Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

27/11/2018

The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item today is questions to the First Minister, and I've received notification, under Standing Order 12.58, that the leader of the house, Julie James, will answer questions today on behalf of the First Minister. Question 1—Mark Isherwood. 

Economic Prosperity in North Wales

1. What is the Welsh Government's policy to increase economic prosperity in North Wales? OAQ52981

Our 'Prosperity for All' economic action plan sets out how we intend to support the Welsh economy over the next decade and beyond, and how we can pool the resources, expertise and knowledge we have in Wales to strengthen our economic foundations and futureproof the Welsh economy.

Diolch. In March 2016, the UK Government announced that it was opening the door to a growth deal for north Wales, and called on the Welsh Government to devolve powers down and invest in the region as part of the deal. The bid was submitted to both Governments last December, including calls for the delegation of powers by Welsh Government to north Wales, so that it could operate in an executive capacity in certain areas. Following the UK Government's announcement of £120 million for the growth deal, how do you respond to the statements made from the stage at the north Wales growth bid conference on 1 November, organised by the economic ambition board, 'We've heard of the UK Government commitment but worry about the commitment from the Welsh Government in a smoke and mirrors situation.' So, where is the money, when will it be announced by the Welsh Government, and will this be accepting the bid or instead designing a system, as appears to be the case, where Welsh Government still has those levers of power, and the delegated calls are not necessarily going their way?

That's not a picture we recognise. Negotiations between north Wales partners and the Welsh and UK Governments are advancing well on the north Wales growth bid. Officials from both Governments and north Wales partners attended a workshop last week to discuss and agree a package of proposals and the next steps to enable delivery of the deal. The Cabinet Secretary is meeting with partners on Friday of this week, I believe, and that will all form an integral component of the overall vision for north Wales. So, from our point of view, other than that the UK Government hasn't come up with the entire package of money that we were expecting, the deal is progressing well. 

We all look forward to seeing an early announcement of any support that the Government might give to that work, of course, but if we are serious about the economic prosperity of north Wales, then Brexit wouldn’t happen at all.

Sorry, Llyr, my translator thing is intermittent, I'm afraid. 

Thank you very much. I was just making the point that we all look forward to hearing an early announcement, hopefully, from the Cabinet Secretary on any support that the Government may give to the north Wales growth deal. But the point that I wanted to make was: if we’re serious about the economic prosperity of north Wales, then Brexit wouldn’t happen at all. And we have seen, through a London School of Economics report very recently, the impact that many different scenarios will have. But bearing in mind, of course, the reliance of the north Wales economy on manufacturing, on agriculture and food, and the strategic importance of the port of Holyhead, isn’t it clear now that staying within the single market is crucially important in this regard? And can you tell us what you’re doing to ensure that not only the UK Government is ready to confirm that, but that your own party itself in Westminster will make that case?

Yes, it's clear that the current negotiating deal that the Prime Minister is attempting, by any means necessary, to garner up some very much-needed support for is ill-advised as a result of her red lines. She has learnt a little from our proposals, but much too little and much too late. I entirely agree with the Member that the recent forecasts from a number of sources simply underline the economic prospects of a 'no deal' and hard Brexit, and any Brexit that takes us out of the single market and the customs union is also problematic. 

The ‘Is Wales Fairer?’ Report

2. What action will the Welsh Government take in response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission Wales 2018 report, ‘Is Wales Fairer?’? OAQ52990

Thank you for that question. I am very grateful for the report, which provides valuable evidence to support the efforts of all our public bodies to reduce inequality in Wales. I recently met with the Wales commissioner to discuss the challenges identified, and officials are now considering the recommendations in some detail.

Leader of the house, the Tory UK Government's political choice of austerity is causing more and more misery and hardship for our communities—rising poverty, homelessness and rough-sleeping, queues at food banks, mental and physical ill health. All of this in the world's fifth-largest economy. Professor Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on poverty and human rights, has just issued a report, which is absolutely damning, regarding the callous and uncaring nature of the UK Government's policies, making the vulnerable pay the price for their failures. And the Equality and Human Rights Commission has published its report on fairness in Wales, showing discrimination and disadvantage hitting poorer communities, disabled people, women, and ethnic minorities. We know that many of the levers to address this situation are in the control of the UK Government, but, of course, Welsh Government also has key responsibilities. So, leader of the house, will Welsh Government now further consider how it can achieve a laser-like focus on tackling poverty, with specific targets, monitoring and evaluation in place, and further consider the issues in the case for devolving the administration of welfare benefits, given the impact of the roll-out of universal credit in Wales?

13:35

Officials are looking very carefully at the report in a lot of detail—laser-like focus, as John Griffiths says—with a view to having it be fed into the next iteration of our strategic equality plan, and, indeed, in the way that the previous strategic equality plan was based on the previous 'Is Wales Fairer?' report. We're very pleased that we've been able to work in conjunction with the Equality and Human Rights Commission in that regard. I've also had a number of meetings with other officials of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, with my management board, for example, in my portfolio responsibilities, looking to see what we can do to pick up on some of the data that we need, in order to be able to drive some of those issue.

Professor Philip Alston's report echoes what we've been saying all along that there's overwhelming evidence from a range of respected organisations, including parliamentary committees and the National Audit Office, as John Griffiths highlighted, that the UK is just hellbent on delivering its damaging welfare and tax reform policies, which are entirely regressive, and which we regret. We have a number of measures that we can put in place to try and ameliorate those, but, unfortunately, we do not have the levers at our disposal to completely take them away.

I'd just like to draw attention to two things that we're very keen on doing, that is making sure that well-paid work, through our fair work commission, is very much at the top of the agenda in Wales, because we know that's the best route out of poverty, and also to ensure that everything we do takes into account the needs of those people with all the protected characteristics. So, our recent consultation for disability action, for example, which is still open—and I would very much encourage all Assembly Members, Llywydd, to respond to it.

The Welsh Government is committed to providing 100,000 apprenticeships in this term. However, the 'Is Wales Fairer?' report found that, in apprenticeships, strong gender segregation remains, ethnic minorities are under-represented and the representation of disabled people is particularly low. What is the acting First Minister—your Government—doing to tackle gender segregation and to boost the employment prospects of ethnic minorities and disabled people through the apprenticeship system in this country?

We've appointed an equality champion to work with our apprenticeship providers in order to do that, and the Minister has been working very hard to ensure that we get very good representation from all groups of protected characteristics in particular. There is a wider society issue at play in the gender segregation, so you see very many more women in social settings, very many more men in hard engineering settings, and that's a wide social construct across UK society. We have been running a number of campaigns, and I'd just like to highlight the This is Me campaign, around gender stereotyping, to try and get the message out there that people should try to be the person they want to be and not something that's predetermined by their sex, in particular, or any other characteristic. If the Member hasn't seen that campaign, I recommend it to him—it's been one of the most successful we've had in terms of reach. We remain absolutely committed to working very hard on eliminating gender stereotyping, and therefore gender inequality, from Welsh society.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the opposition—Paul Davies.

Thank you, Llywydd. Leader of the house, do you believe that it's right that an important public body can operate without giving due regard to legal frameworks or taxpayers' money?

No, of course I don't, and I don't know what he's referring to. But, no, in general, of course, the answer to that would be 'of course I don't'.

Well, I'm pleased that she would agree with that, because we do have an institution here in Wales that is operating without giving due regard to legal frameworks or taxpayers’ money. As you know, Natural Resources Wales is responsible for a catalogue of failings that have grave outcomes for the sustainable management of Wales’s resources. Not only have the body’s accounts been qualified for three of the five years of its operation, but it’s also lost £1 million of public money to the taxpayer. In a damning report on NRW, the Public Accounts Committee has raised concerns that the institution isn’t taking responsibility for its failings and has disregarded many recommendations made by the auditor general. When I asked the First Minister back in October, he was of the view that this organisation was fit for purpose. So, do you as a Government still believe that this organisation is fit for purpose?

13:40

I think that there is a new management regime at NRW. The Cabinet Secretary has answered questions on this, as has the First Minister, on a number of occasions. Changing the organisation now would be a massive organisational change, on top of some of the other challenges that the Member has mentioned. We've only just put—very recently in organisational terms—a new chief executive in, we have a new board, five new board members and a new interim chair. I think it's time to let them get on with the task and not to visit another set of organisational challenges on top of what they already have. 

Leader of the house, I feel that you’re not accepting the scale of this problem. This is an institution that is failing: it’s failing to improve on its performance and to learn from its grave mistakes, it’s failing to follow its statutory and legal requirements, and it’s failing to deliver value for money for the taxpayers of Wales. It’s clear that your Government has no strategy in place to deal with this organisation, and even one Member of your own party has described NRW as ‘out of control’.

Many of us have grave concerns about the ability of your Government to manage public services, with our largest health board in special measures, along with 19 schools. NRW is another public organisation that is under your management that is failing to deliver. So, leader of the house, on behalf of everyone who appreciates and relies on Welsh natural resources, will you now call time on this organisation, which is clearly failing, and ensure that it is totally reformed?

As I said, I think that would be entirely the wrong approach to organisational challenge. The Member is very keen on highlighting some of the negative aspects and, absolutely, the organisation has a number of things that it needs to address, and its new management arrangements are designed to address them. But I think there are two sides to every story. It is important to remember that during storm Callum, for example, NRW delivered internationally acclaimed projects to help with emergency responder issues, with flood protection, with alleviation. It manages 7 per cent of Wales's land area and employs 1,900 staff. It is important that the management of that organisation has the chance to bed in and sort out its problems. I think I'm right in quoting a Roman general in saying that the illusion of change can be done by simply moving the boards around. What you actually need is real management structural change and we believe we've now got the management team in place to do that.  

Diolch, Llywydd. Back in January, the First Minister stated in this Chamber that your Government was completely against privatisation in the NHS and contrasted that with the situation in England. Indeed, the policy of the Government when Carwyn Jones first became First Minister was to phase out the use of the private sector completely by 2011. What actions are you taking today to ensure that health boards do not allow private sector providers to increase their foothold here in Wales? 

Yes, we're absolutely committed to making sure that the national health service is based on its founding principles, so delivered by public sector staff where at all possible and free at the point of delivery. 

It's well established that your Government's record on NHS waiting times is far from satisfactory. For example, the auditor general has recently reported a 55 per cent growth since 2015 in the number of patients whose follow-up appointments are delayed twice as long as they should be. Now, one area where targets are currently being met is in radiology, but this is because health boards are increasingly outsourced to the private sector. The auditor general's report notes that waiting time performance has been helped by securing additional capacity from the private sector in response to what he describes as

'difficulties with recruitment and retention of staff, outdated and insufficient scanning equipment, along with IT weaknesses'

within the NHS. Isn't what is happening at the moment a policy of privatisation by stealth as a sticking plaster to mask longer term structural problems within the Welsh NHS?

13:45

Well, I couldn't really disagree with the Member more. Clearly, we have to arrange for services to be delivered in the best possible fashion, but there is a clear, determined, publicly stated, open and transparent principle at stake, which is: where possible, we deliver it by public sector staff, free at the point of delivery. Clearly, there are some instances where we have to use private sector providers in the short term in order to cover off to make sure that the service is delivered, and the Member would be the first to stand on his feet and criticise us if we didn't do that. But there's clearly not a route to privatisation on a wholesale basis, as he suggests. 

Well, look, leader of the house, there may be an argument, obviously, for using private sector capacity in an emergency, but it's not how you build a sustainable NHS. Long-term planning requires you to train the workforce, buy the equipment needed, so you have the capacity to meet the demands in the future. Now, in fact, spending on the use of private sector providers has gone up substantially on your Government's watch. In 2011, it was at £14 million; last year it was £38.5 million. Now that's a 260 per cent increase over the last seven years. The Labour Party in England, under Jeremy Corbyn, has pledged to end the use of private sector provision in the NHS completely; that was the policy here. Isn't this yet another case of Labour saying one thing in opposition at Westminster and doing the opposite in Government here in Wales? And let's—[Interruption.] Let's put—[Interruption.] Let's put Jeremy Corbyn to one side for a second. Aren't you reneging on Bevan's values and your own vision?

Well, Llywydd, I can do no better than to repeat what I said: of course we are not doing that. The Welsh Government is utterly committed to delivering the NHS as a public service free at the point of use. Of course we sometimes have to use private contractors to fill off service difficulties and of course we are doing exactly as he suggested we should do, which is training the largest number of staff we can into the biggest number of training places that we have ever had in order to fill that off. And, actually, we're absolutely four square with the Labour Party at a UK level on this. We absolutely abhor privatisation of the NHS, and it's certainly not the principle or policy of this Government. 

Diolch, Llywydd. On the weekend, I had the pleasure of using local train services across northern England and Scotland. The trains ran on time, services connected with one another, and there were plenty of seats for people to sit on. I think it's fair to say that people using trains in Wales aren't receiving quite the same treatment. Leader of the house, are you and your Government in full agreement with Transport for Wales's director of customer services, Bethan Jelfs, when she said recently that customers must 'share the pain' of the recent rail disruption?

No. Of course, we are very sorry indeed, as many people have said in the Chamber over the last week or so, to find ourselves in the position where Transport for Wales has inherited a fleet of trains, very substandard and substantially not what we'd expect—frankly, from years and years and years of underinvestment by the private sector. So, we have a very firm recovery plan in place. The Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport met with the chief executive officer of Transport for Wales last week to seek assurance that that recovery plan was there. It was confirmed at that meeting that Transport for Wales and Network Rail have operationalised a full recovery plan to manage the situation and that we will be receiving regular updates from the CEO of Transport for Wales on progress against that plan. 

The engineers from Transport for Wales and from Network Rail are working around the clock to resume services as soon as possible. We've only had the franchise for just under a month; we cannot correct the underinvestment of 15 years in four weeks. 

Yes, I appreciate the problems that were inherited by Transport for Wales, of course, but I do wonder whether some of the things that Transport for Wales have recently been presiding over are difficulties of their own making. For instance, it's been well publicised that around 25 to 30 per cent of the fleet covering Wales and borders has been removed for servicing and repair. Of course, I realise that train wheels are subject to wear and tear, which might be accelerated by leaves on the line during the autumn of any year. Given that this is a difficulty faced by all train franchises every single year, surely the way in which Transport for Wales's well-paid officers should be dealing with this is by expecting and anticipating this issue, and then planning for it in advance. Most rail users simply don't understand why 25 per cent of the fleet had to be withdrawn all at the same time this autumn. Why could the withdrawal not be staggered to, say, 5 per cent of the time over five weeks, rather than 25 per cent all at once in a week? 

13:50

Actually, Transport for Wales have done an absolutely fantastic job, and 10 per cent of the fleet is now back in action again. So, I think, actually, they're to be praised for the swiftness of their response. Clearly, there are real issues with keeping trains that are substandard in operation that I don't have to reiterate to the Member. We are working very hard to make sure that the fleet is back in action. As I say, the operational recovery plan is in place; the Cabinet Secretary is receiving regular updates. We very much want to make sure that the service to the people of Wales is as good as it possibly can be as we go into the autumn.  

Well, I'm glad to hear that, leader of the house, and I hope that the fleet is back in good condition in good time for the passengers, and I hope the passengers will get the benefits of that. Passengers at the moment, though, are not just frustrated about train delays. In recent weeks, I've had complaints from constituents that, during morning rush hour, there have been long queues of passengers in Cardiff stretching right across the station. The queues comprise passengers who've completed their journeys, but were unable to buy a ticket either at their starting train station or from a member of staff on the train, so they had to go to the unpaid fares counter at Cardiff Central station. The time it took to get through this queue was sometimes averaging 20 minutes to 30 minutes. Now, we had issues with the previous operator, Arriva Trains Wales, whereby they were threatening to fine lots of people hundreds of pounds for not having valid tickets and then, of course, it transpired that many of the ticket machines on their unstaffed stations weren't actually working. So, now we seem to be going through a whole new ticketing palaver with the new operator. Now, I know it's early days, leader of the house—we all accept that—but what can you do to assure the rail users that the new service is not going to simply go on replicating all the problems of the old one?  

Very much part of the new franchise is to move to the ticketless system that you see—. If you go to Transport for London, for example, almost all of the services are ticketless, so we'll be moving to that. The investment is very much there. That's very much part of the plan—to move to ticketless operations as fast as possible. 

Improving Mobile Phone Coverage in Mid Wales

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's policy on improving mobile phone coverage in mid Wales? OAQ53016

Yes. Work continues on the delivery of our mobile action plan. This includes the publication of our new 'Planning Policy Wales' document very shortly, which recognises the economic importance of mobile coverage and appropriate permitted development rights for mobile phone infrastructure.

Thank you for your answer, leader of the house. Of course, the mobile action plan that you talk about hasn't delivered any concrete actions to date. We've seen planning policy updated and guidance updated in Scotland and in England as well. That's helped to prepare the way for 5G deployment and has helped to speed up the process for new mobile phone masts. A report that you commissioned on permitted development rights with respect to mobile telecommunications recommends an increase in the height of mobile masts to 20m or 25m, despite the fact that you've previously said that there's no evidence to support this. Can you update us on the status of implementing these recommendations, and commit to a public date when these reforms will be delivered? 

Yes. What I actually said, if you remember, was that it was very important that we make sure that what we recommend in Wales is fit for purpose in Wales, particularly in our very beautiful national parks. We wanted very much to ensure that the people of Wales are very happy with what we were proposing by way of infrastructure. Russell George, you and I have had these conversations very frequently over the last several years. We will be shortly publishing a new 'Planning Policy Wales'; that will set out some different permitted development rights, as you said. There are a number of other things that we're still talking about inside the mobile action plan around the way that that infrastructure is deployed, and I won't rehearse them here, because the Llywydd will start tapping her fingers on the desk. But there are a large number of things in contemplation there, a suite of which we hope will help. But, in the end, this is not devolved to Wales. In the end, what we need is action from the UK Government to—

Yes, planning policy is devolved to Wales, but that will not—. It's not a silver bullet. What would be a silver bullet is putting 100 per cent geographic coverage for the mobile phone operators across Wales, or, if that's not going to be done in the spectrum sales, then allowing roaming in rural areas. This is a matter of some discussion between us. If we don't do that, we will never get the coverage that he, I know, very much wants, and certainly on this side of the house we very much want. 

Leader of the house, yesterday at the winter fair I published a consultation document about economic futures for Powys. And there at the show, and also in e-mails that I've received since, I've had numerous communications highlighting the difficulties faced with the poor access to 4G in the Newtown and Llanidloes areas. Now, I appreciate from your response to Russell George that there are some elements of this agenda that are not devolved, but what further can you do, because those businesses are telling us that the poor mobile access is really having an impact on their capacity to expand?

13:55

Yes, and I have every sympathy with them. Unfortunately, the 4G spectrum was sold in such a way that you can hold it and never use it, and that's very much part of the discussion with the UK Government about the sale of future spectrum, because we think that just being able to buy it and then hold it and never do anything with it is not the way forward for obvious reasons. We are looking, however, to make sure that we can maximise our use of public buildings, public space, and the new technologies that cross across mobile and broadband, so that, for example, we can broadcast a Wi-Fi signal off public buildings. So, we're actively looking to see what other things we can do to enable, for example, Wi-Fi calling. Unfortunately, we cannot change the 4G situation, but we are constantly lobbying both Ofcom and the UK Government to change the way that the spectrum is held and to change the geographical obligation coverages in that, because at the moment it's absolutely hopeless.

Cannabis Use for Medicinal Purposes

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's policy on cannabis use for medicinal purposes? OAQ52980

Yes. The law regarding medicinal cannabis in England, Wales and Scotland changed on 1 November 2018. Specialist doctors may now decide whether to prescribe cannabis-based products for medicinal use where clinically appropriate.

As you've said, from 1 November 2018, changes to the misuse of drugs legislation has enabled unlicensed cannabis-based products to be prescribed by some doctors for medicinal use where there is a special clinical need. At the time, our chief pharmaceutical officer, Andrew Evans, said that the number of people in Wales who would be prescribed medicinal cannabis is likely to be very small. The interim guidance published is restrictive, and charities such as the MS Society say that nothing will change in the short term for the 10,000 people in the UK living with MS who could get relief from pain and muscle spasms by using medicinal cannabis.

Now, Sativex is only licensed for the treatment of spasticity, and then it's only available to a small group of people living with MS who meet the criteria. Now that the legislation's been changed, can the NHS in Wales make medicinal cannabis available to everyone who would benefit from it, or do we need to continue to hang on the coat-tails of the NHS in England? And will the Welsh Government review the interim guidance on prescribing medicinal cannabis so that access to the treatment is not so heavily restricted?

Yes, I share the Member's concern. We've all had constituents who've been contacting us about the use of medicinal cannabis. I think it's important to set out the actual situation as we find it. So, prior to the change in law, Sativex was able to be prescribed to treat spasticity and multiple sclerosis where clinically appropriate. At present, seven pharmaceutical companies are developing around 21 new medicines that contain cannabis derivatives or synthetic cannabis compounds. As each medicine is ready, it will go through the well-established processes in place to ensure it's safe and effective and appropriate for use. The quality control processes are obviously the most safe way to provide patients with access to the medically active compound in cannabis. The Member well knows that the legal classification of drugs is not a devolved matter to Wales. It remains the responsibility of the UK Government and it's something we can't unilaterally take action on. But it is, we think, most appropriate to look at a UK-wide basis for the use of medicinal cannabis and, as the evidence base grows and as the products available grow, then the availability of the medicines will, of course, be more widespread in Wales, as it will be elsewhere in the UK.

Leader of the house, the misuse of cannabis, of course, can be very dangerous indeed. It can act as a gateway to much harder substances, which can result in ruining people's lives. Will you therefore join me in condemning the actions of the north Wales police and crime commissioner, Arfon Jones, for his irresponsible behaviour in visiting cannabis clubs, which are promoting illegal activity, including being the guest of honour on 23 October at a private cannabis club in London? This sort of behaviour sends mixed messages, frankly, to young people in our country. And do you agree that police commissioners actually ought to support people and the police in upholding the law, not encourage people to break it?

Well, I think it's very important not to mix up the use of medicinal cannabis with the unlawful use of a prescribed drug. So, I'm not going to go down the rabbit-hole that the Member has opened up in front of me. I think it's actually extremely important to make the very clear distinction between the use of illegal drugs—which is what the Member's talking about—and the purpose of this question, which is to talk about the availability of medicinal cannabis in the Welsh NHS. 

14:00
Community Healthcare in North Wales

6. What assessment has the First Minister made of the effectiveness of community healthcare in North Wales? OAQ53018

Our approach on health and well-being in our communities is set out in our primary care model for Wales. In north Wales, we expect the health board and local authorities to collaborate with a wide range of service providers to plan and deliver effective and seamless health and well-being care.

You will recall that five years ago, a number of community hospitals in north Wales were closed, moving to a new regime of care in the community through the introduction of the home enhanced care system—the HECS—which was sold as a more effective system. And one would expect, therefore, that we could measure any success that has been delivered during that period, but it’s now clear that it isn’t possible to measure the success or failure of this new approach, because there is no consistent record of how many patients receive HECS across the Betsi Cadwaladr health board. The board doesn’t know how many patients are in receipt of HECS at the moment, there is no record of the cost of the service kept and, although the intention is to keep a patient on HECS for just a fortnight, there is no full record of how long patients are in receipt of HECS. Indeed, I’ve seen evidence that some patients have received HECS for over 10 weeks. Now, it appears to me that this is an utter mess. So, why has your Government allowed north Wales to have a new system of healthcare without ensuring that you can measure the success or efficiency of that process? Can you tell us, are you confident that this new system is working?

I'm afraid I don't know the detail that the Member has set out there. I'd be very grateful if he would write to the First Minister, and we'll get a detailed response to him as soon as possible. 

Community and primary care services play a vital role in reducing hospital admissions. As we approach the winter months, it is vital that these services are strengthened to offer a genuine and safe alternative to hospital care, particularly for our older people, and this must include fully co-ordinated, multidisciplinary community care support teams. Now, we know, from last year's evaluation of winter planning, initiatives such as frailty services, which are vital in reducing hospital admissions, did not deliver as effectively as they could or should have done in the Betsi Cadwaladr health board. How are you, as a Government, ensuring that winter pressures funding reaches these services to build capacity and resilience in community services this winter across Wales, and how will you ensure that hospital at home is, in fact, safe treatment and care at home? 

The Cabinet Secretary recently set out his winter preparedness statement, making sure that we are as resilient as it's possible to be as we approach the winter months. Integrated winter delivery plans have been received from each health board, and have been scrutinised carefully by officials, the NHS Wales delivery unit and the national programme for unscheduled care, and feedback has been provided to inform further enhancement of the plans ahead of the winter period. We're as confident, therefore, as we can be, that we are prepared for the winter ahead, but Members will all be aware of the stresses and strains that winter can bring on the NHS, and we could all be well-advised to make sure that our constituents receive the message that they should go to the appropriate healthcare provider, the community pharmacy, where that's appropriate, the GP, where that's appropriate, and not turn up at accident and emergency when they have other issues, so that we can ensure that we have as smooth a winter period as humanly possible. 

Congestion in and around Newport

7. What is the Welsh Government doing to alleviate congestion in and around Newport? OAQ52994

We are taking significant steps to tackle congestion and improve journey-time reliability across Wales, through our road infrastructure projects, pinch-points programme and improvements to public transport.

Thank you, leader of the house. Newport's road network is undeniably under strain. Any incident or heavy congestion on the M4 has a significant effect, not just on the main artery for Wales, but a severe knock-on effect on local roads. It also causes traffic that's passing through the city on the M4, like heavy goods vehicles and others, to spill out onto Newport's roads. Next week, the Severn bridge tolls will finally be lifted. Without any mitigation, this will put an additional pressure on the bottleneck at the Brynglas tunnels. Already poor air quality due to idling traffic will only get worse. With bus companies finding it hard to cope during heavy congestion and current disruption on trains, local people have very few alternatives. What preparation is being made to help alleviate congestion on an already struggling road network following the abolishment of the tolls?

14:05

Thank you for that very important question. We've been conducting a series of studies into measures to tackle pinch points on the most heavily congested parts of the motorway and trunk road network. Those studies are under way, and as soon as we've got the results, we will be acting on them. Our transport network needs to obviously be sustainable, as the Member rightly points out.

The pinch-point studies are designed to look at a range of solutions to congestion problems right across the whole range of things available, from public transport to active travel measures, for example. We continue to support local authorities in addressing key local congestion issues through the provision of financial support and collaborative working. A number of other things have been done on the artery, as she calls the M4, quite rightly. M4 junction 28—the construction was completed in autumn 2018, representing an investment of £13.7 million in that area, and the Brynglas tunnels have recently had a £40 million uplift to ensure the tunnels are compliant with current design standards. In addition, essential maintenance has been carried out on the Usk river bridge and the Malpas viaduct.

The Member will, of course, be aware of where we are with the M4 corridor around Newport. The year-long public inquiry has just finished, and we are awaiting advice from the lawyers on the public inquiry to be supplied to the Executive when that's complete. We hope that that process will continue, and then, as the Llywydd knows, we're hoping to get a debate in Plenary time, as promised, on the M4.

I note that the Minister got through a minute and a half before you actually mentioned the M4 relief road, and I do hope we have this debate next week, as I think you suggested in a prior session. I just wonder, given the First Minister has worked so hard to ensure that he doesn't prejudice his position so that he can consider the inquiry dispassionately and then take the planning decision, isn't it important that he's allowed to take that planning decision, even if a new First Minister in Welsh Government, nonetheless, thereafter, has to decide whether to actually spend the money on taking up that permission if he grants it?

Well, no, that's not how the legals work; it's an executive decision for the Government. So, if it's not the Government, then, obviously, he can't take it. However, we are currently working very hard, as I've said repeatedly—we're currently working very hard to make sure that all of the legal advice and all of the other advice necessary to ensure that the decision can be properly considered and taken in the light of all relevant information will be available. As soon as it's available, then the First Minister will be able to apply his mind to that. There's no certainty of the outcome of that; the First Minister needs to apply his judgment to that when he's got all of that information in front of him. Once that has been done, then it can proceed to the next stages of that very, very complex legal set of issues that surround it.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank organisations such as Gwent Wildlife Trust and Friends of the Earth Cymru for their vocal opposition to the Government's proposed black route M4 around Newport, which, as we all know, will do nothing to alleviate congestion around the city or the wider area. I note that it took the leader of the house a little while to get round to mentioning the black route in her answer, but I wonder if she'll take this opportunity now to agree with me that we'd be far better off, financially and environmentally, by investing money earmarked for the black route instead on the final phases of the metro system and improving public transport links between the communities of the south-east.

As I said, the Government is in a legal process; it's not for me to upset the legal process. The legal process is a set process that I've explained on a lot of occasions; I'm happy to explain it again. The reason I took a little while to get to the M4 is because I do think that Members need to understand that this is a range of measures; there are a suite of things happening across the road network in that area as well as across Wales, and to get fixated on a single project is not necessarily where we want to be. It's a very important project, of course it is. There is a legal process that we are in, the legal process is inexorable, we must follow it to its conclusion, whatever that is, and I'm sure the Member will be taking part in the debate when it's brought forth.

Leader of the house, one of the issues, when it comes to tackling the pinch points, of course, is that you often just free up traffic to go to the next pinch point. One of the next pinch points further on from that location, of course, is the A470, which is now recognised, actually, as the most congested part of Wales with very serious pollution issues. Would you agree with me that the ultimate solution to our problems on the roads is the development and maintenance of a public transport system that gives people the opportunity not to have to drive on the roads to get to where they need to go, using a safe and efficient and comfortable public transport system?

14:10

Yes, and as I said, I emphasised that the pinch-point studies are designed to look at a range of solutions to congestion problems—not just road building, but absolutely everything, from public transport to active travel. A whole suite of measures is necessary to reduce congestion in most parts of Wales, not a fixation on a single part of that.

Air Quality

8. What consideration has the Welsh Government given to adopting the World Health Organization’s air quality limits for the emission of particulate matter? OAQ52997

We are considering all options to improve air quality in Wales. As part of the clean air programme, the Minister for Environment has established an air quality evidence, innovation and improvements project, which will consider the practical application of the World Health Organization guidelines for air pollution in Wales. 

Leader of the house, I'm sure you'll be aware that this is a very important matter that relates to the concerns of my colleague for Newport West, which is that pollution and congestion are very, very serious matters when it comes to public health. You may be aware that there was a report last month, published by the English public health organisation, about the effects of long-term exposure on cardiovascular morbidity i.e. it's killing more of us than it needs to. And although a lot of concern has been expressed about the levels of nitrogen oxides in the environment, I think it's really important we consider particulates in combination with them, because it's particulates that are the most damaging, because they penetrate the very smallest ventricles, and particularly the impact on children. So, I'd be very grateful if you could tell me what consideration, if any, the Government has so far given to adopting the WHO limits, which are obviously considerably better than the European Union's limits.

Yes, absolutely. As part of the clean air programme established this summer, as I just said, an air quality evidence, innovation and improvements project has been set up. That will look at the World Health Organization guidelines for air pollution and all of their potential impacts and for potential adoption in Wales. The guidelines are based solely on scientific conclusions about public health aspects of air pollution, and don't consider the technical feasibility or the economic, political and social aspects of the achievement of those levels. Therefore, we have officials currently assessing such practical aspects so that we can underpin future targets with evidence, to ensure they deliver the most effective change, supporting the delivery of our well-being goals. We already have access to a wide range of levers to take forward action to improve air quality, including planning, infrastructure, legislation, regulation and communication measures. The Minister has indicated that we would consider legislating as well, if we find that that suite of measures isn't sufficient for the practical implementation of the standards.

Back in March, leader of the house, I did ask the First Minister what leadership role the Welsh Government was taking to reduce the premature deaths through poor air quality. We know that 2,000 people a year die prematurely through poor air quality here in Wales. That's 6 per cent of all deaths in Wales, or five every day. Those are really, really major figures that we've desperately got to be tackling, and when you talk to certain organisations, they say there's good work going on in isolation, but not in a co-ordinated fashion. Would the Government be open-minded to actually having a summit of all relevant partners to try and drive forward this agenda, so that by 2021, when this Assembly breaks for the elections, we can see genuine improvement in those figures and a substantial reduction in the premature deaths through poor air quality here in Wales?

Yes. As I said, we've got the studies going on at the moment, and I'm sure, once we've bottomed out some of the practical aspects, then we will be consulting on a way forward on that. I can't speak for this particular area, but normally we would look to consult and engage with as wide a range of stakeholders as possible—particularly those with expert knowledge on how to implement practical standards in clean air, which, after all, as the Member points out, is what we all want.

Well, dirty air is killing our citizens, and it's ruining the lives of our children. Now, Plaid Cymru has outlined some of our proposals in relation to tackling vehicle emissions, pollution monitoring, pollution and congestion charging, creating clean air zones, but also giving them that legal underpinning that they need. Now, you mentioned that you might consider it. Well, I would urge you, please, as a Government, to support Plaid Cymru's proposals for a clean air Bill for Wales.

Yes, as I said, we've a range of measures in place, and we need to look to see what we can do with current levers, including that we have—. For example, we consulted earlier this year on tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations. That document set out how we will reduce concentrations of nitrogen dioxide around roads in Wales where levels are above the limit. That plan will be published by the end of this month. We've also got the clean air zone framework for Wales. The final framework will be published by the end of the year. We've a number of other, as I said, studies and so on going on. What we need to do is get the most comprehensive set of measures in place and then look to see what can be added by a clean air Act. Certainly, that's not off the table, but it may not be necessary. What we'd really like to do is just get on with it as soon as possible.

14:15

Thank you, leader of the house, responding on behalf of the First Minister.

2. Business Statement and Announcement

Now the next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the leader of the house, Julie James.

Diolch, Llywydd. The only change to this week's business is to reduce the time allocated to questions to the Counsel General tomorrow. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out in the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Leader of the house, could I revisit the M4 discussion that was just had in FMQs? During an environment and sustainability committee meeting last week, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport was before us. He clearly outlined that the planning decision is a decision for the First Minister and him alone. It's not a collective responsibility decision of the Government as a whole, which you indicated in your response to us. But, he also told the committee members that there was the belief within Government that a debate would be taken on 4 December and that the report would be made available to Members of this institution this week. It's a 580-page report, as I understand it. You are leader of the house, responsible for Government business. If that debate is to be taken next Tuesday, you would have to be tabling that debate today. Can you confirm whether that debate will be tabled today, and that the report will be released for Members to look over in the coming days? Or, is it really the case that this debate will not see the light of day now under this current First Minister, and that we are looking at going into the spring term before that debate is held here? As I said, there are so many conflicting notes and responses to questions out there that we do need clarity. This is the largest infrastructure project that the Welsh Government has undertaken, or will potentially undertake, since 1999. From the Cabinet Secretary, to your good self, to the First Minister himself, there are so many different scenarios working out there that we, as Members, do require the courtesy that we do have clarity from the Government over the course of action.

I'd also ask, in light of the continuing poor experience that people are having on the railways, that the Cabinet Secretary himself brings forward a statement that outlines entirely what happened in the handover process from Arriva Trains to the new franchise operator. There is evidence, given by the Cabinet Secretary himself and by Transport for Wales, that it wasn't the most ideal handover that could have been undertaken. Yet, this date was well-known to many people; it was known to everyone, in fact. The statement that we received from Transport for Wales last week even alludes to the fact that the stores for spare parts were certainly not what they should be, and there was an inadequacy there. We do need to understand, because we are all getting e-mails, telephone correspondence, face-to-face experiences with the travelling public over the horrendous situation that many have been left in. It is not fair on the travelling public, leave alone Members in this institution, that we cannot furnish them with the answers that they do deserve.

I am grateful for the statement that came from Transport for Wales last week. But, if this were a positive news story, I'm sure the Cabinet Secretary would be making a statement about the initial handover and the six weeks in the intervening period. So, please can we have a Government statement outlining exactly the responsibilities the Government has taken on itself to fix this problem?

On the M4, I'll try to be as crystal clear as I possibly can be. We are in a legal process. We had a local inquiry. That report has been received by the Government. It is subject to official advice and legal advice. When the official and legal advice and clearances are through, it will be submitted to the First Minister for his executive decision. It is not a collective decision of the Cabinet; it is an executive decision of the First Minister.

Once that has been done, to be clear, I have made it very clear that, because of the scale of the project and the interest across Wales, unlike any other highway project, we will bring forward a debate in Government time. There is still some possibility that we could do that next Monday. We would have to have the Llywydd's indulgence to do that. It was discussed at Business Committee this morning that there is still that possibility. However, as I said before, if that's not possible—if that's not possible because we haven't got to that point in the process—then we'll see what else can be done.

If it does go out past the end of this Assembly term, then I will be recommending to the incoming First Minister, whoever she or he would be, that the commitment by this Government is honoured, that that debate comes forward, and I don't see any reason why that couldn't happen. But it must be in the correct sequence. We can't have a debate in Assembly time before the making of the Orders, because that is not a relevant consideration in terms of the way that that decision must be made. So, there's a very clear set of processes, and the Assembly debate must come at the right point in that process. So, it's still not inconceivable that we could do it next Tuesday, but, if we can do it, we will. If we can't, then we'll have to see what else can be done.

We are very committed to the debate, but it has to be at the right point in the process. The process is immensely complex. The amount of things that have to be done in order for the First Minister to be able to take that decision lawfully, taking into account all the relevant considerations, is hugely complicated. So, we need to get the process right, and then we need to move on to the debate. So, I hope that that is clear. I don't know how to make it any clearer than that.

In terms of Transport for Wales, the Cabinet Secretary has indicated to me that he's very happy to ensure that Transport for Wales give a weekly update to all Members on where we are with the transition arrangements and the handover. So, I'll make sure that that happens.

14:20

Leader of the house, can I ask for a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services concerning GP premises, please? As you'll be aware, GPs who are independent contractors in the traditional mould also own their own premises, and I well remember as young GPs, you are expected to take out what is effectively a second mortgage on a GP surgery at the same time as you are taking out a first mortgage on a family home.

Now, recently, I've received representations to the effect that, when you fast-forward 20 to 30 years, and GPs retire, or retire early, or move on, leaving the remaining GPs with a building that is often difficult to sell, with negative equity and early redemption penalties, huge financial losses can be incurred at this difficult time. And people wonder why GPs do not want to become independent contractors owning their own surgeries any more.

Now, the NHS in England has a compensation system for GPs in similar circumstances. GPs who have provided a lifetime of service to their communities face huge financial losses if they are the last ones standing in GP premises after the other partners have left. We don't expect hospital consultants to have an obligatory financial stake in your average district general hospital or tertiary specialist care centre, and I would value a statement from the Cabinet Secretary to clarify matters. Thank you very much.

Yes, the Member highlights a particular issue with the current system in which GPs are independent contractors. We are seeing a shift towards fewer, larger sized GP practices with a wider skill mix of health professionals providing a greater range of healthcare locally, and that's partly because of what the Member is pointing out there about the financial commitments and so on.

We do take over practices in some circumstances of a managed practice approach, particularly as the tendency to use locums attracting higher costs and so on plays out. So, he's right to highlight that. We're working closely with the British Medical Association and NHS Wales colleagues on a programme of contract reform to address how the contract operates, making it more sustainable for GPs whilst delivering against the actions. The number of GP practices is gradually reducing, and it is a trend. As part of those negotiations, we are looking to see what can be done to alleviate the circumstances that the Member highlights.

I wanted to raise the issue about folic acid. The UK Government, as the leader of the house will know, recently announced its plans to fortify flour with folic acid to reduce spina bifida and other preventable birth defects linked to low folic acid. I think we know that, at the moment, two children a week in the UK are born with preventable birth defects. It's very good news that the UK Government has announced this, and I know this is something that Scottish and Welsh Ministers have lobbied for, and I assume it will apply to all UK flour producers. But I did wonder whether it would be possible to have a statement in Wales to clarify that this will apply in Wales and how it will link with our duties to regulate food and our responsibilities for food standards, because I think, obviously, this is something that mothers in particular need to know.

Yes, the Member highlights an incredibly important area. We very much welcome the positive announcement from the UK Government to fortify flour with folic acid. We have for a very long time called for this to be taken forward, and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services has written a joint letter with the Scottish Government yesterday to endorse our support and to drive forward rapid action in this regard. We note that the expected timing is early 2019 for the consultation, and officials have begun a positive dialogue to drive forward the consultation on a UK-wide level. We also know that the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment are yet to make an official report on the maximum level of folic acid, but we're of the view that that shouldn't delay the consultation process with a view to agreeing a uniform approach to the introduction of legislation across the UK as soon as possible.

14:25

Leader of the house, may I ask for a statement from the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport on the results of the latest school sport survey? According to the survey, the gap between children from the most and the least deprived areas taking part in sport has widened in the last three years. The number of children taking part in sport outside school three or more times a week has remained unchanged since 2015, and the gender disparity between boys and girls remains the same. Enjoyment of sports, both in and out of school, has fallen, and as the chief executive of Sport Wales said, in her words,

'Without it, there is no hope of them having a positive lifelong relationship with sport.'

Please can we have a statement from the Minister on what can be done to encourage more pupils to take part in sports in Wales, please?

The Member highlights a very important part of the curriculum, and the Member will be aware that, as part of the Donaldson reforms to the curriculum, we're rolling out the new curriculum and part of that is very much to be a healthy, active citizen of Wales. We hope very much that that will mean that sport is far more integrated into the curriculum. The Member will be aware that we've been experimenting with the mile a day programme for primary schools, and so on. So he highlights a very important part of the roll-out of the new curriculum. It's very much part of our planning for the future for schools with a view to getting our children as they come out of our schools to be the healthy, active participants in Welsh society that we want them to be.

Leader of the house, I'd like to ask for two statements today. I continue to deal with a large volume of casework relating to problems caused by unadopted housing estates. In fact, I would say it's the largest single element in my postbag, and I know that other Assembly Members see similar issues. Some time ago, during a debate on unadopted roads, the economy and transport Secretary announced that he would be setting up a taskforce to look into this issue. Please can we have a statement updating Members on this work?

Secondly, I recently met with a representative of the WAVE 70/30 campaign. That campaign focuses on eliminating child maltreatment through primary prevention. Their solution, offering support to parents and expectant parents before damage occurs, accords well with Welsh Government priorities, so could we have an update from Ministers on work to promote positive parenting?

Yes, indeed. Taking them in reverse order, officials have met with George Hosking, the founder and CEO of the WAVE Trust, on a number of occasions to discuss the work, including the 70/30 campaign that the Member highlights, and the adverse childhood experiences work. The meetings have provided opportunities for officials to share with the WAVE Trust information on the Welsh Government's policies and key family support programmes. We anticipate that that will have a mutual interest with the WAVE Trust and that discussions will continue.

The approach of the campaign is completely compatible with the aims and objectives of our Flying Start and Families First programmes, as well as the Welsh Government's positive parenting campaign, 'Parenting. Give it Time'. We're very supportive of the campaign and believe the services provided have the potential to complement the work already undertaken by the Government, and we're very happy to work alongside the project.

In terms of unadopted roads, the Cabinet Secretary has been looking for some time at some of the issues, in conjunction with the Minister for housing, the Minister for planning and a number of other people across the Government. I'll check with them where that work is and how it's progressing and write to the Member accordingly.

Could I call for a single statement on rail services in north Wales? On Saturday I attended the Wrexham-Bidston Rail Users Association's annual general meeting, where the chair referred us to Transport for Wales's live travel updates on Saturday, which showed that, with the exception of minor delays at Cardiff-Shrewsbury and Cardiff-Swansea, all the other south Wales services had good service, whereas Llandudno-Blaenau Ffestiniog and Chester-Crewe had severe delays, and Wrexham-Bidston had an amended timetable—i.e. cancelled.

Yesterday, the executive member for transport at Wrexham wrote to the Cabinet Secretary here. You will be aware that following the decision by Transport for Wales that no train services operated on Wrexham-Bidston last weekend, due to rail services in south Wales being supplemented due to a sporting fixture, no stakeholders here were consulted in advance or informed directly of that, or then the decision to rescind and reduce the reduced timetable over the weekend with no discussion with stakeholders. We know that the chair of Neston transport working group, the other end of this line, on Friday e-mailed—it's been their position in Neston for three years that the whole of the line should be operated by Merseytravel, because at least the section from Bidston to Shotton, they say, could then experience high-quality services provided by them. 

And, finally, on Friday, my office received a phone call from a rail insider, a whistleblower, who wished to remain anonymous, who told me that the majority of trains had been cancelled because no spares were available when the Welsh Government took over, and that the tooling and spares had been taken by Arriva. So, we need to know why these missing spares were not picked up and provided for by the operator, and why the wheel lathes access was not put into place. Again, we heard on Saturday that there was no access, belatedly, to Crewe, Bristol and Taunton. But we also know that the excuse for so many trains being off the line is because of shortage of wheel lathes. Is there a sustainable solution in place, or is this a one-off, and will this address the problem?

I don't want a short response. I'm calling for a ministerial statement to this Assembly so that we can get to the bottom of these many questions being raised by very worried stakeholders. 

14:30

As I said, the situation with the stock being off the rails—as I said in answer to an FMQ, we've got 10 per cent of that stock back in action. And in response to Andrew R.T. Davies, we did say that we'll arrange for Transport for Wales to have a weekly update for Members on the situation across Wales, and I'll make sure the Member is included in that, obviously. 

Leader of the house, I call for a statement on two matters. The first one is: you'll be aware of the Musicians' Union report, which raises the issue of the lack of access to music now for whole sections of communities, and individuals, particularly from more deprived backgrounds. It would be very helpful to have a statement that actually analysed that report and identified whether those conclusions actually apply to Wales as well.

And the second one I'd like to ask for is a statement on the discussions that Welsh Government has had with the UK Government in respect of the provision of information to Members of Parliament and to Assembly Members from differing Parliaments. The reason being this: we are all parliamentary representatives; we raise matters on behalf of our constituents. I have matters I've had to raise with the Home Office. The Home Office refused to reply to Members of the National Assembly for Wales. If we were to adopt the tit-for-tat approach in respect of devolved responsibilities between the respective Parliaments, then business would break down, constituents would have a bad deal in terms of representation. And it seems to me that this is a major issue, that the Home Office has adopted the position of basically completely refusing to engage with Members of the Assembly for Wales. If we adopted that in other areas, we'd have very significant consequences. We obviously don't want to have that. It seems to me it's a matter that needs to be resolved at Government to Government level. 

Yes, actually, it's something I've already raised with the Llywydd. It's Commission to Commission level, I think. And we've had some discussion about reciprocal arrangements. Members will have seen in the recent Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs communication about Welsh tax rates, and the communication that's gone to all Assembly Members—about HMRC making arrangements to deal with Assembly Members in raising issues around the Welsh tax. We've had a similar conversation about the Home Office and other reciprocal arrangements about access to buildings and facilities and so on. And I think it's a matter the Llywydd will want to take up in the future; we've had some discussion about it. 

In terms of the music arrangements, the Member highlights a very serious part of Welsh culture and society. I know he himself is a keen ukulele and banjo player—I thought I'd mention that in his company. We absolutely recognise the current pressures facing music services and the need to take action as soon as possible. That's why the Cabinet Secretary has made additional funding of £3 million over the next two years available for music provision across Wales. Proposals are currently being considered on how to spend the funding, and an announcement on that is expected extremely shortly. 

I wondered if we could have a statement, a whole-system approach from the Government, on gambling. Last week, the Gambling Commission published its annual report on the issue of young people and gambling, and, worryingly, it is now the biggest harmful activity that young people up to 16 are engaging in. So, it's now a bigger problem than alcohol consumption by under 16-year-olds. Some of the concerns that were expressed at the cross-party group last Tuesday were that 90 per cent of pubs do not take action to prevent young people using their fruit machines. It takes them up to half an hour before they actually do anything, and meanwhile, of course, all the money's gone down the tube. So, I appreciate that the chief medical officer takes this matter very seriously, but it seems to me it's also a regulatory matter for local authorities to ensure that pubs, if they have these dreadful fruit machines, are actually supervising who's using them. Plus, I think there's a general issue around the way in which the gambling companies are penetrating—across social media, through sporting activities—young people's brains, that gambling is something that it's cool to do. And we've seen from research produced in Australia that this is a pretty terrifying way in which children's brains are being cooked. So, I wondered if we could have a statement so that we can see that the Government is taking this as seriously as we should have taken smoking some 30 years ago.

14:35

The Member highlights a matter of some concern, across the Chamber, to everybody. Earlier this year, I wrote jointly with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services to the Advertising Standards Authority about the proliferation of gambling advertising on television, and through social media and online—for those of us who are gamers, it's absolutely all over the gaming industry—particularly in the way they seek to influence vulnerable and especially children and young people in those adverts. Their response was placed in the Members' library, and I've subsequently met with the Advertising Standards Authority to discuss the issue of shared mobile devices, and how they know who's being targeted by them. They're taking it very seriously indeed, I'm pleased to say.

As a Government, we have been working across departments to identify actions we can take to reduce and tackle the gaming gambling-related issues. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services is planning to make a statement in due course, outlining the actions taken so far, and what else we can do. We are taking this very seriously indeed. The Member is absolutely right to highlight the difficulties, and the work on fixed-odds betting terminals that's being undertaken in the UK Parliament by Labour colleagues has gone some way to addressing this as well.

3. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services: Update on the Our Valleys, Our Future Delivery Plan

The next item, therefore, is the statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services—update on the Our Valleys, Our Future delivery plan. And I call on the Cabinet Secretary to make the statement—Alun Davies.

Member
Alun Davies AC 14:37:34
Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Lywodraeth Leol a Gwasanaethau Cyhoeddus

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer, and I'm grateful to you for providing this opportunity to inform Members about the latest updates that we have made to our ambitions and plans for the south Wales Valleys. This is set out in the 'Our Valleys, Our Future' delivery plan.

Just a few months ago, in July, I had the pleasure of updating Members about the first 12 months of progress since we published 'Our Valleys, Our Future'. Since then, the ministerial taskforce for the south Wales Valleys has been reviewing its work and the more than 60 actions that we identified in the delivery plan, to ensure that they are still fit for purpose, and will continue to contribute to our three overarching priorities. Members will remember the three priorities at the heart of the taskforce’s work were based on the feedback we received from people living and working in the Valleys. They told us that they wanted good jobs and the skills to do them, better public services and improvements, and a focus on their local community. This year’s update of the delivery plan has focused attention on those areas, which add real value to Valleys communities.

We have identified new actions and programmes that will make a positive difference over the next 12 months, such as a focus on maximising the benefits of the investment on the A465 corridor for local communities alongside this important development. We know the improved transport links for the Heads of the Valleys have the potential to unlock new housing developments and tourism, new job opportunities, and economic development for the region. The investment in the dualling of this road has to be measured and understood in the increased economic activity and the creation of new opportunities, which will flow from the dualling of the A465. The taskforce has been working with stakeholders and partners to identify and build on these opportunities for investment associated with the dualling project.

Over the next 12 months, we will continue this work to develop priority areas for the Heads of the Valleys. Deputy Presiding Officer, I recently announced a £25 million capital fund to support the seven strategic hubs over the next two years. Local authorities in the hub areas have led the development of the blueprints for long-term improvements in each strategic hub. Working with the Valleys authorities and the Cardiff capital region city deal we will confirm further details of the plans for the seven hubs in the new year. 

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.

14:40

I am pleased to say that we have made available development funding for some of the local authorities in the strategic hub areas. This will commission the feasibility and design of new integrated transport hubs, replacing, where necessary, existing rail and bus interchange and improving infrastructure and connectivity, which will incorporate the key metro development sites. The designs will also take into account the wider regeneration ambitions for these areas.

Business support remains a key area for us. We want to encourage the facilitation of entrepreneurship and enterprise amongst individuals, businesses and communities in the Valleys. I have provided funding for a focused business support campaign that identifies and brings together success amongst Valleys communities. I have also allocated funding for a pilot project to support a peer-to-peer network for high-growth Valleys-based business founders or leaders.

Harnessing digital technologies plays an important role in this updated plan. We have included three pilot schemes for the Valleys, which the taskforce’s digital work stream will oversee. The taskforce will work with Transport for Wales to ensure its new integrated responsive transport programme gets people from all parts of the Valleys to and from their health appointments more effectively, and we will be developing an app to support this. 

We will also pilot the Wi-Fi i Fi programme–an exciting way opening up public sector broadband to create community Wi-Fi hotspots to be used by everyone in the local area. Again, an app will be created, which shows where these hotspots are in the Valleys. We are also investing in the Wales-wide mapping tool 'Lle'. We will develop its functionality and content to enable easy access to a host of useful data to inform and encourage investment in the Valleys.

Deputy Presiding Officer, last month I updated members about the creation of a Valleys regional park and our ambition to use the park to strengthen the national and international profile of the region. Last month I published a prospectus, inviting others to help shape the thinking behind this regional park. The prospectus has been well received here and across the Valleys. There was also a striking consensus that to succeed we need to work collaboratively with a focus on the Valleys as a whole. 

We have refreshed the 'My Community' section in the delivery plan to deliver the first phase of the Valleys regional park, focusing on the three themes of landscape: culture and identity; recreation and wellbeing; and then communities and enterprise. At the heart of our plans for the regional park are the gateway locations across the Valleys, which will help tell the stories of these Valleys. These gateway sites will encourage people to be more active and to explore the beautiful landscapes of the Valleys. I have said that I intend to announce the first location of these gateways by the end of the year and deliver phase 1 by spring 2019.

Deputy Presiding Officer, working closely with local authorities and other partners in the Valleys, I am pleased to be able to announce today that Dare Valley Country Park, Caerphilly castle, Cwmcarn forest, Blaenavon World Heritage Visitor Centre—[Interruption.]—I can't hear that—Cyfarthfa Park and Bryngarw Country Park will be amongst those gateway sites. I will announce further sites in the coming weeks. The £7 million of capital funding for the development of the Valleys regional park, which the Cabinet Secretary for Finance announced in the draft budget for 2019-20, will be invested in these gateways and the iconic trails that connect the Valleys. The detailed plans for utilising the whole of that allocation will be announced in due course.   

One of the defining features of the Valleys taskforce has been its ongoing engagement with people living and working in the Valleys. It's been really important for all of us to talk to and listen to people and local communities. That's how this plan was and has been developed and shaped. That engagement will continue to be at the heart of our approach. The taskforce will also continue to work across the whole of Welsh Government and with both city deals. We want to be a catalyst not just for change in the Valleys, but for a more joined-up Government working together to deliver for the people we represent. This delivery plan cuts across all the Welsh Government departments and all of my Cabinet colleagues’ portfolios. I’d like to thank all of my colleagues and their departments for their commitment to this agenda.

Deputy Presiding Officer, we want this plan to meet the needs and ambitions of people living and working in the Valleys and their expectations. The taskforce has already began to make a real and lasting difference to the south Wales Valleys, and it will continue to do so.

14:45

You state that one of the defining features of the work of the ministerial taskforce for the south Wales Valleys has been its ongoing engagement with people living and working in the Valleys, stressing the importance of talking to and listening to people and local communities. Of course, co-production, which is in Welsh legislation, goes further, very much in terms of the sustainability duty and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and that involves designing and delivering services together, sharing power and working in equal partnership. So, does this go beyond talking to and listening to, and, if so, how are you ensuring that services are being designed and delivered on a parity of power basis with local people, local communities and local organisations? 

Of course, west Wales and the Valleys, which, unfortunately, has continued to produce the lowest value of goods and services per head of all UK regions or areas, includes four north Wales counties, and this programme only addresses those in the south Wales Valleys part of that. Why is that? Or is that because you believe, possibly correctly, that the initiatives in north Wales behind the growth deal, the growth vision, the growth bid, are ticking the boxes up there? And, if you do believe that, and that's the reason why the four north Wales counties have been excluded, what consideration have you given to the way the six north Wales counties, the business sector and academia have come together and, with a voice of unity, brought forward their proposals for that region and closing that prosperity gap there?

The Welsh Government's 'Our Valleys, Our Future' progress report 2018, I have to say, is a bit of eclectic mix of cobbled together Welsh Government programmes and policies. As it rightly says:

'more good jobs and opportunities to get skills are needed'

and that you're committed to exploring options to target investment and create new strategic hubs areas, which you refer to in your statement as:

'areas where public money is focused to provide opportunities for the private sector to invest and create new jobs.'

So, how has the private sector been incorporated within that, not just as someone to talk to and listen to, but in the context, as in north Wales, where those solutions are being co-produced for delivery together?

You refer in this report to the Welsh Government's knowledge and analytical services department identifying areas across south Wales Valleys where economic potential was greatest. Again, similarly, how have they worked with the business and third sectors to reach their conclusions, or have they simply done this talking to and listening to people?

You refer to the Welsh Government's employability plan, published in March this year. Of course, we understand it's not due to roll out until next year, although a range of employment programmes are now operating in Wales, such as the programmes being delivered through Remploy and the Department for Work and Pensions. We know from previous responses in this Chamber from Welsh Government members that those programmes have got Welsh Government input. So, can you tell us if and how, therefore, those UK schemes operating in Wales with Welsh Government input have been or will be incorporated into the work in 'Our Valleys, Our Future'?

You refer, in the report, to Ferndale developing a hub with a range of community-based services, and I love the sound of that—that sounds brilliant. But will you give consideration to the work of Dr Karen Sankey in Wrexham, whose work has been identified, I know, by the Welsh Government's health department, who's developed a community hub model to bring together and address the physical, psychological and social needs of people in that community, including those on the streets, as a best practice model?

You refer to account executives for secondary schools and working with Careers Wales. Again, how will that address the concern that was raised when Careers Wales was no longer able to facilitate pupils in schools going into the workplaces for practical work experience? Are we purely talking about within school, and, if so, how will that integrate with the businesses themselves?

Two very, very short questions remaining, and then I'm finished. South Wales metro—you refer to a long-term programme. How long term, really, are you thinking about with this, in dialogue with your colleagues? Because we keep hearing these things bandied around, and they do sound very positive, and, although I don't live in south Wales, I wish the people there every good wish, but when do you anticipate this being transport on the ground?

Finally, you refer in the report to the 20,000 affordable housing targets—of course, that includes home purchase, it includes intermediate rent, and provision by a range of providers. So, what collective housing needs assessment is at the core of this, not just to identify the numbers of units needed by people in the population, but the type and range of properties, whether that's social rent, intermediate rent, low-cost purchase or full market purchase or otherwise? Thank you.

14:50

Thank you very much. The Conservative spokesperson seems to have conspired to ask the same question half a dozen times. I'll try to answer it only once. In terms of the approach that we're taking, we are seeking to involve people from the point at which we begin through the point at which we develop our concepts and deliver those concepts. There isn't—. He asked on a number of occasions in that contribution about co-production in different areas of our work, but the whole of what we do is about working with people. It's not the ownership of Welsh Government; it is Welsh Government acting as a catalyst, bringing people together to enable us to use not only the power of Government but the creativity of people and the ambition and vision of people living in and throughout the Valleys.

He asked a specific question on UK schemes and UK employability schemes. I'm disappointed that he doesn't understand that the regional manager for the DWP is actually a member of the taskforce. So, all of these matters are actually hardwired into our discussions and our debates. This is a fundamental part of what we're doing. He says it's an eclectic mix of schemes—people are creative, and creativity isn't always clean and tidy, I'm afraid. But let me say this to him: we have a number of entrepreneurs represented on the taskforce as well, and the work streams that we are developing on the taskforce themselves bring people together and enable people to make a contribution and to play different roles.

So, this isn't a matter of compartmentalising our work in the way that the Conservative spokesperson has sought to do; this is fundamental, about what the taskforce actually is at it roots, at its heart. In terms of the way that we're taking things forward, we are seeking to be more inventive or creative in the way we talk and the way we communicate with people. I've invested a great deal of time, whether it's in public meetings, talking to smaller groups of people—. Last week, I was in Blaenavon doing a Facebook live event, talking to people and answering their questions on social media. We do this in a number of different ways over a period of time.

I do notice that the Conservative spokesperson for these matters tries on a number of occasions in his contributions to this place to pit parts of Wales against each other—region against region, community against community. I wish that he would desist in doing so. It diminishes him and his contributions. This is not a matter of the Valleys of south Wales having any sort of preferential treatment over another part of the country—this is about addressing poverty; it is about addressing the poverty that exists in these places.

He's a member of a party that has actively contributed to the creation of that poverty. For those of us who were brought up in the Valleys of south Wales, we saw what Conservative Governments—successive UK Conservative Governments—did to us. They did nothing to support our communities, but everything to undermine our communities. [Interruption.] They did everything to take away the economic base of what we were seeking to do. This is about redressing that balance. This is about redressing that balance and tackling that poverty. I hear him, Deputy Presiding officer, calling from his seat. This isn't about setting north against south or east against west. When he does that, he diminishes himself. And I will not allow him to do that to this scheme or to diminish what we are seeking to do. This is not about pitting community against community, it's about tackling poverty, and I know that the Conservatives have difficulty with that concept, but it's what this Government was elected to do. 

14:55

I'm not convinced that this statement brings anything new to the table today, and I think the evidence for that is the attack that the Cabinet Secretary just made. Cabinet Secretary, you always seem to attack when you don't have any answers.

Anyway, you finished your statement today by saying that the delivery plan in front of us today cuts across all Welsh Government departments and all of your Cabinet colleagues' portfolios, so I'll use this opportunity to ask some questions today about how the Welsh Government's wider policy agenda affects the ambitions that you set out in your plan. 

A major element of supporting priority 1 of the delivery plan, which is to create good-quality jobs and the skills to do them, is, as you mention, the Welsh Government's childcare offer. Now, this offer will provide 30 hours of free early education and childcare to working parents of three and four-year-olds for 48 weeks of the year. As my Plaid Cymru colleague Llyr Gruffydd has consistently argued, by limiting the offer of free childcare provision to working parents only, you are actively creating another barrier for economically inactive parents from returning to work. This has also been supported by the children's commissioner, who stated that

'children whose parents are not employed will fall even further behind their peers if they miss out on this provision.'

Your target of helping 7,000 economically inactive and unemployed people in the Valleys into work was so that you could bring the Valleys parts of the local authorities in question up to the same levels as the rest of Wales. Cabinet Secretary, your Government's childcare offer will not support this aim. In fact, it'll make the situation in the Valleys even worse, leading to even more families being left behind. Therefore, as a member of the Government, what representations have you made to your colleagues to urge them to expand the childcare offer to all parents in Wales?

The problem in many of the Valleys communities is not the number of jobs, it's the quality of those jobs. It's the low-skilled and low-paid nature of many of those jobs and the fact that way too many of them are insecure jobs. The target of supporting 7,000 people into employment by 2021 is, of course, to be welcomed. However, without bringing new industries and developing existing ones to grow further, you may well support 7,000 people into employment on one hand, but the insecure nature of the labour market in the Valleys might well result in those job losses elsewhere in the same area. Therefore, can the Cabinet Secretary provide a target figure of how many jobs will be secured in the period up until 2021 as well?

Last week, the Welsh Government lost a vote in the Assembly calling for no more cuts to further education and lifelong learning, a sector that has been a persistent target for the cuts, now, over many, many years. If we are serious about reversing the long-term decline in the Welsh economy and raising skills, incomes and productivity, then the further education sector is absolutely crucial. A major element of the taskforce's delivery plan skills agenda will depend heavily on the Welsh Government's employability plan, for example, which will place demands and expectations on colleges and the wider skills and learning sector as crucial delivery partners. However, in reality, nobody can take these plans and sentiments forward when the funding isn't there to support these priorities. Therefore, how confident are you that the funding is there to deliver the training required to upskill the Valleys' labour force?

Now, I'm sure I don't need to explain to anyone how difficult it is to travel on the Valleys lines at the moment. It simply cannot carry on as things stand. That's why I welcome the development funding secured to commission the feasibility and design of new integrated transport hubs to ease travel opportunities into the new strategic hubs. Specifically, I welcome the commitment to looking at improvements in infrastructure as part of the metro development. Much of the focus with the metro development with regard to the Valleys is how best to connect Valleys communities with Cardiff, instead of considering how we connect the Valleys to each other. The idea for the Valleys circle line was not included in the next phase of the metro development. Therefore, can the Cabinet Secretary commit to ensuring that part of the development funding will go towards the feasibility of pursuing the creation of a circle line for the Valleys?  

15:00

I'm grateful to the Plaid Cymru spokesperson for her questions. I reflect and observe that when I answered questions on previous occasions—I think, last year—I was attacked by Plaid Cymru for placing in the plan policy issues that were directly targeted at the Valleys, and I notice that this afternoon she's decided to major on all of those policy issues that aren't directly targeted at the Valleys. I reflect on that because—[Interruption.] I said in the first paragraph, because—

Can you make him answer the questions, Deputy Presiding Officer, rather than—[Inaudible.

It's a statement, and the Minister has an opportunity to answer the questions in the way he wants to answer them. If that's not acceptable, then there are other methods that you could use. 

I will say to the Member that I listened to her questions, and perhaps she might listen to my answers. 

In terms of the childcare offer, it is a manifesto commitment and a commitment of the programme for government for this Government, and it will be delivered in the way that is being described, and it will continue to be delivered in the way that's described. It is, I believe, one of the most ambitious and generous childcare offers anywhere in the United Kingdom, and I make no apology for investing in childcare. And as a Minister at the beginning of this Government, I played my part in developing the opportunities for the childcare offer, and I saw the difference that it was making to people's lives up and down the Valleys and elsewhere.

Let me also say this to the Member: if she's read the updated delivery plan, she will know that we're also going further than simply offering childcare facilities and opportunities. We're also addressing the adverse childhood experiences that many children growing up in the Valleys will face in their lives. We're also talking to the police about how we can ensure that it's done in a holistic way, and we're looking at addressing the experiences of children growing up in, sometimes, some very difficult households. So, we are investing not simply in the childcare offer—and I reject her criticisms of it—but we're actually investing in a more holistic approach to the early years as well. So, we're going further than the suggestion she has made.

She criticises us for adopting the target of 7,000 people into work, rather than, I think, the point that she was making was this, creating a job creation target. What this target does is very, very clear. It ensures that the Valleys have the same economic profile and social profile as other parts of the country. I've said, Deputy Presiding Officer, in my answer to the Conservative spokesperson that the reason we established this taskforce is to address the poverty that exists in the Valleys of south Wales, and it is people who are affected by that poverty, and it is people who we are seeking to ensure are able to get back into work, and to have the sort of work that we want them to have.

I recognise very well—I recognise from my own constituency and I recognise from this work—the impact of underemployment in the Valleys, and the impact of poorly paid employment in the Valleys. We recognise that. We recognise—and that is why this Government is committed to creating Wales as a fair work nation so that we do work with business, and we do work with all sectors of the economy, and we invest in the foundational economy to actually create the work for people. But I defend us having a target of 7,000 people becoming economically active in this way, because that is what we've been advised will do most to invest in the people and the communities of the Valleys of south Wales. 

We do have the funding in place for this, and we do have the funding in place for the training opportunities and for the metro. But let me say this—let me be absolutely clear in doing this—what we've been trying to do over the last year has been to ensure that we not only hardwire accountability into what we do, but we actually hardwire our targets into that as well so that Members are able to come here to question me on what we're doing and what we're achieving. But that has to be done on the basis of the plans that we are publishing and the targets that we are setting. I believe that the targets are ambitious, visionary and demonstrate that it is this Government and Welsh Labour that have a very real, ambitious vision for the Valleys of south Wales.

15:05

On 16 November, I visited Welsh ICE, which is based in Caerphilly business park, and it was recently awarded Welsh Government funding to become a regional enterprise hub to encourage and support entrepreneurship, linking with all kinds of partners from universities, local businesses, colleges and the Development Bank of Wales. They're also linking up with satellites, who are to be confirmed, according to the development plan, and I'd like to hear more about that.

If it's going to be successful, Welsh ICE wants to support the Minister's ambition for connectivity, which has already been referred to, and help identify key partners. When I visited Welsh ICE, they showed me an infographic that demonstrated the businesses that were linking in with them. It was interesting that it was a kind of upside-down T shape in the fact that it was businesses from along the M4 corridor and then the Rhymney valley linking into Cardiff and not much outside of that area. So, there's certainly a challenge to get those different communities linking into Welsh ICE. I particularly want to see businesses from Bargoed and Senghenydd linking into Welsh ICE, but also from across those Valleys communities. Overwhelmingly, we see businesses interested in the southern parts; we need to connect the northern Valleys.

So, what can the Welsh Government do to encourage this? I notice in his statement that he mentions a focused business support campaign. Can he just elaborate on what he means by that and also what he means by the peer-to-peer network that he referred to in his statement? Some elaboration on those things also would assist Members in understanding how we're going to develop those northern Valleys communities and businesses.

The development of investment in the northern Valleys is a point that's been well made by the Member for Caerphilly over his time here, and it's something I clearly share for reasons that are clear. We have discussed the Rhymney valley with the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney as well. It is important that we're able to reach out beyond the southern parts of the Valleys of south Wales, and that's why we are putting in place a development plan that specifically looks at maximising the impact of the A465 dualling project, and we need to be able to deliver that over the coming six months or so.

In terms of Welsh ICE, I've clearly met with Welsh ICE, and we do have a representative on the taskforce who's taking forward the plans on entrepreneurship. What we hope to be able to do is use the model of Welsh ICE to be able to extend that to parts of the region in the south-east of Wales where we haven't got a similar sort of facility, and what I hope we'll be able to do is use individuals who are entrepreneurs in their own right to mentor and work with businesses in order to deliver the sort of help and support that is tailored for each individual business. So, it's very much a granular approach to ensuring that people who are establishing and running small businesses have exactly the support that they need—not the support that we believe that they need—and that's absolutely essential.

What I hope we'll be able to do is use the model of Welsh ICE in Caerphilly to be able to develop exactly that approach in other parts of the south-east of Wales.

I have two more speakers whose areas have been, I think, named in the Minister's statement. Therefore, I will take them, but if they can be brief, that would be helpful. Vikki Howells.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, and thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I welcome your comments about using the Heads of the Valley corridor as a tool for economic development. The former Tower colliery site in Hirwaun is ideally situated for these purposes and is, as you will know, currently undergoing restoration. What discussions have you had with the team at Tower Regeneration about how the Valleys taskforce can help to exploit the untapped potential of this site?

Secondly, it was good to hear about the discovery gateways and the mention of Dare Valley Country Park in particular. I agree with you—I think it would be an excellent location for that. I'm glad to see that it will also be backed up by a definite budget line. When will detailed plans for this be available?

15:10

I hope they'll be available early in the new year—in the next new year. I would expect that we would be able to make more detailed announcements in January or February of 2019. I certainly want us to be in a position to be able to make those investments in the current financial year. So, I want us to move ahead with some pace on that. I also want to be able to announce further discovery sites in the coming weeks, potentially before Christmas, but certainly early in the new year, in which we'll be able to build upon the basis upon which we're able to make these announcements today. So, I want to move with a fair degree of pace to move forward with this. I also believe that we need to create a far greater structure for the Valleys regional park in terms of how it will actually deliver what its potential will be, and I hope that we can put a structure in place immediately after Christmas as well, and certainly in the first quarter of 2019.

In terms of Tower colliery, Tower colliery were represented at the seminar we had, which kicked off, if you like, the work that we're doing on the A465 corridor in the spring. They've clearly been kept in touch with the work that is being undertaken by the group of people I've invited to develop an economic development plan for the Heads of the Valleys, and I agree with the Member for the Cynon Valley, the Tower colliery site is an important site, and I see it as being an important strategic site for the future of the A465 corridor. 

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Cabinet Secretary, as the Assembly Member for Islwyn, I greatly welcome the £7 million Valley regional park announcement, and greatly welcome that Cwmcarn Forest Drive will be among the first wave of projects of the discovery gateways to be announced by the Welsh Government. Members will know how prized the historic Cwmcarn Forest Drive is in my constituency: it is one of the jewels in the Welsh crown, and it is very good news, indeed, for my constituency. It is exactly the effective partnership working between Welsh Government, local authorities and other parties working together—even in this age of Tory austerity, local government, Welsh Government, and their partner organisations will and can make a positive difference to our communities. Would the Cabinet Secretary be willing to meet with me at the Cwmcarn Forest Drive and meet representatives of the friends of the Cwmcarn Forest Drive to spread the word of this truly transformative potential of the discovery gateways to the people of Islwyn?

Finally, Cabinet Secretary, I wish to explore in more detail the new local transport hubs that have been mentioned and identified by Welsh Government, which will directly benefit the communities of Islwyn, and as I've stated, my constituency is very enthusiastic for increased and enhanced connectivity between our Valleys, and I would ask that the Cabinet Secretary update us as Members in detail as to how this important work develops as the months proceed. Thank you, Deputy Llywydd. 

I'm certainly happy, Deputy Presiding Officer, to meet individual Members or groups of Members in order to update them on this work as it develops over the coming weeks and months. I'm certainly very, very happy to do that, and I'm also delighted to visit Cwmcarn Forest Drive with the Member. I hope she doesn't mind if I bring my family along with me. We've always enjoyed that part of the world. It's a great place for families to be able to relax and enjoy the fantastic environment and landscape of the Valleys of south Wales. We're very fortunate to represent such places, and I think we should all take great pride in the environment and the landscape of the Valleys, and tell the whole world that the Valleys of south Wales are a very, very special place to be, to see, to visit, to live, to work. 

4. Statement by the Leader of the House and Chief Whip: Update on Implementation of the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act

Item 4 on our agenda is a statement by the leader of the house: update on the implementation of the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse, and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, and I call on the leader of the house, Julie James. 

Diolch, Deputy Llywydd. I'm very pleased to give Assembly Members an update on the significant progress made since the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence Act came into force in 2015. The two annual reports that have been published since I took on this portfolio provide more detail of this progress.

Our national strategy published in 2016 outlines six objectives. These objectives were designed to enable compliance, as far as our powers allow, with the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, or the Istanbul convention. The delivery framework, which we published in July 2018, explains how we will work across Government departments to deliver against each of these six objectives.

The Welsh Government is committed to the prevention of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, or VAWDASV. It's an impossible acronym, Deputy Presiding Officer, but VAWDASV, as it's called. We want to improve the public sector response to these issues, and through education, empowerment and engagement, we are challenging attitudes and behaviours across society.

We need to work together to protect those who are currently experiencing VAWDASV. Our national training framework, for example, ensures that, for the first time, standards have been set on training for professionals to help them to recognise who is at risk. Last year, we published draft guidance and rolled out 'ask and act' training. 'Ask and act' is a process of targeted enquiry to be practised by front-line professionals. The training has been developed with survivors, and therefore informed by lived experience. It has the potential to change and save lives, and feedback from the early adoption work shows that it does achieve this.

We've trained over 135,000 people across Wales through e-learning and face-to-face training. That is 135,000 professionals who are more knowledgeable, more aware and more confident to respond to those experiencing VAWDASV. We have published a suite of films aimed at public service leadership to raise awareness of VAWDASV. These films have been viewed over 6,500 times. We are raising awareness amongst children and young people and are teaching them what healthy relationships look like. This work is aimed at preventing them from becoming victims, or even perpetrators. Many schools deliver this through the Welsh Government-funded Spectrum project. We are also strengthening our guidance for schools to include links to appropriate support. This will build upon our good practice guide on taking a whole education approach, and also our guidance for school governors.

The introduction of the new curriculum in 2022 will offer the opportunity to deliver relationships and sexuality education in a completely different way to traditional sex education. Schools do not have to wait until formal roll-out if they feel sufficiently equipped to do so before then.

One of my officials jointly chairs the female genital mutilation, honour-based violence and forced marriage leadership group with the Crown Prosecution Service and BAWSO. This group has developed a delivery framework for tackling so-called honour-based violence, whilst providing the best possible support to survivors. The group has also been instrumental in supporting Wales’s first specialist women’s well-being clinic for those affected by FGM.

We are working under a collaborative agreement with HM Prison and Probation Service on improving the approach to working with perpetrators. This links with the framework to support positive change for those at risk of offending in Wales. The newly formed perpetrator services network takes part in regular practice-sharing events, and a rapid evidence review on what works with domestic abuse perpetrators is due to be published in December. Next month, I will be launching new perpetrator service standards to support commissioners and services to deliver safe and effective practices. We have conducted a mapping exercise of perpetrator services in Gwent and are sharing the learning from this with other areas.

We are tackling gender stereotyping through our communication campaign, This is Me. Gender stereotyping can lead to gender inequality, which is at the root of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. Survivors have informed our campaigns, and it is their words, voiced by actors, that delivered powerful messages about the impact of just being asked, 'Is everything OK?' in our Don’t be a Bystander campaign.

Working with survivors is integral to our delivery. We want those with lived experience to have a voice in the development and delivery of policy, funding and legislation. That is why we will be piloting a national survivor panel next year and undertaking more work on what a survivor engagement framework should look like.

Welsh Government continues to fund the Live Fear Free website and helpline. These provide 24-hour confidential support, information and advice to women, men and children experiencing abuse. It is also there for concerned others and for professionals working with victims and survivors. Men are supported through the Dyn project and men's helpline. We are working with the national advisers and key stakeholders to develop national indicators that will be measures of progress against the purposes of the Act. We will consult on these by the end of the year and will publish the final indicators by May 2019.

We have provided guidance to support local health boards and local authorities to publish their first local strategies. Our national advisers are reviewing these and will feed back on how these can improve delivery. Earlier this month, the First Minister announced that he would commission an expert-led review into refuge provision and sexual violence services in Wales. The review will look to take the best of the international approaches to inform a made-in-Wales model of support for victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse.

Violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence are horrifyingly prevalent, not only in Wales, but across the world. Our legislation is groundbreaking, but nothing will change overnight; these issues are too deeply entrenched. We are making progress, however, and I want the progress that has been made over the past three years since the Act was introduced to be recognised. I am determined that Wales will realise its ambition to be the safest place for women in Europe. Diolch.

15:15

Thank you for your statement. You say that standards are being set for training professionals, and refer to 135,000 people trained. Of course, training is an event rather than a process, and awareness isn't the same as understanding and acceptance of issues as we go forward. So, how do you propose to embed this, not as a one-off online or face-to-face training event, but as an ongoing cultural awareness and change?

You refer to healthy relationships education for children and young people, preventing them from becoming victims or perpetrators, and the introduction of relationships and sexuality education in schools from 2022, but schools not having to wait until the formal roll-out if they feel sufficiently equipped before then to do this. When I questioned you on this recently in the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, I pointed out that there were programmes like the Hafan Cymru programme in schools. I think we've both been out with them and were both impressed by that. I referred to my working with Jocelyn Davies and Peter Black at Stage 4 of the Act, threatening, possibly, to bring it down had we not got assurances on healthy relationships education—or, you're now rephrasing it as the new term you're using, 'relationships and sexuality education'—in schools. I said we didn't support this on the grounds that we'd wait seven years for it, and leaving schools to have the option, if they wish, in the meantime. So, how have you taken forward what you stated to me in the committee, which was that you hadn't had the conversation with Kirsty Williams about the seven years, so you would go back and have that, because it was then a surprise to you?

You refer to the work of the female genital mutilation, honour-based violence and forced marriage leadership group, and their development of a delivery framework for tackling so-called honour-based violence. How is that delivery framework turning into delivery? Could you give us a bit more information on what the delivery is, who's doing it, where, when and how will that be monitored?

You refer to perpetrator programmes. I also, with the support of the other opposition parties during the passage of the Act, put down amendments, which were defeated by the Government, calling for perpetrator programmes to be within the Act. At the time, we were told by the then Minister that there weren't any accredited schemes available in Wales. In fact, there were; there was the Relate Cymru scheme, which has also been adopted by various other providers across Wales.

You refer to collaborative agreement with HM Prison and Probation Service. Well, I received assurances that we would have action by the Welsh Government on pre-custodial perpetrator programmes. So, can you confirm that the new perpetrator service standards you'll be launching to support commissioners and services next month will also address the need for pre-custodial perpetrator programmes, and how they will reflect the Respect accreditation standards, on which evidence was given to the cross-party group on violence against women and children some months ago, providing an evidence-based framework for work with perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse? And also, their new delivering interventions work with young people who use violence and abuse towards a family member, work with women using violence against men, and work with those in same-sex relationships, which they also told that cross-party group about.

You refer to the Live Fear Free website, and men being supported through the Dyn project and men's helpline. Of course, you wouldn't refer a woman victim or survivor to a charity run by men, and during the passage of the Act, another amendment I put down was calling for what Welsh Women's Aid had called for in the past, which was a gender-specific strategy for men and women. Again, the Minister stated this wouldn't be in the Act, but the need would be addressed as we move forward. So, given that North Wales Police has now announced that a quarter of their domestic abuse reports involve men, and the crime survey for England states that 42 per cent of the cases they now are picking up are affecting men, and that three quarters of suicides are men, how will you also work with some wonderful charities like KIM Inspire in Holywell, which you might have heard of and who would love you to visit, who started out supporting women needing mental health support in their community? They have now also established and recruited men to deliver the KIM 4 HIM project, which is groundbreaking, established by a brilliant women's group but incorporating men to deliver it. And, of course, there is the work of DASU, the Domestic Abuse Safety Unit on Deeside, who were also innovative, many years ago, in broadening their services to incorporate men as well as women, who work together in mutual support.

15:25

Okay. Well, I'll do my best with that very long list of issues that you've raised. In terms of the training being an event and not a process—I think you said—it's a training framework. So, we are rolling out specific parts of the training framework. So, for example, 'ask and act' is part of the framework. So, the national training framework exists, within which the training programme sits, and the whole point of them is that they are a process and that people continue to progress with their knowledge, so that it's an effective set of professional qualifications. But also, actually, it's a set of abilities and skills that all front-line workers should have. I was particularly impressed by going, for example, to the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, who've put all of their firefighters through it because firefighters are respected and are allowed into people's houses. They've been trained to look for the signs of domestic violence and sexual violence, and that's been very successful and I was very impressed with that. So, I think I can reassure the Member that we are very much aware that it's a framework and not an event.

In terms of the schools issue that he raised with me in committee, with my conversation with the Cabinet Secretary for Education, we have that in the diary but we've not yet actually met. But, as I said to him, we are making sure that the programmes that we currently fund, as I said in the committee, are still there and that schools that have got expertise as a result of those programmes and so on can roll out the new curriculum as soon as possible. As soon as I've had the meeting with Kirsty Williams, I will come back to him. I've not yet been able to have that due to diary pressures.

In terms of perpetrator programmes, we're working with Cardiff Metropolitan University to undertake a rapid evidence assessment of what works with domestic abuse perpetrators, which will be published imminently. We'll be consulting on draft guidance for public services working with perpetrators, and we are working with the regional VAWDASV boards to ensure that safe and effective work with perpetrators is reflected in their strategies. So, we will expect to see the consultation on that very shortly.

In terms of the issues that he made about the quarter of domestic abuse reports being men, Deputy Presiding Officer, without taking anything away from the men who suffer from domestic violence—because all domestic violence is an abhorrent process in our society—it's the scale of the abuse. Two women a week are killed by their partners. That simply isn't the case for men reporting domestic abuse. That's without being disrespectful to those people who are, because that's not my intention. But, clearly, the scale of the problem is nothing like what the figures that the Member quoted would lead you to believe. Men report abuse—it's a generalisation, I know—at a much lower level than women. Women tolerate it for much longer, and the abuse is much worse and much more violent. So, we do have to have a proportionate response to the various sorts of abuse. We do have the various helplines and projects that are being sponsored, but it would be a mistake to think that some sort of equality across the provision was what was required as a result of some of the statistics the Member quoted.    

Leader of the house, I would urge caution when discussing who provides services. As a former probation officer and support worker for Women's Aid, I would say, of course, that all violence and all abuse in all relationships is wrong, but I'm also acutely aware of perpetrators who say that they are victims of abuse as a cover for their actions. So, when considering the funding of services, I'd want to be satisfied that proper checks are taking place to avoid this sort of cover from perpetrators being publicly funded and further harming victims. So, how can we ensure that those getting money for the provision of these services are bona fide?

I'm surprised that, three and a half years into this legislation, the basic level of mapping services has yet to happen. We know from the organisations delivering these services that there are gaping holes in service provision, and cuts to local government may well have made this situation worse. But, we don't know the extent of that because we can't properly follow the budget lines through to show this.

As I raised with you in committee, I'm concerned about the provision for children in all of this. When I worked for Women's Aid in the 1990s, we were campaigning for core funding for children's services. If children are not given the opportunity to work through the impact of the domestic abuse that's taking place between their parents, we risk seeing patterns of that behaviour being repeated. 

I also raised concerns with you about the teaching of relationships, control, consent et cetera in school. The need is there to start at a very young age, but this won't come in now, we've heard, until 2022—eight years into the legislation. That tells me that this matter is not a priority for your Government. We cannot wait for another three years' worth of potential harm to be done before we address this among young people. And the work that's being done by the third sector, fantastic though it may well be, is great, but it's not enough—it isn't comprehensive enough. So, my questions are: will you ensure that children's domestic abuse services are core funded? I know you said that this will be covered by the review of services, but I don't think that there was specific mention of children's services in that statement. Will you work with the Cabinet Secretary for Education to bring those curriculum changes forward?

I welcome the First Minister's announcement to commission an expert review into refuge provision and sexual violence services in Wales. This is long overdue. We've got so many people who are not receiving the help that they need when they ask for it, and there are many, many more who don't seek help until much, much later. And we're letting all of these people down by not adequately funding services that can help people to rebuild their lives after a traumatic incident. So, another question, then, is: when are we likely to see the conclusion of that review? And more importantly, when will we see additional resources allocated to fund extra services?

And my final question is a question that I asked you in committee, but I didn't get an answer for there, so perhaps I'll get one here. In 2016, a previous national adviser said that commissioning guidance is critical to the purpose of the Act. So, when is that guidance going to be published? 

15:30

I'll try and work my way through that list of questions. The proportionality bit is very important to us. So, as I said, we've got to look very carefully at who's providing what services and what the proportionate response to various levels are—[Interruption.] Yes. So, for example, many of the providers dealing with women who are seeking refuge from domestic abuse are also seeking refuge because they've experienced sexual violence, for example. The two things go hand in hand with women—not so much with male survivors of domestic abuse. And without taking anything away from men who come forward, as I said, the level at which men come forward is—it's a generalisation, of course, and that's always invidious, but, across, the piece, it's much less so. So, we're working very hard to make sure we do get a proportionate response and a proportionate funding level as a result of that. Would that we had enough money to fund absolutely all of it, but we don't, so a proportionate response is very important to us. 

As part of our sustainable funding model, we are looking to see how we work across the piece with the regional services. For the first time ever, local authorities have had to come forward with a plan and a map of their services. So, it's the first time we're responding to that. We've worked very hard, particularly in a pilot area in Gwent, who are much more advanced in terms of their collaboration in this area, to see what will work and what will not work. I think it's fair to say that we've had some unintended consequences of some of the funding arrangements that we've put in place. So, for example, we ask people to collaborate, and then we ask them to submit a retender for services, in which the unique selling point that they're resubmitting is part of the collaboration. So, clearly, there are some unintended behaviour consequences of that, and we're working very hard to overcome that. And some of the regional consortia have made very strong and I think sustainable suggestions for that. The national advisers are chairing those discussions and I'm sure we can come up with a more sustainable model for that. 

I actually agree with her about the mapping services. That's the purpose of the local authorities being asked to come forward in this way with their plan for the services and our response to that. The First Minister has announced his expert-led review. I'm very keen to see the voice of the survivor inside that. It's important that the experts are there to give us that advice, but, as I said, we want to see survivors at the heart of reviews of services, because we know how much we learn from what happened to them and where we might have intervened earlier, and what worked for them and what didn't. I was very pleased to be at the launch of a Welsh European Funding Office-funded service with Mark Drakeford, my colleague, last week—Threshold DAS—where that was emphasised. I had the privilege and pleasure of meeting four of the survivors there, who talked us through their experience and what would have been of assistance to them. And it's very important indeed for us to do that.

Part of the gender review of policy, which is going on simultaneously as well—it will be no surprise to anybody here, if you've read stage 1 of the review, it's in there, but the stage 2 review as well looks at resources and the budgeting process as part of that review, and I'm sure that that will come to the forefront. One of the things we want to look at is how we measure interventions across the Welsh Government, and what impact we look at in terms of what those interventions deliver, and that hasn't been done in quite that way before, so I'm very keen to get that done. And the guidance will be out very shortly. I don't want to give you an absolute deadline, but I'm hopeful it will be very shortly.

15:35

Sorry—excuse me, John. On the curriculum, I've yet to have the meeting with Kirsty Williams, and as soon as I have, I'll report to all Members about where we are with that. Sorry, John—I beg your pardon.

No problem at all.

Leader of the house, as you will know, the committee that I Chair, the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, is taking a general approach of returning to reports and, indeed, legislation that we've scrutinised, to make sure that implementation is what it needs to be, and that includes this particular piece of legislation. So, one aspect that we've been concerned with, as Leanne Wood mentioned, is the statutory commissioning guidance, and the timeliness of taking that forward. And as Leanne Wood also said, the previous national adviser said, I think some two years ago, that the publication of statutory guidance is critical to the purpose of the Act, and that she was very concerned at the time that there was no confirmed timeline for publication of that guidance. And, indeed, in the absence of that, Lloyds Bank Foundation and Welsh Women's Aid produced non-statutory guidance. So, I'd just be interested in anything further you can say in terms of making sure that those issues are satisfactorily addressed.

Also, in terms of the local strategies, leader of the house, in a recent evidence session, you said that the draft strategies were all published by the deadline set in the legislation, which I think was May of this year. But I'm just wondering if there are any legal consequences in terms of those local strategies not being published in their final form by that May deadline, given that that deadline was actually set out in the legislation. I'm wondering whether there will be a timescale for the delivery framework, because I think that's obviously very significant to the progress that needs to be made.

And finally, on the review of refuge provision, I wonder if you might provide some clarity as to how the review, announced by the First Minister, will work alongside the sustainable funding model.

I'll start there, because that allows me to talk about the two together. We've set up a task and finish group of stakeholders to develop the sustainable funding model, after all of the work that we were doing, as I said in answer to Leanne Wood, around sorting out the necessary infrastructure to regionalise the commissioning. And then we realised, as a result of various submissions, from all over Wales, that people were not in a position to do that, and there were various difficulties. So, rather than forging ahead with that—we very much want this to work, in the end, so what we did was we rowed back from that a little bit. And the task and finish group is chaired by one of the national advisers, Yasmin Khan, with a view to us working out the sustainable funding model that everybody involved in the sector actually buys into and agrees. So, the timescale did slip, but I thought it was much more important to have that sustainable funding model than to have the rigid timetable and then not have something that worked.

In terms of whether there was a penalty or a consequence of them not having done it, we had to consider that, because I didn't think that, where we are in the cycle, that was a proportionate response. So, we decided that that wasn't a proportionate response in this instance. However, it's possible to have that if, in further iterations, the timescale isn't met. But given where we are in the Act, and this is new territory and so on, and given that they'd got their drafts in, we didn't think that was a proportionate response. But it is possible to do that later on in the cycle if we do have somebody who doesn't produce it in good time.

In terms of the refuge provision, what we want to look at is the assessment of need coming back from the local authorities, what's currently funded at the moment, what the map of that looks like and how that matches. This is a very complex area, because it's not just Welsh Government funding—there are a raft of other sets of funding: lots of charities fund in this area, the UK Government tampon tax funds in this area, and a number of other things do. So, what we want to do is put a set of fundings together that allow people to get the best out of that jigsaw and to kind of provide a pathway through it, because you don't want to have a PhD in how some of that fits together to be able to access it, and to stop the constant competition for small amounts of money that goes on in groups of people we'd like to have collaboration from. So, that's no small task and finish group that the national advisers are chairing, but I'm told it's going very well, and we are very hopeful that we'll have a seriously sustainable funding model coming back out of it. 

15:40

My interest in this subject is prompted by the many years I spent as a justice of the peace, where I saw first-hand the terrible effect that domestic abuse has not only on the victims but also on the families. So, can I thank the leader of the house for her statement? It is gratifying to see the steps being taken by the Welsh Government to eradicate these abhorrent crimes. The Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 was a welcome, much-needed piece of legislation. I also think it right to recognise the many interventions and initiatives the Welsh Government has introduced since the Act, including a national strategy and its six objectives, published in 2016, and the leader of the house mentions the Live Fear Free website and helpline. It would be of interest to have some figures on how effective these two interventions are and the level of interaction by victims with both these online services. 

Leader of the house, for many years, domestics were ignored by police and society in general, often viewed as 'family matters'. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. It is now acknowledged that domestic abuse not only affects the families involved, but also society in general. Those who grow up in a violent household often take that violence into their wider social activities, and those who regularly view domestic abuse are far more likely to see it as normal behaviour and often reflect it in their own domestic relationships. 

One of the key factors in protecting the victims of domestic abuse is the provision of interventions to help them get out of such relationships. They must be sure that if they leave an abusive environment, they will be protected from their abuser and provided with a safe refuge, not just for themselves but also for any children they may have. They must also be confident that their predicament is understood and that the law will act against the perpetrators in an appropriate manner. Leader of the house, we must ensure that there are adequate numbers of refuges to take any, and all, victims of domestic abuse.

Leader of the house, you mentioned that Gwent Police has become the first force in Wales to offer 24-hour specialist support to victims of domestic abuse. They will, in the force's control room, have a team of four specially trained assertive outreach officers who will work exclusively with people who come forward as the victims of such crime. This is a positive response to the fact that Gwent Police receive around 12,000 domestic abuse calls a year. But we know that there are probably many more victims out there who, for fear of reprisal, fail to report such abuse. It is to be hoped that other police forces in Wales will follow this excellent example. Perhaps the leader of the house could update us on where other police forces are with regard to that. 

We must all play our part, both as AMs and as ordinary citizens, in helping to eradicate this evil practice. Domestic abuse is violence and violence of the worst kind, because it is often perpetrated against some of the most vulnerable in society. We must send a clear message that it will not be tolerated in Welsh society. 

Well, yes, thank you for those remarks. I want to pay tribute to our previous colleague Jeff Cuthbert, who is the police and crime commissioner, who has taken his passion in this regard into Gwent Police with him, and Gwent Police have indeed been good role models in this, and he's the lead police commissioner in this area. We work very closely with him to make sure that we understand what works, and, as I said, Gwent is one of the areas where we've been looking to see how we roll out the regional commissioning, because of the advanced nature of their arrangements.

David Rowlands raised an interesting point about data. That is an issue for us, and one of the reasons we're doing the review that the First Minister announced is to make sure that we do have all of the right data and, where we don't have it, we know in advance we don't have it and we put in place the right arrangements so that we can collect that data. And that data can come from all over the place: from A&E resources, from GPs, from programmes, from helplines, and all the rest of it. So, that's one of the many purposes of the review.

And just in terms of the normal behaviour and the perpetrator programmes, we know that they work. After the This Is Me campaign, we had an increased use of the Live Fear Free website by over 6,000 per cent. So, it really did work. Seven million impressions through tv and radio advertisements, a significant increase across the use of all of our social media channels—so, that's very good. We also know that calls to the helpline from concerned others doubled during the Don't Be a Bystander campaign period compared with the same period the year before. So, we know that they work and we collect the data to show that.

The last thing to say is that future campaigns are going to be focusing on coercive control. Deputy Presiding Officer, I've seen the storyboard for that; it actually moved me to tears, I have to say. We are launching those in January and we expect similar penetration and reach across the market to redouble our efforts to say what David Rowlands said, that this behaviour is simply not tolerable in any civilised society, never mind Wales.

15:45

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I thank you for your update today, leader of the house. We all know that last Sunday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and that there will be 16 days of activism. There is huge campaigning going on and awareness-raising around things like the White Ribbon campaign, and I'll be doing one of those again with the Women's Institute in Aberystwyth on Friday.

But what isn't happening is—the incidence of domestic abuse and the deaths of two women per week, they're not coming down. There is no reduction whatsoever in those figures, and those figures do represent people. They represent individuals and families and loved ones that are being lost. So, it leads me to ask the question: whilst I recognise all the good work that we are now putting into schools, teaching children about the respect agenda at the very earliest stages that they are able to comprehend that, what work are we doing beyond that in terms of other clubs, social clubs, sports clubs, youth clubs that aren't attached to schools, where we can get that message into communities in a different way? Because it is obvious that we have to change the pattern of behaviour, and the pattern of behaviour clearly starts with young people.

The other figure that doesn't seem to be coming up very often is the one that the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service told me last week, that they receive 60 calls every single month about threatened arson. And, if you look at the UK figures, when it comes to domestic abuse, 40 per cent of them are as a consequence of arson attacks.

So, those are my two questions: one about other fire and rescue services taking up the very good work that's been driven by Huw Jakeway in south Wales, and the other question is about widening, as far and wide as possible, the impact and the influence that we can have on young people under the respect agenda.

Yes, and, as usual—Joyce Watson has championed this for years beyond mention. All of your political career, you've been a champion for this, quite rightly so. And it is worrying that the figures don't move. We need a much more concerted, across our society, impact on this. It's part of the reason we were running the gender stereotyping piece, because I think—. Some people, we had some feedback saying, 'What's this got to do with it?' But, actually, we need to understand the base cause of some of these issues, and a large part of the base cause is people being forced into role models that they simply don't want to be in, don't live up to, and it makes people seriously suffer in their mental health, and that leads on to these kinds of programmes. So, I couldn't agree with you more. We're having a conversation with our universities about running compulsory consent programmes before people register, for example, and I'd like to pay tribute to Cardiff University, which has already done that, and we'd like to see that rolled out across the piece, and to have compulsory consent talks in schools for young people as they become sexually active as part of the new curriculum, and, as I said, I will be talking to Kirsty about the timing of that, and what we can do about it.

But she makes a very good point, and I will be taking it up with the national advisers as well, about how we can get, for example, our youth engagement and protection programme involved in this matter, because she's absolutely right: we have to get that consent talk out there. Unfortunately, with my data and digital hat on, you see increasing numbers of young men addicted to pornography online, and that's a real serious issue as well. We see the rise of some behaviours associated with that.

So, this is—you're absolutely right: we need to get this widespread in society, and that whole issue around ACEs, teaching children that what they're experiencing is not normal or right, and that they have rights, and our whole rights-based approach to education, is also in this space. So, I think we just need a whole-Government approach to working it out, and I think the gender review is very much pushing us in that direction as well, and she's absolutely right to highlight it.

15:50
5. Debate: 'A National Contemporary Art Gallery Wales Feasibility Study' and 'A Sport Museum for Wales Feasibility Study'

The following amendments have been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Darren Millar, and amendments 2, 3, 4 and 5 in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth.

The next item is the debate 'A National Contemporary Art Gallery Wales Feasibility Study' and 'A Sport Museum for Wales Feasibility Study', and I call on the Minister, Dafydd Elis-Thomas.

Motion NDM6873 Julie James

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

1. Notes the publication of the feasibility studies on a 'National Contemporary Art Gallery Wales Feasibility Study' and 'A Sport Museum for Wales Feasibility Study'.

2. Welcomes the analysis and recommendations in both reports, together with the opportunities and challenges they present.

3. Recognises that further work is required before decisions on future action is taken.

Motion moved.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. 'Dichonoldeb' isn’t an easy word to pronounce in Welsh, nor is ‘feasibility’ in English, but it’s my pleasure to open this debate and to celebrate the fact that we are a nation that is awash with history and culture, where our history and heritage are important elements of our national character. And, as a result of that, the way in which we convey ourselves through sport and art is always a topic for discussion among us.

In this case, the consultants for these two feasibility studies worked for 12 months and more, and the final reports have now been published. I have had an opportunity to study them and I will refer to some of the main recommendations contained within them, but what we are seeking here is not easy or quick solutions, but to give people an opportunity to contribute to the discussion, and this debate in Government time is part of that.

We will seek to ensure—and this is the main objective—that the people of Wales can access and can participate and enjoy our art and culture, and that we enhance and increase that participation. To this end, stakeholders of all kinds were consulted—specialists in their areas, people who have a particular interest in museums, galleries and in arts more generally—and the recommendations of both reports emerge from those discussions.

To look, first of all, at the sports study, a national football museum was the initial spark for this study, but, very soon, the brief was widened to consider sports heritage of all kinds, but football remaining a central part in the recommendations. Therefore, it’s important that we do bear in mind the range of historical sports played in Wales, which are the basis, of course, for the modern versions of football, rugby, snooker and boxing, never mind the importance of the great increase in netball among women, and the very live interest, because of the success of people like Geraint Thomas, in cycling, as well as athletics and swimming too. We have sports stars in Wales, and the stars are just as important as the participation of the wider population. I have to say that I have found in the discussions that I have had with the department responsible for this area within the UK Government that there is more interest among us here in Wales—and the Government’s policy here reflects that—in increasing participation and less emphasis, perhaps, on counting medals, and I do think that that is healthy.

15:55

The Llywydd took the Chair.

These reports, as I say, are the high point of a series of discussions by a number of individuals and organisations, and the main governing bodies have contributed, bearing in mind that we have over 60 governing bodies on all of the various sports in Wales, and the evidence reflects the views expressed there. There is a recommendation to invest in Wrexham in order to allow the development of a football museum there, and the recommendation goes on to mention an expert panel on sport heritage in order to strengthen that national vision, and there will be frameworks arising from that. And then there’s an important recommendation that other sports deserve to be included and that we must seek other means of addressing that issue, rather than creating further museums for the various different sports.

There is a specific reference that has been made to the local authority in Wrexham in the report, and it is clear that it’s not a mater for the Welsh Government to determine the way forward alone. And I have sought all opportunities—and I do have very many of them—to have discussions on these issues around sporting events in order to see what the view is and what the feeling is more generally within the sector.

The same is true with the report on contemporary arts. This is the time of year when a great many arts exhibitions are taking place, and I have had an opportunity to see the vibrant contemporary arts culture of all kinds across Wales over the past few months, from the major museums and galleries through to the interesting developments happening now in many private galleries, smaller galleries, as well as the quality regional galleries, such as Mostyn, Glyn y Weddw and the Glynn Vivian in Swansea. This has all been clearly recognised in the report, and perhaps one of the starkest recommendations for me, as a Minister, is that we shouldn’t create too much imbalance in the current provision, and I do feel that that is a crucially important point.

The recommendations are quite clear. The first step is what is called a national canvass to commission new works the length and breadth of Wales to generate interest, with artists working alongside local communities. The next step would be investing in the infrastructure that we have and providing a supply structure that opens out the national collections and provides new works to audiences across the nation. And then the third recommendation is to establish a headquarters for contemporary art as a permanent space and a vibrant platform for the arts.

Now, this model that has been suggested in the report is complex, but it is one that we can consider developing in many different ways, linking that with the resources available to us. As with the sports feasibility studies, it’s all reliant on working in partnership, in my view, and I will be seeking to do that if I have the opportunity to continue in this role and to implement these recommendations. The study arises from a consultation, information and specialist knowledge and I’m very grateful to those who carried out this work, and also to all the friends of sports and the arts out there who have taken an interest in this process, and I look forward to listening to this debate here this afternoon.

16:00

I have selected the five amendments to the motion. I call on David Melding to move amendment 1, tabled in the name of Darren Millar—David Melding. 

Amendment 1—Darren Millar

Deletes points 2 and 3 and replace with:

Acknowledges the value of the analysis provided in the two reports as a basis for extensive public engagement.

Welcomes the recommendations for expert panels to improve the recognition and protection of Wales's sporting and artistic heritage.

Believes that decisions on future action must reflect the ambition to create something fresh and world leading.

Amendment 1 moved.

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. I'm very pleased to take part in this debate and I welcome it. I'd like to thank those involved in producing these two reports. It's rigorous work and I think an excellent base for future options to be developed. I also think there'll be a lot of common ground on these matters, and I look forward to the development of specific proposals. We won't actually be supporting the Government motion, just because I don't think the recommendations are focused enough to be endorsed in that fashion. I don't think they're meant to be, really. They are pointing us in a certain direction. I'm very keen that we now engage in some extensive public engagement, because these areas really do demand it.

Contemporary art builds on a great tradition in the twentieth century, something I think the work of Peter Lord has demonstrated—that we have an outstanding record in the visual arts that is often overlooked. We also have, in the last 15 to 20 years, seen the incredible success of the Artes Mundi award, which internationally has put us on the map. But, we need to focus now on Welsh contemporary art, and similarly with sport. These are issues that do cry out for very extensive public engagement. So, can I just talk about the contemporary art gallery first?

I think the central issue to resolve here is whether a prestigious and high-profile new building is required, and I have to say I think it is. If so, should it be the first objective of any strategy or a possible conclusion of a spoke and then hub strategy, which is sort of what is the main thrust of that report that we're discussing this afternoon? I think Adam Price brought incredible energy to this debate when he challenged us to think in Guggenheim terms in Bilbao or New York—those incredible structures. We may or may not be able to match them, but our ambition perhaps should be in the first place to do so. Then, he mentioned somewhere like Port Talbot. This is great contemporary thinking and builds on some recent traditions in terms of artistic achievement. There may not be the answer, but I do think that's kind of where the thinking has to be.

As the report says, these matters carry high risks. We don't have a very happy recent record in terms of contemporary art provision facilities. I don't particularly want to pick over the failures of past projects, but this is a challenging area. It's also the lifeblood of creative artistic work in our current generation, so it should receive a very, very high priority. Above all, I think we do need to see something new, visible, and world leading. If we don't start off with that ambition, I'm not quite sure that we're going to get where we want to be. The report, in fairness, does use these terms, and we certainly want a dispersed, federal-type model as part of the strategy, but I think that prestigious building is something that we do need to consider and really bring some focus onto that.

In terms of sport, again, the report points to the risks, particularly around financial fragility. The Scottish experience is quite instructive here, I think. I myself think to look at sport in general rather than football in particular may be the way we need to go. I think everyone here believes that a prestigious national museum, or another one, needs to be located in north Wales. I can't think of a better place than Wrexham, so I like that aspect of what we are considering. That's why we will support Plaid Cymru's amendments 2 and 5. But again, I do think we need to consider this matter very thoroughly, though sport in its cultural dimension does not receive the prominence it should. I think it's a massive factor in our national life. And whilst we all enjoy it in terms of what's going on at any particular moment, the effect it has on society, I think, is really profound and needs to be examined, celebrated and reflected on in that manner as well. So, we do need to look at these things in a very ambitious way also.

Can I just finally say that I like the ideas of the panels and I look forward to their work? And that is the sort of engagement that we should have hard-wired into our system. I think we will find consensus on these matters, but we do need quite a vigorous debate to start it all off. Thank you.

16:05

I call on Llyr Gruffydd to move amendments 2, 3, 4 and 5 tabled in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth—Llyr Gruffydd.

Amendment 2—Rhun ap Iorwerth

Insert as new point after point 2:

Welcomes the recommendation that a National Football Museum should be established in Wrexham.

Amendment 3—Rhun ap Iorwerth

Insert as new point after point 2:

Calls on the Welsh Government to commit to implementing the core recommendations of the report, 'National Contemporary Art Gallery Wales Feasibility Study', in their entirety, including building a permanent national headquarters for the National Contemporary Art Gallery Wales.

Amendment 4—Rhun ap Iorwerth

Add as new point after point 3:

Welcomes the recommendation that the building of a permanent national headquarters for the National Contemporary Art Gallery Wales should be worked towards.

Amendment 5—Rhun ap Iorwerth

Add as new point after point 3:

Calls on the Welsh Government to commit to implementing the central recommendation of the report, 'Sports Museum for Wales Feasibility Study', that a national football museum should be created in Wrexham.

Amendments 2, 3, 4 and 5 moved.

Thank you, Llywydd. I move the amendments in the name of Plaid Cymru. I will be discussing the element of the football museum specifically and Adam Price will tell us more about the contemporary art gallery. So, amendments 2 and 5 are the ones that I will focus and, of course, we are eager, not just to note, but to welcome the central recommendation of the feasibility study on the national football museum, and also to move forward to implement that recommendation of creating a national football museum that we all want to see.

Of course, it has been an ambition for us as a party to implement this and achieve it and we’re pleased that the study does confirm our ambition, in the first instance, that we need a national football museum for Wales and, second, that that museum should be located in Wrexham. In that regard, we welcome the study as a significant step forward.

The report's findings are a vindication of the campaign launched three years ago, when I and Plaid Cymru colleagues first went public on this, alongside Wrexham Supporters Trust directors, when we launched our campaign at the Racecourse ground. Back then, of course, we argued that a national football museum should be based in Wrexham, the spiritual home of the game. It's where football started in Wales, effectively. It's still home to the oldest existing international stadium in the world, as well as the third-oldest football club in the world. It's where, of course, the founding fathers of the Football Association of Wales met many, many years ago. But also, not only history, but future football as well, because the FA, of course, have invested in that future with a national football development centre being located at Colliers park in Wrexham. And Plaid Cymru made the case for a national football museum in our 2016 election manifesto and, of course, we ensured that this feasibility study happened as part of our budget agreement with the Welsh Government. But, this isn't the end of the story, far from it, there's much more work to do, and I would like to see the Government now bring forward a timetable to make sure that we do realise this ambition as soon as we can. 

There are a few areas where I diverge from the findings of the report, or the recommendations, first of all, of course, in relation to the governance model. In order to be a proper national museum, I think it's appropriate for this proposed national football museum to be part of the National Museum Wales family, rather than—a glorified local museum might be unfair, but certainly having a lesser status. Secondly, it still remains my ambition that the museum is incorporated into a future redevelopment of the Racecourse. It's a great pity that that prospect was dismissed in a single paragraph in the feasibility study, but, certainly, as a party, we are keen to see this development happen and we'll continue to press for the museum to be a catalyst for that redevelopment at the Racecourse ground, albeit maybe that ambition is now something that we have to consider in the slightly longer term. 

Now, the study, of course, as the Minister has said, has pointed to the fact that there is no sport heritage policy, guidance or strategy here in Wales, as there should be, and the recommendation to create an expert panel to develop a national vision and an implementation framework are things clearly to be welcomed. Now, it is important, despite this, that the National Museum Wales jigsaw is completed. We know about the presence in Cardiff in the national museum and in St Fagans, Big Pit in the Valleys, the waterfront museum in Swansea, wool in the west and slate in the north-west. There is a vacuum in the north-east, and I have argued in other contexts that we need more national institutions to have a presence in the north east to reinforce the Welsh identity of an area that naturally looks more in the direction of Liverpool and Manchester than it does in the direction of Cardiff. This is an opportunity not only to achieve that, but to tell the story of football in Wales from a Welsh perspective, and that should be located as part of the national museum. 

16:10

Thanks to the Minister for bringing the debate today. It's an interesting subject, or a combination of subjects—a sporting one and an artistic one. I agree with much of what Llyr Gruffydd just said on the subject of the football museum. Llyr referred to Wrexham as the spiritual home of Welsh football. Of course, I'm a Cardiff City FC fan, but I totally acknowledge that the north-east corner of Wales was where organised football really began in Wales. Of course, for many years, the Racecourse staged many or most of the Welsh internationals. There was some disquiet in the 1990s among north Walians—I was aware of it at the time—when we started to have more of the internationals coming down to Cardiff, at that time at the national stadium. And I think this would be a good move to re-emphasise the importance of the north-east to include it in a strategy for the celebration of culture in Wales, going along with what Llyr just said. He quoted a couple of important facts about Wrexham, so I won't rehash them, but a couple of other things. 

There were other important clubs early on in that north-east corner. In the Wrexham area, there was Druids from Ruabon, and there was Chirk FC as well. They were also early winners of the Welsh Football Association Cup, apart from Wrexham. Chirk produced Billy Meredith, who was probably the most famous player of the Edwardian era in the entire British isles, so I think Chirk played a big part as well. So, that would also fit in with the strategy of having this museum in Wrexham. And tying it in with the redevelopment of the stadium, that would be a good idea if we could look at that seriously. I think that does warrant a lot of consideration.

And the importance of having a good museum—I mean, we have museums. They're not always of a great status. I remember when we had the national sports museum, it was in St Fagans. There were some items there that were of interest, but it wasn't a particularly well-curated exhibition, and I think that the status of the museum, as Llyr mentioned, is also important; it needs to be a good collection.

I agree with David Melding that we need to have a discussion about the contemporary art gallery, because the proposals are a little vaguer on that subject. David intriguingly mentioned Port Talbot, which has cropped up as a possibly innovative site for such an art gallery. Of course, Port Talbot has traditionally been known for its industry rather than for its culture. Of course, now we know that a cultural life is beginning to flourish in Port Talbot, so it would be—[Interruption.] Okay, well, I'm not being condescending. Port Talbot has a lot of artistic life. This would add to it, so I think that's a radical idea and I think we should consider it. And thanks very much for the report.      

I enjoyed reading the report. There were parts of it I didn't understand; I'm really referring to the contemporary arts part. And the reason I was particularly interested in it was because it does seem to me that there is an uncertainty within it, and the conflict, I suppose, between the idea as to whether you look at the traditional centre of excellence—the visual one, the one that's aimed at tourists, the one aimed at profiling and international profiling, and so on—as opposed to the alternative as to how you actually develop the sites that are around and co-ordinate those into almost a comprehensive version of that. And to some extent, there are, of course, realistic issues in terms of capital, in terms of funding and so on. 

I'm quite interested in the hub approach, and I notice that what the report says—it refers to

'What will make a difference to communities, to artists and to the existing visual arts infrastructure?'

Now, if that's the case, the reason why I'm particularly interested is because we have a number of growing areas within Wales where there are real vacuums in terms of art provision. I mean, we have Pontypridd—I obviously would talk about my own constituency—but there are others, and Pontypridd leading up to the Valleys as a whole, where if you look at the map of the locations of provision of facilities, and so on, there is a real dearth of them within certain areas, yet we do have the availability of very substantial buildings that, imaginatively used, could actually be used. So, the issue that concerns me a little bit is the clarity as to where we're going and the conflict between the various options that are involved there. I was in Kiev at the weekend, and there's a big derelict arsenal building, which obviously stored ammunition, that has been turned into a massive warehouse of contemporary art. It was absolutely fascinating as an example of how you actually take an industrial building. So, when you talk about Port Talbot, there are many big, unused industrial buildings in Port Talbot, where you have that infrastructure, but that capacity to actually base it and have people to engage with it there.

If the intention is to really make the arts more available and engage in terms of a facility for communities and have community engagement, then the model has to be slightly different, and I think we do need to come up and look at the areas where there are these vacuums, which I would really take from Pontypridd through to Porth, all the way through the Valleys, where there are some tremendous buildings but there is actually no real provision. The provision is located all around. So, perhaps the Minister, when we have the summation in this debate and we have the references, it would be helpful to have some clarity as to where the thinking is going from Government now as to what the preferred options might be and how that sort of engagement can actually take place. I think it's very valuable when I see what is happening within Pontypridd at the moment—the actual regeneration of the town—but the fact that there is really quite a lack of provision in respect of the arts. There are certain areas and certain items of excellence, and it's a surprise to me that a number of the artists that exist are really asking for assistance to be able to have things within Cardiff, because that's where facilities are, and the facilities locally are very limited.

So, I think that's the contribution that I would make in that, but I certainly look forward to what I think is really a very important debate on the cultural life, the quality of life and the well-being of our communities and how the arts can actually serve that.

16:15

I welcome the report commissioned by the Welsh Government as part of the agreement between the Government and Plaid Cymru. This report is thorough, honest, and it gives us the best overview we've had for decades on the visual arts in Wales. It provides a creative and innovative model to create a new focus for the visual arts with a national institution at its core. It's inspiring, it's comprehensive, and its far-reaching, and it asks for courage in terms of the vision for the visual arts in Wales.

We are in many ways a late nation, and part of that process is that we lack certain institutions that most nations have. The building next door is an example of that, of course. It was an opera house that then developed into a hybrid national performance centre—the Wales Millennium Centre. The visual arts is an area where the lack of those national cultural institutions is most clear. We still lack fully a national gallery. We lack a national portrait gallery, and we do not have, of course, a national gallery of contemporary art of sufficient scale for us to be able to create a crystallisation point for the visual arts in Wales.

And there's an opportunity here actually for us to tap into a little bit of that spirit of the heroic age of nation-building 100 years ago—the likes of a namesake of the Minister, Tom Ellis, et cetera—and the vision of creating a national library and the national museum and other national institutions. And there is unfinished business here, isn't there? The visual arts has always been a poor relation, unfortunately, in our culture, which has been dominated by text and live performance. So, now is the opportunity for us to make up for that absence, because, of course, the visual arts has been part of our story; it just hasn't had the same stage. And it's building that stage that we're talking about.

I think the report offers a sensible, measured and three-phased approach. The only thing I would say is: let's do the phases together in parallel. So, as we build capacity, let's also facilitate the raising of the capital to create the hub. I think there's a lot to be said in a nation such as ours for a federated approach, a distributed approach, but spokes need their hub as well, and just in pure physical terms, the nature of contemporary art, you need a building with high ceilings that's actually big enough to create the kind of immersive experience that people can have in the likes of the Turbine Hall or in other countries across the world that have a large-scale staging place for contemporary art.

So, yes, by all means, let's actually create a network with our existing, excellent, smaller scale galleries that exist in Wales, but we do still need that central hub whereby we are able to create the kind of experience that is possible in terms of the visual arts in other countries. And it is a great opportunity to do something exciting that could have regenerative potential. I think, yes, Port Talbot would be a fascinating place: the mountains behind us meeting the sea; yes, Wales's industrial heritage there; and, of course, as we know, Port Talbot at night, in some ways, is a work of art, isn't it? And what would be better, and crystalising our culture in the fullest sense, than building our national gallery of contemporary arts centre there? I mean, Fox Talbot was one of the pioneers of photography, wasn't he? So, there is a story about the visual arts right in that place.

And we could start in a creative way. We don't actually have to raise the capital straight away to have a starchitect come to Wales. Maybe we could do Zaha Hadid in reverse and, actually, some of the failed Guggenheims across the world, from Rio, that haven't happened—maybe we can actually borrow some of the plans for there and build it here. But we could start by doing what the National Theatre of Wales did in a disused factory with 'We're still here', couldn't we? We could actually use industrial warehouses that are unused at the moment actually as the initial example of a national gallery while we're raising the capital and the momentum to create something more permanent.

There are many risks, of course, but I think the report identifies the biggest risk of all, and that's us, and I mean we politicians. They challenge us in the report, the artists. They say, 'They don't have'—they mean us—'don't have confidence in Welsh artists.' The report is littered by the shocking number of reports over the years that have been remained on the shelf. Let's not make that mistake again. There's an opportunity for us now to actually move forward with the unfinished business of creating a decent stage for the excellent production of art here in Wales. 

16:20

The decision to commission a feasibility study into creating a national gallery of contemporary art and a national sport museum is something I personally welcome because I want to see Wales, my country, prosper in terms of the abundance of talent we have in the arts and encourage people from other countries to partake and compete in Wales, therefore adding growth to our economy. Rural areas in Wales must also not be forgotten, as they are extremely important and are often neglected.

However, I think that we have to also look at the bigger picture, which is the public perception. At a time when our public services are being cut to the bone and the arts have faced many years of cuts, can we justify spending millions of pounds on a museum of contemporary art?

Tomorrow, we are debating the Culture, Welsh, Language and Communications Committee's report on its inquiry into non-public funding of the arts, which came about because the Welsh Government requested that the sector reduce its reliance on public funding. And the committee found that it would be very difficult for arts organisations to do so.

I fully support continued public funding for the arts. Art, in all its forms, is an essential part of our culture. It's what defines us as humans and brings huge benefit to all, not just those who create it, but those who watch and learn and look. But we also need to be realistic about the funding. The average taxpayer would maybe rather see their public library remain open, or the local day centre be available to vulnerable, older people than pay for a new Tate Modern. Yes, Wales needs a museum of contemporary art, but can we afford it at present?

The feasibility study alone cost more than the annual grant given to Dawns i Bawb, Theatr Felinfach, Trac, Arts Alive or the Pontardawe Arts Centre. Even without building the new HQ, phase 1 and 2 of this project will cost almost a third more than the entire annual budget of the Arts Council of Wales. So, while I really support the Plaid Cymru leader’s vision of a Welsh Guggenheim, I cannot support diverting public funds away from vital public services or other arts projects. Yes, such a venture would highlight Wales's cultural achievements, but at what cost?

How can we achieve this? I want to achieve this because I really do think this is important to Wales, but we simply have far too many other priorities at this moment in time. Should we be looking—

16:25

She may not be aware. There's some work already ongoing through the Morgan Academy at Swansea University trying to look at alternative funding mechanisms that need not be entirely reliant on the public purse. So, if that were possible, and we were able to at least state the ambition, would she be supportive of finding alternative means of achieving the same goal?

This is what I was coming to, and this is what I'm trying to raise in my point. I'm passionate about the arts, being a former drama teacher and PE teacher, so arts are my thing. But looking at the other ways of raising, as you've just enlightened me about, so thank you very much for that. I want to keep our vital services open, like the libraries and so on, because people depend on them and it takes them out of loneliness and isolation and so on. So I'm casting this, Adam, in terms of relativity and my personal view is, I want this to go ahead, so thank you. Diolch.

I call on the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport to reply to the debate. Dafydd Elis-Thomas.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. I make no apology for saying that this won’t be a conventional response that will answer every point that’s been made, because this discussion today is the beginning of the process for me too. But I do want to note a few things: David Melding referred to the drive for consensus; there was a lot in what Llyr said, particularly in terms of the relationship with the museum and the national galleries, which I warm to; Gareth Bennett’s emphasis on the quality of the collections; and the inspired speech by Adam. I'm not a fan of the Guggenheim, as it happens—any of them—because I think they draw all the attention to the building and not enough to the arts in terms of their design. That isn't true about the work of art that we have in this place here today.

I'd like to thank Mick for his comments on what’s happening in the Valleys, or the lack of presence in the Valleys. I accept that we are at risk of missing an opportunity where we don't combine arts of all kinds with performance and social activity and link that to community regeneration, because you can't regenerate a community if the community isn't regenerated. It’s not a matter of infrastructure alone. Thank you, Caroline, for your analysis. I think we’ve heard virtually all views expressed in this debate today that one could expect—for and against the approach to our expenditure on the arts and sport.

But I will make two points in summarising and concluding this debate, namely to refer to the amendments. Amendment 2 welcomes the recommendation to establish the football museum in Wrexham and we’re happy with that, of course. There are implications that we will need to discuss with Wrexham County Borough Council. I don't know if Llyr has been in discussion with them, I haven't, but there will be an opportunity to do that following this debate. Amendment 4 welcomes the recommendation of working towards the building of a permanent national headquarters, but I prefer the word 'hub' rather than 'headquarters' when discussing art. Therefore, that is part of the Government’s ambition, certainly.

So, what I will take from today's debate is the comments that have been made. We will respond to the debate in a practical manner, because my intention after today is to start to take action, to continue to consult with the sector, but I won't be making final decisions until I've had a lengthy conversation with those who have contributed today, particularly the party spokespeople, so that we do seek that consensus, or as much agreement as is possible in an area that is necessarily contentious like this. Thank you very much.

16:30

The proposal is to agree amendment 1. Does any Member object? [Objection.] I will defer voting under this item, therefore, until voting time.

Voting deferred until voting time.

6. Welsh Conservatives Debate; Local Authorities

The following amendments have been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Julie James, and amendments 2 and 3 in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 3 will be deselected.

That brings us to the next item, which is the Welsh Conservatives' debate on local authorities, and I call on Darren Millar to move the motion.

Motion NDM6875 Darren Millar

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

1. Recognises the important role played by local authorities in delivering public services across Wales.

2. Acknowledges the funding challenges currently faced by Welsh local authorities.

3. Calls on the Welsh Government to:

a) review and increase the 2019-20 local government settlement; and

b) commission an independent review of the Welsh local government funding formula.

Motion moved.

Diolch, Llywydd. While we in this Chamber debate policies and law making, it's our Welsh local authorities, our councils across the country, rather than the Welsh Government, that are actually at the coalface delivering many of the public services that our constituents rely on each and every day. Many of these public-facing services have a key role in reducing inequality, protecting the vulnerable and building a fairer and more prosperous society. Our councils are huge players in the local economy, employing 10 per cent of the Welsh workforce, including 26,000 teachers. And our motion today recognises not only the challenges facing local authorities, but it also urges the Welsh Government to consider further improvements to next year's damaging settlement, and to commission an independent review into the outdated funding formula that it uses to distribute cash to local government. 

Since 2009, local authorities in Wales have had their funding cut by £1 billion in real terms, equivalent to 22 per cent, and if you exclude money for schools, the core funding to councils has actually been reduced by some 35 per cent. Now, this is at a time when councils are facing many funding pressures, including pension funding shortfalls, public sector pay awards and increasing demand for services like adult social care, due to an ageing population. On top of the cuts that have been inflicted upon our councils, the Welsh Government has also cut funding to other funding streams via grants that are provided, for example post-16 funding, which has been cut by a fifth in the past six years, in spite of promises to protect education spending, and the education improvement grant, which was cut by £13 million in the current financial year. Now, these pressures have had huge implications for local authority services, including libraries, refuse sites, leisure centres, bus routes and even the frequency of bin collections. And, of course, budget reductions have forced our councils to pass on a greater burden in terms of the taxation that is paid by hard-pressed families across the country. The average band D council tax in Wales has trebled—trebled—since Welsh Labour came to power here in Wales back in 1999. Many fees and charges, which are levied by councils, have also had to go up. New ones have also emerged. Many of our local authorities now charge for the childcare element of the Welsh Government's supposedly free breakfast clubs, while collection of garden waste incurs a fee also in many areas. Just a few days ago, we dug out some of the figures regarding local authority parking charges: £10 million-worth of them in the last year alone. And who can doubt that that is not making a contribution to meeting the funding gap that has been exposed as a result of the very poor settlements that many of our local authorities have had? And, of course, charges like that are deterring people from shopping on our high streets. Now, I recognise that councils have to make some difficult choices, but they're having to make these difficult choices because of the pressure that you, as a Government, are putting them under.

And, of course, it's not just Welsh Conservatives who have been warning the Welsh Government of the potential damage of its funding decisions. The future generations commissioner, Sophie Howe, was very clear in her statement last month that the Welsh Government is spending too much of its budget treating ill health, and not enough of its budget on preventative services provided by councils, which help to keep people well and to maintain their independence. All 22 council leaders wrote to the First Minister—such was the situation with the draft budget—a few weeks ago, warning that the draft settlement that had been issued at the time for 2019-20 would lead to, and I quote, huge service cuts and significant council tax rises that would be, and I quote, damaging to our communities. Even a Welsh Government Minister has protested about the Welsh Government's council funding cuts by co-signing a letter with other Labour politicians, including Members of this Assembly, calling for a review of the way in which councils are funded. So, I'm very hopeful of her support in this motion today.

Now, part of the problem, of course, is that successive Welsh Government Ministers have failed to see their relationship with local government as a partnership. Instead, they've taken a very belligerent approach, particularly with reference to reorganisation. Indeed, some people have suggested across Wales that the withholding of funding for local councils is a deliberate attempt by the Welsh Government to undermine local authority finances, making them unsustainable, and to put forced council mergers back onto the agenda here in Wales. The current Cabinet Secretary, of course, inadvertently exposed his contempt for Welsh local authorities when he compared council leaders just a few weeks ago, when they requested more money for local government, to the starving Oliver Twist, asking for more gruel. It was no surprise to hear a chorus of condemnation and calls for the resignation of the Cabinet Secretary on the back of those comments, because, of course, he was compared quite rightly to Mr Bumble, the cruel beadle of the Dickensian workhouse. Now, it's this distinct lack of respect, I think, that threatens the delivery of the local authority services through the compact that the Welsh Government has with local government. I think it would be incumbent upon you today, in your response to this debate and motion, Cabinet Secretary, to apologise for those comments that you made about local authorities asking for the resources that they need to deliver services.

This year's draft settlement was further evidence that councils are being underfunded, and that the funding formula is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. The case for reform in terms of the funding formula has become more and more compelling in recent years. The current funding formula has been there for 17 years. It's based on many different elements and indicators, including how much council tax the Welsh Government considers each local authority should be able to charge, and population data that is based on the 1991 census—1991, even though we have census information that is bang up to date, and estimates of the population that are much more recent. Under the funding formula, the gap between the best and worst-funded local authorities widens each and every year, and it currently stands at £600 per head. That's tens of millions of pounds of underfunding for largely rural local authorities where, due to geography, delivering services is often much more expensive. The leader of the Vale of Glamorgan Council has quite rightly hit out at the underfunding of schools in poorly funded authorities, and I think—and I'm sure that others in this Chamber will think—that every child in this country deserves the chance to achieve their full potential. But how is it fair if we have a postcode lottery in terms of school spending, because of the arrangements for the distribution of cash from this Government? There's no level playing field for children here in Wales. Just last week, the leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, whose residents face an eye-watering 12.5 per cent increase in their council tax this year, called for the funding formula to be reviewed.

While the Welsh Government has tweaked around the edges of the funding formula—adding a little bit of sparsity funding, making arrangements, putting a funding floor in place—the reality is that these are not solving the problem in a wholesale way. That's why the Welsh Local Government Association has described the funding formula as, and I quote, being held together by duct tape and sticking plasters. So, an increasing number of councils have passed motions across Wales this year, calling for better funding and a new funding formula. Many of those councils have Labour representatives on them who have supported those calls and supported those votes. So, we know that there are very low levels of confidence in the formula. It's led to considerable variation in the level of reserves held by Welsh local authorities as well. So, we know, for example, that the well-funded, Labour-run Rhondda Cynon Taf council is sitting pretty on £152 million-worth of reserves, almost eight times the level of reserves in Conservative-run Monmouthshire, almost seven times the level of reserves in Conwy—[Interruption.] I'll happily take an intervention.

16:40

I'm not challenging those figures, because, obviously, we had them published last week, but do you also recognise that, of the ones that you've just mentioned for Rhondda Cynon Taf, a larger portion are already allocated and therefore are not available for use?

That's an easy way of an accountant to be able to ring-fence cash and take it out of what they consider to be appropriate and to protect and justify what I believe are unreasonable levels of expenditure.

Let me quote some other figures to you as well. Labour in Labour-led local authorities are sitting on 57 per cent of the £1.4 billion that is held in reserves across Wales. Ten local authorities have increased their reserves since 2016, in spite of austerity, and this means that the increase in Torfaen, for example, has gone from 2 per cent to 21 per cent of their cash in reserves. I think this is absolutely barmy, and it's certainly not fair.

It's not fair either to local authorities in north Wales, which have consistently seen their settlements to be worse than those in the south. So, we have rural areas set against urban areas, we have areas that have older populations set against those with younger populations, and we have north and south set against one another as a result of this dreadful funding formula, which is well beyond its sell by date.

So, we have these pressures, and we have to address them, and that's why we're calling for an independent review—not a Government stooge that's appointed to do a review, not an internal review within the Welsh Government of this funding formula, but an independent review by somebody who is suitably qualified to take a look at all of these different elements in the funding formula and to come up with something that is fairer to the citizens of Wales, no matter where they might live.

I have selected the three amendments to the motion. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 3 will be deselected. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services, if he's listening, to formally move amendment 1, tabled in the name of Julie James.

Amendment 1—Julie James

Delete all after 2 and replace with:

Welcomes the package of additional funding proposals for local government to improve the revenue support grant in 2019-20, to address pressures, as we enter the ninth year of UK Government austerity.

Notes that the announcement is supported by the WLGA as significant progress that demonstrates a concerted effort to offset the impact of austerity in Wales

Notes the local government settlement is distributed on a formula using nearly 70 distinct indicators, agreed with local government, overseen by independent experts, and based on the principles of relative need to spend and relative ability to raise income locally.

Amendment 1 moved.

Member
Alun Davies AC 16:42:30
Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Lywodraeth Leol a Gwasanaethau Cyhoeddus

Move formally.

I call on Dai Lloyd to move amendments 2 and 3, tabled in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Amendment 2—Rhun ap Iorwerth

Add as new point after point 2:

Regrets that recently announced additional funding from the Welsh Government to local government in Wales was only forthcoming as a result of consequential funding from the UK Government’s autumn statement.

Amendment 3—Rhun ap Iorwerth

Add as new sub-point at end of point 3:

continue to seek ways to provide further funding for local government in Wales for 2019/20.

Amendments 2 and 3 moved.

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. I'm pleased to move the amendments in this debate, reflecting the funding pressures on the local authorities—well, not just in my region, but all over Wales. Obviously, I've been receiving letters from people in the local authorities that I cover, so I'm happy to respond and to make the case for local government funding.

Obviously, I'm not also going to rehearse the argument again about Oliver Twist and various Dickensian wordplays, the Cabinet Secretary will be pleased to note, but concentrate my contribution on the wider point of local authority spend and its contribution to the whole Government agenda here in Wales, across portfolio.

Back in the day, I spent many years as a county councillor in Swansea. I do understand the pressures at councillor level—obviously, I'm not the only previous county councillor in Swansea here. But also back in the day, I was a full-time general practitioner. I remain a GP these days, although, obviously, having sacrificed my medical career on the altar of politics, I no longer have a financial interest in anything GP-wise and, in fact, do not any longer take a salary for my continued GP work. But in terms of even back in the day, when I was a full-time GP, I used to be concerned about the welfare of my patients and why they were falling ill all the time. We're always exhorted by our Royal College of General Practitioners to really go after why people are getting ill in the first place. So, I was exhorted to write to the local director of housing and explain wouldn't it be a good idea if we tackled bad housing in Swansea to stop my patients getting ill. And what I discovered as a GP was that I would write letters and, do you know what, absolutely nothing would happen. There was no acknowledgement of having received the letters and certainly no reply. So, eventually, I stood for the council. That's what you do, isn't it? I stood for the council and, eventually, I won a seat on Cockett ward. And now I would write letters to the director of housing as a councillor—still as a GP, but as a councillor with an expectation of a reply and a programme of action, which would follow, now being a councillor, nothing to do with being a GP. 

But I was proud to be a county councillor because it became obvious, even to us in the health service, that actually the factors that influence good health lie outside of the health service and what we could do as doctors and nurses; they lie in local government. That's why I was proud to be a local county councillor, because environmental health is within local government, housing is within local government, public transport, planning, education, social services—they all lie within local government. So, local government has a huge role to play in tackling those determinants of ill health, those matters that make people ill in the first place. We're doing as a health committee now a review into physical activity, roles of leisure centres, school playing fields, schools, teaching—paramount in that in terms of education. The role of libraries, obviously, learning facilities, lifelong learning—paramount in actually staying healthy. There's cross-portfolio work here. And, yes, people want to see more of a spend on health, but I think, more widely, I would warrant people would want to see more spending on prevention of ill health. As a health professional, I'm not steeped in the ability of health promotion, and the dedicated spend within the health service for illness prevention is pitifully small. We depend on illness prevention happening elsewhere, and that elsewhere is in local government, tackling those determinants of ill health that lie outside the NHS but inside local government.

So, I would press the Cabinet Secretary—I'm sure he's aware of those points—to have that cross-portfolio discussion about how local government spend can actually help lessen the spend on health and vice versa. And, in terms of health, to finish, I would like to see free and open pathways for open government to actually accept referrals from health professionals directly. Not just over the years were my housing letters rejected, but now, if I deem that my patients would benefit from an education referral, I cannot refer to education or social services—I cannot refer directly to social services. That is a ridiculous state of affairs, and much of the clamour, I feel, for an autism Act would be removed with true joint working. If you allowed primary healthcare professionals to be able to directly refer to departments of local government, matters would improve significantly. I would implore, in closing, the Cabinet Secretary to engage with the health Cabinet Secretary to this end. Diolch yn fawr.

16:45

Of course, I share the same region as Dai Lloyd, South Wales West. It's home to three local authorities. They're all Labour-run, by some margin. What? No 'yay's? I was kind of expecting somebody to say 'woohoo' at that point. And, of course, this has been for many years as well, apart from a couple of short-lived experiments by the electorate in Bridgend and Swansea.

Welsh Government may wish to argue that, compared to other parts of Wales, South Wales West hasn't done so badly in the local government settlement for next year. I'm sure my colleagues from different parts of Wales, especially rural and north Wales, would argue that as well. More importantly for my constituents, though, these three Labour councils will say that, after eight years of real-terms cuts by Welsh Government, this year's settlement is the final straw for them as well.

So, we'll start with Bridgend. Their leader warned, back in the summer, of cuts not just to libraries and swimming pools but to bus subsidies and to nursery provision. So, we are just about to roll out free childcare for three and four-year-olds through legislation at a time when provision in Bridgend could be cut. Since then, the council leader has ended his commitment to protecting schools, and of course we already know about the difference per head that children in schools in Wales get compared to their English counterparts, and he's also ended his commitment to protect social services budgets, pointing out that, when the UK Government gives his party's Government an extra £950 million, his party's council gets a cut. 

A big chunk of that extra, of course, has gone to the national health budget—obviously, Dai's alluded to this—but when it comes to pooled budgets for health and social care, in the case of Bridgend, it is the council that is putting in 72 per cent of that budget, when it's the health service that will actually be getting the uplift from this year's budget. That actually sounds wrong to me. At the same time, the same council leader is looking at having to find £4 million for teachers’ pay—not pensions, pay. Despite an assurance from the education Secretary that every single penny that Welsh Government receives from the UK Government for teacher’s pay will go for that purpose, the leader claims he's only getting a fraction of what it would do to cover the cost.

16:50

The Deputy Presiding Officer took the Chair.

In Swansea, where the council is a major player in the Swansea bay city region, the leader has also pointed to teachers’ pay, saying he's only had £606,000 of the £7 million he needs via Welsh Government. And, as he too announced that no services can be protected, he snapped that, and I quote:

'Sometimes it feels that we don’t have a Cabinet Secretary for Local Government. He should hang his head in shame.'

And, in response to the infamous Oliver Twist jibe, this Labour council leader was prepared to meet Mr Bumble with, quote, 'the biggest begging bowl', because that’s what they’ve been reduced to: begging.

Neath Port Talbot has announced that they are—quote again—

'getting very close to not being able to run services safely'.

And they’re not just talking about the revenue support grant. A thousand vulnerable Gypsy and Traveller children in the county borough area will lose their support as the grant is slashed from £250,000 to £85,000—and that is just £85 per child. And that's despite the finance Minister saying that there would be millions for Gypsy/Traveller children in his statement announcing the draft budget. This, of course, has a knock-on effect to the RSG in Neath Port Talbot and that funding for inclusion, health and education. And, as Neath Port Talbot loses out, the merger by stealth being planned by Welsh Government, giving Gypsy/Traveller support to just four councils to operate regionally—well, that is being treated with deep suspicion that this route of funding itself will not be sustained.

Ultimately, it’s Neath Port Talbot that says it as it is, and I'm quoting again:

'Welsh Government cannot continue to use austerity as an excuse for not allowing Local Government to deliver vital services to all constituents.'

And even Labour councils are getting fed up of the budgie hitting that same old bell, particularly when we are getting 20 per cent more per head in Wales than England in terms of funding. And, while some councils must explain why they are not using those useable reserves, and others must explain how poor management has led to drops in earned income, they are, as the Labour leader of Bridgend says, at the end of the road.

Five of the seven constituency Assembly Members from South Wales West are members of Welsh Government and my constituents will want an explanation from them. [Interruption.] You're saved. Will they say publicly that these councils have been apparently protected from the worst of the cuts because they're being protected by Labour representation—the political message that their supporters will want to hear? Or will they claim that, of course, there’s no such partisan protection—it’s all based on need? In which case, can they explain why the need remains so high in their own council areas when they have been in Government for two years? Or will they have to admit that, despite making up over a third of the Government, they've had no leverage to meaningfully improve this local government settlement?

Now, Welsh Conservatives want to get rid of the duct tape and sticking plaster over this clapped out old formula, as do the WLGA. But I say to my South Wales West Government colleagues—. I'm not talking to you, Cabinet Secretary; it is my colleagues in South Wales West. It’s not about councils being at the front of the queue for last-minute UK consequentials—it’s about you being at the front of the queue to reform the funding formula from within Government. Thank you.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Well, can I say, on a positive note, I'm very pleased to hear new people taking an interest in local government and being supportive of local government from the opposition benches? I've only been used to Siân Gwenllian and David Lloyd supporting local government over recent years—so, glad to see other people joining.

Can we look—? [Interruption.] Can we look—? Can I just remind people that it wasn't that many years ago when the Conservatives wanted to cut local government funding? And they still haven't— [Interruption.] And they still haven't decided where they're going to take the money from. If you look at the formula, is the formula perfect? No. But why did it come in? It came in to ensure that authorities were adequately funded through our rate support grant. But that was before the position of business rates was taken, and they were then removed from local government.

What the council needs to spend is calculated in a standard spending assessment, and it's amazing, really, when you look at the league table of standard spending assessments for education and expenditure for education, how very close they are to each other. What causes the amount to go up and down is mainly population change. That is the main driver—

He refers to population change, but it's nearly 30 years, surely, now since the census was taken. Between a third and half of the people who were measured have now, probably, died. Is that an appropriate basis on which to measure population, or is it just because the Labour councils disproportionately have the falling populations?

Well (1) that's untrue, and I was talking about year-on-year changes.

Business rates were centralised and collected locally and then redistributed with the rate support grant as part of aggregate external finance. Now, how does the money go out? Blaenau Gwent gets £1,587 and Monmouth gets £995. Is that fair? Well, Blaenau Gwent has 8.8 per cent of its properties in band D; Monmouthshire has 65.8 per cent of its properties in band D. So, a 1 per cent increase in council tax in Blaenau Gwent and a 1 per cent increase in council tax in Monmouthshire makes a huge difference. The average is £1,344 per capita. For half the councils that would be more; for half, it would be less. 

I'm going to read out the councils in order, to get this on the record. First is Blaenau Gwent, second is Merthyr, third is RCT, fourth is Neath Port Talbot, fifth is Denbighshire, sixth is Caerphilly, seventh Torfaen, eighth Newport, ninth Gwynedd, tenth Carmarthenshire, eleventh Ynys Môn, twelfth's Bridgend, thirteenth Ceredigion, fourteenth Powys, fifteenth Conwy, sixteenth Pembrokeshire, seventeenth Swansea, eighteenth Wrexham, nineteenth Flintshire, twentieth Cardiff, twenty-first the Vale of Glamorgan and twenty-second Monmouth.

We regularly hear calls for the formula allocating money to be changed. Representing Swansea, in seventeenth place, I could say how it would benefit us, but, give everyone a standard amount, the top 12, in terms of how much they get, would end up getting less, and the bottom 11 would get more, unless there's an increased amount of money there. I was a member of the distribution sub-group many years ago, when it made a minor change to the highways formula. It was 52 per cent population, 48 per cent road length; it went to 50 per cent for each. What happened was there were winners and losers. Powys and Gwynedd won, Cardiff and Newport lost. 

For everyone who says we should have greater regard for sparsity and rurality, there is someone saying we need to take greater account of poverty and deprivation. Councils such as Pembrokeshire will say, with some justification, their population increases massively during the  summer months, and thus their costs. Councils such as Cardiff will say they have major events and a daily influx of people, and that increases their costs. All say they need additional funding. 

And I think, really, you could change the formula—. Everybody thinks: you change the formula and everybody's going to win. That's financially impossible and numerically illiterate. If you've got the same amount of money to be distributed around 22 councils, every time you get a winner you get a loser. Local government has had an increase since the initial funding was announced. Wales should have an additional £800 million, based upon 2008 expenditure, according to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, a figure no-one has yet disagreed with. We are being short-changed by Westminster. There are those saying—[Interruption.] There are those saying—

16:55

You've heard repeatedly said that, for every £1 spent, in the end we get £1.20 here in Wales. How is that short-changing us?

Because we aren't having the money that we should be having if we had gone up in terms—[Interruption.] If we went up in terms of where we were just 10 years ago. 

Of course, there are those saying that merging councils will solve part of the problem. For that, I have two words—Betsi Cadwaladr—or three words—Natural Resources Wales. Further additional money—[Interruption.] Further additional money—[Interruption.] Further additional money for local government can be found from, for example, transportation and economic development. When local government needs more money to support current services, it doesn't help when ring-fenced money is provided for something new. The teachers' pensions cost is going to have to be met. Councils do not say to schools, 'You have to meet it from efficiency'; they look to try and find the money for them. 

Finally, it's no good pitching public services against each other or asking for more money for each public service—one a week. The amount of money we get is the block grant—and they used to say it was a block grant, until some people criticised me, but it's the amount of money we've got to use. Can I just ask, when the Conservatives sum up, if they can explain where they're going to get the additional money for local government from? And, if they're taking it out of health, exactly how?

Thank you for this opportunity to reply and to make a few comments about the Plaid Cymru amendments. I agree with the content of the motion, and it’s our intention to strengthen the motion with our amendments today. In terms of the Government amendment, we are going to hear from the Minister, without doubt, about the effect of the austerity policies of the Conservative Government, and, before that, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition Government in Westminster, and, of course, I agree entirely. I can't forgive the swingeing cuts that have put such pressure on public services for almost a decade now. It’s ideology that’s driven those cuts, we know, and, as we’ll be discussing in another debate later on this afternoon, it’s the poorest who suffer, but we’re talking here about what the Welsh Government has chosen to do with the budget that it has. Yes, the budget has been under pressure over the years, but this year, against a background of a small increase in the total funding available for 2019-20, local government continues to be a very low priority for the Labour Welsh Government. Last week, of course, we had the announcement from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance that there was some additional funding that would be allocated to councils in Wales, as compared to the draft budget, and, of course, every penny helps, but we do have to ask why it’s taken a consequential from the UK budget for the Welsh Government to give those crumbs to these councils.

Now, we have the figures; the draft budget for Welsh Government shows an increase of 2.4 per cent in the revenue expenditure for 2019-20, but as that funding increased—not by much, but it is an increase—we saw a cut of 1.9 per cent in the local government budget. That’s a political choice, namely, that decision to cut; not something where there was no choice but to do so. It’s Labour austerity.

Welsh local government can only see this as Labour's austerity here in Welsh Government, compounding a decade, almost, of deep and, to me, unforgivable Tory austerity cuts. Cutting spending by nearly 2 per cent when overall revenue funding is up by over 2.4 per cent—or 2.4 per cent—is about local government not being given the priority we on the Plaid Cymru benches say it deserves. Now, UK budget consequentials did loosen the constrictor grip on Welsh councils, but I do question why Welsh Government chose to opt for putting councils in that vice-like grip in the first place.

What do we see elsewhere in this budget? We see a significant uplift again in health spending. Now, I'm not going to argue against giving money to health and social care, but we really have to see the delivery of public services in the round. Local government is a major part of the delivery of health and social care. And with councils starved of money, social services struggle, the pressure then on expensive secondary healthcare goes up and up, they overspend, additional funds are directed to them in budget after budget. It's a vicious spiral. Are we just seeing here Government reacting to a public cry for more money for health? Possibly, perhaps, that may be the case, but we need to see investment in those things that help the delivery of healthcare, not just the NHS. And that not only means funding hospitals, it means funding councils so they can provide strong social care, so they can provide strong leisure services in order that people are kept healthy, in order that education gets the investment that it needs, because education clearly is the route to making sure that people have the tools to equip them for making the right decisions.