Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

13/03/2019

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

Nominations for a Committee Chair

Yesterday, the Assembly agreed a motion, under Standing Order 17.2A, to allocate the Chair of the Petitions Committee to the Conservative group. I now invite nominations, under Standing Order 17.2F, for the election of the Chair. Only a member from the Conservative group may be nominated as Chair, and only a member of the same political group may make the nomination. I invite nominations for the Chair of the Petitions Committee. Are there any nominations?

Thank you. Are there any further nominations? Any other nominations? Does any Member object to the nominations?

I shouldn't have asked the question, actually. So, even if he did say 'object', the question was not meant to have been asked. [Laughter.]

Therefore, as we have two nominations, the vote for the committee Chair will be made via secret ballot. That secret ballot will be held in briefing room 13 in the Senedd between 1.45 p.m. and 3.30 p.m. this afternoon. The clerks will be responsible for supervising the voting and counting the votes. I will announce the result of the secret ballot later this afternoon. Do recall that all Assembly Members have a right to vote.

Emergency Question: The Welsh Government’s policy on Brexit

That brings us to the emergency question, as I have accepted an emergency question under Standing Order 12.67. I call on Adam Price to ask that question.

Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s policy on Brexit following the rejection of the EU-UK withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons last night? (EAQ0005)

Thank you for that question.

The Welsh Government policy remains unchanged from that set out in 'Securing Wales' Future', published following the 2016 referendum and jointly with Plaid Cymru. We remain committed to participation in a customs union and the single market, dynamic alignment with the social, environmental and labour market standards of the European Union. We believe that the UK Government should take 'no deal' off the table, as such a cliff-edge exit from the European Union will have, we believe, a catastrophic impact on the economy and the people of Wales. These are the positions that have been endorsed by this National Assembly in recent debates on Brexit and the European Union negotiations—endorsed here on 15 January and on 30 January, and in the joint debate held last week in both the National Assembly and in the Scottish Parliament.

Two weeks ago, it was announced with some fanfare that Jeremy Corbyn, having seen eight of his MPs leave the party, had embraced the policy of a people's vote. Two months ago, you agreed to accept a motion that called on the UK Government to make immediate preparations for a further referendum. So, why did the statement your Government released on Monday, and presumably the associated letter to the British Government, not mention a people's vote once? Why, yesterday, did Jeremy Corbyn not mention a people's vote—your own party's policy—a single time in his 24-minute Commons speech? Why, in response to the vote, did he say that the purpose of extending article 50 was to replace Mrs May's 'dead Brexit' with his 'red Brexit'? That is virtually identical to the policy that Parliament just rejected—'a' customs union, but not 'the' customs union, with a say on EU trade policy, illegal under World Trade Organization rules; close alignment with the single market, but not membership of it. A unicorn is still a fantasy creature, whether painted red or blue. At times like this, we need honest politics. We need people to say what they believe and act accordingly. I think it's pretty clear now that Jeremy Corbyn's embrace of a people's vote was an opportunistic act of grand deception. And if you don't agree with that, First Minister, you're either a liar or a fool. [Interruption.]

13:35

Adam Price, personal insults are not acceptable in this Chamber. This is an emergency question, a serious matter, and political name calling at this point is not appropriate. I will ask the First Minister to respond to the substantive points in the question. 

Well, I will, Llywydd, as you suggest, ignore the deeply disrespectful remarks of the leader of Plaid Cymru. These are really serious days, Llywydd, with really serious decisions in front of our country. Why does the leader of Plaid Cymru seek to demean those discussions with the sort of remarks that he's made here this afternoon? I deprecate them—I deprecate them absolutely with every force that I can. He should know better. Really, it does no service at all to our nation for him to introduce this question in the way that he did. 

Let me turn, if I can, to the substance of his question. The statement that the Welsh Government made on Monday of this week was about a very specific matter. It was about the amendments that we have drawn up that we think could secure, through a withdrawal agreement Bill, commitments to the political declaration that could deliver the sort of Brexit that has been endorsed in this Assembly. And that is the policy of this Government. We remain of the belief that a deal is there to be done, a deal of the sort that has been long debated and endorsed here. That would be a deal that would require membership of a customs union, full and unfettered access to and participation in a single market, a sensible approach to migration.

It may be—it may be—that Plaid Cymru has long left behind the commitments that they made here in this Chamber. It may be that Plaid Cymru will be the only party in the whole of the House of Commons to try to put an amendment down today on the people's vote. It may be that Plaid Cymru has departed from that position as well and now is in favour of revocation of article 50. I look forward to Members of Plaid Cymru explaining that to people in their constituencies who voted, as Wales did, to leave the European Union. Our position as a Government has not changed. Our position is the one that we have put repeatedly to this Assembly, and it is the position that this Assembly has repeatedly endorsed. 

I welcome the opportunity for this statement today, and I do think it was quite disrespectful in terms of the way that this question was introduced by the leader of Plaid Cymru. We know that the House of Commons has rejected the Prime Minister's withdrawal deal in spite of the assurances that were given by the EU in relation to the backstop yesterday, and, of course, there will be further votes taking place today, and likely tomorrow, in respect of how the House of Commons wants to take things forward.

What I have been impressed with is the way in which the Welsh Government has been engaging with the UK Government in terms of trying to prepare for the potential outcomes, whether that be no deal or whether it be a deal, and let me make it clear that the Welsh Conservatives are committed to trying to achieve a deal so that we can have an orderly exit from the European Union. We believe that it's imperative on the Government of the people of Wales, the Welsh Government—and let's not forget that Wales voted to leave the EU, and leave we must—it's imperative upon the Welsh Government to work with the UK Government to deliver upon the instructions of the people of Wales. So, can I ask you, First Minister, will you provide assurances to this National Assembly that you will continue to work carefully and closely with the UK Goverment in order to achieve an orderly exit from the EU, whether that be with a deal, which, of course, is preferable, or without?  

Well, Llywydd, of course, it is the responsibility of the Welsh Government to work carefully with the UK Government, as we do with the Scottish Government, and every meeting that we attend with the UK Government is also attended by Ministers of the Scottish National Party on behalf of the Scottish Government too. They understand their responsibilities, we understand ours—would that other Members of this Chamber had a similar grasp of what being in Government actually involves. 

Now, we disagree with the UK Government, as the Member knows. We have long argued that the Prime Minister should have sought a different sort of deal on the floor of the House of Commons and that a majority is still there to be found for a different way of leaving the European Union.

In the meantime, and against the day that we were to crash out of the European Union—an eventuality that we resist on every occasion that we are able to—we do prepare, because that's what responsible Governments have to do. We prepare in the field of food, we prepare in the field of water, we prepare in the field of transport, and we prepare in the field of our economy as well. And we'll go on doing that even in times when we have disagreements—profound disagreements—with the UK Government about the way in which they have approached the whole matter of responding to the referendum in June 2016.

13:40

Does the First Minister agree with me that political insults come in many forms and a much more serious insult than any epithet that may fall from the mouth of the leader of Plaid Cymru is the insult that is being hurled at the British people by the House of Commons this week? The British people and the people of Wales, having voted to leave the European Union in an unqualified vote of two and a half years ago, now is being betrayed. As Jean-Claude Juncker once memorably said, 

'There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.'

And so, many countries in Europe have been obliged to keep on voting until they vote for what the Eurocrats want, if they vote against what they want the first time around. The House of Commons voted to have a referendum by 316 votes to 53. The House of Commons voted by 492 votes to 122 to notify the EU that we were leaving, triggering the article 50 process. They willed the means; now they have to will the end.

Just over 100 years ago, we had a great constitutional battle in this country of the peers versus the people when the House of Lords tried to vote down Lloyd George's budget. Today, it's the whole of Parliament that is against the people, because the House of Commons, having a majority of remainers—480 out of 650—are now trying to defy the will of the British people and overturn the referendum result of two and a half years ago. The House of Commons is in the process of expressing its full contempt for the British people, as indeed this institution has done, because there's an overwhelming majority of remainers here as well. Is the First Minister fearful of the growing gulf that there is between the people of this country and the political class that is set to betray them?

Llywydd, I reject the language of betrayal. I don't share the conspiratorial view that the Member has of what is going on in the House of Commons. I think the House of Commons has struggled to deal with the complexities of Brexit. I think it has gone about its responsibilities in a way that many people find baffling. But I don't think it's anything other than honest. I don't think it's anything other than people trying to grapple with those difficulties and those complexities, even if the answers that have emerged so far do not measure up to the scale of that challenge.

Nobody, Llywydd, I believe, voted in June 2016 to leave the European Union without a deal. That is certainly not what they were told by people who urged them to vote to leave the European Union. We were told, as the Member knows, that it would all be done in the easiest possible way—that all the problems would be amenable to easy solutions and that we would leave the European Union in a way where the sunny uplands would be immediately within our grasp. We know now just how far from the truth that has turned out to be, and I don't think that the way that the House of Commons is grappling with all of that amounts either to an insult or a betrayal, and I reject the view that the Member has put to us this afternoon.

First Minister, many of us witnessed the shambolic events in the House of Commons last night, where we saw, again, a Prime Minister losing a substantive part of her policy for the second time by over 100 in the situation. Clearly, they vote today on the situation regarding whether Parliament wants a 'no deal' or not a 'no deal'. I understand that that is not binding. There's also going to be a vote, possibly tomorrow, on whether we have an extension to article 50, but again, if that is rejected, we go for a 'no deal'. We are accelerating towards a 'no deal' exit, which I believe now is the only vision that the Prime Minister and her Cabinet have for this country, because they've made no effort at all to change that direction. They've made no effort to look at the red lines, because we also know that if the red lines were changed, the EU would be listening very carefully to some of the policies. Is it now time to agree with the vice-chair of the 1922 backbench committee that it's actually time for a general election and to remove this Government?

13:45

I thank the Member for that question, and I want to agree with the point that he makes, because there may be votes in the House of Commons today that will seek to remove 'no deal' as an option, but none of us should believe that that actually, by itself, obviates that danger. In fact, I think the danger that we will crash out of the European Union on 29 March has grown, rather than diminished, in recent days, and we remain, as you know, firmly of the view that that is an outcome that would be deeply inimical to the best interests of Wales and people who live here and we will go on doing everything we can to argue against it. But the way that events have unfolded in recent days I think makes that danger greater rather than lesser, and that's why we have worked with others in other parts of the United Kingdom to be as well prepared as it is possible to be against that deeply undesirable eventuality. 

Of course I agree with what David Rees has said, but when a Government in the House of Commons fails not once, but twice, to persuade the House of Commons of the proposition that Government puts to the House of Commons in the single greatest responsibility that will ever fall to that Government, then what we need is a new House of Commons. And that's in the hands of the Prime Minister. She can call a general election. And I still believe that that is what, constitutionally, she ought to do. Because we know that that can be denied to us, then we have said as a Welsh Government—and I say it again this afternoon—that if the House of Commons is deadlocked on this matter, then the decision will have to go back to the people who made it in the first place. 

Does the First Minister agree that the European Union could not have been clearer that there is no scope for a further renegotiation and so therefore we have three basic options: to leave with no deal, which would be catastrophic; to back the Prime Minister's deal, which the Commons refuses to do; or to have a people's vote? And does he agree with me that that equally applies to the advocates of Brexit in our party and that a pig in lipstick is still a pig and that the idea of a jobs-first Brexit is equally unconvincing and ridiculous?

I think there are two further options beyond the three that the Member has outlined, all of which I agree are still in the frame. Another option is the general election option that you've heard from David Rees, and the fifth option is a deal that would meet the criteria set out in our paper 'Securing Wales' Future', in the five tests that were put by the leader of the opposition to the Prime Minister in his letter to her, and which yesterday leading members of the European Union were welcoming as a further and different way in which a deal could be done with the European Union. So, I think we are still in the position where all those options could happen. We reject a number of them. We reject no deal, we reject the Prime Minister's deal; the other options, including the people's vote option that the Member has outlined, remain ways in which this position could be resolved. 

1. Questions to the Minister for Education

The next item is questions to the Minister for Education, and the first question is from Hefin David. 

The School Funding Formula

1. Will the Minister make a statement on the formula used to allocate school funding? OAQ53579

Thank you, Hefin. Each local authority is responsible for determining how much funding is allocated to each individual school. School budgets are determined by a local funding formula and authorities must consult their schools budget forums and all schools in their area when setting or making changes to a funding formula.

Last week, I hosted a drop-in event for Assembly Members on behalf of various teaching unions, including the National Education Union. Teachers who attended told me that they were concerned that cuts in UK Government funding are having a direct impact on their ability to implement the education reforms, including, for example, the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018. They argue that the school funding formula needs to be more equitable and reflect current challenges. And in your response to the Conservatives' debate on this subject, you acknowledged that how schools are funded can actually be quite confusing, and you indicated that you're not opposed in principle to the funding formula being changed. That's to be welcomed and, with that in mind, would you now commit to a regular and ongoing dialogue with local authorities, regional consortia, the teaching unions and the teaching profession in order to look at how these issues can be addressed, and how we can make the most of these difficult circumstances in the face of ongoing austerity?  

13:50

Of course, Hefin, that dialogue continues every day in my department. Only last week, senior officials of the education department were meeting with the Association of School and College Leaders to discuss with them their concerns. I continue to challenge both regional consortia and local authorities with regard to ensuring that as much money as possible reaches the front line of our education system in individual schools. And I am always open to discussions as to how best we can ensure that more money makes it into individual school budgets.

Of course, the vast majority of school budgets arrive out of the revenue support grant for individual local authorities, and I am aware that the distribution sub-group of local government are currently looking and have started a new stream of work to look at how indicator-based assessment levels of education are completed when determining levels of RSG, and I welcome that work indeed. Both myself and the previous local government Minister and the new local government Minister have said, if local authorities come forward with ideas of how to change the funding formula, we will work with them in good faith and we will continue to do that. It is confusing often for people to see how money gets to schools because of the different layers of funding that are available, but my aim always has been, when I was an opposition Member, and it certainly is now that I am the education Minister, to get as much money to the front line to individual school budgets as possible.  

Minister, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, evidence suggests that differences in local funding models are causing concerns about unequal treatment of schools in similar circumstances. They went on to call on the Welsh Government to consider reviewing the school funding model if it is to realise its ambition for equity in education and student well-being. Minister, the National Association of Headteachers Cymru have said that the current funding system is not fit for purpose—their words, not mine. What action will you take to address these inequalities in the school funding formula in Wales, please?  

Oscar, it is important that local authorities are responsible for school funding in Wales, and that is set out in law. I'm not sure if the Member is advocating removing that power away from our colleagues in local government. I certainly think that our partners in local government would take a very strong view about removing that power from them. It's also important to realise that there is not a free-for-all for local authorities with regard to how they set their individual funding formulas within a local authority. The regulations require 70 per cent of funding for schools budgets to be distributed on the basis of the number of pupils in the school, and authorities have the leeway of 30 per cent to be able to adjust to individual circumstances.

I do hear that maybe what you're hinting at is that we have a single funding formula and a single figure to fund education across Wales. On the face of it, I can see why there is an attractiveness to that, but when we consider the great diversity of the Welsh education system—a system that delivers bilingually, a system that delivers for large city-centre schools with a diverse population, many children coming to our schools that don't have English as a first language, to those very, very small rural schools where it is inevitable that the cost of education will be more expensive given the size of those schools—it perhaps is not so easy to come up with a single figure that actually covers the educational needs of Wales's very varied communities and the great diversity that we have in our education system. But I'm always open to Members' suggestions as to what changes they want to see to the formula, whether they want to see more money spent on deprivation or rurality or bilingualism, but, of course, that has to be done in the envelope that is available to us, and I don't see anybody standing up in this Chamber offering up money from their schools to be given to other people's schools. 

13:55
School Guidance on Suicide

2. Will the Minister provide an update on the guidance which is going to be issued to schools in April on talking about suicide? OAQ53576

Thank you very much, Lynne. The national advisory group on suicide and self-harm is consulting group members and other stakeholders on that guidance prior to its publication in April. We will work with the group to ensure that the guidance is promoted extensively amongst professionals, and that is professionals not just in schools but more widely amongst youth services and other people who work with our young people.

Thank you, Minister. I really welcome the fact that the guidance recommended by 'Mind over matter' is due for publication in April. I also welcome your commitment to work with the advisory group to ensure the guidance is promoted extensively. However, as you know, for many teachers, for understandable reasons, they are reluctant to talk about suicide. It is therefore crucial not just that the Welsh Government works with the advisory group to promote the guidance but that the Welsh Government proactively leads on ensuring that this guidance is used in all schools in Wales.

Several schoolchildren have died by suicide in Wales since 'Mind over matter' was published, and action on this is urgent. It cannot wait until the new curriculum and a whole-school approach to mental health is implemented in Wales. Will the Minister therefore commit to proactively leading on this with a view to ensuring that it is urgently rolled out in all schools, including ensuring it is incorporated into professional learning for teachers as a matter of urgency, so that they have the skills and confidence to use it?

Thank you very much, Lynne. Let me assure you, we're not sitting back and simply waiting for the implementation of the new curriculum, although the health and well-being area of learning and experience does give us a profound opportunity to change the way in which we talk about health and well-being in our schools. You'll be aware that £2.5 million is being made available in the new financial year, through the education budget, targeted at improving mental health services for young people, informed by youth work pedagogical approaches. Because those professionals working with our youth service often feel sometimes more comfortable and more able and more confident about talking about these very sensitive issues, and we want to use the learning from our youth-work colleagues actually to help inform the professional learning of our school-based colleagues. I can assure you that only yesterday I had a discussion with the official that is leading on professional learning to impress upon him that schools should be able to access professional learning opportunities around this guidance, and health and well-being overall, as part of the funding that we're making available to schools to support improved teacher confidence in this area, which can be really, really challenging for many people to talk about, not least teachers in our schools. 

Minister, I'm sure you'll want to join me in commending the work the Assembly has done in this area, particularly under the leadership of Lynne Neagle in 'Mind over matter', but also Dai Lloyd in the health committee. The simple message is: far, far too many people die as a result of suicide. It's hundreds a year in Wales. We must set targets to radically reduce the number of people who tragically die in those circumstances. Unfortunately, in terms of younger people, it is a major cause of premature death. It needs joint working across Government. I do also commend the work that Samaritans Cymru have done, again emphasising the need to train teachers so that they do have that level of confidence, at least, to address these very important issues. The skills we get at school, 10 or 20 years later—that can be the difference between someone seeking help and unfortunately completing suicide. 

Thank you, David. I think it is absolutely right that we recognise the campaigning work that has been done by colleagues, such as Dai Lloyd, Lynne Neagle and Jack Sargeant, on these issues. I can assure you that we are discussing with our initial teacher education providers to ensure that, through initial teacher education, our future practitioners will have the appropriate skills. I was hugely encouraged by the recent vote here of the Youth Parliament, which as their top priority have voted to look to work on the issue of young people's mental health. It demonstrates how important this issue is to them, and across the country I know that young people and youth groups are working really, really hard to address the issue of resilience.

Presiding Officer, on Sunday morning, I was at the Hafren theatre in Newtown watching the YFC Wales's drama festival, and the winning club from Carmarthenshire, the YFC club of Llandovery, put on an incredibly sophisticated and moving entertainment on the subject of suicide in rural areas. And to see young people, aged 10 to 26, engaging in such a sophisticated way to spread these messages is something that would put some older people to shame.

14:00
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Siân Gwenllian.

Thank you, Llywydd. Headteachers the length and breadth of Wales are warning that there is a funding crisis facing our schools and that this will have far-reaching impacts—larger class sizes, fewer teachers, the condition of buildings deteriorating, reduction in the support for additional learning needs, cuts to pastoral services and well-being services. We are losing hundreds of our most experienced teachers and mid-level leaders from our schools as a result of early retirement.

The Children, Young People and Education Committee inquiry has placed a focus on the need to increase the quantum being spent on education, and it's also started to discuss what measures could be put in place even within the existing budget in order to ensure that more funding reaches our schools. There is one teaching union, with the support of the Conservatives, that recommends moving towards a system of direct school funding, creating a system similar to the academies in England. What's your view on direct funding?

Firstly, can I say, with the committee looking at expanding the quantum of money available to me, I'm willing to work with anybody in this Chamber who is in favour of expanding the quantum of money that is available to our schools? As I said in answer to Mohammad Asghar, I'm under no illusions about the real challenges facing our teaching profession, and this is what austerity looks like. It's not an abstract concept. This is what austerity, prolonged years of public expenditure being squeezed—this is the reality of what it means out on the ground.

As I said earlier, in some ways, direct funding of a single formula does not, in my view, address the issue of the diversity of educational provision that we have in Wales. It undermines the law that we currently have, which says that this is the democratic decision-making responsibility of our local authorities, and would be incredibly difficult to do at a continuing time of austerity. It might be easy to do it if budgets were rising and we could have a floor below which nobody dropped, but, given the challenging financial circumstances we find ourselves in, it would be incredibly challenging to do so, and to think it is simply as easy as that—one only has to look at the discord across the border in England with how direct funding of schools has worked out for them.

Presiding Officer, perhaps in answer to the question about what more we can do, I would like to take this opportunity to announce to the Chamber that, following the statement that was made by the finance Minister last week, in 2019-20, I am allocating £47.7 million to meet in full the identified additional estimated pressure for maintained schools and further education colleges in Wales arising out of changes to teachers' pensions, and I hope that this will be welcomed across the Chamber and by individual schools.

Thank you very much, and I'm very pleased to hear that last announcement. I know that my colleague in Westminster, Ben Lake, has been pursuing this issue, so I'm very grateful to hear that—that'll be good news for our schools.

But, to return to direct funding, just to put it on the record, Plaid Cymru is willing to consider any proposals that would deliver better outcomes for our children. We are not of the view, however, that direct school funding is an option that should be considered here in Wales, and that's for a number of reasons. You've mentioned one issue regarding having one sum of money, but there's more to it than that. We need to keep democratic accountability at a local level in terms of funding, and central services provided in support are crucially important—for example, for children in care and children with additional needs. There is a risk that the most vulnerable children could be forgotten in a system where funding would be provided directly. It’s one thing to provide direct funding for a large urban school, but very many of our schools are small, they are rural and they are in disadvantaged areas, and they need support from a central source. So, I’m very pleased that we’re agreed on that, and that you too are rejecting the calls for direct school funding. Do you therefore feel that it’s time for the discussion to move towards finding less damaging solutions for school funding and ensuring fairer school funding? Should that work be where the focus sits now?

14:05

I think the Member makes a very good point: a point that was made, actually, very eloquently by Andrew R.T. Davies, who's not in his seat today, when he recently addressed the school funding budget debate that we had here. He recognised that there are some services that are best delivered and organised and planned at either a local authority level or a regional level, because that's where we can get the best type of service for individual children.

What is absolutely clear to me, in the absence of a commitment from the Westminster Government to end the damaging era of austerity, is that we have to work collectively to find more ways in which we can avoid duplication and get more money to the front line, and I'm more than happy to meet with the Member, or, indeed, other Members who have ideas on how that can be achieved, and I continue, as I said in an earlier answer, to challenge our local authorities, regional consortia, and other middle tier to ensure that they're not hanging on to budgets that could be delegated to individual schools.

To help with that discussion, therefore, may I suggest that there are a number of questions that you and the education department within Government could be asking? Are there too many layers in our education system? Do these create unnecessary bureaucracy? Is there too much duplication of work? And is that a good use of the scarce funding in the education pot? For example, are there too many bodies supporting schools? Do we need to tighten up the system substantially? Another question that should be asked is whether there is a better way of funding sixth forms in schools. Another for your consideration, if you would: could we hasten the process of distributing funding from the Welsh Government, avoiding financial announcements being made very late in the day? I do look forward to having a constructive discussion in light of this important committee inquiry.

The Member is absolutely right to look at whether there is duplication. I am frustrated to read from ASCL and to discuss with ASCL some of their concerns, for instance, of a duplication of roles, functions and spending from the regional consortia and individual local education authorities. Of course, regional consortia are run by local councils—they are the stakeholders, they hold the managing directors to account—and therefore it seems to me very concerning that in that governance arrangement they would allow for a duplication of spend across their own local authority and their regional consortia. So, I want to reassure the Member that we are constantly challenging LEAs and regional consortia around issues around delegation.

Sixth forms, again, potentially, is a really challenging area about how we continue to provide access to post-compulsory education in a way that meets our Learning and Skills (Wales) Measure 2009 and meets the aspirations of our young people, who want a large selection of courses from which to choose, and how we can keep people in Wales. As a border Assembly Member, I'm very concerned that people choose to study post-16 over the border. We need to address that situation. I'm always very concerned that we ourselves as a department do all we can to get our money that we provide to schools out the door as quickly and as effectively and as efficiently as we possibly can.

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Minister, can I thank you very much for confirming that you've now heard from the finance Minister with a figure to be passported to you from the UK Government budget to meet—and I think; I'm just quoting you—that £47.7 million in full? It meets the costs of the pension hike in full. So, that's pleasing to hear. Can you tell me what steps you'll be taking to make sure that every penny that actually gets to schools will be spent in meeting the cost of the pensions uplift?

14:10

Okay. Let me make it absolutely clear: this money relates to teachers' pensions. The allocation is £47.7 million, and it is, indeed, to meet in full the identified additional estimated pressures for maintained schools and FE colleges in Wales. But let's be absolutely clear: it is the Welsh Government that are meeting these commitments in full. The money that has come down from Westminster has not met the bill for these changes, and it is the Welsh Government that is ensuring that the pressures are met in full. This breaks down as £42.1 million for maintained schools, including sixth forms, and £5.6 million for further education colleges. The changes to teachers' pensions will be implemented from the start of the new academic year in September. Therefore, this funding relates to the period September 2019 to March 2020, and the Welsh Government's officials will agree with local authorities the specific logistics of grant distribution to each authority over the next few weeks, and it will be done in a special grant via local education authorities that they have to spend for this purpose.

Thank you. That's a very helpful answer, Minister. You've just confirmed that this is going to be ring-fenced money and it will be going to the schools, and, if that doesn't happen, then, obviously, we will be holding you, as well as local authorities, to account on that. Perhaps you can let us have a note at some point about what the difference is between the money that you've had from the UK Government and that that you're prepared to give to meet the total cost to see if we can get some sort of sense of the scale of your commitment.

Like Siân Gwenllian, I don't think I've ever heard from so many teachers about core funding as I am the moment, and, yes, we can discuss London's role in this, but teachers are wise to the fact that the education budget increased this year, and they have questions for you and council leaders about whether central Government grant funding, which is targeted at those diverse needs you mentioned a bit earlier on—whether that is starting to give local authorities a bit of a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to providing core budgets to school. And in particular—this is what's coming to me—the very welcome increase in the pupil development grant—and this is not an attack on PDG in any way at all—means that schools in more affluent areas are losing staff while schools in more deprived areas are able to retain them, because of the PDG targeting the needs of poorer children, obviously, but maintaining the resilience of the school structure and its staffing, and, of course, providing some incidental benefit to pupils who are not eligible for free school meals, which is fine by me, I must admit.

That flexibility is not open to schools with low PDG eligibility, and there's a risk now, I think, of creating a cohort of educationally disadvantaged children and young people, which is not what you want—I'm absolutely certain of that. So, I heard your comments in response to Hefin David a bit earlier on, in which you spoke of the funding formula, so I'm not talking about that. But are you open to reconsidering the balance of how schools are funded as between Welsh Government and local authorities and in the round, and, again, in a way that isn't seen as an attack on the PDG, because that's certainly not my intention?

Well, the Member—. I accept that the Member is not attacking the principle of the PDG. Only yesterday, the First Minister answered a series of questions that talked about the impact of poverty on the life chances of those individuals who find themselves in those circumstances. And the £400 million plus that has been spent on the PDG since it was introduced in the last Assembly is just one attempt by the Government to try and level the playing field. But let's be absolutely clear: that is not the only source of funding that comes from Welsh Government to individual schools. We also have the school improvement grant, the education improvement grant. We have a specific grant that looks to address some of the logistical challenges and the teaching challenges of teaching in our small and rural schools. We have the business manager pilots, we have the class sizes grant, we have the additional learning needs money, we have the professional learning resources that have been sent to schools. So, there is a plethora of central funding that makes its way to schools, but, as I said, Suzy, I'm not immune to the challenges, the very real challenges, that are facing our school communities and our leaders who are working incredibly hard. But I don't think that the redistribution of the PDG is necessarily the way to solve those problems.

Again, thank you for that answer. Well, obviously, I'm hoping, like me, you're interested in the life chances of pupils from all backgrounds, and, at the moment, it's those in more affluent areas who seem to be taking the brunt of the way that local authorities are making decisions about how they distribute moneys—core funding. It's all well and good to speak about some of the other grants you mentioned, but of course, there have been cuts to the education improvement grant, as we've heard, in Gwynedd, which has resulted in children who don't speak Welsh as a first language not having access to the instruction that they need to help them access education through the medium of Welsh in that county.

Now, again, on the subject of unintended consequences of a good idea, teachers and local authorities are now very worried about how they're going to be able to meet the cost of compliance with the additional learning needs Act and the code, with some very serious questions being raised about the support currently offered to pupils on school action, in particular. I've been told by a teacher that it can take up to 20 hours of admin time to support a child, let alone the actual in-classroom time, and that staffing implications at a time when some schools are having to let staff go, in some cases, when the number of special education needs pupils is already rising and SEN funding from councils is falling. Now, there've always been concerns about the way this legislation is costed—I'm sure you remember that bruising period. I'm just wondering whether you will commit to reviewing not just what it costs to implement the Act and through the code, but ensuring that any additional money that you do manage to identify in due course cannot be diverted to meet other pressures that councils claim they have.

14:15

Thanks, Suzy Davies, for that question. Can I just say that my understanding of the situation in Gwynedd regarding the immersion unit is not as portrayed by the Member? There are ongoing discussions within Gwynedd county council, between the executive of the council and, indeed, my officials about the future of those services, recognising the important role that immersion units play for children who have potentially moved to the area or want to be able to acquire those skills, and the council is considering the future of those services actively. So, it's not as the Member has portrayed in the Chamber.

With regard to remembering the bruising, well, he's not in his seat, but Alun Davies was the Minister responsible for the passage of most of that legislation, and I think he does remember that very well. You are right, the Government has committed £20 million to support the implementation of our transformational ALN agenda, working really hard to ensure its successful implementation, and clearly, the stated intent of that legislation is that all children, regardless of their additional learning needs, will have their needs met in full.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Relating to your earlier announcement about covering the funding for the pension changes, I think schools across Wales are going to be breathing a sigh of relief on that one, so I welcome your announcement.

Last year, a review showed that fining parents for taking children out of school in term time in Wales has had no effect on overall absence rates. Is it right that parents should be fined for taking their children out of the school for a week to take them on holiday?

First of all, it's not just schools that are breathing a sigh of relief; I'm breathing a sigh of relief that the finance Minister has made these resources available. And it's remiss of me, I'm sure that the finance Minister will be more than happy to supply a note to Suzy Davies outlining the resources that the Welsh Government has had to find to make sure that this announcement has been able to be made today.

With regard to fining parents, fining parents—. With regard to attendance at school, let's be absolutely clear that regular attendance at school is the most important thing a parent can do for their children's educational outcomes, and parents should make every effort when at all possible, unless a child is ill or there are circumstances beyond their control, that children should be in school. We leave it to the discretion of individual headteachers to be able to apply authorised absences, but local authorities will have and will continue to have the power to fine parents where they believe that that is an effective way to deal with non-attendance at school, and I would expect local authorities, in using such powers, to have worked for a long period of time with that family to ensure that school attendance is a priority.

Thank you for that answer, Minister. You'd like to add an extra in-service training day to the Welsh school calendar. It doesn't seem fair that the state can deny a child five or six days of schooling, but if a parent does it to take them on a holiday they might otherwise not be able to afford, they face being fined. If schools are to have INSET days, would it not make sense to have each school take the INSET days in a five or six-day block? In consultation with parents, each school could decide which week to have the INSET training. That way, families could use that time to go on holiday outside of the peak school holiday times, and parents may feel less frustrated by the current unfairness of the system.

14:20

Well, the Member will be aware that we're currently out to consultation with regard to an additional INSET day. We are doing that because what I think parents want most of all is absolute certainty that our teaching profession is ready for the implementation of our new curriculum. But the consultation also gives us an opportunity to explore whether there is a possibility that we can have greater coherence about how individual schools use their INSET days. I do not believe changing INSET days is an answer to the very real problem that some families face in terms of the practices of holiday companies that up their prices significantly during the school holidays—in some cases almost doubling the price of a break, depending on when the school holidays fall.

Thank you for that answer, Minister. There's no denying that teachers are very, very busy during term time, and are possibly feeling under more pressure because of the pressure on education spending, but having INSET days spread throughout the year, forcing many parents to use up a week or more of their annual leave in a way that is basically useless to the family, does make some working families feel that the education system is indifferent to the impact that these days have on them. Some working parents may only have as little as four weeks' holiday a year if they're working full-time. They wonder, as I do, why teacher training takes place during term time, when teachers have three months' worth of holiday each year.

Can I say—? Teacher training, in good schools, happens every single day of the week, because a good teacher knows that the lessons they teach tomorrow will be better than the lessons they teach today. We are consulting on an extra INSET day, because what I know, from speaking to the parents that I meet, what they want to do is to ensure that their children are in receipt of a first-class education system, and we need our profession to be ready for our new curriculum reforms.

Welsh-medium Education

3. Will the Minister make a statement on plans by councils in South Wales West to provide Welsh-medium education? OAQ53535

Diolch yn fawr, Dai. All Welsh in education plans within South Wales West have been approved and implementation plans submitted to the Welsh Government in late December. Officials continue their discussions with local authorities regarding the progress outlined within those implementation plans.

Thank you very much for that response. Now, the Welsh in education strategic plans, as you've mentioned, which have been approved by your Government, do show a great variation in the plans of councils across Wales, and within the South Wales West region in particular. The plan for Bridgend is very disappointing as compared to other councils. Only 7.5 per cent of seven-year-old children receive Welsh-medium education in Bridgend, and there’s been virtually no progress made during the current planning period. This compares with a target of 16 per cent in Swansea and a target of 22 per cent in Neath Port Talbot next door. Do you agree that the WESPs have been a complete failure in areas such as Bridgend, as your Government aims towards a million Welsh speakers?

Well, Dai, as I've said, the plans have been approved. My understanding of the situation in Bridgend is that the authority has committed to expanding Welsh-medium provision in its band B programme, with a commitment to a new Welsh-medium school in the west of the authority, where there are new housing developments in the lower Ogmore valley. Furthermore, approval in principle of £2.6 million for the Welsh-medium and childcare offer, for the capital grants element of that, has been granted to the authority, to expand Welsh-medium childcare provision in four areas of the greatest demand, namely Bettws, Ogmore, Porthcawl and central Bridgend, in order to further support the growth of Welsh-medium education. You will be glad to hear that. And I will be constantly challenging local authorities to ensure that their ambition matches my ambition for the opportunities afforded to parents to make this positive choice of educating their children through the medium of Welsh.

Costs associated with Education

4. How is the Welsh Government ensuring that parents are able to afford costs associated with their children's education? OAQ53552

Thank you very much, Leanne. I introduced PDG access in 2018-19 to provide additional support directly to families, helping those who need it most to meet some of the costs associated with the school day. For 2019-20 we have more than doubled the funding that will be available to support families in this way.

14:25

In the words of the Association of School and College Leaders, there is a 'severe funding crisis' in schools, which is having a 'detrimental effect...on...young people.' Those are direct quotes from them. This comes at the same time as a report by the children's commissioner, Sally Holland, last week, who said

'Financial demands are flying at families from all sorts of angles and it's the children who pay the price when their parents can't keep up with the costs.' 

She added

'If we're serious about levelling the playing field and giving all children an equal opportunity to learn and grow, we need Welsh Government to show real ambition and leadership in helping the thousands of families across Wales who are really struggling.' 

I've raised the school meals threshold with you on a number of occasions. Do you recognise the picture painted by these two impartial and expert sources? If you do, when can we expect to see this real ambition and leadership from this Labour Government to help struggling families and also to ensure that struggling schools get the funding gap plugged that they need to deliver good-quality education services to our children?

I absolutely recognise the challenges that the children's commissioner report paints. That's why, as I said, next year we will have £5 million to spend on PDG access. So, for the first time, this year, parents have been able to get support for uniform and equipment when their child starts school and when their child transitions through to high school. I am currently looking at whether we can expand further opportunities for parents in other parts of their child's career to be able to access support. Meanwhile, our consultation on school uniform, to make sure that the guidance around affordability of school uniform is put on a statutory footing, which it has not been until now, has recently concluded, and I hope that will be in place before the start of the new academic year. At the end of last year, I commissioned Children in Wales to produce a series of guidance notes and support packages to schools so that they can better understand and they can help guide their decisions with regard to the cost of the school day. The guides will be stand-alone resources and they will cover an understanding of the causes and the impact of living in poverty, the impact of food and hunger, school uniform resources, and out-of-school activities. We are increasing the money available to local authorities to support our school holiday enrichment programme, so that all local authorities, hopefully, this summer will provide support for families during the school holiday process, and with regard to free school meals, thousands more children will be eligible for free school meals under the new regime, and a significant amount of additional resource has been made available to pay for those meals. 

I thank you, Minister, for outlining all the help that we are giving, because clearly we're trying our very best in Wales just to mitigate the austerity that is coming down from Westminster. But I think my question has to be—and you've identified the need for more free school meals availability to young children—have you assessed the impact of universal credit on the eligibility for free school meals in Wales, and the impact that that might have right across the region?

Yes, we have. What we know—the impact of universal credit will mean that more children will qualify for free school meals in Wales, and we have made resources available to that. We also know that some children who have a current eligibility may find that eligibility curtailed, and that's why we are putting in protection to ensure that those families do not lose out. We will keep under constant review the support for families in this particular area. Indeed, only earlier today, when the European sub-committee of the Cabinet met—one of the things that we're having to look at in terms of preparation for a 'no deal' Brexit is what more support we may be able to give to families with the cost of school meals should food prices rise considerably as a result of a 'no deal' Brexit, and what position we might be in to be able to help those families at that time.

Pupils on the Autistic Spectrum

5. Will the Minister make a statement on support for pupils on the autistic spectrum in schools? OAQ53556

Diolch yn fawr, Llyr. I am committed to ensuring all pupils with autism in schools can reach their full potential. Our ambitious ALN reforms will completely overhaul the existing system for supporting learners, and will put in place an integrated, collaborative process of assessment, planning and monitoring of support that is made available.

14:30

Thank you for that response. Of course, following the scrutiny work on the Autism (Wales) Bill that came before us a little while ago, one of the recommendations of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, of course, to the Government was that it should be a requirement for all members of staff in schools, particularly teachers and classroom assistants, to receive training in autism awareness during their initial teacher training. Now, this is something that the National Autistic Society in Wales has been calling for; it is something that does happen in England as a formal part of that initial teacher training there. Will you, therefore, adopt a similar policy in Wales, accept the recommendation made by the health committee—which, of course, is a cross-party committee—and take an important step in ensuring that children on the autistic spectrum do receive the best possible support to achieve their educational potential?

Of course, Llyr, we need to make sure that any individual leaving our ITE provision is properly equipped with the skills and the knowledge to be able to help all of our children. Special—additional learning needs is an important part of our ITE reform. I think we would all agree that, in the past, sometimes, issues relating to ALN have been scant in initial teacher education, and we need that to change. We also need to make sure that teachers already in the system have access to professional learning, so that they can improve their skills where needed. And that's why we've made significant amounts of money available to individual schools to be able to address their professional learning needs, as well as the £20 million available for the implementation of the new ALN legislation, to ensure our schools are equipped so that all children, regardless of their diagnosis, or in some cases a non-diagnosis, can reach their full potential.

My casework is full of families in crisis because children's communication, social, sensory and processing needs have not been understood, not been identified. I've got children who've not been in school for months, even years, without alternative provision being put in place. I've got a girl of 11, who the council is insisting has a male taxi driver. Because of her autism, she cannot have a male taxi driver, so they think they can somehow transition her over to having a male taxi driver. I've got children excluded from school because of autistic meltdown caused by the behaviour towards them. Only this week, an e-mail from a mum whose son has autistic traits:

'After a meeting with the school, we specifically discussed my son's use of swear words. The CAMHS specialist clearly backed up my explanation that my son is unhappy about these anxiety attacks, but can't control that language choice when pushed past a certain point. But the head of year was insistent on the school's policy towards bad language, and that he believes it cannot go unpunished.'

It's all very well waiting to see whether legislation works. But what urgent action can we take to stop these children being branded as 'naughty', and to start identifying their needs, and adapting to those needs, before they hit crisis point?

I'm very sorry, Mark, to hear of the experiences that you've outlined in the Chamber this afternoon. And I know that you will not be the only Assembly Member who has had similar casework arriving in their postbag. That's the very reason why we have needed to change our ALN system, because the current system, in some cases, is not meeting the needs of individual children and their families. And that's why we have got the implementation plan that we have, as we transition out of the old system into the new system. I cannot comment on any individual cases, but I'm always very clear to Members that, if there are cases where they feel I can be of assistance, I'm happy to do what I can.

In-service Training

6. What is the Welsh Government's position on bringing uniformity to the setting of INSET days across schools in Wales? OAQ53561

Thank you very much. Currently, the content and timing of INSET days is for local authorities, governing bodies and headteachers to determine. As you will be aware, last week, I launched a consultation on proposals for additional national professional learning INSET days for the next three academic years, which include questions on the timing of those additional days specifically.

Thank you. There has indeed been much debate and commentary on the interesting question of whether there could be some harmonising of INSET days across the nation, and with the announcement of introducing a welcome further sixth professional teaching learning INSET day, the Welsh Government has stated within its consultation that the aim for all schools is to fix the same date for it. If this comes to fruition, what analysis could the Welsh Government give to assessing the teaching value of INSET days being worked together in one convenient week? And outside of the majorative and substantive value to teacher learning, perhaps it could also be an opportunity to look at providing some mechanism for families to get the chance to get away at an affordable price during term time, and thereby countering rip-off holiday Britain, which is to the detriment of the consumer, but mostly to the detriment, educationally and pedagogically, of all involved?

14:35

Rhianon, as you say, the consultation does look to the possibility of a national training day associated with the implementation of the new curriculum, but I don't want to prejudge the consultation. What I can say to the Member is that we've had over 300 responses to the consultation already and, when you consider that it was only launched last week, that is an amazing response.

I am aware that for some families financial constraints mean that they do look to take children out of school to enjoy a family holiday, and undoubtedly when holidays in Wales are different to that across the border in England, as it recently has been for half term, that can have a substantial impact on the prices that families have to pay. But, of course, my concern when organising INSET days is not to think about the convenience of the price of a holiday, our INSET days are there to provide teachers with the opportunity to engage in professional learning and to prepare themselves for the challenges of the new curriculum. 

Minister, I understand obviously the consultation about at the moment about introducing the extra INSET days to prepare teachers for the new curriculum that will be coming forward. Interestingly, the proposal, and it is only a proposal, is about having that INSET day on the same day across Wales, I believe I'm correct in saying. How confident are you that there is the capacity to deliver the training opportunities the length and breadth of Wales, if such a national INSET day was introduced, because surely there potentially is a capacity issue to deliver those training platforms in every school across the length and breadth of Wales?  

Thank you, Andrew. You are absolutely correct that the consultation does propose a single national training day for the next three academic years in preparation for the curriculum. What I would say to you is that you are taking, if I may say so, a rather old-fashioned view of what professional training actually looks like. The days of when we sent everybody to a WJEC conference, where people sat all day and listened to the sage on the stage and then took that professional learning back to their school, and in many cases did nothing with it, is not what we're proposing. The best professional learning happens when professionals work alongside each other in their clusters, in their catchment areas, and with their subject and age specialists. So, this idea that we will have to have hordes of so-called professional experts out in our schools is not how we are approaching it and is not the modern-day approach to professional learning. 

Foreign Languages

7. Will the Minister make a statement on the teaching of foreign languages in Welsh schools? OAQ53533

We have invested over £2.5 million in our Global Futures plan, to enable learners to understand the importance of languages and the life-changing opportunities that they provide. I am aware of the challenges, and that is why, under Wales's new curriculum, learners will experience languages from an earlier age.

Thank you very much, Minister, for that. According to a BBC survey, Wales has seen a bigger decline in pupils learning foreign languages than in any other part of the United Kingdom. In the last five years, language GCSE entries in Wales fell by 29 per cent, compared to an 11 per cent drop in England, a 12 per cent drop in Northern Ireland and a 19 per cent fall in Scotland. The survey also found that more than a third of schools had dropped one or more languages at GCSE in the last five years. One of the reasons given by teachers for this decline is that the Welsh baccalaureate has added constraint to the school timetable so that foreign languages are squeezed out. Minister, what action will you take to reverse the serious decline in modern languages teaching in our Welsh schools?

14:40

The first thing to say is that those students who do take GCSEs in modern foreign languages and A-levels in modern foreign languages perform excellently, with really, really high pass rates at the very highest levels. Many of our MFL teachers have been recognised for their excellence.

It is true to say, though, that we have seen a decline in those students who are taking a GCSE. What the BBC report also went on to say was that it's not the fault of the Welsh bac; it is also because, they reported, that children are spending extra time in English, maths and science lessons and it's also because of a perception that passing a modern foreign language is a really tough thing to do and children are under the misconception that it is a hard GCSE to take. That's why we are taking the steps that we are to support our modern foreign language mentoring scheme, new digital resources for digital language learning on Hwb, as well as the transformative approach to the new curriculum, where children will be exposed to modern foreign languages in their primary career and they can begin to develop that love of language learning before they get to secondary school. And I'm sure you'd agree with me that that is an innovative approach to tackling what is indeed a challenging situation. 

School Budgets in Anglesey

8. Will the Minister make a statement on school budgets in Anglesey? OAQ53548

Thank you, Rhun. Diolch. Local authorities are responsible for school funding in Wales. Anglesey set their spending priorities for the services they provide, taking consideration of local needs and all the resources available to them. How much an authority sets aside for school budgets is a matter for that authority.

Thank you very much. The impact of 10 years and more of austerity imposed by the UK Government, as well as the failure, I'm afraid to say, of the Welsh Government to prioritise local government funding this year, has led to totally unsustainable pressures on education budgets in Anglesey, as in the rest of Wales. I congratulate Anglesey council on succeeding in safeguarding education budgets to a great extent, but, of course, they have had to increase council tax by over 9 per cent in order to do that, and the increase in council tax has been great across Wales. I look forward to hearing more details in terms of what’s happening in terms of the pensions funding, which, without doubt, is going to provide some relief.

On the issue of funding more generally, the grants announced quite late in the day of course are a help, and I welcome anything that can reduce the burden on our schools, but does the Minister agree with me that distributing funds in this way makes it impossible, almost, for headteachers and governing bodies within schools to plan truly strategically for the future?

For a moment there, Presiding Officer, it seems that the Member has forgotten that his party were part of the budget-setting process that has seen that local government settlement this year, and had an opportunity to influence the decisions that were made regarding the overall budget. But the Member makes a very fair point with regard to the timely distribution of grants that may be available to schools from the Welsh Government. Grants late in the day can be really challenging for schools to spend effectively and in a way that has the biggest impact, but sometimes, I myself as the Minister, am aware of moneys that are available quite late in the day and I will always use that opportunity, regardless of the time of year, where I can, to get that money to the front line.

Bethan Sayed is not here to ask question 9 [OAQ53571]. Question 10, Russell George.

The Key Theme of 'Ambitious and Learning'

10. How is the Minister's department contributing to the key theme of 'ambitious and learning', as set out in 'Prosperity for All: the national strategy'? OAQ53547

Thank you, Russell. My national mission sets out a clear plan for delivering the ambitions set out in 'Prosperity for All', ambitious and learning. We have already delivered the most generous student finance package anywhere in the United Kingdom.

Thank you for your answer, Minister. Currently, all children in Wales are entitled to a minimum of 10 hours per week of free foundation phase education in school or a funded nursery in the term following their third birthday. In England, all children are entitled to 15 hours per week. Due to the rurality of much of mid Wales, two hours a day is not proportionate, in travel terms, for people to travel from their homes to their setting and to deliver that foundation phase education. Is this something that you would be prepared to revisit and look at again?

14:45

What I am clear about is that local authorities have the flexibility to deliver foundation phase hours in a way that is conducive to parents being able to access them, and that is particularly important in your area, where we will see the roll-out of the Welsh Government's 30 hours of childcare, which, of course, will be a combination of 20 hours of childcare funded by Welsh Government and 10 hours of foundation phase, which is also funded by Welsh Government via Powys County Council. And making sure that parents are able to avail themselves of these opportunities, delivered in a flexible way, is something that we urge all local authorities to do. My director of education, actually, will be in Powys County Council at the end of the week discussing this very issue with the new chief executive and the leader of Powys County Council.

2. Questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services

The next item is questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services, and the first question is from Suzy Davies.

Mixed Wards in Hospitals

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Minister, first of all, can I thank you very much indeed for the very speedy response you gave to the concerns I raised during the business statement last week?

You were too keen to thank the Minister there by far. Ask the question.

1. Will the Minister make a statement on mixed wards in hospitals? OAQ53568

Yes. The Welsh Government is committed to abolishing mixed-sex ward accommodation and to ensuring the safety, privacy and dignity of patients. All new hospital developments will be built to ensure single-sex accommodation, with guidance recommending a minimum of 50 per cent single bedrooms with en-suite facilities.   

Thank you very much. That's encouraging and—. Shall we take those thanks as read?

I was grateful to you for that quick response—it's great to get that. And Members will remember that I raised, in business statement last week, the very unfortunate situation of women experiencing miscarriage before 20 weeks being located on a mixed-sex ward in Swansea's Singleton Hospital. And it may well be a large ward—men down one end, women at the other, separated by a desk—but it's still a general surgery ward, and I don't know whether, in extremis, that division can always be observed. Your officials are looking at miscarriage services following the report published by Fair Treatment for the Women of Wales, a report quoting one woman as saying, 

'After a silent miscarriage I was given some information sheets on what I could do next—on a ward for the world to hear'.

Now, that report is six months old. This can still happen on ward 2 in Singleton Hospital. I'd be grateful if you could confirm when this practice will stop altogether.

The challenge about taking forward our work on having more appropriate services on miscarriage is one that I've charged officials to take forward with our health boards, and I'm more than happy to update Members on the detail of that work and when we can expect to see real, material differences. As we run through the work that I described in my first answer on changing the layout of wards to make sure we do have, generally, single-sex wards, with appropriate accommodation and the real dignity that all of us would expect, there's a rolling problem, because, actually, the position that you've described in Singleton is partly because we're changing accommodation in different parts of that hospital. But we do need to make sure that, wherever that accommodation is provided, it does have the essential dignity that all of us would expect for ourselves and our loved ones. But, as I say, on miscarriage services, I'm happy to provide the Chamber with an update.

Obesity amongst Children and Young People

2. Will the Minister make a statement on Welsh Government efforts to tackle obesity amongst children and young people? OAQ53566

Thank you. We are consulting on our new 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy. This will set out our long-term aims to reduce and prevent obesity across Wales. We currently have a range of preventative policies, funding and legislation, such as the daily mile, active travel and an obesity pathway.  

As you’ll know, one in four children of four and five years of age are either overweight or obese. England and Scotland have set targets to halve obesity among children and young people by 2030. Why doesn’t the Welsh Government have a target? As with tackling poverty, without a target it’s impossible to see how the future should look. There is no clear aim to be delivered and no means of monitoring action in order to ensure that it does lead to the correct outcomes. Once again, Labour is avoiding taking responsibility in an important area. Will you set a target?

I understand the debate around targets perfectly well. The challenge, though, is that for the targets that England and Scotland have set, there isn't an evidence base that underpins those targets. I've not met a single public health professional who has been prepared to look me in the face and say that the targets make sense and they think they're going to reach them. The last thing I want to do is to set a series of aspirational targets that we can't actually achieve. I'm interested in how we actually make a real difference in turning back the tide. We've seen a leveling off in the levels of overweight and obese children, but the challenge is not to say we've leveled them off but actually how we see the curve going backwards again. That is the challenge that we're consulting on in the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy.

But, crucially, this isn't simply about the Government saying, 'You can and you must', because actually we need to work alongside people, with families, to see children in their context and the different influences around them—things like food labelling and food advertising, what goes into the food and drink that people have—as well as having that conversation in a way that isn't judgmental. Part of my real fear is that if you say to parents,'You are responsible for the weight and size of your child', then that actually will turn into a judgmental conversation and will turn people away from where we actually want them to be—to help people to make different choices.

I am not convinced—not just me, but neither is our chief medical officer convinced—that actually setting targets, as you've suggested we should do, is the right thing to do for the strategy. I will of course be accountable to this place for not just having a strategy in place after consultation, but actually whether we are making the sort of difference that I know that every Member in this room would want us to.

14:50

Minister, I'm sure you'll be aware that Hywel Dda Local Health Board's latest Public Health Wales statistics show that an alarming 12.5 per cent of four to five-year-olds are obese, which is higher than the Welsh average and the second highest health board in the whole of Wales. Once children are obese, they are at real risk of getting even more obese as they get older, and we need to reverse this trend. I appreciate that individual health boards are responsible for introducing specific measures to tackle obesity, but it is important that the Welsh Government drives forward this agenda. So, given that obesity statistics are actually increasing, what are you now doing differently as a Government to tackle this very serious issue?

We have a range of different measures in place. I described some of them in answer to the question. This isn't simply a matter for the health service. It is about health and health outcomes. For example, the daily mile is not something that the health service itself directly delivers, but it is working in partnership with schools about different forms of activity. Other schools won't have a daily mile, but they will have a different form of regular physical activity within the school.

You're right about the pattern for life that is set in our earliest years, both in the learning and the example that comes before engaging in school, as well as in particular the lessons in life and the patterns for life that are set at the end of primary education. So the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' consultation will look again at an evidence base. We looked at, for example, Holland, where there has been leadership and there's been a turnaround in some contexts, to see how we apply that successfully here.

Actually, the work that I've seen at Bishop Childs school—they attended the launch of the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' consultation—does demonstrate that it is possible to do something, but the challenge is how consistently we're able to do that, and not just in Hywel Dda but right across the country. Hywel Dda may have the second highest rate of obese children, but, in statistical terms, there isn't a significant difference. You actually see the difference in the socioeconomic status of where our children are, and that is a big challenge for us in every part of the country.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Darren Millar.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, can I ask you what plans the Welsh Government has to prevent a stall in the fall in smoking rates in Wales?

We're reviewing our tobacco control action plan to see that we do actually want to make further progress. We're looking again at the organisational structure, for example, of our stop-smoking services. Encouragingly, we saw more people come to the NHS Help Me Quit service this January compared to last January—a 20 per cent rise in people seeking help—but, of course, I'm always interested in understanding what tools are available and how we get to the point of persuading more people to take up the help that is available to persuade people to stop smoking. 

You may or may not be aware, health Minister, that today is No Smoking Day across the UK, which encourages people of course to take up the opportunity to explore quitting smoking. But, Public Health Wales have shown in their projections that they're expecting you as a Government to miss your target of reducing the prevalence of smoking across Wales to 16 per cent by 2020 and that you're currently around five years behind achieving that particular target. That of course is very worrying. It's worrying from a public health point of view in the future. I think that what we need to see is a radical sea change in the Government's approach, particularly in terms of the use of e-cigarettes to promote the cessation of smoking. So, as you will know, Cancer Research UK have been very clear that e-cigarettes are much safer than smoking tobacco. Everyone acknowledges, apart from the Welsh Government, it would appear, that they can be a very useful tool to assist people in quitting smoking in line with the advice of NHS Scotland and NHS England. So, can you clarify what the Welsh Government's position is on e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool? Thank you. 

14:55

I recognise the points about the targets and wanting to reach the targets and our ability to do so. Actually, before we achieved the 19 per cent interim target, there was widespread concern that we would not do that. So, it is possible for us still to match and meet that target, and that actually was an evidence-based target where we had a basis to set it and to want to achieve it. 

In terms of the evidence around e-cigarettes, information about e-cigarettes is already provided when people engage with stop-smoking services. The point about the future for e-cigarettes is one that we do need to determine here in Wales, but I would just correct the suggestion that e-cigarettes are much safer. I think it is much more preferable to recognise that e-cigarettes are much less harmful than tobacco smoke, but the big prize to be gained is to have more people not smoking tobacco, and I think the terms in which you talk about that really do matter. I'm interested in the latest evidence, but not only that—we are seeking to draw people together in Wales to draw up a consensus statement within Wales on the place or otherwise for e-cigarettes within stop-smoking services. 

You seem to be playing with words unnecessarily, Minister, with respect. The only reason you hit your previous target was because of the take-up of e-cigarettes by many tens of thousands of people across Wales who use them to quit smoking. But, of course, they took them up off their own bat because they were not available—as is not the case in England where they are available—through smoking cessation services here. So, can I ask you again: will you consider allowing NHS Wales's smoking cessation services to use e-cigarettes and to promote the use of e-cigarettes to patients and individuals across Wales who are wanting to reduce the harm that they incur as a result of smoking? You say that these are much less harmful, I say that they are much safer. I think both of those things are not incompatible to actually say.

Now, can I ask about smoking rates particularly amongst pregnant women here in Wales? At the moment, around 20 per cent of pregnant women in Wales are smoking, and we know that that of course can lead to significant problems and complications in pregnancy and birth, including the stunting of the growth of children later in life and increasing their chances of developing diseases like asthma. Now, we know that the percentage of pregnant women smoking is higher in Wales than in other parts of the UK, including England and Scotland, so can I ask you specifically what work you are doing as the Welsh Government to focus attention on smoking amongst pregnant mothers in order that we can reduce these levels and lead the way in the UK, not sit at the bottom of the league table?

Actually, there's significant work already under way on trying to help women to quit before and during pregnancy. That work is being undertaken together with midwives and health visitors. You may have missed that, last year, I actually launched part of our campaign on this in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. And that's together working with the midwives who are actually undertaking that care in the community as well as on hospital sites, and actually trying to change some attitudes around smoking as well, because if you go outside almost every maternity unit in the country, you'll find a bunch of fag butts outside. Now, there's a challenge there for us about changing people's perception of what they're doing, not just for themselves, not just when they happen to be pregnant, but actually for other people going in and out of those particular units. So, we already have a range of actions that we're undertaking. It's being led by evidence developed by midwives themselves working together with families, because actually it's about the support that a woman has from her partner that often makes a big difference as to whether they will take up the opportunity to stop smoking. 

On the challenge about whether we describe e-cigarettes as safer or less harmful, actually the language really does matter. If you describe in advice something as being 'safe', then you're giving an impression about it. And I do think it matters. That's why, if we're going to have e-cigarettes used, we need to be clear about the language and the terms on which healthcare professionals in whatever part of healthcare engage with the public on them. You may have missed my answer to the last point about smoking cessation. We are drawing together people in Wales to have a consensus statement on the use or otherwise of e-cigarettes in smoking cessation services. That will be specific and targeted. There won't be a blanket position that e-cigarettes are safe. It will be about whether they're a useful tool or not and, of course, we'll look at the evidence provided by both England and Scotland when we're making a decision here in Wales. 

15:00

Diolch, Llywydd. In February 2016, the then First Minister used an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report to defend the then Welsh Government's record with regard to health service delivery. Of course, when you look at what that report actually said, it said, among other things, this: 

'at present, Health Boards do not have sufficient institutional technical capabilities and capacities to drive meaningful change, and a stronger central guiding hand may be needed.' 

Then, two years later, the parliamentary review told us last January that a risk-averse culture hampers change in the health and care system and limits efficient and effective decision making. Does the Minister accept the OECD view that a stronger central guiding hand is needed, and what is he doing to change that risk-averse culture? He will no doubt tell us that the vehicle for delivering lasting change is his transformation fund, but I'm sure that he would acknowledge that that is a very small amount of money compared with the overall budget. How confident is the Minister that local health boards are delivering now on key Government priorities? 

Actually, when talking about the way in which the health service was being discussed in 2016, you'll remember a blanket, lazy and wildly inaccurate suggestion by a number of political players that the health service in Wales was the worst part of the United Kingdom. Actually, what the OECD report said very clearly was that simply is not true. It did, however, have criticisms to make about each part of the health service within the four nations of the UK, and that included the criticism that you've read out about where we are in Wales—having a more logical structure to the way we organise health services, but needing to see that made real in terms of the delivery. 

And, actually, in terms of that point about there needs to be a more central guiding hand, I am regularly urged to take more interventions in the way that health services are run. Actually, I have taken a more interventionist approach, but the challenge is how we have a system that is set up, not just the attitude of an individual Minister. And you'll recall that in 'A Healthier Wales', we do talk about more central funds, we talk about having a national clinical plan, we talk about having a central NHS executive for Wales as well, and that work is well under way and is being drawn together. And I will consider options for the creation of that body to provide that clearer central guidance and leadership within the service to work together with our health boards and trusts here in Wales. 

I am, Llywydd, encouraged to a certain extent by what the Minister says there, but he does use the phrase 'talk about', and I think we need to refer to what is actually happening  now. From April, our local health boards will be responsible for an unprecedented amount of public funds in Wales, and I think there's nobody in this Chamber that would disagree with the need to invest. Now, other public sector bodies will be looking on with envy at those resources that are available, despite the fact that other public sector bodies, as the Minister has said himself in response to other questions this afternoon, have key roles in supporting the health of the people of Wales. Those public bodies will be entitled to ask us, I think, whether such money is really being used to push the stated national strategic objectives. Now, one of these objectives is to shift services from secondary care to primary care and, again, I think that has broad support across this Chamber.

But we need to look at what the actual spending has been over the last five years, and we've seen local health boards continue to do the opposite. Spending on primary care has increased in cash terms by £74 million, but that, of course, over the five years is a real-terms cut. Spending on secondary care has swallowed up the vast majority of the increases, getting around £845 million extra. Now, this is a clear illustration to me of local health boards failing to move resources and services from hospitals into communities, despite that being a clear Welsh Government priority. We see that also in increases in staff numbers, a very small rise in hospital doctors, but offset by the fall in the number of GPs. Can you explain to us, Minister, why you are allowing local health boards to disregard your stated policies in this regard? 

I don't think that's a fair characterisation at all. When you look at what we're doing with NHS spending, I'm proud of the fact that we're putting more resources into the national health service, despite being 10 years deep into Tory austerity, and the choices we make are incredibly difficult and they have a real-world consequence in every single public service. And there is no easy choice to make. If we put more money into different public services, then we will obviously face challenges about whether we're adequately funding the health service to deliver the sort of care that each and every one of us expects for ourselves. So, we made an upfront choice within the last term to put money into the national health service and accepted that would reduce money for other public services. You can't pretend that you can add more money into everything, as some people in this Chamber, despite campaigning for austerity in three successive general elections, regularly do in these sets of questions.

In terms of how we're getting different organisations to work together, the transformation fund is focused on moving more activity and resources around it into our primary care system, and more than that, in the partnership between primary care and other public services. That requires the health service to be a better partner in that conversation and in, then, the delivery of those services together.

So, actually, when you look not just at the activity we're undertaking now, but if you look at the transformation fund itself, you'll see that each and every one of those has been supported by each regional partnership board. And that now includes not just health, social care and the third sector, but, from the start of April, every regional partnership will also include voices from housing and education to make sure we have a joined-up conversation with each of the regions of Wales about how to transform services, and how actually the resources should follow the event when there's an agreement about what we should do to change it, to make sure there is real, system-wide change and not small, individual projects that each one of us may talk about on a local level but won't transform our system. That is absolutely my objective.    

15:05

Llywydd, I'm very pleased to hear the Minister say that that is his objective, but I would put it to him that his party has been running the health service for 20 years in Wales and since the very first days of the National Assembly, we have been talking about—with, again, broad cross-party support—removing resources from secondary care and investing in primary care and indeed taking that a step further and ensuring, as the Minister has already said this afternoon, that there's much more effective co-operation between social services and health. I would put it to the Minister that this is nothing new and this is not rocket science and nobody's arguing with him about whether or not some of the projects under the transformation fund will be positive and deliver positive results. I mean, for example, I'm very glad to see—I know this has been put forward as a priority by Hywel Dda and their partners—that the local health board is actually paying for some elements of social care to enable it to get people out of hospitals more quickly. That seems to me to be entirely positive, but I don't know why we need to do that on an experimental basis and why the Minister can't simply encourage all—well, actually, instruct—all local health boards to do this.

I appreciate some of what the Minister's already said this afternoon about trying to give a stronger guiding hand, but let's be clear here, Llywydd: the Minister appoints the local health boards, he sets their priorities, he gives them their funding. I was here in this place and actually assisted the then Minister in writing the legislation that makes it completely clear that the local health boards are accountable to him. And the then Minister used these words, I think, in this Chamber: it is absolutely crucial that decisions about health are made by the people the people can sack—in other words, the politicians.

What assurances can the Minister give us this afternoon that once he has learnt those lessons from the transformation process—and I'm not sure that we need to learn them again—but once he's learnt those lessons, he will insist that local health boards and their partners deliver on the good practice that the transformation fund's projects identify? Because, as he has just said, what we do not need is more small, little, local projects, however successful they are, if those are not sustainable and then rolled out. 

Well, when we talk about how we transform and change the system, I'm not sure that there's a great track record in the conversation about who can sack who. Actually, that doesn't generate the sort of system transformation we want to see. If that were the case—you look at the system in England, where, actually, chief executives of acute NHS trusts have an average life span of less than two years—and that's no way to run a system. In fact, it was very interesting to hear—. Sir Bruce Keogh, in his leaving speech—not in his speech while he was looking forward to many more years in post at the NHS Confederation conference—when he was leaving NHS England, talked about that challenge, the way in which leadership, in the English system, has been brutalised and it doesn't allow people longer term choices to deliver the sort of paths to deliver the value that each of us wants to see. That's absolutely why having a joint health and social care plan is so important. It's why the transformation programme really matters—to get to the point where there are models to scale up.

I've been really clear about my expectations. The way in which we do it will not be a simple pulling of one lever or me going around and potentially threatening people with their employment if they don't do as I want. That is not the way to deliver change in the system. It will be a combination of different things depending on where each partnership is. In different parts of Wales, they're more aligned to come and do that somewhere together. So, in Gwent, we see a real commitment to transforming children's services across health and social care. I think they'll get somewhere. They won't need me to stand over them to encourage them to do it. They want to take the lead in those areas. That's the cultural change that we need to deliver because that will be much more effective in delivering outcomes that she and I and everyone else in this Chamber wish to see.

15:10

Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, recently, WalesOnline published a news story highlighting the difficulty many patients are having in finding an NHS dentist to register with. The news reporter had herself moved to Carmarthen from Kent and, suffering a dental problem suddenly, she found that the closest dentist willing to offer an appointment was in Llanelli, which meant a 50-mile round trip. Of course, this problem isn't confined to west Wales. I checked the NHS Wales website this morning and found only three dentists in Cardiff offering NHS appointments. To be fair, that's a little better than the last time I looked in January, when there were none. There are no dentists in Newport currently accepting NHS patients, and if you live in Brecon and Radnor you can expect a long drive, as there are only two practices in the whole area with appointments available. What steps can be taken to address this problem?

I've actually been very encouraged by the response of the dentistry world to 'A Healthier Wales' and wanting to see that as a kick-start to the reform that they wish and need to take to make sure they're delivering the sort of service that they want to provide and that each of our communities expects as well. There are challenges around the country about our capacity to take on extra NHS patients, but, actually, that really is tied up with contractual reform. So, since she came into post, the chief dental officer has undertaken a much faster rate of reform within the contract here than prior to her arrival. I've encouraged her and empowered her to do so, and, actually, when you see the next statement on where we are with dentistry, I think Members will have a degree of optimism about the future, and I'm expecting to announce more in the autumn, depending on the evidence we've had. We now have an increased number of dental practices taking part in the contract reform programme. Far from being reluctant to do so, as a number of practices were, we're now having real enthusiasm from different people in order to change the way that they work, because, actually, they'd rather have greater capacity to do the right things, and this really is about providing the right care at the right time, rather than providing treatments that aren't evidence-based in a contract that rewards the wrong sort of behaviour.

So, if the Member will bear with me for a short period of time longer, I'll be able to make a statement to him and other Members about where we are and our expectation for the future.

Well, thank you for that anticipatory report of the contractual overhaul. And it's encouraging that you are looking at this, and I look forward to the statement in the autumn. Now, of course, I can't really pre-empt what that statement is going to say, but if I could flag up a few issues relating to the contract—the British Dental Association say that the recruitment and retention of dentists in Wales has been a problem for some time, and, of course, the contracts currently in place are part of the problem. They have called on the Welsh Government in the past to devise a system that makes Wales a more attractive place for dentists to work. Some of the problems are relating to the tough UDA targets, which are currently called for—that's, as you know, units of dental activity. We do have the system of clawback as well, whereby if they underperform by more than 5 per cent, there is this clawback of money. So, these are all issues that feed into this rather unwieldy contractual system that you've identified. So, I know you say there is an overhaul and we are going to have a statement in the autumn. I don't know if you can make any comment at the moment on some of the issues that I've raised.

Yes. The British Dental Association are key stakeholders. I meet them during each year. They have access to meet the chief dental officer and her officers within her department. And you're right that the UDA, along with the contract, is an essential part of reform. Where we're actually seeing practices undertake the contract reform opportunities—it's changing the way they deliver their work, and that in itself is making Wales a more attractive place for dentists to work, but also the skill mix of people, so the numbers of dentists, assistants and others who will work within each of those practices. So, that is absolutely part of delivering better care, a better place for people to work, and, actually, better value for the public money we invest in the system.

Yes, that's encouraging. Now, if I can go back to the UDA issue, obviously, this is all going to hopefully come out in the autumn statement, but one issue with the clawback is that the money that is taken back from the dental practices is not ring-fenced and so is not necessarily going to be reinvested in the Welsh dental service. As we know from matters that are continuously debated in this Chamber, the national health service in Wales are short of money in many areas, so the problem is that much of this money that's clawed back is used to plug funding gaps in other areas of the Welsh NHS system. So, we do have this rather perverse situation at the moment, which the BDA have identified, where there are large waiting lists and patients having to travel many miles for check-ups, but, at the same time, money is being taken out of the dentistry system and put into other areas of the NHS. So, hopefully, that will form part of your thinking with this overhaul of the contracts.

15:15

Yes. I'm very clear about the way in which money that is allocated and earmarked for dental services should be used, and it should not be used to fill gaps in other budget lines when, actually, we recognise there is more for us to do to provide the quality of care and services that, as I say, each community in Wales deserves and expects.

The Provision of Social Care

3. Will the Minister make a statement on the provision of social care in Wales? OAQ53541

'A Healthier Wales' sets out our vision for a seamless health and social care system. We've put a strong legal framework in place to make that happen, including the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, and new approaches to joint working and staff development will help make that vision a reality.

Can I thank you for that response? I believe high-quality social care is actually preventative spend because it stops people ending up in the final place of hospitals, which low-quality social care can mean, or no social care can mean, that they end up in. What is the Welsh Government's intention regarding social care being provided either directly by local authorities or via care co-operatives?

I thank Mike Hedges for that very important question. I have begun initial discussions with local government, with the third sector and the independent sector providers about how to improve the stability of care and support provision in Wales. These discussions are at a very early stage, but I will keep Members updated on progress. But, just to give one example, the Welsh Government has been working with the Wales Co-operative Centre and they are preparing a report that will include clear recommendations and next steps for continuing to develop and strengthen the role of co-operatives and social enterprises providing social care in Wales. That is the Care to Co-operate project.

Here in Wales we are fortunate to have many adults who are prepared to selflessly give their time to provide stability and security to children when they need it most. These individuals include private foster carers, who make private arrangements with parents. Now, as you'll be aware, private foster carers and parents of children placed are required to notify the social services department of those arrangements made so as to promote safeguarding and welfare of those children. What steps will you be taking to ensure that private foster parents, following the Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) (Wales) Regulations 2006, know that they have to notify the local authority at least six weeks in advance of any proposed arrangements and that the relevant local authority will then undertake an inspector visit within seven working days and then, obviously, compile the very necessary report?

Well, I thank Janet Finch-Saunders for that question. Obviously, private foster parents need to be covered by these regulations that she has described, but, obviously, it's very important that they know what they have to do. So, I think it is incumbent on the local authority to ensure that private foster parents are made aware, that they make publicly available the information about what private foster parents have to do, because it's extremely important that private foster parents are regulated for the reasons that she's given.

Minister, would you agree that it’s unacceptable to tell a vulnerable older person who is poor and yet who doesn't reach the high threshold to receive public care following assessment—would you agree that it’s unacceptable to tell such a person, 'Just pay for your own care privately or go without'?

I think I'd have to have some more details about this particular case that you're describing before I could comment on it. It obviously sounds a very unfortunate incident to have happened, but I'd be grateful if you could let me know the details of that case and I can respond.

Active Travel

4. What recent discussions has the Minister had with other Government ministers on the role of active travel in promoting health and wellbeing for children and young people? OAQ53559

Thank you for that question. The Cabinet has discussed our 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy, which is currently out for consultation, to agree eight priority areas on physical activity. I've since established a cross-Government implementation board; the first meeting that took place was attended by me and my colleague Dafydd Elis-Thomas. There are a range of programmes, such as the daily mile, the Healthy and Active Fund and active travel to school, which support delivery of our ambitions.

15:20

Well, thank you very much for that answer, Minister. I'm pleased that you've already—. You've pre-empted my question, because part of the delivery of the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013—brought through with laudable ambitions by my colleague John Griffiths here, before my time—sets out that Wales would become the country where it was the most natural thing to walk and cycle, it was the most natural way to get about. But we held a debate only last week where we showed the distance that there is between that laudable aim and actually the reality on the ground, and a lot of this is to do with cross-Government working. So, could I have that commitment on record from the Minister that he will continue to work with other Government Ministers, including the Minister for Education, to ensure that active travel to and from schools becomes a key part of the Public Health Wales administered healthy schools programme? This will not eat into schools' time, into any curriculum delivery, and it can be done cheaply and well, as we saw only recently at the cross-party group on active travel, delivered in Cardiff itself. So, would he commit to that cross-Government working with the Minister for Education to really embed it within the healthy schools programme?

Yes, I'm more than happy to continue the work that I and Dafydd Elis-Thomas have started with a range of Ministers with an interest. And, of course, the Minister for Education has a specific role and remit over what takes place within the school. There's a challenge about not just what takes place in the curriculum, but the broader culture within that school, but—obviously, with our colleague the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport in particular—to understand how we get children to and from the school as well. Now, it isn't just about travel in the school day, it is also work, for example, on our response to the 20's Plenty for Us campaign as well—the evidence that exists about whether speed limits make a difference about people's willingness to travel to school and undertake other forms of getting to and from school, their place of work and moving around socially as well. So, there's a wide range of activity that I'm interested in to fundamentally change the way that we move and the way that we actually have health outcomes here in Wales as well.

Minister, I'm encouraged to hear how you're talking to colleagues, because this does seem to me an area for the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 methodology to come in place, because, clearly, you can improve health. The other key thing, if we do, is we improve the environment, because the school run is something that really got embedded in the 1990s. Of course, those of us of an older generation have no idea about it. It still amazes me to see just how much traffic there is taking children and young people to and from school. I did notice there was an excellent demonstration outside the Senedd—unfortunately, not on a sitting day—of young people demanding more action. One thing they could demand is an end to the school run. I think that is a real thing that would help improve the situation. And it's really that sort of challenge that we now need in the system.

I recognise exactly the point you make and I'm, in politics, young—in real life, I'm a middle-aged man—and so I do remember going to school and the normal thing was that people walked, and you got a bus to school if your school was further afield. There were very few cars around the primary school that I attended, and yet, in most of my constituency and in most others, there are a significant number of short journeys to and from school. I normally walk, and sometimes end up carrying my son to school, but the normal way for us to get to school is not to get in the car. There's a challenge about how we renormalise behaviour, and, again, that challenge about not wanting to judge people, because, actually, that doesn't help them to engage, but how we make it easier for people to make that journey a normal one without the aid and benefit of a car.

I was delighted to take part in the health committee's recent inquiry into increasing physical activity among young people, and I'm looking forward to going through the report that I pushed to have, to go through it in more detail. But one of the key things that was highlighted in that report was the need to push active travel for children. And I am also pleased that you're talking with other Government colleagues about what can be done, but, of course, what you're talking about is crucial here. Not only do we need to see co-operation, but we need to see co-budgeting, I think, between Government departments. Can you assure us that you are moving away from what would perhaps be called a silo way of working in order to find ways of co-funding schemes that have benefits across departments?

15:25

Well, every department needs to think not only about its own individual priorities, but actually priorities for the Government, and on a number of the areas—this is only one example—what is a Government priority with a lead Minister requires action by a number of other people to make it real. That's exactly what we are aiming to do. I will, of course, be responding to the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee's report in due course properly and fully, and we'll see if this place allocates time for a debate in the Chamber as well.

Breastfeeding Rates

5. Will the Minister provide an update on breastfeeding rates? OAQ53582

Whilst rates in Wales have remained static over recent years, the Welsh Government remains committed to increasing the uptake of breastfeeding. A national work programme has been established, involving clinicians, service leads, Public Health Wales and other stakeholders, including, of course, women themselves, focusing on improving breastfeeding rates in maternity and early years settings.

I appreciate that you fully understand the importance of breastfeeding for the long-term health of both mother and baby from your previous answers, but we are starting from a low base, are we not, as 71 per cent of mothers in Wales initiate breastfeeding compared to 83 per cent in England. And we know that only 1 per cent of mothers breastfeed exclusively for six months in Wales. And I think what I wanted to explore with you now are really the social barriers to women breastfeeding, because it isn't just about ensuring that they have the best professional support; it is about ensuring that they get the support from their families and from the wider community.

I do recall vividly the research that was presented in the Assembly a couple of years ago from Cardiff University who'd done research in a Newport Communities First area about the resistance from both family members and also from the public when people were endeavouring to breastfeed in a cafe or a restaurant. And I am delighted to see that Newport has now got the Newport Breastfeeding Welcome premises scheme, which tackles this issue of ensuring that people understand that this is a perfectly normal activity. So, I wonder if you could tell us, since that was launched a year ago, what success it's had, if there's any sign of improvement in breastfeeding rates in Newport, and whether there are any plans to roll that scheme out across Wales so that we can ensure that all premises serving food are welcoming to breastfeeders.

I couldn't tell you about the figures on outcomes from the Newport project, but I'll happily look at it. I realise that that's an issue that has been raised in the Chamber by our colleague Jayne Bryant. But I think that, in many ways, the most important term used there was about 'normal', and breastfeeding is normal and the challenge is that it has been denormalised in lots of situations. Now, that's part of our challenge, you're right, about parents, the wider family, friends, work and social settings, for this to be seen as exactly as it is: it's an entirely normal activity and one that we want to encourage and to renormalise in areas where it isn't. But, more than that, I'll have some more to say about the work we're doing within Government. I'm looking to publish some of our reports and recommendations that will come to me in May, June this year, but, on the specific point about Newport, I'll happily look at it and come back to update on if there are early findings that would help us in our work nationally.FootnoteLink

Breastfeeding is a critical campaign tool that the Welsh Government should be promoting across all newborns' mothers. I'm someone who wants to join in that campaign—my wife, a former midwife, obviously knows the benefits of that. But the one thing we lack is a workforce of midwives in the Cwm Taf health board area that is fully manned, if you like, with midwives there to help expectant mums. We know that Cwm Taf have had problems; we know Cwm Taf has the lowest take-up rate of breastfeeding of all the health board areas. Can you update us today, Minister, as to what the staffing arrangements will be amongst midwives in the Cwm Taf health board area in light of Healthcare Inspectorate Wales's comments yesterday? Because, as I'm led to believe, there are still gaps and there are still vacancies, and we can talk all we want about the positives around breastfeeding, but, if you haven't got the midwives in place, then that support that expectant mums would require is just not going to be there.

I recognise the points the Member made, following the report that was published following the unannounced inspections that Healthcare Inspectorate Wales undertook in October of last year. Some immediate actions were taken and they have recruited more staff into the midwifery service within Cwm Taf. And it's important to recognise that this isn't just about the point at which people give birth, it's actually about the support and encouragement given beforehand. And, again, midwives are a really important part of that. But, actually, there are many other drivers around whether people are prepared to initiate, and then continue, breast feeding as well. So it's about how different parts of our system work together, as well as, as I've said, the social drivers too. I can say that my expectation is that Cwm Taf will be Birthrate Plus compliant—they will have the right number of midwives, for the births that are expected, to do their job, both within the community and within the way in which we are rearranging midwifery and maternity settings as well.

15:30
Pneumoconiosis

6. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of diagnostic tools being used to assess miners for signs of pneumoconiosis? OAQ53554

People affected with miners’ pneumoconiosis are able to access the relevant lung function tests, chest x-ray, and, where appropriate, CT scan. We also have important work being taken forward through the respiratory health implementation plan, to improve respiratory services in Wales more broadly.

I thank the Minister for his answer. My office has been contacted by a former coal miner, who has raised concerns that cases of pneumoconiosis may be going undetected due to outdated diagnostic procedures, and that pneumoconiosis can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms that are associated with it, like coughing and shortness of breath, can be indicative of a wide range of illnesses. The usual course of action for suspected cases is to refer the patient for an x-ray. However, only late-stage pneumoconiosis tends to be picked up by x-rays, and early-stage cases can pass undetected. Former miners face injustice on many fronts; the least they deserve is the peace of mind that they're given the best possible chance of treating this cruel disease. The most effective diagnostic tool is a CT scan. Will the Minister commit to providing CT scans as the default diagnostic tool for former coal miners, who are at high risk of suffering from black lung, as coal miners' pneumoconiosis is often referred to?

I would expect the appropriate use of diagnostic tools, as opposed to saying, 'Someone is a former miner, therefore they'll have a CT scan'. It's about understanding the symptoms they come in with. Because, actually, pneumoconiosis in its early stages is asymptomatic—it can take some time, depending on the person and their own make-up, as to when it becomes symptomatic, and how that's done. And you are right that some forms of scanning are not appropriate, and don't pick that up. It is actually why the respiratory improvement programme, which is led by clinicians, is so important to understand the evidence base of what's the right treatment, the right diagnosis, and at which point. So, it is really about taking that evidence base. And, importantly, this is an area where clinicians themselves are getting to a point of consensus. And there's real leadership within the health service, not because a politician has demanded it, but because they recognise there's a better way to use resources, a better way to improve the job that they're doing, and, crucially, to improve the care that they provide for people in every part of the country.

Ill health in South Wales

7. What further action will the Welsh Government take to prevent ill-health in south Wales? OAQ53544

Improving health for everyone is a central ambition of 'Prosperity for All' and 'A Healthier Wales'. Welsh Government, in partnership with Public Health Wales, health boards and local authorities, are working to deliver our priorities to improve population health. Central to this is support for targeted interventions to encourage healthier lifestyles.

Thank you for that, Minister. As we heard earlier, smoking is still the biggest cause of preventable death and health inequality in Wales. And, over the last few years, the rate of progress in reducing smoking prevalence has largely stalled. One effective way of driving down smoking rates, particularly perhaps in more deprived areas, is community-based actions to help people stop smoking. Will you consider incorporating those community-based actions into the £100 million health transformation plans?

People regularly ask how the transformation fund can be used to support a different range of activities. I think this is straightforward public health work, and how we support people to quit, how we have healthier messages about not taking up smoking in the first place, and then how we support people to reduce and then stop smoking as well. Our vision is to have a smoke-free society, and there are various stages to that point. I'm interested, as I said in answer to earlier questions, in the evidence base about what is the most effective smoking cessation service, and what is the most effective way to have the conversation about smoking, and the impact that has, not just on the person who is smoking, but people around them, to try to persuade more and more people to take action and to quit. Then it's about how we help people. And of course, it is entirely appropriate that your question is asked today, on what I recognised earlier is No Smoking Day.

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

Cerebral Palsy

8. How is the Welsh Government providing services for people with cerebral palsy? OAQ53573

15:35

Our neurological conditions plan sets out the Welsh Government's commitment to ensuring those affected by any kind of neurological condition have timely access to high-quality pathways of care irrespective of where they live and whether they're delivered through hospital or community settings. 

Thank you for that. Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting the cerebral palsy register for Wales launch event in the Senedd. The register, which will be the first national register in Great Britain, will record symptoms, assessments and ongoing care for people living with cerebral palsy collected by health professionals and stored anonymously on NHS systems. This could then be used to make long-term sustainable changes in service provision, making a real clinical difference, with better understanding of the population of people who have cerebral palsy and an ability to plan for the right services in the right place, initially starting as a pilot in Powys, before being rolled out across Wales. But it's currently dependent on charitable funding, and the register's creators have said that it will need to be fully integrated into NHS Wales to ensure its survival. Given that the Welsh Government—yourself—has said that you are supportive of the initiative, and that's been greatly welcomed, what action can you outline about the assistance that you propose to provide to support the register as this moves forward? 

I had the opportunity to visit the Bobath centre the day after the launch of the register and it was part of the discussions that we had. So, I'm interested in the evidence base that's going to be generated from the work in Powys, and it's been really helpful that there's been engagement with a range of different people in trying to create that in the first place, because part of what we need to do is to make sure that in creating something initially, it's not created in a way that makes it incompatible with the way you deliver the rest of health and care. That's why they're looking to make sure that it's compatible with the Welsh community care information system, otherwise known as WCCIS. So, that's been really helpful.

As we learn more about the project that is starting in Powys, we'll then have an understanding not only of the benefit, to make sure it's actually properly integrated in the way we want to deliver health and care, but then the choices, if we're going to then roll that out successfully across Wales. So. we'll have more information, and we'll then have a responsibility to make choices about if and how we'll see that rolled out across the country. 

5. Statement by the Chair of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee: The effect of Brexit on the arts, creative industries, heritage and the Welsh language

Item 5 on our agenda this afternoon is a statement by the Chair of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee: the effect of Brexit on the arts, creative industries, heritage and the Welsh language. I call on the Chair of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, Bethan Sayed.  

Thank you. I'd like to make a statement on the potential impact of Brexit on the organisations under my portfolio as committee Chair. I want to stress the effect of Brexit on our creative industries. If we cannot access the single market, and the free movement of goods and labour it allows, this will be just as damaging to the arts as it is to our farmers and manufacturers, though, according to the people who gave us evidence, this gets much less attention in the press. The creative industries are also heavily reliant on the single market, but they don’t receive the same level of attention in the media as car makers and food producers.

The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee carried out an inquiry into the impact of Brexit on creative industries, the arts, heritage and the Welsh language in the autumn of last year. I thank all those who participated and I want to use this opportunity to highlight the concerns that they raised.

In a fortnight, we will, perhaps, leave the European Union, and, unfortunately, we are no closer to resolving these issues than we were in October, when we heard from stakeholders and the Welsh Government. Today, I want to highlight the dangers of Brexit. There are three specific problems, namely the loss of European funding, the loss of our ability to promote Wales on an international stage and the impact on Welsh-speaking communities.

In terms of EU funding, creative industries and performers in Wales have benefitted hugely from European funding. Once we leave, we may no longer benefit from funding through Creative Europe, Horizon 2020, Erasmus+ and the European regional development fund. This would leave a huge gap—for instance, the Creative Industries Federation reported that

‘The UK receives more funding than almost any other country through Creative Europe. The impact has been transformational in many parts of the UK’s nations and regions.’

EU funding has boosted our arts and heritage sectors and the creative industries. The legacy of this investment can be seen across the country, in the Galeri arts centre in Caernarfon and the Pontio arts centre in Bangor. There is a consensus in this Chamber that Wales must continue to receive the same level of funding that it would have had if the UK had remained in the EU. Since 2017, the UK Government has pledged that a UK shared prosperity fund will plug the gap, but it has still not published any details on how it will work. The current uncertainty about future funding is damaging to our creative industries and it’s vital that we obtain more certainty on the funding that will be available after we leave.

In our report, we called on the Welsh Government to remain part of the European schemes that give our creative industries the ability to collaborate on projects and compete for business on an international scale. On remaining in Creative Europe, the Welsh Government told us that they will

‘continue to seek confirmation from the UK Government on continued involvement and how the UK Government intends to facilitate this’. 

We understand that the UK Government is open to exploring participation in the Erasmus+ successor scheme and that it supports full association with the Horizon 2020 programme. All this is encouraging, but it is a long way from the guarantees that our stakeholders require to plan and invest.

In terms of the Welsh language, as part of the inquiry, we heard of the threats to our Welsh-speaking communities. Funding from the common agricultural policy supports Welsh-speaking rural communities and EU structural funds support employment in some of our most deprived post-industrial communities.

Any downturn in our rural economies will have a negative effect on the numbers of Welsh speakers, endangering the Government’s 1 million target by 2050. During our inquiry, Merion Prys Jones, formerly of the Welsh Language Board, called for the safeguarding of the Welsh language to be one of the five main principles for ‘Brexit and our land’, which is the Government’s policy for supporting rural parts of Wales.

We called on the Government to make explicit references in this document to maintaining and growing the number of Welsh speakers and to state that providing financial support for land managers for providing public goods recognises that strong rural economies keep our language alive.

We were told that the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language has been in correspondence with the Welsh Language Commissioner in relation to the potential impact of Brexit on the Welsh language. I call on the Minister to provide more details here today on the work being done to mitigate the effects of Brexit on the language. At this time, the Government needs to demonstrate a greater sense of urgency.

In terms of the global stage, EU membership enables Wales to continue to raise its profile on the international stage, which is so important for the creative industries, which compete globally. The ability to generate income from touring productions in Europe is a vital part of our creative industry’s business model. For instance, during the last financial year, the NoFitState circus generated almost 40 per cent of its total turnover from touring. We heard that any restrictions on touring would jeopardise the viability of touring productions such as those of the National Dance Company Wales and British orchestras. The European Union Baroque Orchestra, based in Oxfordshire since 1985, has already moved to Antwerp because the loss of freedom of movement means that it cannot afford to spend limited funds on the bureaucracy required for musicians to perform on both sides of the channel, and that’s very sad news.

It will be difficult for Welsh productions to compete internationally if we do not remain part of the single market, according to the evidence that we received as a committee. The Welsh Government has accepted our recommendation to carry out an assessment of the 'soft' benefits of membership of European partnerships and to explore the opportunities for continued involvement. These are very helpful for our cultural institutions in order to, for example, gain and exchange knowledge, strengthen academic research, pursue collaborative business opportunities and enhance Wales’s profile on the international stage.

If Wales loses its access to an international platform as one of a collection of small nations in the EU, it will have to work harder for recognition in the future. We are a cultural innovator and benefit greatly from being able to showcase our achievements and share learning opportunities as members of informal European networks.

We know that Brexit will be the biggest financial shock this country has experienced during my lifetime. Our creative and cultural community will be affected in the same way as other businesses. The Welsh Government needs to act with greater urgency to ensure that every preparation is made to minimise the impact.

I want to close by thanking in advance the Members who want to ask questions, but to ensure that it's important that the arts receive the respect of this kind of debate in the context of Brexit—perhaps a debate that hasn't happened often enough so far.

15:45

I thank the Chair for making the statement and raising these important issues; I just want to amplify two, if I may, to the Minister. The first is how various networks will operate: Creative Europe, Horizon 2020, Erasmus+ and aspects of the European regional development fund that were used for community and creative projects. These networks—I think all of them, but certainly most of them—are open to third parties, and we heard consistently that organisations wanted to remain part of these programmes so that they would have the network benefits. Now, of course, this will come at a cost, because third-party participation is only permitted to draw down the same amount that is put in or less. So, over time, obviously, we will get less out. I think, in terms of Creative Europe, the UK at the moment, probably, by proportion, gets more than any other state in Europe, or very close to it. So, we know there are going to be big changes there. But still, we need to choose those programmes that we want to be part of because of the creative network benefits, and then justify that to the public in terms of value for money. So, that's the first point I want to make. 

Second point: I do think this issue of how the Welsh language is going to continue to be supported, particularly in the community areas where it's still a community language, I think that's vital. We don't have—. In my own lifetime, those parts of Wales that have over 50 per cent Welsh speakers and then those that have over 75 per cent have really shrunk, and it's a real concern. Livestock farming is a big industry in the areas that remain as majority Welsh speaking in the mother tongue. We've heard today that the 'no deal' tariff structure is likely to be no further tariffs for lamb, or at least the ones that currently exist, so that's good news, but beef will have a tariff. It's not quite as high as what we feared at first, but it's still considerable, and this may have an impact on our rural economies. So, I think it's very important that we remember that as well, when we're trying to work through the consequences of these shocks on Welsh-speaking communities and then adjust various programmes so that we can at least mitigate those costs and keep them to a minimum. But, you know, it is part of our strategic planning in terms of preserving and advancing the Welsh language.

I think most of what David Melding raised was an appeal to the Minister, and I'm sure that the Minister will have heard clearly his comments. I agree in terms of the creative projects, such as Creative Europe, that we should select the networks. It’s disappointing that we've had to come to this point, where we will have to select the networks that we want to be part of, but it’s important that we have a strategy in place in order to ensure that Wales can continue with those partnerships.

Certainly, in terms of the Welsh language, in addition to every other challenge that rural Wales faces, there is also the challenge in terms of the language. I think what’s important is that we have the opportunity, through our universities, to ensure that some of those networks continue. Certainly, Aberystwyth University provides various opportunities to visit nations such as the Basque Country, and we will be going there ourselves before too long, in order to develop those linguistic skills that are so important to us as a nation and as a nation that has a unique selling point in terms of the Welsh language.

15:50

I rise also to speak as a member of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, and I was also glad to contribute to this short inquiry into the impact of Brexit on our creative industries, arts and heritage organisations in Wales, and the Welsh language. I wish to agree with the substantive issues raised today by the Chair and through the inquiry.

So, loss of freedom of movement will be extremely detrimental, as we know, to our orchestras, our ballet, our opera and our smaller touring companies, and also including the access and availability of our young people to the European Youth Orchestra. It is still very unclear at this very late hour what, if any, deal will be agreed upon.

I would also like to touch on some of my real concerns of the dangers that are predicted to await the Welsh arts and heritage sector and our international creative industries. Members will know that this is an area also close to my heart, so, Deputy Llywydd, it gives me no pleasure to say this: Prime Minister May's Brexit negotiations place a huge and regressive step to the Welsh cultural way of life. The Arts Council of Wales has estimated in the last tranche alone that our arts organisations in Wales received £18 million from the European structural investment fund, and this is money for the Welsh economy, it is money for the Welsh arts sector, and it is money for Welsh business.

I welcome very much the Welsh Labour Government's position set out in the policy paper, 'Securing Wales' Future'. To quote from it:

'During the referendum campaign voters in Wales were assured that leaving the EU would not result in Wales being worse off and it is vital to public faith in political process that this promise is honoured.'

Never has that been more important. Wales, as has been stated, benefits immeasurably from Horizon 2020, Erasmus+, Creative Europe, the Wales-Ireland programme, and much, much more that benefits our younger people, our older communities and our economies across Wales. I agree very much with Bethan Sayed that there is a consensus in this Chamber that Wales must continue to receive every single penny and level of funding that it would have had if the UK had remained in the EU. The shared prosperity fund must honour that commitment. The threats to the Welsh cultural sector are clear, but what I want to underscore is that Welsh Labour Government have played a vital and pivotal role in flagging up these concerns and putting direct pressure on the UK Tory Government to live up to their promises to the people of Wales.

So, if Brexit comes to pass along any of the lines presently envisaged, then it will mean that Wales will have to work even harder to be recognised, it will have to work even harder to export our work internationally, and it will have to work even harder to participate on the international stage that our artists and production companies have struggled so hard to find a footing in. Their excellence cannot be displaced, and it must work, finally, even harder to attract funding for Welsh arts in a climate of cuts to the Welsh budget. This is a travesty, and I believe strongly that the Welsh Government will continue to place this at the very heart of their business and negotiations as we move forward.

I would agree with everything you say, and I hear your passion. Especially with regards to music, it was stark for me to read that the Association of British Orchestras said that 20 per cent of their musicians are from the EU, and highlighted the additional cost of arranging work visas for them. So, if we're going to make it very difficult for people to come and base themselves here, or to come and perform here or work here, then that's something that we should all be concerned about. National Dance Company Wales recruits up to 50 per cent of its dancers from Europe. These are skills that our Welsh dancers learn, and can take that on board and nurture future relations with. So, I think what you've said is very strong, and I hope that your Minister has heard and can take forward those concerns on a UK level, and acknowledge the importance of cultural networking and advances here in Wales.

I'd agree wholeheartedly with what my colleague Bethan Sayed has said. Bethan and Members on all sides have spoken about the disastrous impact that Brexit could have on arts, culture and heritage.

I'd like to look at this from the opposite perspective, which is the way in which a lack of investment and attention given to arts has led in part to Brexit. In particular, I'd like to consider the declining numbers of secondary school pupils in Wales studying modern languages, although I apprecia