Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus

Public Accounts Committee

30/09/2019

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Gareth Bennett AC
Jenny Rathbone AC
Mohammad Asghar AC
Nick Ramsay AC Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Rhianon Passmore AC
Vikki Howells AC

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Manon Antoniazzi Prif Weithredwr a Chlerc y Cynulliad
Chief Executive and Clerk of the Assembly
Nia Morgan Cyfarwyddwr Cyllid, Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru
Director of Finance, National Assembly for Wales
Suzy Davies AC Comisiynydd y Cynulliad sydd â chyfrifoldeb dros y Gyllideb a Llywodraethu
Assembly Commissioner with responsibility for ​Budget and Governance

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Martin Jennings Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Meriel Singleton Ail Glerc
Second Clerk

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 13:01.

The meeting began at 13:01.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Welcome, Members, and our witnesses, to this afternoon's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. As usual, headsets are available for translation and for amplification. Please make sure phones are on silent, and in an emergency, follow the ushers. We've received one apology today from Adam Price, and Jenny Rathbone will be joining us very shortly. Do Members have any declarations of interest they'd like to make at this point of the meeting? No? Okay.

2. Papurau i'w nodi
2. Papers to note

Item 2: just two papers to note this week. First of all, the Minister for Economy and Transport wrote, on 20 September, advising on the appointment of the new chair of Cardiff Airport. That's a pretty straightforward letter. Happy to note that letter?

And secondly, Dr Andrew Goodall wrote to me on 24 September clarifying the position regarding the turnaround director appointment at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. That was following our request for further information about that role at that meeting. Happy to note that too? Good. Items noted.

3. Craffu ar gyfrifon 2018-19: Comisiwn y Cynulliad
3. Scrutiny of accounts 2018-19: Assembly Commission

Item 3, then, and our scrutiny of accounts—it comes around quickly—for 2018-19. It's great to have the Assembly Commission with us. Would you like to give your name and position in the Commission for the Record of Proceedings?

Thank you. I'm Manon Antoniazzi. I'm clerk and chief executive.

Nia Morgan, director of finance.

Great. Thanks for being with us today and helping out with our enquiries. We've got a number of questions for you. I'll kick off with the first couple. First of all, the annual report states that a new set of, and I quote,

'more relevant, challenging and outcome focused measures are to be introduced from 1 April 2019'.

How different are these indicators to the current set, and can you share more details relating to these indicators with the committee?

Perhaps I could take that one as I'm a member of the audit and risk committee that's part of the governance arrangements for the Commission as well. Because we have been getting pretty good scores on a very traditional set of key performance indicators, getting quite a lot of greens, we thought that perhaps there were certain elements of the work of the Commission as a whole that perhaps needed a little bit more stretch. One of the things that we discussed as a Commission is that we should be looking not just at quantitative responses to the KPIs that we were setting, but some qualitative ones as well. So, for example, it's not just a case of how many visitors we might get in a given year, but the impact of those visitors—how much they might have learned about the work of the Assembly, its role in the constitution and so forth. So, that's kind of where we were coming from. The Commission as a whole was very keen to deal with that—the four Commissioners. With the stretch targets—well, I've got some examples I can give you, if you like. They align very much with the three strategic aims of the Commission for this session. I'm happy to read a few out, or we can just send them to you—whichever you prefer, really.

Well, the one that springs to mind is procurement. Obviously, we're all very keen to make sure that we maximise the amount of procurement that is done with Welsh firms here. At the moment, just over a third of our procurement is with Welsh firms. We're aiming to put that up to about 43 per cent or 44 per cent if we can. So, we'll be aiming at that. That's just the one example. I can give you more if you want. 

13:05

How difficult will that be to do? I know we're often talking about procurement here and in the Chamber and it's something we all would like to do, but in practice, it can be tricky, can't it? 

Well, the main way I think that we were looking at it—. There's an operational level of this that, obviously, Manon might be able to speak about, but just at the higher level, obviously, this idea of looking at any contract or any commissioning work that the Commission itself does is about how that can be broken down to make sure that Welsh firms can have a realistic chance of bidding for them. It's pretty much the same sort of narrative that you'll have heard from Welsh Government recently about breaking things down to make sure that more people have an opportunity to bid for them. And, obviously, we would hope that the majority of those then come from within Wales.

Yes, absolutely. I mean, another stretch target we're giving ourselves is about engagement, where we are trying to look beyond numbers of people we're engaging with and trying to gauge the effectiveness and the outcome of the engagement. For example, for certain activities, we will be surveying participants before and after they take part and looking for an increase in their interest in and their information about the Assembly's work. So, we very likely won't have a clear set of green lights next year, because we wanted to challenge ourselves. We wanted to give ourselves targets that we weren't achieving now. And so there's a mix: the corporate, good governance targets, which are things that we should and must do, and the stretch targets, which are going to be our way of focusing in on the areas that we feel need further development.

I was going to ask you about that. You mentioned the stretch targets earlier. So, those are being incorporated into the future planning.

That's right, yes. It might be simplest if I send the committee a set of the targets. Obviously, we'll be reporting against them next year and they've been seen by the Commission.

It's an interesting phrase, isn't it, 'stretch targets'. But yes, if you could send the committee that, that would be helpful.

Clearly, last year and previously, this committee made a number of recommendations relating to financial planning and not setting that against just eliminating underspends. Can you give us any examples of how your new financial targets are based on ensuring that there's rigour in the system and that the recommendations of the committee's previous report have been taken into account?

Can I just kick off by saying that, yes, we're looking back now, rather than looking forward, which the Finance Committee will be doing later in the week? So, we've got this two or three year transition period that you've watched us work our way through. I suppose the main one is to say that, looking back, it was the last year of the traditional underspend and us looking to use our investment fund from underspend. In this year that we're talking about now, we had actually picked a figure based on the needs of the Commission going forward, rather than 'How can we make the most of the money that we've got?', and it resulted in some money actually going back into the Welsh consolidated fund. But perhaps you can take that further.

On the actual numbers, I'll pass over to Nia, but just to very much echo what Suzy said, we are now accounting separately for the determination, and so you will have seen that. And other than this one transfer, it being a transitional year, of £600,000, we are not utilising the underspend in the way that we would have done, and we hope that that does, in the committee's eyes, increase the transparency of what we're putting forward. It also means that the end-of-year operational outturn is in future going to be—we're going to try and hit a broader target. We're giving ourselves a target of between 0 per cent and 1.5 per cent, rather than the very testing 0.5 per cent, which we didn't feel was a useful target in terms of driving value for money. We won't ask for more than we think we need. We try and budget realistically and tautly, and if we're able to make savings there, then we will return those underspends.

You mentioned the amount that's gone back as a result of the efforts of this committee and elsewhere—that now that money is going back into the Welsh consolidated fund; the underspends going back in. What sort of amounts are we talking about for 2018-19? Do you have the figures?

To get it right to the penny, I shall ask Nia to answer.

Five hundred thousand, as members of the Finance Committee will know, we returned as part of the supplementary budget during 2018-19, and then, at the end of the year, members of Finance Committee will remember we made a commitment not to use £600,000 of the determination underspend. So, we made a commitment to use that within the operational Commission budget. So, the remainder, then, was £370,000. So, to the penny, £870,000.

13:10

Eight hundred and seventy, which was not drawn down—

So, just for clarity, in terms of the £600,000 that you've said you made a determination to use, how can that be an underspend if you've already allocated it? Could you just clarify that £600,000?

The underspend on the determination line was £970,000, and within discussions we had with the Finance Committee—historically, we'd used all of that £970,000 as part of the Commission's budget on projects et cetera. But there was discussion with Finance Committee that it wasn't appropriate for that whole amount, so we made a decision within the 2018-19 financial year to only use £600,000 of the underspend, which was used for projects within the Commission's own budget, so it left £370,000 of an underspend.

It was quite a big issue for the Finance Committee back last year about the transparency of it, and so—

So, in total, in the financial statements you see on page 128, there was a £970,000 underspend, £600,000 was used, leaving £370,000, plus the £500,000 that we returned as part of the supplementary budget. 

Is it worth mentioning that, looking forward, in the year that we're in now, that's not dealt with in the same way? There's a separate project fund line now so that you know in advance the amount that we're likely to be needing, and it'll have its own budget line, rather than being taken up from the underspend.

As Manon and Suzy have mentioned, this was a transition, so, in this financial year, 2019-20, and in the budget you'll see on Thursday, 2020-21, there is a commitment not to use any of the underspend on the determination.

Thank you, Chair. It was back in November of last year, I believe, that the Commission decided to go ahead with the voluntary severance scheme, so I'd just like to ask some questions around that. Firstly, how will you assess the benefits and value for money of that voluntary severance scheme, and how will you evaluate and monitor any savings or cost avoidance arising from that, moving forward?

I suppose the first thing to say is that this was about making sure that the parliamentary services here, our engagement with the people of Wales and using resources wisely were at the forefront of what looks like an efficient Commission. So, its main purpose wasn't necessarily to save jobs or even to save money; it was to make sure that the people that we had working for us here in the Commission were able to undertake the considerably different tasks to what they would have expected even five years ago. I don't need to rehearse these, as you've heard it many times before: Brexit, electoral reform, even things like the inclusion of the Youth Parliament—things that weren't necessarily anticipated five years ago. We need a fit-for-purpose organisation that can do all that. As it turned out, I think there was a fairly modest cash saving, but that wasn't the main purpose of it.

Building on what Suzy said, absolutely, delivering long-term savings was one of the four aims of the voluntary exit scheme, but it wasn't the primary one. There were four aims: to allow the organisation to respond to shifts in its skills requirements, to improve the workforce efficiency and to facilitate organisational change, as well as deliver long-term savings where possible or avoid additional costs in recruiting more people. There was a very thorough process undertaken. We were conscious of wanting to follow all the guidelines for best practice, and the executive board kept a close eye on it throughout, and is now looking for impact in terms of the ability that we have now to restructure services, and to take some alignment there through shared resources and repurpose a number of posts. Out of the 24 people who've left, every single post has been replaced in a different way. Either the post has been released or they've been replaced at a different grade or they have been involved in a restructure that has meant that differently skilled people have been able to take that up.

In terms of how we monitor that, staff costs are our greatest resource commitment in the budget, and so we keep a very close eye on that. Every meeting of our executive board looks at the data from month to month both in terms of the affordability of the budget, the financial total, and the number of posts that we're allowing ourselves to sustain. That is then overseen by the Commission, by the Assembly Commission Audit and Risk Assurance Committee, and we have internal audit as well looking at that, so the whole assurance framework then kicks in.

13:15

Thank you. When you were considering applications to that scheme, how did you balance the value of the lower value severance requests and the two payments of over £100,000 when you were making decisions about whether to accept or reject each individual application?

I'm happy to describe the process that we undertook. The short answer is that the more senior the post, then the more in terms of opportunity for restructuring we were looking for, and the greater the potential for streamlining was needed in order to make the case successfully. Those two senior changes have allowed us to bring in new skills and restructure at a fairly comprehensive level. The applicants to the scheme had to put forward an application that was based on criteria that were set out very clearly. Their line managers then had to consider those, and consider how they impacted business continuity as well as the opportunities that they offered us to change things in ways that benefited the business. Then there was a panel of people who hadn't been involved in that process who then scored and moderated the applications to make sure that they were being consistently applied across the board. The unions were involved in that process as well, I should add, and I was then finally involved in an appeals process, because I haven't been involved in the rest of the process to date. So, that has given us 24 pretty well-evidenced departures and opportunities for change.

Thank you. I think you've touched on this slightly, but is there anything else you'd like to explain about any assurance mechanisms that were put in place on the overall management of the scheme, and if there was an equality impact assessment as well?

Yes, we had an equality impact assessment. We looked carefully at lessons learned exercises when the Commission has previously undertaken these exercises as well as looking across the board at what other organisations do. As I explained, the applications were moderated within the organisation, and that was all overseen by union representatives as well. There was an appeals process and all of that has all been gathered together, and will be overseen by ACARAC as well. There was a report by our internal auditors on the whole process as well.

Why did you consider that the aims couldn't have been met through the request to increase the establishment cap by six posts and the higher than expected turnover in 2018-19 that you state released the funding to resource the severance scheme?

The order was different. We concluded the voluntary exit scheme before we actually asked for the additional posts, and the Commission gave us permission to recruit, or to increase our establishment total from 491 to 501, so by 10 posts, of which six have been realised. That was in the light of the information that we had from the voluntary exit scheme. So, in other words, we had introduced as much flexibility as we could into the system through the voluntary exit scheme, and that allowed us to moderate the request for more staff. We still feel that we've been pretty restrained in terms of the growth of our establishment posts at a time when needs have been increasing very dramatically. In terms of benchmarking, a lot of our peer organisations have been recruiting aggressively and therefore we feel that we have managed the resource as prudently as we can, whilst providing the services that need to be provided for the Parliament.

Thank you. And looking at those 24 severance agreements, are there any compromise or non-disclosure agreements attached to any of those?

And the last question from me, then: are all the actions regarding the capacity review complete, and how have you evaluated the outcomes of this review?

13:20

Thank you. Yes, and the two things are quite rightly linked, because it is the capacity review that allowed us to focus on the need for more skills in certain areas and realignments and reorganisations. Yes, the capacity review is now complete. The whole lifecycle of it was subject to evaluation and assurance. The terms of reference were approved by the Commission, as were the stage 1 and stage 2 reports, the first of which I think was completed when I talked to you last. ACARAC was kept informed of the progress and the outcomes, and those outcomes have been distilled into a document that's kept under close review by our executive board.

Some of the outcomes were: increased engagement with the Chairs' forum and Business Committee about needs; a review of the Commission's priorities and a refocusing of them; a huge revisiting of our organisational values—we worked together as a staff team to deliver that; changes to our change management and risk management—a new focus on that from the executive board; revising our annual planning cycle to provide much greater clarity; and introducing some policy changes in terms of human resource management to allow for greater agility in the deployment of staff resources. So, all of these things added up to something that I think was an important and a timely exercise and has delivered real value for the organisation and had a big impact.

Thank you. With regard to the realignment—I won't say 'restructuring', but with regard to the additional staff that have been taken on or repurposed, bearing in mind other institutions are doing exactly the same thing, can you assure us that you have enough of what we need in terms of skills resource base in terms of what we're about to face in terms of additionality in working? I know you've taken on 10—

Well, that is why we asked for headroom of another 10—up to another 10—of which we're recruiting six at the moment. We're constantly reviewing service needs. Our leadership team, which is a group that comprises all our heads of service, are in a constant cycle of looking forward and planning prudently for the future. And so we're constantly on the lookout for strains and stresses, and that is where we believe the right balance is now. But when we asked for the additional 10, I think it was a sign that we needed to evolve our approach, to constrain—getting the right amount of growth within the Commission staff.

We were focusing on establishment post numbers. There are other numbers available, but we established on that because that was a way of clearing out any distractions from job shares or people who might be on maternity leave, or what have you. We wanted to focus on the number of positions that we had to fill. And the number of positions is one thing, but, ultimately, that can, again, drive perverse behaviours if we take it to the extreme, because we could find ourselves just appointing people at higher grades and so on, and then it becomes unaffordable. So, it helped us. Focusing on the establishment number helped us to introduce some new disciplines into the system to make sure that the growth was not unconsidered and uncontrolled. It's very tightly managed. But we feel that we have hit the right balance now of having the smallest number of people that are needed to meet the needs that are presented to us.

Do you feel—? You mentioned the word 'uncontrolled'; that's quite a strong word, isn't it? Do you think it has been uncontrolled at points in the past?

No, I don't. No, I don't. Possibly that came out more strongly than I meant it. 

I gave you a chance to clarify that. I was thinking you were being very self-critical there.

Thank you very much, Chair, and committee. Good afternoon to you. Actually, I'm just looking through the accounts of the Commission and I'm very encouraged that you have a gender balance; of 470 employees, 239 are women and 231 are men. Wonderful. What future work have you done to reduce the ethnicity pay gap and improve representation on middle and senior management level in your Commission?

Yes, the Commission was really interested in the fact that a BAME ethnicity pay gap was there, and we were keen to know what it was. That work has now been done, and I think we're one of the few public organisations that now publishes that information. So, having faced up to the fact that we had an issue there, it was then what happened afterwards. There's been a stream of work done on this; I'm probably not going to be able to remember it all, so if you bear with me.

One of the main things I think that is worth the committee focusing on here is the positive targeting of certain groups pretty close to Cardiff Bay to show that all communities of Wales are included in this place, even just simple things like the way our marketing material now looks; it looks far more diverse than it used to before. Specific work has been done with community business Wales—I can't remember the name of the organisation, sorry.

13:25

Business in the Community.

Business in the Community Wales. And there has been some award-winning work done on this as well, so I don't know if you want to add a little bit, or—. How much detail do you want from us, really, on this? 

It is something that we are very focused on, and we recognise that we would like to have more BAME people at more senior positions within the organisation. The pay gap that Suzy mentioned there is obviously not because we pay people of different races differently, it's because the BAME people that we have within the organisation tend to be at lower grades. We recognise that, and we've been working as hard as we can to overcome any barriers to improving the situation. Publishing the pay gap I think was a pretty challenging thing for us to do, but it signals a determination to do better in that regard.

As Suzy mentioned, we're working with Business in the Community Wales. We're working with them on well-being, gender and race, but in the race context, this work is particularly relevant, and it's push and pull. So, it's encouraging the BAME staff that we have to reach their full potential and to develop into other roles here. We also want to work on recruitment and make sure that the image that we project of ourselves when we recruit is one that doesn't pose any unnecessary barriers. We want to celebrate our diversity here.

We've developed and rolled out an unconscious bias training module, and we also have a staff network that focuses on BAME issues—it's called Reach, and we work with them to identify any areas for improvement in the workplace. We had a scheme, for example, for reciprocal mentoring, where we pair up people from different racial backgrounds and a lot of cultural learning can take place. I took part in that myself. And as Suzy mentioned, we have won awards for our apprenticeship scheme. Granted, that's bringing people in at the most junior level of the organisation, but it is a start in terms of the bridges that we've built with communities that are under-represented currently at the senior levels of the Commission.

I'm just wondering whether it's worth at this point mentioning something else as well, and this is Assembly Members themselves. So, this isn't directly from the Commission, but you'll be aware that a number of Assembly Members have taken part in mentoring schemes through Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team Wales and working with younger people and quite a lot of younger women as well from the BAME community. That I think has helped create a space that makes it a bit easier for people from BAME backgrounds to look at the Commission or look at the Assembly, as well at looking at becoming, say, front-line politicians as well. I think that's probably helped.

In terms of unconscious bias—I appreciate it may not be for this committee but the Finance Committee later on—the Commission's made a very recent decision to increase the ability of our contractors, particularly our cleaning contractors, to pay more to their staff. So, that's not for the year we're talking about, but in the forthcoming year. Of course, that addresses an element of unconscious bias within the population of people who work here, because so many of the employees of the cleaning contractors happen to be from BAME backgrounds. So, there's a bigger picture here, rather than just what the Commission itself is doing in particular programmes.

Thank you. How are you assessing the impact of change to the recruitment practices on the diversity of staff, gender and age profile of successful candidates?

Shall I jump into that? 

As I mentioned earlier, we keep a very close eye on data relating to staff and recruitment. So, we review that data monthly with the executive board and we also produce an annual report on workforce planning, continually monitoring those recruitment processes. Also, in terms of recruitment, we seek candidate feedback from unsuccessful candidates as well as the successful ones. Then, ultimately, we pull it all together into the diversity and inclusion annual report, which you may be aware of. So, that's the output.

13:30

One area that I sometimes come across in my constituency office is—some people who would like to go and work for the Welsh Assembly or Welsh Commission, they're always hesitant to put an application in because they think it's only for Welsh speakers. I keep telling them that's not the case. But is it a fact that some perception is there in the general public that the Welsh language is a bit of a barrier?

No. It didn't stop us at all in terms of the apprenticeships. You'll also be aware of the work that we've done on our official languages policy in the course of the year, where we've refined our approach towards Welsh language needs. Rather than Welsh just being 'desirable' or 'essential', which is a very black-and-white description of what can be a nuanced situation, we now have different levels of skill requirements and we offer—all people who come to work here, we offer them the ability to learn Welsh if they wish to. But there would be a consideration as part of every recruitment of what the Welsh language level needs are in that particular job, in that particular team, at a particular time, and that will be very clearly stated in the job ad.

I'm only asking this question because I come from the region of south-east Wales, where less than 2 per cent of people speak Welsh. That's quite normal, for them to learn Welsh and everything—anyway, we'll come to the question now. The Commission staff survey response rate has fallen significantly from 82 per cent to 62 per cent. Were there any areas of the staff survey where scores have fallen significantly and how are you seeking to address any issues raised?

It was a slightly disappointing turnout, as it were. The thing that we had changed was the timing of the staff survey last time, which evidence would suggest clearly hasn't worked. We were trying to give staff a bit of a rest from being surveyed, because we'd had dignity and respect surveys, we'd had other surveys, and you don't want to over burden staff. Therefore, we ran this one over the Christmas recess and a bit of the term. That probably wasn't a very successful experiment; we will revert to doing it in September from now on.

However, I was actually very encouraged by the fact that our engagement score remained the same. I described some of the cultural challenges that we've been through as a staff group during the last year. We were issued a challenge by this committee and the Finance Committee to restrain staff growth two years ago and we have managed to do that. We have undergone the capacity review, we have changed a lot about the governance and the skills mix of the organisation to make it fit for the future. And the more change you have, the more challenging that is to absorb.

In terms of the results of the survey, we have seven themes. All of them were more positive than negative. The one that we did least well on was to do with change management, which is not surprising under the circumstances, and it's a similar pattern to the one you see across the civil service generally. However, we are renewing our efforts to engage with staff. It's very encouraging that our score for organisational culture has held up very well. In fact, it's increased year on year, so that gives us a bit of confidence, but we're not complacent about that at all.

We've been having a number of staff meetings in different formats, experimenting with what suits staff best. We have had a huge piece of work done on our values as an organisation, where we got all the staff together and we agreed on what we wanted the values to be that drive us. We've also rolled out an executive development programme focused on change management at all levels in the organisation, and there’s a lot more of that to come in the next year. We’ve involved staff in project identification and prioritisation processes. We’ve brought together our change management, project management and programme teams to provide a central resource to use that skill base more effectively, and identified that the executive board, in its new form, is the change management board for the whole of the organisation. So, we’ve hopefully brought some transparency and clarity to that, as well as making sure that staff members have as much opportunity as they could possibly wish to be involved in the developing strategy of the organisation.

13:35

Just before you go on, Oscar—Rhianon, did you have a supplementary?

Very, very briefly, and, in part, Oscar has partially referenced this. In regard to the very major strides that we've been taking around gender, BAME, the equality gaps, we're doing well—we've got further to go. In regard to socio-economic class, what measurement is there? Do we have a look at that in terms of our intake— whether it's for apprenticeships, and you've already mentioned that? Because, up until recently, in south Wales anyway, it's much more of a—. Welsh-medium education is much more attractive to the more middle-class families. Now, that's changing. So, is there a measurement of that? And, further to that, what are we doing about the perception, which there is, as Oscar has referred to, that working for the Welsh Assembly, and working for the Commission, you have to be able to speak Welsh?

Well, I think I’ve addressed the linguistic issue. We make it quite clear that it isn’t—

—for most jobs. And, in term of class, I don't believe that is something that we measure in terms of recruitment.

—because it's how people self-identify. When you apply for a job, you don't actually put on there what your parents might have done for a job, or what—. Sometimes you don't even put what school you go to these days for people to guess. There's more blindness in the applications.

So, you don't. Okay. But, just as a point of topical reference, in terms of the whole issue around that perception, I think it's something to at least have in mind.

Have you seen anybody else doing a similar analysis of—?

There are similarities. I'll have a look for you, if you wish, yes. But I think it's all tied up.

On perceptions, I don’t know if you wanted to talk about this now, but, of course, there's going to be considerable change in how we talk about the Assembly as well. One of our strategic aims, as you remember, is communicating with the people of Wales and involving them in the Assembly, and there’s been a very recently appointed new director for this. I don't know if you want to talk about this now, where we will be expecting to see changes in how we engage with the people of Wales. You'll notice in the budget coming up some money being attributed to changing the website yet again to make sure that that’s more user friendly; it can measure impact more, rather than just engagement. The way we deal with social media—I’m sure you’ll see differences in that. One of the roles given to the new director is to actually get the new engagement strategy together. We haven't got a deadline for that, but it is coming. But the person has only just been appointed, to be fair. So, I think—ask us these questions next year, and I think you might have some different answers.

Thank you very much, Chair and Commission. My question: just looking through some of the staff absence trends for 2014-15 to 2018-19, it has increased a little bit. Is it because you have extra work or lack of staff, or anything like that—the pressure of work? 

I'm sorry, was that sickness?

Yes, sickness absence trends, which has gone from 3 per cent to 3.66 per cent. You can look at page 18 for that. So, it's minor, I know, but the fact is: is it due to lack of staff or overwork or under pressure or anything like that?

Well, we had—. I remember having this question asked of me last year. It’s actually got a bit better since last year—

—I believe, hasn’t it? And we do again monitor the data very closely. We break down the different categories of reasons for absence. We have been investing a lot in working with line managers on managing absence, giving them tools to manage absence, and looking into handling situations where an individual is absent through sickness for a long time. There are ways in which we are trying to conclude these situations faster, maybe, than we had before, when that's the appropriate thing to do. Certainly, I am very conscious that our staff work very hard and they—. We have a very important focus on well-being here and that is going to be carried forward in the work that we're doing with external partners like Business in the Community to make sure that people have a good work-life balance, and, by and large, people do report that they do. The vast majority do feel they can achieve that.

13:40

Okay, thank you. My final question to you: are you committed to running an annual survey for staff, and, if so, will it be the same time every year so consistent comparison can be made across the years?

In terms of the staff survey, would you—before I bring Jenny Rathbone in—consider publishing the headline results of that and making it more transparent?

We can certainly consider that, yes. As I say, we undertake a number of surveys in the course of the year. One that's coming up in this financial year, probably in February next year, will be an IIP survey. That's because our Investors in People accreditation is coming to an end and we have to reapply for it. So, there'll be quite a lot of work involved in preparing for that, as anyone knows who's prepared for an Investors in People assessment. It's the work that goes into it that's as valuable as having the badge at the end, really. So, there will be a big process involved in that and then the intention is to carry out the staff survey in September.

Thank you. Apologies for not being here earlier; I had an important meeting in my constituency. I just wanted to probe a little bit further the issues around the results of the survey and also the absence data. This is the first year we've published the absence relating to mental health and well-being, as far as I'm aware. Does the Commission actually know what the rates were in previous years, or was this simply not collated?

We have kept an eye on that. I think last year might have been the first year that we separated that out and looked at that.

Okay. So, how does this year compare with last year, then? Obviously, I'm keen to find out whether or not this is a deteriorating situation or an improving situation.

Yes, of course. I'm in danger of having too many notes, as sometimes I can't put my hand on the figure that I need at a particular moment. May I give you that figure—

Okay. While your colleagues may or may not be able to find it, could you just give us a little bit more information? For example, does breakdown of childcare come into this well-being statistic, or is that—? Because that can be incredibly stressful—juggling all the balls to maintain your job as well as small children.

Yes. We don't consider that to be sickness.

No, okay. Well, that's good. Excellent. So, when childcare arrangements—or the child is sick, then it's not—?

Well, we have policies to do with special leave under special circumstances. We're also—. Obviously, we're all on a flexible time system. So, that does allow us to work around—. Everybody is able to work around caring responsibilities where that is possible. I'd like to think that we're a pretty flexible organisation. When times are busy, we have extremely committed staff who will pull out all the stops to make things happen. The other side of that is that we try to be an understanding employer when these things happen—they've happened to me—and you sometimes have to take time off at short notice. We allow that.

So, if a child suddenly becomes unwell and can't go to school for two days, then the parent can take time off and then make the time up or work from home—

Or work from home or—

Yes, what the nature of the business need is as well.

Okay. Well, that's useful to know. And, obviously, we should recognise that the LGBT community have consistently awarded us best in the UK for a place to work. So, clearly, a lot of things are going well. Could you just tell us what action you've taken in relation to the most recent survey of support staff in terms of how that's informed any action you might have taken?

13:45

This is the support staff now, in terms of Members' support staff?

Well, one thing that strikes me is, although the answers across the board are pretty positive, there was one area that scored less well than others, and that was the area to do with advocating for the Assembly and engaging with the public at large, and I think that reflects the complexity and the difficulty of that task. All parliaments struggle with it and putting across the work of the legislature as opposed to the Government. But we have done a lot in that area, and we've empowered staff who work on that to develop new ideas, and made a senior appointment, who's been here for less than a month. So, as he gets his feet under the table, we will be looking to our new Director of Communications and Engagement to set out a new strategy in that regard. So, we are addressing that element of the survey in a pretty focused way.

Okay, so, how, in your view, will the new director of communications liaise with support staff to ensure that the role of the legislature is made clearer to the public?

Well, we liaise as closely as we can with support staff; they're a very important community here. We have to be very careful not to cut across the employer relationship that there is between the Assembly support staff and their employers—the AMs. So, within the boundaries of that, we engage with them at many levels, including through the medium of this survey. Again, if AMs have any thoughts about ways in which we could improve that, then we would be very glad to hear them.

Okay. Thank you for that. What impact do you think the new dignity and respect policy has had? Is it too early to say or—?

This is the dignity and respect policy that was introduced last May.

It's actually a year last May, isn't it, in this?

It has. Well, we've taken a lot of action in the course of the last 15 months as a result of the introduction of that code and to facilitate the recommendations of the standards committee. We've worked very closely with them. It is probably a little early to tell. In May of this year we undertook another survey, where there was an improvement in the number of people who were reporting some kind of bad experience. I think that any number is not good enough, and we will continue to be vigilant and repeat that survey on regular basis so that we can minimise incidences of it happening. Obviously, it's an area where we've been fortunate to have strong cross-party leadership, and we, as an organisation, are entirely committed to creating an inclusive culture that is free from any kind of harassment and intimidation. It's something that we hope is embedded in our organisational culture as well.

So, is it possible at this stage to be able to say that—? Articulating a problem can obviously improve your mental well-being because not articulating it can make you ill. So, do you think that this policy has, in any way, improved people's sense of being heard and concerns being treated seriously?

It's difficult to tell because, for good reason, the survey is anonymous and, therefore, it is difficult to contextualise the answers that we're getting through that. But a lot of the interventions that we have undertaken have been to make it easier for people to express their voices and to make complaints heard in an unintimidating context where they can feel that they're being listened to sympathetically.

We've delivered awareness training across the Commission about the upset this can cause people, the damage that this can cause people. We have conducted anonymous checks ourselves, on our own systems, to make sure that they're as accessible and user friendly as they possibly can be. We have contact officers. That's not new since last year, but the contact officers provide, I think, an important, trusted service and provide emotional support, as well as practical guidance on what to do next. We also have specialist external support available if people prefer to use that route. So, ultimately, we will just have to keep an eye on the results of this survey from year to year and hope to see a continued improvement.

13:50

In your task of managing performance and absence through sickness, how do you think you're managing performance as well as minimising the numbers of days lost through sickness?

Well, the trend is going in the right direction, but obviously there is a bit to do. I think I mentioned in my reply earlier that we want to focus particularly on mental ill health, and, as I said last year, we still think it's a positive that people now feel confident enough to cite that as the reason for their absence. It gives us a chance to do something about it. We've trained some mental health first aiders, allies and mental health well-being champions. We've got a staff network. As we do for other special interest groups, we've got one that is focused on mental good health. We're really focusing, as a leadership team, on the reasons for absence and ways that we can combat that and make sure that people feel able to bring their whole selves to work and be happy at work.

So, do you consistently have conversations with people when the've been off for a while—

We do, and another new feature is that we have reviewed our performance management systems, and, as a part of that, we recommend that line managers have monthly conversations with their direct reports, which is an opportunity to just, in a very light-touch, informal way, check in with people as well and make sure that they are well, and that if there is any underperformance it's not related to well-being or something we can do something about.

Thank you, Chair. This committee, I believe, recommended that the Commission set a broader, more ambitious target for cost savings and efficiencies. So, what measures are you taking regarding key performance indicators as a measure to evidence those efficiencies and savings, bearing in mind your position around that? And will these be based more on procurement or more generally? I'll come to procurement in a minute.

I think it is the case, Suzy, isn't it, that, when we were discussing KPIs, they're all driven by the need for efficiency and effectiveness, with, as I mentioned, stretch targets in areas where we feel there is a particular need for us to focus, and procurement is one of them. We don't want to ask for more than we think we need, and the danger of having a KPI for savings is the perverse incentive there to ask for something that isn't taut and realistic, whereas, as it is, we ask for a budget that we think is taut and realistic. If we can make savings out of that, then that is what we are always trying to do, and every spending decision we make is driven by value for money. So, value for money is something we're looking at across the piece.

So, in that regard, you don't feel there is a need for a particular KPI around efficiency and savings because you feel it's mainstreamed into what you're doing. Is that correct?

Can I just reinforce that? In the last three years in particular, the way the budget has been put together, particularly on the recommendation of this committee and the Finance Committee, has been very much about need, rather than thinking, 'Well, we managed to find some extra money, so how can we spend it wisely?' We make the decisions right upfront now, and, obviously, there's some flexibility built into the year, depending on demands that may arise that we weren't expecting, but it's very much set at the beginning of the year now, 'This is what we need for a functioning year to make sure that the strategic aims of the Commission are met.' That's why we were able to return some money in 2018-19 and why, hopefully, we won't need to return any more money, because the budgeting process will have matched exactly what we're spending. It's never bang on, obviously, which is why there is a KPI to come within so many points of the original budget. Those are usually things we can't control; they'll be last-minute things. But it's very, very much driven by need within a given year rather than need over a period of years that we might be able to bring work forward or find something new to spend the money on. 

13:55

In the past we've seen, when we've had a value-for-money target—for example, in the past it's been around £500,000—the results against that target were very much driven by the contracts coming up for renewal in that year rather than anything we were doing within the organisation. We were judging the result on savings against a particular contract, and if we didn't have any contracts coming up in that particular year, we had a lower value-for-money result coming out of it.

And I understand that logically. In regard to the efficacy of the KPI and efficiency and savings, as far as the committee—. It's very easy then to look and see. You've got it in front of you, it's clear and transparent. So, you are very strongly of the position that there's just no need for that. There are other mechanisms in place.

Yes. It's to come in on target—a target that already includes any savings we think we can make realistically.

I hope the annual report makes it fairly easy to compare what we said we were going to spend with what we did spend.

Okay, thank you. In regard to—we touched upon procurement and the efficacy—. I think we've seen our supplier spend in Wales—. I think the target is 43 per cent. Just as a small—a little bit of light on that, really, I suppose—. In regard to setting that as 43 per cent, would that in a sense act as a perverse incentive? Equally so, in the same thing as the question before, that you can't go over the 43 per cent—it's not acting as a minimum cap. So, if you wanted to spend more than a 43 per cent total spend, you'd still be allowed to do that.

It's not a cap, it's a target.

It's not going to keep it underneath the 43 per cent—that's what I'm saying. Okay. Thank you.

And finally, then, in terms of—. We've got the KPI. How are you going to increase that supplier spend on Welsh-based companies whilst striking that balance between efficiency savings and best value for money? How will we continue to do that? What's the mechanism?

We've been giving that a lot of thought. We've met with the South Wales Chamber of Commerce to understand the obstacles suppliers face locally in winning contracts with the Welsh public sector, and obviously we will look wider on that as well. We analysed the market to become familiar with the Welsh supplier base and the goods and services that they provide. And we'll take our time, working with new businesses, to make sure that they understand the processes and we understand how they're able to fit into our business needs. Sometimes we have big contracts for catering, for example. In that case, we would do all we could to ensure that the main contractor is working with Welsh suppliers as subcontractors where that's appropriate and possible, and, in other cases, sometimes large contracts can be broken down so that smaller Welsh businesses can apply for them. So, those are some of the ways.

Just for clarity, Chair, so, in terms of actually being able to break down the larger contracts into much, much smaller packages, this is one of the key drivers in local government in driving up the spend. So, we're just emulating what we know is good practice, yes?

And it's one of the reasons for perhaps moving away a little bit from this idea of national frameworks as well, because, by and large, Welsh companies, which are on the small side, don't tend to be represented on those. Welsh Government has come to the same view.

Sticking with the catering contract, how much do you drill down on this? For example, Castell Howell is a well-known supplier, but only 18 per cent of their produce is Welsh; it'll be from other parts of the UK and abroad. I think this is an important area because of the impact on the money circulating in the local economy, as we've seen from the Preston model, where millions of pounds have been retained for the local economy. So, I'd be keen to understand a bit more about how much this is a priority for the Assembly Commission, because dealing with the chamber of commerce is fine, but that won't necessarily enable us to drill down a bit deeper into identifying companies that are currently not Welsh that could be substituted, or measures could be taken to ensure that we can substitute.

14:00

Well, we drill down a good deal. I'm afraid I don't have detail on the specific example that you mentioned there, but we prepare all sorts of assessment grids when we're letting contracts. For example, we've got a cleaning contract coming up shortly and we will be looking there at the kind of resources and materials that the company use, how they recruit their workforce, diversity and equality issues, and any sort of subcontracting that they do. So, we do drill down a good deal, and we ask these questions at key points in the life of a contract as well.

So, the cleaning contract is with—? What nationality is the contract holder?

Where the current one is based—

Not currently, no. It's a—

It's a larger company, yes. But the staff are very largely local, but I can write to you with details.

Sure, but the profits are going somewhere else if they're not Welsh.

Which is one of the reasons why we're going to look at it very closely when it comes up again.

Okay. Well, I think this is an interesting area that, next year, it would be good to have a lot more information on this—

Very briefly, Rhianon, because I want to bring Gareth Bennett in.

Basically, just to underscore, in regard to ethical supply chains and all the work that we've been doing around Welsh Government on this, the issue around subcontracting. I hope that there's a big emphasis on some sort of follow-up around that, as much as we can do in this position, and I don't know if there's any assurance that you can give.

I can certainly give you an assurance that the Commissioners keep the matter under very close scrutiny indeed, and with the Commissioners that we have, they make sure that we follow best practice. We feel that it's very important that we should anyway, that we should show a lead.

Subcontractors have to pay the real living wage, do they? That's specified in your contract?

Yes, and in fact, as Suzy mentioned, we've just made sure that our cleaners and our catering staff are paid rather more than that, to have parity with—

That's fine, you answered the question with your very first word—'yes'—which I really appreciate. It was very positive. Gareth Bennett.

Thanks, Chair. How are you developing the website and also, in the shorter term, increasing cyber security?

A full business case for developing a new website has just come in front of the executive board. As it happens, there is a fairly substantial budget line in the budget for this year—£275,000—and we're going to be asking for a smaller sum for the budget next year if the Finance Committee approves to finish the project off. We have been undertaking consultation with Members, with their support staff, external users and the wider public about this. It’s obviously a fairly important tool for us in communication, and also it’s a hefty bit of resource. We've so far been working with a development partner, which is called Method4, in planning the development phase, and this includes designing the new website as well as implementing a new content management system. And once our design concept has been agreed with the executive board, we will then look at starting the build phase towards the end of this year, and aiming for a full launch about a year after that. So, these things are always very complicated to get right, but we've put an architecture of project planning around it.

In terms of cyber security, we've got multiple layers of protection to prevent unauthorised access to our systems and defend against malicious attack. Our cloud systems provide considerable front-line protection, and we also use a suite of advanced tools to detect and automatically react to any breaches or attempts to access data and information. And most unauthorised access gets detected and neutralised at that stage. However, if anything does manage to get through, we've then got further layers of protection in place, and we regularly undergo security patching and so on to make sure that our security levels are maintained. For example, we've introduced a restriction to the use of USB devices in order to reduce the risk of malware being introduced into the system, and one of the posts we've repurposed is a vacant one in ICT to have a specialist who's concentrating on cyber security.

14:05

Yes. Of course, we have to be careful about this, that it can cause problems, of course, with people who are allowed to access the system doing so, because you mentioned the USB sticks and there is an issue now in that if you don't—. If you're not allowing staff to use their own passports and so on and their own USB sticks, memory sticks and so on that they customarily use, it does make their job difficult because the new sticks, it has been brought to my attention, have only a very small memory and they're not actually that useful, and people are still going to want to use their own sticks. So, I don't know how that's going to be resolved. So, I think there's always a balance between how you can actually allow the staff to operate who are allowed to access the system and the security anxieties. 

Yes, exactly. Of course the system has to be usable, otherwise we can't have them. But we did look into this issue of USB sticks very thoroughly and we are by no means alone in restricting their use. I'm sorry to hear that there's a particular problem that your staff are suffering from—

We can certainly—. If I can have further details of that, it's very easy to buy larger USB sticks. 

Can I use this as an opportunity to make my annual plea to Assembly Members as well to make sure that we're all up-to-date with our training on cyber security? And I will include myself in that. I need an update.

I don't think I've had any. Actually, I haven't had the offer to take. 

I mean, we've done phishing exercises amongst Assembly Commission staff, for example, where we have sent out e-mails with links and then monitored people who have clicked on those links and followed them through, and that has been great in terms of awareness raising and practical education about how realistic some of these malware attacks sometimes are. 

Human beings are always the weak link in cyber security.

Yes. Now, Suzy was talking earlier about public engagement and the—. Yes, basically, public engagement and the satisfaction survey, I think you might have mentioned, but certainly you were on about public engagement. Now, you've had an external review. Can you provide details of the outcome of that review? What actions are you taking to reform the functions?

The review was a management review. We won't be publishing that. It was for our internal purposes. It was an opportunity for the team to work with a consultant and form some ideas about how to put a fresh focus on this area going forward. The main outcome is that it outlined the scope and responsibilities for a new director's post, and that has now been filled, and that new director has been in post for three weeks or so and will be looking at developing structural changes and also updating the engagement strategy generally. So, we're very focused on taking advantage of things coming up such as the potential change in name of the Assembly, or being ready for that if the Assembly decides that that should happen.

Yes, thanks. And, finally, the satisfaction survey results from Assembly Members on the overall effectiveness of the Assembly Commission in engaging with people in Wales, the results are below the target. So, how are you responding to that? 

I think this may cross over a little bit with the information that I've just said. I mean, the results of that were very high level; they were largely pretty positive. There were a couple of places such as engagement and communication where, I think, the magnitude of the task was reflected and we are keen to empower the skilled teams we have working in those areas to make a bigger impact in the years to come.

14:10

Thank you, Chair. In regard to the senior staffing structures that we talked about following the departure of the director of Assembly business and other senior staff, and how you have made these arrangements, how are they now more efficient, more effective?

Well, the senior structure has changed. We didn't rush to replace the director of Assembly business when he left. We wanted to pause and reflect and give some of the business heads an opportunity to expand their skills and act up for a while. That gave us an opportunity to work with the heads of service and their teams to evaluate what we needed going forward. And the result of that was a realignment of the three directors' jobs in line with the Assembly's three goals of providing an excellent parliamentary service, engaging with the people of Wales and using resources wisely. When the voluntary exit scheme came along then, and the person who was director of communications and engagement left under those terms, we were able to recruit somebody with new skills dedicated to that job.

And how did you select? What was the process around the selection of independent advisers?

Independent advisers? Well, it was a robust recruitment process. We had one of the existing independent advisers sat on the panel with us. We advertised openly and interviewed, as you would for any other position.

A normal process, yes.

Okay, thank you. In regard to assurance around the Commission's responsibility for managing and seeking approval for payments and increments of pay to officials' pay via the Welsh consolidated fund, how is that being fulfilled now and in the time to come, I presume?

It is quite complicated because, as we've found, the legislation governing all the appointments is slightly different. So, in order to do that, we have revised our procedures and brought them under the remit of one senior official. We are also monitoring more proactively any legislative changes that have implications on these appointments, and changes to the various pay structures to which the terms and conditions of these appointees are linked.

Yes. I see we've had an increase in electricity use this year because there was hot weather. It wasn't hot like the previous year, so what was going on? Why were we using so much on air conditioning when we don't ever have the sorts of heat that they have in some other countries?

Well, that is slightly down to the users of the building. We're very focused on trying to reduce our energy emissions and the improvement of our performance here.

We've just published our environmental annual report, which you will have seen, and by and large we're pleased with our progress since 2015. We feel we've made a lot of progress on some of our key indicators, to the extent that we feel we ought to give ourselves new targets in some areas to be more challenging in terms of business travel, in terms of energy emissions and so on. Other targets such as achieving zero waste to landfill have been achieved.

In terms of electricity use, I think you're right that where there are extremes of either cold or hot, the building that we have in Tŷ Hywel isn't a particularly modern building when it comes to sustainability; it's had stuff retrofitted to it, but it's an aging building.

But sometimes the air conditioning is set far too low when—. Anyway, I think there could be a lot more done on this, particularly when in some of the rooms the electricity doesn't turn off, the lights don't turn off, even long after people have left the room and there's nobody there. There's a bit more attention to detail on this, and also the air conditioning being set far too low. We're not in the United States where everybody has to wear a jumper in the summer.

I just wanted to point out, of course, that since then the air-conditioning system has been changed. If you're still suffering because the rooms are freezing, that is worth mentioning to us; perhaps it can be readjusted. But, as part of the ongoing maintenance, the 10-year plans for maintenance, obviously parts of systems get replaced as well, and bearing in mind that any modern systems are going to be greener and more efficient than those that preceded them, that has to be a good thing to look at.

We're also, of course—I don't know if you picked it up from the draft budget for the forthcoming year—looking at starting work on the windows, because these have become inefficient as well, now. So, with a bit of luck, if the budget gets passed, you should see an improvement on efficiency that the replacement windows will provide.

14:15

You're looking at quite a cost for replacement windows, aren't you?

Well, we're talking about value for money here, Chair, and, of course, one of the main reasons that Jenny's asking these questions is that this has to be an efficient and as green as possible a building, and if that means replacing windows that actually don't provide us with that efficiency anymore—.

I'd certainly appreciate having a window that shut. [Laughter.]

You've made the point, yes.

Well, I was speaking with a colleague today who said they'd like a window that opened, so we can see the difficulty we're in.

In that regard—I don't want to open up a whole new corner of conversation around this—bearing in mind the nature of the building and the plant that's needed to deliver upon that and the more aged facility, probably, behind that, have we got any future plans in regard to green energy usage for this building in terms of transition, and, if not, why not? Because, obviously, energy bills are completely going through the roof, and leading the way means leading the way.

Absolutely. The use of electricity and gas we recognise are big drivers of our carbon dioxide emissions, and we have been exploring joining a Cardiff district heating scheme and also actively looking at how we can source electricity from more sustainable supplies. So, we are definitely looking at that.

I see we've got four electric charging points and an electric pool car, which is all good stuff, but how much have you promoted that with staff and Assembly Members so that people know what type of electric charging point there is? Because there are two different types, as I understand, and because we're now on the cusp of really starting to introduce electric cars. It seems to me that having these charging points on the Assembly estate is one way of getting around some of the complexities of charging them on the street.

Well, we have monitored their usage closely and we have publicised them in the usual ways—you know, intranet. By being quizzed by committees such as this we draw attention to it as well. If you're not aware of the provision yourself, then there's clearly some more we can do. We'll redouble our efforts to make sure that everybody who uses the estate is aware of that. 

Okay. Because there's obviously no point in buying an electric vehicle if you—

Can't charge it at work, yes.

—can't charge it. And, otherwise, electric bikes are now becoming a useful alternative to cars for longer than short journeys, but obviously not for travelling to north Wales, but I just wondered it you'd also factored that in too as a possible mode of transport for distances within 10 miles, say.

Well, we've got a pool bike, but, Nia, as a user of it, I believe that is a traditional non-electric bike.

It's definitely pedal-powered; it's not—

Well, that's all absolutely fine, but there are some journeys, particularly up steep hills, where an electric bike is going to be more attractive.

I think that's certainly an important part of the mix of provision that we should look at.

With our four car charging points, the Welsh Government have also introduced their own charging points within the building and our contractors, CBRE, have introduced their own and paid for their own electric charging point as well within the building. So, we've set the trend for that.

Okay. Well, that's all good to know. I'll explore that further outside this meeting.

Could you just tell us exactly what action has been taken to reduce single-use plastic, as, obviously, our aspiration should be to eliminate it completely?

I believe we largely have. I—

They're biodegradable.

And the salad bowls and everything. So, we worked with our caterers to make sure—. Actually, even though it looks like plastic—I asked the same question myself, but I'm assured that they are biodegradable.

14:20

We send zero waste to landfill, so this is—

Okay. That's all obviously good news. So, as far as you're aware, there's no single-use plastic on the estate—other than what people bring in.

We were working on yoghurt brands, I think. There were certain prepackaged items that were still being talked about when I—. I hesitate to risk misleading the committee, but I can certainly write to you with any final detail on that.

Okay. For example, the caterer—they don't reuse plastic spoons; they simply bin them.

Well, again, they will be biodegradable.

Okay. But it'd be better to be reusing them. A plastic spoon can be washed and reused.

That's an exhortation to the Assembly Members that use them as well.

Absolutely. All right. Well, how do you balance environmental impact and, obviously, our target to become zero waste completely in relation to our adoption of the climate change emergency? How do you balance that—the environmental impact our business has—when you're considering any new projects or renegotiating contracts?

I think I mentioned earlier the sort of assessment tables that we set out. We ask a lot of questions and then we monitor the situation in the course of longer contracts about the sustainability of various resources that are used by our contractors.

It's part of the—. In other words, it's part of the equation when contracts are being evaluated. It's an important part of the decision-making process that we have that information.

So, is there a specific example you could give us of a contract that's been renegotiated with this aspect given particular focus?

I can send you, maybe, one of those assessment forms, which might—

But has it led to a change of policy or contract, where you've maybe put out a tender to X, Y, and Z and you've awarded it to a particular organisation because they had a lower environmental impact?

That is our normal mode of operation. May I write to you with the details of that? Again, I'm hesitant to risk misleading the committee by taking a stab in the dark when I'm not across the figures.

Thank you. Thank you to the panel. I'm talking about page 53 in our pack, or 28, where it says 'Supporting Plenary'. You've got six items there: individual Member debates, Plenary sessions, topical questions, oral questions, written questions and emergency questions, but where are the statements we make in Plenary to the leader of the house every week requesting Ministers for some action to be taken? That's not been mentioned here—the statements by the Members after the First Minister's question time.

Right. This is—. I'm struggling to find the right page here. It's—

Twenty-eight. Yes. Well, this is—. As an infographic, we have to slightly pick—we have to be concise in picking measures. I'm afraid this doesn't encompass everything; it's meant to be a snapshot of the kind of work we undertake. We can certainly bear that in mind when designing infographics for next year's report.

Great. Can I thank our witnesses from the Commission, Manon Antoniazzi, Nia Morgan and my colleague Suzy Davies, for being with us today? That's really helpful. We'll send you a transcript of today's proceedings for you to check, and, throughout today's meeting, you did mention you would supply us with some of the background figures, so if you could do that—send that to the clerks—that'd be great, and we'll factor that into our inquiries.

Thank you, Chairman.

4. Gwasanaethau gofal sylfaenol y tu allan i oriau: Trafod ymateb Llywodraeth Cymru i adroddiad y pwyllgor
4. Primary care out-of-hours services: Consideration of the Welsh Government response to the committee's report

Okay. There is one more item before we move into private session to have our training course, and that's item 4, primary care out-of-hours services: consideration of the Welsh Government response to the committee's report. The committee's report was published in July, and contained eight recommendations. Welsh Government have rejected recommendations 2 and 6, and they've noted recommendation 8. In addition, the response includes a detailed progress report on the work the Welsh Government has undertaken since the publication of the audit office's report on this issue. The auditor general did have some comments he wanted to make on this. As he can't be with us today, I propose that we defer this item and look at it again when he's here and he can give some guidance on that. Are Members happy with that approach? Okay, we will do that. We note that for today.

14:25
5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod
5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 6 a 7 yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (x).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 6 and 7 in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (x).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

I move under Standing Order 17.42 to meet in private for items 6 and 7 of today's meeting.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 14:25.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 14:25.

Dysgu am Senedd Cymru