|Carwyn Jones AC|
|Gareth Bennett AC|
|Huw Irranca-Davies AC|
|Jenny Rathbone AC|
|John Griffiths AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Leanne Wood AC|
|Mark Isherwood AC|
|Mohammad Asghar AC|
|Gareth Thomas||Cynghorydd Polisi, Diwygio Etholiadol, Is-adran Llywodraeth Leol, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Policy Adviser, Electoral Reform, Local Government Division, Welsh Government|
|Julie James AC||Y Gweinidog Tai a Llywodraeth Leol|
|Minister for Housing and Local Government|
|Lisa James||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr yr Is-adran Democratiaeth Llywodraeth Leol, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director, Local Government Democracy Division, Welsh Government|
|Marie Brousseau-Navarro||Cyfarwyddwr Polisi, Deddfwriaeth ac Arloesi, Comisiynydd Cenedlaethau’r Dyfodol Cymru|
|Director for Policy, Legislation and Innovation, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales|
|Sophie Howe||Comisiynydd Cenedlaethau’r Dyfodol Cymru|
|Future Generations Commissioner for Wales|
|Catherine Hunt||Ail Glerc|
|Gwyn Griffiths||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Lisa Griffiths||Dirprwy Glerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau||1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest|
|2. Ymchwiliad i Hawliau Pleidleisio i Garcharorion: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth gyda'r Gweinidog Tai a Llywodraeth Leol||2. Inquiry into Voting Rights for Prisoners: Evidence Session with Minister for Housing and Local Government|
|3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd ar gyfer Eitemau 4, 7 ac 8||3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to Resolve to Exclude the Public from Items 4, 7 and 8|
|5. Craffu ar waith Comisiynydd Cenedlaethau’r Dyfodol: Craffu Blynyddol||5. Future Generations Commissioner: Annual Scrutiny|
|6. Papurau i’w Nodi||6. Papers to Note|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:32.
The meeting began at 09:32.
May I welcome everyone to this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee? Item 1 on our agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We haven't received any apologies. Are there any declarations of interest? No.
We will move on, then, to item 2, which is our last evidence session on our inquiry into voting rights for prisoners, and I'm very pleased to welcome Julie James, Minister for Housing and Local Government, together with two of her officials, Lisa James, deputy director in the local government democracy division, and Gareth Thomas, policy adviser in the electoral reform local government division. Welcome to all three of you. Perhaps I might begin with the first question, which is how you think that public opinion can be reconciled with human rights obligations with regard to these matters.
Well, I think that's quite a big question, Chair. As we've seen in a number of policy areas over the years, public opinion changes. Sometimes, legislation leads the way to that change and sometimes legislation follows a change in public opinion. What we're proposing as part of the local government Bill at the moment is to enfranchise some prisoners. We haven't yet hit on what category, or what level or whatever. I'm very much looking forward to the committee's recommendations in that regard. But there's no doubt in my mind that there are some obvious categories of prisoner for whom depriving them of their civic responsibilities is a step too far. So, for example, I, personally—this is a very personal point of view, it's not necessarily a Government point of view—think that going to prison is a punishment in itself and that the time you spend in prison should be a time spent in rehabilitating you and in encouraging you to take a full part in your rights and responsibilities as a citizen. I don't really understand how we can have that as a philosophy if at the same time we deprive people of their right to partake in civil society. So, for example, at the moment, theoretically, if you're on remand or if you're awaiting sentence—. There's a large number of people in prison who already have the right to vote because they're not convicted. But where you're convicted of, for example, an offence of poverty, as I would call it—and that's a very political statement; so, an offence of having not paid your television licence or having had a small debt that you didn't pay or weren't able to pay—to also lose your right to vote seems to me a step too far. So, I think there are sets of prisoners who it's obvious that the public would feel, when the argument's put to them, should be allowed to vote, and then there's a sliding scale upwards to a set of prisoners where, probably, we would all feel that they shouldn't be allowed to vote. And it's about where that line, if you like, can be drawn, and whether you think that the Government is a leader or an opinion follower in that regard, and I personally think we should be a leader.
Is there a contradiction in what you've just said, Minister? Because I think you started off, didn't you, by setting out your general view that loss of liberty, then, is the punishment and time spent in prison should be about rehabilitation, and an important part of that is connection to society, and the right to vote is part of that. So, that seems like a fairly clear statement, but then you talk about the sliding scale and a sort of cut-off point where that doesn't apply. Is there a contradiction?
Personally, if it was up to me—and again, I emphasise very much it's my own personal opinion and it's not something that's open to the Welsh Government because of the way that the devolution settlement is currently constructed—but if it were up to me, then I would have the judge make that decision at the point of sentencing for each individual, because it should be something that is part of the consideration that you give in deciding what that individual's sentence should look like. Now, we're not proposing that, for very good reason, which is that that's outwith the devolution settlement and we don't want to do something that will end up being challenged. But if we had criminal justice devolved to us, which I very much hope we will have one day, then looking to see how sentencing policy works, including what is done with people's civil liberties, would be something I personally wanted to do. That's not a discussion we've had, because currently it's not within the devolution settlement.
Okay. I'll bring Huw in at this stage, because I think Huw wants to explore these general matters a little further. Huw.
Yes. I'm interested in the core principles that the Welsh Government will come up with on this, as well as your own individual perspective as the Minister in pole position on this. In the ministerial paper submitted to us, it says the administratively simpler solutions are those at either end of the debate, namely keeping the existing very limited provision for prisoner voting, or legislating to enable all prisoners from Wales to vote. But you just talked about a sliding scale. If it's a mixture of pragmatism and principle, then wouldn't it be logical to say you either keep it as it is, and some prisoners have got the vote—they're the ones on remand; there are four categories of prisoners who currently can get the vote; just keep it as it is—or do the whole thing? I'm just testing your thoughts but also the Welsh Government position. If it's a point of principle about rehabilitation, does that not just extend to all prisoners?
That's one of the reasons I was very keen on what the committee would find in terms of the evidence that the committee has taken, because, actually, we don't have that much evidence. We've consulted with all of the officials who are responsible for administering elections and so on, and with the UK Government. The UK Government's response to the Hirst judgment has been extremely limited, as you know. That is yet to be tested in the courts, but it's holding as a political agreement at the moment. I mean, I'm expressing my own view, but we don't really have that much evidence. Personally, I am very concerned about the large numbers of people who serve short sentences, which are quite destructive already, and if you also remove their responsibilities to society, I think that's a step too far. This is a moving area of policy, shall we say.
In terms of the public opinion question that I was asked at first—and this is not empirical in any way, but just in talking to my own constituents, and all the rest of it—people draw a line between offences of violence and offences of non-violence, or monetary-based offences, in quite a stark fashion. Now, it's not open to us to get the judge to make that decision, which would be my preference, because I think personally it's part of the things that a court should decide in the individual circumstances of each case, but it is possible to draw a line that broadly divides offences of violence and offences of non-violence, for example, and that's why I'd be very interested to see what the committee's conclusions are in that.
Just so I'm clear on that. You mentioned about court discretion over this, which does operate in at least one other country. You're not interested in that model.
It's not possible for us to do that at the moment, because that would be outwith the devolution settlement.
If you had the powers to do it, would you be interested in that? If there was a Welsh jurisdiction, Welsh control over criminal justice—
It would certainly be something I'd want to explore with the judiciary and as part of sentencing policy, but that's not part of our current settlement, so that's not possible at this present time.
Okay, fine. If I could return, Minister—and I appreciate your candour on this as well, and your openness on this—but if I can return to that point about how far on your sliding scale you extend, because I think it's quite clear that's what we're talking about here, a sliding scale, how much salience should we give in what we are hearing in evidence to the views not simply of prison population, but of prison staff? And would it surprise you to know that, certainly in our visits to Gloucester and to Parc prison, an overwhelming majority of prison staff actually said, while there is a point of principle on extending the vote, which the vast majority agreed with, but also it should be at the maximal end rather than the minimal end? I'm not talking about universal, because there was a discussion around the edges, but at the maximal edge on that sliding scale.
No, that doesn't surprise me at all, because there will be issues about internal prison arrangements that make it more complex—the more complex the system is to administer.
But they argued it on the basis of rehabilitation. They argued it, as front-line professionals, on the basis that they saw this as integral to rehabilitation.
For a wide category of prisoner. There are other ways of doing it. You can also look to say that you should extend the vote to anyone who's within a certain amount of time of the end of their sentence, for example. So, regardless of the length of sentence, once you're within—I don't know; pick a number—a year off the end of your sentence, you should be allowed to vote, because it's part of your return to society. So, there are a number of ways of looking at this, right from the minimum that the UK Government has done to satisfy the Hirst judgment right up to absolutely everyone, or some sort of sliding arrangement in between.
Sorry, Chair, just coming back to that key point of this, how much salience do you think should be given to the views of the front-line prison officials who work with the prison population in Wales?
I have some sympathy with that, but we've had some extensive discussions about arrangements inside prisons as well, which is something that we need to be able to concern ourselves with. So, I would say that there are two big issues at play here. There's the principle at stake—whether we want to give effect to a principle in our legislation. And the other thing is the practicalities of enabling that principle to be enacted and delivered, and those are two very separate things that we will need to bring together in order to make the law effective.
On this matter of principle, then, you suggested that there is a clear place to draw a line between crimes of poverty and crimes of violence. I would challenge that, because where would you put shoplifting? Where would you put robbery? Is robbery a crime of poverty if you don't use a weapon or a gun and threaten life? There are big judgments to be made there, and then you suggested that those judgments should be made by a judge in sentencing, but we don't have the powers over that. So, that's not giving us a clear message as to where the Government would like to draw this line, so I would suggest that's confusing matters, really, and we do need to consider the matter of principle, of whether prisoners should have the vote or not.
You mentioned a judge should make this decision as part of sentencing. Do you see voting, then, as something that can be used as a form of punishment or as a form of privilege? Or is it something you see as a matter of right for a citizen?
So, there's a human right involved in this. The way that the Human Rights Act defines it, and the convention that we've signed up to, is that you have the right to partake in state elections, so I think probably the Assembly elections are included in that. The case law would say that local government elections are not included in that, actually, in terms of the legal bit of the Human Rights Act, and I think that's pretty clear from the case law. I don't think that necessarily means that we shouldn't look at allowing people to have a franchise for local government elections. That's what we're talking about in our Bill, for example.
But that's moving away from the principle. Some people have suggested—
Let me come back to that, though. In terms of the base law, if you like, of the human rights that we're talking about, that's where it is. My own view is that when a judge pronounces sentence on somebody, they take a range of things into account, and one of them is what form of punishment that person should have, as well as probation reports and so on about the kind of imprisonment or rehabilitation that they might expect to receive in prison. Removing somebody's civic right to vote, or human right to vote, the same as removing their human right to liberty and so on, should in my view be part of the things that you take into account. Now, that's a personal view, Leanne—that is not the view of the Government and it's not inside our settlement. So, we can't propose that in terms of a law that we put forward. So, we have to find some other way of doing it.
I answered the question in the light of the first question I was asked about public opinion. I think that there is a wide spread in public opinion around this, all the way round the continuum. So, some people think all prisoners should have the right to vote, some people think no prisoners should have the right to vote, and there's a very large range of opinion in between. So, as I said, on no empirical basis, really, but on the kind of conversations we've having, trying to make a divide around the violence/non-violence line, which would be about a four-year sentence, if you look at what crimes get what sentence in terms of the guidance, could work. But you're absolutely right: that's absolutely not straightforward. Many people—you know, crimes don't nicely fall into those categories, and all the circumstances of each case need to be taken into account and so on, which takes you back to where I started. We're not in that position. We can't do that. So, I was very much relying on the committee's report and the evidence the committee's taken to come to some view of this, and when we introduce our Bill, we will be looking at the committee stages to see what the committee also comes to a conclusion on, because I don't think there's any fixed evidence that we've been able to find. If the committee has it, I'd be grateful for it—in empirical terms around this. Huw Irranca-Davies mentioned that some countries do things in some ways and others do it in other ways, so—
Part of our problem has been the lack of evidence, especially from—you know, the public opinion question is linked to the view that victims might not like prisoners or the perpetrators of offences against them having the vote, as it's seen as some sort of privilege. So has the Welsh Government considered commissioning any research to gather the perspective of victims before taking a decision?
We haven't at the moment. We've talked to some groups about it. I don't know, Gareth, if you want to say something else about that, but we haven't considered the research. I think we're taking the view that, on a point of principle, we think that at least some prisoners—I'm open to saying all prisoners, but at least some prisoners—should have the right to vote, and I particularly have a concern for those people who are at the end of the scale where they are committing offences of poverty. It would be hard to say that those offences weren't that, so people in prison for debt, for example—it seems to me very harsh to take their right to partake in civil society away from them, and that's a very large number of the women in prison, who already suffer an extreme form of punishment for pretty minor offences. So, I'm starting from that as a point of principle. But I absolutely accept that there's a difficulty as to where you draw the line on that.
There really is. I spent some time talking to a woman in Gloucester prison who was there for a violent offence related to her being a survivor of domestic abuse, so it really isn't a clear line, and I think we need to be careful about trying to find a line there.
I just wanted to ask you one final question on the practicalities of organising all of this, really. We've taken some evidence from people in Ireland that suggested that, if you register people at their home address, then that could be problematic if they were sex offenders, and the victim is still living at the home address. The same for domestic abuse perpetrators. Does the Government have a view on whether or not prisoners should be registered at their former address, and if not there, where else should they be registered?
I think we do take the view that, from this point of view, they should be registered at their former address. There will be some prisoners who don't have a former address, who are homeless, so we will have to come to some arrangement for people to be able to say where they—make a localism declaration, basically, so declare that they belong to a particular locality.
A declaration of local connection.
Yes, and it's used for homeless people.
So, we would be doing that. We would have to put safeguards in place that meant that that wouldn't put victims of domestic abuse or sexual violence at risk, and I'm sure we could put those in place. But for the purposes of receiving the correct ballot paper, I'm sure we could do that, and that is actually done for prisoners on remand. Although, I did meet earlier this week with the group whose name I cannot remember for some reason—
The WECB—the Wales electoral co-ordination board.
Right, the Wales Electoral Co-ordination Board, which is a meeting of all of the electoral administrators around Wales, and we had quite a discussion about the practicalities, not the principle of this. Nobody there had ever administered a vote from a person on remand, so I think even those prisoners who can currently vote don't often exercise the right to vote. What I don't know is why—whether that's because it's made very difficult, or whether nobody's ever asked—I just don't know.
Could I just say at this stage that, in terms of the possibility of the court removing the right to vote as a sentencing option, obviously Scotland is wrestling with these matters at the moment, and has done, and I think it was clear up there that the Scottish judiciary's view was that these matters shouldn't be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. But there we are, that's their view. Mark, you wanted to come in.
Yes. I think people convicted of things like civil offences such as non-payment of fines already retain the right to vote, so some of that funding or financial crime is already excluded from these restrictions. However, I think Huw Irranca-Davies referred to the views of officers expressed in Parc; I think what he expressed fairly reflected the views of those who spoke, but many just stayed silent. But the prisoners we met and the governor—the governor was in favour of more liberalisation, but all said that, whatever their personal views or likelihood of voting might be, their view was that, with the general prison population, it wouldn't incentivise them either way, particularly in terms of the internal rehabilitation processes and reward processes that exist within the prison system. I wonder how you respond to that, given your recognition that there is a lack of international and domestic evidence over what impact having or not having the vote would have on behaviours—I'm quoting from a Labour MP in New Zealand—to
'change behaviour, stop recidivism, deter crime, or, most important, aid in the healing of victims.'
As I said, I think you end up at a point of principle. So, I personally think that there is a principle involved here, which is that it is a human right to partake in the democratic engagement of your society, and the UK was found wanting by the court because we had blanket removed that right. The UK Government has proposed a very minor change to the law to get themselves inside that judgment; whether that would hold in the courts, as I said at the beginning, is a moot point. But I don't think that the argument that people don't use their democratic rights now, and therefore we shouldn't worry about whether we should encourage them to do so, has much merit. I'm sure that it's not currently part of any kind of reward system in a prison, but that's not to say that it couldn't be incorporated into that as part of rehabilitation, depending on whatever system you put in place. I do think very vehemently that somebody coming out of prison should be put into a position where they at least know how to exercise their democratic rights and where they should exercise them, because that's not done either at the moment. So, I do think there are some serious points of principle here. The Hirst judgment came about because somebody complained about having their voting rights removed, so it's not true that all prisoners don't do that, although it's true that not many currently exercise the rights they do have.
I'm not sure about the categories that you thought about. My understanding is it's only people on remand or who are awaiting sentence that currently have the right to vote.
Okay, so civil crimes, but not criminal convictions for credit card fraud, for example, and so on. So, we get back into that. I'm aware that the judiciary were of the view that they didn't want to be put into that position, but there are all kinds of conventions around sentencing policy and so on that take into account a number of issues, and my particular view is that, if you're going to have tariffs, for example, then those tariffs should include whether or not you have the right to vote. Judges are very much operating inside that tariff system. I know that Scotland's looking to change some of that, but at the moment it's not even part of the consideration in looking at the tariffs, which doesn't seem right to me. But I will emphasise to the committee that we are not proposing that, just to be clear, because that is outside the devolution settlement. So, we are not going to be putting something into our Bill that's outside the devolution settlement.
Minister, you left a fascinating rhetorical question hanging in the air in your opening remarks: the extent to which Government wants to lead on this, or to find a pragmatic solution. To what extent does the Government want to lead on this, Minister?
I think the principle that we would like to extend voting rights to prisoners domiciled in Wales is one that we're very clear about, so we want to extend the franchise to prisoners domiciled in Wales.
Is this a Roy Jenkins moment? The most progressive Home Secretary, from the 1960s Labour Government.
I don't think so, because I'm then going to follow that up by saying we're very much awaiting the committee's evidence about how, where, why, to do that. So, no, it's not. [Laughter.]
Some of this relates to what Leanne was discussing with you, which is the right to vote, but I would also argue that there is a duty on us to vote, which isn't emphasised enough, in my view. And that comes into the remark you made earlier about—in your discussions with the Wales electoral registration board, I think they're called—they hadn't come across a single prisoner who wanted to exercise their right to vote while they were on remand. Now, I would suggest that, having been into Cardiff prison yesterday, that is to do with the way in which officers frame the question. If you say, 'Does anybody want to vote around here?', you probably won't get many hands going up. But if it was deemed to be part of the reception process: 'Are you registered to vote? Right. Fine. You're not registered to vote—we'll need to register you now.' And then it's up to the prisoner, under current law, whether they exercise that right and, indeed, whether an election comes up while they're in prison. So, it seems to me that, in terms of how prisons and prisoners are being invited to exercise their right at the moment, if they're on remand, or in one of these other civil categories—it requires a lot more research and, indeed, discussion with—.
Just to be clear, the discussion was not whether anybody had been asked whether they wanted to vote or not, only that they hadn't processed such a vote.
Okay. Well, what we were told yesterday—
There was no question at all about why or how any prisoner—. It was just simply the other end of the system saying that they had not personally seen a processed prisoner vote. That's all. They didn't have evidence about how it was administered in prison. Having said that, I completely agree with you. If we were going to do this, we'd want to have extensive discussions about how that would be administered in the prison, how it might be incorporated into a reward system or part of a prison day, how the prisoner would, at reception, be told of their right to vote and so on. At the moment, as a result of the Hirst judgment, the committal letter now says that you're having your right to vote withdrawn. So, if we extend the right to Welsh prisoners, that committal letter would have to be changed for Welsh domiciled prisoners to say that they do have the right to vote.
At the moment, there's already a duty on us to register to vote, it's just that I've never heard of anybody being prosecuted for failing to complete the form, which sends the wrong messages, frankly. So, would you agree, then, that the existing arrangements for remand prisoners being able to exercise their right to vote requires quite a lot of further research, to understand why it's not happening at the moment?
Yes, and if we are going to go ahead with our proposal, that at least some Welsh domiciled prisoners should be allowed to vote, then we will have to have a conversation with the UK Government about how to administer that, what the committal letters will say and how that works. We haven't had that yet, other than preliminary conversations that have taken place, because we're not yet in a position to know exactly what it is we're asking them to administer.
Okay. Fine. Thank you for that. Could you just tell us what analysis the Government has undertaken of the practicalities of extending voting rights to prisoners who are due to be released within the term of the Assembly/council that is about to have a—?
We think that's very complex indeed. Because of the way that parole works, you'd have to have individualised circumstances for each prisoner. It would be an awful lot of administrative work to make sure that you kept up to date with the particular circumstances of each prisoner: their release day, their parole arrangements and so on. I'm not saying we shouldn't do it, I'm just saying that that's quite a very difficult way of doing it. I think there are a lot easier ways to do it than to do that.
Other suggestions have been made to us that you allow prisoners whose term of imprisonment ends inside the electoral cycle of the organisation they want to vote for, but all of those things are highly complex. It would be much simpler to find a way of making it certain, if you like, whether the prisoner does or doesn't have the vote. I mean, I'm very happy to look at any evidence that the committee has about different systems. Our understanding, though, is that those are very complex ways of doing it that would probably mean the law went out of date pretty fast.
Okay. So, one way to approach it would be to deem that anybody whose sentence expired before the end of an Assembly or council term would be entitled to vote, regardless of whether they—.
Yes, but it's much more complicated than that. Because many prisoners are on indeterminate sentences and their parole arrangements are different—. I mean, that's really—. That's a very complicated way to do it.
Okay. So, we heard evidence from both prisoners and officers who said that it's just much simpler to give all prisoners the right to vote, because whilst that might offend some victims—and it would certainly offend the Daily Express—at the end of the day, exercising your right to vote is not going to make the ceiling fall in.
That's why we very much welcome the committee's deliberations in this matter, because I don't think there's any set way, at the moment, of doing it. I was very clear in answering Huw Irranca-Davies that we want to extend the principle of it, that we want the Government to state clearly that there's a principle involved here that we want to enact, but I welcome the committee's views on exactly how we can do that.
No, I don't oppose all prisoners. I'm just interested to know what the committee's conclusions come to. We aren't currently proposing all prisoners, but I don't personally oppose that, and I don't think we have a settled view on it. That's why we keep saying we're awaiting the committee's evidence.
Could I just clarify something I thought I heard you say, but I may have misheard, which is that voting could be linked to, in some way, a rewards system within the prison? Could you—
No, I didn't mean that. I meant, if you're entitled to vote—so, if we enfranchise Welsh domiciled prisoners of whatever category, it's perfectly possible, in speaking to prison administrators, to work out a way in which, 'Today is polling day. Prisoners who are entitled to vote get to go and—', you know, they get to come out of their cell and go to a polling booth and whatever. It's perfectly possible to do that in such a way that it encourages voting, and it's also possible to do it in a way that doesn't encourage voting is the only point I was making. So, I wasn't suggesting that it should be a reward; it's an entitlement. I was just saying that the way you administer it might have an effect on whether people wanted to exercise it or not. That's the only point I was making.
Yes. I think the clearest way, which I think you put in your paper, is to enable people to either have a postal or a proxy vote.
It's the simplest way of doing it. Because then anybody, even if they're in solitary confinement, can still exercise their right to vote.
Yes, absolutely. But allowing somebody the space to think about it and have the election materials and all the rest of it—how that's administered will clearly have an effect on whether somebody wanted to exercise their vote or not, was the only point I was making.
Could I just ask you, Minister, whether you think it's problematic that justice isn't devolved, which is obviously different to Scotland and Northern Ireland, so that, in Assembly and local elections, prisoners wouldn't be able to influence prison policy through voting? Do you see that as problematic?
I personally would very much like to see criminal justice devolved and I'd quite like to see two separate legal jurisdictions. So, I'm very aware that the former First Minister is in the room on this point, but I completely agree with the points he's always made about the diverging jurisdictions and the fact that this is becoming an impossible system. And this is yet another example where we will do something that makes the divergence of the jurisdictions more and more obvious. So, clearly, it's a problem and it's becoming more of a problem every time we pass a law.
Thank you, Chair. Good morning, Minister. Much of what I wanted to cover has already been covered. I'm grateful for the answer you gave to Jenny a little earlier. I think I picked up the same thing—that there was a suggestion that being allowed to vote will be part of the privilege system. You've clarified that, clearly, and you and I both know that that opens up the door to judicial review in a way that nobody would want to. I agree with you that there are ways of creating boundaries within which judges can sentence if judges—or indeed magistrates—had the ability to remove somebody's voting rights. Although, again, I can see the issues only being settled after a number of appeals to the Court of Appeal. The courts are very good at telling people—judges particularly—that what they did was wrong after the event, but that's why we have a court system. For me, I have to say that the easiest system—I'm not saying it's the best system—the easiest system is that all prisoners vote. That's the easiest system. Whether it's the right one is a matter for future debate.
Coming back to the point the Chair made, we have this unique position in Wales where so many Welsh prisoners are serving their sentences in England, particularly, of course, women prisoners, who are all in England. We have, I think, over 1,700 prisoners who are serving sentences in English prisons. Now, in order to be able to register prisoners, we would need the co-operation of the Prison Service. Now, we probably might get it in Wales. There's no suggestion that there'd be any kind of barrier to that, but let's say, for example, that a single English prison or a number of English prisons said, 'We're not doing it.' What can we do to enforce, or to force those prisons to (a) allow prisoners to be registered and (b) allow them to vote? Now, it doesn't, of course, occur to anything like the same extent in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Yes, there are some prisoners who serve sentences outside those jurisdictions, but they are a handful. It's a particular problem here in Wales because of what you just identified—the lack of devolution of the justice system.
And what I wonder—I'm not clear what the answer to this is yet—is whether, if, for example, a prison refuses to allow a prisoner to register or to vote—this is one for the lawyers, of course—the offence is committed in Wales or in England. First question. If the offence is committed in Wales, then that means, of course, that we would have a level of jurisdiction that we wouldn't have otherwise, which means, of course, the single jurisdiction possibly could come into play, because the law as it would be in Wales could be enforced in England, even though it's not the law in England: in a strange way, an advantage—the only one I can think of—of the single jurisdiction. But is there any sanction that can be applied—and I don't expect an answer immediately, but something to think about: is there any sanction that can be applied if a prison or prisons in England decide that they will not co-operate with the law in Wales?
I think it's very unlikely that we could, as a Government, enforce that. I imagine it would be a matter for individual prisoners to enforce their rights and they would have to go through the system enforcing their individual rights. I will say, though, that we haven't had any indication from the UK that they would do anything other than co-operate with us if we want to do this. So, we've had no indication that they were likely to be difficult about it. But I honestly don't know the answer to that. I don't know, Gareth, whether you do.
Well, the Prison Service is a single service across England and Wales. The current instruction—. There is an instruction from the Prison Service to all governors, whether within Government prisons or contracted-out prisons, about the process of enabling and facilitating prisoners to vote. I think, in taking this forward, even to implement it within the prisons in Wales, we would need an agreement at central level and at a political level with the UK Government and its agencies. I think it would be curious if they excluded the prisons within England. I don't think there would be scope for governors within England to opt out of a decision that was reached at governmental level between the Welsh Government and the UK Government.
As I say, we've had no indication that they're anything other than co-operating. But I suspect, if you had a governor who did behave in that way, it would be a matter for the individual prisoner to take up. But we can check that.
For me, central is Cardiff, by the way; London's peripheral, but I won't quibble with you on that one.
It seems to me that, if there was a Government in London that did not co-operate or decided that it was against the policy that we were trying to implement, that co-operation, which is the way of resolving it, of course, would disappear and we would need to think—I beg your pardon, the Government would need to think—about what sanctions might be possible if that situation were ever to arise. That's the point I'm—.
I think it's a fair point. I don't know the answer to that. We can certainly look into it.
Thank you very much and good morning, Ma'am. My question is: are there any practical issues regarding prisoners in England, rather than in Wales, with more than 1,700 Welsh prisoners at the moment in England and over 104 prisons there? So, is there any issue with practicalities on this side?
Yes, so, as we were just discussing, we're discussing it centrally. We would have to have a central administration system. It's perfectly possible to do it. I can't remember whether it was somebody over here who just asked me about postal votes, or proxy votes, or whatever the arrangements might be. We would have to agree a set of arrangements for the prisons, and we would have to ensure that we had the administrative arrangements in place that allowed that to be administered. So, there are administrative things that we would need to sort out, but they are certainly not beyond the wit of the people running the system. So, we would have to agree that system, and make sure that it was administered.
There is an existing prison guidance order—Prison Service order—which applies across the prison estate in England and Wales, about prisoner voting rights. We would need to work with the Prison Service to update that guidance note and to make particular reference to the circumstances of prisoners from Wales both within the prisons in Wales and those in prisons in England. That is a single instruction, which goes from the Prison Service to all the prison establishments across the estate. So, in that circumstance, the centralisation of the Prison Service is actually of some assistance, and we can work through that, provided we have that agreement at central level.
All right. Thank you. And what discussion has the Government had with the Ministry of Justice regarding prisoner voting?
Yes, we've had preliminary—. At official level, we've had preliminary discussions, and I had a very brief discussion with the Minister, as part of a different discussion—I mean very brief, a couple of sentences only—about the fact that we were looking to do this. But officials have had some preliminary discussions about it, and, as I said, we haven't had any indication that they wouldn't go along with whatever it is we come up with. Because we don't yet know what we're coming up with, it's been difficult to have any detailed discussion.
You are going into very unchartered territory here with prisoner votes. They're criminals—whichever level they are, whether they're a low level or a high level, you are giving them a civil right, which is actually a right for the people in freedom. And think—
Sorry, can I just say to you—? I don't think we're giving them a civil right; what we're doing is not taking it away, which is a completely different—
Well, I coming on to that. Has there been any indication that it would object to the sort of extension of the franchise being contemplated, whether on the ground of competence or practicality?
No. As long as we construct it in a way that doesn't go across—. That's why I'm saying to you about we wouldn't be talking about the judiciary having any involvement or anything else, because that's outside the devolution settlement. It's completely inside the devolution settlement for us to set the franchise for local government and community council elections, and, indeed, for the Assembly Commission to set it for the Assembly, which is engaged by the Human Rights Act 1998, in our view. That is completely within devolved competence—it's not an edge or a difficulty. So, we're not experiencing any difficulty with that. If we exercise our rights in our devolved competence, the UK Government will of course honour that.
Thank you. Chair, one other. The thing is, some petty criminals, when they go into prison, they're reoffending—they keep going around. Where does the buck stop, when you say, 'Okay, you're not allowed to vote again'? The thing is that one of the prison officers told me that quite a large number—quite a few in number—of prisoners are reoffenders there. So, that is another area that needs to be explored, whether they should be allowed.
Well, that would be part of the—. If a prisoner reoffends, in the sense that they are reconvicted of something, then whatever category they're in changes and then that might or might not engage the right to vote. If we extended it to all prisoners, it clearly wouldn't have any effect. If we put some sort of cut-off, it might have that effect, if they crossed across the cut-off. I think that's why we're awaiting evidence of the committee, to see what we think would happen. I think it's fair to say that you and I have a complete disagreement on all of the philosophical points here, because even the way that you're constructing the question I fundamentally disagree with. My view is that almost everybody who's in prison for what you call a petty criminal offence is there because they were born poor and the state has failed them. So, I don't think failing them again is the best way to go.
Minister, I need to be convinced whether—this, as I said, this is a civil right—it should be allowed or not. I want to be convinced myself that, yes, it is a benefit to all society. I'm not talking about myself, and you're not talking about yourself—we're talking here for the general public of Wales. Protection in the interests of all, rather than one or two, or 100 or 2,000 people here—we're talking of the nation.
Yes, indeed, and my own view, and the Government's view, is that it's right to extend a franchise to people who are domiciled in Wales so that in a democracy, we can have as wide a franchise as it's possible to have. So, that's fundamentally the philosophy behind it.
Thanks, Chair. Thinking about the Welsh prisoners who are in English prisons, is there an issue about the lack of information they're likely to get about Assembly elections and, if they're going to get the vote in local elections, about Welsh local government issues in English prisons? Bearing in mind that when we went to the women's prison in Gloucestershire, they didn't even have Welsh tv there. So, do you think that's a potential problem?
Yes, I think we'll have to look at, and as part of our Bill we'll be looking to see what we can do about having electronic statements from candidates registered with a returning officer. We'd have to make sure that in any postal arrangements, for example, that literature was conveyed to the person who was exercising a postal vote. That would actually be for everybody and not just for people in particular circumstances. So, one of the things we're looking to see in the Bill is what we can do about information exchange for people. So, one of the things that the Bill will be suggesting, for example, is that candidates who put their names forward can also put a statement forward that the returning officer will hold and disseminate alongside the election literature, for example, and when the Bill goes through its committee stages, I'll be very keen to see what this committee at that point has to say about the information. But the information that goes out to people exercising the vote will be the same, regardless of category. There won't be categories; there'll be people exercising their votes.
Gareth, just before you go on, I think, first of all, Jenny and then Leanne would like to come in.
I just wanted to pursue this. If we were to give prisoners the vote, either through proxy or postal vote arrangements, then they'd be entitled to get exactly the same literature from candidate X as anybody else being sent stuff through the post. Clearly, they'd come in the 'other electors' category, similar to people who are living abroad, where you're physically going to have to send it to them. Therefore, they would have a range of choices about which candidate to vote for and it would be up to candidates. If there's a Monster Raving Loony who decides not to send any literature, well, that's their choice.
That's absolutely right, but as I say, in the Bill, we're also looking to see—. We're going to make the proposal that each candidate has the right to have something sent to the returning officer, which the returning officer sends out with the formal literature, as well as the candidates obviously having the right to have access to the names and addresses of all electors so that they can send their own literature as part of their campaign. So, we're looking to see—well, it would be interesting to see what the committee thinks, but we're looking to see whether there's merit in having communication that goes with the candidate's nomination and is formally sent out as part of the system as well. Just to be clear, it's additional. Obviously, all voters will have the right to receive the literature that the candidates choose to send to them.
Okay. Just a particular problem we picked up at Eastwood Park is because, although half the prisoners are Welsh, they have absolutely no information whatsoever about what's going on in Wales, other than what their loved ones try to send them. So, the television is all beamed to English channels. There are no newspapers that were produced in Wales—it's all London-based, and as we know, that contains almost no information about the Welsh political system, and when it comes to local elections, it's even less likely that you're going to see any of that. So, regardless of how we proceed on the voting rights, it seems to me that there is an absence of human rights to receive information about what's going on their local community—to understand proposals relating to their child's school or whatever it might be. I just wondered if that's something that you were in a position to take up already. We raised it at Eastwood Park.
That's not in my portfolio, but I'm more than happy to take it back to the portfolio holder and discuss with them. So, they have a right to receive the right sorts of education and information. I'm more than happy to take that up elsewhere in the Government. Prisoner education and information is not inside my portfolio.
The fundamental problem there is that we shouldn't have people in prison in a different country. And there's no facility for women in Wales who are sentenced to a prison sentence to serve their sentence in Wales, and, as a result, they have absolutely no information at all. They get Bristol and the west on the tv, they don't get any Welsh newspapers, they don't get access to the internet. It's not controversial to send leaflets from candidates with ballot papers. I don't think anybody would disagree with that; it's just completely insufficient. And unless you can analyse and have an appreciation of the news on an ongoing basis, you can't make an informed choice. So, the first thing is: it's absolutely against people's human rights to be imprisoned in a different country when they don't have access to that information. But the second point is: how are we going to deal with this? We met a very, very angry woman who didn't even know that there'd been a change in First Minister. How on earth can she be expected to make an informed choice on election day when she doesn't have a clue about things like that?
I don't disagree with anything you said there. You know that there are real problems with building, for example, a women's prison in Wales.
I know, I know you're not. [Laughter.] And neither am I, for the avoidance of doubt. It's not in my portfolio, but the Government's been working for some time around a blueprint for female offenders with the UK justice system that would allow proper provision for women, especially those who could keep their children with them, in women centres around Wales—small units, community focused, and so on—and not building a prison, which the courts will feel obliged to fill up.
That would overcome all of these problems, wouldn't it? Because then they'd be able to access information.
It would. At the moment, the discussion is quite small scale, but we very much hope that if we can get the system running then we would have a better way of ensuring that women are diverted from prison, because, they, as you know, are sentenced to imprisonment for offences where, frankly, no man would ever be imprisoned. So, the first thing is proper diversion schemes, and the second one is, then, for women who do need to be imprisoned, that they are imprisoned in the right way, in the right kind of centres—
—in the right country, so they don't have their children removed from them, they don't lose their housing rights—all of the things that I know that Leanne Wood is as engaged with as I am. Absolutely, I agree with you, but that's not even in my portfolio. The Government is currently working on a system that would address that.
Going back to Carwyn Jones's question, the divergence of the jurisdictions and so on, actually if we have criminal justice devolved to us and we divert the jurisdiction, the likelihood is that prisoners will end up serving sentences in the right country and not the wrong one. So, there are a number of issues that flow from some of those issues that we've raised repeatedly. But, currently, in my portfolio, I have the narrow issue of the franchise, and so there's a point of principle there as well, it seems to me.
Thanks. Now, the Welsh Government is moving towards changing the electoral rules so 16 and 17-year-olds get given the vote in Assembly elections, although that's not going to apply to Westminster elections. What are your thoughts on 16 and 17-year-olds in custody and what their entitlement to the vote should be?
We're going to be introducing a Bill that reduces the age at which you're entitled to vote, so 16 for local government and community council elections in Wales. The Commission, as you know, in the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill is proposing the same lowering of the age franchise for the Assembly elections themselves. If we extend the franchise to prisoners, then it will automatically extend to prisoners who are entitled to vote. So, it will automatically extend to 16 and 17-year-olds, quite rightly. If 16 and 17-year-olds are enfranchised in the population then they will be enfranchised for the elections for which they are. Actually, what will happen is the UK Government parliamentary elections will be out of kilter with everybody else very rapidly, since Scotland is also changing its rules.
There could be practical problems with 16 and 17-year-olds in custody getting the vote. Have you thought about the implications of granting all 16 and 17-year-old prisoners the vote, if adults in similar circumstances would not be entitled to vote? So, you then have a possibility they could lose the vote on attaining 18 if still in custody.
That's a possibility. We will want to liaise closely with youth justice organisations. I'm sure the committee is taking evidence to that effect. So, again, it's part of this sliding scale, isn't it? If we enfranchise all prisoners that doesn't happen; if we enfranchise some prisoners, then if they fall into the category that are enfranchised, they would be enfranchised, and if they don't, they wouldn't. Or it is also possible, as Gareth Bennett has just said, to remove the franchise at 18, depending on what's happening to the system. But, again, I'm very much in the committee's hands as to the evidence you're taking. We are discussing with youth justice organisations how that might work, but it's an ongoing matter. As I say, just to be very clear, Chair, when we introduce the draft Bill for local government elections, and this will be the committee that also looks at that, we will introduce that in the light of this committee's report, and then we will have another chance when that Bill is making its way through the Senedd for this committee to be able to see what we're proposing, and to influence the outcome of the state of that Bill as it makes its progress through the Senedd.
Okay. Thank you very much for that, Minister. I think that concludes our questions for this session today. So, thank you very much for coming along to give evidence. Thank you to your officials as well. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy in the usual way.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd ar gyfer eitemau 4, 7 ac 8 yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 4, 7 and 8 in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Okay, next item on the agenda then is the motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from items 4, 7 and 8 on our agenda today. Is the committee happy to do so? Yes. Okay, we will move into private session.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:25.
The public part of the meeting ended at 10:25.
Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 10:51.
The committee reconvened in public at 10:51.
May I welcome everybody back to this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee? The next item on our agenda today is item 5: annual scrutiny of the future generations commissioner. And I'm very pleased to welcome the commissioner, Sophie Howe, and also Marie Brousseau-Navarro, director for policy, legislation and innovation with the commissioner's office. Welcome.
Perhaps I might begin, then, with some general questions, and firstly for you to outline the main focus of your work over the 12 months since you last appeared before the committee and what have been your main challenges during that period of time.
Okay, thank you. So, a number of areas of work that we've focused on in the last year. If it's okay with you, Chair—I know we're talking about an annual reporting period, but I'll give a bit of an update beyond that, if that's helpful. So, we have done some work to focus on how the Welsh Government is applying the principles of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 in terms of the budget. One of the most significant things there is that we worked with, well, now the First Minister, then the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, to agree a definition of preventative spend. That's really significant, because there's not been that definition in place before, so it was very difficult to track how spend was moving from the acute end to the preventative end. We saw some reasonable examples in last year's budget, but I think the Government still have a long way to go to be fully embedding that. We also did some scrutiny of the budget overall, particularly focusing on decarbonisation, and again I would say, although there are some good examples there, there's much more work to be done, particularly in terms of the low-carbon pathway being published last week. We identified that only about 1 per cent of Government spend was going on decarbonisation activities, so if we're to meet the aspirations of the low-carbon pathway, that's going to have to increase significantly.
We've also worked with the Government on the low-carbon pathway, developing that, and I think, actually, although we could probably say that the level of ambition could be higher, actually in terms of the way that the well-being of future generations Act has been applied, I think it's been good. They've used frameworks that we have produced to consider not just how you decarbonise in a narrow way, but what would that mean in terms of tackling poverty, in terms of equality and a range of other issues. They've also been quite good in terms of meeting the five ways of working, and particularly in terms of involvement. So, my office provided quite a lot of support on that work. We've also—and this is really responding to concerns from the public. So, I can imagine, much like your postbags, planning and development control is a significant issue, which is raised with me by members of the public. There was an opportunity because 'Planning Policy Wales' was being redeveloped and we've worked very closely with the Government around it, and drafted parts of 'Planning Policy Wales' and made sure that the future generations Act is completely embedded in that.
We've started our—we've formed our approach to monitoring and assessing the first set of well-being objectives. There are around 345 well-being objectives set by the 44 public bodies covered by the Act. That is incredibly challenging. I'm the commissioner with the lowest level of funding, and I have 345 well-being objectives to monitor and assess. Because it's the first year, I took a decision that I should try to look at all of those well-being objectives, but you will appreciate that the extent to which I can go into a huge amount of detail on 345 of them is fairly limited, but we wanted to get a kind of baseline of where we are. So, that monitoring is going on at the moment. Public bodies are completing some self-reflection tools, and we have a range of systems and processes in place to peer review and challenge those. So, I'll be hoping to publish a report on that first set of monitoring assessing in June.
The other significant area of work is a programme within my office called Art of the Possible. This is a programme of work with a number of different partners. So, I've set up joint appointments and secondments with a number of different organisations, from BT, the Wales Co-operative Centre, Wildlife Trusts Wales, a housing association, Public Health Wales and a number of others, and the idea behind that was to explore and explain the kind of practical steps that public bodies could take to meet each of the well-being goals, starting from some simple changes that they could make, and I published 80-odd simple changes a couple of months back, right up to, 'This is what it would look like if you were being more adventurous', 'This is what it would look like if you were, sort of, owning your ambition'. So, by the end of April, beginning of May, I will have a suite of guidance, if you like, across each of the well-being goals on the sorts of steps that public bodies could take. They're forming a menu of options. They're very comprehensive because there are a gazillion actions that you could take across each of the goals to meet them, but I will use them in my monitoring assessing to be asking questions of, particularly in terms of the simple changes. Simple change is supposed to be fairly easy to do, fairly low cost, and there are lots of public bodies already doing it. So, with those simple changes in particular, if public bodies aren't undertaking those simple changes, then I'll be asking, 'Why not?' I could go on, but I'm conscious of time.
Okay. We'll come on to many of these matters with questions from committee members. Just before I bring Leanne in on some of those matters, I just wonder if we could deal with some examples that you might be able to point to, commissioner, in terms of transformative change hopefully taking place within Welsh Government in its consideration and the way that it's embedded the Act. Would you be able to provide obvious examples of that sort of transformative change? Have we really seen policy development and delivery of that policy change in the way that the Act was designed to produce?
I think my answer to that would be 'in pockets'. Can I say that there's transformational change, in that every civil servant and Minister across Government is using the well-being of future generations Act in the formulation of their policies? No, I don't think that that is the case. There are some really good areas, and significant areas, where, however, that is the case. So, I would refer back to 'Planning Policy Wales', which is being completely recast in light of the future generations Act—so, the future generations Act, the principles of planning, LDPs and development and decisions having to demonstrate social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being. And we're already starting to see some of those decisions come through at Planning Inspectorate level and in terms of decisions at local authority level as well. We worked very closely with the team there and they were very responsive. As I say, we're pleased in terms of that fundamental shift in terms of planning policy.
The Transport for Wales procurement of the rail franchise and the metro, again, was a significant area. So, we focused on that because it's the biggest contract that's ever been let in Wales—£5 billion. We wanted to make sure that they were using the opportunities not just to deliver cleaner, brighter, faster trains, although that's very welcome, but, actually, if you're spending £5 billion of public money, you should be able to deliver benefits across each of the well-being goals. I can talk you through—well, it might be easier, Chair, if I share with you what was in that bid from KeolisAmey around how they were going to meet each one of the well-being goals. I'll give you a bit of a flavour, but I can share with you the more kind of comprehensive analysis.
But to give you a flavour: train stations will be carbon zero, or they'll be powered by renewables. They're looking at how they can put green infrastructure on stations. There's a whole plan around volunteering. They're looking at how they can have social enterprises in stations and social businesses rather than your Starbucks and so on. And there's a whole range of actions there. So, I think, certainly Transport for Wales are on that journey.
Again, there are other pockets of good practice, and what we're finding is that—and I would say this is true across the board, not just in Welsh Government—the Act is giving permission to people who are wanting to do better things. There are still a number of blockers in the system. So, the system often, particularly in health, for example—I think there are 377 outcome measures in health. They're not aligned with the future generations Act. Some of them are still really focusing on the kind of acute end of things, and yet—. So, the health system, we're asking them to change whilst we're still measuring them in old ways. And, similarly, for local government and so on.
What we are seeing, however, is that there are number of really good things. I know you were focused on the Government, Chair, but would you like me to expand in terms of some other areas beyond Government?
Okay. So, just to give you a flavour—
Again, maybe you could share some of the more expanded information with us.
Yes, we can certainly do that. Yes. Just in terms of some of the things that are going on elsewhere as a result of the future generation Act: the Vale council, and through their public services board, are putting well-being co-ordinators in general practitioner surgeries. Bridgend have a programme focusing on early action with families around healthy behaviours; they've worked with about 156 families so far. Cwm Taf, again, at a PSB level, have developed a multi-agency team to try and keep people out of hospital, and in about 58 per cent of the cases that that team have been going to, hospital admissions have been prevented.
There are some really interesting things developing in terms of the environmental pillar within the Act, if you like, which, interestingly, has not come out significantly in terms of the well-being objectives that have been set, but, actually, there are quite a number of interesting actions that are being taken forward by public bodies. So, Monmouthshire has developed a solar farm that is going to power 1,400 homes. There's furniture recycling going on in a range of local authorities. Bridgend have got their heat source programme. Gwent, at a whole regional level, are looking at electrical vehicle charging points—a strategy and so on. So, there are some really good things going on there. But in terms of it being transformational change, I think that the structures and the systems around public bodies are still quite challenging.
Okay. Just one further question before I do bring Leanne in, and that's just the creation by Welsh Government of a team of civil servants to try and change culture and make sure that the Act is successful. How significant has that been and how is your office working with that team?
We really welcome that—that wasn't the case before. I think it's always a difficult balance with something like this. It's a bit like trying to mainstream equality. Do you have a team that does it, and then the risk is that everyone else absolves themselves of responsibility and just goes to that team? But, then, you do still need a team of experts who will be reaching out and trying to skill up officials across the Government and so on. So, I think, in the early days—and we still are in the early days of this legislation—I think a team is really important. We particularly welcome them because we were getting hundreds and hundreds of contacts from across all public services but specifically from Welsh Government in terms of, 'Can you provide advice and support on this?, 'Can you sit on our working group on that?' And we have nowhere near the level of resources to meet the demand that was coming in, so we're now able to refer to that team. We are working closely with them, to help and support them, but obviously recognise that there is an independence issue as well. But, broadly, I welcome it. I would still say that there's a significant issue in terms of the futures capacity within the Government, so who is doing the future trends and scenarios. So, the future trends report that the Government has as a statutory requirement for them to produce, there was one person—one and half people working on that future trends report. There wouldn't be a private sector company in the world that had a turnover of £15 billion and had one person or one and half people working on futures. So, I think there are some significant issues there.
I just wonder if you think you're doing too much. Three hundred-odd indicators is an awful lot to try and keep on top of, and we are facing a climate emergency. My understanding of the future generations and well-being Bill was that there should be a great focus on climate change. Do you think the Government is doing enough to tackle climate change and, if not, why not?
I'll deal with your first point: are we doing too much? Unfortunately, it's a duty within the legislation to monitor and assess the well-being objectives. You can take a view that, perhaps, that duty isn't sufficiently resourced, and that's certainly my view. I'm not intending next year to look at all 345 well-being objectives, because what I wanted to do was to get a baseline in the first year and then—
Yes, I'm coming to the climate change question, now.
So, in terms of—I'm just finishing on 'am I doing too much?'—. I have six priority areas that were identified following extensive consultation and analysis with the New Economics Foundation. We believe that those areas are the areas that are likely to drive most significant change across all of the well-being goals. Now, the Act requires me to promote the sustainable development principle, and that is around improving well-being—social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being. So it's not an environmental Act, even though, I completely agree with you, climate change is a significant factor in that.
In terms of the areas that I've chosen to focus on—planning, housing and transport in particular— those are the most significant areas in which actions at a Welsh Government level or at a Wales level can be taken in terms of meeting our decarbonisation targets.
To come on to your point of whether they are doing enough, well, the low-carbon plan was published last week. I think it was an improvement in terms of the consultation draft. The consultation draft, for example, had no actions on public transport in it, and that's one of the most significant areas that the Welsh Government (1) has influence over and (2) needs to focus on to meet the carbon emissions targets. I am concerned that that low-carbon action plan doesn't have finance attached to it, and I refer back to the points that I was making in terms of the budget, where only about 1 per cent of the budget was allocated to decarbonisation. So, that's why I'm intending to continue my work in terms of monitoring spend on decarbonisation in the coming year.
What's happened to the climate change commission, then, because the Government has not met its climate change emission targets, which were set in 2007, when Plaid Cymru and Labour went into Govenrment, when the commission was set up? I understand that doesn't exist any more, so how are you keeping on top of this without that being in place?
The Welsh Government takes advice on the steps that it needs to take to reduce its carbon emissions from the UK Committee on Climate Change, which is made up of a whole range of national and international experts. As I said, my team have been working very closely with the Welsh Government on the low-carbon pathway. As part of that, we have engaged a whole range of different stakeholders, both directly with my office and in terms of supporting Welsh Government. I don't always think you need a standing committee to drive change. I think what you need is focused expertise in particular areas. So, focused expertise, for example, on what we might be doing in terms of transport and where the key issues are there. And, from my discussions with the Welsh Government, I think that's the intention in terms of how now they go about delivering this low-carbon pathway, bringing together targeted expertise across those specific areas.
But, previously, NGOs had a place around the table, didn't they, in the climate change commission?How do NGOs now participate in decision making without that?
Well, through a range of different things. For example, my Art of the Possible programme, which is the advice and guidance I will be giving to public bodies on how they meet their obligations under the Act, including the resilient Wales goal, and, more broadly, they have been part of developing—. Well, some NGOs have been seconded in and are actually physically leading the work. A range of other NGOs, public bodies and a huge range of other stakeholders have been involved in feeding in actions, guidance, examples and views on how that will happen. So, different organisations are engaged extensively through a variety of means—round-tables, conferences and specific targeted focus groups—I've just launched a people's platform—online consultations and various other things.
The advisory panel is not established by me; it's set out in statute in terms of who is on there, and the members are appointed by the Government, and an NGO member is not on there.
It meets twice a year. But what I would say is that the members of it—for example, those with the older people's commissioner yesterday—. So, the panel as a whole meet twice a year, but the—
Thank you. Just to follow up on Leanne's point there, it is interesting in terms of your role, this balance between the strategic and the process-driven end of it, making sure that every public body is doing the right thing, is lining up their battalions in the right way to do the necessary pillars of the future generations and well-being Act, and so on, and then the outcomes. So, I just wanted to turn to one of those in particular to see how this works its way through. I know you've had involvement with looking at the guidance around the active travel Act. Your office has had involvement as well in looking at the Welsh transport appraisal guidance in terms of transport development. Most impartial commentators out there would say we're not even close to achieving what we need to do on active travel; we're still using a historic approach to transport development, even with the good innovations around the metro, and so on, overall. So, as a commissioner, what's your view on how the guidance is looking? Let's start with that. How is the guidance—both the active travel guidance and the WelTAG guidance—looking at the moment?
Okay, so we haven't had a specific focus in terms of the active travel guidance, but we've had an intensive focus in terms of the WelTAG guidance. And the reason for that has primarily stemmed from the biggest case study, if you like, which was the M4, in that we didn't think that the WelTAG guidance was fit for purpose. We worked with the Government to revise that WelTAG guidance; it now has the future generations Act completely embedded in it. We've then gone back—and this is the sort of approach that I'm trying to take with all of our work—. We'll work with people to try and amend strategies, guidance, policy, we'll come back in to check, 'It's been amended now. What's happening?' We've done that with Welsh Government, looking at—can you remember how many cases?—three cases where WelTAG has been applied, and we don't think it's being applied effectively. So, despite it being changed and the future generations Act being embedded, on a practical level that's not happening.
I think that's for a number of reasons. I keep saying that this future generations Act is the biggest cultural change programme that Wales has ever seen. We expect that we're in a position where we're saying, 'We've got legislation, there you are, you need to all crack on', and what we're not doing is resourcing the kind of cultural change—
The detail, and the guidance, and then making sure that the implementation of such guidance is done properly.
That's exactly it.
So, I am interested genuinely in this role. You've said repeatedly, and I've heard you say it publicly, this is relatively new legislation. We're trying to change ways of doing things, and I absolutely get all of that, and the myriad of areas that you do it over. But at what point will we see, do you think, whether it's with the WelTAG guidance on which we make decisions on transport, the active travel guidance, which has been criticised—the groundbreaking legislation that falls well within the remit of future generations and well-being, of course, and yet, it's not happening—it's not happening at all? And the criticism has been focused at that operational level of detail, which is the guidance, the guidance, the guidance. You can tick as many boxes as you want and you can put a set of teams within local authorities to do this stuff. You can say that you're doing active travel, because you've built a cycle path to nowhere, but unless you've changed the culture of the people on the ground—. So, what's your role—I'm only using those two examples—in actually saying, 'We're doing that'? What's your role in saying, in terms of halting and reversing biodiversity, 'We're now going to hold somebody to account'?
You're absolutely right in terms of things not always flowing through from policy and guidance to actually happening on the ground. We've done a whole range of work, from working with the Institution of Civil Engineers and a range of other people—the construction industry—to try to get them in the right place. But I am a tiny office with a huge, huge remit, so we can't possibly be tasked with changing the culture of many generations of ways of working. And I'm sorry to say that that has not been resourced by the Government either, despite repeated requests from me, so—
So, what's the way forward? The Wales Audit Office and the auditor general has also cast his view on how various aspects of future generations work has been taken forward. He's come to a similar conclusion as you, which is that, in the process terms, things are changing—people are doing more and they're lining themselves up, and so on and so forth. What he hasn't done as well is actually drill down to say, 'Now let's look at individual areas. These are the outcomes that have changed'. So, I guess my point is: at what point do you or the auditor general or somebody else say, 'This has now tangibly had this difference'?
So, this coming year, I'm intending to use my statutory review powers. I'm still scoping the work, but I'll give you the broad areas that I'm looking at at the moment. So, one is around procurement. So, I'm scoping the calling-in, if you like, of a number of contracts to say, 'How have you actually embedded the future generations Act in this?' Again, there were some good examples, but I'd say they're much fewer in number than the bad examples—so, to get to using my powers specifically in that area.
And the other area that I'm thinking about using the powers in are in terms of health: how are the principles of the future generations Act in terms of the way in which the Government responds to and reviews integrated medium-term plans—? How are they are applying the future generations Act in their responses? So, please don't hold me specifically to— . It's those broad areas, but we're still scoping exactly what the work will look like. My intention is for that type of work to get to exactly what you're describing there, but, because of my resources, we cannot do that in every single issue.
Can I add a little bit on the WelTAG? What we are seeing is that professionals, who are both in local authorities and consultants on the outside, are not trained and they are used to be doing something for 20 years that way. So, they read new guidance and their interpretation of the new text is completely different from our intention. And when there's a big discussion that is happening and which I have had with officials in Welsh Government and elsewhere on who will then pay for the training, there don't seem to be resources and that's where we are back in the loop of there's a problem responding to all these things.
And the other thing that Sophie already touched on is that if you look at the bigger system—so, what is in the way—we are seeing that WelTAG is applied too late. Stage 1 of WelTAG is supposed to say, 'I've got a congestion problem or a transport problem. What can I do about it?' And they already apply it to, 'Oh, we need a road or we need a bypass. Let's apply WelTAG', which is defying totally the purpose of it. We understand that it might be linked to the Wales infrastructure investment plan, and so that's something else we need to see now, namely how this Wales investment plan is working to make sure it doesn't trickle down and stop things from happening later on in the process.
Good morning. The post is still quite a new one—I understand that—and there's much to do to reverse the trends that have been there for many years, if not decades. If I was a member of the public, what would you point at, or point to, if I asked you, in terms of positive change the public has seen so far? I know that there's a lot of work that needs to be done before these things actually happen, but what positive changes would you point to that have happened as a result of the work that you've done? So, change on the ground.
Yes, okay. Well, I suppose I can refer you to some of the examples that I gave earlier, so the well-being co-ordinators in the GP practices in the Vale. I can point to the fact that Caerphilly is set to be the first town, as we understand it, in the UK that's going to be an electric public transport town. So, they've just procured an all-electric fleet. I can point to the fact that Monmouthshire is going to be powering 1,400 homes through renewable energy. I can point to the fact that people are being kept out of hospital as a result of the work that's going on in terms of Cwm Taf, and the multi-agency approach they've got to preventing hospital admissions. I can point to the fact that there are thousands of front-line staff that have been trained across Wales in trauma-informed practices in order to prevent or respond more appropriately to adverse childhood experiences. I can point to the fact that in Denbighshire—and these are some of the smaller examples, but you're asking about what people feel on the ground—a local school has been given access to a disused piece of land. They're using that to monitor endangered species. They're using GoPro cameras and other technology and they've also got a social enterprise running through that. I could go on and on, but these are a number of things that are changing on the ground, as a result of the future generations Act, and that's before you get into the £5 billion-worth of public spend and what has been committed in terms of the metro and rail franchise contract there, which I appreciate people might not be seeing right now, but it's in that contract and should be delivered on fairly soon.
That's useful, and you've mentioned the future generations Act, in terms of the way it's changing public behaviour. In terms of the examples you've given, what's been your involvement in, not all of them, clearly—not in all of them—but if you can give us some examples of what your involvement has been to create that behavioural change.
We have done a range of different things from—. Certainly, the first three years have been about raising the profile of the Act and its requirements, and we've done thousands and thousands of different engagements, training sessions and various other things across public bodies and beyond. We have produced two future generations frameworks: one for infrastructure and one for service design and delivery, and those frameworks give tools, if you like, to public bodies to enable them to question how what they're doing is in line with the future generations Act and could they be doing more. I've produced a number of reports that are outlining the requirements of the Act and where I think public bodies need to shift and change. We've had direct involvement, as I said, in terms of the more strategic stuff: decarbonisation, the budget, procurement to date and a range of other things.
So, I see the role of my office as providing frameworks, practical guidance and support; within our capacity, providing training, developing knowledge and understanding of the legislation; empowering other people to do that as well. And so, when people write to me and contact me about the Act, they're not always pleased that I can't take up their specific issue about stopping this planning application or whatever it might be, but what we try to do is give them the tools and knowledge and guidance, in terms of what the Act means, to enable them to challenge back to the public bodies that they are concerned about.
And, going forward, as I said, I'll be producing a whole range of resources, in terms of, as I said, the Art of the Possible, which is sharing really practical examples, like the ones that I've just given you—they're already happening—of what public bodies should, and could be doing, going forward.
One last question from me in this area, if I could. The big issue transport-wise that's dominated politics for months in Wales has been the M4 relief road. I suppose I should express some relief at not having to take the decision, but we know that it's very difficult and there are many different views surrounding it. Quite properly, you gave two sets of written evidence to the inquiry, and properly so. You also jointly produced 'Transport Fit for Future Generations' with the University of the West of England, but that was on 12 September. A lot of people have asked me why that wasn't provided to the inquiry so the inquiry could consider it. Was there a reason for that?
Well, the inquiry was quite narrow, in terms of its scope. So, it was looking at addressing the congestion issue around Newport, and what my report is saying is that, actually, we need to be looking at this in a much more holistic way. So, we need to be looking at transport for the whole region. A number of pieces of evidence that I gave to the original inquiry are absolutely in line with what is said in this report. What I'm trying to do—. I don't think that it's appropriate or it's the right thing for the Government to do to take a decision purely about how we spend £1.5 billion or £4 billion or £2 billion—depending on what it might be now, but upwards of £1.4 billion—of public money when we're just looking at a narrow issue in a public inquiry, which is congestion around that particular area.
I think what it needs to consider is how you would spend that money in the best interests of future generations. How would you spend that money in a way that has the maximum impact across all of the well-being goals? How would you spend that money if you were taking into account lots of evidence that suggests that you build a road and you will fill it? Examples such as the Newbury bypass, which is already now as congested as it was before. Examples like 25 per cent of people in that region, and more broadly in Wales, not actually having access to a car, so, therefore, an investment in public transport is not going to help them—those lowest income families. And that's before we get into the 0.5 million tonnes of carbon that it's going to produce into the atmosphere. So, I think that there are much broader issues here, and the public inquiry was too narrowly focused.
I'm not going to get into a debate as to the merits of the M4—that's not why we're here this morning. There are many different views on that. But, you're right to say that you presented written evidence to the M4 inquiry. You didn't confine your evidence to simply talking about the road, and that's perfectly proper. I just wonder whether it would have been more useful if this report had been available to the inquiry to support what you were saying.
Well, ultimately, as you know, the decision maker is the First Minister, and that has been made available to the First Minister and all of the Cabinet. And what I'm trying to do is to influence a bigger strategic discussion on the sort of Wales we want and the sort of transport and mobility that we want in Wales, rather than just focus narrowly on an issue of congestion in a particular part of Wales.
I think that's all fine—it's perfectly right to do that and to offer alternative views. Does it have any relevance to the M4—to the question of whether the relief road should go ahead, do you think? Because it wasn't submitted to the inquiry, that's all.
But other evidence—. Yes.
The inquiry looked at many different things. You made your point very clearly. I just wonder whether it would have been better for this to have been submitted to the inquiry where it could have been scrutinised and could well have supported much of what you said in terms of the evidence.
Well, I did submit evidence to the inquiry, but, as I said, the inquiry's terms of reference were quite narrowly drawn and, therefore, what I wanted to do was to raise the debate to a more strategic level and focus on, actually, what do policy makers in Wales want Wales to look like in the future and the mobility of Wales to look like in the future. That's not a matter for the public inquiry—it is a matter for this Government.
So, you don't offer it up as evidence that should be considered as part of the inquiry.
I think I'm just going to refer you to the answer that I've just given.
You needed wider terms of reference for you to have any influence, didn't you?
Just picking up on two of the points you referred to. You made reference earlier on to 'Planning Policy Wales' 10. I've requests in the constituency in a number of cases since where planning officers are still recommending housing developments on the basis of Welsh Government's five-year land supply as the overriding consideration, with well-being issues coming after that, and I wonder what your views on that—or more to the point, how they can better help understanding of that local level.
And secondly, obviously, you refer to the low-carbon pathway. Last night I attended a round-table meeting with Ofgem's governing body—the gas and energy markets authority. The attendees ranged from representatives of the big energy companies through to community energy schemes, Welsh Government and others, and we had a very interesting discussion. But, essentially, it focused on how we can bring together the social justice aspects of things like fuel poverty, energy efficiency, and the linked issues—social isolation, financial exclusion and so on—and align those to the wider community and corporate goals that we heard expressed from all the different organisations around the table so that we can bring the expertise and assets collectively together, bringing the community voice and the social justice need into the wider carbon agenda, where, since devolution, we've had the portfolio passing between social justice—where it sat when I first arrived here—into climate and energy, and often, therefore, the focus has failed to sufficiently join the two.
Yes. Okay. We'll take your first question first, if that's okay. Marie has actually been doing the more detailed work in terms of planning policy and the the national development framework and so on, so, with your permission, Chair—
Yes, that's fine. Just one caveat, really, and that's we've still got an awful lot to get through, so—
Quickly, it will take time to see planning decisions being made differently on the ground. We have already had two examples of appeals, which have not been allowed, quoting directly the well-being of future generations Act as one of the reasons for not allowing the appeal, which is very encouraging.
PPW, or the whole planning policy system, is being recast completely. So, 'Planning Policy Wales' was the first step, now we are working on the NDF—the national development framework, which will work with 'Planning Policy Wales', which will then need to be translated at the LDP, the local development plans level. So, we are also working with the Welsh Government team on the rewrite of the LDP manuals, which will then all be implemented together with area statements and well-being assessments from the bottom to actually help drive and give the direction—so, bottom up and top down for the next set of LDPs that will then drive the local decisions in the future. So, it will take quite a long time to get the whole system completely refocused on the well-being of future generations Act; nonetheless, we are still seeing little pockets of good practice emerging already now on the ground.
Shall I pick up on the second question?
Okay, I'll be as quick as I can. I completely agree with you—as I said earlier, you can do decarbonisation in quite a narrow way, you could do decarbonisation by shutting down all the power stations in Wales. That probably wouldn't be a sensible thing at this point, considering the wider impact on communities, job losses and so on. So, what I welcome about the fact that the low-carbon pathway—the way in which the Government has done it—they have taken my advice, they've used the future generations Act as the framework for applying it, for considering these issues around social justice. They're setting up a Climate Just advisory group, which will do exactly that—focus on where we can focus on the kind of socioeconomic benefits or disbenefits, depending on what actions we choose to take. If, for example, we focus on retrofitting homes, that has both a really good benefit in terms of carbon reduction, but also has a significant impact in terms of fuel poverty reduction in particular.
Likewise, if we spent our £1.4 billion perhaps focused on future mobility, where all of the predictions are around autonomous vehicles and different modes of travelling, that's far more likely to benefit those on lower socioeconomic incomes than it is to build a road that they don't have access to. So, I think that it's really important that this low-carbon pathway has that right at its core and, certainly, that's the commitment in the document, although I accept commitment needs to turn into reality.
Thank you very much, Chair. Good morning, ladies. Chair, I've been a member of the Public Accounts Committee for the last 10, 12 years, so, basically, my question to to you regarding your relationship with the Auditor General for Wales—. He's a fairly new gentleman, pretty intelligent. The fact is, he does around about 800 audits, he reports and all the rest of it. He only goes through the things when their finance is paid off. You, as the future generation commissioner, where the finances are still—. You've mentioned a few times in these last few minutes of scrutiny that you haven't got enough resources for the future in certain areas. So, when you sit with the auditor general, have you made a plan?
Yes. We are aligning our work in terms of—. There are different duties on the two of us, but they are overlapping, and I would say that he can't really meet his duties without taking on board my work and vice versa. So, they have been heavily involved in developing our self-reflection tool that we've used to monitor the 345 well-being objectives. They're in the process of taking forward their examinations around the Act. They have used my future generations framework as part of the series of questioning—you know, the questions that they pose to public bodies as part of that audit.
My team has actually been conducting joint audit visits with the Wales Audit Office team, not across every single visit, because of our resources, but we've focused on our priority areas. What the auditor general is doing is looking at an objective and then a specific step that a public body has said that they'll take to meet that objective, and they're looking there at how they've applied the five ways of working in the legislation to that step. So, my team have gone along on those audits where they relate to our priority areas, and we will be producing parallel reports in June around the progress so far. So, the working relationship is very close.
We also work very closely with the good practice exchange. I don't know if you've come across them in the Wales Audit Office. They have aligned—. We're doing a series of joint events around the priority areas as part of training, awareness raising and challenging public bodies. So, there are six of them each year in north and south Wales, so we do those jointly. And then, we work together on specific topics in terms of sharing information, so I will share my work programme in advance and the auditor general will do that as well, and we will have a conversation about where there is overlap.
One of the areas that we've identified, for example, is planning. They haven't published the report yet, but they've done a review of planning. I'm not going to steal their thunder, but their findings I don't think are very dissimilar to mine. So, likewise, they did a review of procurement and I'm now using their work to pick up and make recommendations and look specifically—. They looked at the whole system; I'm going to look specifically at contracts.
The thing is, you're doing a good job, I'm not saying anything, but don't you think that is one of those Government manifesto policies that you're actually following up, or doing your own independent thing and learning lessons from the areas where the job hasn't been done properly, which have been discovered by the auditor general in certain areas? I won't mention names, you know what I mean, probably.
Yes. Sorry. Can I just clarify if I've understood you correctly? Are you saying that I should be looking at areas where the auditor general has already identified that there are significant issues?
I think it needs to be a bit of both, and as I said, in terms of planning, for example, and in terms of procurement, that's exactly what I'm doing. There are however—. I did a big consultation at the beginning of my term to identify what people thought were the most significant issues that were going to drive action against the well-being goals, and that's why I'm focused on the six priority areas I've set.
The auditor general is also, in the coming year, looking at a more detailed examination in one of those areas and we're in discussion at the moment as to whether there's scope for that to be one of my priority areas, and we will do a kind of joint review and study into that area.
Thank you very much. So, if you and the AGW have finalised the joint programme in certain areas, are you going to publish it?
We signed a memorandum of understanding that said that we would work jointly together. I suppose, in terms of the joint work programme, it's been more of an internal document, but there's no reason why we couldn't publish that and I'm more than happy to share something with the committee and more broadly.
I want to look at public services boards and other public bodies. They're all required to publish a report by May this year. How many of them have published already?
All of them have published.
Public bodies or—
Public bodies or PSBs, sorry?
It should be by July.
It's by July.
It's by July. Okay. It's a bit confusing because it said in your report last year that it was 'between May and May'. But if it's July, how many have published already?
I don't think we have received any of the PSB annual reports. Just to clarify: there are no duties on me to monitor the PSB annual reports.
But obviously, I'm keen to understand how well they are taking up your advice about the need to have a broader understanding of well-being and to really have new approaches to tensions between different objectives. So, if it's not in examining the annual report, how are you assessing their health on this front?
Well, this is what I would describe as something strange about the legislation, which is I have no duties to advise individual public bodies on setting their well-being objectives, but then I have duties to monitor and assess the progress they're making. I have duties to advise PSBs on setting their well-being plans, but then no duties to monitor and assess. The auditor general doesn't have duties to monitor and assess PSBs, either. So I can't understand why the legislation was written in that way, but those are the facts.
In terms of the PSBs, discussions I'm holding with the Wales Audit Office around particular areas of focus are likely to be looking at things through a PSB lens. So there are ways that we can both get at PSBs, but it's not part of our statutory duties, if you like, in the same way that it is a statutory duty to monitor and assess the individual public bodies.
Okay. Well, thank you for pointing out the anomalies in the Act, which we may obviously need to come back to. But having decided not to reform local government and to continue with 22 local authorities, clearly public services boards are one of the ways in which we can join up the dots and start to have a more integrated approach to problems. We've done some work on scrutinising PSBs and, clearly, there's quite a lot of variation in the way they're approaching it, and you've already mentioned Cwm Taf and others who are doing particular things. Do you think that there are any differences you can identify, based on whether they're ones that have merged with adjoining local authorities, or whether the ones that are, if you like, joining up the dots with other public bodies in the area is sufficient challenge to get people to do things differently?
It's a bit of a difficult question to answer. There are only two PSBs that have merged, so Cwm Taf and two in north Wales. However, the Gwent public services boards and, indeed, all of the individual public bodies in Gwent, have quite a strong tradition of working together. So, although they haven't formally merged, they come together in the G7, as they call themselves. They come together regularly and they're sharing lots of work. So they are doing—. I would say in terms of trying to get their PSBs into the space where they are taking the right sorts of decisions that are required under the future generations Act—so where they're looking at joint funding, where they're really integrating their work and those sorts of things—they are probably ahead of the game in terms of investing in that kind of development and support, and so on, for all of the PSBs in the Gwent region. They have been working, for example, on really driving development opportunities around futures and scenario planning. There are some interesting things that are coming out from the PSBs. So, the Gwent green grid: they're looking across the Gwent area, mapping green infrastructure and identifying further opportunities for that. So, I would say that they are quite successful, but they haven't actually merged formally.
Fair enough. Well, that in itself doesn't seem to matter, it's really the outcomes.
It's whether they're working together.
Obviously, you point out some of the key challenges around childhood obesity, which is the worst in Europe, and climate change we've touched on, but air pollution is a massive issue. So it's really whether you think that PSBs are the appropriate vehicle for delivering on these really critical issues that, clearly, affect more than one local authority, or more than one public department.
I think they are the right mechanism for doing that. If they didn't exist—. I do think that they should be merged, but that's tied up with local authority reorganisation, and so on. So, I think there could be fewer of them. The Gwent region is really sensible, the way that they work together. From my perspective, Cwm Taf likewise. What happens with Bridgend in terms of whether they come on board as well, I don't know what the thinking is there, but that seemed to be sensible to me. So, I do think that if you didn't have them, you'd probably have to create something like them to meet the aspirations of the future generations Act.
However, the most significant challenge is the lack of resources that they've got just in terms of the infrastructure, so PSB support and so on. The fact that people are essentially chasing the money, so you've got public services—
Chasing the money.
No, but I'm alarmed at that because, surely, if they're doing things differently, why are they chasing money? Surely, they're pooling money.
Yes, so I agree with you, but in terms of the information that's come back from our self-reflection tool, there appears to be a greater focus and buy-in at regional partnership board level, because the regional partnership boards are in receipt of cash. They've also had a lot of money in terms of the transformation agenda through that joint working. One, there's not been that level of resourcing in terms of supporting the cultural changes, and so on, at a PSB level and, two, they're not in receipt of cash.
Now, I completely agree with you that, actually, it shouldn't make any difference whether they're in receipt of cash; they are all multi-million pound organisations that are coming to the table with the aim of doing things differently. But the system is such in Wales that people and organisations are drawn to where the cash is, and that's where their focus is. You know, there are significant kind of—. I don't want to do the PSBs down because there are lots of good things going on, but they've not been resourced in the same way as other boards.
But regional partnership boards are slightly different animals, because they are dealing with individual patient or people's needs and therefore, clearly, cash has to be provided to support those needs. But it's really about—. Should they be sub-committees of PSBs, or should they be standalone organisations because, clearly, the public will struggle to understand who all these people are?
And the governance arrangements between the two and how they fit together is not clear, and it's an issue that I raised with Alun Davies, and since, Julie James. The latest money that's gone into the regional partnership boards is the £100 million transformation fund, which came as a result of 'A Healthier Wales'. Now, I strongly believe that that transformation fund should have gone into the public services boards to only be able to be spent in partnership on health-focused activity, but only in partnership through the PSB, and only on preventative action, because I think unless we do that we're never going to drive the change.
You might now have health and social care talking to each other about what they're going to spend the £100 million on, but over in the PSB there might be much better ideas around green infrastructure, 'Let's clean up our air', 'Let's focus on how we build our infrastructure in the right way', which would have more impact on preventing ill health in the long term than just focusing on a health and social care response.
Okay, that's obviously something we need to pick up with the Government another day. Lastly, do you think the current scrutiny arrangements are sufficient, given that it's made up of people from local authorities scrutinising both themselves and a whole manner of other public bodies without any other stakeholders involved? And whilst local authorities may need to lead on this, surely they should be widening the numbers of bodies who are involved in that scrutiny.
I think that there's—. You know, the more people you involve, generally the better. We have provided a—. I talked about a future generations framework for infrastructure and for service design. We've also provided one-for-all scrutiny, which packages, I suppose, a series of questions that members of the scrutiny committee should be asking of the PSB, and indeed at local authority level, in terms of how the future generations Act has been applied. Given my limited resources, that, and some sessions jointly with the good practice exchange directed at scrutiny members, is what we've been able to do this year. But I think that there's always room for improvement. I don't have plans, because of limited capacity and resources, to undertake an assessment of how PSBs are being scrutinised, but I wouldn't rule that out, perhaps jointly with the auditor general, in the future.
I understand that. But surely this could be done without any legislative change. It's about whether or not local authorities resist inviting other stakeholders in to examine all the public bodies.
Yes. And they should be considering the involvement principle, which is: you should be involving people who have an interest in achieving the well-being goals in the work that you're doing to deliver them. So, you could take a narrow definition of that, by saying, 'We'll just have these kinds of core people', or you could take a much broader definition of that, in terms of non-governmental organisations, members of the public, a whole range of different things.
Okay. We've got little time left, and I know there are two Members who want to ask supplementaries on these particular issues, but we'll have to be very brief. Oscar.
Thank you very much. Thank you, Sophie. You mentioned G7 and the Gwent area. This is something—you know, the poorest area in the UK is Blaenau Gwent, and the very rich Monmouth. So, future generations, are you going to put them in one side for development, or which area are you going to prioritise there?
I don't have powers to do any of that—that's a matter for Government. What I'm saying is that I think that the way in which they're working together at the moment is helpful, in that they're sharing knowledge and expertise. There are some really interesting things going in Monmouthshire—I've given you some examples there. It's about to become the first local authority in the UK to take on the running of a post office, for example. That's around meeting their well-being objectives on loneliness and isolation and so on. So, there are lots of good things going on across the board, where I think bringing them all together and sharing and learning from each other is a really good thing. How, if ever, they're actually merged, or local government reform happens, is above my pay grade, I'm afraid.
Thank you. Your very first report, after, I think, your first year travelling across Wales meeting communities, focused on the need for community voice, and effectively designing and delivering services backwards, which is very much aligned with the codes and regulations under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014—codes 2, 3, and 4, if I remember correctly. However, we've heard recently—and, again, I had an e-mail this week from Age Cymru, concerned that the regional and local boards are not giving the third sector voice parity of esteem, putting it politely, with the public sector voice. And we're also hearing—and I chair a number of cross-party groups relating to social justice, hearing disability and health—that procurement processes are frequently seeing user-led, or user-supported, groups losing their funding to clever, better-resourced bodies, which will lead to gaps in services and greater pressure on statutory services, so it's a reverse of prevention. Again, how can we address that dichotomy, where the evidence of this happening is current and growing?
Okay. So, I haven't done specific work in terms of monitoring the approach that PSBs or public bodies are taking to involvement. But one of the journey checkers that I'll be producing in the next few weeks is specifically on involvement, so it will give further guidance to public bodies and PSBs. Anecdotally, the information that I pick up would support what you're saying there, in terms of involvement of the third sector and so on. In terms of the point that you make on procurement, I'm hoping that that will be one of the issues that will be considered when I do this review on some specific contracts. And, clearly, if that's what we're finding, then we can make recommendations to address that.
Okay. We need to move on. On the matter of adverse childhood experiences, commissioner, what further work do you have planned in that priority area of tackling ACEs?
Okay. So, the organisations that have been leading work, really, in terms of ACEs, and we keep in close contact with, are the ACE hub, which is a Government-funded unit, if you like, which is part of Public Health Wales and seconds in a number of other organisations, and also the police transformation fund, which is Home Office funding. Again, we've worked with them to support their bid. They're really focused on how do we train front-line practitioners, starting with police officers, in trauma-informed practice. So, I would say that, in the last year or so, the focus has been on some programmes that are around earlier identification. So, for example, in Bridgend, a multi-agency team have come together who have had the training and are now looking at how do we identify earlier those who have ACEs and make sure that their ACEs aren't escalating and what sort of services and support can we wrap around them. And those are children and young people who wouldn't previously have gone into our—they wouldn't have met thresholds in terms of a high level of intervention. So, that's really promising.
What we're not seeing is—. We're seeing the training and we're seeing commitment to ACEs; what we're not seeing is the fundamental reform of the services that are relevant to ACEs. So, for example, the training is around being trauma-informed, asking the right questions and so on. But then, if you identify they are ACEs, like domestic abuse or like substance misuse or like mental health issues, the services—for example, Women's Aid, for example, mental health services, for example, the area planning boards and substance misuse services—have not necessarily been reformed in a way that can adequately respond to ACEs.
We're not seeing the transformational change. We're seeing commitment and warm words and training front-line practitioners, but we're not seeing the transformational change.
And are you seeing Welsh Government, PSBs, local authorities and others working together more collaboratively on these issues?
Well, one of the positive things was around the—. There was some work done to increase flexibility in some of the different funding streams—so, Families First and a range of other programmes. And that's been widely welcomed and I think has allowed PSBs to flex that in a way that can look at ACEs a bit more holistically rather than just focusing on siloed programmes. But I still don't think that we're seeing the transformational change in this area.
This year, I'm planning—. We're in discussion with Cwm Taf PSB around a specific—we're calling them a 'live lab': basically, around ACEs, how would you apply the lens of the future generations Act to tackling this problem. But that's in development at the moment. I can report on that next year.
Okay, thanks very much. Carwyn, did you want to come in now, at this stage?
Yes. One of the things that I want to commend you on is the work that you've done as future generations commissioner in terms of promoting women and particularly your support for the Me Too campaign. I'm looking at your press releases here and you talk about International Women's Day, talking about eradicating violence against women and girls, all of which I entirely applaud. Is Wales a safe place for women to come forward with complaints about harassment?
I don't think Wales is any safer than any other part of the UK in that regard, no.
I think that's—. I think that's a very difficult question to ask, because I think that relates to people's individual circumstances and it depends what sort of complaints that you're talking about. Are you talking about complaints about bullying, harassment and so on in the workplace, where there are a particular type of factors and considerations that women might have in terms of coming forward? Are you talking about street harassment, where misogyny is not a hate crime? I think a lot of women—and I think it should be by the way, but a lot of women might think, 'Well, I get cat-called every other day, what am I going to do? I'm going to ring the police and what are they going to do about it?' So, I think—you know, whether women feel safe or not, lots of the evidence shows that they don't feel safe. We've still got, just in south Wales, 35,000 incidents of domestic abuse, we've still got low levels of funding for women's refuges and the like, so I don't think, overall, Wales is a safe place, or women feel safe and confident in coming forward, but I think the reasons for that and whether they might be more inclined in some areas than others are very specific to the individual circumstances.
Do you think enough is being done to tackle misogyny-based bullying generally—online, offline, in the street, in the workplace?
No. I've been the victim of it myself on a number of occasions, and I don't think enough is being done. I think that there's—. I think misogyny should be made a hate crime. In the same way that you would report a race hate incident or a disability hate crime, I think we should be able to do that. I think the reason that it's not is that we would absolutely flood the system, because it is so commonplace, it happens on a daily basis, and I don't think anyone is brave enough to take it on.
Just one more. It is a matter of record that women have come forward recently and they have been vilified and abused and attempts made to out them, all of which I'm sure people will condemn, and presumably that's something you condemn as well?
Okay. I'm conscious, commissioner, that we haven't yet dealt with budgetary issues, which are very, very important and also, included within that, the Welsh Government's budget. I just wonder if there's anything you would say about whether again we've seen the sort of transformational change that the Act was intended to produce, and you are working for, in the Welsh Government's budget setting. And, just as part of that, you've called for a mechanism to enable your office—not just your office, but also stakeholders—to track progress year on year on how decisions are being made differently as a result of the Act. So, I know it's difficult to answer some of these questions briefly, commissioner, but we've got very little time. Are we seeing the sort of change you'd like to see, and could you just tell us a little bit more about that mechanism and what form it might take?
Okay. So, I think the short answer is, 'No, we're not seeing the transformational change'. I talked earlier about journey checkers, and that would allow me to see the progress that's being made. I would say that the approach, in terms of Welsh Government budget in this last round, is in the category of simple changes—so, they've got a definition of prevention; they've started to try to look at areas of spend against that definition. Certainly, the way in which the budget was presented this year was done in a more integrated way. However, when we had discussions with Welsh Government officials, we weren't able to get from them an overall narrative of what their particular work programme or budget line was contributing to an overall way of meeting a well-being objective.
So, going forward, what I'm intending to do is to work on that budget checker, which will allow me to, well, (1) give advice and support to the Welsh Government in terms of what we expect to see and (2) monitor on that basis, and we're drawing on some international expertise from New Zealand in doing that, who've been doing work around Jacinda Ardern's well-being budgeting. So, we've had quite a lot of contact with their treasury and are looking at building in their knowledge and experiences on that as well.
Thank you very much. One final question: in terms of well-being goals, indicators, milestones et cetera, one trend that some see is Welsh Government citing the Act and those well-being goals, indicators, milestones in a way that is all-encompassing. So, if Welsh Government is challenged on something—you know, 'Are you properly measuring this? Is evaluation strong enough?' et cetera— the response sometimes is, 'Oh, well, that's a matter for the well-being of future generations Act and the milestones, well-being goals, indicators, et cetera.' One way in which that argument is put by Welsh Government I think is around poverty and tackling poverty, and there is a call for a Minister with particular responsibility and an overarching tackling poverty strategy. To what extent do you think the Act and your role fills that identified or perceived void?
So, I think that the future generations Act provides a really useful framework for most of the things that we would aspire to do in Wales—well, all of them, really—covered through the well-being goals. I think that there is a need for—. That doesn't mean that there shouldn't be specific areas of focus, as long as it's done within the framework of the Act, rather than, 'We're now setting a new policy over here and over there', and that's—. The very strong feedback that we have from public bodies is that it would be helpful if the Government as a whole used the Act as a framework and drove everything through it, rather than saying, 'The new show in town is x, y or z policy', because that confuses people who want to do the right thing, and people who don't want to do the right thing, it sort of lets them off the hook because the landscape is too complex and they can say, 'It's all too complex.' So, I think that certainly poverty, socioeconomic—'An equal Wales' has socioeconomic issues within it. In every one of the goals, there are areas in which poverty is an issue. So, certainly, it can run through it, but my office is not resourced to look at that in significant detail, given the scope of the legislation and, as I said, the fact that I'm the lowest funded commissioner.
Okay. Thank you very much for that and thank you for your evidence in general this morning, and, indeed, into this afternoon. So, thank you, commissioner, and thank you, Marie. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.
Okay. The next item on the agenda, then, item 6, is papers to note. We have a letter from the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee and a letter from the Counsel General and Brexit Minister. Is committee content to note both?
Okay, thank you very much. We then, I think, go into private session.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:06.
The public part of the meeting ended at 12:06.