Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb, Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau Y Bumed Senedd
Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee - Fifth Senedd01/05/2019
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Huw Irranca-Davies AC|
|Jenny Rathbone AC|
|John Griffiths AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Leanne Wood AC|
|Mark Isherwood AC|
|Mohammad Asghar AC|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Dewi Rowlands||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Trafnidiaeth, Polisi, Cynllunio a Phartneriaethau, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director, Transport Policy, Planning and Partnerships, Welsh Government|
|Ken Skates AC||Gweinidog yr Economi a Thrafnidiaeth|
|Minister for Economy and Transport|
|Simon Jones||Cyfarwyddwr, Isadeiledd Economaidd, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Director of Economic Infrastructure, Welsh Government|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Catherine Hunt||Ail Glerc|
|Lisa Griffiths||Dirprwy Glerc|
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 09:30.
The meeting began at 09:30.
Okay. May I welcome everyone to this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee? The first item on the agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We've received one apology from Carwyn Jones. Are there any declarations of interest? No.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd ar gyfer eitemau 3 a 6 o'r cyfarfod hwn a'r cyfarfod ar 15 Mai yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public for items 3 and 6 of this meeting and from the meeting on 15 May in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Then we will move on to item 2, which is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from this meeting for items 3 and 6. Is committee content so to do? Okay. We will then move into private session.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 09:31.
The public part of the meeting ended at 09:31.
Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 10:07.
The committee reconvened in public at 10:07.
Welcome back to this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. Item 4 on our agenda today is the continuation of our inquiry into the blue badge scheme in Wales—eligibility and implementation. We have evidence session 5 now, with Ken Skates, Minister for Economy and Transport; Simon Jones, director of economic infrastructure; and Dewi Rowlands, deputy director of transport policy, planning and partnerships. So, welcome to you all. Thanks for coming along to give evidence to the committee today. If it's okay, Minister, might I begin with an initial question, unless there's anything you wanted to say in terms of opening remarks?
Just that I'm really pleased that you're carrying out an inquiry into this important subject area. I've been looking at some of the evidence given by attendees, and what strikes me is that consistency of approach has been raised on many occasions, and I think our evidence paper probably could have provided more detail on joint transport authorities, which I believe could offer something of a silver bullet for this particular problem. But we can perhaps flesh that out later on in the discussions.
That's very interesting. We will come on to those issues, Minister. Thanks very much for that. Might I begin with some questions on eligibility criteria? We heard from some organisations, such as Disability Wales, and indeed those who attended focus groups, that there are sometimes problems in terms of the relationship between eligibility for welfare benefits and then consequent eligibility for blue badges. With the personal independence payments, for example, I think there are well-known problems with the delay in making decisions, making appeals, which ultimately prove successful but the length of time that that takes and so on. And if the two are tied together, then the problems with the welfare benefits and the personal independence payments become problems with the application for the blue badge. So, are there any ways, do you think, in which that relationship might be improved, or actions that could overcome those problems?
Okay. I think it's worth saying that the relationship in terms of the eligibility criteria is very clear. The measures are the same, but you don't need to go through the PIP process in order to be assessed under the further assessment criteria for a blue badge. So, we're all familiar with the problems that you've highlighted insofar as PIP is concerned—delays and so forth—but anybody seeking to secure a blue badge can apply under the further assessment criteria. The measures are consistent and we're hoping, through changes in the central database, we'll be able to fast-track certain individuals as well. So, whilst I recognise that there are problems with the PIP process, people who are seeking a blue badge don't need to go through that in order to secure the badge.
It's just that, I guess, we've heard that the automatic entitlement, as it were, is a far easier process than the other options.
Yes, absolutely. I don't know whether you've sought any evidence from the UK Government concerning PIP, but this is certainly a question that I think could be addressed by relevant Ministers in Westminster. Speeding up and making more efficient the process of securing PIP would, in those circumstances that you've highlighted, be of assistance.
Thank you. Given your comment there that, nonetheless, there is flexibility in the system, the witnesses' evidence to us suggests that some of them have been told otherwise. Does that indicate still perhaps a lack of understanding amongst those delivering blue badge schemes locally—
Yes, there could be.
—and how better can we address that?
I think that's a fair comment. We've produced guidance and a form of toolkit and you've heard evidence, and I've anecdotally heard, that there's an inconsistent approach and that sometimes individuals perhaps aren't advised as best as they could be in terms of eligibility and the criteria and the process that needs to be followed. But we do also have the information, advice and support team, which is available in each area and is able to give expert, professional advice—professional in the form of an occupational therapist. I think we've got, if you like, all parts of the orchestra in place, but it's not necessarily being used and as fully exploited as it should be by the people who provide the assessments.
What more can we do about that? If the guidance is in place, but the problem is still occurring—not the big stick necessarily, but how can we help manage their understanding and manage that change in culture so that the social model, effectively, of disability is embedded? It's not often because people are intentionally getting it wrong, it's simply because they don't know how they should be getting it right.
And in part, it's because of resource—human resource and pressures on various departments within local government. I think that the move towards the creation of joint transport authorities, where we're able to consolidate expertise, will assist greatly in this regard. It will iron out inconsistencies and ensure that best practice is fully dispersed across local government in Wales.
Just one further matter on the eligibility criteria, Disability Wales suggested to us, Minister, that those with long-term health conditions who no longer qualify for personal independence payments are sometimes in a rather more difficult position than they need be in terms of the eligibility criteria, and Disability Wales suggested there might be a review of blue badge eligibility criteria to clarify the entitlement of people in that position—people with those long-term conditions, but who are no longer able to claim personal independence payments.
Okay, well, eligibility for a blue badge is based on mobility, not on a medical diagnosis, and I think that's absolutely right. Those who are most in need of access to facilities and services are adequately covered and recognised under the existing scheme. People who are not necessarily eligible for PIP can, as I said earlier, go through the further assessment process, but it is still based on mobility, and I think it's right that it should be based on mobility and the social aspect of eligibility rather than based on a medical diagnosis, which would include potentially far more people and therefore undermine or damage the integrity of the scheme, which is designed to enable people to overcome barriers to mobility.
Huw, on this.
Which leads us interestingly into the issue of carers, and I'm interested in the Welsh Government's view on carers because we've certainly had expressed in evidence to the committee from the Alzheimer's Society and others that there needs to be much more consideration of the role of carers with people either with mobility issues or otherwise—carers who perhaps leave home because they are the primary person who goes and rapidly does the picking up of the medicine, picking up of the shopping or whatever. What is the Welsh Government's approach to this?
And I think the word you used there was 'rapid', that they do it rapidly. But the difference is that, whilst I recognise that carers in many instances will require rapid access to shops and services, their requirements, their needs are nowhere near as significant as people who have the blue badge because they are overcoming physical barriers in terms of their mobility. Perhaps when this inquiry started I was quite sympathetic to the cases being put, but if we were to implement an extension of the eligibility and allow carers to use the blue badge when the individual that they care for is not in the vehicle, we'd be looking at about 370,000 more.
Now, I know that you've also had evidence from other groups and bodies, all of whom are representing their members and stakeholders very well. We're talking about huge numbers of individuals that could benefit from a blue badge if we were to widen the criteria as they wish. So, 370,000 carers. By 2030, we're looking at around about 250,000 cancer patients. It's been proposed for people with anxiety as well. Now, 20 per cent of the population at any point is suffering from depression or anxiety. So, before long, you could increase the number of blue badges that are in existence from 211,000 to, what, 1.5 million potentially? And you have to ask: what would be the unintended consequences, not just in terms of—
Before we go down that wider issue of where the potential demand could take us, just to return to the specific issue of carers, within the flexibility and discretion that is currently available under the guidance to local authorities, should there be some discretion for an individual carer and the person they care for to make the case that, 'Actually, for us, for me, it is important that this carer is able to leave my terraced house, rapidly get down, pick up something, use my badge and get back'? Should there be some flexibility within it, or do you say, 'Well, no, for carers it's—
Okay. I'd be uneasy about doing that with the blue badge because it could lead to abuse and misuse of the badge. It would be very difficult to enforce—
And, as you say, the figures are massive, potentially.
Massive. It would be very difficult to prove to civil enforcement officers that you were using the badge in that circumstance because you have to access very rapidly a service. I think that, if there is an issue—and we'd have to look at this on an evidence-based approach—with requiring fast access, then perhaps we look at the, Just Can't Wait card instead, which is available to people with incontinence. But it might be that that's a more applicable route to address this problem, rather than using a badge that is designed to help people overcome mobility issues because, whilst I think it's an admirable—. You know, I do recognise the challenge that many carers face, but they're not overcoming mobility issues themselves, and I do think that the integrity of the scheme has to be maintained.
Okay. But you are actually recognising that there may be individual cases here that may need to be somehow taken account of, if not within the blue badge then somewhere else.
Somewhere else. But, equally, even if we were to take account of it somewhere else, that wouldn't then address, in its own right, challenges in terms of congestion within areas. Actually, it doesn't matter if you've got a badge; if you're sitting in traffic for half an hour, saving 30 seconds on parking 50 metres closer to a shop is pretty pointless, quite honestly.
Okay, Huw. Sticking with eligibility criteria, Minister, we heard from Age Cymru that there is a problem with residential homes in terms of the fact that, sometimes, they're expected to apply for each individual who's eligible within that home to get the badges rather than applying as an organisation. We know from your written evidence that organisations can be issued with an organisational blue badge, but we just wondered really as a committee whether you could clarify that and, indeed, whether there are issues around interpretation by local authorities.
Yes, I'm very happy to clarify this. If I can put it in the simplest terms, an organisational badge will enable an organisation to serve the needs of somebody in residential care. However, in certain circumstances, an individual blue badge might be preferable because, for example, a carer or a family member regularly takes that individual out, therefore it would be more beneficial for them to have an individual blue badge.
Right, okay. Huw.
On the issue of eligibility, Chair, and this issue of where the potential demand could be if we expanded the criteria of those people who are eligible and different conditions that are eligible—it's something that Leanne was raising in our private session earlier on as well. One of the interesting things is that we've already done the hard graft of doing population needs assessments, both on a national and a local basis. We have an idea of where the trajectory of different conditions is taking us, almost region by region and local authority by local authority. Is there scope here for using that information to actually map out and forecast—five years, 10 years—what the demand would likely be under the existing criteria here? If so, does that lead us to a position where, similar to things like play sufficiency demands on local authorities, we could say, 'Well, there needs to be a sufficiency/demand analysis of parking for blue badges', or whatever the blue badge equivalent is at the time?
I think this is a far more intelligent and sensible approach, rather than just widening out—broadening—eligibility to a huge number of people. Actually, it's very timely that you've raised this, because we've got in development the Welsh transport strategy. Within that, there will be an area of work concerning the framework for parking, and we are going to be, with regard to parking, looking at planning for future demand. So, actually, what you're suggesting is already in train, but I think it would make perfect sense in terms of this specific issue. Dewi, can you just add some flesh to this?
Yes, thank you, Chair. The WTS—the Wales transport strategy—is being refreshed. Hopefully, we'll be publishing an updated version in 2020. The last version was published in 2008. As the Minister was explaining, we will be developing our policy framework for the next 20 years for transport. That provides an opportunity to look at trends, obviously, because we will need to develop that policy framework based on sound evidence. One of the key areas we'll obviously be looking at is people's needs—making sure that people are the focus of our attention when we come to develop our policies. So, there is an opportunity to look at future trends and ensure that our transport system, our facilities and provision are fit for purpose.
I welcome that, Chair, and I think there might be some mileage in this. The population needs assessment work is done and you've got your transport strategy under way—the timing seems to be right. The only observation I'd make in addition to this, and I don't know whether this would scare the Welsh Government, is that the play sufficiency assessment—a totally different policy area, I recognise—is a legal statutory obligation on a local authority to do the assessment and then to actually deliver adequate play across the thing. Maybe we don't need a piece of law, but I'd just flag that up, if you were to take that approach.
I think what might be beneficial is some form of joint committee analysis and assessment of the current legal framework, if you like, and the work that is going to be carried out on the Welsh transport strategy refresh.
Does the Government recognise that as we consider restricting access to parking for other good reasons like pollution control and carbon emissions that that is, in itself, going to incentivise more people to think, 'Can I get a blue badge?' to get around this problem?
Exactly. The unintended consequences of broadening the eligibility criteria could be pretty devastating, not just to the integrity of this scheme, but also in terms of congestion in town and city centres and emissions as well. Also, we already know that there is an issue with fraudulent activity—misuse and abuse. We believe that about one in five blue badges are being misused or abused. The cost to the taxpayer is pretty considerable. It's estimated at over £40 million across the UK, so it's a huge financial cost as well.
What do you base that on?
What do you base that on?
That's on the—. Is that the National Audit Office?
I can send you a briefing on the degree of abuse and misuse, and the financial cost.
That would be useful.
Of course, in some parts of Britain, if you like, the use of a blue badge has far more financial benefit for an individual than in other parts—London, primarily, where you might have to pay a low emissions charge of £12 per day, in addition to a congestion charge, in addition to parking. It can—
So, that one in five is not necessarily a Welsh figure then.
I think that's a Welsh figure, but we'll check and I'll send a briefing note through to you.
That would be very useful, Minister.
Yes, because I think, in all honesty, Chair, we've got to get the priorities set up in a way that we ensure we're dealing with problems that are in existence right now and, for me, that's about enforcement and it's about consistency first. It's about making sure that we do plan for future need, secondly, as well, and that's already happening, and then consider additional individuals that might require a blue badge. But until we get enforcement and consistency sorted, then I fear that any widening or significant widening of the eligibility criteria could lead to quite a few additional problems for us to face. Simon.
The other factor I think that concerns us about widening eligibility criteria is the reciprocal arrangements that we have with local authorities on the other side of the border. So, we already have a higher rate of blue badge provision than they do in England—6.8 against 4.2, or something like that. And that's causing some tension in the relationship between us and England anyway. There's a chance that if we push this too far the reciprocal arrangement gets torn up, and actually all of those people who benefit from blue badges in Wales at the moment may no longer be able to use their blue badge—sorry, if they're using a blue badge in Wales, may no longer be able to use that in England—if our colleagues on the other side of the border disagree with our approach to eligibility.
Isn't it the case that the reason that there are more blue badges in Wales is because there are higher levels of disability and older people with mobility problems? They can't have it all ways really, surely?
So, I guess, looking from their perspective though, similar to us they've got limited resources that are available for blue badge holders, in terms of spaces and the issue of people parking on double yellow lines and the safety implications of that. I guess the view would be that if there was a surge in the number of Welsh blue badge holders that were taking those resources, they might wish to act to counter that demand.
If the eligibility criteria were extended here.
Because the majority of the population is so close to the border—. If you take your region, Mark, let's take Boundary Lane in Saltney as an example—one side in England, one side in Wales. If we were to introduce a huge number of additional blue badges into Wales then how would enforcement officers deal with that on that particular road? Because you could, on one side, have English and Welsh residents parking on double yellow lines under our more generous criteria potentially, but on the English side of the road there would be a different criterion and eligibility scheme in place, and then people living in Wales, who were parking just a few metres away, might find that they're being constantly hit with penalty charge notices. So, I think a consistent approach is absolutely vital.
Although I guess there are differences now, Minister, are there, in terms of some of the extensions that we've already made in Wales?
Yes. There are some extensions, and that's why Simon said that that did cause tension between us and the other nations. It's worth saying that this isn't the only difference in how the system works across the four nations. Not only do we have the widest eligibility criteria, we also still involve GPs in the process, albeit not in a huge proportion of cases, but in Scotland and in England GPs have been removed from the application process.
Okay. Oscar, and then Mark.
Thank you, Minister. For London—I travel there a lot—there are different boroughs and they've got different criteria for parking. It's very limited in central London and there are very, very limited spaces there and you can park only for limited hours. And the thing is there are other places where you can park but you have to pay past a certain time. So, there is a very big difference between Wales and England, and the charges vary in London. So, if it's in central London it's nearly £5 an hour, which is that sort of amount—nearly. And if you're just on the outskirts of London, it's less than £2 to £3 an hour. So, it varies from borough to borough. So, they have disabled badge facilities, but they charge then after certain hours, and in the blue badge area you can only park for certain hours too. So, that is the limitation there. London is very restrictive on that and there are cameras everywhere. They charge your timing when you park and after that, if you overstep so many hours even on the blue badge, they'll come to your home.
It's a very particular situation in London, isn't it?
Cardiff is the same, Chair. Cardiff is going to be the same.
We're straying soon, I think, into—we're straying into an active travel debate.
Yes, we are widening our inquiry a little, and we need to confine it a little more, I think. Mark.
Thank you. You've detailed some of the reasons why you believe we shouldn't be, in principle, broadening eligibility and should be a bit more focused on how we can improve things for people who do face mobility barriers, whether they are visible or hidden. I'll just clarify two of the points you made, if I may. Following Huw Irranca-Davies's comment about future planning versus eligibility, I think the Minister stated that perhaps that would be a better approach than eligibility. Can I just confirm, for the record, that you still recognise the need for eligibility measures or processes in the system? Otherwise people could be disadvantaged further.
Yes, absolutely, yes.
And, secondly, your comment about one in five abusing the system, does that mean that you're saying that we need to better target the 20 per cent who are abusing, rather than taking a more broad-brush approach, which could penalise the 80 per cent who are not?
So, shall I just first of all deal with the point that you raise about widening eligibility? If we are to see more people benefit from a concession of this sort, I'd prefer to look at it as a parallel process. So, rather than fundamentally change the blue badge, perhaps look at another form of positive parking badge scheme that would capture a larger number of people. So, perhaps the blue badge scheme would allow you to be first in line, and then there would be a positive parking badge—I don't know, a yellow badge, say—for all of the people who have been identified this morning, and then there are able-bodied people who do not require swift access or access that requires some degree of overcoming a mobility issue. So, that's why I think that, actually, if you're going to consider, Chair, recommending widening the eligibility, I would urge you not to do so at the risk of undermining the existing scheme and perhaps look at it as an additional method of addressing the needs of many people.
Yes. I think you've been quite clear on that, Minister, and it's useful.
Yes. And then, in terms of enforcement, I'll check again with the data, but my understanding is that it's one in five badges. Rather than one in five people, one in five badges have been misused or abused. And that is not just by individuals who have the badge themselves. It can be people who should have given the badge in when the person that they cared for passed away. There are a large number of badges still in circulation that should not be out there. Indeed, we were sent a badge quite recently that was dated 2008, I think it was. So, I would like, through better enforcement, to address the 20 per cent in order to protect the 80 per cent.
Can I come in on this, Chair?
Well, you may well do, Leanne, because we need to move on to assessment anyway, but yes. Yes, sure.
Can I address this point, because I have a bit of a problem with some of the line of argument here, to be honest with you? If we accept that the numbers of people who were eligible for blue badges has decreased because of welfare reform—people have been knocked off disability benefits, there have been changes to disability benefits and it's reduced the number of people who were eligible—but we also have to accept that, in Wales, we've got higher levels of disability than we have over the border and more older people and that there are geographic concentrations, because it's cheaper to live in some places, so if you need to reduce your housing costs, you move to somewhere like the Rhondda. Now, if Rhondda Cynon Taf decide to put a limit on the number of blue badges they issue annually, which is what they appear to be doing, they're not taking account at all of the demand in that area. They're only issuing 10 or 20 of these permits or blue badges and the parking spaces that go with them every year. So, it feels as though those areas are being penalised in a number of different ways. So, there could be some flexibility to the system. I hear what you said about the problems with the cross-border issue. I don't think we should decide our whole policy on the relatively small numbers of people who would be affected by that. There could potentially be some sort of flexibility—
It's more than 50 per cent of the population who live within an hour of the border, so it's not a small number of people.
Well, okay, but there are a lot of people who are not affected by—who never cross the border, right, who just don't do it.
Granted. But if the system works at the moment—and, broadly, it works, but what we're talking about is difficulty in enforcement and consistency and you're now talking about a concentration. Now, my understanding—. I'm not aware of Rhondda Cynon Taf council applying a limit on the number of passes—
That may not be their policy; that just is what it looks like.
Well, if it's not their policy, what you're proposing is actually irrelevant.
Well, no, because there are plenty of people who are severely disabled and immobile applying for blue badges who are not getting them, because they're saying there's a limit to how many they can issue.
But I'm not aware of the limit you're referring to.
Okay. I'll get back to you on that point then, because it's definitely an issue.
Yes, I mean—. Dewi—
I think that's something that as a committee we'd want to get information on as well.
Yes. If it's anecdotal, then it's one thing. If there is evidence to it, then we'd need to look at it.
If I could clarify, Chair, it was the National Fraud Authority that came up with the 20 per cent statistic, and that was UK-level data.
So, that isn't a Welsh figure, then.
That's at UK level, and it equates to roughly 0.5 million blue badges.
So, the figure for Wales will be potentially different if we take into account the London issue that you talked about.
I imagine—. Yes, potentially different, and I imagine, if anything, it would be lower, because the value of a blue badge is higher in London, for example.
Yes. Well, therefore, then, do you need to put so much emphasis on this question of fraud? Because—. I'm going off the questions I'm allocated here, but a number of witnesses have told us that part of the hostile environment towards disabled people is a factor in this issue. And if you, as a Minister, are focusing a lot on fraud using a figure that's a UK figure affected by particular issues around London, then I would suggest that that's a bit of a problem.
No, I'm not sure about that at all. People have to have confidence in the system working correctly. And, in terms of enforcement, one of the challenges that local government has faced is that they've had a lack of resource, and so, in many instances, there has not been the enforcement, and that's then led to people questioning whether there is a problem and whether the problem is far greater than it might be. So, in order to establish the confidence in the system, there's a need to ensure that there is full and proper enforcement of the blue badge scheme as it is. Now, by July of this year, every local authority will have its own enforcement officer that's able to do that. And I think that will strengthen the confidence that the public have in the blue badge scheme. But carrying out a huge extension of the scheme before we establish firmer confidence in it I think would be quite dangerous and could be detrimental to the integrity of the blue badge.
But it's going to be impossible to establish that level of confidence when we've had a 10-year campaign attacking disabled people for being malingerers and fakers and that is then filtering out into general attitudes and people are pointing, 'You're not properly disabled. What are you doing with a blue badge?' My fear is what you're saying here is feeding into that.
No, I don't think it's feeding into it, but there is an issue in terms of ensuring that blue badges are used properly.
Is that the priority though?
Well, let me just talk about the priorities. First of all, it's ensuring that the blue badge scheme is applied consistently right across Wales. That's No. 1, I think; No. 2 is to ensure that the blue badge is being used properly and isn't being misused and I think that is important, but in parallel—
I'm not hearing you say about the need for people with disabilities to be mobile and independent.
Okay, in parallel with that—. No, but that's the whole point of the blue badge—
That should be your priority.
Hang on. And it is. And that's why I'm saying that it's absolutely right that the blue badge eligibility criteria focus on overcoming mobility challenges. And if you broaden it out to include potentially hundreds of thousands more people, it will not focus on mobility. We have to ensure that the people who are most vulnerable, isolated and marginalised are protected by this system.
Hang on. Nobody's advocating widening the eligibility criteria to people who haven't got mobility problems. Nobody's saying that, are they?
Well, my understanding is that—
There are proposals. There have been proposals in the evidence that we've received along those lines, and—
Well, we're concerned about mobility, really, aren't we, as a committee?
That's good to hear, because I am as well. I'm sorry if there's a misunderstanding, but my focus is on ensuring that the blue badge scheme serves people who have the most severe mobility challenges, and from what I've read of the evidence that's been given so far—
Just 'the most severe', I mean—.
—a lot of the evidence has focused instead on how the scheme can be widened rather than improved and protected for people that need it protected.
Yes, that is the case, but I think we've had a good exploration of these issues now. Huw, is it anything that's different to what we've already discussed?
Well, I'm just wondering whether you want me to wrap up on the enforcement side of this whilst we're on it.
Well, I think we'll do assessment first, Huw, and come back to enforcement, I think.
In which case, Chair, can I just ask for one point of clarification? This issue of a local authority capping the number of blue badges, I think we need to know if that is somewhere within the guidance or not that they're allowed to do this, because my understanding was it might be de facto that it seems like that, there's a perception, but I'd be extremely concerned if a local authority was saying, 'We are now rationing blue badges'.
It's not in the guidance and may I suggest that you carry out further enquiries about this, potentially through the—
We haven't had any evidence on that. We've heard what Leanne has said, obviously, and we'll take steps as a committee to try and—
I've not heard of a cap being applied in any of the local authorities.
—find out what's actually happening. But, Leanne, on the assessment process.
Yes, okay. Have you taken any analysis of the impact on applicants of removing GPs from the assessment process? What steps are being taken to ensure that medical evidence is still being appropriately considered?
Okay. Well, GPs have not been completely removed from the process. We don't operate in the same way as Scotland. So, GPs are still part of the process, albeit they're not as involved in as many cases. The use of medical advice from professionals is encouraged, but, at the end of the day, the mobility badge is awarded on the basis of an individual's challenge in being mobile, and so the assessment is focused on whether an individual needs a badge in order to live independently, and therefore medical diagnosis is not something that is used as a foundation for a decision; it's how mobile and whether an individual is mobile. Now, we do encourage evidence to be provided by many professionals, but that evidence has to be provided in an objective way as well to ensure that the system operates fairly and that there is equal access to blue badges for all people who might need them.
Well, we've had evidence from Disability Wales, who raised concerns about the removal of GPs from the assessment process. They believe that some of the decisions that are being made are being made at odds with medical evidence. Disability Wales, the National Autistic Society and the All Wales Forum of Parents and Carers suggested that a wider range of evidence should be accepted as part of the blue badge application and they talked about evidence from GPs, social workers, occupational therapists, teachers. What are your views on that?
OTs are already used through the IAS anyway. So, they are relied upon by local authorities when a referral to the IAS takes place. Medical evidence is valuable, but that in its own right does not inform how mobile an individual is and so I don't think it's right to rely on GPs' recommendations. I don't think it's fair to GPs to rely on their recommendations on whether an individual should be eligible for a badge that provides a greater degree of mobility and freedom. I believe that it's right that we rely on those professionals who can assess on the basis of mobility.
A lot of those organisations that have given evidence to us are concerned that some of the assessors don't have the medical knowledge—
They're not meant to be medical professionals, though.
But then they're missing medical—
No. They can—. We recommend that those assessors do take into account any information that's provided by medical professionals, but they are not in their own right medical professionals themselves. They are challenged to ensure that blue badges are awarded on the basis of mobility, not on the basis of medical diagnosis.
Would you consider—? Given that we've had this evidence from these various organisations, would you be prepared to consider how individuals with lived experienced of disabilities can play a greater role in this assessment process?
Okay. So, I think—. Can we just go back to the JTAs, Chair, because I think that this is where there could be a really important role for people with lived experience as JTAs are being established, as part of our drive for a fully integrated transport system in Wales to consolidate what we've got, to ensure that there is expertise captured in the regions and through a national JTA as well? I think that people with lived experiences could, through the establishment of an appropriate forum, be able to advise the JTAs on how this and many other areas of transport service provision can be improved. And so my answer would be 'yes'—not with regard to individual applications, though, because I think there are data protection issues—
The more wider policy—
But more wider policy.
I think there is a really important role that could be played out through the establishment of joint transport authorities.
Okay. Well, that's useful. Jenny.
I just wondered if, in assessing eligibility, there aren't certain circumstances where there are pretty open-and-shut cases, like in an eye clinic where the doctor is saying, 'You're going to go blind within x weeks,' or 'I'm going to need to remove your right to drive because of your disability'. Surely that is a competent professional who can say, 'This person is going to need a blue badge,' simply because of their deteriorating condition that, unfortunately, is unlikely to be a wrong assessment.
I'm not sure, actually, of that, because an assessor within a local authority would ask, for example, 'Do you rely on oxygen?' Now, you don't necessarily require medical knowledge, you don't need to be a professional medic, to know that, if you are dependent on oxygen, you're not going to be able to walk too far—you know, you have a major mobility challenge. So, it doesn't require a note from the doctor to say, 'Yes, this person is struggling with mobility because they're relying on oxygen.' That sort of awareness—
I think that's a fair point. I think in trying to address the issue of some of these stakeholders who've said, 'It's really difficult to find out about this,' and, if you've been given really bad news, navigating your way through the system—. Surely, eye clinics could instantly say, 'And here's your blue badge application,' as just—you know, as a piece of process.
I imagine it'd be for local authorities, in part, to determine whether additional professional—
They'd still have to apply, but I think it's about ensuring that people know this is the course of action they're going to need to take.
So, there is already within health environments campaigning literature and information available. I think, as a matter of course, a health professional would, in most circumstances, question a patient's needs, and, if it was obvious to them that they would benefit from a blue badge, then they would refer them to the relevant officer within the local authority.
Okay, but I wonder whether that's actually happening—that the system's as joined up as we'd like it to be.
It might be different across local authorities as well. I guess it depends, in part, on the relationship that a local authority has with a health board, for example.
Jenny, on assessment, as well.
Excellent. You've devised the blue badge toolkit, but it's not statutory, so what was the purpose of the toolkit, then, if you don't oblige all local authorities to use it?
To drive consistency—recognising that it's non-statutory, to drive consistency and to ensure that the system operates fairly across all parts of Wales. Of course, it'd be more desirable to have statutory guidance in place; however, we believe that all local authorities use it in some form, albeit in some parts of Wales an adapted toolkit—but we believe that all do use it.
'We believe', so you don't know. What is the—?
Local authorities don't report back to us on the extent to which they rely on the toolkit.
Okay. So, could you tell us how many local authorities took part in the workshops that you set up last year?
Okay. So, last year's workshop—unfortunately, I think it was one local authority that showed an interest—
But that was the refresh training. But how many are actively engaged in this—
Yes, sorry. The first workshop that took place—last year's was one, but they then cancelled. The previous year's workshop, I think a very significant—was it 18—?
Eighteen out of 22.
So, almost all.
Okay. So, four, as far as you're aware, have not engaged actively.
Yes, I can provide details of which local authorities—
I think it would be helpful just because then we can write to those who weren't engaged with the toolkit as to why they haven't engaged with it.
We'll provide additional detail on that, Chair, but I think also what Jenny is highlighting is the need to have JTAs in place so that this can be captured and can be carried out, so this sort of work can be done on a regional basis that will then apply to all local authority areas.
Okay. JTAs—is that joint transport authorities?
Joint transport authorities.
I can provide a briefing note on the establishment of JTAs. This forms part of the White Paper proposals on the future of public transport, but I'll happily provide a briefing.
That would be useful, Minister, yes. Thanks very much for that. Simon.
It might just be worth saying that the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee has had a long session on joint transport authorities recently as well. They're producing a report on them at the moment. So there's been quite a lot of discussion on them.
Fair enough. We'll refer to that.
How does the Welsh Government consider the importance of a monitoring system to ensure that local authorities are complying with the guidance?
Well, because it's non-statutory monitoring, and an enforcement or monitoring system is not in place, it would be desirable to ensure that the guidance is being adhered to. In order to address it, it might require a change to UK primary legislation. The committee may have a view on that when recommendations are published.
Okay. But, alternatively, do you think the joint transport authority route is the one to go down?
Yes. I think that would make most sense. It would be the easiest route for us to address this problem.
Part of what we're exploring with the future joint arrangements is how we can issue guidance to those new bodies that are created. And it may be that this issue could be swept up as part of that wider set of arrangements about guidance.
Some transparency on this issue, I think, would be welcome, because a couple of local authorities, Carmarthenshire and Caerphilly, did say, 'Why isn't there a monitoring process?' because I presume they feel they're doing their bit and that others may not be complying in the same way. So, hopefully, the joint transport authorities will address that.
Could you just explain why there isn't any sort of independent appeals process? Because some of the various third sector organisations who gave us evidence were concerned that an individual within a local authority is making a judgment that then is not open to challenge.
There is an independent appeals process within local authority areas. So that's in place. If there are difficulties in determining whether an applicant should receive a blue badge, then a referral can take place to the independent advisory service, and that's provided free of charge by the Welsh Government. And so I believe that we do have an independent appeals process, albeit at a local authority level. And we also have that additional support that's required if there are any concerns or difficulties in determining the eligibility of someone. And the beauty of the IAS service is that occupational therapists are able to visit individuals, often at their home, to carry out face-to-face discussions to properly assess their mobility challenges. And I think that's a really important additional service. I'm pleased that now local authorities are increasingly using the IAS. I think somewhere in the region of two thirds of local authorities have utilised the IAS in this current year, and with the numbers growing, I expect the other third of local authorities who have not yet accessed the IAS will do in the coming years.
Okay, because it's concerning that Disability Wales, the Alzheimer's Society and the National Autistic Society are arguing that we need an independent appeals process and yet we appear to have one that is perfectly independent—
Well, I think what you described, Minister, is not what most people would consider to be an independent appeals process, because surely most people would imagine, wouldn't they, that if your application is turned down, then you have the opportunity unilaterally to go to another independent body and to appeal against the decision that's been made. And that, obviously, isn't what you've just described.
Look, I'd be really interested to see any evidence that would suggest, or would lead us to conclude, that the independent appeals process within any of the local authorities is not operating properly, fairly or independently. I'd be really interested to see that, because I would consider whether we need an additional form of appeals process to be established. And it's also worth noting—I didn't say it earlier—that, in certain circumstances, individuals can appeal to Welsh Government as well.
Okay. Mark, on this.
Following on the same theme, my understanding is that independent assessment service helps local authorities make decisions on eligibility—it's not for the applicant to instigate that process, or a further independent process. So, correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding in those circumstances is that all they could do would be to make a formal complaint to the council, under the complaints process, and ultimately end up with the ombudsman, which somewhat bypasses the core issue, and adds cost and complexity, which should be totally avoidable. But IAS to many autistic people means independent autism service—so we all have to be careful about our acronyms. I know from my own casework that many—. We all know that autism is a spectrum condition, and that every autistic person is individual, just like everybody else, and therefore each will have different barriers and needs, most of which will be invisible, and that's where expertise is required. Where the failing of the system exists, as with PIP, is where the assessors don't have that specialist expertise in understanding the barriers that individuals—not just the broad condition, but individuals—might face. So it is core, and I hope you will hear the need, and respond to the call for, not only specialist input about the individual's communication or mobility barriers, but also the broader need for the individual, or their families or carers, to be able to go to an independent process, if everything else failed, for less cost complexity than—
I'd be more than happy to consider that. If you're able to produce a recommendation that's based on evidence that we're able to take a close look at, then that's certainly something that we'd very carefully consider.
Okay. Thanks very much for that, Minister. Simon.
And I think that we've got a lot of thinking to do about the shape of the joint transport authority arrangements, or this collective arrangement, for doing these things. And these kinds of issues are the kinds of issues that we're going to have to deal with, not just in the blue badge space, but actually in a number of other areas. So, actually, any recommendations that the committee might want to make will be useful as we're designing that future architecture.
Okay. Thanks very much for that. Mark, moving on to some of the inconsistency issues, I think the Minister has been clear on this, in terms of the importance that you attach to that, but there may be some matters we haven't yet dealt with in sufficient detail, Mark, that you might want to raise.
Thank you. That's a pleasant surprise. In your paper, you state that you're considering how to further promote consistent decision making. What practical changes are you considering?
The JTAs—they're the big change that we're considering at the moment. I'll provide that detailed briefing note for you. But I think that the establishment of JTAs, and a national JTA, can make a huge difference.
With the user-led—
In terms of driving consistency.
With lived experience at the core.
Lived experience advising the JTAs. I think there could be a role for a national forum, or regional forums, to be established that could advise JTAs on best practice, on lived experience, on the process of applying for blue badges. I'm sorry that I didn't go into any detail in my evidence paper about JTAs—it was remiss of me—but, having read a lot of the evidence that's been provided, and feeling that the direction of the inquiry was going in a certain way, I thought it was important today to raise JTAs.
Again, given that Welsh legislation—the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014—requires the services to be designed and delivered with people and communities, how will that go further than simply advising and incorporating those broader—
Into a form of co-production? Well, this is something that we're considering at the moment. We've made certain proposals within the White Paper, which we have consulted upon, and now we're considering more detailed proposals about how JTAs could be constituted, how they could be operating. And, certainly, with your recommendations, I think we'll be able to make a better-informed decision on the shape and the purpose and the form of JTAs.
You've already told us that you can't issue statutory guidance. What legislative changes would be required to enable you to issue statutory guidance?
My understanding is that changes would have to be made to UK primary legislation or that we would have to seek and secure powers over this particular area, but for the reasons I highlighted earlier in terms of the porous border, I think we have to ensure that there is a consistent, national approach taken to this matter. All of the four nations are working very closely together and very constructively as well.
Is this a UK reserved matter?
It goes back to legislation in 1970 with certain elements of it reserved to the UK Government, so it would have to be amended within Parliament.
But it's worth—. Sorry, to keep coming back to the joint transport authority premise, but part of what we're proposing for that is a mechanism where Ministers can provide guidance to the joint transport authorities, and clearly there'll be a smaller number of these bodies. So, it might give us an alternative mechanism to provide guidance to those authorities to be able to deliver in a consistent manner.
But are you absolutely clear that you do not have the powers in these areas currently—
That's what I've been advised—that it would require a change to UK primary legislation and would be something for the UK Government to consider.
Macmillan suggested that the Welsh Government should undertake 'a deep-dive audit' of what existing practices are and look to see what good practice is happening. Would you consider undertaking such an audit exercise and amending non-statutory guidance accordingly?
The guidance was changed very recently, I believe, based on not necessarily a deep dive, but an assessment of the use of the guidance. I'm open to any further review of the guidance, provided that it's based on new evidence that's available to us.
Okay. I think my final question is: you state in your paper that you're developing streamlined processes—
Yes, this is interesting.
—particularly where a local authority is confident that an applicant will need a blue badge permanently. Can you provide us with further information about what this streamlined process will involve and whether it is or will be used by all local authorities?
This is a really, really important development that's being taken forward by all four nations, but it's being led by the Department for Transport, and it concerns the UK blue badge digital service. All four nations, as I say, have worked together to include a streamlined service for badge holders who won't require any further assessment. Those badge holders who will never require a further assessment because they've been identified as always having met the criteria—they'll be identified through this central database and they will then be fast-tracked through the application process. We think that this process will be operating shortly. As I say, it's being led by the Department for Transport. Dewi, are you able to give any indication of when it's going to be operating?
The new provider was commissioned in February this year, so the four nations now are obviously working with the provider to improve the information and the data gathering. And it's going to be a very useful way of managing if individuals move from authority to authority as well, because you'll hold that information in one database, so the sharing of information between authorities will obviously be an important part.
And finally, how do you respond to concern, previously expressed but expressed in evidence by witnesses to us as well, that where a condition is not permanent, but the person faces severe mobility issues, perhaps post surgery, and will need extra help for a given period of time, the Welsh Government's 12-month criteria is disabling people who, subject to an individual eligibility assessment, might only need a badge for six, seven or eight months or whatever it might be, and that this might be adapted through perhaps a date on the badge or some other mechanism?
So, I think this was considered in the Chamber in recent years, I believe. It's worth just reflecting on the fact that in Wales we do have temporary badges available. I think the point that you're advocating, or the recommendation that you're making, could lead to, again, a huge number of additional badges being utilised. It could cover a plethora of conditions that inhibit mobility. Whilst I am quite sympathetic, I do need to ensure that we have sufficient supply of spaces available for people who require them. Based on reports that have been commissioned, based on evidence, based on the decision of the National Assembly, I don't think it would be in the interest of this scheme and of current users, people who are reliant on their blue badges, to, again, extend eligibility in the way that you outline and the way that you propose. Indeed, I'm not aware of England considering that nor Scotland or Northern Ireland.
But it's something hypothetically we could discuss with them through the fora that you've already outlined, where you've also said the consideration should be mobility rather than condition. So, rather than saying, 'Because they've had X, they should have a badge'—'What is the personal need of the individual?'
Okay. Going on to enforcement, which, again, we've touched on. Huw.
Thank you, Chair. You made very clear earlier on that you were drawing on statistics, which I think are from England, showing one in five cases of abuse of a blue badge—. You offered to send to the committee some more detail on that. You're obviously making—
That's UK-wide, yes.
UK-wide, okay. It'll be interesting to see that. We've had some evidence—. Can I just take from that, because you've highlighted the scale of that, that you think that enforcement needs to be much more stringent?
It will be more stringent, because local authorities—by July of this year, all local authorities will have enforcement officers in place. A number of local authorities have not had that resource, so I expect as a consequence that those small number of people who are misusing—there is a tiny minority that are misusing the blue badge—will be prevented from doing so in the future.
And how—apart from having those officers in place, what are the mechanisms by which you anticipate that the abuse of blue badges will then be enforced?
In terms of the data gathering, we'll have the central database, and already enforcement officers are able to use hand-held devices to check the code on a blue badge. The information that's provided to them shows the status of the badge, whether it's valid still, it shows a photo of the person that it was for, and so the data is already available. What we don't have, if you like, are the human beings that can access that data. By July of this year, they'll be in place in all 22 local authorities.
Do you think that resource, that person resource, is going to be sufficient? Because we have heard evidence that this is going to take more resource, actually, if you're really going to do enforcement.
I think you're right, it's more than just individuals out on the street with hand-held terminals that are going to be required for this. I suppose we've looked at lessons in this space from concessionary fares eligibility cards. We've had some challenges in that space over the last few years. One of the things that we've done is sat across the whole of the Welsh database and looked at provision of those cards to people who've since deceased, and we've found a considerable number of those cards. That's quite a tough exercise for each of the 22 authorities to do on their own, to be getting involved in that data cleansing exercise. But, actually, when you draw that up to a national level, it's a bit easier to do that. I think that lesson is we need to be thinking about how we can apply that in a blue badge space as well, for example.
Sorry to keep repeating the broken record thing, but it goes back to the ability to create a national body like a joint transport authority. If we have that national body, then you can do that kind of 'once for Wales' look at cleansing the database, making sure you've got consistency, potentially, between the information that maybe you have about concessionary fares cards and blue badges or whatever thing it is, within the parameters of the data sharing legislation. But it's that purging and clearing of the database. It's a really, really important and time-consuming and highly skilled activity that's really difficult for individual authorities to do.
We'd be really interested to know, when you come back to the committee, if you could identify what proportion would actually be dealt with by that cleansing of the database, so that we don't have out-of-date cards that can either be misused unintentionally or misused deliberately—abused deliberately. But can I go to the issue of the on-the-ground implementation—the idea of hand-held devices and so on, which is the very point that local authority evidence that we've heard from has said that, 'Well, actually we'd need training, we would need more people doing it and it requires resources to do this'?
And I agree. I agree. Tenovus, I think, gave evidence—
Indeed. Tenovus made the point as well.
—regarding enforcement, with concerns that it's not being taken seriously. But we provided workshops for local authorities on enforcement. We've offered to pilot a scheme. Unfortunately, only one local authority expressed an interest in utilising that particular offer and it wasn't eligible, because it was going to be outsourced. So, I would be inclined to agree with Tenovus, and I think, in the future, through the establishment of joint transport authorities, through the cleansing of the data that we have, we'll be able to improve on enforcement. And I think it is important that we ensure that the system is robust and that its integrity is preserved.
Can I just bring, first of all, Leanne, and then Jenny, in on these points, Huw? Leanne.
Thanks. I'm interested in your concern about the misuse, and particularly keen to know what exactly your concerned about. Is it fraud? Is it people selling their blue badges to other people? Is it people lending them to someone else who's not disabled?
It can be all of those. It can be all of those, and my concern isn't about that. My concern is about the impact that that has on the people that I am serving who are the most vulnerable, who are in most need of blue badges. And what I don't want to see, when I go to my high street, is somebody who is misusing a badge preventing someone who is behind them who is clearly in need of a space over them, and I want to make sure that the people that the scheme was designed for are the people who benefit from it. And whilst it's a tiny number of people who are misusing or abusing the blue badge—regardless of whether it's a tiny number or a huge number, it still needs to be addressed. It still needs to be dealt with.
Can you see the problem about people assuming that people don't have disabilities, though?
Perception—that's the problem, yes.
And the more you focus on this area—. I accept the point you're making about a scarce resource and you need to ensure a prioritisation for the people who absolutely need it, I'm just really concerned—
Sorry, it's not me that's focusing on it. I'm responding to some of the evidence that you've been given by organisations such as Tenovus, and I think it would be very wrong of us to ignore that sort of evidence.
No, I'm not suggesting that we do ignore it. I'm seeking to clarify exactly what the issue is and how we challenge it and deal with it without contributing to the ongoing perception issues that many disabled people are suffering as a result of.
Okay. So, the problem is that people who the scheme was designed for are not able to get priority parking, because there is a small number of people in certain instances in certain parts that are taking those spaces and shouldn't be, because they are misusing the badge. That's the problem that I want to see addressed. How do we go about addressing that without causing prejudicial problems for people who genuinely are in need? Well, we do it by making sure that the data is accurate, that we have proper enforcement powers, that we identify those who should not have a card or have bought it or found another way of securing it, and that we take that out of circulation, so that only those who have blue cards are those who need blue cards and who are actually eligible for them. I'm sure you'd recognise the need to ensure that the scheme has to operate fairly for the people that it was designed for.
I do, I just think things have gone too far the other way, and that I'm aware of many people who have high levels of need and who have been refused badges or it's been assumed that they shouldn't have badges, because of this general atmosphere of negativity towards people with disability.
But, Leanne, we can't condone or protect those people who are abusing the system.
I'm not doing that. You're not listening to me.
No, but we can't—. Well, we're on the same page then. It needs to be addressed and the way to do it is by taking them out of circulation. The way you that you take them out of circulation is to identify which blue badges are not being used correctly by people who need them and are eligible for them and deal with it through enforcement.
Will you just agree just to be very careful about not going too far the other way on this?
You always, always have to operate in a very sensitive way. That absolutely is vital.
Okay. I think we've given these matters a very good airing. Sorry, did you—? Dewi.
Thank you, Chair. I think it needs to be recognised that there is the blue badge scheme rights and responsibilities booklet. So, once somebody applies for a blue badge, they have to abide by the conditions contained in that booklet. So, it is important that the badge is used in the right way. We need as well to recognise that the data we hold in terms of issue in Wales—we issue around 80,000 blue badges a year in Wales, so, obviously, the reference to Rhondda Cynon Taf is an interesting one and we'd obviously like to see that evidence.
But how does that compare with the number of people with mobility issues?
I think the critical point here is about training. And there are things, for example, hidden mobility needs, and we need to be sensitive to the people who actually do use the blue badge in the right way and we can do that through training. Obviously, the reference to the joint transport authority of grouping together and having consistency in how the blue badge is enforced is critical. And that's definitely the way we should be moving.
Perhaps there needs to be—in order to address the problem that I think Leanne has rightly identified—I think perhaps there has to be some form of campaign, which could and probably should be spearheaded by all of the organisations that have given you evidence to address prejudice against disabled people, against people who require blue badges.
I just want to address this issue of prejudice from the technology angle. When parking enforcement people go around, just like the police, they can spot whether a vehicle has been taxed, because we no longer have the discs on the windscreen. In fact, any individual can look up whether a vehicle is taxed. What are the barriers to using the same technology on the parking enforcement officer's smartphone—? If they can see the blue badge on the vehicle they could then look up to see who is the blue badge holder for this vehicle.
They can do that. They can do that but not with a bar code. The way that it's done with tax—in the old days, when you used to have a tax disc on your screen, you'd check that whether it's valid, but now enforcement officers will do it through the licence plate.
Well, anybody can do it.
With the hand-held devices, they just put in the number of the badge. It brings up a photo of the person it's for, it brings up details—the criteria why a person is eligible for it.
So, that ought to be a very useful tool, is it not, for addressing the prejudice problem—
—because the parking attendant can see that X has got this badge and—.
That's right. That's right, but the problem is—
So, even though they're physically—
We don't have the people on the ground actually doing the checking. That's the problem.
Okay, but how long is it going to be until—?
You think by July we're going to be able to this. So, the parking attendant won't have any of these prejudice issues, they'll be able to see that applicant X is eligible and is the person who is—.
Okay. So, at the moment, they should be able to do it if they exist. So, there should be no prejudice by civil enforcement officers who are able to use the database. They should all be able to use the database. The problem is that we haven't had civil enforcement officers on the ground actually checking them. So, the prejudice isn't—. Just to be clear, I don't think we've got a prejudice issue with civil enforcement officers necessarily. I think it's a wider issue within society.
Yes. The general public, yes.
Well, there's certainly a wider issue in society. I've got a dropped curb right outside my constituency office. I've had more conversations with people about not parking there because wheelchair users can't cross the road without being able to get across at that point—some of them say, 'I've got a disabled badge.' It's like, 'Yes, well, you may well do, but that's not a reason for you blocking somebody else crossing the road.' So, we do have—as Mr Rowlands said, those who've got a blue badge have to comply with the law as well.
Okay, Huw, very quickly because we have limited time left now and we need to move on.
I welcome the approach to a more stringent approach and a more consistent approach to enforcement because that's what will give confidence, if we have the right criteria and so on, that the system is working both for people who use blue badges but also for the wider public as well. I'm interested, in terms of that enforcement, whether you're sympathetic with the view that's been expressed to us on the committee that this should also include penalties on licences, for example—three points on a licence—because that would be a significant deterrent for somebody who's abusing a blue badge.
It would be. It would be. I'm not sure whether we have the powers to do that.
You probably don't, but I wonder whether the Welsh Government, whether you have a view on whether that—
It would be very interesting, because I think that's made more of an impact in terms of reducing speeding rather than just a fine. Actually threatening people with points has really made a difference. Yes, I think that's well worth considering.
Okay. And Oscar on advice, support and information.
Thank you, Chair, and thank you very much, Minister, for giving information. Most of my question has been answered earlier regarding support, advice and information—they've been mentioned briefly on different areas. What steps will the Welsh Government take to ensure that accessible information is available nationally in respect of digital formats, easy read, British Sign Language and printing accessible materials for people without internet access?
Okay, well, this is produced bilingually, it's available online, it's available in hard copy, in large print and in Braille, to make sure that anybody who is considering applying for, or indeed gets a blue badge can access all of the information, guidance and advice.
Thank you very much, Minister. Age Cymru and the All Wales Forum for Parents and Carers suggested that information about the blue badge scheme should be more widely available, especially in locations where people gather, such as supermarkets and other areas. What steps will the Welsh Government take to implement them?
I'd be interested in knowing on what basis they say that awareness isn't great, because I actually think most people in society are aware of the blue badge scheme. And, within public places, we already do have information provided, particularly in, for example, health settings. If there is an issue and it can be demonstrated of a lack of awareness of the blue badge scheme, then, certainly, we'd look to work with the private sector, where possible—supermarkets, as you've identified—to address that.
Thank you very much. The Welsh Government’s paper—your paper—states that you work with devolved areas to agree to work together to review the guidance documents for blue badge holders, organisational blue badge holders and local authorities. Can you provide the committee with an update on that progress, please?
Can I ask Dewi to provide an update on this? There's an exercise that's under way that's due to be completed at the end of the year, and it relates to the recent changes in the central online system. And, again, I would just say, Chair, that we're working very closely together as four nations on this.
Thank you, Minister. There is a meeting planned within the next few days between the four nations and, obviously, they will continue to review the use of the new blue badge digital service. And there are, obviously, other developments happening, for example, in England, where they're looking at cognitive impairments, which we will carefully monitor and see how that impacts on the eligibility criteria across the four nations. So, there is obviously scope to review as well the guidance, the toolkit, which we do discuss with the other nations. And if we believe there are changes that justify another publication of a guidance, then obviously that's something that we will progress with.
Thank you. And how will the Welsh Government work with local authorities to raise awareness of the blue badge scheme, both within the disabled community and among the wider public?
Well, we've published the booklet. That's relatively new—that was back in 2017. We carried out a campaign in 2012 concerning the proper use of the scheme. But I'm more than willing to consider any recommendations that you might have in terms of how we might work with local government to better promote the scheme.
Thank you. More than two organisations, Minister, mentioned that this image of the blue badge symbol is no longer an appropriate. What are your views on that?
I was of the view that they were probably right. And then I just looked into it more, and recognised that this is an international symbol of mobility. This symbol, if you like, enables—the use of a badge with the symbol enables everybody across the UK to use priority spaces. I'm quite sympathetic to the idea of something that does not capture a symbol that could, for some, not be desirable. But, equally, I don't want to change something that would lead to certain benefits being lost and certain protections being lost for people. It would have to be carried out, I think, on a consistent basis across the UK.
Thank you very much, Minister. Thank you, Chair. Minister, finally, you mentioned earlier the penalty for misusing or illegally using spaces—you mentioned earlier very eloquently other people using them without reason and other people who are actually legally eligible following them and not getting the spaces. So, could you have some sort of system to name and shame, where a sticker has got to be put on the car when a person has been caught at the very first stage, rather than straight away three points or a fine?
I would prefer just to take out of circulation any blue badges that are being used by people who shouldn't have them, rather than go to a name and shame campaign that could be detrimental—
That's what we need.
—to all people who have a blue badge. I'd fear that, for the reasons that Leanne has outlined. I'd just prefer to take out of circulation any badges that should not be available. We can do that, hopefully, with the combined use of the centralised digital service and the establishment of JTAs with better enforcement.
Okay. Huw, finally.
It's only one short supplementary. Most of our discussion on enforcement has probably focused, without mentioning it explicitly, on public highways, public property and local authority-controlled areas. What role does the Welsh Government have, if at all, in terms of those areas that are on supermarket grounds or private car parks? Is there an obligation under the equalities legislation that we have, under well-being legislation, to also engage in that sphere?
I'll bring in, perhaps, Dewi or Simon in terms of the legal rights and responsibilities of those privately owned car parks, but we've tried to engage with supermarkets in particular, and with other private car park providers, with poor outcomes, it has to be said. There is reluctance to engage with Welsh Government on this matter.
Of course, in many cases, the outsourcing of enforcement by those organisations, those bodies and those businesses is actually a revenue stream for them. So, they, in some parts, are more concerned with enforcement than local authorities, but not necessarily for the right, I think, moral reasons.
Okay, Huw, thank you very much. Thanks very much, Minister, and thanks very much to your officials for coming along to give evidence to the committee today. You will be sent a transcript of your evidence to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.
Okay, the next item for the committee today is item 5, which is papers to note. Paper 2 is a letter from the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee—thank you—regarding making scrutiny fit for the future. Paper 3 is a letter from the Minister for Housing and Local Government providing a response to our committee's request for further information following her evidence on prisoners' voting rights. Paper 4 is a letter from the Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee to the Minister for Health and Social Services regarding the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' consultation. Is the committee content to note all three? Okay, thanks very much for that.
In accordance with our earlier decision, then, we will move into private session for item 6 and consider the evidence that we've just heard.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:29.
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:29.