables. Of course, we've seen the subsidies removed from photovoltaic cells, we've seen the subsidies removed from onshore wind, we've seen a gigantic lone being made with regard to the Hinkley nuclear power station, but nothing on this tidal lagoon. Whilst all the consents are in place, or close to being in place, until we know what the strike price will be, it's not going to go ahead. It's about time we got some certainty from Whitehall on this.
First Minister, it is hugely disappointing that this project is being delayed because of the foot dragging in Whitehall. However, what’s important in this innovative project are the actual skills that we can develop in the creation of the tidal bay lagoon, and the fact that we can take those skills into other projects beyond the coastal areas around Wales. What discussions have you had about the apprenticeships and skills needs of the tidal bay lagoon so that we can develop those skills now, here in Wales?
Well, I notice from the Conservative benches there was some chuckling. They’d be far better off if they pulled their fingers out and actually did some representation of Wales in Whitehall and got this project, which is a great driver of jobs in Wales, off the ground. Instead, they sit there and pontificate. But there we are. We expect nothing less from them, so I’m trying to be charitable as well in that regard.
But he’s right. There are huge opportunities for Port Talbot, and there are huge opportunities for the Haven Waterway, in terms of manufacturing the kit, and in terms of maintaining the kit as well, and yet we’ve had zero support from the UK Government or the Welsh Conservative party.
First Minister, do you agree that the strike price will be in reality a subsidy to the tidal lagoon, and that it is therefore right that the Government ensures that any strike price gets the right balance between the cost to the taxpayer and support for the industry? Given the challenging economic climate, do you also agree that the Government should not rush into a strike price that disadvantages the taxpayers and energy bills?
Well, that doesn’t seem to apply to nuclear power, I must say. I do think that the UK Government’s energy policy is an omnishambles. No-one—and this is industry saying this—has any idea what the UK Government wants, and no idea what the energy policy of the UK is. The Swansea bay tidal lagoon is an immensely useful project, but there’s been absolutely no support so far from the Conservatives because it doesn’t fit into their view of the world. They’d much rather see us import more and more energy, with all the costs of energy security—but that doesn’t matter at the moment. This is a project that delivers renewable energy at a high rate, at a cheap rate, and will employ lots of people in Wales, and the Conservatives over there don’t care.
You said earlier, First Minister, that all of the consents were almost in place. That’s important because Natural Resources Wales, of course, has an important role to play in terms of environmental consents in the Swansea bay lagoon, as I hope they will have in a number of similar projects in the future. But there is concern, of course, about the capacity of NRW to be able to deliver consents, particularly if that increases in years to come. Can you therefore—while recognising that your Government is placing more responsibilities on NRW on the one hand, and reducing their budget on the other—give an assurance that you will protect the capacity and those resources in order to ensure that they are in a position to achieve that role effectively?
We want to ensure, of course, that the resources are available to them so that they can fulfil their duties. But there is no sign at all that there is a problem in relation to Natural Resources Wales in dealing with this application.
9. Will the First Minister make a statement on the regeneration of market towns? OAQ(4)2493(FM)
I will, again. Across Wales there are many market towns that play a crucial role in the Welsh economy. We are supporting those towns to grow and prosper through initiatives such as town-centre partnerships, business improvement districts and town-centre loan schemes. And, of course, we supported the high-street campaign again this year.
One of the ways in which your Government has indeed been supporting one market town in Brecon and Radnorshire was by the appointment of a town development officer for Llandrindod Wells, which came out of the work that had been chaired by Justin Baird-Murray. Now, that post is due to come to an end. It has begun to make a real impact in the town. I recently opened Wales’s first-ever youth market. Would the Government look favourably on extending funding for that post so that we can really get value for money out of it, and we can continue to develop the important work that has started in the town?
Well, let me write to the Member on that. Although I do take account of what she said about the beneficial effect there’s been on Llandrindod, we know that so many towns have been affected over the years by online trading. We know that that’s a major challenge. We know, for example, that the addition of a supermarket even slightly out of the town centre, which is the case, of course, in Llandrindod, has an effect on trade in the town centre. But I will write to the Member on that.
First Minister, I’m sure you will agree with me that we want to see bustling high streets and busy high streets, and to achieve this, of course, we need to think of ways in which our market towns can compete with, as you said, the internet, and also out-of-town shopping centres, which pose the obvious threat. Can I ask what the Government is doing to encourage more flexible parking arrangements, such as free parking for the first two hours? Clearly, this would be a way in which businesses could compete with out-of-town centres.
[Inaudible.]—he could urge his own council to follow such flexible parking policies, I’m sure that he would. I don’t think free parking is necessarily the answer. It’s true to say, for example, that Cowbridge is successful. Cowbrige is a town with a high per capita income. It does have free parking, that’s true, but it’s not an easy place to park in, as people will know. Narberth, for example, which has prospered and done very well doesn’t have a free car park, if I remember, at the top of the town. Ultimately, what a town needs is to give a reason for people to come into the town to shop, to have the range of shops that are unusual that will draw people in and create an atmosphere where people will want to come and shop in that town. That’s what Narberth has done successfully; it’s what Cowbridge has done successfully over the years; and it’s what Carmarthen has done successfully over the years.
So, yes, there are opportunities there for town centres. There are opportunities for traders to work together to achieve a common vision for a town and we see there are towns in Wales that have managed to achieve just that. But, ultimately, shops need customers. It doesn’t matter what you offer in terms of business support, if they don’t have any customers, they’re going to close. Ultimately, shops need to make sure they’re not competing directly with the online retailers and with the supermarkets. We see, in towns like Narberth, that it’s possible to do that.
Does the First Minister agree with the benefits that could emerge from the creation of economic development strategies on a regional level, and that that could include the creation of regional hubs as a means of creating economic activity, which is so important in order to develop areas across Wales, including our market towns?
That’s exactly what we’re doing now with these partnerships with regard to town centres. Llangefni is one of them, of course, in the Member’s constituency, as are Carmarthen, Porthmadog, Abergavenny and Fishguard. We also have a loans fund for towns and funding has been given to Ceredigion, Powys, Pembrokeshire and Monmouthshire to do that. So, I would argue that that’s happening already.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, First Minister.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to item 2, which is the business statement. I call on the Minister, Jane Hutt.
Llywydd, there are two changes to report to the business statement for this week’s business. The title of the Minister for Public Services’ statement has changed to ‘Alternative Delivery Models in Public Service Delivery: An Action Plan for Consultation’. The Deputy Minister for Health will make a statement on ‘Saving Lives from Sepsis—An Update on Progress’. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the agenda papers available to Members electronically.
Leader of the house, is it possible to have a statement from the public services Minister and the health Minister? We’re going into the winter months now and one of the things that we all hope we won’t have is a hard winter, but it’s always best to be prepared. I, after being elected here in 2007, have attended various statements over the years that have looked back on events and found that we hadn’t been prepared in having car parks gritted or having salt available or having plans in place to bring key staff in—in both key areas, local government and the health service. It would be welcome if a statement could come forward from the Government to indicate how its agencies across Wales are preparing for what we hope won’t be a hard winter, but in the advent of it coming and hitting us hard, the preparations are there and we’re not all holding our hands up in the air wondering why people can’t get to their appointments, why car parks are frozen up, why salt hasn’t been put on the road, and why key workers can’t get into work.
Thank you for that question—a very important question in terms of the planning that is already under way in terms of the forthcoming winter. This is a cross-Government responsibility, as you say, Andrew R.T. Davies. I can assure the Member that work is under way and not just the fact that we’re now—. I’m sure Members will recognise that the call for flu immunisation is already under way. Across the board, the Government is preparing for this.
On Saturday, I hosted a meeting to mark the International Day of Older Persons. I was pleased that the huge contribution that older people make through employment, voluntary work, carers and raising money was recognised at this meeting. However, one issue that came up was the closure of local services and the disproportionate effect that that has on older people—in particular, the closure of bank branches. In Rhiwbina, in my constituency, the local NatWest branch is the only branch left in the village and that is proposed for closure. Could we have a debate on the effect such closures have, in particular on older people and the disproportionate effect that that portion of the population does bear?
I thank Julie Morgan for raising that important question. Of course, the regulation of banks is a matter for the UK Government, in terms of responsibilities. What is important is that there are regular meetings that we hold with the main banks, pressing them for better access to finance for business and for the community, because it’s older people who are going to be disadvantaged by these bank branch closures. Of course, this is a bank that said that they were committed to not closing the last branch in town to maintain a local banking service. The last branch in Rhiwbina is now going, as a result of NatWest Bank’s decision. I think it is important that Members who are in constituencies where these banks are closing do respond to the impact assessment that has to be undertaken–I certainly have, in terms of the closure of the NatWest branch in Llantwit Major, accompanied by a very strong petition.
Minister, on 1 October, we will move to the new organ donation system, and that is a major step for the Assembly and the Government. Could we have a statement from Government as to how the advertising and awareness-raising campaign have succeeded or otherwise? Have targets been met? What groups of people have been included within these advertising campaigns? Are you of the opinion that people know what their position is under the new legislation, including of course those people who are harder to reach because they may only be in Wales for a brief period of time, such as students? There was some discussion when the legislation was passed on these issues, and I would like to hear from Government whether they have been successful or otherwise in achieving this.
Just to give you an example: a constituent has been in touch with me recently who wishes for her family to decide whether she donates her organs or not. It’s not simple to say whether she has opted in or opted out because she wants her family to make that decision. One person can be designated to make a decision on your behalf, but when I looked into this, in trying to assist the constituent, the link on Organ Donation Wales, the website, didn’t work. So, there is an absence of information there and a failure to provide sufficient information. So that we avoid any problems in this area, can we have that statement and as much work as possible by Government to ensure that everyone is aware of the facts?
Well, I thank Simon Thomas for that question. We were very pleased that the Assembly passed the regulations and the code of practice and, of course, the passing of those represented the last pieces of the jigsaw in the implementation of deemed consent. It is vital that the publicity campaign continues, led by the Minister for Health and Social Services and his officials, to give everyone in Wales the chance and the opportunity to find out about the change, both before it comes into force on 1 December 2015, and afterwards.
Minister, would it be possible to receive a statement from the Deputy Minister for Farming and Food regarding the news yesterday that a second legal challenge has been brought forward regarding the Welsh Government’s implementation of the basic payment scheme? I declare an interest, Presiding Officer, as my husband is a partner in a farming firm that is in receipt of BPS. I would be particularly interested to hear from the Minister whether she believes that this poses a risk to the Government’s ability to begin part payments when the window for payments opens in December and, if there is a delay in December, what this legal challenge means for the ability to pay within the complete window and the consequences for Welsh Government if they’re not in a position to pay BPS within the window.
Thank you to Kirsty Williams for that question. I’m glad to, and hope I can clarify the position. On 15 September, the Welsh Government received a pre-action protocol letter of claim from solicitors representing a group of farmers regarding the decision on implementing the basic payment scheme. The Minister responded on 28 September, and further correspondence from the solicitors, dated 9 October, is now being considered. So, it’s inappropriate in terms of commenting at this stage in terms of any possibility of legal action, but in the meantime, the most important message is that Rural Payments Wales are making every effort to begin making CAP payments to farmers across Wales this December, and that important work is at an advanced stage.
Can I ask for a Government statement on the proposed tidal lagoon at Swansea, covering the two issues currently unresolved—that is, Natural Resources Wales providing a marine licence, and any discussions the Welsh Government has had with Westminster regarding the strike price?
Thank you, Mike Hedges. Of course, the First Minister responded to a question on this earlier on. Just to add to the responses made earlier on today, we support, as a Welsh Government, the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. It will exploit Wales’s excellent potential for marine energy—another point that’s worth making this afternoon. It will create thousands of job opportunities and the skills that David Rees talked about. I want to say, just in terms of support again, that as finance Minister I allocated funding of £1.25 million in 2014-15 to support this important project. In terms of the natural process for Natural Resources Wales to continue the licence, that is progressing. But, we do now face this prospect of a delay to this major project because of dithering over funding from the UK Government. I think what is important also to say this afternoon is that there’s huge interest in this in Europe. Certainly, on my recent visit to Brussels I was talking to the European Investment Bank who are hugely interested in this in terms of the European fund for strategic investment.
Minister, it’s been wonderful to see the crowds enjoying the Rugby World Cup matches in Cardiff, and clearly these major events provide a welcome boost for tourism and leisure businesses in and around the city. However, they do put extra pressure on local services, and I’ve had many complaints recently from both residents and business owners, in and around the city centre, saying that streets are not being cleaned and bins are not being emptied in a timely manner afterwards, meaning that for the Cardiff half marathon, which was on a Sunday morning, our city streets were in an absolutely shameful condition for visitors. I wonder if I could request please a statement from the Minister for culture on what discussions the major events team have with host authorities to ensure that when we are welcoming the world to our capital city, they see the very best of us.
Secondly, I wonder if I may request another statement from the same Minister regarding an update on the expert review of public libraries in Wales, and how local authorities have responded to it since its publication. You will, of course, be aware that today the Save Rhoose Library campaign are taking their fight to overturn a closure decision to the High Court and, of course, we wish them every success with that.
Thank you to Eluned Parrott for those questions. As far as the first point and question are concerned, the feedback that we’ve had in terms of the welcome to Wales has been absolutely tremendous over the past few weeks with the Rugby World Cup. Clearly, there are huge new pressures in terms of delivering those all-important services, and after any major event, of course, the Deputy Minister with those partner agencies will always look at lessons learnt. But, I think the delivery of public services has been exemplary in terms of what has been and is still a very important major event for Cardiff and Wales.
On the second point, I will also ask the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism to look at the issue in terms of the library review.
Two issues. One is I wonder if it’s possible to have a statement about the regulation of learning opportunities for children outside school. You may have observed David Cameron making some somewhat intemperate remarks at the conference in Manchester about so-called ‘madrassas’, although it’s not a word I’ve ever heard used amongst the communities who use our seven or eight mosques in my constituency. I went to Sunday school myself; I can’t say I enjoyed it and whether it made me a better person or not is for other people to judge. It’s an important issue, nevertheless, to ensure that we have a tolerant society where families are able to practice their religion of choice, and to enable their children to get appropriate instruction. However, it’s also important that we safeguard and protect the wellbeing of children to ensure that instruction is taking place in a safe and warm environment with the appropriate numbers of adults present for the numbers of children. Could we have a statement on where responsibility lies? So, I’m unclear as to whether it would be the Minister for education, the Minister for Public Services, or the Minister for communities and local government, or is it devolved to Estyn and the local authorities? So, that would be a useful thing, as I’m sure Mr Cameron will come back on that one, and therefore we need to be sure that, in our communities, our children are being safely looked after.
The second issue is that the sugar tax has risen back up the agenda as an idea today, particularly with concerns about the suppression of a report by Public Health England and its denial to the select committee on health in the House of Commons. I wonder if it’s possible to have a statement as to whether the National Assembly has competency to introduce a sugar tax, just as we’ve introduced a plastic bag tax, or whether this is entirely down to the UK Government and therefore we are not in a position to even contemplate such a measure.
Two questions from Jenny Rathbone, which I will raise with the Ministers concerned.
Minister, the recent events in Redcar have indicated how challenging the steel industry is here in the UK, particularly in producing steel. We’re seeing the demise of Redcar; we’ve seen, as a consequence of that, the liquidation of the owners of Redcar, and that has raised deep concerns and worries in many of my constituents, obviously, with the Port Talbot plant. I understand that there is a steel summit taking place at the end of this week; I would hope the Welsh Government has actually been invited by the UK Government to attend that summit. Can the Welsh Government issue a statement following that summit as to where we are going with the steel industry? It’s a huge critical industry, this sector, in south Wales and it’s a major industrial heritage here in south Wales. My colleague, John Griffiths, has also called for a debate on this, and I’d welcome an opportunity to have this debate, as a chance to see where we’re going with manufacturing and the steel industry here in Wales.
Thank you, David Rees. You will be pleased to hear that the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport is attending the UK Government steel summit on 16 October and will be updating Members after the event on the outcomes of that summit.
I’d like to ask for a statement from the Deputy Minister for culture on the ongoing dispute between the Public and Commercial Services Union and the national museum’s management in Wales. I was really concerned to hear that not only is the dispute ongoing, but the museum’s management have declined a recent request to hold talks with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, which was put forward by PCS, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this Chamber in being very worried about the impact, not only on staff, but on the running of our museums in Wales.
I thank Lynne Neagle for that question. It is, of course, a matter for the national museum, and we do hope that they can progress and ensure that this matter is settled as soon as possible.
Minister, may I ask for a statement from the Minister for education in relation to the way that the Education Workforce Council is funded? The Minister admitted before the summer recess that funding at the moment is insufficient, and yet the statement at the beginning of September, while saying that he was eager to give greater responsibility to the Education Workforce Council, didn’t say exactly how it will be funded. So, may I ask for a statement on that issue, please?
I will certainly raise this with the Minister to clarify the position.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to item 3, which is a statement by the Minister for Public Services, alternative delivery models in public delivery: an action plan for consultation.
Llywydd, earlier this year, with the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, I published a report, ‘Is the Feeling Mutual?’, which examined the potential role of co-operatives and mutuals in public service delivery. The written statement, which accompanied the publication of the report, explained that an action plan would be developed to take forward the findings of the report. This oral statement provides an update on progress and signals the start of the consultation on the action plan. Public services in Wales are transforming, and the challenging financial situation will continue to mean that there are hard choices to make about the future of public services. It is important that we develop long-term sustainable approaches to delivering our public services to ensure that vital services are protected and maintained. New models of delivery are being developed and rolled out across Wales, but we need to ensure that these models are appropriate, sustainable, and have the interests of citizens and the workforce at their heart. We are clear that public services delivered by public servants are best, and we advocate co-operative, mutual and related alternative delivery models only as an alternative to ceasing or to privatising services.
In considering alternative delivery models in local government, there are three important preconditions: accountability to local government, protection of employee terms and conditions, and continuation of trade union recognition.
In that context, the purpose of the action plan is to provide a clear national framework within which decisions can be made locally on the appropriateness of alternative delivery models in specific service areas, as well as to set out the practical support available to public service organisations, their workforce, citizens and communities, in making decisions about how services should be designed and delivered.
I’m grateful to Cabinet colleagues for the work they already have under way in this area and for the contribution they’ve made to the action plan. It reflects a shared commitment to supporting sustainable, relevant models of delivery that will protect our services, our workforces, and our communities. There is also a real appetite to engage in this agenda across Wales. There was good engagement around the first phase of the work, which led to the ‘Is the Feeling Mutual?’ report. Since then, our consideration of the way forward has been hugely informed by colleagues in local government sharing their experiences of establishing alternative delivery models, and by important contributions from a range of other interests, including the trade unions.
A series of sector-focused workshops are already under way as part of the follow-up to ‘Is the Feeling Mutual?’ I was pleased to participate in two of these events last week. The purpose of these workshops is to gather further views on establishing a framework for collaborative working in the development of alternative delivery models for public services. The outcomes of these events will inform the final action plan. The action plan contains a number of new actions, as well as bringing together the significant activity already under way. The proposed actions pick up the findings and areas for action identified in the ‘Is the Feeling Mutual?’ report, and the suggestions we have received from local authorities and others.
New actions proposed include the establishment of a simple, flexible funding mechanism to support local authorities in drawing on expert support to inform decisions on alternative delivery models; the development of a national framework for advice and specialist support on alternative delivery models, which public bodies can draw from; and supporting the development of mechanisms to build capacity and capability in this area, including peer-led mentoring networks, and support via Academi Wales’s continuous improvement team.
The precise shape and scope of these new offers will be developed, with partners, during the consultation process, so we can move quickly to put them in place. Other actions focus on testing the legal and financial framework within which alternative delivery models are established, and to see if there is scope to remove unnecessary barriers. Shaping and developing our proposals so that they are as effective as possible will be a key focus of the consultation. I am committed to working in partnership with the third sector, public services, trade unions, and other partners, in developing this agenda.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Can I just remind Members we have five statements this afternoon, so I would like to encourage you to ask questions, and not have long statements before you get to your questions? Right, Janet Finch-Saunders.
Thank you, Presiding Officer, and thank you, Minister, for your statement. I think everybody in the Chamber here realises the importance of effective local service delivery, especially given the financial challenges facing our public services.
Obviously, we’re very keen to see you facilitate stronger working relationships between local government, civil society, and the independent sector, so that we can ensure there are more efficient, innovative public services, but, of course, with the citizen and the community at the centre in any public service delivery reform. Minister, your report, ‘Is the Feeling Mutual?’, found that there is a desire in Wales to ensure that future service delivery is both citizen-centred and democratically accountable, though, to local communities, and we haven’t seen a lot of that in recent years. It stated that not-for-profit models are increasingly welcome, but, again, as long as they are accountable to the public. Your ‘Reforming Local Government’ White Paper responses also showed high support for the statement:
‘As part of a future performance regime the setting of minimum performance outcomes or standards should be considered.’
Now, in carrying this recommendation forward, how will you ensure that changes to service delivery models are accountable against these standards, and how will you ensure, going forward, that appropriate monitoring and performance data collection are undertaken really, really well and adequately so that the public can hold local authorities accountable for their performance? You mentioned a strong desire to protect employee terms and conditions and ensure trade union recognition. But this leaves us a little surprised, given your opposition to our committee-recommended amendment to the Local Government (Wales) Bill, which would have ensured that local authorities did comply with the code of practice on workforce matters. What is your position on this in relation to staff working with co-operatives and mutuals?
Finally, Minister, the report stated that there is an overwhelming desire to ensure that reform is truly sustainable at this time. As with reorganisation, let me emphasise that we must take the time to get this right, and I actually do look forward to far more open consultation and engagement with our communities as you move the local government agenda forward. Thank you.
Llywydd, I’m grateful for the overall welcome for the proposals in ‘Is the Feeling Mutual?’ Clearly, the action plan that we have just put out for consultation develops the thinking in that report more significantly. There are a number of different kinds of not-for-profit models. They are already being developed within local government and by local community organisations across Wales, and I don’t think it’s a question of having the time to get this right; I think it is a recognition that the financial conditions facing local government, imposed by the cuts in the Welsh budget from Westminster, mean that there is an increased urgency in looking at some of these solutions. We know that communities themselves are being very creative in the way they are coming forward with alternative models, but we also know there is, in some cases, a lack of expertise or capacity to support the development of these initiatives. In respect of the need to hold these initiatives accountable to local government, well, of course, these are matters for local authorities to undertake themselves. We can provide guidance and we can provide assistance but, at the end of the day, it is for local authorities to observe the principles that we have set down.
In respect of the implementation of the code of practice, of course, most local authorities in Wales have abided by the code of practice. We have discussed the amendment that she has referred to in committee. I always find it somewhat ironic, of course, that it was her conservative colleague in Westminster who got rid of the proposals in England.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Sorry, I’m not—.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
No? Simon Thomas.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Thank you, Minister, for your statement. It is a statement on consultation, so there isn’t much to be said here until we see the outcome of the consultation. But I do welcome the fact that there is going to be a national framework put in place to manage this. I do think that that is necessary. It is particularly true in seeing some of the problems that some local authorities have in releasing assets into community hands and the different approaches that are developing across the country in this area.
May I ask first of all, therefore, if this is the model—the co-operative model that you mention in the report and in your statement today—that’s being recommended by the Welsh Government as a matter of course when a public authority transfers assets or services into the hands of another body? Would you, therefore, expect any transfer that takes place from now on to happen within this framework? Whilst I agree entirely with you that there is a very difficult choice facing some public authorities between losing services, privatising services or moving towards an alternative model, would you also accept that, occasionally, the co-operative model is an alternative choice for innovation and not necessarily every time when services are facing closure? There are certain public services—museums most obviously—that are run by public bodies that are supported by private or charitable organisations and, between them, they provide an important public service. It’s important to ensure that there is balance.
In that context, you’ve mentioned in the report on a number of occasions the role of trade unions and how important it is to have the unions involved in this process. There are some, locally in particular, of course, who oppose any transfer of assets or services, although the only other alternative may be the closure of the service. So, what discussions are you having with trade unions in Wales, and the TUC specifically, on these models to ensure that this is seen as the way forward in some cases?
Accountability is very important for Plaid Cymru. You mention in your statement accountability for local government, and that is important, and particularly important in the case of some statutory duties. I would also like to ask you about accountability more broadly to the local community. Very often, these services that are transferred or carried out by co-operative organisations are non-statutory, and it’s just as important that the organisations managing those services are accountable to local people, as they are to local authorities. Therefore, governance is very important in this context.
We’ve seen from time to time in the past certain bodies taking control of what was once run by local authorities, with those bodies then growing apart from the local community. So, how would you ensure that the accountability exists not only to local government or the public authority, but to the wider community?
Finally, you mention in your statement the flexible and simple funding mechanisms you wish to see in place. Will any additional funding be used for this process in order to encourage this change? What do you have in mind when you mention ensuring funding in the longer term?
Can I thank the Plaid Cymru spokesperson for his contribution and for his welcome for the proposals that we’ve put forward? I don’t think there is much disagreement between us in terms of what he has said this afternoon. I welcome the fact that he supports the development of a national framework. He’s right to refer to the challenges that face local authorities throughout Wales at the present time in maintaining and safeguarding community facilities.
I think we have already seen developments within a number of communities around Wales, where assets have been transferred to community-based organisations. Clearly, our preference would be for those to be co-operative or mutual models, but there may be other models that are brought forward; some other forms of social enterprise, for example, or community interest companies in some cases, where they may be appropriate. I heard some examples last week from some town and community councils in that regard.
I certainly agree with him that co-operative models have often been a source of innovation in Wales, going back decades, and we would want to maintain that creativity at the heart of these proposals.
In respect of discussions with trade unions, we’ve had discussions with a number of trade unions and with the Wales Trades Union Congress and it’s fair to say that, I suppose, three of the preconditions that we’ve set down in respect of accountability to local government, protection of employee terms and conditions and continuation of trade union recognition, obviously derived from those discussions.
In terms of governance and accountability, there has to be a level of governance and accountability built in at the point at which an asset is transferred, and I would agree with him that that needs to be sustainable and there need to be mechanisms in place for local communities to ensure that effective accountability operates. I think, in our consultation, we’re exploring those issues, but, at the end of the day, of course, it will be for those local authorities, properly, to exercise that level of accountability.
In respect of funding, he won’t be surprised today that I’m not going to make any commitments to additional funding, but I will draw his attention to funds that have been developed by the Welsh Government in the past, for example, the community facilities and activities programme, which has funded a number of community organisations in respect of capital assets, such as buildings. We had the community asset transfer fund alongside the Big Lottery fund during the period of the One Wales Government, which facilitated asset transfers. So, we’ve been flexible and creative, I think, in those opportunities in the past. We might also think about the post office development fund as well, as another model that has been used. So, we would certainly not rule that out in the future, but I can’t make any further commitments in respect of funding today. I suspect we will all want to review our funding position after the comprehensive spending review.
Can I also welcome this statement and welcome the direction in which the Minister is travelling on this particular issue? I think it’s important that we do get as wide as possible a range of delivery models, but make sure they are accountable to local communities and give local communities an opportunity to participate in the delivery of key services.
I’m interested, Minister, in some of the statements in this piece of paper I’ve just been given, in that we’re talking, largely, about local government; are we talking about restricting it entirely to local government, or are you looking at a wider public service involvement in this particular scheme? You talk about making it accountable to local government, but are there other public services that might also benefit from taking advantage of this particular scheme?
I understand this is a consultation. I also understand there’s no more money; we are in that situation, unfortunately. However, you do talk in the statement, about the
‘establishment of a simple, flexible funding mechanism to support Local Authorities in drawing on expert support to inform decisions on alternative delivery models’,
which is slightly different to asking for more money to actually deliver the services, but actually in terms of advice and support. What format were you thinking that particular flexible funding mechanism might take? Would it be a direct grant, would it be through the revenue support grant, will they have to bid for it or might it be through an invest-to-save fund, for example? Those are just some examples of mechanisms you might want to go for.
You also talk about the
‘development of a national framework for advice and specialist support on alternative delivery models’.
Again, what format would that national framework take? Would you talk about having an expert panel or some sort of quango that might provide that support, or are you going to be relying on Welsh Government officials to provide that?
Finally, in relation to the peer-led mentoring network, under what auspices would that be set up and who would you envisage taking part in that? Would you envisage the Welsh Government co-ordinating that, or would you look to local authorities to do that themselves, possibly through the WLGA?
Again, can I welcome the support from the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for what we’ve outlined today? He asked a number of very pertinent questions. Let me start with the question of wider public services. I think he will recall that, in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, there is provision there to look at mutual models in respect of social care, for example. So I think we would, of course, be looking at a wider range of activities.
In respect of funding, I’m open to suggestions, but we will need, obviously, to set those in the context of our future budget discussions and, you know, a variety of different models might be appropriate in different situations. Sometimes, it will be about starter funding to see an organisation through the process of taking on an asset. I know already local authorities, for example, are supporting organisations with a degree of revenue funding, peppercorn rents and so on. So, there are number of models already, I think, out there in practice.
In respect of advice and support, again, you know, there are proposals that we are willing to look at. We had the i2i model during the Welsh housing quality standard period, of course, when there were a number of stock transfers going through, which brought together expertise from a number of sources, and, again, we're open to that.
In respect of the peer-led work, well, we've had the Wales Co-operative Centre obviously engage with us in the development and delivery of this work. We would be looking to bring in expertise from wherever was appropriate.
I previously worked in the mutual sector for 21 years. The Welsh Conservatives very much recognise the need for greater emphasis on co-operatives and mutuals, recognising, I think, there's been 106 new public service mutuals in England since 2010, but we're not aware of any yet in that period in Wales.
You state that:
‘We are clear that public services, delivered by public servants are best’.
What consideration have you given to the growing national and international evidence that doing things with rather than for people actually produce better outcomes? As I know from my previous business experience in the mutual sector, how do you respond to the evidence that mutuality still requires a surplus on the bottom line and that organisations must be delivered efficiently and effectively with the internal and external customers if they're actually going to produce better outcomes—that being mutual alone isn't a magic bullet?
How would you respond to the statement at today's lunchtime event hosted by Janet Finch-Saunders on entrepreneurial councils when Powys council told us about the savings they're making by delivering vital public services with a more commercial mindset? They said if you give recognition and responsibility to the staff, they will transform service delivery—so, turning the power thing upside down and not trying to control from the chief executive's office or top floor.
How do you respond to Co-production Wales's statement that this is not a nice add-on, but a new way of operating for Government, public professionals and communities, and to Western Australia's mental health commissioner, who said in Wales that we have to decide whether we’re adding on a programme or reforming the system, designing and delivering together, learning from the good experience in countries such as Australia, which crosses parties and clearly crosses national and international boundaries.
How do you respond to the statement made recently by the Bevan Foundation in their report ‘The shape of Wales to come’, that the role of almost all public bodies in Wales has been statist and that the challenge is about the distribution of power and determination? Do you agree that mutuals, co-operatives and third sector bodies providing care, particularly for disabled people, should be citizen directed, and how do you propose to ensure that these mutuals and co-operatives are citizen directed?
Finally, referring to the report by Keith Edwards, ‘Is The Feeling Mutual?—New Ways of Designing and Delivering Public Services in Wales’, published in May, how would you respond to his statements that form needs to follow function, that we need to engage with citizens as parties to the problem solving, reorienting them to find new solutions and ways of saving money or making it go further, that the national framework must maximise use of third sector organisations, and that the Welsh Government’s relationship with registered social landlords, housing associations and community mutuals needs to be nurtured, recognising the potential of the sector to deliver social, economic and environmental outcomes across Wales, including co-operative housing, encouraging and supporting local community control over housing and neighbourhoods? [An Assembly Member: ‘Answer’.]
Llywydd, I wasn’t aware that the Conservatives got two opposition responses to a Government statement, but I’m very happy to engage with the questions asked by Mark Isherwood. Let me start by saying, of course, that I commissioned, with the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, Keith Edwards to prepare the report, ‘Is The Feeling Mutual?’, so, naturally, I am very much in sympathy with the conclusions that Keith has produced for us. We are now consulting on the action plan deriving from that. Keith has undertaken a very wide range of discussions around Wales with different organisations in the preparation of that report, and I attended two seminars, as I said in the statement, with Keith last week. I also appeared at the One Voice Wales conference with him, where we discussed many of these issues.
In respect of the statement on co-operative housing, well, we have seen that, in 11 local authorities out of the 22 in Wales, tenants have voted for co-operative, mutual or other social enterprise forums to run their housing. So, I think that that is something that’s been a success for Wales. I’m certainly aware of what has been said by the Bevan Foundation. At the end of the day, Aneurin Bevan himself was a pioneer of co-operative solutions through the Tredegar Working Men’s Medical Aid Society, and many other initiatives. I think we have a very strong tradition here in Wales of co-operative models. I’m not perhaps as au fait with developments in Australia as Mark Isherwood, so I wasn’t entirely across the statement by the Western Australia mental health commissioner, but I’m sure that we can learn lessons from many different parts of the world, including Australia, as we develop our own policies.
At the heart of what we’re seeking to do, of course, is the desire to engage citizens in the development and sustainability of public services. There are a number of organisations that have come together to promote that level of activity throughout Wales. He mentioned one of those. I have made it very clear in the past that I’m not particularly keen on the phrase ‘co-production’, which seems to me a technocratic phrase, but I have sympathy with many of the principles that underpin it, as do other ministerial colleagues.
I have sympathy in what he says about the need very often to ensure that there is a surplus in the management of public services, even when they’re held by communities in the form of community assets in order to ensure their sustainability. In respect of empowering staff within local authorities, I think that is a very important model and a principle that should be respected and will often deliver better, more citizen-focused services for local authorities.
Minister, I very much welcome this statement. Reading it very quickly, it does seem totally compatible with the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. Do you foresee that an arm’s-length company that is owned by a local authority, that is accountable to the local authority, protects employee terms and conditions and ensures trade union recognition, will fit into the national framework, and will be part of the consultation that you mentioned? When you referred to the protection of employee terms and conditions, is this on a permanent basis or in accordance with TUPE rules?
Well, can I thank my colleague, the Member for Neath, who was the architect of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act and, I suspect, knows it better than anyone else in this Chamber? In respect of what she said about arm’s-length companies, I think there can be a role for those, particularly, I suppose, where there is the possibility of recirculating revenues. For example, one proposal that was mentioned by a town council at the meeting of town and community councils last week was in respect of recycling funding from town centre parking into the maintenance of a local market. You can see that that might lend itself to an arm’s-length company model. My colleague, the Member for Neath, laid out very clearly the importance of principles in respect of trade union recognition. In respect of what she had to say about the conditions of staff, certainly we would be expecting organisations to observe TUPE.
Minister, some councils in England have outsourced their services entirely. Are you in favour of this kind of model in Wales?
If you’re talking about the Barnet ‘easyCouncil’ model, that is not the model we are looking to endorse in Wales.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Llywydd / The Presiding Officer
We now move to the next item, which is item 4, a statement by the Minister for Finance and Government Business on the progress of EU funding programmes. I call on Jane Hutt.
I am pleased to update Members today on the progress of the European funding programmes in Wales 2014-2020. It has been almost one year since Wales was the first UK nation and among the first in the EU to have its regional structural funds programmes agreed by the European Commission. Worth around £1.9 billion of EU investment to Wales, I made a commitment to hit the ground running with the delivery of the new programmes, and I am delighted that we have made excellent progress. So far, we have announced EU investments totalling some £370 million. This brings investments so far to nearly one fifth of the total EU funding allocation for 2014-2020, and is driving a total investment of £840 million.
Most recently, I visited the Sony UK technology centre in Bridgend to announce EU funds of £1.7 million for the £2 million STEM Cymru 2 project, which will encourage 5,000 young people aged 11 to 19 years to participate in industry-linked engineering and technological activities. On 21 September, the First Minister announced a £100 million package of support, including £57 million of EU funds, for Smart Cymru and Smart Enterprise, to help businesses and academic institutions to collaborate on new products and processes, and, importantly, to finance the commercialisation of this work to create new businesses and jobs across Wales.
These are just a few examples of recent EU investments, and as projects progress, we see the positive economic and social impact that EU funds have on jobs, people, businesses and communities. I am also pleased that the European territorial co-operation programmes—also known as INTERREG—are up and running. Wales participates in a number of these INTERREG programmes, including the Ireland-Wales cross-border programme, and the Atlantic area, north west Europe and INTERREG Europe programmes. They are an essential component of the Welsh Government’s continuing policy of working in partnership with other EU regions and promoting Wales internationally, and are very much aligned to our EU strategy and international agenda: ‘Wales in the World’. The co-operation programmes enable us to look beyond our geographical boundaries in tackling common economic, social and environmental issues. It is therefore vital that we maximise Welsh engagement in these programmes. To help this, I visited Brussels on 2 October to meet key officials in the EU, including Commissioner Crețu’s new chef de cabinet. I also launched a new Wales action plan for European territorial co-operation at a successful event in Wales House. The event was attended by the EU funding ambassadors and representatives and stakeholders from across Wales and the EU, including delegates from Ireland, Poland, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Finland, Sweden and Malta, and nations and regions within the UK.
The action plan, which has been published on WEFO’s website, sets out the Welsh Government’s commitment to: increase the number of organisations in Wales engaging and benefiting from the ETC programmes; achieve a stronger focus on ETC investments that address common cross-border, transnational, regional and pan-European challenges and opportunities; ensure that the ETC programmes integrate with other EU funding mechanisms, including centrally-managed funds such as Horizon 2020 and broader Welsh Government policies; and increase the value of ETC funds to Wales. I’m also committed to ensuring that Wales makes the most of the EU investment opportunities that are available, not just through the structural funds and the ETC programmes, but also those provided by the European Investment Bank and the European fund for strategic investments, which was announced by Commission President Juncker last November.
Following discussion with stakeholders, we’ve submitted to the European Commission and the EIB for detailed consideration a credible pipeline of Welsh schemes that reflect the breadth of investment opportunities in Wales, including those led by Government, local authorities and the private sector. Over the summer, I met with Jonathan Taylor, vice-president of the EIB, to discuss Wales’s proposals, and work on these is continuing. We are also continuing to explore opportunities of the centrally-managed programmes, such as Horizon 2020, Erasmus and Creative Europe. I’m particularly pleased with the positive engagement and progress the EU funding ambassadors have made. They’ve met key stakeholders in the EU and Wales, including the Enterprise and Business Committee, and have been engaged in a number of high-profile events, including the WCVA’s conference in May and the ETC event in Brussels. Further events are planned, including an Erasmus event on 11 November in Cardiff and a Creative Europe workshop on 12 November in Caernarfon. The ambassadors will soon produce an interim report and I expect to receive their final report next spring, setting out the recommendations for improving access to the EU centrally-managed funds.
As expected, Horizon 2020 is more competitive than its predecessor, FP7, with many areas of the programme oversubscribed. Considering this, Wales’s performance has so far been encouraging, with EU funds of around £22 million benefiting Welsh organisations. This includes the recent announcement of Horizon 2020 funds of £7 million for the Welsh Government’s £17 million COFUND to help grow Wales’s world-class scientific research. I’m pleased that the annual event on Horizon 2020 will be held early next year, while on 3 December, the structural funds annual event will be held in Swansea. Wales will also be hosting the next IQ-Net conference in Cardiff between 23 and 25 November, when representatives from a number of EU managing authorities will come together to discuss ‘simplification’, a key design principle promoted by the Commission that could produce tangible benefits for organisations accessing and delivering EU projects.
The next 18 months will be critical for the UK’s relationship with the EU, and the decisions taken will influence all our lives. As a pro-business and pro-European Government, we firmly believe that our people, communities, and businesses will lose out from a UK exit. From the vital benefits of access to the single market and EU investments, UK membership of the EU is crucial to the economic security, environment, prosperity and wellbeing of Wales.
I'm grateful to the Minister for today's statement. Minister, I'm also interested to see how you’re fulfilling your responses to the Enterprise and Business Committee’s report from over a year ago now, in July 2014, ‘EU Funding Opportunities 2014-2020’, which you've just been talking about in your statement.
Turning in detail to your statement, can I welcome your Government's conversion—or greater conversion, I should say; I should be charitable—to accessing more funds from the European Investment Bank? Welsh Conservatives have been calling for this for many years now. You say that there are a number of Welsh schemes in the pipeline, but you don't give any details of what those schemes are. So, could you tell us, roughly, how many schemes are there in that pipeline, and how many of the schemes that are in the pipeline are you expecting to receive financial support, and how much, on average, for each project? Even if you can’t give us exact details for each project, I wonder if you could tell us what area those schemes are in.
You say you are continuing to explore opportunities with programmes such as Horizon 2020, Erasmus and Creative Europe. Recommendation 13 of that report from last year called for the championing of Welsh creative industries within Europe so that Welsh creative industries would not be disadvantaged. You said, back then in 2014—or the Welsh Government said, back in 2014—that officials from Creative Europe Desk Wales were already involved in discussions. What came of those discussions, and what positive impacts have the EU funding ambassadors, who you’ve been talking highly of in your statement today, had to date? I’m sure you’d agree with me that we need to ensure that we’re not just engaged in a talking shop, but there is a practical result on the ground.
Finally, Presiding Officer, back in that committee report of last year, recommendation 8 asked the Welsh Government to explore with higher education institutions the creation of a Wales-wide alumni network for international students, including Erasmus students who’ve studied in Wales and Welsh students who’ve studied abroad, to maximise the impact of the international contacts. You accepted that recommendation, albeit in principle. You mentioned Erasmus today. How are you ensuring that the Welsh Government is fulfilling the obligation that you made to Erasmus students back in your response to that report of July 2014?
Thank you very much, Nick Ramsay. In terms of our engagement with the European investment bank, it goes beyond the European fund for strategic investment. That is what I referred to most specifically in my statement, but just to give you an update on the Welsh EFSI pipeline, not only have we got an official level task and finish group managing the development of the pipeline, both within and outside of Government; in fact, we’re part of a Whitehall group as well. But we’ve got a Welsh pipeline that includes both infrastructure schemes and opportunities to create joint investment platforms such as the housing finance grant 2, the green growth fund, the flood and coastal erosion risk management programme, and our three non-profit distributing schemes: the redevelopment of the Velindre Cancer Centre, dualling of sections 5 and 6 of the A465 and band B of the twenty-first century schools programme. Also in the pipeline going forward are projects such as tidal lagoons, Anglesey energy island and the metro. Indeed, I’m meeting Jonathan Taylor again on a visit to Wales he’s undertaking. I think one of the important points about Wales’s engagement with the European Investment Bank is that other institutions are taking advantage of the borrowing opportunities, such as Swansea University, in the Swansea bay second campus, which included the European regional development fund, Welsh Government and EIB as well.
We have taken advantage of the recommendations of the Enterprise and Business Committee’s reports that have come forward, which I have supported, and I have also very recently appeared before the committee to account for the response, and the progress that we’re making. I think, very importantly on that point, in terms of directly managed programmes, the Horizon 2020 synergies that are developing with the structural funds are very important, and the fact that we’ve got these capacity-building investments to support the development of effective Horizon 2020 projects.
Again, we have a network group across Welsh Government. There have been questions about the EU funding ambassadors, and again, they appeared before the committee to give some indication of the work that they’ve been undertaking, but also to say that they are also identifying, monitoring and promoting opportunities under the various programmes with a network group that’s been established across the Welsh Government of officials who are supporting the EU funding ambassadors. There are opportunities in terms of taking forward Erasmus+. I’ve mentioned the conference being held on 11 November. That’s going to be chaired by one of our EU funding ambassadors, Hywel Ceri Jones. Wales’s percentage of successful applications in this financial year was the highest of the home nations, at 60.6 per cent, with applications from adult learning being the highest at 10.3 per cent of all applications. But we have a number of events around Wales, and of course your important point about the alumni and the networks that are created from those experiences in terms of Erasmus is also very important.
Diolch, Lywydd. I thank the Minister for her statement today. The effective use of European structural funds is crucial to delivering our jobs and growth agenda here in Wales as well as tackling poverty and providing better opportunities for our most hard-to-reach people in areas of deprivation. In particular, I’d like to welcome the continuation of the Jobs Growth Wales programme, an extremely popular programme generally considered to be amongst the best of its kind in Europe. That’s despite the misleading comments earlier this year that it had been scrapped. I would also like to welcome the continued commitment to funding apprenticeships, of which we have a very good track record in Wales.
Minister, would you agree with me that these two schemes in particular highlight the importance of European funding to Wales as well as the folly of those who argue that we should leave the EU. Indeed, you could say that they are being truly reckless in terms of the employment future of our young people.
Thank you, Jeff Cuthbert. Thank you for your support, particularly for those backbone projects that we have identified with Grahame Guilford, another of our funding ambassadors, and for the importance of the economic prioritisation framework and Jobs Growth Wales and apprenticeships coming forward from the previous round and being supported by the Commission in terms of the impact that they make. I fully support your point in terms of the importance of our European structural funds for the opportunities that they are providing for our young people, addressing youth unemployment and making sure that we provide those opportunities, particularly in terms of 16 to 25-year-olds. It’s crucially important for the young people themselves and for skills in the economy.
Thank you very much for the statement. I just have a few questions: you refer to the STEM Cymru 2 project to encourage school-age children to take an interest in engineering. Is this fund targeted at specific areas or for the structural fund area as a whole? That’s the first question.
You make reference to the importance of the Horizon 2020 fund, and we would all agree that this fund is exceptionally important, particularly to universities and certain industries here in Wales. You state that there has been a satisfactory start and that a sum of around £22,000 has been achieved by bodies in Wales. What’s your aim in relation to this particular fund? What will success look like—£100 million or £200 million? What do you think the capacity is in Wales to attract funding from this particular fund?
Finally, you say that the IQ-Net conference will be staged in Cardiff and that delegates there will be discussing simplification, for three days, apparently. What’s your understanding of the word ‘simplification’ and what do you hope will emanate from that particular conference?
Thank you very much, Alun Ffred Jones.
I did launch the STEM Cymru 2 project in Sony in Bridgend as part of the West Wales and the Valleys beneficiary in terms of that programme. I will clarify whether this also includes the whole of Wales in terms of STEM Cymru 2. I will clarify that for Alun Ffred Jones. It’s certainly the West Wales and the Valleys young people who will be key beneficiaries in that area.
In terms of the importance of Horizon 2020 and our ambitions to progress beyond FP7 and the proportion of funding that was allocated very successfully in terms of FP7 applications to successful projects, of course we want to go beyond that. I think the importance, as you say, is how closely we’re working with Welsh higher education to deliver on our ambitions. I have mentioned the COFUND, the complementary investment in research capacity. But also I think the €9.4 million funding to Welsh Government, strengthening international research capacity in Wales COFUND bid, is also a demonstration of progress. I do expect to make an announcement in the autumn about the closely related ERDF proposal, Sêr Cymru II. Indeed, the opportunities that we have as a result of the structural funds will take us forward beyond, of course, the structural funds to those all-important directly managed programmes, such as Horizon 2020.
Thank you for your statement today, Minister, which gives an overview of many different areas of activity, I think it’s fair to say. But what sometimes feels lacking in these continued updates is a sense that all of these interactions actually belong to a strategic whole—a driver that is going to make sure that our interaction with Europe and our use of the structural funds will have an obvious and a lasting change in terms of the economy of west Wales and the Valleys in particular.
I’m grateful to see the inclusion of some comments, however, on our participation in INTERREG programmes, because I think that these are a particularly important opportunity for us in terms of making sure that we can draw in additional funding and potentially use that funding to good effect. One particular area that has been brought to the attention of the Enterprise and Business Committee recently is the potential value of the blue economy. We note, for example, with great interest that the Irish Government are very keen to see—and they’ve actually set targets for it—a percentage of the country’s GDP derived from the blue economy. That’s not just about fisheries and aquaculture, but also about transport and the opportunity for marine energy. It is an integrated strategy that looks at the ways in which they can derive value from their four sides of the sea. Of course, we have three sides, and it is clearly an opportunity for us as well. So, I wonder if you can tell us what discussions you’ve had with the Ireland-Wales and the Atlantic Area INTERREG programmes about how we can work collaboratively to derive the maximum benefit to Wales from the potential of the blue economy, what work the Welsh Government has done in terms of assessing the opportunities there for Wales, and what opportunities they have discussed with, perhaps particularly, the Irish Government about drawing down funds through the motorways of the sea programme, which I don’t think you’ve mentioned in your statement today.
It’s also possible, I think, to use the INTERREG programmes as an opportunity to broker the kind of international partnerships between higher education institutions and businesses in Wales and elsewhere in Europe that will be necessary for successful participation in Horizon 2020 bids. Wales, as we know, has not previously punched to its weight in some of these programmes in the past, and I think there is some concern, obviously, with increasing competition, that we must make sure that we go the extra mile to give our HEIs and our businesses the best possible opportunity to compete. So, I’m wondering if you can tell us, in terms of INTERREG opportunities, what activity has been targeted at our HEIs to try and help broker those kind of partnerships, and how is the Welsh Government monitoring and supporting the bids that are coming forward?
Moving on to the European Investment Bank projects, I think it’s a very exciting opportunity for us to look at this, as we go towards borrowing powers, not only through the Juncker plan, I think, but also through the EIB’s permanent streams of funding. It seems to me that the UK as a whole has been slow to recognise that this is an opportunity that it could make, perhaps, more use of. The metro programme is clearly one project that we might potentially anticipate the Welsh Government would go to the EIB about. I note from the finance plan published in the summer that the Welsh Government has currently identified a quarter of the funding needed for its proposed metro improvements. Clearly, the European Investment Bank will only match fund to a maximum of 50 per cent of the amount needed. So, clearly, if it’s only going to double our money by a quarter, we’re only halfway there. I wonder if the Minister could, perhaps, clarify whether or not the Welsh Government is planning to cut the scope of the project, or whether it has plans to double up the identified funding, perhaps with structural funds, so that we can go with 50 per cent of the funding to the EIB. If you could give us some idea of where that remaining quarter is coming from, that would be very helpful.
Finally, in terms of Erasmus programmes, as the Member for Monmouth has already pointed out, it’s a fantastic opportunity, not only for individuals to help them have a truly life-changing experience—and we know that the evidence suggests that it improves their career potential, and it is also fantastic for their wellbeing, too—but it’s a fantastic opportunity for Wales to build a network of international links. I think investment now is one of those things that could be very valuable to us in the future, and clearly it’s a funding stream that’s available. And the Enterprise and Business Committee were very impressed with the work of, for example, Cardiff University in trying to promote its Languages for All programme and to encourage as many students as it can to take part in Erasmus programmes. I wonder if you could comment on how the Welsh Government is encouraging other universities to follow in their footsteps and to really make the most of these European programmes, because the number of young people participating varies very drastically from university to university in Wales at the moment.
A large number of questions; I’ll answer as many as I can. I think the important overall point is that in terms of delivery of EU funds, this is not business as usual—this is an early update, in fact, in terms of the new programmes. I have to say that delivery of EU funds is more integrated this time round; it links in with spatial and regional public and private investments to maximise opportunities. All proposals need regional partnership support and prioritisation and, indeed, that goes back to the point I made earlier on about the economic prioritisation framework that Grahame Guilford prepared for us. I apologise to Alun Ffred Jones that I didn’t answer his question about simplification, but simplification and the way in which we’re trying to address that for the beneficiaries across the private, third and public sectors is crucial in terms of reform, if you like. I mean, this is a very important point in terms of looking at ways in which we can reform and learn lessons from the delivery of earlier programmes.
Just moving on to your wide range of questions around INTERREG and the importance of the European territorial co-operation programmes and looking also particularly, as you said, about the issues around the blue economy and the opportunities that that provides for the Ireland-Wales programme, for example, which I launched at National Waterfront Museum in Swansea in March this year, and the fact that we now have a new programme monitoring committee. Higher education have been very engaged in all of the events that we’ve had to promote and to publicise the new opportunities, and also to recognise that in terms of those opportunities, the Ireland-Wales co-operation programme—€100 million; of course, that’s worth €79 million in the ERDF grant—and the opportunities of challenges and shared priorities and common interests on both sides of the Irish sea. And, indeed, I have engaged in discussions, for example, in Ireland with the Irish Government in terms of wave and tidal energy, and also, of course, many projects in terms of the programme that we’re coming out of in terms of Ireland-Wales, which relates to the common interests in the sea in terms of fisheries and tidal and wave energy.
Your points about Horizon 2020 are important in terms of our new capacity and the fact that we’ve now got a Horizon 2020 unit, which is making sure that we do have that capability to reach beyond the FP7 gains that we had in recent times. I’ve already mentioned the ways in which we’re backing through COFUND and the strengthening international research capacity in Wales, and the opportunities that that brings.
Finally, I just want to mention that in terms of the European Investment Bank and the importance of the European fund for strategic investment, it is important that we look at the opportunities, but they are risk-bearing guarantees in terms of the European fund for strategic investment. It has a value of £22 billion, it’s highly competitive and it is mobilising £315 billion of additional principally private sector investment over the next four years. And I think it is important that we look in discussions with the Treasury at the opportunities in terms of likely valuing of co-financing, and what that means for the projects that we already believe that we have in the pipeline that are appropriate, and I shall be discussing that with the EIB shortly. I have responded to questions about Erasmus, which I believe now is moving forward, with a particular focus and input of our EU funding investors.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair at 15:29.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 5 is a statement by the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty on tackling poverty through employability support. I call the Minister, Lesley Griffiths.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I wish to update Members on the progress the Welsh Government is making to tackle poverty through employability support. In these times of austerity, it is essential that we work collaboratively across Welsh Government and the wider public sector, fully involving our relevant third and private sector external partners, to ensure we make the very best of our resources. Whilst the Welsh Government does not have control over many of the levers that affect how and where jobs are created in Wales, there are some things we can, and are doing, to make a difference. Drawing on the evidence of what works, the Welsh Government is promoting a number of employability initiatives that focus on helping people previously distant from the labour market, supporting them to be ready for work and to enter employment.
‘Building Resilient Communities’ made clear the Welsh Government’s commitment to supporting people into work. Paid employment provides an income to sustain a family. A job can be the start of a route that leads to greater skills, higher income, better housing, a more fulfilled life and the chance to be part of the growing Welsh economy. We talk about the different levers we can use as a Government to help people out of poverty.
The Communities First programme is a key lever in the action plan, offering support to many people in our poorest communities. Communities First, at both programme and cluster level, has played an important role, supporting people in our most deprived communities to gain the skills, qualifications and experience needed to enter employment. Local Communities First cluster delivery plans include projects specifically focusing on employability and employment. An independent evaluation, published last February, was positive about this work. For example, in the year to 31 March 2015, as a result of Communities First, over 3,000 people entered employment and over 500 young people secured a Jobs Growth Wales employment opportunity. For 2015-16, we want to continue to build on these strengths to help shape a focused and even more delivery-oriented way of improving people’s lives.
In June, I launched the first phase of the Communities for Work programme, which will make a significant contribution to the Welsh Government’s key priority of supporting people into work, and developing the skills of our workforce. It will offer a full programme of support to help people, including those who have many complex barriers to employment and need intensive one-to-one mentoring and personal support. Communities for Work will represent a total investment of £41.1 million from Welsh Government and European Union funds. It will help support 8,000 individuals into employment. This is a three-year programme of work specifically supporting economically inactive and long-term unemployed adults and young people who are not in employment, education or training, who have complex barriers to employment, to re-engage with the labour market.
Communities for Work has been operational since May 2015. The advisers have already engaged with over 863 people and have helped 38 people into work at this very early stage. Within Communities for Work, as part of the EU-funded provision, I am developing a proposal for an innovation fund to support and trial new and innovative ideas for supporting people into employment. The fund will offer a range of bespoke training for individuals to supplement existing training where needed. Tomorrow, I will be announcing the second phase of the Communities for Work programme, which will support the Welsh Government’s strategic approach to reducing the proportion of young people aged 16 to 24 years, who are not engaged in education, employment or training, as set out in the youth engagement and progression framework.
Communities for Work builds on the success of the Lift programme, which was introduced to reflect the very specific commitment in the Welsh Government’s tackling poverty action plan to provide 5,000 training and employment opportunities to people from workless households by the end of 2017. The Lift programme has gone from strength to strength since its launch in March of last year and, as of 30 September this year, had provided 2,413 training and employment opportunities, including 441 people from workless households supported into employment. This means the programme should pass the halfway point towards its overall target this autumn.
In addition, this morning I launched the Welsh Government’s parents, childcare and employment programme to help economically inactive parents into training or employment where childcare is their main barrier. The Department for Work and Pensions are joint beneficiaries for this programme. A network of 43 community-based parent employment advisers have been appointed across Wales. In consultation with local authorities, the parent employment advisers will be located in or around Flying Start settings and Families First areas, and will complement rather than overlap with Communities for Work, by operating its services outside Communities First clusters. The programme has been operational in three local authorities—Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, and Ceredigion—since 1 July 2015. Already, our eight parent employment advisers have engaged with almost 80 participants, and the first job entry was recently confirmed.
I am committed to continuing to support the most deprived communities in Wales, building on the success of programmes already operating, ensuring we spread the benefits of these as wide as possible, and making best use of European funding to tackle poverty. I want Wales to develop a model of employment support that helps individuals through challenging times, and works with them to help secure their future in the growing Welsh economy.
Thanks for your statement. Of course, we support employability support, especially noting that Wales, unfortunately, still has the highest unemployment rate amongst the UK nations.
You refer to the Communities First programme being a key lever to the action plan, and to Communities First delivery plans. I asked you—I think last week, or the week before—to respond to the Bevan Foundation report statement on place as a basis for support, when they said that programmes such as Communities First are not the most effective bases for policy, because a large proportion of people in poverty don’t live in Communities First areas. How, therefore, do you respond to their statement that, at the very least, there needs to be a debate about the circumstances in which place or community are the right approach, or whether other approaches might be more effective, directed at individuals and households via local networks?
You refer, of course, to Jobs Growth Wales. As we know, the Wales Audit Office indicated that some three quarters of people who had gone through the scheme would have found employment anyhow, and you’re effectively, therefore, providing a subsidy for job-ready people. I’m glad you didn’t refer to, or contrast or compare this with, the Work Programme—a UK Government scheme—but clearly we’re very keen to ensure that we avoid replication and duplication, whilst Welsh Government schemes complement. And they are different schemes. You’re dealing with people, as I say, ready for work, through the Jobs Growth Wales programme; the Work Programme for young people up to 24 is for the people who are furthest from the workplace. Why is the Welsh Government still refusing access to Jobs Growth Wales for people who, through the Work Programme, young people on the Work Programme, find jobs conditional on their accessing Jobs Growth Wales?
I’d point out that, in Flintshire and Wrexham—given that you represent Wrexham—some 58 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds on the Work Programme completed their full two years on it, entered employment, and the majority remained in employment for six months or more, which contrasts pretty well with the Welsh Government’s Jobs Growth Wales figures, especially when you consider that Jobs Growth Wales has an employer subsidy and job-ready customers, which the alternative scheme does not. In fact, the Work Programme has exceeded its performance targets on the basis of mandatory referrals for both under-25s and over-25s.
Therefore, you refer to the Communities for Work programme support to help people, including those who have many complex barriers to employment and need intensive support. Minister, isn’t that exactly what the UK Work Programme does—delivered by two providers in Wales, with which the Welsh Government is intrinsically involved? And why, therefore, are two schemes here appearing to replicate each other, except for the fact that one is only limited to Communities First areas, where we say the majority of people in poverty don’t live, actually, in Communities First areas?
Your statement refers to funding from Welsh Government and European Union funds for the programme, and yet your statement in June said the programme was co-sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions. I wonder whether you could clarify that apparent omission, or was the original statement missing, or in error, on some of its content?
You refer to the second phase of the Communities for Work programme for young people, 16 to 24. Again, is that not replicating the Work Programme, and why are the two not being seen to operate by complementing each other, filling in gaps, rather than appearing to do the same thing? Is it to appear to do things differently, or perhaps imply the UK Government doesn’t have schemes that are working in this area?
Finally, you refer to the parents, childcare and employment programme, to help economically inactive parents, and, clearly, it’s an objective we would fully share. You say that the Department for Work and Pensions are joint beneficiaries. Well, clearly, they will benefit if the programme—as we would all hope—is successful. But, by ‘beneficiaries’, do you mean sponsors or supporters? What do you mean by ‘beneficiaries’? Again, we welcome the fact that it’s outside Communities First clusters. We note it will offer up to 25 hours of childcare for eight weeks, where lack of childcare is the biggest barrier for many to employment. Is this the complementary money that you will get in relation to the UK Government’s announcement that it’s doubling free childcare to 30 hours a week for three and four-year-olds and the UK Government’s commitment to increase average childcare funding rates paid to providers? If not, how will Wales be responding to the improved provision that is going to fall into place across the border? Thank you.
I thank Mark Isherwood for that series of observations and questions. In relation to the first point regarding the Bevan Foundation report, I’m very happy to have a debate. I think we do need to look very closely at Communities First. It’s obviously been the flagship tackling poverty programme of the Welsh Government for 16 years, and I think we certainly need to look at how we take that forward. It’s been very successful. Our very committed Communities First staff are now very well based in their communities. We have the infrastructure of Communities First, and you mentioned that Communities for Work is obviously working within those Communities First cluster areas, and I think it’s really important that not just I with the programmes that I bring forward, but also my ministerial colleagues, use that infrastructure that’s there.
You seem to be very negative about Jobs Growth Wales. It’s one of the most successful programmes in Europe, and that’s clearly come forward. Like you, I don’t want to duplicate. I think it’s very important, particularly when we have such calls on all our public sector funding, that we don’t duplicate. I have to say—you mentioned specifically Wrexham, as my constituency—that I met with three people last week, young people who’d gone through Jobs Growth Wales, and all said to me they were very far away from the workplace when they were taken on the programme.
In relation to your questions regarding Communities for Work, and I said that the Department for Work and Pensions are a joint beneficiary, the DWP’s been responsible for employing 43 parent employment advisers. You also asked, I think: was the programme based in Communities First areas? I think that’s what you said. That’s going to be actually based—. PaCE is going to be based—. Sorry, Communities—. Sorry, PaCE is going to be based in Families First and Flying Start areas, as opposed to Communities First areas, going back to what I was saying about not wanting to duplicate our resources. PaCE really wants to overcome that barrier, which many people tell us is a major barrier—childcare—in being able to access not just work, but also training opportunities that could then lead to work. So, a lot of these people will already be known to us. It’s also really important that we engage with the family information service going forward and really work collaboratively with all our partners.
The funding for PaCE has come from Welsh Government—I think it’s £4.1 million from Welsh Government and £6.8 million from European funds. This is actually nothing to do with what the UK Government are bringing forward regarding the 30 hours. That is a piece of work that officials are currently looking at—what will be our childcare offer going forward.
Probably the most difficult and the most important task is to increase employment levels, especially for the long-term unemployed living in workless households. For too many people, not working has become a way of life for them and their families. It’s become the expected way of life. Can I just say that I’m somebody who is a great fan and supporter of Communities First? Improving the health, improving the education, helping to reduce costs, getting people back into employment in some of the poorest communities in Wales: what’s can’t you like about it?
The Lift programme provides work experience, training and jobs in the Penderry ward of Swansea East. I think perhaps we talk often about things in the abstract. Can I just raise very briefly two examples? Participant 1, age 30, thought, when she left school as a teenager after becoming pregnant, that she had thrown the chance of training away. Now she has earned a place on a photography course at Gower College as a first step to turning her life around. She said:
‘I had no confidence at all. I thought, “I am a mum of three and aged 30; what on earth am I qualified to do?” I almost talked myself out of meeting Lift. I thought there was no way I could be helped. Lift came up with a way forward and gave me the confidence and inspiration to want to do more with my life. I want to be a real example to my children.’
Example 2: dad of two, aged 27, who, thanks to Lift, is waving 18 months of unemployment goodbye and setting up his own driving school business. He said that losing your job—which could happen to an awful lot of people in this room in seven and a half months’ time—is hugely damaging to self-confidence and that you don’t know what’s going to happen, and, if you don’t find a job, then you become more and more unable to cope. You struggle money-wise, but it’s not only not having the money for your family that gets you down; it’s that feeling of being a failure, because you cannot get a new job. There he is working as a driving instructor.
So, these are real examples of real people benefitting from the Lift programme. I’ve got two questions for the Minister: will the Minister confirm that these opportunities, which two of my constituents have benefitted from, will continue? And, two, how many of the parent employment advisers will be located in Swansea?
In relation to the last question, I can’t give the Member the exact figure of how many advisers will be there, but I can certainly write to him. You have heard me mention in my answer to Mark Isherwood that they will be based in Flying Start and Families First areas, so, clearly, there will be some in Swansea, but I’ll be very happy to write to the Member in relation to that.
Around the Lift programme, I’ve met people just as you described. When I launched the Lift programme, one of the gentlemen I met was very similar to the second person you referred to, and certainly we know that sustainable employment is a way out of poverty, but it’s also a way of avoiding poverty. I think what the Lift programme has done is give hope to people. Some of the opportunities that people have had, they’ve really grasped them and taken them forward, and you’ll be aware that the target was 5,000 training opportunities by the end of 2017. It’s very likely we’ll reach the halfway stage, if not this month, certainly next month, which is way ahead of where we expected the programme to be at this stage. And, yes, I’m absolutely committed to the Lift programme and I recently approved funding for the continuation of the programme up until 31 March 2018.
Plaid Cymru does welcome, certainly, the successful application and resources that have been drawn down from Europe towards this end and wishes the work well in that regard. But there has to be a little context to this. At a time that the budget for part-time adult education is being slashed by 50 per cent, as we’ve already heard today, when adults over the age of 25 and women in particular, making up 63 per cent of the part-time learner population, are being affected by these cuts, we are really discussing a sticking plaster solution here, when there are more fundamental issues around our skills agenda here in Wales. I recognise that this Minister is not responsible for that aspect, but she’s responsible, I think, for patching up some of the consequences of those decisions.
One of my concerns is how we are learning from previous experiences around Communities First and around anti-poverty schemes, and whether we’re applying them in the right way with these new schemes to really build on that. We will be debating tomorrow the report from the Communities Equality and Local Government Committee, of course, on poverty and inequality, and one of the things that that committee has identified is a tendency of Government to tackle the symptoms rather than the root causes. I’m very much concerned that we may be repeating some of those mistakes, despite the goodwill that I’m sure the Government is showing toward this.
I am concerned, although I don’t agree with some of the comments of the Conservative spokesperson, that there may not be the full alignment with the Work Programme in what has been suggested here today. So, I would like a little more from the Minister, as my first question, about what discussions are taking place with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Work Programme and how that is being properly constructed, because you did mention that the Work Programme, in effect, would benefit from the PaCE programme and I think we need to understand a little more about how that might happen, because we do see this lack of alignment within Welsh Government policy over the last 16 years and I want to try and avoid that for the future.
My second question turns around what exactly we are dealing with here now. You’ve already mentioned the Lift programme and its own targets of some 5,000 and you’ve just said that you want to extend the Lift programme as well—you’ve confirmed that. How does the Lift programme and its 5,000 target relate to the Communities for Work programme and its 8,000 target? Is this a 13,000 target? Is there a read-across between the two? How do you structure these and how, importantly, will you evaluate, therefore, the work that has been done? Although you mentioned the evaluation of Communities First—and you mentioned it in a positive way and that’s your prerogative—it was also the case that this evaluation did find that there was a lack of data and robust monitoring, which made an assessment of outcomes very difficult to do. I’m sure you agree with me, Minister, that, if we’re going to spend these sorts of sums of money on some of the most difficult to support people in our society so they get into employability and get into employment, then we need to be clear that we are dealing with the right kind of approaches. In that regard, can you confirm that you have yet to publish the literature review that is meant to underpin the Communities for Work programme? Although the programme started back in May/June, I understand that the literature review is pencilled in for publication on 21 October. So, on what basis are you making your decisions today, when some of your information has not yet been published?
I note that you say that 38 people so far have been helped directly into work. That’s a small number. It’s early days, I understand, but it’s still quite a small number. So, what confidence do you have that you will be on target as the programme increases?
My final question to you—to be frank, this question could be asked of you or of the Deputy Minister on the next statement, but it’s about how we might involve alternative approaches, particularly amongst young people. I’ve been in discussion with a gentleman called Andy Bevan, who has written a paper for the Institute for Welsh Affairs on a citizen service concept, such as happens in France and Germany. This is paid employment in things like environmental concerns or social care, but also has training aligned with that. Has the Government got any view on that concept, particularly for young people, and how it might integrate with both the Communities for Work programme and Communities First itself? I would say, Minister, that I have visited, fairly recently, the Communities First area in Pembroke Dock myself and discussed the Communities for Work programme with them. I know the potential is there for some success; my concern is that the targets are rigorous, that we have the evaluation, and that we are basing our decisions on a proper analysis of the evidence and the literature.
I thank Simon Thomas for his questions. I think it’s really important that we see these three programmes separately but together, so you are right. The target for Lift is 5,000; the target for Communities First is 8,000, i.e. 13,000. So, you’re absolutely right on that. The Lift programme, as I say, is well ahead of schedule, but I have committed the funding to 2018. I would think that we would go way past the 5,000. The fact that we’re probably going to be at 2,500, as I say, this month—certainly next month—would show that. That’s the Lift programme.
In relation to the PaCE programme, it is early days, and I thought 38 was very good, actually. That's permanent employment, so I think 38 people helped—we’ve only had it in a pilot area in three local authorities, and probably some of our most rural local authorities. So, I think it’s very good that we have helped them, particularly because it’s childcare that’s been identified as the major barrier to helping people gain employment. So, I anticipate it will be single parents, and it will sometimes be second earners who feel that that childcare is so expensive that they couldn’t possibly then be benefiting from work.
I am, as you say, publishing the review papers on 21 October, but I’m very happy that the basis on which we’ve planned this programme is robust. You mentioned monitoring and, again, you know, WEFO funding has to be very robustly monitored and assessed and evaluated. So, again, I’m very pleased that that will be done.
I think we also do have to learn from previous lessons, and I think that it’s very important that we’ve done that. I think PaCE is specifically aimed, as I say, at parents where childcare is the main barrier to training or work, unlike other ESF projects, which often have a much broader remit.
I’ve not read—you mentioned a paper from Andy Bevan, but I’d be very interested to do that. I think it’s really important that we do integrate all our programmes across Government, and I have had discussions with my colleague Julie James, the Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology. I’ve also visited Communities First in Pembroke Dock, just a couple of weeks ago, and had a similar discussion, but I think it is really important that we don’t duplicate what we’re providing and what we’re offering, but, again, that all our schemes do come together, that they’re not confusing, that they’re not duplicating and that we benefit as many people as we can.
Can I welcome this statement, Minister? Of course, the help that you’ve identified for individuals in the Communities First areas in getting back into work is very welcome. I think that, if you are able to achieve 13,000 individuals back into employment, that again will be very welcome and certainly a major step forward in terms of helping some of our most deprived areas and raising the living standards in those areas.
On the committee report on poverty, which Simon Thomas just referred to, there were two major criticisms in that report. One was that Welsh Government policies were not so much tackling poverty as alleviating it. The second criticism was that Welsh Government policies weren’t completely joined up in terms of how they dealt with poverty. I think that the committee was particularly concerned that, in terms of the economic development policies of the Welsh Government, they weren’t entirely aligned with what you’re trying to achieve through this programme and other programmes in terms of trying to tackle poverty as opposed to alleviating it. It does seem to me that there is some evidence of that in terms of what you’ve said today. We’re talking about giving people the skills and the support to go back into work in those areas, yet at the same time we are cutting further education. Apprenticeships for over-25s have also been cut and, of course, if you look at other concerns around further education, the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise in Wales, PRIME Cymru, shows that the number of adults participating in part-time courses have dropped by 47 per cent, from 90,000 to 48,000.
So, I think that the question I’m asking is: how do these programmes fit into the Government’s general programme across the whole of Wales—not just in deprived areas, across the whole of Wales—in terms of upskilling adults and upskilling particularly the over-50s, giving them opportunities to get back into work, and getting people into apprenticeships at all ages, not just the younger people.
Then the second question: you mentioned in your reply to Simon Thomas—I think you said you had committed the funding for Lift to 2018. It may have been 2017—it is 2018. That’s very welcome that you’re able to commit funding past the next budget when the finance Minister is talking about a one-year budget and we haven’t yet seen what the UK Government is going to do. But, of course, you know as well as I do that, in getting people back into work, childcare is a very important aspect of that, and yet when you were approached in terms of Flying Start in the Afan valley, you said that you couldn’t commit budget funding past April this year because you still hadn’t seen the budget. So, on the one hand you’re committing the Lift funding past this April, and on the other hand you’re saying that you can’t commit the childcare support that is helping people in Glyncorrwg and other communities in the Afan valley to get back into employment. So, I’d be grateful if you could be clear as to which budgets you are able to commit past April of this year and which you are not, and how you are joining up in terms of making sure that, for the planning past this next budget round, the Welsh Government is going to be able to provide that support for people to get back into work.
Thank you. You referred to the committee’s report, which we will be debating in the Chamber tomorrow, regarding poverty. I actually don’t agree that we just alleviate it; I do think that we do what we can to tackle the poverty. It’s very difficult; we don’t have all the levers, but I think it’s very important that we do all that we can. We’re not helped at the moment by our budget cuts, and you referred to the cuts that my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, has had to make. He didn’t want to make them, but you’ll appreciate that we’re under huge pressure with our budgets. I just think it’s very important that we do join up across Government, and I’ve mentioned in previous answers how we’re doing that with our schemes.
In relation to how many budgets I can commit to before the comprehensive spending review, ‘not many’ is the answer. Clearly, Flying Start, like Communities First, has been a significant programme of the Welsh Government, and we need to look at them going forward. Lift was for three years—it was to the end of 2017—so we’ve taken it to the end of the financial year. I do hope, as I’ve mentioned previously, that we will well surpass the target of 5,000. The fact that we’re nearly half way there by this month or next month I think shows that we will do so.
PaCE obviously goes up; it is over-25 and over. You mentioned over-50s, but, clearly, childcare is more of an issue for younger people, and we know that we need to help those young people. Certainly, with Communities First, since I’ve been in portfolio, I think it’s really vital that they help people with employability, support and training. Mike Hedges mentioned that Communities First has helped people with health and wellbeing, for instance. But, what I would like to see now is Communities First really working with those people on a one-to-one basis who are far away from the marketplace—helping them hone their skills, so that they can apply for jobs. I absolutely believe that sustainable employment is the best route out of poverty.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Finally, Jeff Cuthbert.
Diolch, Deputy LIywydd. I thank the Minister for her statement.
I agree with you, of course, in the firm belief that the best and most sustainable way out of poverty is through being in work. However, we do have to note that the phenomenon of in-work poverty has become more common in recent years, particularly among low to middle earners in many parts of my constituency—a trend, unfortunately, that looks to worsen with the Tory UK Government’s planned cuts to tax credits. This means that we need secure employment at decent wages—something, surely, that we all support. Can I say that I am very pleased to hear about the progress of the Lift programme? Minister, in light of your statement to the Chamber today, would you be able to provide Members with a little more information about how this links in with the work of Lift other Communities for Work programmes, and how their implementation will be co-ordinated with the work of the existing Communities First clusters, so that best practice is spread and we can make real and tangible gains for the benefit of our most vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities?
I thank Jeff Cuthbert for his questions.
You are absolutely right. Sustainable employment remains the best way of escaping poverty and also of avoiding poverty in the first place. So, I think we need to make sure that everyone has the skills so that they can maximise their chances of doing that. The point you make around tax credits: I think it’s really important that we challenge the mistaken view that’s coming from the UK Government. They talk about a national living wage, for instance. You know, that will not help a lot of the people who are having their working families tax credits cut. We know that it is children who will suffer the most, and it’s certainly people who are in poverty now who will be most at risk of being most affected.
Lift is based in Communities First areas. It is built on the infrastructure of Communities First, as is Communities for Work. Alongside that now we have had Parents, Childcare and Employment—a scheme announced today. That will be based in Families First and Flying Start areas because those are the areas where I think people will be known and where we are hearing that childcare is the main barrier for them—not just looking for work but also having the opportunities. So, for instance, we will help with childcare if somebody wants to have work experience, if that’s how they feel they can then go on to gain permanent employment. We will also help with work experience, as well as training opportunities and training to upskill. So, these programmes will complement each other. I don’t want to see duplication, as I said. What I think it will do is really build up people’s resilience as they look for work.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 6 is a statement by the Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology on implementing the national youth work strategy. I call the Deputy Minister, Julie James.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.
Quality youth work makes a real difference to young people’s lives, whether it is through the experiences it opens up for them or the support it offers. A key strength of a youth worker lies in their ability to build and sustain voluntary relationships with young people. When young people engage with youth workers, they find space for reflection about the direction of their lives and can be supported to build their own capacity to make wise choices and enhance their futures. Eighteen months ago we launched and published our national youth work strategy for Wales. In it, we set out our aspirations to raise the profile and status of youth work and gave focus to the role youth work plays within the youth engagement and progression framework. Substantive progress has been made in delivering on the commitments within our strategy.
We have published a new quality mark for youth work in Wales to underpin quality delivery. We have made significant progress in developing a national outcomes framework. We have undertaken research into youth work in schools—work that has helped us understand the value youth work is adding alongside formal education and the different approaches that are being taken to delivering youth work in school settings. We have established a youth work reference group to bring together expertise and provide advice to Ministers on key challenges and issues.
However, despite these positive achievements, austerity-driven cuts to public services are threatening to reveal a bleak picture in respect of future youth work provision. Some local authority youth services are already managing major cuts, with further reductions in funding expected to come. Moreover, in many areas, core funding is increasingly being replaced by short-term project funding, making provision vulnerable and undermining attempts to build a stable service platform. As a consequence, across Wales, a patchwork of youth work provision is set to emerge with the prospect that young people increasingly face a postcode lottery. Yet, we know that with strong leadership at local and national levels, coupled with effective partnership working, investment in youth work can make a real difference to national priorities. Looking to the future, I want to see youth work continuing to play its part in reducing youngsters not in education, employment or training, promoting young people’s health and wellbeing, promoting participation in community and civic life, and in reducing anti-social activity. I also want to see the capacity to deliver youth work in Wales sustained so that youth work can embrace exciting new opportunities such as those arising from the implementation of Professor Donaldson’s recommendations in ‘Successful Futures’.
In response to the drive to provide better joined-up and better co-ordinated support for young people, as orchestrated and driven forward through our youth engagement and progression framework, youth workers have been providing lead-worker support to many hundreds of young people. Keeping in touch, providing direct support and, where necessary, signposting and connecting young people with other specialist services is making a difference, and this work is enabled by better information-sharing protocols, which allow interventions to be aligned and resources to be effectively targeted.
Youth workers can have a privileged and trust-based relationship with young people, and it is these relationships that have helped them to be so successful. Youth workers are out in the community, on the streets, talking and engaging with young people. It is their methods and interactions that are helping to minimise the numbers of young people in Wales whose status is unknown and who are not engaged in employment, education and training. Indeed, in order to implement the youth engagement and progression framework many local authorities have been realigning funding streams to ensure youth-work-led services to young people are retained and that these benefits are sustained. I do not want to see accessible safe spaces for young people written off without thought to the wider knock-on cost and effects, simply because it can be hard to put a financial value on the returns made when we build young people’s resilience and engage them in constructive activities. When it comes to youth work, relatively small investments can make a real difference. The unintended consequences of seeing the capacity for youth work delivery in Wales eroded, skills lost and supportive relationships with young people broken, may be that pressures rise on other services across the wider public sector.
I am committed to the strategic ambitions set out in our national youth work strategy. To secure these ambitions, we need to build on the progress made over the last 18 months. Those delivering youth work need to be clear what they are working towards, and young people need to know what support they can rely on. For this reason, I believe a strengthened national approach is required—an approach that is capable of securing the contribution of youth work across all parts of Wales. I am not referring necessarily to a centrally-driven, one-size-fits-all approach, because we know delivery must fit local need and circumstance. However, I believe we must also establish the parameters of a core offer to all young people, an offer that recognises the contribution that both statutory and voluntary sectors bring. We must not allow immediate funding pressures to drive a strategic or operational wedge between the statutory and voluntary youth work sectors. Quite the opposite, we must look to create new synergies and look at what needs to change to enable providers to work together even more effectively. Critically, we need to agree a national outcomes framework that will support a set of national standards and help underpin lines of accountability. Through this, I believe we should move to benchmark and baseline service expectations, with our new quality mark playing an important role to ensure quality provision is provided and meets young people’s needs.
Earlier this year, with the support of the youth work reference group, we commissioned scoping work to consider potential new delivery and funding models for youth work provision across Wales. This work has stimulated the debate on the future of youth work and the relative merits of a national, regional or local approach. Last month, I accepted a recommendation from the youth work reference group that an independently-chaired sub-group be established to take this work forward and advise on solutions that will work for Wales and in the different contexts and communities throughout Wales. As discussions progress, I am committed to ensuring that young people’s views are heard and I will look to the group to provide evidence that this is the case. I will be pleased to update Members on the progress of this group in the new year.
I do not want individual local responses to austerity to result in Wales losing a precious asset, which, if safeguarded, can underpin and support our collective ambitions for young people long into the future. This is not a blame game, but a call to work together and show young people in Wales we are serious about the services that are important to them. A failure to act now risks parts of Wales losing capacity and capability that could take us decades to rebuild. I believe that youth work has a key role in underpinning delivery on our priorities in areas such as education, health and community regeneration. I take the position that we simply cannot afford to lose the contribution made by good quality youth work in Wales and that, if necessary, we must now look for new solutions that show young people we are listening to them. If putting young people at the centre means grappling with difficult changes, then I believe that is the road we must now travel.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. We share the commitment expressed by the Deputy Minister today. In thanking her for her statement, any commitment to reducing the number of people not in employment, training or education must be worthwhile. This promotes young people’s health and wellbeing, participation in community and civic life, and hopefully will engender respect for other people’s property and their equality of rights. We acknowledge that youth work recognises that young people have rights and works with them in a way that recognises young people’s responsibilities and the requirements placed upon them. Effectively-implemented youth work practice helps young people to understand their responsibilities. It supports their development to become more independent during that transition into adulthood.
We note particularly that this strategy has close synergies with the EU youth strategy, and welcome those synergies. We appreciate the value of recognising achievement, and that youth work provides an opportunity to illustrate development through accreditation, especially those types of accreditation that are well-respected and understood by employers—for example, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which gives evidence of skills in team working, decision making and communication. We note the Welsh Government’s commitment to identify and promote good youth work practice, drawing on evidence from across the United Kingdom and beyond. Achieving this aim needs to be clearly demonstrated and we look forward to receiving further statements on this important issue.
Well, I entirely agree with William Graham when he talks about the real underpinning importance of youth work. One of the reasons we’ve set up the youth work reference group is to protect provision right across Wales, to understand the contribution of both the statutory and the voluntary youth sectors, and to ensure that we work towards quality marks, which everybody understands. We understand what the offer is, we understand what the service is, and that’s why I accepted the group’s recommendation that a small sub-group takes it forward, and makes recommendations to me about the way forward. But it’s clear that we do need to have standards that are applied across the piece, as well as resolution for local needs. So, I entirely understand the point he makes, and that’s the purpose of what we’re doing.
I thank the Minister for her statement, for re-emphasising the importance of youth work, and for the commitment to looking at solutions to ensure that there is a good, viable youth service here in Wales. I just wanted to really stress as a first point how important it is that there is access to youth provision for everybody—for all young people.
I’m sure the Minister would agree that there are significant gender differences when it comes to youth work. For example, we know that at age 16 to 18, young men are much more likely to be not in employment, training or education; but with young women, that happens at a later stage. Also, I think that the important issue is that many young women who have children in the age range are able to access the youth service. I’m sure she is aware of the Chwarae Teg report in 2013, which emphasised the fact that youth services have got a key role to play in raising the aspirations of girls and young women, and that youth workers could help redress the balance when it comes to gender stereotyping. So, I think it’s really important that the strategy emphasises the evidence base about the impact of youth work, but I wondered whether the collection of gender-based evidence happens now, or whether there is any plan that this should happen, in particular in relation to raising the aspirations of girls and young women.
I thank Julie Morgan for that very important contribution. I think she actually hits the nail on the head, because what we’re talking about really is a differentiated youth service for different cohorts of young people. It’s not possible to make a one-size-fits-all strategy, and that’s what I was emphasising in terms of what we’re looking at here. But I think it is essential to have a quality mark for the services that we do fund, and that quality mark has been based on a large amount of work by a large number of youth organisations themselves coming up with it. There’s an enormous pile of supporting evidence underneath that, which we’re using to develop the central service. So, as part of the report back to me and then, eventually, to the Senedd when I bring it back to you, I’ll make sure that those differences in evidence bases are emphasised in the report, and indeed our response to them, because I do think that the different problems that arise—gender-based issues and also those for children, for young adults who are also parents, for young adults who are parentless, and so on—all need to be addressed.
Minister, I followed with interest the arguments that you put forward in your statement, but I have to say, as a statement, all I can see that you have stated is the establishment of a sub-group. I think there’s a lot more on youth work that we should have decisions on from Government than that. You give a warning in the statement against cuts removing services that will prove ultimately important and will save money ultimately, and also the importance of those safe places, something that I have seen very clearly in visiting areas in my own constituency, such as Dr Mz’s in Carmarthen. Simultaneously, you are the Government that cut the funding for the young farmers’ clubs overnight, without taking into account the importance of building a network of that kind. So, can you confirm that the Government will take no further steps of that kind, while seeking this new agreement with the majority of local governments not to proceed with cuts in those services that are so important to our young people?
The second question that arises from the statement is: you mention the quality mark for youth workers, but is it your intention and the intention of your Government to now move youth workers to register with the newly established Education Workforce Council? That was discussed as the council was established, but there is no mention in the statement as to whether that will happen or not and how it would happen either. I think everyone in this place agrees that we should do everything we can to prevent young people from falling into that NEET category and to support them in school and outwith school to gain basic qualifications and further qualifications. But what I’m not sure of is whether there is evidence that youth workers and the youth service is succeeding in doing that. So, do you have that evidence that we can reduce the number of people who are NEET through youth work? I think, if there is such evidence, then it should be made public, so that the argument can be strengthened for retaining this services at grass-roots level. I think you mentioned the publication of some independent evaluation of youth work in school in December, for example. I’d like to hear more about that.
In England, of course, there is evidence that the number of young people who become NEET is reducing as the numbers remaining in school increases, as the leaving-school age increases to 18. Therefore, what vision do you and your Government have in terms of the relationship between giving people the opportunity to remain in school, training or college, or whatever, until the age of 18 and the support work that youth work can provide? In that context, I would ask the same question as I asked of Lesley Griffiths earlier: is there a role at all here for a citizen service, as is available in Germany and in France, in order to increase the opportunities for young people who are disengaged from formal education and to provide them with the support that they need?
My very last question must be around what you are clearly hinting at but haven’t made clear in your statement, which is this idea that there should be a core offer and that that should possibly be a national core offer. What steps and what assurances can you give me and the Assembly that the core offer will not in fact become a worthless guarantee of very little support, because the work of youth services is and can be so enriching? It depends a lot on individuals and depends a lot on volunteers supporting those individuals. If we are to move to a concept of a core offer, in what way can we ensure that that doesn’t become a mechanistic response and that we lose and throw out some of the value around youth work, which you have, indeed, hinted at in your statement?
I thank Simon Thomas for that series of questions. Some of them have short answers, and some of them are much more complex, so I’ll do my best. One of the shortest is about the registration of youth workers; the answer is that, yes, we are looking at that. We are about to consult, and that process will be taken forward as part of that consultation. So, that’s pretty straightforward.
In terms of the core offer, I take his point entirely; there’s always a danger with a core offer that it becomes a ceiling and not a floor and so on, but actually it’s very much one of the things that the youth work reference group themselves threw up—they want it to be a floor, obviously. Part of the work of the sub-group is to take forward exactly how we would do that. Indeed, there are a number of options for doing that, and we’ve looked at options across various European countries and so on. But it’s very much the exact opposite of what we want to do. What we’re seeing is, because of the way that youth work is distributed through the rate support grant at the moment and not hypothecated or protected—it’s not a statutory service in many places—that actually it’s just disappearing in many bits of Wales, and the point of the core offer is we want to prevent that from happening. At the moment, we fund directly the youth progression framework people in the local authorities, and that’s obviously stopped the disappearance of those people. We do have the evidence, and I’m more than happy to write to him about the reduction in NEETs associated with the youth framework. So, I’ll write to him with the specifics, which I don’t have about my person at the moment.
It’s worth saying this, though: we also still collect all of the data necessary to actually compile those statistics. You said that the number of NEETs, as they’re called, was reducing in England, but we also know there’s a massive hidden problem in England, which is they’ve stopped collecting a lot of the data, so that, very shortly, they’re not going to have the data to be able to back that up one way or the other, and assumptions are going to have to be made, which we don’t think are helpful in targeting where the need is and where the services need to be, particularly with our declining resource issues. So, we’re determined we’ll both continue to collect the statistics necessary and to target the resource necessary to make sure that that doesn’t happen.
In terms of the quality mark, again, that was developed via the youth work reference group and the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services and a number of other voluntary and statutory agencies, and we’re very happy that it’s uniformly accepted. The reference group was vehement in their commitment to it, and actually, to be fair, the reference group has worked very hard indeed to make sure that there aren’t sectors left behind or voices unheard in that. I wish I could commit to no further cuts, but until I see what the spending review looks like, of course, no member of a responsible Government could do that. Nevertheless, one of the points of my statement today, as well as to tell you about some of the progress, is to demonstrate the Government’s commitment to maintaining youth work provision in Wales. I think it’s essential that we say that upfront, and it’s essential that we find a way to do that. We both know, indeed, all of us know—and William Graham said it in his remarks—how absolutely fundamental some of this work can be to some of the most vulnerable young people in our society, and I’m very determined to make sure that they continue to get that service.
I agree with very much of what Simon Thomas said, Deputy Minister. I think that I am quite disappointed that establishing a sub-group is what we’re doing at the moment. I think there’s a danger—. I’ve been here for four and a half years now, and I remember when I was the leader of a county council that youth services, even at that time, were under threat and there were discussions taking place. So, we’re by now talking about a period of six or seven years when these youth services have been under pressure.
May I ask you a specific question? It was said that you are still considering consulting at the moment on introducing youth workers to the Education Workforce Council. Will that be by April 2017, and is the consultation therefore going to include any proposal regarding the cost of registration for youth services? One of the problems at the moment with the education unions is the fact that nobody knows exactly what the cost will be of that new responsibility to the workforce council. May I also ask you if you’re in a position this afternoon to tell us who will be members of this sub-group that will be coming to you in the new year? And I’m also concerned as it was said when this strategy was launched, and it was said once again in a statement that’s in front of me, that the evaluation of youth workers’ work in schools was going to be completed by December this year, and also that, by then, you would be in a situation to publish good practice within local councils. Do you think that you’ll be in a situation to publish that good practice? But I think, ultimately, what concerns me is that we are discussing while Rome burns, to an extent, and I’m concerned that we may have a period here, perhaps, of two additional years of cuts to these youth services. In the county where I live now there are only four youth centres in the county, and the number of young people going to those centres, because they’re being centralised, is going down substantially. And I think that, within two years, we’ll be in a situation where the county council will say, ‘Well, there’s no demand for that service, so we’ll bring it to an end.’ What concerns me, although I think it’s a good intention on your behalf as a Government, is that, because of all the delays—some three years since the strategy was introduced or consulted upon—we’re in a situation that is very much worse than the one we were in when the strategy was first discussed.
Thank you for those remarks, and I don’t agree that we’re in a worse place. I do take your point about some of the ways that centralisation works, though, and that’s one of the issues that we want to address. And I said in my statement that although we were talking about a core function—probably a central core function—it was very important to ensure that we weren’t looking at a one-size-fits-all solution. Many of the solutions that work for youth work are very local indeed, because they have to be where the young people are themselves. And so I entirely agree with the Member’s point on that, and that is one of the things that we’ll be looking to address.
I can’t agree that we haven’t taken this forward. We’ve had a really successful implementation of the youth progression implementation framework. It’s been successful; I’m happy to share, as I say, the stats that I don’t have about my person with Members across the Chamber. And local authorities’ youth workers, statutory and voluntary—. We’ve had a very successful conference on it, and they were universal in their acclaim for the strategy and how it works. I also think that you can see that reflected in the work of Professor Donaldson and some of the suggestions made by the Minister for Education and Skills about the way we’ll take some of the Donaldson proposals forward around the citizenship function that Simon Thomas mentioned earlier, but also around the way that we integrate some of the signposting and some of the guidance and some of the other very important work in schools around a specific function in the school that takes this forward. And that will be a mixture probably of youth workers, specialist qualified teachers, careers advisers, and so on, so that we don’t have the situation that the Minister has referred to several times, where a subject teacher overburdened with work is also trying to explain how relationships work, how life works and so on. We need to have a very specific offer as part of the Donaldson review of the curriculum that addresses much of those issues. And I think the Minister’s idea of having that addressed in that way is an excellent one, which we should all get behind.
What we’re also saying with the sub-group is that the sub-group is about the implementation phase; we aren’t having a review to see what we think about youth work. We’ve arrived at where we want to be with youth work. The sub-group is to make sure that we do a swift piece of work encompassing all of the people who are represented in the youth work sector—and they are many and varied as I’m sure the Member knows—to make sure that the implementation that we come up with doesn’t have unintended consequences and does meet the bill that we’re after. We will also have to have complicated discussions with local authorities around how it’s funded, whether we do something with the revenue support grant, whether we hypothecate, whether we centrally fund some parts of it, and so on. Those are complex discussions that will need to be taken forward and we’ll want to have a firm evidence base before we start those complex discussions, and that’s one of the purposes of the sub-group.
Can I thank the Deputy Minister for her statement today? A commitment, of course, to updating the youth national service strategy was included in our 2011 programme for government, so I am pleased that progress is being made, and you’re absolutely right to remind us that, of course, both the statutory and third sector provide youth work facilities within Wales. As a former part-time youth worker, I can say that youth work is fun and enables young people to participate in a range of challenging, non-formal and informal learning and development opportunities. This is all the more important given the many challenges that young people face in the world today, especially in terms of competing in the global labour market in due course.
Now, on this point, I note the involvement of youth work, mentioned in your statement, to reduce NEETs, and I acknowledge the points—the fair points—that Simon Thomas has made in this regard, but can I ask you to provide Members with details about the role of youth work in assisting with essential skills for young people, encouraging greater learning all round and helping to ensure that young people in Wales have the necessary skills, both hard and soft, to get ahead and prosper in life in whatever form of education, employment or training they choose?
Thank you for those important remarks, Jeff Cuthbert. We know about, and I absolutely acknowledge, the work that youth work contributes in a wide variety of settings. It’s important, as I say, to emphasise that youth workers engage with young people in public spaces where they are on the streets, sometimes in gangs. We need specialist projects, as I said to Julie Morgan, for people who are homeless, unemployed, young parents, parentless young people, some in hospital, some with health and wellbeing needs and so on. One of the great strengths of youth work is the breadth of support and the in-depth and personalised support that it can produce and share with young people. We know that youth workers stick by troubled young people through thick and thin. We know that they can assist with the needs assessments that are necessary to get them onto the right pathways for them in their lives.
So, youth workers took on many of the lead worker roles in the youth engagement progression framework, for example, making a real difference to how young people, who are perhaps out of school for short periods or even longer periods of time, actually get their essential skills training and get their needs assessment. So, I agree with him that that is one of the purposes of this piece of work going forward. It’s one of the things that the sub-group is looking at. It’s one of the things I’d just reference in terms of the Minister’s work with Donaldson, and it’s one of the ways that the Government is looking to integrate youth services into the education offer for young people overall.
Could I thank the Minister for her statement? You said, in outlining your approach, that you wanted to ensure that local need and local circumstances were reflected in what may become a national offer. What steps will you take to ensure access to service in rural areas? You will be aware that, following an initial decision to cut funding for the national Young Farmers’ Clubs movement, the Minister Carl Sargeant did actually then provide funding for this financial year for that organisation. There are over 5,000 young people who are members of the YFC movement across Wales. It’s Wales’s largest rural youth engagement organisation, run by its members for its members, with many, many hours of volunteer support, and I’m just wondering how you see an organisation such as the YFC fitting in. I declare an interest that two of my daughters are members of Pontfaen YFC.
Also, could you tell us about provision through the medium of Welsh? We spend a lot of time in this Chamber talking about how we can support and develop the language. One of the key principles of that is that children have opportunities to use the Welsh language outside of school. That is particularly important in areas where, perhaps, Welsh isn’t the community language. I know, for instance, in my own area, that there are major concerns about the sustainability, given the budget cuts that Powys County Council are proposing, to ensure that there are youth services available through English but also, for those people wishing to access Welsh-language services, that they are also available, especially in areas where, as I said, Welsh isn’t the community language.
Thank you for those remarks, Kirsty Williams. I think you make a very important point there on the last point especially. One of the reasons that we’ve had the youth work reference group was to make sure that we encompassed the vast variety that there is in youth work, including through the medium of Welsh and, indeed, actually, some other minority languages in some cities. We have a very active presence by youth workers who speak Welsh as their first language, and indeed in their communities, on that reference group. One of the things we want to do in establishing this core offer is to make sure that the core offer includes such things as Welsh-medium provision where that’s appropriate and, indeed, in communities where Welsh is spoken but, as you say, it isn’t the community language. We know that it’s very important for the Welsh language to continue on into adult life that young people are able to use it outside of the formal school setting and, indeed, in social events and so on. That’s very much alive inside the reference group.
In terms of the young farmers, I’m not sure if it is an interest any more, but I certainly was a member myself in a dim and distant past, and I certainly do appreciate the support that a wide-ranging group of that sort can provide in rural areas. One of the reasons, again, for this core provision, plus the outreach across the piece, is to make sure that a wide variety of youth work organisations, support groups, voluntary sector groups and statutory sector groups survive without the inexorable funding rounds that come. I spoke specifically in my statement about the dissolution of youth service into short-term projects with little or no longevity for either the workers or the young people. We know that that doesn’t work, so, one of the things we’ll be looking at very seriously, as I said, is the way that we fund this. Part of the work of the sub-group is to do the initial piece of work about coming up with a concrete proposal for how to cover off all of those heads, so that we can take that forward with partners in a discussion about how we take it into the future.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Finally, Keith Davies.
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd. I should declare an interest, being vice-president of the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services and an ambassador for the Duke of Edinburgh scheme.
We all appreciate, Minister, your statement this afternoon, and appreciate the benefits that youth work brings to Wales: the holistic gaining of confidence in informal as well as formal settings, and personal and social education, creating young leaders of the future. We were all given a copy last July of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme on taking the lead—the young leaders impact project.
Also, you’ve talked about skills building, teamwork, communication and self-motivation, which are part of Donaldson and of the Welsh baccalaureate, so it’s important that we see integration within our education structure. Not only does youth work fulfil strategies and ends in itself, but it also contributes heavily to our education agenda, breaking the link between poverty and educational attainment, and, as I said, creating leaders of the future. Without effective and strategic youth work, we lose one pillar of meeting our tackling poverty action plan and lowering the number of NEETs. This is why I’m pleased that the opening paragraphs of this strategy grasped what I consider the key point: youth work needs to be seen as a strategic service; it is not an aspect of leisure, and that must be reflected in all aspects of our strategy and supported by a mechanism structure.
You’ve talked about—or, I think somebody else has mentioned—the CWVYS manifesto and the national model and the coherent offer that’s in it, rolling out youth workers and votes at 16 and 17. I was pleased to hear Kirsty Williams talk about Welsh-medium provision, because the Duke of Edinburgh scheme is offered across Wales bilingually. So, in whatever area of Wales you are, the Duke of Edinburgh scheme will meet that.
Welsh programmes are delivered through both statutory and voluntary sectors, and schools are an important part of engaging young people in the sector. I’m pleased that stronger mapping of existing provision within local authorities is included in the youth engagement and progression framework. How will this complement the Welsh Government-announced impact review of youth work practice in schools by 2017? What are the terms of reference of the latter and what best lever options do you have to act as vehicles for improvements pending the results of the mapping exercise?
On that last one, I haven’t got the terms of reference with me, so I’ll write to the Member outlining what the terms of reference are. But, overall, what we’re looking at is improving and maintaining our evidence base. As I said earlier to other Members, we know that, in England, many local authorities just stopped collecting the statistics and, indeed, stopped delivering the service. We think it’s essential to have the evidence base necessary to target some of the work that Keith Davies talked about. It’s one of the reasons that we think that youth work in schools is so important, because it’s about getting an association with young people at an early enough stage and then maintaining that contact as they move out into their adult lives.
So, it’s important to us that we maintain all of those links; that we integrate it into the curriculum, especially with the Donaldson review, as we take that forward; and, that we acknowledge and identify the myriad of good practice there is in youth work right across Wales. I know the Member is familiar with it, but the quality mark for youth work in Wales, as he knows, comes in three different stages and is both a quality mark for self-assessment and something that can be awarded to an organisation for excellence. We think that there are better routes to ensuring excellence, funding streams and continuity than the routes that we’re currently using, and the sub-group will be looking at a large number of ways that we can improve on those outcomes.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 7 is a statement by the Deputy Minister for Health: saving lives from sepsis—an update on progress. I call the Deputy Minister, Vaughan Gething.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Sepsis is a time-critical, potentially deadly medical emergency. It is caused by the body’s overwhelming inflammatory response to infection. If it is not treated, sepsis will cause multi-organ failure and death. Septic shock has a 50 per cent death rate. Recognising the signs and symptoms of sepsis is key to making sure people get access to the timely, basic and cost-effective interventions that save lives. In the UK, it is estimated that there are 100,000 cases of sepsis, causing over 37,000 deaths a year. In Wales, that equates to 5,000 cases of sepsis and around 1,850 deaths. It’s a condition that kills more people than breast cancer, bowel cancer and prostate cancer combined. The sepsis death rate is on a par with road accidents and yet we hear so little about it or the groundbreaking work that is taking place in Wales to both improve the recognition of sepsis and, of course, the treatment and outcomes.
Early recognition is crucial to life-saving treatment and making sure the patient has basic care, including antibiotics and fluids, within the first hour. That’s why the Sepsis Six has been developed; it consists of three diagnostic tests and three therapeutic steps, all to be delivered within that first hour of the initial diagnosis. Developing tools to help healthcare staff recognise, react and respond to sepsis has been a key priority in Wales. This is a major programme of work, which has been supported by the 1000 Lives Improvement campaign. In 2012, Wales was the first healthcare system in the world to implement the national early-warning score as standard in all acute hospitals, a system that helps healthcare professionals to identify and assess very sick patients.
We’ve introduced case-note mortality reviews in all of our acute hospitals—the medical notes of all patients who die in hospital are systematically reviewed to check whether there were any quality issues associated with their care. This not only provides a level of reassurance about care quality, but it also identifies themes and areas for improvements. Sepsis care has emerged as a theme from these reviews in each of our health boards. This has enabled NHS Wales to target improvements in the rapid identification of and response to sepsis. We are now seeing the results of this significant work. I’m pleased to be able to announce that a recent analysis of Welsh patient episode statistics, and the two particular classifications used to identify sepsis, has shown a significant reduction in the percentage of deaths from sepsis from 29 per cent to 24 per cent. Now, that 5 per cent reduction equates to as many as 500 fewer people a year dying from sepsis in Wales, and there appears to be a link between this huge improvement, the implementation of the national early-warning score in all Welsh hospitals and the participation of all health boards and NHS trusts in the 1000 Lives rapid response to acute illness programme.
The quality of care is also key to improving the treatment of sepsis. Critical care outreach teams—which are made up of expert clinicians who educate other hospital staff about early sepsis recognition and treatment, and provide a rapid response to patients with sepsis—have played an important role in preventing sepsis in patients. We now expect this to be a focus in all health boards’ critical care improvement plans.
Our delivery plan for critical care has been developed with clinicians to improve services and outcomes for the most seriously ill patients. The second annual report, which was published in August, shows that survival rates are improving: 83 per cent of patients were discharged to another ward in the last year, up from 79 per cent in 2011-12. Readmission rates to critical care within 48 hours are very low, at less than 1 per cent. This highlights the effectiveness of the care provided by our NHS, through discharge and beyond, into community-based NHS care.
If we are to reduce avoidable deaths from sepsis we cannot just look at what happens in one part of our health service in isolation; we have to look at what happens right across the NHS. That requires healthcare professionals from primary care and different parts of the hospital network to work together. We’ve achieved much in a short space of time in Wales, but we know that there’s still a lot more that we can do to build on this success. This is a process of continual learning and improvement.
The introduction of sepsis bags and boxes, which makes the basic equipment and medicines for rapid treatment available in one place, in some hospital wards has been pioneering, but that needs to be available in every hospital, together with the knowledge about how to recognise the Sepsis Six. Providing the right care at the right time and in the right place isn’t limited to one episode of care.
We know that many patients are admitted through emergency departments and medical admissions units with sepsis, having experienced delays in recognising the symptoms in the community and consequential delays to treatment. It’s essential that work to recognise sepsis early in our hospitals is shared with our community services, including the Welsh ambulance service. We need to follow up patients with sepsis and assess their longer-term outcomes. The integrated healthcare system we have in Wales provides us with the platform to do just that.
I had the pleasure of hosting the first Wales sepsis reception here in the Senedd last week. The UK Sepsis Trust, with clinicians from across Wales and sepsis survivors, set out the scale of the challenge. They also recognised the commitment of our clinicians to continue making a difference and to continue to seek further improvement. The hard work of everyone in developing and implementing sepsis screening tools and care bundles is making a difference to the care we provide to people across Wales and is saving lives. This must be now our consistent response to every acutely-ill patient. I’d like to congratulate our NHS on this tremendous and world-class achievement. We should be proud of what our NHS has achieved and celebrate the fact that Wales is a country that is leading the way across the world with sepsis care and treatment. I’m determined that we maintain this progress and continue to lead the way in tackling this major cause of harm and mortality.
Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your statement. Like you, I want to start my contribution by paying tribute to the hard work of national health service staff, and indeed the UK Sepsis Trust, for their efforts in highlighting the danger that sepsis presents to patients, and the work that they have done to reduce the incidence of mortality from sepsis here in Wales, and indeed, in respect of the UK Sepsis Trust, elsewhere as well across the UK.
I first became aware of the efforts through the 1000 Lives Campaign as a result of a visit to Glan Clwyd Hospital, where I saw at first hand the use of the new scorecards, which were being used at that hospital as part of the pilot scheme that was then rolled out across the country. I know how effective it was at preventing a number of deaths in that hospital from sepsis. So, I’m very pleased to see that that is now embedded, particularly into our emergency departments where, very often, the first signs of sepsis are picked up.
I’ve got a few questions, though, Minister, as you might imagine. I am concerned. You make reference to critical care in your statement. Of course, we do know that there are concerns—and there have been for some time—about the capacity that we have in Wales in terms of critical care beds, and, notwithstanding the fact that there have been some new investments into critical care over the past few years, I know that those concerns about capacity still exist, particularly amongst the critical care consultants around Wales. I wonder whether you could provide us with an update on whether you feel now, as a Government, that the capacity within our critical care system meets the demands that are being placed upon it, because I don’t see any evidence that that balance—the correct balance—has been struck to date.
You also make reference to the sepsis bags and boxes. Again, you have suggested that it’s up to the NHS to get these things rolled out across the board so that they feature everywhere because it is good practice, but why aren’t you issuing ministerial guidance requiring that these things are on every single ward so that there is speedy access to the resources within those bags and boxes in the event of sepsis being identified as a result of the new scores when they are worked out?
Can you also tell us—. You mentioned the mortality reviews and the fact that those mortality reviews had identified some changes in practice that might be necessary as a result of sepsis. Can you tell us how many of those mortality reviews identified sepsis as an issue for which improvements could have been made and, in particular, whether any of those cases involve hospital-acquired infections? You, as Deputy Minister, will be aware that, whilst the national health service has been reporting reductions in MRSA, E. coli infections and other hospital-acquired infections, which is obviously very welcome—and clostridium difficile infections, which is obviously very welcome—unfortunately, the veracity, the quality, of information that some health boards have provided we know has been questionable, particularly given the governance work that was done by the Wales Audit Office and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales in north Wales, which suggested that the information that was flowing back to the Welsh Government from that health board was clearly inaccurate and wasn’t properly recording the number of incidents of hospital-acquired infection, which, unfortunately, led to some deaths in that region.
So, perhaps you can answer those specific questions. But I do welcome the progress that has been made. It’s wonderful to see that hundreds of deaths have been prevented so far as a result of this important work. I want to commend those staff once again for the efforts that they have made, and I want to see what we can do to further improve these results so that we can see fewer sepsis deaths in future.
Thank you for the questions and the recognition of the issue. When I met with clinicians and sepsis survivors last week, one of the points that came up quite frequently in the conversation was awareness of the condition—not just public awareness but, in particular, awareness among the wider clinical community in both secondary care and also within the community as well. Unfortunately, a large part of the reason why significant harm or mortality occurs is that people aren’t aware, potentially, of the nature of the condition. There was one particularly affecting patient story of a teenager who died and wasn’t aware until far too late that it was potentially an issue. So, there is still a way to go in having a much greater level of awareness among the public and our clinical community of the condition itself.
Turning to the questions, in terms of the specific concerns that you ended on, and case note mortality reviews, this is a process that puts us at the forefront of understanding the quality of care that’s provided and properly reviewing and learning where we can make improvements. In my statement, I indicated that, from patient episode statistics, we have seen a fall in the number of sepsis deaths. Now, if you’ve got particular concerns about the way in which case note mortality reviews are being undertaken, I’ll happily deal with those and take those up in writing, and I’ll happily talk to you outside this meeting. The point is that the reviews have to be accurate and have to lead to a level of shared learning and understanding. It’s not about trying to hold people accountable in the sense of going after people. It’s really, ‘What’s happened? How can we understand how we got to that point? And how do we then improve the quality of care that’s being delivered right through the NHS system?’ That’s why we’ve invested in understanding the way in which IT talks to each other and the way we can have a much more joined-up and integrated system between primary community care and secondary care as well, because, sadly, there are particular barriers that still exist in having the right information provided to the clinician providing care at that time.
On your broader point about critical care and intensive care, the biggest part of our challenge, as we recognise from expert reviews done within this Assembly term, was making the best use of the capacity that we have. I also recognise the issues that have been highlighted, from the time that I was on the Health and Social Care Committee through to now, about whether we have capacity and demand properly matched. So, I won’t try and pretend to anyone here or otherwise that we understand the perfect mix we have now and it’s where we want it to be. The challenge is: how do we, within the financial envelope and the resource envelope, in terms of the human resources that we have, with the staff that we have in the system, and the ability to invest in different parts of the service, ensure that we have the right capacity in the right place? Because that’s part of our challenge, in terms of, ‘Where is that?’ Interestingly, when I had my late-night odyssey, going through the different out-of-hours services in north Wales—I visited all three major sites in the one evening, which was a challenge, but really quite inspirational, seeing the commitment of staff and also the improvement that they are making to out-of-hours services in north Wales—I had an opportunity to see some of the investment that's been made in Glan Clwyd with the new intensive care and to see the step change in improvement. It really is a significant improvement for patients and for staff.
So, there is ongoing investment; this isn't a case of refusing to recognise a challenge that exists and not investing in the service. The challenge always is: how do we understand what works, how do we understand what we need to do better, and where can we and should we invest to improve the service and, of course, the working environment for staff? And that goes into this broader point about reviewing progress. A key to the improvement we've seen has been the work of 1000 Lives, the buy-in of clinicians in understanding the evidence of what works, and then progressively spreading that out, and that's what I'm particularly keen to see. I want to see a more demanding approach taken in each of our centres, and a greater level of understanding and the use of evidence right across the clinical community to continue improving care in this area and to continue saving lives.
I thank the Deputy Minister for his statement. I won’t rehearse the importance of this issue, as that has been outlined already in the statement and it is important that we should be very aware of the risk posed by sepsis and the fact that sepsis itself does take the lives of so many more people than some of those diseases that we may be more familiar with discussing in this Assembly, and therefore I welcome the steps that have been taken to reduce instances of sepsis among our population and within our hospitals. It appears that the steps taken are coming to fruition.
I do have a few questions, therefore: first of all, you have outlined national plans here, with national outcomes related to them. Of course, when we look at work around mortality reviews, we are aware that there are differences that have emerged there between different hospitals in Wales over the past few years. Therefore, I was wondering whether it would be possible for you to give us some idea this afternoon of where you think there is good practice and where this work is more effective than in other areas of Wales where progress perhaps hasn’t been as swift. Because the pattern that we’re familiar with, and you’re certainly familiar with as Deputy Minister, is that we don’t always see consistency across Wales in the context of an area such as this one, and so perhaps you may have some comments to make on the consistency of the improvements that you have highlighted throughout Wales.
Very briefly then on the importance that is noted in the statement of awareness within community services, GP surgeries, and the ambulance service too, what are the steps, given that those areas and that workforce is so dispersed? What practical steps are you taking as a Government, as the NHS, to ensure that awareness of sepsis is there at an early stage as individuals are assessed, and how can we tackle this in the community before people even get to hospital?
Thank you for the series of questions. I'll start with the point where you started in the commentary. I don't think anyone should take for granted that there will be a rising level of awareness of this condition. Many of us who are here now only learnt properly of the condition during our term in this particular term of the Assembly, so there is still a significant job of work to do in raising awareness, and that's why this statement's been made today, to recognise the need to raise awareness and to recognise the progress that NHS Wales is making.
In terms of your point about mortality reviews and broader improvement, we're seeing improvement on a range of different fronts, and one of the things that I was particularly taken by—. I was in the Rhondda yesterday, visiting an ambulance station, and what was particularly interesting there was that, almost every part of the station you looked, there was a notice about sepsis, and it was very, very visible in a way that, when I started in this Assembly, you didn't see. And so there has been a real raising of the profile from amongst the service. Also, in talking to staff, there is much a greater awareness from the staff themselves about the issues. That gives us cause for being optimistic about the fact that the profile we want it to have is actually starting to go through. If, in that part of the sector, we’re seeing more staff being more generally aware of the risk, and of the Sepsis Six and the things to look out for, I think that should give us some comfort, that there is a message getting through—but it’s no cause for taking our foot off, in a sense, and thinking that therefore means the job is done. There’s a constant need to reinforce the message about the sort of treatment we want to see, including in the community—and I want to recognise it was another point you made, about where do we want to see improvement made. But as I said in my statement, one of the things that we’ve done is recognise the way that the Sepsis Six has been provided and the way that clinicians are now given a more consistent basis on which to look at and treat patients, but also, nationally, the early warning score as well. The consistent demand to see that delivered across each of our acute hospital sites has been really important in the improvement that’s taken place.
At the reception, Chris Hancock from 1000 Lives was able to set out a range of work that’s being undertaken, and the fact that clinicians across Wales are recognising the need to do this. Intensive care clinicians recognise this because they see it in the patients who come through for them and they’re dealing with the very endgame of it. So, there’s a real recognition right across the clinical community about the need to improve. If you’re looking for somewhere to look at for impressive practice, the presentation made by Paul Morgan from Cardiff and Vale was very impressive, too. In this sense there’s a whole range of clinicians who are very happy to tell you at length what they’re doing and what they see, and the improvement they’ve seen in the last two or three years. Apart from highlighting the reality of the number of people who pass away each year—it would effectively fill the main theatre of the millennium centre, at present—it’s also about the recognition that different parts of the system now see their responsibility and the need to do something about it.
So, I wouldn’t highlight any particular health board as being a leader. I would highlight individual practice that exists and the fact that 1000 Lives, as a programme, is supposed to be there to deliver that much more consistent approach, and to understand where variation exists. I’m really pleased to see this is being led by the clinical community themselves. This isn’t about me deciding, in a ministerial office, ‘You will do something about it’. Clinicians are taking ownership of the service themselves, and they’re working with the engaged patient groups from the third sector to ensure there is a real drive for further commitment and improvement.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I welcome the statement made by the Deputy Minister. It’s very encouraging, and there is definite progress. Most of the questions I wanted to ask have been asked, but I want to use the opportunity to draw the Minister’s attention to the work of my constituent, Terence Canning, and his family from Llandaff North, who are campaigning to stop people dying from sepsis after the death of his brother, Mark. Mark was a fit and health 41-year-old when he died, leaving behind a wife and a four-year-old daughter. His brother feels that if he’d known about the illness, he could have got treatment in time to save his life. So, his brother now works for the UK Sepsis Trust, and the family campaign to raise awareness. Does the Deputy Minister agree that there is a role for families that have been touched in this way to spread awareness and to use the knowledge that they have and their experiences to raise the profile of this illness, so that what happened o them doesn’t happen to so many other people?
Yes, and I thank the Member for pointing out that particular individual and the example. He represents many other families in the same position. I met Terence Canning and his mother last week. She was a very impressive woman as well. It was particularly striking that his brother Mark died when he was 41, as you say; I’m 41, and it did reinforce some of the points about how different people are taken at different points in their life, and how quickly that happened as well, because of the lack of recognition of his condition. It really does reinforce the point, not just about the fact that there are a number of people who are aware of the condition because it affected them, but the broader public and the need to raise awareness too. Terence Canning is a really inspiring example of someone who’s prepared to do something, and his work here in Wales and across the UK is not just inspiring for other patient groups and other individuals; clinicians respond to the passion and the engagement that he’s provided. I hope that in the future there’ll be a further opportunity for Terence Canning to come here to explain the work that he has done, again with clinicians, over this next year, and to explain the further levels of improvement that they want to see, because whilst those stories are inspirational about the things that people give, it also reminds us why we want to see further improvement, so that more people aren’t put in his position of losing a brother and seeing a family bereaved at that point in their lives. A truly inspirational man. I didn’t realise at the time that he was one of your constituents, but I certainly do now.
Can I thank the Deputy Minister for his statement this afternoon? Deputy Minister, you will be aware that, if the symptoms of sepsis are spotted early enough, a patient can in many cases avoid a stay in hospital altogether. Your statement this afternoon has recognised the need for a better understanding in primary care of the symptoms and treatment of sepsis. Yet, it seems that the statistics that you’ve quoted—they are very welcome statistics—demonstrate progress we’re making in a secondary care setting. Are you, as a Welsh Government, measuring how many cases of sepsis that end up in secondary care, often in intensive care or high dependency units, were missed at an earlier opportunity, potentially in primary care, so that we have an idea about whether the aims of your campaign and the aims of the work that’s being carried out to try and develop better early diagnosis is actually making a difference?
Deputy Minister, you will also be aware that the Sepsis Six requires doctors to start broad-spectrum antibiotic use within an hour. We spend a great deal of time in this Chamber talking about access to A&E departments, and we often think about conditions such as heart attacks, stroke, trauma as being the reasons why we need A&E departments as widespread as we do. But actually, in terms of patient outcome, it’s respiratory distress and sepsis where that time is absolutely critical. I wonder how, when planning to look at potential further reconfiguration of emergency services across Wales, access to a quick diagnosis and treatment of sepsis will take part in your thinking.
On the issue of broad-spectrum antibiotics, which is, as you will know, part of the Sepsis Six, a speedy move to a narrow-spectrum antibiotic, following culture and sensitivity results, will actually have a huge range of benefits. Is actually reduces costs. It decreases incidents of superinfection and actually helps us in our battle to minimise the development of antibiotic-resistant bugs. Therefore, there’s an opportunity to look at whether we have enough pathology and lab services operating across Wales to make sure that we can provide clinicians with as quick an opportunity as possible to be able to identify specific strains of infection and allow them to move their patients from broad-spectrum onto narrow-spectrum antibiotics as quickly as possible, as the most effective way of intervening. Are you confident that we have those facilities? Again, as politicians, we very rarely give a lot of consideration to them, but they are absolutely vital to the smooth working of a hospital system.
Thank you for the comments and the questions. I’ll deal with your final point about lab capacity and the ability to move from broader-range to narrow-range antibiotics. It’s part of the point about treating the particular condition that’s in front of you and the particular impact on that individual. Certainly, in the work of 1000 Lives and in the work that’s been presented to me, no-one has come to me and said that there was a problem or a challenge in capacity. But, of course, as we seek to improve what happens, we’ll always need to think about whether we’ve got capacity in the right place, whether it is joined up, what exists in what particular site and, regardless of where the individual is, whether the right care is there for them as well.
In terms of your invitation to comment on a future reconfiguration of emergency care, I will politely decline, because I think when we look at this I’m rather more interested in thinking about how we look at improvement in its broader sense. How do we look at the work that you started off on in terms of early recognition being crucial, to actually seeing improved outcomes, and the need to see that happen in the community-based care that takes place? Then, if there is to be the emergency service being called on—the Welsh ambulance service—that they recognise their part in it and their part in actually continuing that treatment. That’s the whole point, because the treatment journey isn’t simply about getting someone into an ambulance, scooping them up and giving them treatment somewhere else. It’s actually about the treatment that takes place there and the assessment that’s made. That’s why, for example, the digipen technology going in will help to ensure that that information is available almost in real time. So, people don’t need to hand over individual paper sheets that can get lost.
As you then review the effectiveness of what’s happened—points have been made by a range of people—the effectiveness of treatment, that understanding if something’s been missed, or whether something can be improved upon, that will really help with that audit trail, as well as the here and now treatment decisions that are being made by clinicians at every point in that journey. That’s why I particularly raised the point about mortality reviews, and that’s why the 1000 Lives improvement is so important, because that’s where we’ll see the real evidence of what’s happening in practice, and that will inform the decisions that any responsible Government should make about how the services are configured, whether the capacity is in the right place to deliver the right care, at the right time and in the right place, as I will continue to say. Now, I think that consistent approach will really help us to do what we can and should do. As I said, this isn’t about the Government saying, ‘We will take credit for what’s happening’, this is about recognition of the condition and recognition of the excellence that exists already and the commitment from amongst our staff to continue to deliver outcomes that really will save lives. I just want to end by thanking again the staff of the NHS for all the work that they’ve done and the committed third sector patient groups, and to recognise we are making real progress in this area in NHS Wales. The challenge, of course, is how to make further progress in the future.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Thank you, Deputy Minister.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
Item 8 is the Town and Country Planning (Power to Override Easements and Applications by Statutory Undertakers) (Wales) Order 2015. I call on the Minister for Natural Resources to move the motion. Carl Sargeant.
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:
Approves that the draft The Town and Country Planning (Power to Override Easements and Applications by Statutory Undertakers) (Wales) Order 2015 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 22 September 2015.
I formally move.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
There is no debate. Therefore, the proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer
That concludes today’s business.
The meeting ended at 17:12.